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Martyn Downer

Captain Dundas’s Trafalgar Cup

On September 3rd, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


A large silver cup, plain with tapering half-fluting and reeded edge standing on circular foot, engraved with a coat of arms within an oak wreath and robe mantling; by Solomon Hougham, London 1802.

Height: 205mm / 8 inches

Weighs 524 grams / 16 tr oz 16dwt

Arms: Argent a lion rampant gules a bordure ermine a crescent for difference (for Dundas) over all an escutcheon of pretence Sable on a chevron between three oak trees eradicated or as many martlets of the field (for Wood)

This silver cup belonged to Captain Thomas Dundas RN (1765-1841) who commanded the British frigate HMS Naied at the battle of Trafalgar. As great-great grandson of Robert Dundas of Arniston, Thomas was scion to the powerful Dundas family who dominated political and legal affairs in Scotland for nearly two centuries. Born at Keith in East Lothian, Dundas joined the Royal Navy in 1778 seeing action early in his career during the American Revolutionary War. By the outbreak of war with France in 1793, Dundas was lieutenant gaining promotion to commnder on 2 September 1795. His gained his first command a year later when the sloop HMS Merlin was commissioned. Within months, Merlin shared in the capture in the North Sea of the French warship L’ Augustine during the re-taking of the English merchantman Nelly which was being carried off as a prize by the French.

Made post-captain on 9 July 1798, Dundas took command of 20-gun HMS Prompte sailing to the West Indies where he captured a valuable Spanish whaling vessel and then the warship Urca Cargadora. Dundas was back in England by  18 December 1800 when he married Charlotte Wood (1779-1848), daughter and co-heir of Lullam Wood of Rochester, Kent (her family’s coat of arms appear in pretence on her husband’s on the silver cup).There were no children of the marriage.

Back at sea, Dundas, now in command of in HMS Solebay, escorted a convoy of British merchantmen to the Mediterranean before returning again to England in July 1802, three months after the signing of the short-lived Peace of Amiens.

When war resumed, Dundas took command of HMS Naiad, the 36-gun frigate in which he would gain his greatest fame. Stationed in the English Channel off the West coast of Spain, Naiad took several small prizes before seizing in January 1805 Nuestra Senora de los Dolores, a Spanish ship carrying over 200,000 dollars in specie plus other valuable goods. Dundas took his prize into Plymouth before returning immediately to his station where Naiad oversaw the capture of the Dutch schooner Der Vriede then took Mars on 25 June. The next month, assisted by HMS Pickle (soon-to-be famous for carrying the Trafalgar dispatch back to England), Naiad captured two further enemy vessels then in September, seized Wells, an American ship running goods through the blockade to France.

By early October 1805, Naiad was attached to a small squadron of frigates charged by Admiral Lord Nelson with disrupting supplies to the combined enemy fleet at Cadiz. However, they were unable to prevent the enemy departing Cadiz on 20 October for a final and devastating confrontation with the British fleet under Nelson’s command.

On the morning of the 21st, as the fleets drew towards each other, Nelson summoned his four frigate captains, Dundas included, to his flagship Victory for a final briefing of their roles during the imminent action. He was present as Nelson asked another of the frigate captains, Henry Blackwood of Euryalus, to witness a codicil to his will in which he (in vain) entrusted his mistress Emma, Lady Hamilton to the care of the nation in the event of his death. Dundas was also on board to see Nelson give the order, at about 11.45, for the famous signal “England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty”. Shortly before the firing commenced, Dundas left Victory and returned to Naiad carrying final orders and messages to distribute to the captains of the warships. He was, therefore, among the last men to talk with Nelson before the admiral was fatally wounded around 1pm.

During the early part of the action, Naiad, as instructed, lay off to windward with the other frigates to observe the battle and relay messages as required.  As the fighting grew fierce, Dundas sent his boats into the water to recover the wounded. However, his most significant and difficult challenge of the day was taking HMS Belleisle in tow. Belleisle had been the second ship into action behind Royal Sovereign in the lee column of Nelson’s attack and as such had faced a terrible early onslaught from the enemy.  Belleisle was the only British warship to be completely dismasted during the battle and had also suffered appalling casualties. Having established a line, Dundas hauled away but as the weather worsened in the aftermath of the battle the ships became separated from the British fleet, in danger of capture and of being driven ashore by the gale. Several times the line broke and had to be re-established with great difficulty. On the evening of the 22 October, after colliding with Belleisle endangering both ships, Dundas cut the line leaving both ships,  Belleisle on a jury rig, to try and survive the storm on their own. Somehow they succeeded, despite Naiad losing almost all her sheets during the night,  and the next morning they re-established contact, and a line, with Dundas then heading straight for Gibraltar (where Victory was also towed after the battle) reaching the safety of the harbour during the afternoon of the 23 October.

Dundas remained in Naiad until 1808, later commanding HMS Africa, a Trafalgar veteran; and the 74 gun HMS Vengeur. He was made rear-admiral on 27 May 1825, vice-admiral on 10 January 1837 and appointed and invested as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on 13 September 1831. He died in Reading, Berkshire on 29 March 1841.

For his services at Trafalgar, Dundas was awarded a Lloyds Patriotic Fund £100 presentation sword which is now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.




Martyn Downer

Rare surviving Medieval helmet crest

On August 17th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Latest News.


This very rare Medieval polychrome decorated leather, hemp and gesso helmet crest made in Austria/Germany circa 1400 illustrates the origin of heraldic crests. Originally mounted with a horse hair plume in the centre, the unique red and white starred double winged crest would help identify the wearer in battle. This essential and often life saving device was incorporated into the wearer’s heraldic achievement and has since descended into the widespread use of heraldic crests on silver, porcelain, glass and other applied arts. So think of that next time you see a signet ring seal engraved with a family crest!

The helmet crest, which is estimated to sell for approximately €15,000-20,000, will be auctioned in Switzerland on 10th/11th September 2015. See Galerie Fisher.

Martyn Downer

Luxury seagoing silver dressing case for the real life captain of Jack Aubrey’s HMS Boadicea

On July 30th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


A George III brass bound mahogany travelling dressing case with fitted red morocco interior with matched silver mounted accessories comprising: a 3 1/2in circular box and cover maker’s mark I.E (not traced), Dublin 1810, retailed by William Hamy; two small circular boxes and covers by William Parker, London 1810; a rectangular glass box with a silver pierced cover, same maker and date; a shaving brush, same maker, London 1811; three square glass bottles with stoppers and silver caps (unmarked); an ivory mounted cut throat razor and three other ivory mounted blades; articles variously engraved with a crest beneath a viscount’s coronet and within the motto “Ne Vile Velis”, the mahogany case with brass edges, name and key plates, the velvet interior of the cover concealing a mirror. See sale listing.

Overall approx: 33.5cm (13 1/4in) long


This dressing case belonged to Captain Ralph Viscount Nevill (1786-1826) who fought as a volunteer in HMS Victory at the battle of Trafalgar. Nevill was the second son of Henry Nevill, 2nd Earl of Abergavenny  (1755 – 1843), a politician and secretary to the Treasury. As a boy Nevill entered the Royal Navy as a volunteer joining HMS Amphion under Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy in 1802. Nevill’s patron was Horatio Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (1723-1809) whose niece had married Nevill’s older brother the Hon, George Henry Nevill, heir to the Abergavenny earldom.

Ralph Nevill's patron and Admiral Lord Nelson's godfather: Horace Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (1723-1809)

Ralph Nevill’s patron and Admiral Lord Nelson’s godfather: Horace Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (1723-1809)

It was under Walpole’s interest that Nevill moved with Captain Hardy to Lord Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory in July 1803. He then served in the long blockade of Toulon and the pursuit of the combined enemy fleet to the West Indies. Despite his lowly status in Victory, Nelson was very mindful of Nevill as Lord Walpole, for whom the admiral had been named, was his own godfather. Writing to Walpole from Victory “off Toulon” on 29 December 1804 Nelson, presumably in response to an enquiry, reports that “Young Nevil  [sic] is a very excellent Young Man and his good conduct has not escaped my observation and you may rely, My dear Lord, not only upon this but upon any occasion which may offer that I shall be truly happy to meet your wishes …”


Letter from Lord Nelson to Lord Walpole, Victory, off Toulon, 29 December 1804 discussing "Young Nevil". Published Nicolas "Dispatches and Letters of Lord Nelson" Vol. VI, p.305

Letter from Lord Nelson to Lord Walpole, Victory, off Toulon, 29 December 1804 discussing “Young Nevil”. Published Nicolas “Dispatches and Letters of Lord Nelson” Vol. VI, p.305 (courtesy: Julian Bowning / )

Nevill remained in Victory for the battle of Trafalgar benefiting perhaps from the wave of promotions which followed the famous action as he was made lieutenant in January 1806 although, as a volunteer, he received the same prize money (£1.17s.6d) and government grant (£4.12s.6d) as a fifth class, or ordinary seamen. Shortly afterwards, with the early death of his brother George, Nevill, now heir to his father’s earldom, assumed the courtesy title of viscount.

As lieutenant, Nevill now transferred to the HMS Ocean, 98 guns, the flagship of Admiral Lord Collingwood (1748-1810) who had assumed command in the Mediterranean after nelson’s death. After his promotion to commander on 30 May 1808, Nevill assumed command of HMS Acteon, a captured 16 gun brig in which he assisted in the capture off the Scilly Isles of the French privateer Le Lezard in November 1809. Acteon then joined the fleet under Admiral Bertie for the Mauritius campaign 1809-11: a series of amphibious operations and naval actions fought, ultimately successfully, to gain possession of the French Indian Ocean territories of Isle de France and Île Bonaparte.

Attack on St. Paul's Island of Burbon Sept. 21 1809 By the British Squadron under Commodore Rowley consisting of HM Ships Raisonable, Boadicea, Sirius, Mereide, Otter & E.I.C. Schooner Wasp and the Land Forces under Lt. Col. Keating 56th Regt. The advanced British Frigate is the Sirius, Capt Pym raking the French Frigate La Caroline. The first Battery, was taken by Lt Cottel, commanding R Marines & Lt Knight 56th per Orders of Lt Col Keating. This print shows one of the main events of "The Mauritius Command" (

Attack on St. Paul’s Island of Burbon Sept. 21 1809
By the British Squadron under Commodore Rowley consisting of HM Ships Raisonable, Boadicea, Sirius, Mereide, Otter & E.I.C. Schooner Wasp and the Land Forces under Lt. Col. Keating 56th Regt. The advanced British Frigate is the Sirius, Capt Pym raking the French Frigate La Caroline. The first Battery, was taken by Lt Cottel, commanding R Marines & Lt Knight 56th per Orders of Lt Col Keating.
This print shows one of the main events of “The Mauritius Command” (

The campaign was portrayed by Patrick O’Brian in The Mauritius Command, his fourth installment in the famous Aubrey-Maturin series of naval historical novels. In the novel, Aubrey assumes command of the real life 38 gun frigate HMS Boadicea - the same ship posted to Nevill when he was made captain on 16 February 1811.

Eldridge Park, near Tunbridge Wells, circA 1840, seat of the earl of Abergavenny

Eridge Castle, near Tunbridge Wells, circa 1840, seat of the earl of Abergavenny

On 2 February 1813, Viscount Nevill married Mary Elcock (1796-1828). He died childless at Boulogne in May 1826 when his younger brother the Reverend John Nevill (1789-1845) succeeded as heir to the earldom, becoming 3rd Earl of Abergavenny on the death of their father in 1843.


Although unsigned, this rare provenanced seagoing dressing case was purchased by Viscount Nevill from one of several specialist manufacturers of military and naval campaign furniture then active in London, possibly  J.Wells of Cockspur Street who, after partnering John Lambe in 1815, promoted his business as “Pocket Book Portable Desk, Dressing Case & Copying Machine” makers. The lock is signed “BARRON STRAND” for Francis Barron , “Brazier and Ironmongers to his Majesty” who was at 476 Strand ,London in this period. The variation of makers for the silver mounted articles in the box suggest that these may have been purchased separately and fitted. Nevill was promoted captain soon after he acquired the box; nevertheless his cabin quarters on board Actaeon then Boadicea would have been cramped affording space only for his cot, some shelving for books, a desk and a washstand similar to a surviving example belonging to Admiral Lord Nelson.

Admiral Lord Nelson's wash stand from HMS Victory (Sothebys)

Admiral Lord Nelson’s wash stand from HMS Victory (Sothebys)


Martyn Downer

A soldier’s souvenir of the Peninsular War

On July 26th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Uncategorized.


Lieutenant Penfold’s Peninsular War service – spoons from Lisbon showing on the right

A matched collection of fiddle pattern silver spoons comprising two table spoons and three dessert spoons by John Osment, Exeter 1823 en suite with a Portuguese fiddle pattern silver table spoon and tea spoon, Lisbon 1803-1813; each engraved with the monogram E.P. below 12th Lt. Dragns. surmounted by the family crest of Penfold. See sale listing.

These spoons belonged to Edward Penfold (1789-1861), who served for four years as cornet then lieutenant (1812) in the 12th Light Dragoons during the Peninsular Wars. Placed on half pay in 1817, Penfold returned to his home at Tiverton in Devon where he arranged for a service to be made locally in Exeter to match silver acquired in Portugal during the war.

Raised in 1715 to counter the Jacobite threat, in 1763 the regiment was re-styled by George III as The 12th (Prince of Wales’s) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons and granted the use of prince of wales feathers and motto “Ich Dien” as its badge. Following amalgamations, and conversion to the lance in 1816, the regiment today is known as 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’s)

For much of its early life, the 12th Light Dragoons were based on garrison duty in Ireland where a young Arthur Wellesley, later duke of Wellington, joined the regiment as a subaltern. The outbreak of war with France finally brought the regiment into action. The dragoons accompanied the expeditionary force to France in 1793 and then joined Lieutenant General Sir Ralph Abercrombie’s 1801 invasion of Egypt where it won its first battle honour. In 1809, the regiment took part in the ill-fated Walcheron campaign though it saw no action.


Loose Court, Maidstone, Kent, Edward Penfold's family home.

Loose Court, Maidstone, Kent, Edward Penfold’s family home.

Edward Penfold, son of Edward Margesson Penfold (c1759-1848) a wealthy banker of Loose Court, Maidstone,  joined the 12th Light Dragoons as a young cornet in 1811 shortly before the regiment, under new command of Lieutenant Colonel Fredrick Ponsonby (1783-1837),  sailed for Portugal. Arriving in Lisbon on 25 June 1811 – when Penfold may have acquired his silver - the regiment was soon marching to Spain where it supported the successful but bloody sieges at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz. John Vandeleur, who joined the regiment as lieutenant the same year as Penfold, described Lisbon at the time: “The air of Portugal is not as pure as that of England in my opinion…the Portuguese are not the most cleanly people in the world. Like the Scotch they empty the rubbish of the house out of the windows in the night-time after nine o’clock. I was not up to the system the first night I was in Lisbon, and as i was returning from duty to the barracks, which are in a convent, there were the contents of a vessel discharged at me. However, I was fortunate enough to escape it, but my servant received it full upon his head…they ask most immoderately dear for whatever we want. They asked me 15 dollars for a pair of second-cloth trousers..”

Promoted lieutenant by purchase in 1812, Penfold charged with his regiment at the famous battles of Salamanca (1812) – where it won its second battle honour – and at Vitoria (1813) where the 12th turned the French right and barred their retreat. The regiment then pursued the enemy into France taking part in operations in the Pyrenees and South of France.07crest


With the return of Napoleon from Elba, the 12th joined the Allied expeditionary force to Netherlands under the duke of Wellington. However, it appears Penfold remained in England as his name does not appear on the medal roll for the battle of Waterloo where his regiment suffered grievous losses and Ponsonby severely wounded.

In retirement Penfold settled in Devon where he died unmarried in 1861.


Further reading:

Bamford, Andrew, With Wellington’s Outposts: The Peninsula and Waterloo Letter of John Vandeleur (2015)

Bamford, Andrew, Gallantry and Discipline: The 12th Light Dragoons at War with Wellington (2014)

Stewart, Captain P.F., The History of the XII Royal Lancers (1950)



Martyn Downer

Repairing antique Silver

On July 23rd, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Uncategorized.

Love this classic 1959 Pathé film on repairing and cleaning old silver ! watch at Antique Silver . Not much has changed since 1959 (except media attitudes towards women happily! )

Martyn Downer

Ambassadorial Silver for “The Golden Peacock”: Charles Stewart, Lord Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854)

On July 8th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


A pair of George III silver plates by Paul Storr, London 1813, each with shaped shell and foliate gadroon edges, engraved with the Royal Coat of Arms and the arms of Charles William Stewart, 1st Baron Stewart, later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854). Diameter of each approx: 275mm / 10 1/2 inches; total weight 48.86 ounces troy. See sale listing.

This pair of ambassadorial silver plates were made by famed London silversmith Paul Storr (1771-1844) for Lord Stewart on his appointment as ambassador at Vienna on 27 August 1814.

Known by his admirers as “Fighting Charlie”, and by his detractors as “The Golden Peacock”, Stewart was a soldier and diplomat whose vivid life touched on many of the great events and personalities of the early 19th century.

The only son of Robert Stewart, first marquess of Londonderry (1739–1821), and his second wife, Frances (d. 18 January 1833, aged eighty-two), eldest daughter of Charles Pratt, first Earl Camden, Charles Stewart was born in Dublin on 18 May 1778. The first marquess was an Irish politician of note who devoted much of his life to improving his Irish estates at Mount Stewart in Co. Down, advancing the causes of his tenants and re-modelling the magnificent family seat to a design by George Dance.  

Commissioned in the army in 1794, Charles Stewart was immediately pitched into the war with France serving on Lord Moira’ staff in the campaign of 1794-5 in the Netherlands then joining General Craufurd in Austria where he was was wounded in the face by a musket ball. Through purchase and preferment, by  1799 Stewart was lieutenant-colonel of the 18th light dragoons returning on campaign to the Netherlands the same year, where he was again wounded. Back in England, Stewart was made colonel and aide-de-camp to the king but with no prospect of the British army campaigning further on the continent Stewart turned to politics taking a seat on his family’s interest in Londonderry: first in the Irish parliament then, after union in 1801, in the House of Commons. In 1807, he was appointed under-secretary to his elder half brother Lord Castlereagh in the war department, a position he retained until 1814.

In 1808 the campaign in the Iberian peninsular brought Stewart back to active service. He was put in command of the hussar brigade under Sir John Moore in Portugal. Following the retreat from Corunna, Stewart returned to Portugal as adjutant-general in the army of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later duke of Wellington) demonstrating reckless verve in charges with the dragoons at Rueda and Porto which earned his commander’s displeasure but also grudging respect for his bravery. Although present at the battles of Talavera and Cuidad Rodrigo, reservations over Stewart’s temperament and judgment under fire – he was said to be always wanting to take a “gallop with the Hussars” – prevented him achieving higher command. Wellington also suspected Stewart of political scheming with his brother Castlereagh who was appointed foreign secretary in 1812.

"The Golden Peacock": Charles William Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854) by Sir Thomas Lwarence, 1812. National Portrait Gallery, London.

“The Golden Peacock”: Charles William Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854) by Sir Thomas Lwarence, 1812. National Portrait Gallery, London.

His military ambition apparently thwarted, Stewart reluctantly returned to politics. In 1813 he was appointed knight of the Order of the Bath then, the next year, created Baron Stewart of Stewart’s Court and Ballylawn in the county of Donegal. His coat of arms, as seen on the plates, were augmented with the motto of the Order of the Bath surmounted by a baron’s coronet with supporters modelled as two hussars in the full uniform of the 18th Light Dragoons. As British minister to the court at Berlin, Stewart signed the treaty of alliance against France between Prussia, Britain and Russia on 27 April 1813. He was then present in an active military capacity in several engagements with the French and was one of the very few British officers who witnessed the decisive battle of Leipzig on 16 October where he led a charge of the Brandenburg hussars. He then joined the allies on the advance into France seeing further action until Paris was reached on 31 March 1814.

The coat of arms of Lord Stewart, showing his supporters designed as Light Dragoons

The coat of arms of Lord Stewart, showing his supporters designed as Light Dragoons

Now emblazoned with foreign orders and decorations, Stewart was appointed ambassador to Vienna attending, with his brother Castlereagh and Wellington, the congress convened there to determine the future of Europe following the fall of Bonaparte. However, his dissolute behaviour, womanizing (he was widowed in 1812) and preposterous love of display, which earned him the sobriquet of “The Golden Peacock”, created more comment (and enjoyment) than his skills of diplomacy.  Nevertheless, Stewart persisted in his political career and after his brother’s suicide in 1822, when he unexpectedly succeeded as 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, he agitated for further rewards although he had created too many enemies by his apparent scheming to achieve high office. Instead he turned to furthering, and financing, the rising cause of conservatism as a close ally of Sir Robert Peel.

In 1819, Londonderry married secondly Frances Vane-Tempest (1800-1865), daughter of the immensely wealthy Sir Harry Vane-Tempest. To secure her inheritance, Londonderry changed his name from Stewart to Vane by Royal Licence and together with his talented wife worked on improving her family’s estates around Wynyard Hall in County Durham and their valuable interests in the coal industry. Although increasingly marginalised from politics, Londonderry lost none of his fighting vigour intervening in national affairs and fighting two duels, the second in 1839 when he was over sixty. Despite their differences over many years, Londonderry was a pallbearer at the funeral of the duke of Wellington dying himself two years later on 6 March 1854.







Martyn Downer

Silver dishes from the Marlborough Service at Blenheim Palace

On June 25th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Uncategorized.


A matched pair of silver dishes, each with shallow recesses within a reed and foliate edge border; one by Ann Craig & John Neville, London 1741, diameter 287mm / 11 9/16 inches, weighs 838.6 grams / 27 oz (numbered No 6 and with scratch weight 29.1); the other by George Methuen, London 1751, diameter 282mm / 11 1/16 inches, weighs 874.5 grams / 28 oz

Both dishes engraved with the arms of John Churchill. the 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722) with Jenyns (sometimes Jennings) in pretence. The arms are encircled with the Garter and ensigned with a ducal coronet. The whole is resting on the Imperial double headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire.



The 1741 example of this pair of silver dishes was ordered by Sarah, 1st Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744) daughter and sole heiress of Richard Jenyns, of Sandridge in Hertfordshire. She married John Churchill on the 1st October 1678.The 1751 matching example was presumably ordered to extend the service after Sarah’s death. Twelve smaller silver plates from the same service by Ann Craig & John Neville, London 1740, similarly engraved, descended to Sarah Churchill’s granddaughter, Mary (d.1789), wife of Thomas Osborne, 4th Duke of Leeds (1713-1789) and then by descent to George Godolphin Osborne, 10th Duke of Leeds (1862-1927). They were sold by the 10th Duke of Leeds Will Trust, Christie’s, 18 March 1987, lot 300.


Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1702

Sarah Churchill was an extraordinary woman and a forceful presence at Court and in politics for almost seventy years. A close confidante of Queen Anne, she ardently promoted the Whig political cause and helped advance her husband’s military career. With ceaseless energy, Sarah oversaw the design, building and decoration of Blenheim Palace on the royal land granted to the Churchills after the first duke’s victory over the French at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. The arms on the silver dishes match those carved in stone on the pediment of the palace.



John Churchill was noted for his prowess on the battlefields of Europe during the late 17th Century and the first years of the 18th Century culminating with his great victory at Blenheim. He received many honours during his military career notably his Dukedom as well as the title of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire.

2015: Purchased for the collections of the duke of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace.

Martyn Downer

The Admiral’s Cup

On June 14th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


This monumental 12 1/2 inch silver cup was presented in 1919 to Admiral Viscount Jellicoe, G.C.B. O.M., later first Earl Jellicoe (1859-1935) on his admission to the Freedom of the Mercer’s Company. It was made by Garrards of London in 1918 and is modelled on a pair of silver cups gifted to the Mercer’s Company by the Bank of England in 1694 for the use of the Mercer’s Chapel as temporary  premises following the inauguration of the bank the same year. Similar, but smaller, cups was presented to members of the Mercers’ Company in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee (see Lot 305 Bonhams London 21 November 2007). See The Admiral’s Cup for the full listing.


From a family of distinguished naval officers, Jellicoe joined the Royal Navy in 1872 aged 13. A talented cadet, with an outstanding affinity for the technical aspects of naval warfare especially for gunnery; Jellicoe soon caught the eye of the Admiralty and ensured his advancement in the service. In 1897 he was made captain seeing action in Centurion during the 1900 “Boxer” uprising in China where he was severally wounded. Back in England, and behind a desk at the Admiralty, Jellicoe was closely associated with the development of the “Dreadnought” class of battleship for which he was promoted rear-admiral and knighted. Ahead of the outbreak of war in 1914, the First Sea Lord, Admiral “Jacky” Fisher, declared that ‘Sir John Jellicoe is the future Nelson—he is incomparably the ablest sea Admiral we have’. Nevertheless, Fisher kept Jellicoe largely desk bound preferring his skills close at hand. However, Jellicoe was appointed to command the Grand Fleet principally at the instigation of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill.

Viscount Jellicoe, Admiral of the Fleet

Viscount Jellicoe, Admiral of the Fleet

During the early part of the war Jellicoe, following the strategy of Fisher (re-instated as First Sea Lord in 1915), sought to contain and restrict the German fleet (and blockade Germany), rather than force the decisive battle which the British public craved. However, when the German fleet aggressively sought an engagement in the North Sea in May 1916, Jellicoe responded in kind meeting the enemy off Jutland on 31 May-1 June. But the action was inconclusive, compromised by poor intelligence, low visibility and muddled thinking among some of his officers, Jellicoe failed to destroy the German fleet despite inflicting (and sustaining) heavy losses. Fourteen British and eleven German ships were sunk, with the total loss of about 10,000 men. Instead, the German High Seas fleet escaped leaving the British with a hollow victory and a war of words between defenders and critics of Jellicoe’s failure to pursue and destroy the German fleet. Faced by the possibility of a mass torpedo counter-attack, Jellicoe had preferred caution: his actions explained (but not defended) by Churchill who remarked that the admiral “was the only man on either side who could have lost the war in an afternoon.” Preservation of the Grand Fleet also ensured no further major sallies by the German navy which now turned to a strategy of U boat attacks, with disastrous consequences when the sinking of Lusitania led to America joining the war.

Admiral Jellicoe's flagship HMS Iron Duke leading the fleet before the battle of Jutland

Admiral Jellicoe’s flagship HMS Iron Duke leading the fleet before the battle of Jutland

Within a few months, and to his great regret, Jellicoe was back behind a desk in Whitehall as First Sea Lord tasked with devising a strategy to counter the U boat threat and to address signalling and technical shortcomings in the fleet which had undermined the victory at Jutland. He was effective in both tasks but quiet efficiency and his undemonstrative manner led to a difficult relationship with new prime minister David Lloyd George. On Christmas Eve 1917, Jellicoe was unceremoniously sacked, only his intervention prevented the other lords resigning in protest at his treatment.

Post-war – a proposition that he should build a “Dominion” fleet in Australia and the Far East being short-lived – Jellicoe was appointed Governor General of New Zealand, a role he enjoyed until 1924. He published two volumes of memoirs but on returning to England was drawn into renewed controversy over his handling of the fleet at Jutland: opinion of which still divides historians. But he remained a heroic figure to the public and was inundated with awards, freedoms and honours including his appointment to the prestigious Order of Merit. Ennobled as Viscount Jellicoe of Scapa in January 1918, he was raised to an earldom in 1925. At his death ten years later, Jellicoe was accorded a State Funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral where his body was entombed beside Nelson in the crypt. 

Established in the 12th century, and recognised by Royal Charter in 1394, the  Mercers’ Company is the Premier Livery Company of the City of London. Founded to promote the interests of merchants, the Company promotes a variety of charities and supports several schools including, since 1509, St Paul’s School. Like most Livery Companies, membership of the Mercers’ is restricted by “patrimony” (inheritance) or, as in Jellicoe’s case, by “redemption” (nomination). Other distinguished members of the Mercers’ Comapny included Jellicoe’s former political supremo Sir Winston Churchill. 

2015: Purchased by the Mercers’ Company for the permanent collection.



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