Here, I will only give a brief introduction to The Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, as it is officially named. The outstanding authoritative work by James Risk should be consulted for more details, also a series of future blogs by ChrisC, will go into details about the various insignia and Army recipients.
The ancient ritual of conferring a Knighthood “by the Bath” dates back several hundred years, but was not formalized into an order until George I, by Letter Patent created the Order in 1725. The statutes called for no more than 35 simultaneous Knights Companions, who were entitled to the post nominal letters ‘KB’. The limitation in the number of Knights Companions was dropped in 1812. Despite its name, the Order was initially mostly used as a political instrument. An honor conferred on men of high positions, both socially and economically. The first installation in 1727 only had three naval or military Knights. From 1727 to January 1815, a total of 195 Knights Companions were appointed to the Order. The social distribution can be seen in Fig. 2, click here for a partial list of naval officers.
Towards the end of the Napoleonic War, it became evident that a great many officers had distinguished themselves and were deserving of recognition. It was decided to reorganize the Order into three classes. Strangely, it was not intended to cover recognition from before 1803, including the French Revolutionary War. The classes were:
- 1st Class: Knights Grand Crosses (GCB), limited to 72 (including up to 12 Civilians). All the old Knights Companions (KB) were to become GCBs.
- 2nd Class: Knights Commanders (KCB), limited to 180.
- 3rd Class: Companions (CB), an unspecified number initially, but by June 1815, 363 Companions were announced and by Dec. a further 26 added, for a total of 389 initial appointments.
Future appointments to the 1st Class were only to come from the 2nd Class. Admission to the order required the recipient to have been awarded a Gold Medal or have been mentioned in the official dispatches as having distinguished himself. Advancement in the Order was tied to the naval (or military) rank of the individual. Initially naval Post-Captains were admitted to the 2nd Class (KCB), but it was later changed to require flag rank (Rear Admiral and above).
All insignia had to be returned upon the death of the recipient. This was apparently adhered to very strictly. Badges and stars were reissued to later recipients. This ruled ceased in 1859 and insignia could be kept by families from then on. This is worth remembering when considering the provenance of a Napoleonic period medal group with insignia of the Bath.
In the three tabs below (click on text), details of the distribution of 1815 awards in the three classes are summarized.
1st Class: Knights Grand Crosses (GCB)
2nd Class: Knights Commanders (KCB)
The distribution of KCBs between the Army and Navy was a bit more equitable than the GCBs. Of the 195 total, 100 went to the Army, the Navy got 80 and finally the HEIC got 15. However, only eight of the 1815 KCBs claimed the NGS medal, which is about 10% of the Navy’s share of KCBs. I suspect a similar percentage of the Army was able to claim the MGS medal. The table below indicates the recipients and their NGS clasps. Click on the name to see a portrait of the recipient.
|Adm Sir William James Whitshed||St. Vincent|
|V-Adm Sir Robert Stopford||1 Jun 1794 • 17 Jun 1795 • St. Domingo • Basque Roads • Java • Syria|
|R-Adm Thomas Byam Martin||Santa Margaritta 8 Jun 1796 • Fisgard 20 Oct 1798 • Implacable 26 Aug 1808|
|R-Adm George Cockburn||14 Mar 1795 • Minerve 19 Dec 1796 • St. Vincent • Egypt • Martinique • BS 29 Apr 1813|
|R-Adm Edward Codrington||1 Jun 1794 • 23 Jun 1795 • Trafalgar • Navarino|
|Captain John Talbot||Victorious wh. Rivoli|
|Captain Sir Edward Hamilton||Surprise wh. Hermione|
|Captain Sir Alexander Gordon||23 Jun 1795 • St. Vincent • Nile • Off Rota 4 Apr 1808 • Lissa • Pelagosa 29 Nov 1811 • The Potomac 17 Aug 1814|
Stopford’s and Cockburn’s medals are in the NMM, Byam Martin’s and Codrington’s are in the RNM, while Talbot’s, Whitshed’s (NGS), and Hamilton’s medals are known to exist and are presumably in private hands. Gordon’s medals seem not to have been sighted.
3rd Class: Companions (CB)
The awards for Companion of the Bath, were announced in two installments, the first, on 4 June 1815 with a total of 363 recipients, out of which 219 went to the Army, 118 to the Navy, and to the HEIC 26. A second installment, on 8 December 1815, introduced a small correction for officers who somehow had been overlooked. The final numbers were, Army: 227, Navy: 136, and HEIC: 26, for a total of 389 Companions. Of the recipients from the Navy, 47 or ~35% of the share claimed the NGS medal. Just as for the KCBs, I suspect a similar percentage for the Army would have claimed the MGS medal.
During the period 1816-1850, there were several additional awards of CBs to the Navy, a large number of theses officers had also seen service during the Napoleonic War and close to 53% would eventually claim the NGS medal. The table below summarizes the numbers and the occasion.
|Occasion||CBs awarded||# who claimed NGS|
|Medical Officers 1850||6||5|
The combination of the awards of the Order of the Bath and the NGS 1793-1840 medal, where the Bath was given for meritorious and gallant service during the Napoleonic wars is quite scarce. Of the 80 naval KCBs awarded in 1815, only 8 claimed the NGS. Of the 136 naval CBs awarded, 47 claimed the NGS. Of these at least 7 are in museums. It is also clear that during 1815 the Army was awarded significantly more GCBs, and CBs than the Navy. The distribution of KCBs was a bit more equitable, but the Navy was still about 20% behind.
Between 1816-1850, about 101 naval CBs were awarded for various conflicts and also to some extent to men who had been overlooked earlier. Of these, 53 men claimed the NGS. Some of them naturally also served in the Napoleonic War. So in total there are about 47 + 53 = 100 CB-NGS groups for officers who were possibly involved in the conflicts 1793-1815, but only 47 of these, were without a doubt given for service in this period.
Post 1850, clearly there were multitudes of Order of the Bath appointments to deserving naval officers, notably for the Crimean conflict and those that followed, however the vast majority of these officers who in addition also claimed the NGS in 1848 (almost exclusively for Syria) would have been very junior during the wars 1793-1815, if at all present.
As mentioned in the introduction, I’ve created a database of naval officers who received the CB and NGS medal, some of these made advancements in the Order and eventually made KCB or GCB. The database lists those advancements as well. However, officers who were appointed directly into the 2nd Class of Knights Commanders (KCB), have not yet been added. Here is the link again.
- London Gazette, 4 Jan 1815 issue, and 16 Sep 1815, and many issues beyond that date.
- James Risk, The History of the Order of the Bath and its insignia, London 1972.
- Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas, History of the Order of Knighthood of the British Empire, London 1842 (volume 3).
- Patrick Marioné, The Complete Navy List 1793-1815 CD (2003).
As ever, interesting, well written, and informative.
Thanks GW – much appreciated, especially coming from you!
Great topic Peter. As a FYI, I have a NGS Syria Group to George Biddlecombe who was awarded the CB on 13 March 1867, so may not be on your list nor was it awarded for the Syrian campaign. The CB is sadly not with the group – NGS Syria, Baltic, and St, Jean D’Acre medals. If I can figure out how to blog with pictures, I would be happy to comment further 😉
Thanks Pick, You’re right, George Biddlecombe is not in the database. I primarily wanted to focus on Napoleonic war, however as explained – the CB awards for Syria are included if they occurred before 1864. I’ve uploaded the picture of Biddlecombe’s group for you below. Great to have you onboard!
Peter well tacked! This is one of those projects likely never finished. Here is one for you:
Admiral The Honourable Keith Stewart, C.B., R.N., born 1814, the second son of the 8th Earl of Galloway; entered the Royal Navy as a Midshipman, 1827; served aboard H.M.S. Victory at Portsmouth in April of the same year, quickly seeing action as a Volunteer 1st Class in the Asia at Navarino, October 1827; returning to home waters in the course of 1830, he enjoyed several more seagoing appointments and was advanced to Lieutenant, June 1833; subsequently employed on the Lisbon Station, he transferred to the Cornwallis in early 1837 and served off North America and in the West Indies; in October 1838, in the rank of Commander, he was appointed Captain of the Ringdove, in which ship he was employed in the suppression of the slave trade in the West Indies and in protecting the fisheries in the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence; advanced to Captain in July 1842.
Stewart was appointed to the command of the Termagant on the eve of the Baltic operations of 1854-55, and in her won praise for his conduct at the attack on Bomersund (Letter from Sir Charles Napier, dated 11 August 1854, refers); later in the year he assumed command of the Nankin, winning the approbation of Rear-Admiral Sir M. Seymour for his ‘active operations’ against pirates off China in 1856; between 1857-59, for his service during the Second China War in the same ship, Stewart was thrice gazetted for his good work, not least in the Canton operations; his other achievements included a successful action with Chinese war junks in the summer of 1857 and participation in a punitive expedition under General van Straubenzee ‘to enact retribution for a Flag of Truce having been fired upon’; having been appointed a Commodore 2nd Class in March 1857, Stewart´s services in the China War were finally rewarded with a C.B; advanced to Rear-Admiral in May 1862, to Vice-Admiral in October 1867 and to full Admiral in July 1875, Stewart died in September 1879.
Thanks Fred, Certainly a nice one to add. As I mentioned, I undoubtedly missed some of these very late awards of the CB (for China 1856), which by serendipity also includes the NGS, in this case for ‘Navarino’. I have no doubt there are several for the Crimean War as well, which still need to be added to the database. Thanks you for bringing it to my attention.
Thanks Peter, I have gotten many many hours of research enjoyment from this group. Just figured out how to attach photo.
A very nice looking group, spanning 40+ years of service. I see it was sold at Spink in July 2011, have you been able to get additional provenance? It looks like the Baltic and possibly the China have lived different lives than the NGS, of course these two are unnamed so the group is certainly complete.