The John Goddard Collection of Important Naval Medals and Nelson Letters

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Date of Auction: 24th November 2015

Sold for £16,000

Estimate: £8,000 - £10,000

Able Seaman Charles Stewart, who was present on board the Mars in her epic conflict with the Hercule in April 1798, and later fought at Trafalgar aboard the Victory

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 2 clasps, Mars 21 April 1798 [26], Trafalgar [1611] (Charles Stewart.) suspension claw re-fixed, edge bruising and contact wear, otherwise nearly very fine £8000-10000


Provenance: Payne Collection 1911; Glendining’s, May 1922, July 1946 (G. Dalrymple White Collection), and July 1977; Spink, July 2000 (Ron Byatt Collection).

Mars 21 April 1798 [26 issued] - 10 medals known, including examples in the National Maritime Museum; Royal Naval Museum; Honeyman Collection (U.S.A.); and Patiala Collection (Sheesh Mahal Museum, India).

Trafalgar [1611 issued] - including 18 officers and 104 men on board Nelson’s flagship Victory.

The published Naval General Service Medal rolls confirm Charles Stewart as an Ordinary Seaman aboard the Mars for the action of 21 April 1798, and as an Able Seaman aboard the Victory at the battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. One other man appears on the roll with these names as a recipient of the ‘Copenhagen 1801’ clasp.

Charles Stewart, who was from Banffshire, Scotland, originally entered the Royal Navy aboard H.M.S. Zealand in September 1797 but had removed to the Mars in time for her famous duel with the Hercule in April 1798:

Mars captures Hercule

At 11 a.m. on the 21st April as the British fleet was crossing the Iroise Passage two sails were spotted to the east. The three most easterly ships were detached to investigate the sails, these being the 74-gun ships of the line Mars, Captain Alexander Hood, and Ramillies, Captain H. Inman, and the 38-gun frigate Jason, Captain C. Stirling. At 2 p.m. a third sail was sighted close to the shore to the southeast. This new sail was much larger than those sighted earlier, and the squadron turned towards the new ship, the 74-gun Hercule on her maiden voyage. During the chase Ramillies lost her fore topmast and dropped back, whereupon Captain Hood made every effort to accelerate the sailing of the Mars and soon gained on the leading ship, the Jason, and the Hercule.

Captain L'Héritier of the Hercule realised that in open water he would soon be caught and overwhelmed, and sought instead to escape through the channel of the Raz de Sein. As the Hercule neared the channel, the Mars overtook the Jason and Captain Hood put her on a starboard tack and bore down on the Hercule. At 8.30 p.m., finding herself unable to sail against the strong current, the Hercule dropped anchor at the mouth of the channel, swung her broadside about to face the enemy and furled her sails. Captain Hood attempted to manoeuvre the Mars into an effective position to attack the Hercule, but the current in the Raz de Sein passage prevented this and instead he decided to bring the Mars directly alongside and fight broadside to broadside.

At 9.25 p.m., after an initial heavy exchange, with the Mars fighting the current, she pulled slightly ahead of the Hercule and dropped anchor. The port bow anchor of the Mars became entangled with the starboard anchor of the Hercule, causing the British ship to swing violently and collide with the Hercule.

Thus entangled and with sides rubbing together, both captains ordered their ships to pour fire into the other. The situation was such that many cannons on both ships could not be run out, and instead had to be fired from inside, so that the ships sides were much burnt and quite blackened. During the exchange, Captain Hood was mortally wounded by a musket shot to the thigh but he lived just long enough to hear the cheers of his victorious seamen, and to learn that he had not in vain died for his country. The Hercule twice failed to board the Mars sustaining heavy casualties on each attempt. Captain L'Héritier himself was injured twice leading the assault. At 1030 p.m., after an hour of continual bombardment L'Héritier surrendered, the hull of the Hercule being torn open and the Jason being seen fast approaching.

The Hercule had suffered a loss of 250 men killed and wounded. The casualties of the Mars were also very heavy. In addition to Captain Hood, a Captain of Marines, one Midshipman and 28 men were killed or missing, and two Lieutenants, one Midshipman and 57 men were wounded. The Hercule was carried into Plymouth and added to the Navy under the same name. Lieutenant William Butterfield, First of the Mars, was promoted to the rank of Commander.

Stewart joins the Victory and fights at Trafalgar

Very probably aboard the Mars when she was beached in April 1802, Stewart was quickly 'Prest' back into service aboard the Penelope and, in May 1803, joined the ship's company of the Victory, in which ship he was present under Nelson at Trafalgar:

'The story of the great fight, which commenced at noon, needs no telling here. On the firing ceasing, the Victory was found to have lost 57 killed and 103 wounded, and was herself all but a wreck. The tremendous fire to which she had been exposed when leading her line into action had caused great damage at a very early period in the Battle; and before she herself fired a gun, many of her spars were shot away, and great injury had been done to her hull, especially to the fore part. At the conclusion of the action she had lost her mizen-mast, the fore-topmast had to be struck to save the fore-mast, and the main mast was not much better, while her figure-head had been struck by shot and part of it carried away. Her sails were badly wounded, and it took all the exertions of her crew to refit the rigging sufficiently to stand the bad weather that followed. Her trophy, the 74-gun French Redoubtable, was one of those that sank after the action in deep water, and in her, as many of the other vessels lost, went down her Prize Crew of gallant British seamen. On 3 November the Victory sailed from Gibraltar on the melancholy but proud duty of conveying the body of the dead hero of England. She reached Spithead on 4 December, and Sheerness on the 22nd, where Nelson's body was removed to a yacht for conveyance to Greenwich and St. Paul's. During the ceremony of removing his remains, the hero's flag, which had flown half-mast ever since the action, was lowered for the last time' (Ref: The Trafalgar Roll, by Colonel R. H. Holden).

Able Seaman Stewart was invalided at Malta Hospital in early December 1807 and later became a Greenwich Pensioner.