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

Date of Auction: 26th March 2009

Sold for £7,000

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

A scarce Arctic exploration pair awarded to William Barrett, Clerk R.N., Purser on board the Trent in Franklin’s 1818 expedition

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 2 clasps, 12 Octr. 1798, 1 Nov Boat Service 1809 (William Barrett, Clerk); Arctic Medal 1818-55, unnamed as issued, the first with edge bruise, the second with old repair to suspension, both polished therefore good fine or better (2) £6000-8000


William Barrett served as the Purser’s Steward aboard the Melampus at the capture of the French 74-gun ship-of-the-line Hoche and three frigates by Sir John Borlase Warren’s squadron off the north-west coast of Ireland on 12 October 1798. The Hoche, in company with eight frigates, a schooner and a brig, carrying some 3,000 troops, had been intending to land the soldiers on the coast of Ireland in support of the rebellion then in progress (only 75 clasps were issued for this action, including 3 to the Melampus). On the following day Melampus brought to action one of the five French frigates that had escaped, the Résolue of 36 guns, and, after discharging five broadsides into her, caused her to strike her colours. The Résolue had her main yard shot away, and her main topmast and mizenmast shot through, and was so badly struck in the hull, that she made four feet water an hour, until the Melampus, ten days afterwards got her into the Clyde.

For his second action Barrett was by now a Clerk and found himself in the boats of the Philomel, having no doubt volunteered for this hazardous service, at the destruction of a French convoy, consisting of five warships and various merchant vessels, in the bay of Rosas, off the north-east coast of Spain. On the evening of the 31 of October 1809, after dark, the boats of the five ships of the British squadron, at anchor about five miles from the town of Rosas, were armed and manned. Every suitable arrangement having previously been made, the boats, commanded by Lieutenant John Tailour, first of the Tigre, pushed off, with characteristic ardour, to execute the business assigned them. As if apprehensive that an attack would be made upon him, the French commander had made every preparation to meet and repel it. The Lamproie was enclosed in boarding-nettings, and a gun-boat, or armed launch advanced ahead of her, to give notice of the enemy's approach; the bombards and xebec, and the batteries on shore, were also on the alert. The boats approached, the alarm-gun fired, and, rending the air with their cheers, the British seamen and marines stretched out, each division of boats taking its allotted part. The Lamproie was boarded at all points, and, notwithstanding a very spirited resistance, was carried in a few minutes. The Victoire, Grondeur, Normande, and a felucca armed with musketry, defended with equal gallantry, shared the same fate. All this was effected in the face of a heavy fire from the castle of Rosas, Fort Trinidad, and several other batteries, and of repeated volleys of musketry from troops assembled on the beach. Notwithstanding that the force opposed to the British was double what they had reason to expect, such was their alacrity in subduing it, that, at the opening of day on the 1st of November, every French vessel of the 11 was either burnt at her moorings, or brought off by the aid of a light air of wind from the land. The loss sustained by the British was severe, amounting to 15 killed and 55 wounded. The French losses are not recorded but from the severity of the fighting must have been considerable (110 clasps were issued for this fine boat service action, including 5 to the Philomel).

William Barrett attained the rank of Paymaster R.N. on 28 May 1810. He served during the remainder of the war on board the Actæon 16, commanded by Captain Bertie Cornelius Cator and Sir John Ross, under the former of whom he visited Calcutta, escorted the Russian fleet from the Baltic to Gottenburg, and was most actively employed on the coast of North America. Withe Captain Ross he made a voyage to the White Sea. Appointed with Franklin to the hired brig Trent in 1818, he accompanied Captain Buchan, of the Dorothea, in the course of that year, in his perilous voyage to the neighbourhood of Spitzbergen with the objective of reaching the North Pole. The expedition was, however, halted off Spitzbergen by severe gales which forced the two ships to seek shelter in Magdalena Bay, after which they were held for thirteen days by the main pack ice. When gales eventually broke up the pack ice, Buchan decided the danger was too great and returned to England. Barrett subsequently received the Arctic Medal for these endeavours.

During 1819-20 Barrett served aboard the Myrmidon 20, Captain Henry John Leek, on the coast of Africa. His last appointment appears to have been to the Trinculo 18, Captains Thomas Bennett and Samuel Price, in which vessel he was employed on the Irish station from 1827 until 1830. He was placed on the retired list in 1852.