Orders, Decorations and Medals (30 June 1998)

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Date of Auction: 30th June 1998

Sold for £6,200

Estimate: £3,000 - £3,500

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 1 clasp, Shannon Wh. Chesapeake (Wm. Downham) extremely fine £3000-3500


William Downham is confirmed on the medal rolls as an Ordinary Seaman aboard H.M.S. Shannon. A total of 42 clasps were issued for this historic action.

In 1813, the Shannon, Captain P. V. Broke, had for some time been watching the American frigate Chesapeake, of the same force in guns, but superior in the number of her crew, lying ready for sea, in Boston Harbour. The British Captain had sent a challenge to Captain Lawrence of the Chesapeake to come out and try the fortune of war, ship to ship; and about 1 p.m. on the 1st of June, the American frigate weighed anchor and stood out of Boston Roads to meet the Shannon. At fifty minutes past four the action commenced, the ships being not more than a stone’s throw asunder, Boston lighthouse bearing west at about six leagues distance. After the exchange of a few broadsides, by which the Chesapeake suffered considerably, her tiller ropes being shot away and her wheel broken, she fell aboard the Shannon, whose anchor became hooked in the mizen chains of her opponent. A sharp fire of musketry followed, when Captain Broke, observing the enemy to flinch from their guns, at the head of his boarders sprang onto the quarter-deck of the Chesapeake exclaiming “Follow me who can,” and with slight resistance drove most of her crew below. The Americans kept up a heavy fire from their tops, till the men stationed in them were killed or driven on deck; and made a determined but fruitless attempt to rally, but in about fifteen minutes from the beginning of the action, all hostilities ceased and the Chesapeake was the prize of the Shannon.

The loss of the victors was 1st Lieutenant Watt, two other officers, and twenty-three men killed, and Captain broke and fifty-eight men wounded, out of a crew of three hundred and thirty men. The
Chesapeake out of a crew of at least three hundred and eighty-six men, had her Captain, First and Fourth Lieutenants, Master, Lieutenant of Marines, three Midshipmen, and fifty-three men killed or mortally wounded, and nearly ninety officers and men wounded. Captain Broke being severely wounded, Lieutenant Provo W. Wallis assumed the command, and with the two frigates sailed for Halifax, arriving there on June 6th. The gallant Captain Lawrence had died two days before, on board the Chesapeake, and was buried at Halifax with all the honours of war. At the request of the American Government, his body was exhumed shortly afterwards and taken to Boston, where it was re-interred with great solemnity. Shortly afterwards on his return to England, Captain Broke was created a baronet, and by the Corporation of London was voted the Freedom of the City, and presented with a sword of the value of 100 guineas, in addition to a gold medal.