The John Goddard Collection of Important Naval Medals and Nelson Letters (24 November 2015)

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Date of Auction: 24th November 2015

Sold for £70,000

Estimate: £24,000 - £28,000

Admiral Joseph Bullen, a veteran of the American War of Independence, and a close friend and confidant of Nelson, under whom he served in the 28-gun Hinchinbrook; his subsequent services at the occupation and evacuation of Toulon, and at the siege of Bastia, were mentioned by Nelson in the highest possible terms; he was a Volunteer, whilst holding the rank of Commander, on board the Santa Margaritta at the capture of La Tamise in June 1796 and was promoted to Post rank for this action; and, during a long service distinguished with many instances of gallantry, he was engaged with the enemies of his country 69 times in ships, boats and batteries

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 1 clasp, Santa Margaritta 8 June 1796 [3] (Joseph Bullen, Volr.) with original ribbon, extremely fine £24000-28000


Provenance: The Armoury catalogue 1985.

Santa Margaritta 8 June 1796 [3 issued] - Joseph Bullen, Volunteer (the only one available to collectors); Thomas Byam Martin, Captain R.N., later Chairman of the Naval General Service Medal Committee (Royal Naval Museum); Thomas Price, Quarter-Master’s Mate (Patiala Collection, Sheesh Mahal Museum, India).

Sold with a fine framed aquatint by Robert Pollard after Nicholas Pocock, published by Pocock, London 1798: ‘Taking of La Thamise French frigate by His Majesty’s frigate Santa Margaritta’, with dedication to Captain Thomas Byam Martin, image approximately 60x42 cm.

Joseph Bullen was born on 14 April 1761, the second son of Rev. John Bullen, Rector of Kennett, Cambridgeshire, and of Rushmore-cum-Newburn, Suffolk. He entered the Royal Navy in November 1774 as Midshipman on board the Pallas 36, Captain Hon. William Cornwallis, with whom he continued to serve, in the 50-gun ships Isis, Bristol, and Chatham, and 64-gun ship Lion, on the coasts of Africa and North America, and in the West Indies, until 1779.

American War of Independence

During that period he was present in the Isis at the attacks on Fort Mercer, at Red Bank, and on Fort Mifflin, on Mud Island in the Delaware river, during October and November, 1777. The Delaware was an important supply route to Philadelphia, to where General Howe had moved his army and set up his winter quarters after the battle of German Town on 3 October. On 23 October six British ships were engaged by smaller American gunboats and several were severely damaged, including the Augusta 64, and the Merlin 20, which both suffered direct hits before being run aground and destroyed. More than 60 soldiers aboard the Augusta were killed, while the crew of the Merlin abandoned ship and escaped with their lives. Despite this setback, the battle continued throughout the month of October and into November until, on 16 November, the American forces abandoned the fort. The capture of Fort Mufflin gave the British Navy almost complete control of the Delaware river up to Red Bank, New Jersey.

The West Indies and service under Horatio Nelson

As Master’s Mate of the Lion 64, he took part in the action of 6 July, 1779, between Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byron and the Comte d’Estaing off Grenada, on which occasion the Lion was fearfully cut up and suffered a loss of 21 killed and 30 wounded. Bullen, who had been promoted to Lieutenant on 6 March 1778, shortly afterwards joined the Hinchinbrook 28, Captain Horatio Nelson, with Collingwood as his first lieutenant. In the Hinchinbrook he took part in the attack on Fort San Juan during the San Juan Expedition of 1780. Whilst stationed on the Mosquito Shore, the Hinchinbrook suffered fearfully from the effects of the pestilential climate, reportedly losing 208 men out of a crew of 235 in six weeks.

Bullen then returned to the Lion, commanded, at first, by Captain Cornwallis, and later by Captains William Fooks and Pigot; and, on being lent to the Prince George 90, Captain John Williams, he took part, as officer in charge of half the middle gundeck, in Rodney’s decisive victory over the Comte de Grasse in the battle of the Saintes on 12 April 1782, in which the Prince George occupied a very conspicuous position, and had 9 men killed and 20 wounded.

After various appointments, mainly on the Home station, Bullen rejoined his old captain, Nelson, in the Agamemnon 64, in February 1793, and was actively employed in the Mediterranean. Five lieutenants had originally sailed with Nelson to the Mediterranean - Martin Hinton, Joseph Bullen, George Andrews, Wenman Allison and Thomas Edmonds. After his success in Naples, Nelson persuaded Hood to promote the senior lieutenants to the flagships. Hence, in the following September Bullen was appointed to the Victory 100, flag-ship of Lord Hood at Toulon. At the defence of that place against the revolutionists, he held for three weeks the volunteered command of Fort Mulgrave, where, by the bursting of a 36-pounder every man at the gun but himself and Captain Walter Serocold were killed or wounded.

On 20 November 1793, Bullen’s exertions were rewarded by his promotion to the command of the Mulette 20, but in her absence he was appointed Acting-Captain of the Proselyte frigate. In that ship, with a view to rescuing 300 Spanish and Neapolitan troops, who would otherwise have fallen into the hands of the French, he was the last, when Toulon was evacuated, to quit the harbour; and so impracticable had his escape, in consequence of this voluntary act of humanity, been considered, that Lord Hood, in the despatches he was about to send home, had actually returned the Proselyte as lost. Bullen was successful, however, in bringing out all 300 Spanish and Neapolitan troops on board the Proselyte. During the early part of the siege of Bastia, in March 1794, Bullen served as a Volunteer under Captain Serocold, who had superseded him in the Proselyte, now employed as a floating battery, out of which ship they were both burnt by red-hot shot, and, towards the close of the operations, he commanded an advanced battery. His services throughout were reported by Nelson in the highest possible terms.

The Santa Margaritta

In later years Admiral Thomas Byam Martin recalled in a letter: ‘After his ship had been destroyed by the batteries in Bastia in 1794, he continued to serve throughout the siege with distinguished bravery in the advance battery under the immediate command of his old Captain and friend, Captain Horatio Nelson. Bullen embarked with me on board the Modeste for a passage to England. In 1796 I obtained leave of absence from the ship I then commanded, the Santa Margaritta, then refitting in Plymouth and the first person I met on arrival in London was Bullen, then holding the rank of Commander. I said Bullen, I am to rejoin my ship again on such and such a day, and you must go with me. Bullen laughed and said “I have been so accustomed to do as you tell me that I will take care to be ready at the appointed time.”’ Bullen was consequently given permission by Lord Spencer to be a Volunteer on board the Santa Margaritta with his old friend, Captain T. Byam Martin, in which ship he was requested to take command of the main deck guns.

Recapture of the Tamise

At daybreak on the morning of 8 June 1796, the Unicorn 32, Captain Thomas Williams, and the Santa Margaritta 40, Captain T. Byam Martin, while cruizing about seventeen leagues from Scilly, met with and chased two French frigates and a corvette. At one p.m. the frigates hoisted their colours and opened fire on the Santa Margaritta, causing much damage to her masts and rigging. At about four p.m., after some running repairs, Santa Margaritta closed with one of the frigates and fought her broadside to broadside for twenty minutes, compelling her to strike her colours. The prize was the 32-gun frigate Tamise, formerly the British frigate Thames, captured in 1793. Her loss was thirty two killed and 19 wounded, whilst the Santa Margaritta had 2 seamen killed and 3 wounded. Seeing the fate of her companion, the other French frigate made sail in an attempt to escape but was chased by the Unicorn which engaged her for ten hours in a running fight before bringing her to close action and ultimate surrender. She proved to be the Tribune which was added to the Royal Navy under the same name and gained a knighthood for Captain Williams.

In his report of the action to Vice-Admiral Kingsmill, Captain Martin concluded, ‘In addition to the officers and ship’s company may I also be permitted to beg you will offer to the consideration of the Admiralty the meritorious conduct of Captain Joseph Bullen, a master and commander in the navy, serving in the Santa Margaritta as a volunteer by permission from Lord Spencer. His desire to have some active employment induced me to beg he would assist in the management of the main-deck guns, as I well knew that his long services and approved courage in various situations would be a proper example to the younger part of the ship’s company.’

Commander Bullen was promoted for this action to post rank on 20 June 1796. Since being unable to obtain sea service, he undertook that of the Fencibles of the Lyme Regis district, whom he had joined in 1794.

A last meeting with Nelson

When Lord Nelson, in the autumn of 1805, was preparing to leave England for the scene of his last crowning victory and glorious death, he was in lodgings in London, and Captain Bullen, calling one morning, found the hero surrounded by officers and friends.; the moment his name was announced, his Lordship rushed from the circle, seized his hand, saluted him on each cheek, and during the interview remained with his only arm over Bullen’s shoulder.

The Lyme Regis Fencibles being disbanded in 1810, Bullen then went on half-pay. He became a Rear-Admiral, 28 August 1819; a Vice-Admiral, 12 November 1840; and a Full Admiral on the retired list, 23 November 1841. From the above meagre outline of the professional life of this true old sailor, it can be seen that he spent twenty-two years in the active service of his country afloat at sea and then languished through long years of early manhood ashore, like many another brave officer, unaided by courtly or official favour. Bullen himself reckoned he had been ‘sixty-nine times under fire of the enemy in ships, boats, and batteries; that he had been gazetted at home and publicly thanked by commanders-in-chief abroad. Yet the only distinction he obtained was a war medal with one clasp for his volunteered service on board the Santa Margaritta.’

It is fitting that his old friend Admiral T. Byam Martin was the officer chosen to be Chairman of the Naval General Service Medal Committee and that when Bullen eventually received his medal it was accompanied by the following letter, dated 3rd March 1849:

‘My Dear Bullen, - Remembering with grateful pleasure and satisfaction, your energetic exertions and valuable assistance on board the Santa Margaritta, fifty-three years ago in the capture of La Tamise, it is a particular pleasure to me to forward to you a medal commemorative of that event. I am writing at a very hurried moment, and have only time to add my fervent hope that you may have many happy years to reflect with just pride of your gallant services in the earlier part of your life. - With sincere regard,

I am ever, my dear Bullen, affectionately, your old friend,

T. Byam Martin.’

Bullen resided in Bath for upwards of thirty years and died there on 17 July 1857.