The John Goddard Collection of Important Naval Medals and Nelson Letters

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Date of Auction: 24th November 2015

Sold for £24,000

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

Rear-Admiral William Hext, who joined the Royal Navy as a Captain’s Servant at the age of 10, fought in three Fleet actions, and was possibly the only veteran of the ‘Glorious First of June’ to be photographically portrayed

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 3 clasps, 1 June 1794 [538], 23 June 1795 [177], 4 Novr 1805 [291] (William Hext, Lieut.) with original ribbon, extremely fine £6000-8000

Footnote

Provenance: Roger Perkins Collection, Sotheby, December 1990.

1 June 1794 [540 issued] - including 17 to the Russell.

23 June 1795 [182 issued] - including 11 to the Russell, four of whom were officers.

4 Novr 1805 [296 issued] - including 13 to the Santa Margarita, Hext being the only officer.

William Hext is confirmed on the rolls as a Captain’s Servant aboard H.M.S. Russell for the ‘Glorious First of June’, as a Midshipman aboard the same ship for the action on the 23rd of June 1795, and as a Lieutenant aboard H.M.S. Santa Margarita for the 4th of November 1805.

William Hext was born at Bodmin, Cornwall, on 5 July 1780, and entered the Navy in April 1791, aged 10 years and 9 months, as a Captain’s Servant aboard the 10-gun sloop Scout. In August 1793 he joined the Russell 74, part of the force under Lords Howe and Bridport in the actions of 28 and 29 May and 1 June , 1794, and 23 June 1795.

After further service aboard the Phaeton 48 and Impéteux 74, he came to the attention of the famous Cornish officer, Captain Edward Pellew (later Viscount Exmouth). In 1799, the crew of Impéteux mutinied and there was a grave danger that the disaffection would spread to other ships of the Channel Fleet. Midshipman Hext rendered valuable service in suppressing the mutiny and was promoted Lieutenant on Pellew’s recommendation. In June 1802 he was appointed Second Lieutenant of the frigate Clyde 38, in which he afterwards conveyed Sir John Borlase Warren, as British Ambassador, to St Petersburg, and had the honour of being sent home in personal charge of his Excellency’s despatches. In January 1803 he was sent with an armed boat into the port of Leith for the purposes of impressment and, although exposed for many hours to the attacks of a furious mob and suffering severe bruising to himself and many of his men from the constant volleys of stones thrown by the populace, succeeded in fully effecting the service for which he had been selected, and earned the warmest plaudits of his Captain.

In the early part of 1804, while detached in a six-oared cutter, he succeeded, on his own responsibility, in detaining and bringing out from the river Ems, a neutral ship laden with masts believed to be for the use of the enemy. On reaching his ship the next day he had the satisfaction of learning that his Captain had just received orders for the apprehension of the very same vessel. In May 1804 he assumed command of the Sheerness hired cutter, with the fleet blockading Brest, and, in January 1805, was then appointed Senior Lieutenant of the Santa Margarita 36, Captain William Rathbone, under whom, on the 4th of the ensuing November, he fought in Sir Richard Strachan’s action. During the long chase which preceded the battle, the Santa Margarita left the British squadron far astern in consequence of the unwearied attention given by her First-Lieutenant to the trimming of her sails. After the complete victory was gained, the Commodore made particular mention of Lieutenant Hext’s remarkable achievement, such that Hext himself imagined that immediate promotion awaited him. He was to be disappointed, however, as he had to wait until April 1809 for his promotion to Commander. He had in the meantime served on the East India station in the Barracouta 18, Culloden 74, Blanche frigate, and, as Acting-Commander, the Wilhelmina hospital ship.

Hext returned to England on half-pay from 1810 to 1813, but then assumed command of the Vesuvius bomb vessel for operations in support of the Army off the Peninsula along the northern coast of Spain and westward seaboard of France under Admiral Charles Penrose. Commander Hext retired to Cornwall on half-pay in September 1814 and saw no further service at sea. He was advanced to the rank of Post Captain half-pay in 1841, transferred to the Retired Captain’s List in 1854, and became an Additional Retired Rear-Admiral in 1862. Admiral Hext died at Tredethy, Cornwall, on 31 October 1866, at the age of 86. He is believed to be the only veteran of the ‘Glorious First of June’ to be portrayed by means of the newly invented photographic camera.

The medal is accompanied by some family research together with: his original commission as Commander to H.M.S. Vesuvius; his final commission as Post Captain to command H.M.S. Royal William (for pay and pension purposes only); and an interesting original letter written in February 1812, by his younger brother, Lieutenant George Hext, R.N., then preparing to leave in convoy for the American campaign: ‘The preparations are such as, I think, will make the Yankees humble when they hear of them.’ - he was killed by a rifle-shot while leading a boat-attack in the Chesapeake in 1813, aged 29. Hext’s older brother, Samuel, was a Major in the 83rd Foot and was awarded the Gold Medal for Badajoz with clasps for Orthes and Toulouse.