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John Lester was born in 1846 at London, England. Lester, a resident of Eastham, Massachusetts, never became a U.S. citizen but enlisted as an English volunteer in the 28th Massachusetts Infantry at Eastham, Massachusetts on April 9, 1864; for a period of three years. At the time of his enlistment Lester received a $25 enlistment bounty and $13 in advance pay. He was considered an unassigned recruit whose members were mustered into the regiment, but not assigned to a company, as their term of enlistment did not allow them to go any further. He was eventually discharged on May 13, 1864 at Alexandria, Virginia because he requested he be allowed to join the U.S. Navy, under order of Brigadier General H.S. Briggs, volunteer commander. Upon the receipt of his discharge Lester re-enlisted in the United States Navy on April 29, 1864, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Naval records reveal Lester served aboard the USS “Princeton” and the USS “James Adger”; from which he deserted, on April 29, 1865.

The USS “Princeton” was a 1,370 ton a clipper styled screw steamer built in June, 1851 at the Boston Navy Yard in Massachusetts; using the engines from the original USS Princeton. It was launched in October 1851 and was fitted out for duty with Commodore Perry’s Squadron in the Far East and sailed on November 18, 1852 from Baltimore rendezvousing with another ship off Annapolis, Maryland. On the way down the Chesapeake Bay, she developed boiler trouble and remained at Norfolk. After new boilers and propellers were added the Princeton was commissioned on May 18, 1852 at with Comdr. Sidney Smith Lee in command. From July to September 1853 the “Princeton” served as the flagship of the Eastern Squadron under the command of Commodore Shubrick protecting fisheries off the coast of Nova Scotia. Upon completion of that assignment on  October 31, 1854 she returned to New York and then got underway for duty in the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies; serving along the East Coast and in the Caribbean off Florida until June 10, 1855, when she was recalled and  used as a  receiving ship at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1857 until she was sold on October 9, 1866.

The “James Adger” was  a 1,364 ton wooden side-wheel steamship built at New York City in 1851 & 1852 for commercial use. Chartered by the Navy in July 1861 for Civil War military service and following her conversion to a warship, she was commissioned the USS “James Adger” two months later. She was first used to search the North Atlantic for Confederate diplomats James Mason and John Slidell, but was ordered to join the blockade of the South's Atlantic coast in December 1861; which she performed with notable success. She carried a compliment of 120 seamen and shared in the capture of the steamers “Emily St. Pierre” and the “Elizabeth” while stationed off Charleston, South Carolina in 1862 & 1863, supported operations in the capturing of islands along the Georgia coast, participating in the capture of Fernandina, Florida and Brunswick, St. Simons and Jekyll Islands, Georgia in March of 1862 and towed the USS “Montauk” into position from where the monitor could engage and destroy the Confederate steamship the “Rattlesnake”.  She was then assigned to the blockade off Wilmington, North Carolina in mid-1863, where she participated in the capture of several more blockade runners, including the steamers “Kate”, “Cornubia”, the “Robert E. Lee” and the “Ella”. The “James Adger” underwent repairs from December 1863 until June 1864, after which she returned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. In April 1865 she began convoying merchant shipping and on April 29, 1865 Lester, for reasons of his own, deserted.

Lester served in the merchant marine after the war and it’s not known exactly when he arrived in Australia; but like many others he likely used his seaman experiences to facilitate his arrival to Australia. After arriving, Lester settled down at Murray Bridge in South Australia, where he met and married his wife Emma, who was born on September 2, 1849, and they had a son named George Herbert who died on January 18, 1902. John Lester died, on September 16, 1907 at 61 years of age and was buried in the local Murray Bridge Cemetery.

Five years later his wife Emma died, on October 28, 1912.


Beryl Schahinger, Research Co-ordinator, S.A.

Birth Records, London England, England

Birth, Marriage and Death Records, South Australia

 Murray Bridge Cemetery Records, South Australia

Royal Australian Historical Society Archives

 U.S. Naval Archives

 U.S. Naval Historical Center


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