Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria to include a Fine Collection of Napoleonic Medals (25 March 2015)

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Date of Auction: 25th March 2015

Sold for £15,000

Estimate: £15,000 - £20,000

The Field Officer’s Gold Medal for Vittoria awarded to Colonel Charles Hill, C.B., 50th Foot, who was severely wounded at Vimiera and again in the Pyrenees, and who died nursing his sick men during the outbreak of yellow fever in Jamaica in 1819

Field Officer’s Gold Medal 1808-14, for Vittoria (Lieut. Colonel Ch. Hill) complete with gold ribbon buckle, extremely fine £15000-20000

Footnote

Charles Hill was born in about 1760 and was commissioned as an Ensign in the 50th Foot on 27 December 1778; Lieutenant, September 1780; Captain, February 1794; Major in the Army, September 1803; Major, 50th Foot, August 1804.

Major Hill was severely wounded at the battle of Vimiera, 21 August 1808, in circumstances described by Lieutenant-Colonel J. Leach, 95th Rifles, in his
Rough Sketches of the Life of an Old Soldier:

‘The night before the battle I belonged to a picket of about two hundred riflemen, of our own regiment and the 60th, under the command of Major Hill, of the 50th Regiment. We were posted in a large pine wood, to the right and front of General Fane’s brigade. About eight or nine o’clock in the morning of the 21st, a cloud of light troops, supported by a heavy column of infantry, entered the wood, and assailing the pickets with great impetuosity, obliged us to fall back for support on the 97th Regiment. In our retrograde movement, Major Hill, who commanded the pickets, was severely wounded.’

In the battle that followed, the 50th were greatly distinguished and had the honour of breaking a French infantry column, one of two columns about 400 yards apart that were sent to attack Vimiero hill: ‘Each of the two French columns was composed of two battalions, one behind the other; the mass was about 30 men broad and extended back 42 ranks in depth. The northern column was slightly in the lead; it came into contact with the 1/50th which was in two-deep line some minutes before the southern column attacked. The first volley from the 1/50th was fired at a range slightly over 100 yards; others followed regularly at 15-second intervals as the range gradually shortened. Slowly the ranks of the 50th wrapped around the column. The British line was using every one of its 900 muskets; the French could only reply with no more than 200 of their 1,200 firearms. General Thomieres, who commanded the French brigade, endeavoured to deploy from column into line under fire, but found this impossible. The French recoiled at each volley; they finally broke and fled to the rear with the riflemen in hot pursuit.’

Promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel by brevet in July 1810, Hill was confirmed in that rank in June 1811 and formally took command of his regiment. At the battle of Vittoria on 21 June 1813, the 50th formed part of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Cadogan’s Brigade, along with 1/71st, 1/92nd, and 1 Company 5/60th. This brigade, which was part of Stewart’s 2nd Division in Hill’s Corps, was engaged at the very start of the battle when Hill ordered it to take the heights of Puebla on the right flank of Wellington’s Army. They were able to climb right up to the crest of the mountains, but once there were soon engaged in a spirited action. This contest started before 8.30 a.m., and there were heavy casualties on both sides. The 71st suffered severely when the Scots mistook French for our own Spanish infantry, allowed them to approach too close and even to open fire. Their loss amounted to some 400 men, including the gallant Cadogan who was mortally wounded. The 50th and 92nd, however, were able to restore the situation and gained possession of the heights, thereby protecting Hill’s flank. For his part in command of the 50th, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Hill received the Gold Medal.

The following month, on the 25th July, the pass of Maya was attacked by D’Erlon’s corps in an attempt to capture this important pass across the Pyrenees. During the action Lieutenant-Colonel Hill’s 50th Regiment was sent to the aid of Pringle’s hard pressed Brigade, comprising 1/28th, 2/34th and 1/39th Regiments. Hill’s fresh battalion joined that part of Pringle’s Brigade not driven south down the Maya road, and attacked in line, moving west to east. At first they were successful and brought the French to a standstill, but were opposed by greatly superior numbers and finally driven back west in some disorder, Hill himself being severely wounded.

Granted a Pension of three hundred pounds per annum, commencing 26 July 1814, for wounds received in the Pyrenees, Hill was awarded the C.B. on 4 June 1815. In January 1819 the Regiment embarked for Jamaica, arriving at Port Royal 683 strong early in March. Yellow fever struck soon after their arrival, claiming 11 officers and 255 men by the end of the year. Hill himself died of the fever on 31 August 1819, having just received promotion to Colonel by brevet on the 12th August. The circumstances of his death are recorded in the following original obituary notice which accompanies the Medal:

‘It is with much regret we notice that accounts have been received this week from Jamaica, which state the appearance of that dreadful scourge of the island, the yellow fever. The following is an extract from a letter, which we have received, dated Port Royal, Sept. 3, 1819:

“Colonel Sparrow, Deputy-Adjutant-General of the Forces, died on the 22nd of last month, of the yellow fever, which is now raging here in all its horrors. The 50th and 92nd Regiments are arrived here from Ireland, the latter so late as 4th of June - a season, when those assimilated to the climate, expect sickness. The fever broke out the latter end of June in the 50th Regiment, in the most aggravated and appalling form. Colonel Hill, Ensign Barlow (son of General Barlow), and seven other officers, with about 190 men, 23 women, and 15 children fell victims in a very short space of time; as well as Lieutenant-Colonel Blaney, two other officers, and 150 men and children of the 92nd. I lament to say, its ravages have by no means ceased. Sir Home Popham, who has evinced an anxiety to second the zealous exertions of our Commander-in-Chief, General Conran, has, in the most handsome manner, given up, for the use of the troops, the Serapis Convalescent ship; and his kindness, in every way, in our melancholy situation, does honour to his heart.

“A few days previous to the date of the letter, Colonel Hill, of the 50th regiment, the oldest person in the corps, and who had been 47 years in it, fell a sacrifice to his humanity. It is said that it arose from the men refusing to act as nurses to their comrades in the hospital, for all those who had done so had invariably died. After some pause, four privates of the grenadiers offered their services, which of course, were accepted. Two of them in a short time became victims of the pestilence, when the other two instantly withdrew their assistance. This hopeless state of things did not long remain, for Colonel Hill exclaimed, “Then my men, we must change our coats; since I cannot find a man in my regiment to attend a sick soldier, I must do it myself.” Many days did not elapse ere this noble minded officer was himself attacked with the same dreadful malady, which terminated in his death. He was universally respected, and his remains were followed to the grave by all the officers and men of the regiment, whose health permitted their doing so.’