Orders, Decorations and Medals (12 May 2015)

Image 1

Click Image to Zoom

Date of Auction: 12th May 2015

Sold for £2,800

Estimate: £2,800 - £3,200

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 2 clasps, Martinique, Guadaloupe (James Leitch, Surgeon.) extremely fine


James Leitch was born in Scotland in 1781, and having set his mind on entering the medical profession, then joined the Royal Navy in early 1805 as an Assistant Surgeon, and after promotion to Surgeon on 1 March 1808, joined for his first seagoing appointment, the recently launched 18 gun Cruizer class brig sloop H.M.S. Amaranthe, which was then preparing for a posting to the West Indies and Caribbean, and with Leith aboard, under the command of Captain Edward Pelham Brenton, she sailed for the Leeward Islands on 20 April 1808, and, after joining a squadron gathered at Barbados, was then present in the operations prior to the invasion of the French held island of Martinique, Amaranthe forming part of the blockading force during the operations on this island. 

On 11 November 1808, Amaranthe, together with Circe and Eperviere captured the American vessel Intrepid, and nine days later the same three British vessels, together with Unique, participated in the capture of the American vessel Mary and Allen, though the Prize Money was not paid until 1838. On 20th November, Amaranthe, Circe, Cherub, Eperviere and Ulysses participated in the capture of the American vessel Bonetta, but once again Prize Money was not paid until much later in 1839. The first of these, Intrepid, was a famous St. Lucia smuggler.
Off the Pearl Rock

On 13 December 1808 Amaranthe joined Circe and Stork in destroying the French 16-gun schooner Cygne and two other schooners near Pearl Rock, Saint-Pierre, Martinique. The French vessels had already inflicted heavy casualties on the British vessels before Amaranthe arrived. Fire from Amaranthe compelled the crew of Cygne to abandon her, and Amaranthe's boats boarded and destroyed the French vessel. For her part Amaranthe lost one man killed and five wounded due to fire from batteries on the shore. Brenton then volunteered to destroy the schooner grounded near Cygne. Men from Amaranthe and Express boarded the schooner and set fire to her too. This expedition cost Amaranthe her sailing master, Joshua Jones, who was severely wounded. The other British vessels that contributed boats also had casualties. Including the losses in the earlier fighting before Amaranthe arrived, the British had lost some 12 men killed, 31 wounded, and 26 missing either drowned or prisoners for little gain. Cygne was armed with 18 guns and carried a crew of 140 men. She had been carrying flour, guns and cartridge paper for the relief of Martinique. The French schooners were armed and were carrying flour. Brenton was promoted to post-captain soon after the battle, with the promotion being back dated to 13th December, the date of the battle. In 1847 the Admiralty authorised the Naval General Service Medal 1793-1840 with clasp ‘Off the Pearl Rock 13 Decr. 1808’, but it appears to have been granted only to those who served in the ship’s boats and not to those who remained on board ship. Of the 6 men from Amaranthe who claimed the Martinique and Guadaloupe clasps, only one had the additional clasp for Off the Pearl Rock. 


Command of Amaranthe then passed to Commander George Pringle in December 1808, but he was still in command of Pultask, and as a result he did not actually assume command until after January 1809. Amaranthe then took part in the successful invasion of Martinique in February 1809. During this campaign Captain Pelham served on shore with a detachment of sailors and held the temporary Army rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The surviving crew of Amaranthe received the clasp Martinique for this campaign, and out of the 506 clasps awarded, only 12 were awarded to surviving members of Amaranthe, three being to officers including Surgeon Leitch. 

On 18 June 1809 Amaranthe under the command of Commander Pringle, was among the vessels in sight when Latona captured the French frigate Felicite, and so shared in the Prize Money. Amaranthe was then involved in the capture of the island of Guadaloupe on 5 February 1810, when, together with a British Squadron under the command of Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, combined with army troops under Lieutenant General Sir George Beckwith, the combined forces defeated the French and captured the island. 484 clasps for Guadaloupe were issued, of which only 6 were claimed by surviving members of Amaranthe, Leitch being the only officer from this ship.

Leitch was discharged from Amaranthe on 21 August 1810 with the remark in the records of ‘now superseded’, and was then posted as Surgeon aboard the 32-gun Amazon Class fifth rate frigate H.M.S. Castor on 22 August 1810. This vessel was then also serving on the West Indies station, and Captain Charles Dilkes took command in October 1810, and Castor spent 1811 and 1812 on the Leeward Islands and Jamaica stations. Castor transferred to the Mediterranean station in late 1812, and on 22 June 1813 captured the 2-gun privateer Fortune off the Catalan coast. She captured two other privateers, the one-gun Heureux and Minute, off Barcelona on 25 January 1814. With the Napoleonic War drawing to a close, Castor returned to the United Kingdom, and was paid off on 4 July 1814.

Leitch then disappears from the records, presumably undertaking shore based employment but still with the Royal Navy. However, on 1 August 1834, he was placed on half pay in consequence of partial paralysis of the right side which ‘renders him incapable of engaging in general practice. Is willing to take employment if deemed capable’. In all he was placed on half pay 36 times from December 1825 to 1863, when he was finally struck from the lists, his address being then shown as Crieff in Perthshire.

On 1 February 1839, Leitch was offered an appointment to H.M.S. Hydra, ‘if upon examination he was fit for duty’. His reply is now lost, however it is almost certain that he wrote to state he was unfit for service, as he never did join the ship. In a letter from the Secretary to the Admiralty, Sir John Barrow, dated 25 June 1839, Leitch is finally deemed ‘unfit for sea service’. However, in spite of his incapacity, James Leitch lived to 84, and died on 15 January 1866.