Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (30 March 2011)

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Date of Auction: 30th March 2011

Sold for £8,200

Estimate: £7,000 - £9,000

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 3 clasps, Camperdown, Egypt, Trafalgar (James Aitken) fitted with contemporary silver ribbon buckle inscribed ‘Venerable 1797. Kent 1801. Defence 1805.’, suspension a little slack, otherwise nearly extremely fine £7000-9000


Ex Mackenzie Collection 1934, and Spink, December 1966 and December 1997.

James Aitken is confirmed for all three clasps as an Ordinary Seaman aboard H.M. Ships Venerable, Kent and Defence respectively.

At Camperdown, Venerable, 74 guns, Admiral Duncan’s flagship, broke through the Dutch line and engaged de Winter's flagship, Vrijheid, from the lee side. During the fierce fighting, Venerable, simultaneously engaging Vrijheid, Staaten General, Admiral Tjerk Hiddes De Vries and Wassenaar, was badly damaged with the main mast being hit three times, resulting in the Admiral’s flag crashing to the deck. On the flagship, not having the Admiral’s flag flying could mean the battle had been lost. Seaman Jack Crawford, who had been press-ganged into the Navy earlier, heroically picked up the flag and under heavy fire climbed Venerable’s broken mast to nail it back in place with a marlinspike to show the battle was not lost. While doing this brave action he sustained a bullet through the cheek. From this daring deed came the saying, show your true colours and nail them to the mast.

Duncan’s successful victory stopped the Dutch fleet from joining the French navy, which had been planning a joint invasion of Ireland and a subsequent attack on Britain. Duncan was created Viscount Duncan of Camperdown.

At Trafalgar, H.M.S. Defence74 guns, was one of the lee column led by Vice-Admiral Collingwood, but, being very close to its rear, was not able to engage the enemy until some two and a half hours after firing had been commenced by the foe. Then, for nearly half an hour she plied her guns at the French 74, Berwick; afterwards assailing the Spanish San Ildefonso, also a 74, which fought for about an hour and then struck her flag. It is fair to say that she had been previously engaged by others of the British fleet, which had contributed materially to her roll of casualties, amounting to something like 200 men killed or wounded. The Defence had thirty-six killed and wounded. Her damages were confined to a shot through the mainmast, which was otherwise cut in several places. Much of her lower and topmast rigging was shot away, besides which her gaff was cut in two, and she received some injury to her hanging knees and chain plates. The Defence and her prize, anchoring that evening (as the dying Nelson had desired the fleet should do), weathered the gale that followed the battle and thus the San Ildefonso became one of the few trophies of victory saved from the tempest on this occasion. It is noticeable that a large proportion of the officers and crew of the Defence at Trafalgar were Scotsmen.

James Aitken was born at Hopetoun, in the Parish of Abercorn, Scotland, in about 1780. He is first traced as Boy 2nd Class on board the Venerable 74 which he entered from Sheerness on 2 June 1796. He transferred to the Ordinary Seaman lists on 7 August 1796, and fought in the battle of Camperdown on 11 October 1797.

Aitken was among the long list of men from Venerable who were “Turned Over” to H.M.S. Kent 74 on 14 March 1798. He served on board her as an Ordinary Seaman until 25 October 1804, during which time he took part in the joint operations with the Army off and on the coast of Egypt between May and September 1801.

He was discharged to the Defence 74 per Admiralty Order, on 15 October 1804, still an Ordinary Seaman, and saw action at the battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. He was part of the small crew placed on board a prize on 30 October, returning to his own ship on 5 November 1805. Discharged back to the Kent on 24 December 1805, he was, in May 1809, appointed as Ship’s Cook, a position he held until 1 August that year before reverting to Ordinary Seaman. The Kent’s crew was paid off on 29 January 1813. Aitken then joined the Salvador del Mundo 122 on 30 January and was then discharged to the Adamant 50 on 28 February 1813.

Aitken served on board Adamant as a Captain of the Forecastle (seamen’s living quarters) until the ship’s crew was paid off on 18 September 1813. He was lent to the Nightingale 16 from 28 August, leaving her in November 1813, although by then he was part of the crew of the Latone 38, having officially joined her as a Ship’s Corporal on 23 September. He was discharged from that ship on 8 September 1815, when the entire crew was paid off. Sold with research.