Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (19 - 21 June 2013)

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Date of Auction: 19th - 21st June 2013

Sold for £30,000

Estimate: £18,000 - £22,000

The rare N.G.S. medal awarded to Commander James Rennie, Royal Navy, who was promoted to Lieutenant ‘for his gallantry in the action off Lissa in 1811’, which includes a unique and previously unrecorded clasp for a boat service action on 8 June 1810

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 3 clasps, 8 June Boat Service 1810, 28 June Boat Service 1810, Lissa (James Rennie, Master’s Mate) edge bruises, otherwise dark toned, good very fine and unique £18000-22000


James Rennie served as Master’s Mate and Lieutenant of Cerberus at all three actions. The Admiralty rolls only record him for the Lissa clasp. However, the Captain’s Log for 8 June 1810 records the destruction by the boats of Cerberus and Amphion, in the harbour of Ortona, in the Adriatic, of a ‘vessel which proved a ship under Russian colours’. It is clear that he made a further claim for the two boat service actions which seems to have met with success. Furthermore, Joseph Allen’s New Navy List for January 1850 confirms Rennie as having received the ‘Naval Medal’ with three clasps. See also Naval Medals 1793-1856, by Captain K. J. Douglas-Morris, for examples of two other ‘unlisted’ boat service action clasps which appear to have been authorised after the publication of the ‘official’ list in the London Gazette of 26 January 1849.

James Rennie entered the Navy on 19 December 1803, as Midshipman on board the Desirée 36, Captain Henry Whitby, and as Acting Master assisted in surveying the Caicos Islands, and was in several boat-affairs on the coasts of Cuba and St Domingo, particularly in cutting out in Cumberland Harbour, Cuba, a 6-gun felucca, under a heavy fire from the shore. He accompanied Captain Whitby, in April 1805, into the Centaur 74, and, in November of the same year, into the Leander 50, flag-ship of Sir Andrew Mitchell on the coast of North America. In April 1806 Captain Whitby became embroiled in an ugly incident when a shot, apparently from the Leander, killed a seaman aboard an American sloop, one of several vessels being detained and searched for contraband off the port of New York. Amongst a public outcry, a charge of murder, endorsed even by the President, was levelled against Captain Whitby, who was forced to leave American waters. At a subsequent period Whitby, at the instance of the British admiralty, was tried by a court-martial for the murder of John Pierce, and, there not being a particle of evidence to prove the charge, was acquitted.

In the autumn of 1806, Rennie returned to England as a Supernumerary in the Tartar 50, prior to joining the Defence 74, Captain Charles Ekins, under whom he took part in the following year in the attack upon Copenhagen. During these operations Rennie served under the immediate orders of Colonel D’Arcy, Chief of Engineers, and also in command of the Ornen, a Danish brig of 10 guns, and was involved in frequent affrays with the enemy’s gun-boats. He was subsequently employed off Lisbon, from where he escorted the Russian fleet to England after the convention of Cintra, and in the West Indies.

In October 1809 he was again, with the rating of Master’s Mate, placed under the orders of Captain Whitby on board the Cerberus 32, in which ship he served continuously until May 1812. Whilst attached to Cerberus he saw a vast deal of active service in the Adriatic. It is believed that he participated in the destruction, by the boats of the Cerberus and Amphion, of a vessel under Russian colours in the harbour of Ortona on 8 June 1810; and on 14 June of the same month he was present in the boats of the Cerberus, in concert with those of the Swallow, in the successful destruction of an enemy force comprising one vessel of 8 guns and fifty men and two of 6 guns and forty men each. He also assisted at the capture of Cortelazzo, of a convoy of 25 vessels near the town of Groa on 29 June 1810, and of four Venetian trabaccalos protected by a heavy fire of musketry at Pestichi on 3 February 1811.

He was also, on 12 February 1811, present with the boats of the Cerberus and Active 38 under Lieutenant James Dickinson at the cutting out, near the town of Ortona, of a convoy of 10 sail, defended by a trabaccolo of 6 guns, full of men, as well as by the fire of a body of troops posted on the beach and hills. On that occasion, having in the barge, in unison with Lieutenant Dickinson in the gig, boarded and carried the trebaccolo, he landed at the head of the small arm men (as did Lieutenant Peter Mears with the marines) scaled a rocky eminence and threw up a breastwork. This kept the enemy in check for three hours and enabled the seamen to secure the vessels. He also aided in destroying two large magazines, and with his own hands planted the British colours at the very gates of the town. During these proceedings the two frigates, unable to distinguish friend from foe, had opened a heavy fire upon both, which lasted until the union-jack was hoisted by Mr Rennie on the summit of a hill (London Gazette 1811, p. 997).

On 13 March 1811, the Cerberus, with a loss to herself of 13 killed and 41 wounded, took part in the celebrated action off Lissa, where a British squadron, carrying in the whole 156 guns and 879 men, completely routed, after a conflict of six hours, a Franco-Venetian armament consisting of 284 guns and 2655 men. On 15 of the following June Rennie was at the boarding and capture of of four gun-boats under a heavy fire in the Zara Channel. For his conduct at Lissa he was presented, in June 1812, with a commission dated back to the day of the action.

On 15 June 1812, Lieutenant Rennie was appointed to the Edinburgh 74, Captains Robert Rolles and Hon. G. H. L. Dundas, he again proceeded to the Mediterranean, and while on that station, was present at the capture of Port d’Anzo, where a convoy of 29 vessels fell into the hands of the British; also of the town of Reggio, and of Santa Maria, and the enemy’s forts and defences in the Gulf of Spezia. At the taking of Genoa in April 1814, he had command of two pieces of ordnance and was stationed in advance of the army. He left the Edinburgh in December 1814, and was latterly, from March to December 1815, employed in the Redpole 10, Captain Edmund Denman, under whom he escorted Napoleon Buonaparte to St Helena.

Rennie was promoted to Commander on the Retired List on 1 October 1851. He died in 1867 and was buried in the South Metropolitan Cemetery at Gravesend, Kent, on 12 January. The burial register records him as ‘Captn. R.N.’, aged 83 years.

It is interesting to note that Haultain’s New Navy List of 1842 shows Rennie as being in command of the East India Company Steamer Sesostris in China, an error of confusion compounded by O’Byrne in his Naval Biography. The commander of the Sesostris was in fact a different man of the same name serving in the Indian Navy. Sold with research including record of service and relevant copied entries from the Captain’s Log of the Cerberus and the First Lieutenant’s letter reporting the boat service action of 14 June 1810.