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 £20,000

Estimate: £10,000 - £12,000

Admiral Thomas Bennett, R.N., who was wounded as a 12 year-old midshipman at the battle of Camperdown, and was second Lieutenant of the Seahorse in Captain John Stewart’s brilliant ‘Gold Medal’ night action with a Turkish squadron in July 1808

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 2 clasps, Camperdown [298], Seahorse Wh Badere Zaffere [32] (Thomas Bennett, Lieut.) together with contemporary miniature medal with two engraved clasps on original ribbon fitted with silver ribbon buckle, good very fine (2) £10000-12000


Provenance: Sotheby, June 1971 (to Fergus Gowans Collection); Glendining’s, March 1989.

Camperdown [298 issued] - including 3 officers and 20 men of the Monarch.

Seahorse Wh Badere Zaffere [32 issued] - including 11 officers of which the following six are known: Thomas Bennett, Lieutenant (third senior officer aboard the Seahorse and senior surviving claimant); Hon. George P. Campbell, Midshipman; Lord John Hay, Midshipman; Viscount A. G. Kenmore, Midshipman (Honeyman Collection, Huntington Library, U.S.A.); William Oastler, Surgeon; Edwin L. Rich, Midshipman (Royal Naval Museum).

Thomas Bennett was born on 22 February 1785, at Hereford, a nephew of Francis Bennett, Esq., Purser of the Nassau 64, who perished in that ship when wrecked on the coast of Holland, 14 October 1799, and of Commander William Bennett, R.N., who died in 1819. He entered the Navy in March 1797 as a Volunteer, on board the Monarch 74, Captain John Elphinstone, flagship afterwards of Vice-Admiral Richard Onslow, under whom he fought and was wounded, while only twelve years of age, in the battle of Camperdown, 11 October following. On leaving the Monarch, in which ship he had previously witnessed the mutiny at Spithead, he successively joined the Nassau 64, Captains William Hargood and George Tripp, guard-ship at the Nore, and, in the early part of 1798, the Amphion 32, Captain Richard Henry Alex. Bennett, employed on the North Sea, African, and West India stations. Among other achievements he assisted, while cruizing off the island of Jamaica in company with the Alarm 32, in effecting the capture, 25 November 1799, of the Asturiana, Spanish letter-of-marque, mounting 28 guns, with a complement of 180 men; and for his zeal and activity on various occasions, but more especially in the boat-chase of a privateer off Port Royal, was ultimately, in 1801, transferred by the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Hugh Seymour, to his flagship, the Sans Pareil 80. The premature death, however, of the gallant Admiral depriving him of the immediate promotion he had been promised, Mr. Bennett did not obtain any advancement in his profession until January 1802, when he appears to have been appointed Acting-Lieutenant, for a short time, of the Tartar 36, and Vanguard 74, both commanded by Captain James Walker.

He returned home in the course of the same year on board the Cerberus 32, Captain James Macnamara; and on being reappointed as Admiralty Midshipman, at the commencement of hostilities, to the Amphion, then commanded by Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy, conveyed Lord Nelson to the Mediterranean, where he was promoted by his Lordship, who had previously made him his Signal Officer, into the Camelion 18, Captain Thomas Staines, 25 July, 1803 – an act which was officially confirmed on 9 December following. During the next two years Bennett was warmly engaged, nearly the whole time as First-Lieutenant, in destroying the enemy’s coasting-trade between Toulon and Genoa. On one occasion, on 29 August 1803, whilst attacking five vessels under the batteries at Rimasol, his clothes and hat were shot through in an extraordinary manner, and every person in his own boat, except himself, two men, and a boy, was either killed or wounded.

Seahorse with Badere Zaffere, Gold Medal action

In May 1805, after assisting at the capture, within sight of the British fleet, of Le Renard schooner, of 12 guns, he exchanged into the Seahorse, of 42 guns and 281 men, commanded at first by Captains Hon. Courtenay Boyle and Robert Corbett, and from April, 1806, until June, 1811, by Captain John Stewart, in whose distinguished services during that period he proved an active participator. On the failure of Sir Arthur Paget’s pacific mission to restore peace between Great Britain and Turkey, Captain Stewart was despatched, in August 1807, to examine the ports in the Cyclades, to report as to their capacity, and to promote and facilitate trade with Malta.

Cruizing in the Archipelago on the evening of 5 July 1808, the Seahorse fell in with two Turkish frigates, the Badere Zaffer, 52 guns, and the Alis-Fezan of 26 guns. The crew of the Badere Zaffer alone was nearly double that of the Seahorse, and her armament was heavier, but Captain Stewart engaged both ships, and after an action of about half an hour, the smaller Turkish frigate, much damaged, made sail away. Her consort fought in the most determined manner, and made several unsuccessful attempts to board the Seahorse, who poured broadside after broadside into her opponent with most destructive effect. For more than three hours the contest raged, from nine p.m. till past midnight, when the ships separated, the Turk with all her topmasts shot away, and her fire silenced. At dawn, the Seahorse bore down to renew the engagement, and the Turkish captain, though ready to fight again, was compelled by his crew to surrender, his ship being so shattered that she was with difficulty kept afloat. What occurred after the Badere Zaffer had struck her colours is best told in the words of an officer present:

‘The little Arab who commanded the Turkish ship, on being brought aboard and asked for his sword, had no idea of surrendering it; indeed he had, immediately after his colours were struck, dressed himself entirely in white, meant perhaps as a flag of truce. Having obtained permission to return to his ship, and being in the confusion of the moment unguarded, he got one of the fighting lanterns, which were still alight, and had reached the magazine passage then not secured, and over ankle deep in gunpowder, when just as he was in the act of taking the candle from the lantern the schoolmaster, who had come aboard the prize from curiosity, and happened to be providentially on the lower deck, immediately on seeing the danger knocked down the Arab, dowsed his glim, and saved us from the inevitable destruction of one, if not both, frigates. He was removed on board the Seahorse, and as he spoke Italian fluently, Captain Stewart rebuked him severely in that language for his breach of the laws of honour and war, to which he listened with unmoved patience. When the speaker ceased, the little tiger bent forward his head, and pointing to his neck, said, “Take it, it is yours, don’t hesitate, for had the fortune of war been mine I would have had your head off two hours ago. I only did my duty in attempting to blow up my ship, and I curse my own stupidity for not succeeding.” His officers declared that during the action he had put 17 of his own men to death with his own hand in attempting to keep them at their quarters.’

The British loss was five men killed and ten wounded; the loss of the enemy, one hundred and seventy killed and about two hundred wounded, many mortally, showing the difference in the handling and gunnery of the two ships. Captain Stewart took his shattered prize into Malta, and being unsuitable for the British Navy, she was sold to some merchants. In addition to the Naval Gold Medal, Captain Stewart received a £100 sword from the Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund for this service. The First-Lieutenant, George Downie, was in consequence promoted to the rank of Commander, and Bennett became his successor. Lieutenant Bennett soon afterwards escorted the British Ambassador, Mr. Robert Adair, from Malta to the mouth of the Dardanelles, and, during a stay of some months at Constantinople after the treaty of January 1809, was twice introduced, as one of his Excellency’s suite, to the Grand Seignor, by whom he was presented with two robes of honour.

Bennett’s gallantry ashore

Being next, in May of the same year, on a cruize between Corsica and Italy, he took command of the boats, and succeeded in obtaining possession, although garrisoned by 50 French soldiers, of the small island of Gianuti, whence, after destroying the batteries, he embarked and brought off the guns, all of them of brass. A few days after this exploit he headed a similar expedition against the island of Pianoza, near Elba, known to be defended by upwards of 100 Veteran troops, and the town by a regular fortification. On landing, a carronade was mounted on a rock in front of the town, and a simultaneous attack being made on the enemy’s battery, the latter, after six hours’ hard fighting, was taken and destroyed, the French Commandant killed, and the guns disabled. Within 24 hours from the onset the troops were all taken prisoners-of-war, and the whole place brought under subjection to the British. The gallantry displayed by Lieutenant Bennett, and those employed with him, in the accomplishment of these very important services elicited the highest approbation of the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Collingwood, and of the Board of Admiralty. On 21 June his Lordship wrote to Captain Stewart as follows:

“Dear Sir, - I am quite aware of the meritorious conduct of your first lieutenant upon all occasions, as well as from my own observations as by your frequent communications to me of services performed by him, and I sincerely hope that the Admiralty will promote him as a reward for his late gallant conduct at Pianoza; but should that not be the case, I will, as I promised, take him into this ship the first vacancy which may occur, for the purpose of making him a commander, whenever an opportunity may be afforded me for doing so. This will secure him to a ship, as well as promotion. Believe me, with great truth, dear Sir, Yours very sincerely, Collingwood”

The Seahorse at length, after a dashing career, returned to England with Lord Amherst, and was paid off in June, 1811, at which time Captain Stewart addressed the following letter to Lord Mulgrave’s successor:-

“Sir, - I feel it my duty to write to you, to recommend Mr. Thomas Bennett, first lieutenant of H.M. ship Seahorse, who is one of the best officers in His Majesty’s service, and very deserving of promotion, as well as for his general merits as for particular services performed by him. He was second lieutenant of the ship in the action with the Turkish squadron. He headed the men who stormed and took the island of Gianuti, destroying the forts and taking the garrison prisoners. He commanded the party which took the island of Pianoza and its forts, with a garrison of upwards of 100 men, after shewing great judgement in conducting his people, and fighting upwards of four hours before the enemy surrendered. For these and other services, he was strongly recommended to Lord Collingwood, who knew, acknowledged, and would, no doubt, have rewarded them. I feel very confident that I do not exaggerate in my recommendation of him, and I have the honour to be, &c. John Stewart”

The gallant Captain Stewart, however, died of long standing internal complaints, after a sudden deterioration, in London on 25 October 1811, aged 36, and was buried with full honours in Westminster Abbey. From this period Lieutenant Bennett, remained unemployed until appointed, 22 January 1812, Senior of the Crescent 38, Captain John Quilliam, under whom he served in the Baltic, and then sailed with convoy for Halifax and Newfoundland, on which latter station he witnessed the capture, 16 September 1813, of the Elbredge Gerry American privateer, of 14 guns and 66 men. He invalided home in the summer of 1814, and on his arrival found that he had been at length advanced to the rank of Commander, his commission bearing date 15 June 1814.

Being appointed, 2 July, 1819, to the Cygnet 10, Bennett served in that vessel on the coast of Ireland, and afterwards off St. Helena, until the death of Buonaparte, in May 1821, when he conveyed the intelligence of that event to the Isle of France. While in Simon’s Bay, Cape of Good Hope, in company with the Hyperion 42, Commodore James Lillicrap, he had the happiness, on 10 June 1822, of rescuing the Albion East Indiaman from destruction, when, during a strong gale, she had broken from her anchorage and had actually drifted to within a few feet of the rocks. Although the Cygnet’s boats on the occasion were the first on the spot, and were throughout of equal utility with those of the Hyperion, yet, out of a sum of £1000 which was afterwards voted by the Hon. E.I.C. to “Commodore Lillicrap,” who was positively on shore at the moment of the occurrence, “and the officers and seamen of H.M. navy who were employed in rendering assistance to the Albion,” neither her commander nor crew ever received a shilling. On another occasion, 10 May following, during a furious north-wester in Table Bay, the Cygnet had the further good fortune to render material assistance to the Sarah free-trader, which was eventually wrecked, and her crew saved by two of her boats under Mr. Richard Lee Stephens, who received his promotion in consequence. After an intermediate servitude on the coast of Africa, Commander Bennett returned home and was paid off in May 1823.

His next appointment was, 30 April 1827, to the Trinculo 18, on the Irish station, where he continued until posted by the Lord High Admiral, “as a reward for his long and active services,” 16 September 1828. He afterwards, from 7 February 1834, until paid off in March 1838, commanded the Rainbow 28, and during that period assisted in suppressing a rebellion among the slaves at St. Kitt’s; was senior officer at Jamaica during the sickly season of 1835, when, in spite of all his efforts, the mortality on board the Rainbow was extreme; was thrice employed, for periods of several months, in protecting the fisheries at Newfoundland, a service in which he evinced great judgement and ability; and was entrusted on two occasions with the conveyance of treasure. He at length returned home with strong testimonials from the various Commanders-in-Chief under whom he had served, viz. Sir Geo. Cockburn, Sir Peter Halkett, and Sir Charles Paget.

On 7 February 1848, Captain Bennett was appointed Commodore and second in command on the North America and West India station, with his broad pendant on board the Imaum receiving-ship at Port Royal, Jamaica, where he remained until relieved by Commodore Peter M’Quhae, 29 April 1851. During that period the cholera broke out with so much violence that one-third of the population of Port Royal fell victims to it. At one time the Commodore, the only resident magistrate at Port Royal, was under the necessity of sending his tender, the Alban, to Santiago de Cuba for anti-cholera medicine, all that was in the island having been consumed. So great were his attentions to the military and the inhabitants, that he received letters of thanks from the Governor, from the Major-General commanding the troops, and from the Board of Health, added to the thanks of the inhabitants, and the full approbation of the Lords of the Admiralty, and the Commander-in-Chief, the Earl of Dundonald; the latter of whom, when on the eve of sailing for England, took occasion, while acknowledging the valuable assistance he had obtained from him, and the zeal and perseverance he had manifested in the performance of his various duties, to record the high sense he entertained in particular of “the devotion he had displayed at the time of the dreadful epidemic, when, by his judicious measures, the ships under his command were preserved, and when his personal conduct in remaining at his post at a time of such peril and distress was most worthy of imitation.” For assistance rendered by Commodore Bennett to several American vessels, when aground and in danger, he received complimentary letters from Colonel Harrison, the United States Consul-General, and from the heads of the respective mercantile firms. He was also thanked by the Admiralty for having hove down and repaired the Sappho, after that sloop had been on shore on the reefs off the coast of Honduras, and had knocked away the greater part of her keel, stem, and stern posts; and for the manner in which, under his inspection and directions, the Galatea, at a considerable saving to the Government, was broken up at the dockyard of Port Royal. “As a reward for his long and honourable services,” he was granted the Good Service pension, 8 January 1851. He was promoted to Rear-Admiral on 2 May 1855, to Vice-Admiral on 15 January 1862, and to Retired Admiral on 12 September 1865.

Admiral Bennett received a medal with two clasps for the battle of Camperdown in 1797, and the capture of the Badere Zaffer. For many years he was an Alderman of the city of Hereford, where he served the office of Mayor in 1842, and had the honour as such of presenting to her Majesty and the Prince Consort an address from the town council and inhabitants on the birth of the Prince of Wales. Admiral Thomas Bennett died at Hereford on 11 June 1870. He was buried in the city’s Municipal Cemetery, where there is a fine obelisk upon his grave with the inscription:

To the memory of Admiral Thomas Bennett
who departed this life the 11th of June 1870 in his 86th year.
He was with Lord Duncan at Camperdown, served under Nelson
and distinguished himself in the Turkish and many other engagements.