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 £30,000

Estimate: £12,000 - £14,000

Lieutenant-Colonel Ambrose A. R. Wolrige, Royal Marine Artillery, a specialist ‘in everything to do with rockets,’ he commanded the R.M.A. detachment aboard the Thunder bomb in the Baltic, at Basque Roads, and at the capture of the French privateer Neptune, was afterwards wounded in Holland and distinguished himself at the battle of Algiers

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 4 clasps, Basque Roads 1809 [518], 23 Nov Boat Service 1810 [40], Thunder 9 Octr 1813 [7], Algiers [1328] (A. A. R. Wolrige, Lieut. R.M.A.) minor edge bruising and contact marks, very fine


Provenance: Glendining’s, March 1998. The group of medals to his son, Colonel Ambrose Wolrige, R.M., were sold in these rooms in April 2006.

Basque Roads 1809 [518 issued] - including 2 officers and 6 men of the Thunder bomb.

23 Nov Boat Service 1810 [40 issued] - including 2 officers of the Thunder bomb.

Thunder 9 Octr 1813 [7 issued] - Charles E. Cotterell, Purser (Royal Naval Museum); David Finn, Quartermaster (Honeyman Collection, Huntington Library, U.S.A.); Thomas H. Mackenzie, Lieutenant R.N. (National Maritime Museum); Watkin O. Pell, Commander; Thomas Thompson, Quartermaster’s Mate; James Webb, Gunner’s Mate; William S. Whittmee, Midshipman. Colonel Hailes’ roll also lists Ambrose A. R. Wolrige, Lieutenant R.M.A. with a note ‘Also present and lived to receive the clasp’.

Algiers [1328 issued] - including R.M.A. detachment of 3 officers, 4 N.C.O.’s and 20 Gunners, ‘selected as being acquainted with the rocket practice’, on board the Queen Charlotte.

Although Wolrige only appears on the Admiralty Claimants’ list for the Algiers clasp, it is clear that he was both entitled to and successfully claimed the other three clasps. His medal is the only known example named to ‘R.M.A.’ and he is, furthermore, noted as actually having received all four clasps in Colonel Hailes’ roll produced just before World War I, and in Newnham’s roll produced in the 1930s. Hart’s Army List from 1860 onwards and also Lean’s Navy List from 1879, both give his services thus: ‘Lieutenant-Colonel Ambrose A. R. Wolrige served in the year 1809 with Lord Cochrane in the Basque Roads; and in the same year was engaged in action with gun-boats in the Baltic. From 1810 to 1812 defence of Cadiz and Tarifa. Severely wounded at South Beveland in 1814, and received a reward from the Patriotic Fund. Present at the battle of Algiers in 1816. Has received the War Medal with four Clasps.’

Ambrose Andrew Rhodes Wolrige was born in 1787, and entered the Royal Marines as a Second Lieutenant on 4 July 1803. Upon the formation of the Royal Marine Artillery in August 1804, with one company raised for each division, he was one of the original nine officers of the Plymouth Division to join, for service in the bomb-ketches and other like vessels. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on 15 August 1805, and served aboard the bomb-vessels Volcano and Devastation in the Downs during 1806 and 1807, and for his services in the latter year in action with French gun-boats on several occasions off the coast of Texel and Boulogne, was commended by Commodore Owen. During the operations in the Baltic in the summer and autumn of 1808, Wolrige commanded the R.M.A. detachment on board the Thunder bomb and was specially thanked by Admiral Saumarez for his services at Port Baltic on 9 September, when the R.M.A. detachment in the Thunder blew up the magazine of one of the forts, and also on three other occasions in 1808.

At Basque Roads in 1809, First-Lieutenant C. F. Burton, R.M.A. (see Lot 20), was in executive command of all the R.M.A. rocket parties, together with First Lieutenants Wolrige and John Lawrence. On 23 November 1810, the officers in charge of the R.M.A. detachments in the Devastation, Thunder and Etna bombs, which were part of the main attacking force on the French flotilla in St Mary’s Harbour during the siege of Cadiz, were First-Lieutenants Campbell, Wolrige, and Stephens. Together with a number of English and Spanish mortar and gun-boats, under the command of Captain Hall, they threw some hundred shells among the French flotilla with considerable effect. Being exposed to the fire of Fort Catalina, Lieutenants Worth and Buckland, of the Royal Marine Artillery, and a midshipman were killed, and four English and four Spanish seamen wounded in this service. Wolrige and his fellow R.M.A. officers in the bombs were all afterwards publicly thanked for their services by Rear-Admiral Keats.

Thunder captures a large French privateer, the Neptune

On 9 October 1813, when the Thunder was on passage home from Alicante, it was taken for a small merchantman by the French privateer Neptune. The Thunder, Captain W. O. Pell, R.N., lured the Neptune on. When she finally closed in on the Thunder, with her deck crowded with boarders, and hailed the supposed merchantmen to strike her flag and surrender, Pell at once put his helm down and gave the enemy a broadside, with Lieutenant Wolrige and his R.M.A. detachment doing their part with a discharge from the mortars. The crowd on the Neptune’s deck was struck down en masse and, with her helmsman shot, the privateer dropped helplessly alongside the Thunder. She was lashed fast and, as Captain Pell described in his report on the action, ‘carried in the most gallant style by boarding.’ Lieutenant Wolrige and his men disembarked at Woolwich and returned to headquarters at Chatham on November 4th.

The history of The Royal Marine Artillery, by Fraser and Carr-Laughton, records that, ‘On the issue of the Naval General Service Medal in 1848, Wolrige received a clasp for the action with the Neptune, in addition to his clasps for the Basque Roads 1809, and Algiers 1816. He was, it would seem, the only survivor of the Thunder’s R.M.A. detachment at that date.’

Gallantry of Lieutenant Wolrige in Holland in January 1814

In January 1814 an attack was made by a French garrison, which was being blockaded at Fort Bathz in South Beveland, in an attempt to break out of that blockade. The attack came as a surprise to the blockading forces and it was Lieutenant Wolrige with a party of R.M.A. gunners and one 6-pounder which saved the situation. Wolrige was wounded by a bullet in the ankle early in the action, but with exemplary pluck he carried on and fought his gun all the same. “By causing himself,” one account states, “to be placed on the gun limber each time the party fell back, and taken down when the piece was discharged, being lifted to the ground at every halt, his gallant exertions kept the enemy in check until a reinforcement arrived up, and then by his able co-operation the enemy were finally compelled to retreat.” Captain Owen, commanding the blockading force, in a letter to Lieutenant Wolrige afterwards, said this:- “Your case was singular, your conduct highly meritorious, and your exertions on the occasion did certainly save the party in advance, besides your own party of Marine Artillery from heavy loss, if not from capture.” For his wounds Lieutenant Wolrige was granted a pension of £70 for life, and also received a grant of £50 from the Patriotic Fund at Lloyd’s.

The bombardment of Algiers

At Algiers the R.M.A. officers on the Queen Charlotte, Lord Exmouth’s flagship, were Captain C. F. Burton, who had general superintendence of all the R.M.A. in the fleet, and Lieutenants Stephens and Wolrige, who were both ‘specialists in everything to do with rockets’. Lieutenant Wolrige had been on leave but for the second time in his career gave it up, volunteering to join the expedition.

During the attack on Algiers on 27 August 1816, Lieutenant Wolridge suggested to Lord Exmouth that a boat be sent to set fire to an Algerine frigate which was lying moored about 100 yards from the Queen Charlotte. He volunteered for the attempt and Exmouth at once agreed. Wolrige procured some incendiary materials from the magazine and, taking some of his R.M.A. party, got ready to push off in the flagship’s barge. It was only as he prepared to do so that two other officers, Lieutenant Richards and Major Gosset, R.E., were directed to accompany him. Having reached the frigate and boarded it with difficulty, the combustibles were quickly lodged and set alight, and in ten minutes the frigate was ablaze from stem to stern and the boat party were back on board the Queen Charlotte.

However, the companionship of Richards and Gosset turned out to be most unfortunate for Wolrige since, for some unaccountable reason, Exmouth, in his official despatch, specially mentioned Richards and Gosset, who were both subsequently promoted, but entirely ignored Wolrige, the originator of the affair. Wolrige, it is stated, felt so deeply offended that he was only prevented from publicly remonstrating by the urgent advice of his friends. In a later year, when Lord Exmouth was Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth and Wolrige was stationed there, he declined to attend the Algiers Anniversary Dinner, as a way of showing his resentment at the unfair treatment he had received.

Lieutenant Wolrige was promoted to Captain in July 1826, retired on half-pay in June 1832 and was appointed Barrack-Master at Chatham. He was appointed Major in May 1861, and Lieutenant-Colonel in May 1868. The gallant Colonel died at Gibraltar Terrace, Chatham, on 11 July 1881, aged 94.