Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (16 December 2003)

Date of Auction: 16th December 2003

Sold for £1,200

Estimate: £800 - £1,000

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 1 clasp, Basque Roads 1809 (Robt. White) slight edge bruising, good very fine £800-1000


Gunner Robert White, Royal Marine Artillery, served aboard the schooner H.M.S. Whiting in the action resulting in the destruction of the French fleet in the Basque Roads off St. Nazaire, 11 / 12 April 1809.

One of only two recipients of the clasp ‘Basque Roads 1809’ to serve aboard H.M.S. Whiting. One of eight Royal Marine Artillery recipients to receive the clasp. Three men with the name ‘ Robert White’ were awarded the N.G.S. medal.

The British fleet under Lord Gambier, lying in Basque Roads, consisted of 11 ships of the line, 6 frigates, 1 bomb-ship and numerous smaller ships, one of which was the schooner Whiting. This ship together with the cutters King George and Nimrod were specially fitted with frames for firing ‘Congreve’ rockets and manned by R.M.A. personnel. The French fleet numbered 11 ships of the line, 2 frigates and several gunboats. Lying at anchor off the entrance to the River Charente, the French fleet was intended to sail and reinforce the island of Martinique. On 11 April 1909, a fire-ship attack led by Lord Cochrane forced most of the French fleet aground. The next day, several were seen being re-floated in preparation for escaping up river. The bomb-ship Aetna, with Whiting, King George, Nimrod and three gun brigs were ordered to close in and destroy the grounded ships. Braving fire from shore batteries, their bombardment continued until the early evening when the state of the tide forced them back, leaving two French ships on fire and two others abandoned. The attack was resumed during the next two days against other grounded French ships but as before, because of the shallow water, only the Aetna, Whiting, King George and Nimrod were able to close in. During the following days additional bomb-ships arrived to add their weight of fire against the stranded French ships. In his dispatch to the Admiralty of 29 April 1809, Admiral Gambier after making special mention of the services of the Aetna, said of the R.M.A. rocket detachments: ‘I had every reason to be satisfied with the artillerymen and others who had management of them (i.e. the rockets) under Mr Congreve’s direction.’ The medal and clasp was available to the officers and crews of all the British ships present on the 11 / 12 April; however many of the larger ships were not very actively involved.