For the NGS collector, when reading standard works like the excellent British Battles and Medals, it’s sometimes difficult to get a complete overview of how all the clasps fit into a bigger picture. I hope to be able to somewhat remedy this, at least for this relatively short campaign. I will not reiterate all the details here, they are all in the commanding officer’s original reports. These can usually be found in the London Gazette; links are provided when you click the clasp name in the table below. The NGS clasp names are highlighted blue in the main text below.
After the Battle of Trafalgar and Strachan’s action on 4th Nov 1805, the Franco-Spanish fleet was effectively decimated. For Spain, it meant a complete loss of its fleet, with disastrous consequences for its ability to protect its overseas possessions, its time as an imperial power was over. What remained of the French fleet was largely blockaded in port. As a consequence, it also became increasingly difficult for France to maintain ties with its colonies in the West Indies. This naturally severely affected the population in the colonies, which suffered from shortages of vital supplies and low moral. France and its allies were loosing hold on their West Indian possessions. In early 1806, a squadron was dispatched from Brest to attempt a re-supply of French West Indies, but was decisively destroyed by Adm. Duckworth off St. Domingo on Feb 6th. In Nov 1806, Capt. Brisbane in the frigate Arethusa (36), with two consorts took the Dutch island of Curaçao. Similarly, the commander of the British Naval forces on the Leeward Island Station, RAdm. Sir Alexander Cochrane, in Dec 1807 seized the Danish islands, of St. Thomas and St. Croix.
At the end of 1808 the Royal Navy had effectively denied any French privateer of a safe haven across the West Indies, and by the beginning of 1809, Cayenne in French Guiana, was taken by Capt. Yeo of the ship-sloop, Confiance, with the aide of the Portuguese. The only colonies remaining on French hands were Martinique and Guadaloupe. In Jan 1809, London ordered RAdm. Cochrane to take the islands, at his disposal was the Leeward Island fleet directly under his command, and ~10,000 troops of the Army under Lieut-Gen. Sir George Beckwith.
The table below summarizes the NGS clasps associated with the capture of Martinique and Guadaloupe, 1808-1810, which were authorized by the Admiralty in 1848. Each one signifying that either, a commissioned officer had been promoted for the action, or in the case of the two clasps naming the islands, the Navy had significantly supported the Army.
|28 Nov Bost Service 1808 (2)
|28-29 Nov 1808
|Mahaut Bay, Guadaloupe
|Off the Pearl Rock (16)
|12-13 Dec 1808
|The Pearl Rock, NW Martinique
|30 Jan-24 Feb 1809
|Army taking Fort Desaix, Fort Royal, SW Martinique
|Pompee 17 June 1809 (22)
|14-17 Apr 1809
|Started at Isle des Saintes (2), ended off Cape Roxo, SW Purto Rico
|Castor 17 June 1809 (5)
|Recruit 17 June 1809 (4)
|Bonne Citoyenne wh Furieuse (12)
|5-6 Jul 1809
|Mid Atlantic, 43 ° 41' N, 34 ° W
|25 Jul Boat Service 1809 (0)
|26 Jul 1809
|St. Marie Bay, Guadaloupe
|13 Dec Boat Service 1809 (9)
|13 Dec 1809
|Hayes Bay, Guadaloupe
|Anse La Barque (40)
|18 Dec 1809
|Barque Bay, Guadaloupe
|Scorpion 12 Jan 1810 (8)
|12 Jan 1810
|Basse Terre Roads, Guadaloupe
|Army actions around area of Basse Terre, SW Guadaloupe
Capture of Martinique
The first action off Martinique, 12-13th Dec 1808, took place close to the NW tip of the island, off a small cluster of rocks, the main one named the La Perle (the Pearl Rock) (Fig. 2: mark 1). A French corvette, Cygne, in company with two schooners had left Cherbourg with supplies and successfully reached the island avoiding detection by the Royal Navy. However, on Dec 12 1808, the frigate Circe (38), in company with the sloops Stork (16) and Epervier (18) were alerted to the French presence. A sharp action followed, and one of the schooners was driven ashore, but a boat attack was unsuccessful with heavy losses for the British. The action lasted into the following day, where Amaranthe (18) appeared and the attack was renewed. Despite battery support from the shore, Cygne and the remaining schooner were abandoned by the crew and destroyed by the British. This was a very costly action, with 12 killed, 31 wounded and 26 missing (presumed drowned) on the British side. This was also the only action off Martinique, predating the invasion, which resulted in the approval of an NGS clasp Off the Pearl Rock. The actual capture of the island took place from late January until the final surrender on February 24th 1809, with the Army initially landing at three strategic places, and quickly taking most of the land facing little resistance from the local militia. Eventually the French held Fort Desaix in Port Royal (Fig. 2: mark 2) surrendered after a siege and heavy bombardment. The details are best read in the original London Gazette reports which can be found by clicking the clasp name in the above table. The NGS clasp Martinique was issued for this action for the Royal Navy’s support of the Army.
Actions off Guadaloupe
The actions associated with the taking of Guadaloupe resulted in considerable more NGS clasps. The first, the 28 Nov Boat Service 1808, action in Mahaut Bay, Guadaloupe (Fig 3: mark 1), on 28-29th Nov 1808, was an early skirmish, signifying more of what was to come. This rare Boat Service action, unusually, appears not to have been be listed in the London Gazette, but more details can be learned from Lieut. Daniel Lawrence’s writeup in Marshall’s Naval Biography (click on clasp named in the table for details or here).
News of the fall of Martinique did not travel by today’s speed, in 1809 it was limited by how fast a horse could ride or a despatch sloop could sail. As the case was, the news did not reach France before a small relief squadron under Commodore Amable Troude, left L’Orient in mid February with much needed supplies for Martinique. It consisted of three 74-gun ships-of-the-line, Hautpoult, Courageux, and Polonais, and two frigates, Félicité and Furieuse, which were armed en-flûte (meaning stripped down of most of its guns, to make room for cargo). In early April, the squadron reached Martinique undetected, but finding the island had fallen, found safe anchorage at Isle Des Saintes, SE. of the island of Guadaloupe (Fig 3: mark 2).
RAdm. Cochrane, alerted of the presence of Troude’s squadron, ordered the islands occupied and mortars setup for bombing of the French ships at anchorage. This was effected on April 14th, and during the night the three 74s slipped out of the North passage heading W.SW. Off shore, the British squadron consisting of Cochrane’s flagship Neptune (98) and Pompee (74) observed the French escape, but darkness prevented them from determining if they were frigates or 74s. With possibly two remaining French 74s still at Isle Des Saintes, Cochrane did not want to abandon the landed troops without the protection of a British ship-of-the-line, and he dispatched the Pompee and the Cruizer-class brig-sloop Recruit (18) to pursue the fleeing French, Neptune remaining behind.
A fierce chase began, with Pompee and Recruit in hot pursuit of the French. They managed to engage Hautpoult, the stern-most ship, but the Frenchman was a strong sailor and only Recruit under Capt. C. Napier managed to hang on and continued harassing the bigger ship throughout the night, attempting to damage the masts and rigging to slow him down. In the process Recruit receiving many shots from the Frenchman’s stern-chasers. By evening of the 15th, both Pompee and Neptune had caught up. The French ships split, and Neptune and Recruit pursued Courageux and Polonais, while Pompee continued after Hautpoult in W.NW. direction. By the morning of the 16th, the frigates Castor (38) and Latona (38) had joined Pompee, and by dawn Castor had disabled the Frenchman sufficiently for Pompee to finally bring her to close action, off Cape Roxo, S.SW. Porto Rico. With several additional British ships arriving, Commodore Troude surrendered. This action lasted three days and resulted in a running fight of close to 500 nautical miles. In 1849, NGS clasps were sanctioned for Pompee, Recruit and Castor, all erroneously with the date of 17 June 1809, two months after the actual surrender. Medals with the clasp for Pompee 17 June 1809 almost invariably will also bear the Guadaloupe clasp. The only exception appears to be the NGS medal to Lieut. Cosby of the 63rd Foot, who also received an MGS medal, this with the Guadaloupe and Martinique clasps. For some reason many qualified candidates did not claim the Pompee clasp.
Courageux and Polonais got away and managed to return to France. The frigates Félicité and Furieuse were not as fortunate. They were successful in escaping from Isle Des Saintes on the night of April 15th and reached Basse Terre, Guadaloupe where they unloaded their cargo of flour and guns. Here they remained until June 14th, where they attempted the return voyage to France laden with sugar and coffee. However, Félicité was chased by Latona and Cherub (18), and surrendered without fight on June 18th. No NGS clasp was approved for this event. Furieuse managed to get well underway, until intercepted, July 5th, in the mid-Atlantic, by Bonne Citoyenne (20) under Commander William Mounsey, who was performing convoy duty bound for Québec. He chased Furieuse for 18 hours, firing 129 broadsides, and having nearly exhausting all his gun powder, he managed to lay alongside the Frenchman, preparing to board her with all hands, when she finally struck her ensign. Both ships were badly damaged, but with much effort Furieuse was towed into Halifax where they arrived on August 1st. This action was honored with a Small Naval Gold Medal to Commander Mounsey, which subsequently in 1848 resulted in the NGS clasp, Bonne Citoyenne wh Furieuse. It may seem strange to include this mid-Atlantic action in the West Indian Campaign category, but I feel it belongs there to complete the whole picture.
After the fall of Martinique, the only remaining French possession in the West Indies was Guadaloupe, which became the primary focus of British attention. On the other hand France was intensifying its efforts to resupply the island with much needed supplies, so encounters between the two adversaries were inevitable. Some of these resulted in clasps to the NGS medal.
A fairly obscure action took place on July 25th 1809, in St. Marie Bay, Guadaloupe (Fig. 3, mark 3), where a boat service party from the sloop Fawn (18), under the command of a Lieut. Morgan cut out a schooner with the name ‘Guadaloupe’. No other information appears to be known, except the action was listed in the 1849 London Gazette issue when the approved NGS clasps were announced. As such, one must assume a commissioned officer was promoted for the action, presumably the officer in charge. Click here for an explanation of a recent search for the man. There were no applicants who claimed this, 25 Jul Boat Service 1809 clasp, which is not to be confused with the clasp for the other boat service action on this date taking place in the Baltic. The captured vessel, ‘Guadaloupe’ appears also to not having been enrolled in the Royal Navy.
In fact, another boat service action took place on December 12-13th 1809, which resulted in the capture of the French brig La Nisus (16), it was added to the Royal Navy under the name Guadaloupe. A small squadron cruising off Guadaloupe, consisting of Thetis (32), under Capt. G. Miller, the Pultusk (16), Cmdr. W. Elliot, and some smaller consorts, discovered the French brig at anchor in Hayes Bay under the protection of a battery (Fig. 3, mark 4). In the evening of December 12th, a small boarding party, commanded by Cmdr. Elliot landed undetected south of the battery. They made their way through thick brush in steep terrain and attacked the battery from the rear. The battery was carried and destroyed which enabled the boats of the squadron supported by Pultesk to enter the harbor, board and capture La Nisus, with only four men wounded. Cmdr. Elliot was promoted and the NGS clasp 13 Dec Boat Service 1809 was sanctioned in 1849.
Just a week after the above action, a further French attempt to re-supply the island was foiled when Blonde (38), Capt. V. V. Ballard, and the Thetis, observed two French frigates, armed en-flûte, off the NW tip of Guadaloupe, making their way to Basse Terre. They turned out to be the Loire and the Seine, carrying troops and supplies. Finding themselves cut off from their intended port, they found shelter in a small cove, Anse La Barque, about nine nautical miles (~ 16km) NW of Basse-Terre (Fig. 3, mark 5). Both anchored with their broadsides facing the sea, and were further protected by two batteries on shore. Another battery, a little south of Anse La Barque, fired on the approaching British ships, which now also counted the brig Ringdove (18), Cmdr. W. Dowers. Ringdove received a short right through the hull. This promptly made Cmdr. Dowers embark in the boats with a landing party, which stormed and carried the battery. The guns were spiked and the magazine blown up, and the party returned to the ship without a single casualty a bit over an hour after they left. In the evening Ballard was joined by Freya (36) and the Sceptre (74). The following morning they engaged the batteries on shore, while Blonde and Thetis fired on the two frigates. Both soon struck their colors, but one had caught fire and shortly after exploded, causing the second frigate to also catch fire which destroyed her. The British losses were nine killed and twenty-two wounded. The NGS clasp Anse La Barque was sanctioned in 1849.
An interesting follow-on action which also was sanctioned with an NGS clasp, resulted from capture of the French brig, L’Oreste by the Scorpion (18), on January 11th, 1810. Capt. Ballard’s squadron cruising off Basse Terre, had observed a French brig at anchor near the shore (Fig. 3, mark 6), and despatched Scorpion, under Cmdr. F. Stanfell to bring her out. At 9 pm, in search of the enemy, Scorpion caught L’Oreste just clearing the north point of Basse Terre Bay. A running fight followed, in which Scorpion was exposed to much fire from the batteries at shore. By 1:30 the next morning, L’Oreste’s rigging was so damaged that she was forced to surrender. She had been heading for France. Several Army officers were onboard, as well as the Captains of the Loire and the Seine, the ships destroyed at Anse La Barque, a month earlier. Cmdr. Stanfell was promoted to Post-Captain for his good skill in effecting the capture, and the NGS clasp Scorpion 12 Jan 1810 instituted.
The actual capture of Guadaloupe was initiated on January 27th, when Adm. Cochrane’s squadron landed the Army of 7,000 men under Lieut-Gen. Sir. G. Beckwith. No opposition was met during the landing, and Beckwith’s force made its way over the mountain to Basse-Terre where only one line regiment, the 66e Régiment, offered some resistance, but after a few skirmishes the French capitulated on Feb 6th. The Navy was not actively engaged, but naval participants were awarded the NGS clasp Guadaloupe for the support they provided to the Army. With the fall of Guadaloupe, France lost its last West Indian possession, and the campaign came to an end.
Returning now to Lieut. John Wardle’s four clasp NGS medal, it’s remarkable that he was able to participate in four West Indian actions, all qualifying for an NGS clasp. Wardle served in Pompee during the taking of Martinique, and obviously also for the Pompee 17 June 1809 clasp. Like many other men, he is not on the roll for this clasp, but his presence is verified from the muster books. Similarly he is not on the roll for the 13 Dec Boat Service 1809 clasp, put his presence onboard Pultusk is also verified. In which ship he is also shown as entitled to the Guadaloupe clasp. As far as I can determine, only one other man, Lieut. John D. Mercer received the same four West Indian clasps, he served in Belleisle for the capture of Martinique and like Wardle, in Pultusk for the latter three. His medal is held in the Royal Naval Museum. I’m not aware of any other NGS medals with four clasps for the West Indian campaign.
- The Victory of Seapower: Winning the Napoleonic War 1806-1814, Richard Woodman, Chatham Publishing (1998).
- The Command of the Ocean, N. A. M. Rodger, W. W. Norton and Co. (2004).
- The Naval General Service Medal 1793-1840 Roll, K. Douglas-Morris, Privately Printed. First Edition (1982).
- Medals of the British Navy and How They were Won, W. H. Long, London (1895).