The historically important Naval General Service medal to Able Seaman William Saunders, who is purpo
Lot 187
The historically important Naval General Service medal to Able Seaman William Saunders, who is purported by analysis to have partook in the carrying of Admiral Lord Nelson below deck after his mortal wound inflicted by the French marksman at Trafalgar, and who then was immortalised in the famous painting 'The Death of Nelson' by the American artist Benjamin West in 1806, in which he is shown kneeling at Nelson's feet.
£18,000 - 22,000
US$ 30,000 - 37,000
withdrawn
Lot Details
The historically important Naval General Service medal to Able Seaman William Saunders, who is purported by analysis to have partook in the carrying of Admiral Lord Nelson below deck after his mortal wound inflicted by the French marksman at Trafalgar, and who then was immortalised in the famous painting 'The Death of Nelson' by the American artist Benjamin West in 1806, in which he is shown kneeling at Nelson's feet.
Naval General Service 1793-1840, one bar, Trafalgar (William Saunders.). Very fine. (1)

Footnotes

  • William Saunders entered the Royal Navy on the 21st April 1795 with the rank of Seaman and was posted on board H.M.S. Hannibal a 74-gun third rate (later to be captured after surrendering under the batteries of Algeciras to the French Squadron commanded by Admiral Linois on the 5th July 1801) under command of Captain John Sharkham. At his time of joining the Royal Navy, the Attestation papers for William Saunders states that he has chosen, in the advent of his death, to leave his personal effects to his sister, a Mary Maywood, of No.13 Granby Row, Plymouth. Ten years later he is found in the entry books of H.M.S.Victory, having joined this ship on 1st March 1805, aged 29. He is listed as having been paid a bounty of £2 for joining, his place of residence being shown as London. In all probability he was probably rejoining the service having left previously, as he is shown not to have bought any previous military effects with him, and thus being supplied with new clothes, bedding, etc. He served on board H.M.S. Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, by now with the rank of Able Seaman. Unlike the average naval other ranks of the day, who have largely been forgotten by history, fate would have it that William Saunders was to be immortalised in the famous painting 'The Death of Nelson' (The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) painted in 1806 by the first internationally renowned American painter, Benjamin West (1738-1820), who also painted the famous 'Death of General Wolfe' in 1770 (now housed in the National Gallery of Canada), and 'The Preservation of St Paul after Shipwreck at Malta', hung above the altar in the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. Benjamin West co-founded the British Royal Academy of Arts with Sir Joshua Reynolds, and became its second and third president, having been re-elected. He was president of the Royal Academy at the time that he painted 'The Death of Nelson'. This painting shows Lord Nelson on the deck of H.M.S. Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. He lies dying after being shot by a French sniper. The painting though not completely accurate, Nelson died below decks, has one crucial aspect to it. It is known that West painted some of the figures shown in the painting from life, and of the 35 figures identified in the painting, of which, from the survivors of Trafalgar, 29 hold Officer rank, at least two others are known to have been deceased, Nelson included, and of the four others, one is the Sergeant of Marines James Secker, known to have ordered two sailors to carry the wounded Nelson below decks, another is the Landsman, James Beagan, placed to the left of Secker, and whose pose appears to be both of performing the act of prayer for the dying Nelson, and also that of putting his hands together in readiness to lift the body. Able Seaman William Saunders is painted with his back to the viewer, and his hands at Nelson's feet in an obvious demonstration of his role in the subsequent event, and the fourth and final one is the young 14 year old Boy 3rd Class John Saunders, shown in the distance sitting on a powder barrel and from whom the painting is clearly not involved in the actual events in the immediate vicinity of the cradled Nelson. It is probable that the two Saunder's, William and John, may have been related and this would explain why John also featured in the painting. It can therefore be safely assumed that both James Beagan and William Saunders were the two Naval other ranks who carried Nelson below decks, the artwork gives this clue away. It would have been unfeasible for Benjamin West to have been inclined to have recorded their names otherwise, and to have given them that special prominence. Of the medal itself in relation to this painting, of the 35 names detailed in the painting, only 10 would claim the Naval General Service Medal when it was issued in 1849, this is proven by checking the naval medal roll, on which William Saunders is accidentally printed as William Sanders, there was no man by the name of Sanders present with H.M.S. Victory at Trafalgar, but William Saunders was there, as detailed in the ships Muster Book (the medal roll mistake therefore confirms that by default the medal named to William Saunders is unique from a numismatic point of view). Of further interest, of the 10 men who did claim, 8 would be Officer's and only two of the four other ranks originally represented in the painting would do so, they being William Saunders, and his possible relation John Saunders, and his possible relation John Saunders, by 1849 aged 73 and 58 respectively. The fact that men who were not of Officer status were featured in an attributable manner and thus visible as in life to the current day is almost unheard of, and as such this medal can be described as both artistically and historically important.

Saleroom notices

  • Item withdrawn from sale.
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