The John Goddard Collection of Important Naval Medals and Nelson Letters

The John Goddard Collection of Important Naval Medals and Nelson Letters

John Goddard

I was introduced to medal collecting by my father, Peter, whose first purchase on 4 October 1965 was a Queen’s South Africa Medal with 27 clasps (lot 219 in DNW’s 8 September sale). He paid £5 for this – quite a sum then, especially for a medal for which only 26 clasps were awarded, but a price that had to be paid if the vendor was to allow him also to secure two better medals as part of the deal. Nevertheless he enjoyed showing that medal to friends and soon afterwards became a Member of the Orders and Medal Research Society (no. 663). He continued to collect in a low-key way, aided by his 3rd edition of Gordon, very much with an emphasis on the Royal Navy in which he had served as a Lieutenant Commander, RNVR, during World War Two.

My first involvement came when he took me to one of the early OMRS Conventions. I had by then graduated from Cambridge University and was an articled clerk at a City of London law firm. I was renting a flat close to the Convention venue and so I agreed to accompany him. I attended my first ever auction there, conducted by Michael Naxton, but it wasn’t until my father became unwell in 1986 and needed help with his collecting that I became genuinely interested.

I remember marvelling at Captain K.J. Douglas-Morris’s circular exhibit of Naval General Service Medals to all battleships and frigates present at Trafalgar and I managed to meet and chat to the Captain when I went with my father to the 9th Convention in 1986. At the Convention, fascinated by the apparent rarity of a naval man getting an army medal, I purchased my first medal, a Military General Service Medal to J. E. Cabburn R.N., from Chris Dixon (lot 45). I then assisted the Captain with his research into naval recipients of the Military General Service Medal, which accounts for him mentioning me among the Acknowledgements in “Naval Medals 1793-1856” published the following year.

\In November 1986 I joined the OMRS (no. 3617) and that month I also went to Sotheby’s and purchased my first medal at auction, a Canada General Service Medal to a Royal Marine officer, with Michael Naxton again the auctioneer (lot 58). In that sale the best of the Naval General Service Medals was the rare two- clasp medal to Surgeon B.F. Outram, a medal well out of my financial league but one which I always remembered and knew I would try to buy if it ever surfaced again, as it finally did 27 years later (lot 13).

In December 1986, after buying my first Naval General Service Medal (which I sold some years later, DNW Feb 1998, lot 15), I decided, to my father’s delight, that this was the area in which I would principally concentrate, whilst still trying to buy other medals if they took our fancy such as to flotillas or submarines, which my father always liked.

To my disappointment, I was the underbidder when Lieutenant H.G. Etough’s N.G.S. two-bar “Shannon” medal was sold at Christie’s in July 1987 (lot 14). Luckily I was able to buy the medal two years later from Richard Kirch, who also kindly sold me Joseph Bullen’s “Santa Margaritta” N.G.S medal, together with an aquatint of the action (lot 9). I think that Bullen must be my rarest N.G.S medal because, although the exceptional N.G.S. medal to Blackmore (lot 11) has two very rare clasps, the only other examples of Bullen’s clasp are both in museums. Bullen also showed considerable gallantry over many years and was promoted as a result of the action for which he received his clasp, just as Etough was promoted as a result of the “Shannon” action and Warrand as a result of the “Sealark” action (lot 12).

After my father died in 1991, nearly all of his collection was sold but I continued to collect and, with my interest in history, had already begun to investigate how the collecting of Naval General Service Medals had developed over the years. I acquired past catalogues whenever I could and, assisted by the volume “British Numismatic Auction Catalogues 1710-1984”, spent many, many Saturdays at the British Museum going through catalogues which I did not myself have. The result was “A Brief History of N.G.S. Medal Collecting 1849-1900” published in the Winter 1992 volume of the O.M.R.S. Journal. I received a number of complimentary letters about this, starting with one from Michael Naxton himself, and went on to produce four further Parts (1901-1913; 1914-1924; 1925-1931; 1932-1945), the last being published in the Spring 1999 volume.

I occasionally contributed other articles to the Journal and to the monthly magazine Medal News but, although I had intended to publish a sixth instalment for my N.G.S. series, the forbidding amount of work required for each Part, coupled with my job as a Partner at Freshfields working for the Bank of England, made me realise that that instalment was never going to be completed. Nevertheless I continued, as a result of the series, to receive quite a large number of letters from people who owned or collected N.G.S. medals asking questions about provenance and I always tried, I hope, to answer them as fully as I could.

Also at the end of 1999 I acquired a new interest after noticing, in an auction sale of Autographs, a letter from Nelson to Emma Hamilton which was delivered by John Conn, later Captain of H.M.S. Dreadnought at Trafalgar (lot 90). I attended the auction and bought the letter, so starting a secondary collecting habit, which resulted in the acquisition of 6 further Nelson letters, including the short, but for me very emotive, letter on the death of his father (lot 89) and his well-recorded note to the Rector of St. George’s in Hanover Square after finally recovering from the pain of his amputation (lot 86).

My developing interest in Nelson himself, rather than just the naval medals of his period, prompted me in 2001 to join The Nelson Society as well as The 1805 Club to whose “Trafalgar Chronicle” I contributed an article about Conn before also providing his short biography for Colin White’s book for the Club, “The Trafalgar Captains,” published in 2005. Although I was delighted to acquire the unique Small Naval Gold Medal to Parker (lot 1) in 1996, I wish in retrospect that I had bid for Conn’s Gold Medal when it was auctioned in July 1995 so that the medal and the letter he delivered to Emma could be united.

Similarly, I never did acquire the only N.G.S. medal named to John Goddard, which has the “Lion” clasp. However, my “Lion” and “Trafalgar” two-clasp medal to Decoeurdeux (lot 18) has long been one of my favourites, as has my “Unicorn” and “Trafalgar” medal to Scott (lot 10). Indeed, one could hardly get a more quintessentially British medal than one with a “Trafalgar” clasp combined with a lion or a unicorn, the heraldic supporters on the United Kingdom’s Royal Coat of Arms.

Having finally managed to acquire the Outram N.G.S. medal, the time has come for me to relinquish the pursuit after nearly 30 years. Over that period I have received consistently helpful and friendly advice or encouragement, some of it many years ago, starting with my first purchase from Chris Dixon and continuing with Kenneth Douglas-Morris, Richard Kirch, Michael Naxton, Vernon Henstridge, Donald Hall, Colin Message, Gillian Hughes, Tony McClenaghan, Colin White and, most particularly, Nimrod Dix and the doyen of them all, John Hayward.

However, my greatest debt within the medal fraternity, apart, of course, from the one I owe to Nimrod for cataloguing my medals so brilliantly, is to Ron Barden of Baldwin’s, who acquired a good number of the medals on my behalf, including the fabulous six-clasp N.G.S. medal to Levertine (lot 5) as well as what I think is my most visually attractive N.G.S. medal because of its almost golden tint, the rare two-clasp “Cruizer” medal to Walker (lot 16), which Ron managed to secure by quite rightly exceeding my bidding instructions by £100 because he knew how much I would like the medal. He later moved to DNW and after his death I was so pleased when Nimrod gave me the chance to obtain a personal memento of Ron by allowing me to acquire his “Trafalgar” medal to Wise (lot 26), who, like Stewart (lot 17), was on H.M.S. Victory, the most prized ship among “Trafalgar” collectors.

Outside the medal fraternity, I am, of course, immeasurably indebted to my wife, Linda, and my children, Charlie and Emma, for the amount of time and money they have allowed me to dedicate to the pursuit at the expense of other things; to Dawn Hudson, who for over 20 years typed all my medal notes and articles; and especially to my father who kindled my passion. It gives me great pleasure to know that he would be so proud if he were here today.

John Goddard
October 2015