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 £42,000

Estimate: £18,000 - £22,000

Sir Benjamin Fonseca Outram, C.B., M.D., F.R.S., F.G.S., Inspector of Naval Hospitals and Fleets, Surgeon of La Nymphe at the capture of two French ships in March 1797, and Surgeon of the Superb in her remarkable action at the second battle of Algeciras, in the Gut of Gibraltar, which resulted in the destruction of two Spanish three-deckers and the capture of a French 74

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 2 clasps, Nymphe 8 March 1797 [4], Gut of Gibraltar 12 July 1801 [143] (B. F. Outram, Surgeon, R.N.) with original ribbon, attractively toned, good very fine £18000-22000


Provenance: Sotheby, November 1986; Dr A. L. Lloyd Collection, Bonhams, March 2013.

Nymphe 8 March 1797 [4 issued] - John Cook, Pte. R.M. (Royal Marines Museum); John H. Godby, Midshipman (Known); John D. Markland, Master’s Mate; Benjamin F. Outram, Surgeon R.N. To this number must be added Robert Bastin, A.B. (later Lieutenant) who is verified aboard but not shown on the Admiralty roll (National Maritime Museum).

Gut of Gibraltar 12 July 1801 [143 issued] - including 30 to the Superb.

Benjamin Fonseca Outram was born in Yorkshire in 1774, son of William Outram, a Captain in the Merchant service, and educated as a surgeon at the United Borough hospitals in London. He was first employed as a surgeon in the naval medical service in 1794, going to sea as a Surgeon’s Mate aboard the Iris frigate. He was promoted to the rank of Surgeon in 1796, and subsequently served in the Harpy, La Nymphe and Boadicea. On 21 December 1796 he joined La Nymphe, Captain John Cooke, a distinguished officer who was later killed at Trafalgar whilst in command of the Bellerophon.

La Nymphe and San Fiorenzo capture the Résistance and Constance

On 9 March 1797, early in the morning, the British 18-pounder 36-gun frigate San Fiorenzo, Captain Sir Harry Neale, and the 12-pounder 36-gun frigate La Nymphe, Captain John Cooke, while on their return to Admiral Lord Bridport’s fleet off Ushant, after having reconnoitred the road to Brest, sighted two French ships standing in towards the harbour; one the 40-gun frigate Résistance, the other the 22-gun corvette Constance. The San Fiorenzo and La Nymphe immediately tacked and hauled close to the wind, until, having gained the weather-gage, they bore down for the two strangers, who had by this time hoisted French colours, and the headmost of whom now fired at the British ships. The two British ships stood fore, and, at the distance of about 40 yards, soon engaged the headmost ship, the Résistance, which, after a slight defence, struck her colours. By the time this ship was taken possession of, the other had arrived up, and, being attacked by both British frigates as warmly as her consort had been, in 10 minutes surrendered also. The action, which was a running fight, did not last longer than half an hour. Neither of the British ships suffered the slightest damage or loss. The Résistance, on the other hand, had 10 men killed, her first-lieutenant and eight men wounded; the Constance had eight men killed and six wounded. Both ships were taken into the Royal Navy, the Résistance being renamed Fisgard, while Constance retained her name.

La Nymphe was one of the ships involved in the Spithead Mutiny of April and May 1797, the men demanding better pay and conditions. No particular accusation was brought against Captain Cooke but his conduct was considered unsatisfactory. The chief complaints were made against the lieutenants who made a practise of beating the men themselves if they considered the boatswain’s mates were not putting enough effort into it. As a result Cooke and his two lieutenants were sent ashore by the mutineers.

Superb defeats two Spanish three-deckers and captures a French 74 in the Gut of Gibraltar

In early 1800, Outram found himself on board the Superb 74, Captain Richard Keats. In July 1801 she was stationed off Cadiz and took part in the second Battle of Algeciras Bay on the 12th, when, during the French and Spanish retreat Admiral Sir James Saumarez hailed the Superb and ordered Keats to catch the allied fleets rear and engage. The Superb was a relatively new ship and had not been long on blockade duty and, as a consequence, she was the fastest sailing ship-of-the-line in the fleet. As night fell Keats sailed the Superb alongside the 112-gun Real Carlos on her starboard side. Another Spanish ship, the 112-gun San Hermenegildo, was sailing abreast, on the port side, of the Real Carlos. Keats fired into the Real Carlos and some shot passed her and struck the San Hermenegildo. The Real Carlos caught fire and Keats disengaged her to continue up the line. In the darkness the two Spanish ships confused one another for British ships and began a furious duel. With the Real Carlos aflame the captain of the Hermenegildo determined to take advantage and crossed the Real Carlos’ stern in order to deal a fatal broadside that would run the length of the ship through the unprotected stern. A sudden gust of wind brought the two ships together and entangled their rigging. The Hermenegildo also caught fire and the two enormous three-deck ships exploded. The Superb continued on relatively unscathed and engaged the French 74-gun St Antoine, under Commodore Julien le Roy, which ship struck after a brief exchange of broadsides. The action came to an end with the intervention of Captain Amable Troude aboard the Formidable. Troude placed his ship, which had been damaged in the earlier engagement and could not keep up with the main allied fleet, between the escaping allied fleet and the British. He fought off four ships before escaping in to Cadiz.

Both Troude and Keats were highly praised by their commanders and the general public. Troude received an audience with Napoleon, while Nelson said of Keats in a letter to the Duke of Clarence: ‘Our friend Keats is quite well in his own person he is equal in my estimation to an additional Seventy-four; his life is a valuable one to the State, and it is impossible that your Royal Highness could ever have a better choice of a Sea friend, or Counsellor, if you go to the Admiralty.’

From 1803 till the end of the war Outram served principally on board the Royal yachts, notably the Royal Sovereign. He lived to refute the mis-statements in Thiers’ History of the French Revolution regarding the remarkable exploit of the Superb during the night of July 12, 1801. ‘His presence of mind in extinguishing a fire at the door of the magazine is said to have saved the Superb from sharing the fate of her blown-up antagonists.’ (James Outram, a Biography by F. J. Goldsmid refers)

In 1806, with a view to entering upon civil practise, he went to Edinburgh where he graduated doctor of medicine on 24 June 1809, after presenting his inaugural thesis, ‘De Febrea’. He was admitted a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of London on 16 April 1810, and then commenced practise as a physician at Hanover Square in London, where he lived more than forty years. He also acted as physician to the Welbeck Street Dispensary. On 30 May 1838 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London, and also became one of the earliest members of the Royal Geographical Society.

In 1841 Outram became medical inspector of her Majesty’s fleets and hospitals. He was nominated a Companion of the Bath on 17 September 1850, and was knighted by patent shortly afterwards. He was admitted a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London on 9 July 1852. He was also the author of a pamphlet, Suggestions to Naval Surgeons previous to, during, and after a Battle. Sir Benjamin Outram died at Brighton on 16 February 1856, and was buried at Clifton, near Bristol.

Sold with research including copied pages from Outram’s ‘Medical Journal of His Majesty’s Ship La Nymphe, from the 21st Decr. 1796 to the 31st March 1797’ (ADM 101/110/4), and his Will dated 7 July 1795 (ADM 48/69). Many of Outram’s papers are held at Edinburgh University Library (GB 237 Coll-308), while Outram’s naval uniform and medicine chest are in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.