A Collection of Life Saving Awards formed by Dr Paul Démogé

Date of Auction: 6th December 2017

Sold for £2,600

Estimate: £600 - £800

Board of Trade Foreign Services Medal for Gallantry in Defence of the British Legation in Japan 1861, silver, the reverse with specially struck inscription ‘Presented by the British Government for Gallantry in Defence of the British Legation. July 6th 1861’, unnamed, in fitted case, extremely fine and scarce £600-800


A letter dated 10 July 1889 from Mr Leonard Wyon to Mr R. A. Hill of the Royal Mint stated that 82 of these medals were struck in silver and one in gold.

Following Japan’s enforced emergence onto the international scene in 1853, a commercial treaty was agreed with the United States of America in March 1854, and a similar treaty with Great Britain in October of the same year. Such trade links as these with foreign governments had many powerful opponents, numbers of the nobility and samurai class being violently opposed to western influence. Foreigners were frequently attacked by disaffected Japanese, often ‘Ronin’, former samurai who owed no allegiance to any feudal lord.

Such an attack occurred on the night of 5-6 July 1861, when a band broke into the temple where the British Legation was quartered and wounded several of its staff. The Japanese guard of the Legation, the Yacunins, fought bravely to defend it, and this medal was struck to reward them. However, none was ever issued. There the matter ended, until on 15 June 1889 it was announced in The Times:

‘A Relic of Old Japan - A few months ago some interest was excited by the report that on opening a safe which had not been touched for many years in the British Legation in Tokyo, it was found to contain a number of medals intended by the British Government of the day for a number of Japanese who had taken part in the defence of the Legation against an attack made upon it by samurai one night in July 1861, when several members of Sir Rutherford Alcock’s staff, including the late Mr Laurence Oliphant, were wounded. ... Sir Rutherford Alcock, on the arrival of the medals, sent an intimation to that effect to the Japanese authorities, but the latter showed no desire whatever to find out the individuals entitled to them ... The reluctance of the Japanese to aid in distributing the medals was due to the danger which in those days every Japanese would run who was known to receive an honour from a foreign Sovereign for defending a foreigner against a Japanese. The Government and those concerned did not wish to run the terrible risk attaching to such an equivocal honour; thus the matter was suffered to drop, and the medals getting into an unused safe, the key of which was lost, remained there until the other day. Naturally great difficulty is now experienced in tracing the persons entitled. ...’