Life Saving Awards from the Collection of John Wilson

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Date of Auction: 25th March 2013


Estimate: £9,000 - £12,000

A rare group of medals and documents awarded to Captain Frederick Walter, Royal Navy - Captain of the training ships Arethusa & Chichester - awarded for saving life at the burning of the training ship Goliath, 22 December 1875
Baltic 1854-55 (Fred Walter, Midn. H.M.S. Imperieuse) engraved naming; China 1857-60, no clasp, unnamed as issued; Maharajah of Burdwan’s Medal for Gallant Conduct at the Burning of H.M.S. Goliath 1875, silver (Captn. Frederick Walter, R.N.) impressed naming; Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire, 3rd type, silver, reverse inscribed, ‘To Frederick Walter, Captain R.N., for intrepidity in saving Life December 22nd 1875 Case 12021’, unmounted; together with a Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire, Illuminated Certificate - ‘To Frederick Walter Captain RN of the Training Ship “Arethusa” in testimony of his laudable and heroic conduct on the morning of the 22nd December 1875 during the burning of the Training Ship “Goliath” moored off Grays Essex when at great personnel risk he saved the life of Captain Bourchier RN Commander of that ship. In addition to this brave action Captain Walter was instrumental in conjunction with the following Officers acting under him, viz., Thomas Luckett, Joseph Phillips, John Cook, Henry Madams, in rescuing from danger at least 30 lives notwithstanding the delay caused by their having to row a distance of nearly three miles to the burning ship’ ‘Presented at the Annual Meeting Council Chamber Guildhall, July 4th 1876’, approx. 48 x 38cm.; and a Mansion House Goliath Relief Fund Illuminated Certificate - `To Captain Frederick Walter RN of the Training Ship 'Chichester' under whose gallant command three boats from the Arethusa and two from the Chichester proceeded a distance of three miles and saved during the fierceness of the fire no less than 30 lads. Captn. Bourchier attributed his own safety entirely to Captain Walter efforts which were most heroic`, approx. 38.5 x 27cm., certificates in good condition; medals good very fine and better (lot) £9000-12000


R.S.P.L.F. Case 12,021: Captain Frederick Walter, R.N., Training Ship Goliath: awarded the Silver Medal.

Extract from
Saved from the Flames, By Roger Willoughby and John Wilson:

The burning of the training ship Goliath on 22 December 1875, off Grays, in Essex, was widely reported at the time. At the time of the fire the ship had almost 500 people aboard, most of whom were young boys, housed there instead of at workhouses, to allow them to be apprenticed for the Royal Navy. Describing the fire, The Times (Friday, 24 December 1875, p. 8) reported: ‘The ship's crew, officers, and boys were at duty at a quarter to six in the morning, scrubbing the decks. The under decks were lighted by swing petroleum lamps – the petroleum, as is usual with work house stores, being supplied by contract. At a quarter or ten minutes to eight o'clock, just as daylight was breaking on the main deck of the old man-of-war all the port holes being opened to dry the wetted decks, a boy named Lober was in the act of carrying one of the lighted lamps for the purpose of extinguishing it, when…part of it burnt his hand and he dropped it. The whole place was instantly in a blaze, for the burning fluid at once set fire to the pitched joints between the boarding, for pitch was plentifully used in the old ships, and at once she was in fireman's phrase “well alight”. The fire bell rang, and so strong was the power of discipline over the minds of the boys that they all took their places at the pumps, every officer being at his place. A very short time showed that the attempts to save the vessel were useless, for the hose, by the rapidity with which the flames licked the ship, had been destroyed; in fact, the excellent ventilation of the ship led to this rapidity of destruction. Captain Bouchier gave orders then to the boys who could swim to get to land – then about 500 feet distant – and many swam ashore. All the ship's boats were almost useless, for the lowering apparatus got burnt and the boats fell into the water. Fortunately there was a barge moored close to the ship, and the little fellows, most of them being between seven and ten years of age, aided by the assistant school-master, Mr Tye, and other officers, got into this. Some twenty boys who first got into the barge, frightened by the flames and choked by the dense smoke, wanted to push off; but one of their number; a little fellow named Billy Bolton, manfully held the barge to its place, he exercising his authority as a boy mate until all who came on that side of the ship had got over the ship's side, and then a push was made for land. The barge grounded on the mud, and it was not practicable to push her out again against the running tide. At this time Captain Walters, from the Arethusa and the Chichester, with the Queen Street Refuge boys, came up with three boats. Mr Hall, the Chief Officer of the Goliath, had been with Captain Bouchier, in directing means for saving the boys, while Mr Fenn, the head schoolmaster, Mr Gunton, and Mr Norris, the instructors in seamanship, were assisting by endeavouring to get the boats down. There were five women on board – Mrs Bouchier, her two daughters, and two female servants. The flames in a few minutes had mounted to the upper deck, and Mr Fenn reached a boat, and persuaded Mrs Bouchier to jump from the deck of the ship, about 32 feet, into the water. She jumped, and was saved. The cook and housemaid also jumped into the water and were picked up. The two daughters came down ropes, one hand-over-hand, and the boat load was taken on shore…While Mr Fenn was helping the women to escape from death by drowning or burning, cries came from Mr Hall, who was clinging with Mr Wheeler to a boat which had been struck and was stove in. The boat was drifting out, and when attention could be paid to this stove-in boat, Mr Hall was rescued, but Mr Wheeler had disappeared. The last to leave the ship…was Captain Bouchier. He had ordered the last batch of boys to go, when they called out to him to go first. The galley of Captain Walters, of the Arethusa was near, and they heard Captain Bouchier reply, “That's not the way at sea, my boys”, and when he again told them to go, one little workhouse boy clasped him round the neck, weepingly saying, “You'll be burnt, Captain”. The captain pushed the boys off and followed himself, all being picked up by Captain Walter's galley. Just as they were about to pull off for the shore, Captain Bouchier spied a boy clinging to the “fender” of the ship, and he called to the crew to save the boy. Not a moment was to be lost, for the masts were well alight, the foreyard was dangling ready to fall, where the devoted boat's crew was, and there was the most imminent danger of the mainmast falling. Captain Walters gave the word of command and the boat's crew struck out for the dangerous spot under the bow of the vessel where the “fender” is placed, and the poor boy was saved from what a moment or two after must have been certain death to all in the boat, for the flames were so close to the boat's crew that the flannel on the captain's back was singed, and the whiskers on another's face was burnt; but they rescued the boy and pushed off just as the fare moorings broke and the ship slewed with her head down the river, presenting the other side to the wind, and a very heavy wind was blowing, and thus the flames were turned to that part of the ship which was less touched before. Mr Fenn had been in another boat picking up the boys, and the boat he was in getting over full, he plunged into the water and swam to one of Captain Walter's boats, to assist in rescuing others. It was then found that poor Wheeler, the teacher, seeing Mr Hall trying to clear a boat in which were two boys, jumped into the boat out of the window. The boat, as stated, was stove in and drifted out, Mr Hall holding up the boys, but Mr Wheeler, not being used to the water, was, it is feared, not able to hold out…’.

At one of the subsequent inquests reported in
Reynolds’s Newspaper (Sunday 2 January 1876), it was noted that: ‘A letter was read from the Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire asking to be furnished with the names of any who, by their bravery and presence of mind, contributed in a special degree to the rescue of others, in order that their services might be suitably recognised by the Society’.

The award to Walter was noted in The Liverpool Mercury (2 February 1876) thus: ‘The Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire have awarded their medal to Captain Walter, of the training ship Arethusa, for special services in rescuing several boys and others from the ship Goliath; and a testimonial to Captain Pourchier [sic], and £20 to the crews of certain boats who rendered service in saving life on the occasion of the same fire’. A Testimonial was also awarded to Captain Bouchier and 20 shillings for the crews of the boats rendering assistance to saving of life.

As reported in The Times of 1 January 1876, the Coroner said, ‘Every boy behaved himself like a man. Had they not been well disciplined, calamity would have been widespread, but they were free from all panic and tumult. The 14-year-old boy who dropped the lighted lamp in the lamp-room gave his evidence in an honest and manly way, as did all concerned.’

Such was the conduct of the boys that the Maharajah of Burdwan wrote to The Times expressing his desire to award a medal, through the Lord Mayor of London, to those boys who had particularly distinguished themselves:

‘Sir, Having read with the greatest admiration the account of the heroic conduct displayed by some of the boys of the training ship Goliath on occasion of the recent destruction by fire of that ill-fated vessel, I have felt a strong wish to present a silver medal to each of those who signally distinguished themselves on that occasion. I may have been forestalled in this wish, but I trust that I may be allowed to do something of the kind, as, coming from India, it will prove to the boys that deeds like theirs have not merely a local fame, but are marked and appreciated by their fellow subjects in the most distant parts of Her Majesty’s Empire ...’ (Extract from The Times, 22 February 1876). In the event, the Maharajah of Burdwan’s Medal was also awarded to Captain Walter.

With bound copies of The Times relating to the burning of the training ship Goliath - 23-25 December 1875; 27-31 December 1875; 1, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14, 27, 28 & 31 January 1876; 16 & 22 February 1876 - bound in one volume, maroon boards, approx. 61 x 48cm. Together with copied research.