A Collection of Naval General Service Medals 1793-1840

Date of Auction: 18th June 2020

Sold for £22,000

Estimate: £16,000 - £20,000

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 1 clasp, Sybille 28 Feby 1799 (Samuel Butler.) very fine £16,000-£20,000


Provenance: Kermack Ford sale 1884; ‘Jubilee’ Collection, Glendining’s, May 1992; John Goddard Collection, Dix Noonan Webb, November 2015.

Sybille 28 Feby 1799 [12 issued] - Samuel Butler, A.B.; Peter Cloosterman, Boy 2 Class; James Coombe, Ord.; Thomas Hurley, Ord. (Royal Naval Museum); James Long, Lieutenant R.N.; Arthur Lysaght, Midshipman; Nicholas Maunger, Lieutenant R.N. (Patiala Collection, Sheesh Mahal Museum, India); James Piercy, Supernumerary (National Maritime Museum); Robert Ratcliffe, Supernumerary; John Triggs, Ord.; Joseph Wright, Vol. 1st Class; William E. Wright, A.B.

Samuel Butler was born at Portsmouth circa 1771, and first entered the Navy as a Boy Servant on board the Ardent on 24 June 1790. He joined Sybille as an Able Seaman on 7 May 1795, and served aboard her until 19 April 1799. An accompanying copied Pension Statement gives a long listing of his subsequent ships to September 1835, his last 22 years service being as a Rigger.

Sybille captures La Forte after a most stubborn resistance

On 28 February and 1 March 1799, Sybille took part in a furious engagement with the vastly superior French frigate La Forte, of 52 guns and 370 men, which, as part of the raiding squadron based at Mauritius, had been harassing British shipping in the Bay of Bengal. Having left Madras in search of La Forte two weeks earlier, Captain Cooke of the Sybille sighted the enemy frigate, one of the finest ever built, with two rich prizes, off the sand-heads of the Hooghly River at about 9 p.m. On closing with La Forte, the Sybille received a broadside from her larboard guns and a fire from one of her captures. Cooke brought the Sybille under the stern of the Forte, ‘almost touching her spanker boom, and gave her the whole of her larboard broadside, and luffing up to leeward, poured in another broadside with the most destructive effect’. These broadsides killed and wounded between fifty and sixty of La Forte’s crew, and caused such confusion that her gunners fired from both sides of their ship at once. The two ships then engaged each other broadside to broadside. The French Captain and his First Lieutenant were both killed. Cooke of the Sybille was mortally wounded, and Lieutenant Hardyman took command. By two-thirty in the morning, fire from the French ship had been entirely silenced, and the Sybille hailed to ask if she had struck her colours. Receiving no reply, the Sybille recommenced firing. The Forte gave no return fire so once again the Sybille hailed her opponent, but again without response. The French were then seen attempting to make sail and escape. Sybille’s guns roared once more and within a few minutes the Frenchman’s mizzen mast was shot away, and his main and foremasts with the bowsprit sent overboard. Thus the action ended. The Sybille’s sails and rigging were cut to pieces and her main and mizzen masts badly damaged, but she had only received six shots in her hull. Captain Davies, who was an A.D.C. to Lord Mornington and a volunteer on board, was killed together with four other men. Besides Cooke, sixteen men were wounded, and though ‘a perfect wreck’, La Forte was taken into Calcutta for repairs and added to the Royal Navy as the Forte.