Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (26 March 2009)

Date of Auction: 26th March 2009

Sold for £7,800

Estimate: £7,000 - £8,000

The Trafalgar medal awarded to Commander James H. Johnston, Royal Navy, a developer of steam navigation who became Comptroller of the East India Company’s steamers

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 1 clasp, Trafalgar (James H. Johnston) fitted with silver ribbon brooch, nearly extremely fine £7000-8000


James Henry Johnston was born in London about 1787. He entered the Navy as a 1st Class Volunteer on 16 April 1803 aged 16 in the 74-gun Spartiate under Captain George Murray. He served as a Midshipman and Master's Mate off Ferrol and Rochefort and then proceeded to the Mediterranean. He was present at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 aboard H.M.S. Spartiate under Captain Sir Francis Laforey.

was a large two deck third rate (80 guns later changed to 74 guns). She was laid down at Toulon in 1797 and was named La Spartiate by the French. She was taken by the British Fleet at Aboukir Bay on I August 1798 and renamed the Spartiate. She had a crew of 640 at the Battle of Trafalgar under Captain Sir Francis Laforey on 21 October 1805, where she was one of the ships in Nelson's Weather Division. The ship suffered 3 killed and 20 wounded and the main topmast was left tottering. He also states that the ships masts, yards and rigging were a good deal damaged. Her Boatswain John Clarke, Midshipman Henry Bellairs and Midshipman Edward Knapman, who was wounded in the leg and arm, were amongst the wounded. Most of her damage was caused by the Spanish 80 gun Neptuno. Captain Laforey was awarded the Small Gold Medal for Trafalgar

In October 1809 Johnston transferred to H.M.S. Ocean, bearing the flag of Lord Collingwood who nominated him a Lieutenant in the Canopus. He joined his ship on 4 December 1809, which was the flag-ship of Rear Admiral George Martin.

His Lieutenancy was confirmed by the Admiralty on 16 February 1810. Being superseded from the
Canopus in November 1810 he was subsequently appointed on 23 September 1811 to the sloop Kite and was employed off the Texel and in the Mediterranean. In January 1813 he was given command of the schooner Quail, stationed in the Archipelago under the orders of Captain John Clavell

Lieutenant Johnston returned to the Kite in August 1813 serving off the coast of Syria and on 3 December 1814 he joined the
Leveret under Captain Jonathan Christian in the Downs, but in July 1815 was placed on half pay. Seeing no probability of further employment, and having friends in Calcutta, he went there in 1817, and obtained command of the ship Prince Blucher, in which he made two voyages to Britain. In 1821 he attempted to establish a sailors' home at Calcutta; it failed, but Johnston was favourably noted by the Marquess of Hastings, who appointed him marine storekeeper, and, before he could enter on the duties, commissioner of the court of requests. However, Johnston returned to England to arrange his private affairs and never filled either office

Johnston then turned his attention to steam navigation, and drew up a proposal for establishing steam communication with India via the Mediterranean and Red Sea. In 1823 he returned to India to lay his plans before the governor-general. They were not accepted, and Johnston, returning to England, was appointed to the Enterprise, a private steam-vessel, in which he sailed via the Cape of Good Hope to India, and arrived at Calcutta in December 1825. The steamer was immediately purchased for the East India Company's service, and sent to Burma, for the last nine months of the First Anglo-Burmese War. In 1829 Johnston was requested to report on the practicability of steam navigation on the Ganges, and after surveying the river was ordered to England to confer with the East India Company's court of directors. His plans, drawn up in concert with Thomas Love Peacock, were approved in 1831, and for many years the navigation of the Ganges was carried on in iron steamers built to his design. After returning to India in 1833, he was appointed Comptroller of the East India Company's steamers, which post he held until 1850. He was an important pioneer of the practical application of steam to oceanic and riverine service. On 8 July 1849 he was placed on the retired list of the Royal Navy with the rank of commander. On his passage home from Calcutta, after retirement, he died on 5 May 1851.