A C.B. and K.H. group of four to Inspector of Hospitals and Fleets G.Macgrath, Royal Navy, and one of Lord Nelson's famous Surgeons,

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Lot 106
A C.B. and K.H. group of four to Inspector of Hospitals and Fleets G.Macgrath, Royal Navy, and one of Lord Nelson's famous Surgeons,

Sold for £ 14,400 (US$ 19,084) inc. premium
A C.B. and K.H. group of four to Inspector of Hospitals and Fleets G.Macgrath, Royal Navy, and one of Lord Nelson's famous Surgeons,
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. Some light enamel damage, otherwise very fine or better. (4)


  • K.H. London Gazette 4.2.1834.

    C.B. London Gazette 16.8.1850.

    Knight Bachelor London Gazette 20.9.1831.

    Sir George Magrath was born at Co.Tyrone in 1775, he began his naval career when a Warrant dated 2nd January 1794 officially appointed him as Surgeon's 3rd Mate to H.M.S. Theseus. He first appeared aboard Theseus on the 10th January, the Muster Book clerk was told he was 18 years old and his place of birth had been Newton Stewart. He was to serve close on three years on Theseus, during which time he was promoted to "Surgeon's 2nd Mate" on 10th March 1794, prior to participation in the evacuation of Fort Matilda, Guadaloupe, after a short British occupation of some two months of part of that French garrisoned island. His Commander in Chief, Admiral Caldwell, was to sign and thereby approve his next promotion Warrant and on the 28th March 1795, he became "Surgeon's 1st Mate".

    During his time in the West Indies he contracted Yellow Fever, which "materially injured his constitution". It is figured that this statement gives reason for his later discharge from Theseus in Home Waters. On 14th November 1796 he was transferred, sick to H.M.S. Edgar for passage to Plymouth where he entered the Naval Hospital on the 17th November, assessed in the relevant Hospital Muster List to be suffering from "diseased eyes". During December, whilst still in hospital he "had the misfortune to lose the vision of his left eye, accompanied with much deformity, and followed (over the years) by an increasingly nervous affliction of his head".

    By fortuitous coincidence the Admiralty saw fit, shortly after the onset of this physical handicap to Magrath, to authorise his promotion to Surgeon to date from 6 January 1797. When he heard this news he was discharged from hospital "at his own request upon promotion" on 17th January 1797 to Half Pay ashore. For four months he recuperated in civil surroundings, until his appointment signed by Sir Peter Parker to proceed aboard H.M.S. Adamant as her Surgeon became known to him.

    On the 28th May 1797 he repaired aboard H.M.S.Russell as a supernumary Surgeon for passage to join his "proper ship Adamant", an appointment he never did fill since his services were needed aboard Russell before meeting up with Adamant. On 5th November 1797 he became a member of the Ship's Company of Russell as the official incumbent to the post of Surgeon to that vessel.

    Having fought at the Battle of Camperdown, his ship, which suffered few wounded, sailed for Yarmouth. At this point he volunteered to attend the wounded Dutch POW's as there was a scarcity of Medical Officers, he did this until his health became seriously affected. His work in Yarmouth earned him "special thanks from Doctor Blair, then Commissioner for Sick and Wounded Seamen".

    He was to remain aboard Russell for a further four years. On the 24th October 1801 he was discharged to shore from Russell at Portsmouth, for nearly two years likely to be with a civil practice. His next appointment was to be as Flag Medical Officer aboard H.M.S. Victory, joining on the 31st July 1803 to serve the Commander in Chief, Mediterranean, Lord Nelson "... by whom I had the special honour of being personally selected... from the commencement of his Command". (In the Muster rolls he often appeared as McGrath as here on the Muster Lists of Victory).

    Nelson's opinion of Magrath was of the highest order, well illustrated in this opening passage of one of his letters to Lady Hamilton, sent from 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;....)"

    However fate was to get Macgath again. In 1800 "Yellow Fever" was introduced to Cadiz by an American Vessel from Havana with horrific results, and in 1804 there was to be an outbreak of this same fever in Gibraltar, which ultimately caused 5,946 deaths. The Naval Hospital in Gibraltar did not escape its ravages, and Nelson lost no time in ensuring that this Hospotal he brought back to efficiency to succour his men should he be involved in a Fleet Action. In a letter from Victory, lying at Pula Bay, Sardinia dated 14 December 1804, Nelson appointed Magrath under an "Acting Order" to be the Surgeon of Her Majesty's Naval Hospital Gibraltar, acquainting their Lordships that; _ ".. the conduct and very great professional abilities of this deserving officer merits my most full and entire approbation, not only in the discharge of his duty as Surgeon of the Victory, which reflects great credit on his knowledge, but also in several particular Surgical cases which he has performed with infinite judgement and skill ...." On the 13th February the Admiralty minute on this letter from Nelson read "acquaint him that Mr Gardner has been appointed to that situation previous to receipt of his letter".

    Magrath wrote his views on this subject many years later in this manner;- "That when the destructive (yellow) fever prevailed at Gibraltar in 1804, (Lord Nelson) appointed me superintendence of the Naval Hospital, at the time when it was in its most wretched state, and when the whole of the Medical Establishment had fallen victim to the ravages of the disease,- remaining with un-remitting exertions until the Hospital was cleared of the disease".

    For this work Magrath received letters of acknowledgement from Lord Nelson, Sir John Orde and Lieutnenat General Fox.

    Magath commenced his duties in the fever struck hospital at Gibraltar on 30th Novemebr 1804, when discharged direct from Victory. He remained as Medical Superintendent for exactly five months, until superceded and subsequently sent home to shore on half pay.

    The story best continues with Magrath's own words, written some years later, of his disappointments at this time;-

    ".....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).

    Upon his return to England from Gibraltar, and probably about 6 weeks recuperation ashore, he was offered the position as Surgeon of the Prison Depot for Prisoners of War known as "Mill Prison" at Plymouth. Such P.O.W. prisons and prison hulks throughout the country were at this time, and to 1816, administered by the Transport Board within the aegis of the Admiralty. Magrath took considerable exception to this appointment , and only accepted it on the condition that it was a temporary one, also pleading that his acquiescence was motivated by "duty alone". He was to serve there for nine years.

    Some of the Spanish prisoners, upon release, petitioned their King to confer a high medical appointment upon Magrath to serve with their Patriotic Army in Spain, which Magrath volunteered to do. He never did.

    He was discharged to half pay and "shore" from Mill Prison on 14 July 1814, and then accepted the postion of Surgeon in charge of the hospital at Dartmoor Prison, joining on 9th September 1814.

    Here in early 1815, an epidemic of small box broke out and was reported to have been checked" ... by the unwearying devotion and activity of Dr Magrath, the prison surgeon,..." Amongst the prison population at this time were numerous American POW's taken during the "1812 War".

    By Admiralty Board Minutes dated 2 & 7 February 1816, Dartmoor Prison as a Naval administered establishment was abolished. It was closed completely on the 20th February 1816, when Magrath was discharged to "shore" on half pay. This was to have been his last active naval appointment.

    Since 1809, he had kept up a running battle to achieve a pension, at a time when very few 'pensions' were awarded in addition to 'half pay' (awarded for life) which was used/looked upon as a retainer/pension by Authority. The Admiralty offered him 'half pay' at the rate of 20 years service, whereas he had only 15 years to his credit, with no further naval employment to increase this sum. This offer proved unnacceptable to Magrath, who chose to remain in naval employment at "Mill Prison". When he completed 20 years time in 1814 he once again sought retirement and enhanced 'half pay', using the precedent offered to him in 1809 of a bonus rate for the time he had served. Once more Magrath chose to remain in employment. Intermingled with his argument was Magrath's insistence that although he had not been promoted to the rank of "Physician", he had acted as such, and that this too (in addition to his infirmities) was an additional reason to further enahnce his precedent set "bonus" of 5 years service formerly offered to him.

    In 1839 his name was removed from the Active List, remaining on the Navy List with a suffix of "unfit for Active Service". To this he took exception, expressing his erudite views in forceful manner to their Lordships. In a letter he tried again for an increase in his retired remuneration, and was successful this time. Under Sir John Barrow's Memorandum dated 19th December 1940, he was granted "A Pension of £100 a year for Civil Service".

    Earlier in 1839, the Queen of Portugal conferred upon him the Insignia of the Order of the Knight Commander of Christ, for important services he rendered to exiled Portuguese subjects living in Plymouth in a state of extreme destitution and sickness. In 1840 the new rank of "Inspector of Hospitals and Fleets" was introduced. At this time there were some 8 "Physicians" (by Rank) still in the Navy, with the latest date of promotion on that list of 1812.

    On 23rd November 1841 he was promoted to this new rank. Promotion through many ranks whilst off the Active List was quite usual at this preiod, a system which did enormous harm to the Navy.

    At the time of his death he was one of three "Inspectors of Hospitals and Fleets", all noted on the Navy List in the Heading as "Retired", and this same Navy List for 1857 shows that he was never accorded the honour of publication of his Order of Christ in the Section headed "Officers and Men authorized to wear Foreign Orders". He died on the 12th June 1857.

    Sold with a quantity of research, copied letters etc.
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