Meritorious Service Medal Groups from the Collection of Ian McInnes

Date of Auction: 19th September 2003

Sold for £3,000

Estimate: £1,500 - £2,000

An Anchor type Naval long service medal awarded to John Remfry, Boatswain’s Mate, Royal Navy, who was one of only 34 men to complete the entire voyage of the Beagle during Charles Darwin’s famous Circumnavigation of the World 1831-36

Royal Navy L.S. & G.C.,
Anchor obverse (John Remfry, Boatswain’s Mate, H.M.S. Caledonia. 22 Years) pierced for ring suspension, very fine and rare £1500-2000


John Remfry was born at Landrake, Cornwall, on 21 September 1800, and entered the Navy as an Able Seaman in December 1822, his rate indicating that he must have had previous experience at sea. He served aboard the Bellette until March 1826, when he joined the Windsor Castle. He was paid off in June 1831 and joined the Beagle on 4 August 1831. The Beagle was a 10-gun brig of 235 tons, fitted out as a surveying ship, and was commanded by Captain (afterwards Admiral) Robert FitzRoy, Royal Navy.

The Beagle sailed on 27 December 1831 on her memorable voyage, the object of which was to extend the survey of South America, begun under Captain King in 1826, and ‘to carry a chain of chronometrical measurements round the world.’ Charles Darwin went as naturalist without salary, at the invitation of the captain, who gave him a share of his cabin. He was on the ship's books for victuals, and was to have the disposal of his collections.

Though the vessel was small, she was at the time considered to be well fitted for the expedition, and Darwin's letters from Devonport, whence the expedition sailed, are full of enthusiasm over the ‘mahogany fittings,’ the unprecedented stock of chronometers, &c. His own corner for work was the narrow space at the end of the chart-room, which was so small that when his hammock was hung, one of the drawers in which he kept his clothes had to be removed to make room for the ‘foot clews.’ To work efficiently in this cramped space required method and tidiness, and Darwin has said that the absolute necessity of such habits was to him a valued piece of training. In his letters written during the voyage, phrases such as ‘the exquisite glorious delight’ of tropical scenery, ‘a hurricane of delight and astonishment,’ show that the fulfilment of his Cambridge dreams brought with it no disappointment. Later come the ‘delight’ and ‘more than enjoyment’ in his days of work at South American geology, after which he ‘could literally hardly sleep at nights.’ Later again comes the delight in home letters, or in home dreams of autumn robins singing in the Shrewsbury garden, and the longing to return home becomes ever stronger, with a corresponding loathing and abhorrence of the sea ‘and all ships which sail on it.’ The voyage ended at last, and on 6 October 1836 he found himself at home, after an absence of ‘five years and two days.’

It is impossible to overrate the influence of the voyage on Darwin's career: it was both his education and his opportunity. He left England untried and almost uneducated for science, he returned a successful collector, a practised and brilliant geologist, and with a wide general knowledge of zoology gained at first hand in many parts of the world. And above all he came back full of the thoughts on evolution impressed on him by South American fossils, by Galapagos birds, and by the general knowledge of the complex interdependence of all living things gained in his wanderings. And thus it was that within a year of his return he could begin his first note-book on evolution, the first stone, in fact, of his Origin of Species.

John Remfrey had been promoted to Boatswain’s Mate during the voyage, on 4 August 1834, and was paid off from the Beagle on 17 November 1836. Of her original complement of 74 when she sailed in December 1831 (including Charles Darwin, a draughtsman and artist, an instrument maker, a missionary, two servants, and three Foreign natives being returned home by Fitzroy), only 34, including Remfry, circumnavigated the world the whole voyage. During the voyage, 18 men ran, 17 were discharged at sea to other vessels, and 6 were discharged to land.

Remfrey next went to the Stag in November 1836, and to the Caledonia in May 1841. It was whilst aboard this vessel that he received his L.S. & G.C. medal, on 15 April 1845, having completed 22 years service. He left Caledonia for Agincourt in March 1848, and finally went to St George in August 1850, where he remained until he was finally paid off to shore on 11 March 1853 and out of the Navy one week later. He died at Morice Town, Devon, on 19 July 1887, his death certificate describing him as a ‘Naval Pensioner’, aged 87 years.