Orders, Decorations and Medals (20 October 1993)

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Date of Auction: 20th October 1993

Sold for £15,000

Estimate: £12,000 - £15,000

The rare and important General Officer's Gold Medal awarded to General Sir George Prevost, Second-in-Command at the capture of Martinique, Governor of Lower Canada and Governor-General of British North America

GENERAL OFFICER'S GOLD MEDAL, for Martinique (Lieut. Genl. Sir George Prevost) complete with all original suspension and neck fittings in gold, virtually as issued, extremely fine


General Sir George Prevost was born on 19 May 1767, the eldest son of Major-General Augustine Prevost, who served under Wolfe, and Anne, daughter of Chevalier George Grant of Amsterdam. He entered the Army, and became a Company Commander in the 25th Regiment on 15 October 1784. In November 1790, he was promoted Major in the 60th (Royal American) Foot and accompanied them to the West Indies. On 6 August 1794, he became Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the troops in St. Vincent. Over the next two years, Prevost saw extensive active service, being twice wounded in repeated attempts to carry Baker's Ridge. Rapid promotion followed; he was made Colonel on 1 January 1798 and Brigadier-General on 8 March.

In May, he was appointed Military Governor of St. Vincent, and set about placating the malcontented French inhabitants and reforming the law courts. He quickly proved a popular choice and, by the peoples' petition, was appointed Civil Governor of the Island on 18 May 1801. Ill health forced him home shortly after, but in September 1802 he was selected to be Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of Dominica. In 1803 he assisted in the recapture of St. Lucia.

Prevost's finest hour came in late February 1805, when Admiral Comte de Missiessy attacked Dominica with four thousand French troops, and it looked as if the Island would be overrun, but a skilful resistance by Prevost and the local Militia prevented the Admiral from consolidating his gains and Dominica was held. In May, he left for England, where he was appointed to the command of the Portsmouth District, and created a Baronet. He was also promoted Major-General and on 8 September 1806 made Colonel of his Regiment. In January 1808 he was advanced to the rank of Lieutenant- General and later in that year was appointed Lieutenant- Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Nova Scotia. The next year, he further enhanced his reputation when Second-in-Command at the capture of Martinique. Bringing his Division from Halifax he joined the British force, totalling eleven thousand men, and was ferried to the West Indies by the fleet under the command of Admiral Cochrane. On 30 January Prevost and Maitland landed, and defeated the French in short order. 'Amongst the booty were two of the cherished French eagle standards of the 62nd and 80th Regiments which were the first to be taken to England and were lain at the King's feet with much pomp and celebration.’

On 14 February 1811, Prevost was selected to be Governor of Lower Canada and Governor-General of British North America. It was a challenging posting at an awkward time. The Canadians showed themselves to be 'suspicious and untractable', whilst the United States threatened war along their borders. Nevertheless, Prevost was cordially received by the Parliament, on 21 February 1812, which obliged him in his unusual request for supplies. On the declaration of war in May, Prevost reacted cautiously respecting the rights of Americans within his jurisdiction and confining his military operations to a defensive role. The House of Assembly eventually ran out of patience. Matters came to head following Prevost's reluctant acceptance of the impeachment of two judges, and he was accused of violating the privileges of the House. However a few days later the House of Assembly announced, 'they had not in any respect altered the opinion they had ever entertained of the wisdom of his excellency's administration.

By the time the War of 1812-1814 started, Prevost was already past his prime as a military commander. During the conflict he only twice took to the field himself, and 4 on both occasions British arms suffered humiliating reverse. The first took place at Sackett's Harbour on 27 May 1813, when British troops, many of whom had recently arrived from England under Sir James Yeo, made a 'brilliant' attack, routing the Americans. At this point, however, Prevost was suddenly 'seized with doubt' and sounded the signal for retreat. The second reverse occurred at Plattsburg during the attempted invasion of New York State by Canadian troops, emboldened by the presence of large numbers of Peninsular veterans. The operation involved both Naval and Military forces but by some misunderstanding the Confiance went into action alone, and Prevost instead of giving her immediate support, gave orders to retreat. The loss of confidence in Prevost was such that the legislative Council refused to foot the 5000 bill for a service of plate which the Assembly has proposed to present him, 'In testimony of the country's sense of his distinguished talents, wisdom, and ability.'

On 3 April, Prevost left the country having been summoned home to face charges arising out of his conduct before Plattsburg. Despite his success as a civil administrator, and numerous flattering addresses from the Canadian French population, he went home in disgrace. Britons, exhausted after the titanic struggle against Napoleon, were demanding peace and an end to the costly and fruitless war in America. In this regard Lord Liverpool consulted the Duke of Wellington, then in Paris, offering him the command in America. Initially the Duke was inclined to go, but the more he thought about the scheme the less he liked it. Prevost reached England in September, to find he had been condemned by the Naval Court, and so obtained permission from the Duke of York to be tried in person by Court Martial. Had Prevost known of the views of the Duke of Wellington, which the latter conveyed to Lord Liverpool in a letter dated 9 November, he would no doubt have found some comfort. ‘That which appears to me to be wanting in America', wrote the Duke, 'is not a General, or General officers and troops, but a naval superiority on the Lakes.' Without this, no one - Prevost or anybody else - could accomplish very much... 'and I shall go there only to prove the truth of Prevost's defence, and to sign a peace which might as well be signed now. However, on 5 January 1816, a week before the Court Martial was due to be convened, Sir George Prevost died at East Barnet, Hertfordshire, his health ruined by the anxiety. His brother and widow called unsuccessfully for an inquiry, but at the latter's request the Prince Regent publicly expressed his appreciation of Prevost's services and granted the family additional armorial bearings.