The Brian Ritchie Collection of H.E.I.C. and British India Medals

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Date of Auction: 23rd September 2005

Sold for £13,000

Estimate: £10,000 - £12,000

The Naval General Service medal awarded to Commander James Long, Royal Navy, who in February 1799 took part in the severe broadside-to-broadside engagement between the Sybille and the superior French frigate La Forte, which had been harassing British shipping in the Bay of Bengal

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 1 clasp, Sybille 28 Feby. 1799 (J. Long, Lieut. R.N.) minor rim bruises, otherwise nearly extremely fine £10000-12000


Only 12 clasps issued for this action.

James Long, the son of William Long of Melcombe Regis, Dorset, was born on 17 April 1774. He entered the Navy as an Able Seaman on 1 February 1797, joining the Sybille, 48 guns and 300 men. In January 1798 he was present in Sybille when with the Fox (32) she entered the Spanish harbour of Manilla wearing French disguise. Although three Spanish sail of the line and three frigates were lying at anchor in harbour, the Sybille and the Fox managed to capture 200 men, seven boats, and a large quantity of ammunition, as well as gather important intelligence. Later the same month he took part in the Sybille and Fox’s combined attack on the settlement of Samboangon on the island of Magindanao, where in an exchange with a fort and battery the two ships sustained six men killed and sixteen wounded. He was promoted Midshipman the same year and advanced to Master’s Mate in 1799.

On 28 February and 1 March 1799, Long took part in a furious engagement with the vastly superior French frigate La Forte, of 52 guns and 370 men, which, as part of the raiding squadron based at Mauritius, had been harassing British shipping in the Bay of Bengal. Having left Madras in search of La Forte two weeks earlier, Captain Cooke of the Sybille sighted the enemy frigate, one of the finest ever built, with two rich prizes, off the sand-heads of the Hooghly River at about 9 p.m. On closing with La Forte, the Sybille received a broadside from her larboard guns and a fire from one of her captures. Cooke brought the Sybille under the stern of the Forte, ‘almost touching her spanker boom, and gave her the whole of her larboard broadside, and luffing up to leeward, poured in another broadside with the most destructive effect’. These broadsides killed and wounded between fifty and sixty of La Forte’s crew, and caused such confusion that her gunners fired from both sides of their ship at once. The two ships then engaged each other broadside to broadside. The French Captain and his First Lieutenant were both killed. Cooke of the Sybille was mortally wounded, and Lieutenant Hardyman took command. By two thirty in the morning, fire from the French ship had been entirely silenced, and the Sybille hailed to ask if she had struck her colours. Receiving no reply, the Sybille re-commenced firing. The Forte gave no return fire so once again the Sybille hailed her opponent, but again without response. The French were then seen attempting to make sail and escape. Sybille’s guns roared once more and within a few minutes the Frenchman’s mizzen mast was shot away, and his main and foremasts with the bowsprit sent overboard. Thus the action ended. The Sybille’s sails and rigging were cut to pieces and her main and mizzen masts badly damaged, but she had only received six shots in her hull. Captain Davies, who was an A.D.C. to Lord Mornington and a volunteer on board, was killed together with four other men. Besides Cooke sixteen men were wounded, and though ‘a perfect wreck’, La Forte was taken into Calcutta for repairs and added to the Royal Navy.

Continuing in the Sybille, Long served in August 1800 in the capture and destruction of five armed vessels and twenty-two merchantmen in Batavia Roads, and in the October following had a hand in the capture of twenty-four Dutch proas. In August 1801, he participated in the short but sharp action which saw the capture of the La Chiffone, 42 guns and 296 men, 23 of whom were killed and 30 wounded. In this action, fought amongst the rocks and shoals of Mahé, the Sybille suffered the added disadvantage of operating under the guns of an enemy shore battery. The Chiffone was added to the Royal Navy, and Long returned home in her in 1803.

In 1804, he reverted to Midshipman and served in the North Sea aboard the Monarch (74) in which Lord Kieth was flying his flag. The next year he advanced again to Master’s Mate and saw service in the Edgar (74) also in the North Sea. Long became Lieutenant on 7 November 1806 and, serving in the sloop Otter, took part in the evacuation of Montevideo in 1807, and the capture of St Paul’s, Ile de Bourbon, in 1809. In the latter year he came home in the sloop Saphire, and in 1810 and 1811 served in the sloops Phipps and Mosquito cruising the Downs and North Sea until 1813 when he left the Service.

From 1837 to 1841 Long commanded the semaphore station on Portsdown Hill, and in 1841 he commanded a seamen’s rendezvous in the Isle of Man, which was closed only a month after he joined it. On 11 February 1842 he was promoted Commander, and a decade later could be found living at Arms Hill, Gosport. Commander Long died on 1 August 1864, leaving a widow, Mrs Jacobina Long, residing at East Street, Titchfield.

Refs: ADM 107/33; ADM 9/8; ADM 196/5; PMG 15/29; PMG 15/44; PMG 15/54; Naval Biography (O’Byrne); Medals of the British Navy (Long); Naval General Service Medal Roll 1793-1840. See also the History of the Connaught Rangers, Vol 2 (Jourdain) for an excellent description of the capture of La Forte. Many officers and men of the 94th Foot were on board who played a part in the action.