4 Mar 2013
A group of four medals awarded to Horatio Nelson's personal surgeon, Sir George Magrath, will be offered at Bonhams next sale of Coins and Medals on March 27th in Knightsbridge.
Estimated to sell for £9,000-12,000, the medals were awarded for Margrath's work as Inspector of Hospitals and Fleets for the Royal Navy.
Nelson's opinion of Magrath was of the highest order, as illustrated by his letters to Lady Hamilton, sent from HMS Victory on 27 May 1804.
"My dearest Emma,
Yesterday, I took Charles Connor on board, from the Phoebe, to try to do what we can do with him. At present, poor fellow, he has got a very bad eye, - and, I almost fear, that he will be blind in it - owing to an olive stone striking his eye; but the Surgeon of the Victory, who is by far the most able medical man I have ever seen (George Magrath), and equally so as a Surgeon, (says) that, if it can be saved, he will do it........".
Three days later, when writing to Dr Baird (Commissioner for Sick and Wounded Seamen), Nelson included this passage in a letter; "...The Pain in my head, nor spasms, I have not had for some time. (Mr Magrath, whom I admire for his great abilities every day I live, gives me excellent remedies;....)"
George Magrath was born in County Tyrone in 1775 and he began his naval career on 2nd January 1794 as Surgeon's 3rd Mate to H.M.S. Theseus. He served close on three years on Theseus and spent time in the West Indies, where he contracted Yellow Fever, which led to the loss of vision in his left eye.
In spite of this handicap, he was promoted to Surgeon and after four months recuperation, he joined H.M.S. Adamant.
After some years aboard Adamant and other vessels, he was appointed Flag Medical Officer for H.M.S. Victory, joining on the 31st July 1803 to serve with Lord Nelson "... by whom I had the special honour of being personally selected... from the commencement of his Command".
Sadly, Margrath's sense of triumph was short lived. In 1804 there was an outbreak of yellow fever in Gibraltar, killing almost 6,000 people. Nelson left Margrath in charge of the Naval Hospital to try and limit the spread of the deadly disease and sailed off to his date with destiny, at Trafalgar.
Magrath wrote: ".....when superceded and cut off from re-joining my Patron, Lord Nelson, who had sailed for the West Indies, by which I lost not only my situation (which as Flag-Surgeon was due by right of service) in which my C in C had placed me, but had the additional mortification of not sharing in the glory of the Battle of Trafalgar, which would have infallibly led to promotion, which was conferred on the Surgeon, who was appointed to act in my place in Victory". (This being William Beatty).
The medals of Sir George Margrath to be offered at the March sale include; The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, C.B., Military Division breast badge in gold and enamel; The Royal Guelphic Order, K.H., Knight's breast badge in gold and enamel; Naval General Service 1793-1840, two bars, Camperdown, Copenhagen 1801 (Geo. Magrath, Surgeon.); Portugal, Order of Christ, Knight Commander's neck badge in gold and enamel.