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 £65,000

Estimate: £24,000 - £28,000

Able Seaman Samuel Blackmore who served aboard the Minerve with Nelson, Hardy and Cockburn in three important actions, and was three times taken prisoner of war

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 3 clasps, Minerve 19 Decr 1796 [4], St. Vincent [346], Boat Service 29 May 1797 [3] (Samuel Blackmore.) extremely fine £24000-28000


Provenance: Buckland Dix & Wood, April 1994 (ex Dr W. A. Land Collection).

Minerve 19 Decr. 1796 [4 issued] - Samuel Blackmore, A.B.; Peter Brown, A.B.; George Cockburn, Captain R.N. (later Rear- Admiral Sir, 6 clasps, National Maritime Museum); William H. Gage, Lieutenant R.N.

St. Vincent [348 issued] - including 5 to Minerve.

Boat Service 29 May 1797 [3 issued] - Samuel Blackmore, A.B.; William H. Gage, Lieutenant R.N.; Thomas J. Maling, Actg. Lieut. R.N.

Also sold with Mr. Davison’s medal for the Nile in bronze, very fine, together with the original printed description issued with the Nile medal bearing the seal of Calais, now backed on linen, and an old hand written note which reads: ‘Medal of the Battle of the Nile - Samuel Blackmore Coxswain to Lord Nelson Forfeited for insulting a French Officer at Calais & returned with City Seal on this paper - He was a prisoner of war in France for 16 years’, contained in an old fitted leather case, with provision also for the N.G.S. above. Blackmore was not present at the battle of the Nile and this Davison’s medal must have come into his possession from another participant and been later confused in the fog of family tradition. Together with an old case fitted to hold both medals.

Samuel Blackmore was born at Exmouth, circa 1773, and by the outbreak of war with the French republic in 1793, had at least three years experience in the ‘trade of the sea’. On 30 June, Blackmore was aboard the East Indiaman Imperial in Cork harbour when she was boarded by a Lieutenant from H.M.S. Diadem bearing an impress warrant. However, patriotic fervour was running high and twenty-one of the Imperial's seamen volunteered, Samuel Blackmore among them. He was immediately rated Able Seaman and awarded his bounty out of which thirteen shillings was deducted for his hammock and bedding.

On 7 July 1794, he was transferred to the Berwick 74 (Captain William Smith) and was aboard her with Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Hotham's Mediterranean Fleet in January 1795, when she ‘rolled out her masts’ in a heavy cross swell in the Bay of San Fiorenzo. Smith was subsequently court-martialled, and Captain Adam Littlejohn appointed in his place. Hotham was anxious for the fleet to sail for Leghorn and gave orders for the Berwick to follow as soon as she had been jury rigged. Littlejohn sailed at 5:00am on 7 March, but unfortunately Berwick's departure coincided with Rear-Admiral Martin's attempt to recover Corsica and she ran into the advanced frigates of the French fleet off Cape Corse. Berwick ran for Bastia hotly pursued by the most leeward of the French ships, the Alceste 36 (Lieut. Lejoille) which, in turn was followed by the Minerve and Vestale. At 8:45am, one and three quarter hours after sighting Martin's fleet, the Berwick was brought to action, and according to the report of the first lieutenant, Lieutenant Nesbit Palmer, ‘received the fire of two ships of the line and two frigates astern’.

Blackmore taken prisoner

At about 9:45am, a bar-shot took off Captain Littlejohn's head and severed the foot rope of the mainsail, which ‘(it blowing strong) went all to pieces.’ The command devolved on Lieutenant Palmer who, in view of the extensive damage sustained prior to the Captain's decapitation, obtained his officers agreement and ordered the Berwick’s colours to be struck. Officers and men were duly taken prisoner, ‘without’ according to one account, ‘being allowed to take any clothes except those on their backs, and were, in every other respect, most shamefully treated.’ However, Blackmore and the other lower-deck seamen and marines of the Berwick were only held in captivity until 23 August when they were exchanged under a French cartel and sent aboard H.M.S. Ca Ira lying as Guard and Base vessel in San Fiorenzo Bay. Palmer and the other officers were detained until 2 October when upon their release they were subsequently tried and honourably acquitted for the loss of the Berwick.

Blackmore joins Minerve

Meanwhile, Blackmore had been drafted from Ca Ira on 7 September and took passage to Ajacio in H.M.S. Southampton to join the Minerve, which had been captured on 26 June by Captain Henry Towry in H.M.S. Dido. Blackmore was duly signed aboard on 10 September and thus came directly into contact with two men destined to attain a pre-eminent position in British naval history, Lieutenant Thomas Masterman Hardy and, the Mediterranean Fleet's most determined officer, Commodore Horatio Nelson.

Minerve captures Sabina, Blackmore taken prisoner again

On 10 December 1796, Nelson hoisted his broad pennant in the Minerve (Captain George Cockburn), and with Blanche 32 (Captain D'Arcy Preston) sailed from Gibraltar to supervise the evacuation from Porto Ferrajo. At 10pm on the 19th, Minerve and Blanche fell in with two Spanish frigates, the Sabina 40, and the Ceres 40, off Carthagenia. Under Nelson's direction Cockburn brought the Sabina to close action at 10:40pm and during the subsequent engagement shot away her mizzenmast, shot through her fore and main masts and, according to Nelson's account, inflicted 164 casualties. At 12:30am, the Spanish commander, Don Jacobo Stuart, a great-grandson of James II, struck the Sabina’s colours. The Minerve had sustained casualties of one midshipman and six men killed, which with forty wounded, reduced the ship's complement to 239, from which forty-two were required as a prize crew for the Sabina. The first and second Lieutenants, John Culverhouse and Thomas Hardy were duly selected and placed aboard with forty petty officers and seamen including Samuel Blackmore. At 4:00am, the Sabina was taken in tow but at the approach of another Spanish frigate, the Matilda 34, was immediately cast off. For half an hour the Minerve and Matilda remained locked in mortal combat until the latter eventually hauled off. Nelson and the Minerve now faced an even greater danger from four more Spanish ships, including the Principe-de-Asturias 112. Throughout the day the Minerve, 'her masts and sails much damaged', was pursued by the Spanish squadron, but, by 'the most strenuous union of coolness and seamanship', effected an escape afforded by the aggressive action Culverhouse, Hardy, Blackmore and the others of the Sabina’s prize crew, who flying British colours over Spanish and keeping the Spanish crew subdued, harried the enemy ships 'with the greatest skill' until her remaining masts went over the side 'and she lay a mere wreck on the water.' There is little doubt that without the intervention of Culverhouse's men the Minerve, and with her Nelson, who was already 'recognised as one of the first characters in the Service' would have been captured.
Ultimately Culverhouse and Hardy were obliged to surrender and thus Blackmore again fell into enemy hands, where he remained until an exchange of prisoners was arranged, and he arrived aboard the
Minerve at Gibraltar on 10 February 1797.

Minerve at St. Vincent

Two days later Blackmore sailed with the Minerve carrying Nelson to a rendezvous with Sir John Jervis off Cape St. Vincent, where the Commodore transferred to H.M.S. Captain, 74. Arriving there at 10:00pm on the 13th, Nelson was able to give Jervis intelligence regarding the approach of the Spanish fleet which the Minerve had stumbled upon en route, and which the next day was to suffer such a resounding defeat in the Battle of St. Vincent. During the battle itself, Cockburn again received the Commodore's broad pennant in the Minerve and was directed to convey him from the disabled Captain, to any British ship actively engaged in the van.

Capture of La Mutine, Hardy promoted Commander

Blackmore was next involved in the Boat Service action which won Thomas Hardy promotion to Commander on Nelson's recommendation. On 28 May 1797, Minerve and Lively discovered the French armed brig La Mutine, mounting 12 long 6-pounders and 2 brass 36-pr carronades and having aboard a crew of 120 men, at anchor in the Santa Cruz road. Captains Cockburn and Hallowell duly appointed Hardy to attempt the daring enterprise of cutting her out. Accordingly at 2:30pm on the 29th, Hardy commenced the operation, and succeeded in boarding and capturing La Mutine, sustaining just fifteen men wounded in spite of the stiff opposition.

Sir John Jervis afterwards told Nelson in a letter, 'My dear Admiral, The capture of La Mutine was so desperate an enterprise, that I should certainly have promoted Lieutenant Hardy, so that neither you, Hallowell, nor Cockbum, have any debtor account to me upon this occasion. He has got it by his own bat, and I hope will prosper.' On 15 June, the 349-ton Mutine was commissioned and placed under Hardy's command. Blackmore however was not among those 'lent', and remained with the Minerve. In 1798, Minerve returned to home waters for a refit at Portsmouth and Blackmore, being deemed unlikely to desert, was granted the rare privilege of being allowed home on a month's leave. However it seems that he found his family in dire financial straits for upon his return to the Minerve the Purser entered in his accounts 'Remit One Year's Pay' against Blackmore's name. Minerve sailed again for the Mediterranean and cruised 'with very considerable success, capturing several privateers, and valuable merchantmen.'

Blackmore taken prisoner a third time

On 3 May 1799 Samuel Blackmore was once again taken prisoner but neither the ship’s muster book nor the Captain’s journal give any clues as to what had happened, but that he was returned to Minerve on 26 July. Through the winter of 1800-01 Minerve was engaged on blockade duty, an arduous duty in the fierce Atlantic winter gales which took its toll on the frigate, such that in January 1801 she was forced into Lisbon to be re-caulked and made watertight again. On the first of that month Blackmore, still only 24 years of age, had been promoted Coxswain of the Minerve, to have charge of the captain’s barge among other duties. By 1 February the caulking work had been completed and Minerve sailed south to rejoin the fleet at Cadiz. On 16 June she arrived at Minorca, from where she was to escort a vast convoy with vital supplies and reinforcements to the army in Egypt. On this same day Blackmore, for some unexplained reason, was reduced to Able Seaman once more. After returning from Aboukir Bay she subsequently took part in the blockade of Elba, and while employed there took part in the capture of the former British frigate the Success, and the destruction of La Bavoure 46, near Leghorn, in September 1801. With the end of the war in sight, Blackmore was ‘paid off’ on 23 February 1802. Cockburn’s final entry in his log of the Minerve simply reads: ‘Saturday the 20th February 1802... sent the people away in the gunboats to go to the Nore. At Sunset, the Men being all gone, hauled the pendant down’, thus bringing to an end the distinguished career of the gallant little Minerve.

Blackmore was given passage in H.M.S. Cracker to the floating barracks in the Nore. Through the generosity of the local Flag Officer, he was offered and accepted passage to a port of his choosing and was duly delivered to Yarmouth on 1 March where he was discharged to shore and civil employment, probably with the Deep Sea Merchant Fleet. A Certificate of Service was issued to him in June 1836, when he was 60. This suggests that he may have applied for a pension based on his years in the Navy, but he was never a pensioner at Greenwich. The certificate confirms that his career in the Navy started in Diadem as an Able Seaman in 1793, and that he was on the Minerve from August 1795 until February 1802, and that he never served in the Navy after that. Samuel Blackmore died at Dover on 30 September 1854 and was buried with his wife in Cowgate Cemetery.

As a specimen of the Naval series this medal must be without many equals combining, as it does, examples of clasps for Fleet, Frigate and Boat Service actions, in themselves of rare issuance and each of historic significance, together with such close association with Nelson and Hardy. Blackmore would also have been entitled to the additional clasp for Egypt, but did not claim for it unlike 10 of his shipmates. The medal is accompanied by Anthony Blackmore’s book Rum, Sodomy and the Lash - A Devon lad’s life in Nelson’s Navy, published in 2002, which chronicles the life and times of his distant ancestor’s naval career.