Her Majesty has also been pleased to take into Her gracious consideration the many instance of gallantry displayed by Officers, seamen, and marines in the boat actions during the same period, and to direct, that such service, if distinguished by the promotion of the Officer conducting the enterprize, shall entitle those who were present, and now living, to a medal; provided the answers given in form (B) shall enable the Committee to ascertain that the claim is well founded. But the Officers, seamen, and marines of the ships, from which the boats were detached, are not to participate in a distinction which only properly belongs to those personally engaged.
Almost invariably the Officer conducting the enterprize would have been a commissioned officer, but it is interesting to note that the clasps were reserved for those who actually participated in the boats, which makes NGS medals with these clasps especially attractive. One can be assured that every participant was in action, there were no passengers on these expeditions. They were essentially the equivalent of modern day commando/special forces actions. Typically the goal of the expedition was the ‘cutting-out’ or capture of an enemy vessel lying under the protection of a shore battery or some other fortification. The boarding party would normally consist of volunteers, armed with cutlasses, pistols and pikes who would set off in the boats under cover of darkness, most often approaching the enemy vessel from a distance. A spectacular painting by Philip de Loutherbourg (shown below) gives a vivid account of the tumults carnage of such endeavors.
There were a total of 55 approved actions, dating from the onset of hostilities in March 1793 to the final action in December 1814. The list was first published in the 26 January 1849 London Gazette. The text on the clasp was rather unassuming – but not unattractive, with just the the words Boat Service sandwiched in between the engraved date and year (see figure to the right). A table of the 55 approved actions is shown below, indicating the number of clasps issued (from ADM 171/3) and the number of ships supplying boats, as well as the approximate geographical location. Click twice on the heading in ‘Clasps Issued’ to sort by this column in descending order.
|15 Mar 1793||1||1||Willemstadt, Holland|
|17 Mar 1794||28||29||Fort Royal Bay, Martinique|
|29 May 1797||2||3||Santa Cruz Bay, Tenerife|
|9 Jun 1799||1||4||La Selva Harbour, NE Spain|
|20 Dec 1799||2||3||Calriba Point, Bay of Gibraltar|
|29 Jul 1800||2||4||Port St. Louis, Lorient, France|
|29 Aug 1800||9||25||Redondela Bay, Vigo, NW Spain|
|27 Oct 1800||1||5||Fort Fuengirola, near Malaga, S Spain|
|21 Jul 1801||5||7||Cameret Bay, near Brest, NW France|
|27 Jun 1803||1||5||Off Isle de Bas, near Brest NE France|
|4 Nov 1803||1||1||Mancenille Bay, St. Domingo|
|4 Feb 1804||1||10||Fort Royal Bay, Martinique|
|4 Jun 1805||1||10||Forts at Muros, Cape Finisterre, NW Spain|
|16 Jul 1806||9||51||Verdon Roads, River Gironde, W France|
|2 Jan 1807||1||3||St. Pierre Harbor, Martinique|
|21 Jan 1807||1||8||Off Caracas, Venezuela|
|19 Apr 1807||1||0||Paderneira Harbor, Portugal|
|13 Feb 1808||1||2||Mouth of River Targus, Lisbon, Portugal|
|10 Jul 1808||1||8||Port d'Anzio, South of Rome, Italy|
|11 Aug 1808||3||15||Nyborg Habour, Denmark|
|28 Nov 1808||1||2||Mahault Harbour, Guadaloupe|
|7 Jul 1809||4||34||Porcola (Porkkala) Point, Gulf of Finland|
|14 Jul 1809||1||7||Carri, Near Rhone River, S France|
|25 Jul 1809||1||0||St Marie Bay, Guadaloupe|
|25 Jul 1809||4||36||Off Fredrikshamm, Gulf of Finland|
|27 Jul 1809||5||10||Gessendorf, near Cuxhaven|
|29 Jul 1809||3||11||Duino Harbour, near Trieste|
|28 Aug 1809||1||15||Mouth of Piave and Cortelazze, Adriatic|
|1 Nov 1809||8||110||Rosas Bay, NE Spain|
|13 Dec 1809||5||8||Hayes Harbour, Guadaloupe|
|13 Feb 1810||3||20||Off La Rochelle, Basque Roads|
|1 May 1810||1||15||Jacotel, Île de France|
|28 Jun 1810||3||25||Grado Harbour, NE of Venice|
|27 Sep 1810||3||33||Pointe du Ché, Basque Roads|
|4 Nov 1810||1||1||Cape Sicié, SW of Toulon|
|23 Nov 1810||24||40||El Puerto de Santa María, off Cádiz|
|24 Dec 1810||1||6||La Hogue Roads, NW France|
|4 May 1811||2||10||Parenza Harbour, off Istria, NE Adriatic|
|30 Jul 1811||1||4||Fort Marrack, Java|
|2 Aug 1811||6||9||River Jahde/Norderney, NW Germany|
|20 Sep 1811||1||6||Wingo (Vrångö) Sound, Kattegat|
|4 Dec 1811||1||19||Bastia, NE Corsica|
|4 Apr 1812||1||4||Cape de Gata, SE Spain|
|1 & 18 Sep 1812||1||21||Port Lemo, Istria, Adriatic|
|17 Sep 1812||1||11||Off Coro, River Po, N Italy|
|29 Sep 1812||2||25||Mittau, Lielupe River, Estonia|
|6 Jan 1813||2||26||Cape Otranto, Adriatic, Italy|
|21 Mar 1813||2||3||River Elbe, Schleswig-Holstein|
|29 Apr 1813||1||2||N American coast|
|29 Apr 1813||9||57||River Elk, Chesapeake Bay (also as Apr & May 1813)|
|2 May 1813||4||48||Morgiou Harbour, near Toulon|
|8 Apr 1814||4||24||Pettipague, Connecticut River, N America|
|24 May 1814||1||12||Off Vide (Vidho), Corfu|
|3 & 6 Sep 1814||1||1||Lake Huron, N America|
|14 Dec 1814||22||205||Lake Borgne, near New Orleans|
As can be seen from the table, some clasps had no claimants (or at least none were approved), and almost half had fewer than ten issued. It is also interesting to see the comparatively fewer actions approved during the French Revolutionary war (1793-1802), with a total of nine, on average one per year. Compared to the the later Napoleonic war (1803-1815), with a total of 46, on average 3.8 per year. This may reflect the possibility there were fewer promotions for conspicuous service approved during the Revolutionary War, more so than fewer Boat Service enterprises taking place.
A search of the online NGS 1793-1840 roll which is based on the Admiralty claimants lists ADM 171/1-3, reveals some interesting statistics. Of the ~18,000 medals issued there are only 965 containing one or more Boat Service clasps. Furthermore, 79 of these medals were issued with two and a mere five with three Boat Service clasps. There does not appear to be any medals with four or more clasps. The recipients of the five medals with three Boat Service clasps is shown in table 2 below. Clearly any medal with multiple Boat Service clasps should be considered scarce – if not rare, and even a single clasp medal is scarcer than a Trafalgar medal to put it in perspective. Of the five medals listed in table 2, only the one to John Davies is known. This name is not unique on the roll and one is clearly highly suspicious when such a rare medal surfaces. However, in this case it is known to resides with the family in Australia, and I have no doubts about it authenticity.
|Name||Clasps • Ship/Rank|
|CHARLES BRUCE||28 Aug BOAT S. 1809 • Midshipman Amphion|
28 June BOAT S. 1810 • Midshipman Amphion
1 & 18 Sep BOAT S. 1812 • Midshipman Bacchante
|JOHN DAVIES||13 Feb BOAT S. 1810 • L.M. Armide|
27 Sep BOAT S. 1810 • A.B. Armide
14 Dec BOAT S. 1814 • A.B. Armide
|ROBERT ROBERTS||13 Feb BOAT S. 1810 • L.M. Armide|
27 Sep BOAT S. 1810 • A.B. Armide
14 Dec BOAT S. 1814 • A.B. Armide
|JOHN FARRANT||Copenhagen 1801 • Vol. 1st Class Russell|
Trafalgar • Midshipman Royal Sovereign
14 July BOAT S. 1809 • Lieut Scout
1 Nov BOAT S. 1809 • Lieut Scout
8 April BOAT S. 1814 • Lieut Borer
|WILLIAM WHISKER||28 Aug BOAT S. 1809 • L.M. Amphion|
28 June BOAT S. 1810 • L.M. Amphion
Lissa • L.M. Amphion
1 & 18 Sep BOAT S. 1812 • L.M. Bacchante
It is also interesting to note that the entitlements of Davies and Roberts are identical, in fact it appears they lived identical lives, same ship and rank at the same time. The two first actions are both in the vicinity of Basque Roads off the west coast of France where clearly many cutting-out expeditions took place. Likewise, the medals to Bruce and Whisker spot the same Boat Service clasps, this time all taking place in the Adriatic and again the same ships. Only Farrant, a more senior officer saw action in several different places.
Unlisted Boat Service Clasps
There are examples of medals issued with what appears to be a perfectly genuine Boat Service clasp, but it is not on the published list of the Admiralty approved actions from 1849. Such a medal surfaced a few years ago at DNW (Sale 19th June 2013, lot 332). It hammered for a cool £30,000. Another two are mentioned in Douglas-Morris’ Naval Medals 1793-1856 Ref. 2, where he goes into great detail on how to verify such an ‘unlisted’ clasp. Those medals are now held at the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth. Not surprisingly, all of these medals were issued to officers, who undoubtedly had a better chance at convincing the Admiralty of their proper entitlement, compared to lower deck ratings. It is of course not clear how many ‘unlisted’ claims were successfully argued with the Admiralty, but it must have been several, considering the number of such medals known. It is also worth noting, that the Admiralty never published an updated list of approved actions. This suggests that it was the individual officer’s arguments about his personal conduct at the action that convinced them it merited a ‘personal’ Boat Service clasp. Such medals are obviously highly desirable, which is reflected in the high price achieve at the DNW sale mentioned above.
- London Gazzette, 16 June 1848 issue.
- London Gazzette, 26 January 1849 issue.
- John Hayward, Diana Birch, and Richard Bishop, British Battles and Medals, 7th Edition, Spink 2007.
- K. J. Douglas-Morris, Naval Medals 1793-1856, London, Privately Printed, 1987, p. 131.