THE highlight of the specialist arms and armour sale conducted by Sworders from their Sudbury rooms on April 7 was an important part medal group awarded to Sir Halliday Macartney (1833-1906), a soldier-turned-diplomat with a long official connection with China.

The part medal group awarded to Sir Halliday Macartney that made £33,000 at Sworders of Sudbury.

Born in Galloway, and educated as a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, Macartney answered a call for volunteers in 1858 and first saw service with the medical staff of the Anglo-Turkish contingent in the Crimea.

After graduation, he joined the army as MD attached to the Lanarkshire 99th Regiment of Foot, and saw service in India and China where, according to his obituary in The British Medical Journal, "he found his destiny".

He commanded Li Hung Chang's force when helping to crush the Taiping Rebellion and in Nanking founded the first ever arsenal in China, commanding it for ten years. He then entered the diplomatic service and was created KCMG in 1885 during a period of more than 30 years as British Secretary and Counsellor to the Chinese Legation in London.

His medal group was testimony to an exotic career: a Turkish Crimea Medal, a Second China War Medal with 1860 Peking bar together with a Chinese Order of the Precious Star and Chinese Order of the Double Dragon II Class, 1st Grade.

The latter were traditionally made as a pair: the Precious Star fashioned by a Chinese goldsmith to be worn round the neck, the Double Dragon, a much finer quality breast badge with Moscow hallmarks. They were very rarely awarded to Westerners and indicate the high regard in which Sir Halliday Macartney was held by the Chinese.

Although estimated at just £400-600, such a rare and historic group - consigned by a private source with no family connections - attracted many interested parties from both the UK and overseas.

Underbid by a British collector, the lot sold to a Continental collector at a house record £33,000 (plus 17.5 per cent buyer's premium).

By Roland Arkell