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: £10,000 - £12,000

Commander James Elphick, R.N., who took part in Penelope’s ‘David and Goliath’ night action with 86-gun French ship-of-the-line Guillaume Tell, and was later mentioned in despatches as ‘a very gallant and zealous officer’ at the siege and capture of Santa Maura in 1810

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 2 clasps, Penelope 30 March 1800 [11], Egypt [615] (James Elphick, Master’s Mate.) with original ribbon and framed Admiralty transmission letter, dated 13th May 1850, good very fine £10000-12000


Provenance: Acquired via Vernon Henstridge from an auction on behalf of the Bournemouth Conservative Club, October 1993.

Penelope 30 March 1800 [11 issued] - James Bayly, Volunteer 1st Class (Known); William Borough, Midshipman; James Brown, A.B. (National Maritime Museum); John Carter, Volunteer 1st Class (Royal Naval Museum); Darby Collins, Ord.; James Elphick, Master’s Mate; William Manning, Boy 3; Charles Ogden, Pte. R.M.; Henry Prescott, Midshipman (Known); John Small, L.M. (Patiala Collection, Sheesh Mahal Museum, India); Robert Yule, Master’s Mate (Known).

Egypt [615 issued] - including 6 to Penelope.

James Elphick entered the Navy on 25 July 1795, as an Able Seaman on board the Inflexible 64, Captain Solomon Ferris, stationed in the North Sea. He proceeded to Newfoundland in 1798 as Midshipman of the Brilliant 28, Captain Hon. Henry Blackwood; and, after participating in a very spirited engagement with the French 44-gun frigates Vertu and Régénérée, accompanied that officer into the Penelope 36.

Penelope engages in a ‘David and Goliath’ night action with the 86-gun French ship-of-the-line Guillaume Tell

Malta having been closely blockaded for some months, and the French garrison suffering from famine and disease, Rear-Admiral Decrés slipped out of Valetta harbour in the 86-gun Guillaume Tell at 11 p.m. on 30 March 1800. Just before midnight the French ship was discovered by Penelope, part of the British squadron cruising off the island, under Captain Manley Dixon, consisting also of the Lion 64, Foudroyant 80, Alexander 74, Vinciego brig, and several other sloops and small vessels. Captain Blackwood immediately ordered the Vinciego to alert Commodore Dixon of the discovery, while the Penelope frigate stood after the enemy.

At 12.30 a.m. the Penelope luffed under the stern of the Guillaume Tell and gave her the larboard broadside, and then wearing, raked her with with the starboard broadside, but to these broadsides the French ship could only reply with her stern chasers. Penelope continued her destructive and harassing fire throughout the night, Dacrés being all to aware that the other ships of the squadron were fast coming up, and not daring to bring to and cripple his diminutive adversary. By about daybreak, the main and mizzen topmasts and the main yard of the Guillaume Tell were shot away, while the Penelope had suffered minor damage to her rigging and sails.

Soon after 5 a.m. the Lion, which had been guided by the broadsides of the frigate through the night, now came up and, passing yard arm to yard arm, poured in a broadside of three round shot in each gun, and then luffing across the bows of her opponent carried away the Guillaume Tell’s jib-boom. Aided by Penelope, the Lion kept up a steady fire for about half an hour, before having to retire with bad damage and being quite unmanageable. At 6 a.m. the Foudroyant came up and Captain Edward Berry hailed Dacrés to strike, to which he replied by waving his sword and discharging a treble-shotted broadside, which cut the Foudroyant’s rigging to pieces. After a further exchange of broadsides, Foudroyant fell astern, leaving Lion and Penelope in close attendance.

At 6.30 a.m. the main and mizzen-masts of the French ship were shot away, but she nailed her colours to the stump of the mast, and again exchanged broadsides with the Foudroyant, which had now partially refitted herself and resumed her position on the starboard quarter of the enemy. At 8 a.m. the Guillaume Tell lost her foremast and thus became an unmanageable hulk, rolling her lower deck ports under water. With Foudroyant on her starboard, the Lion on her larboard quarter, and Penelpoe close ahead, at 8.20 a.m., after one of the most gallant defences on record, the flag of the Guillaum Tell was hauled down. The Lion and Foudroyant being too damaged to take possession of the prize, this was done by the Penelope, which towed the Guillaume Tell into Syracuse. She was the sole surviving French line of battle ship from the battle of the Nile and, once refitted and renamed H.M.S. Malta, she became one of the largest two-deckers in the Royal Navy. When the naval medal for her capture was granted to the Penelope and Vinciego, for some inexplicable reason the claims from the Lion and Foudroyant were not allowed.

Following on from this action, Elphick was present in Penelope in the operations in cooperation with the Army on and off the coast of Egypt from March to September, 1801. He was appointed Acting-Lieutenant on 5 November 1801, of the Caroline 36, Captain William Bowen, and, being officially promoted 5 January 1802, was afterwards appointed, 5 April 1803, to the Britannia 120, Captain the Earl of Northesk, employed in the Channel and off Cadiz, and 13 January and 24 September 1806, to the Gibraltar 80, Captain Thomas Whitby, and Magnificent 74, Captains George Eyre and Willoughby Thos. Lake. As Senior Lieutenant of the latter ship, Elphick contributed to the reduction of Zante and Cephalonia in October 1809. In March and April 1810, he distinguished himself as “a very gallant and zealous officer” at the siege and capture of Santa Maura (London Gazette 1810, p. 1136). He was also actively co-operating with the patriots on the north coast of Spain in 1812. The Magnificent being paid off on her return with convoy from the West Indies in August 1815, he remained unemployed until 14 September 1818, when he joined the Coast Blockade, as Supernumerary-Lieutenant of the Severn 50, Captain William McCulloch. He was advanced to the rank of Commander on 19 July 1821, and placed on the reserved list in July 1851.

Commander Elphick received a medal and clasps for the capture of the Guillaume Tell and the expedition to Egypt. He was granted the out-pension of Greenwich Hospital on 4 November 1853, and was still living in 1861.