The first gold medal awarded by the British Medical Association was given to Dr Henry Naunton Davies (1827-99) in 1877 for conspicuous bravery and skill in connection with the Tynewydd Colliery disaster that year.
When water flooded into the mine from a nearby abandoned workings 14 men were trapped, among them a child of 14. Five remained in a relatively easily accessed chamber in which one died during the rescue, but the other nine were left so inaccessible that their rescue was a considerable undertaking.
Water pumps acted too slowly, special rescue divers from London could not reach the trapped men so a passage through 113ft of coal had to be dug to get to the men safely.
Working in shifts at considerable risk to themselves, the miners tunnelled through while others made calculations regarding air pressure, water levels and the likely success of the operation.
The rescuers persevered and after 10 days the men were brought to the surface, five of them escaping with their lives.
Dr Davies, a well-respected local doctor, took control of the medical requirements on this occasion, apparently spending time underground himself, according to family tradition sitting on a low stool wearing his top hat directing those around him.
His calmness and abilities are thought to have played a significant part in the recovery of nine of the 14 men alive and for this he was awarded the first BMA Gold Medal.
The medal, together with a gold pocket watch presented to Dr Davies by the inhabitants of Llantrisant, Ystrad, Llanwomo, Lantwit Vardre and Eglwys Ehan parishes in 1861 was offered at Lawrences (25% buyer’s premium) in Crewkerne on May 19 guided at £4000-6000. Consigned by a distant relative of the recipient, it sold for £14,000 to a phone bidder.
Dr Davies was also instrumental in improving the medical provision at mines across the region and in promoting health and welfare in an industry that was all too dangerous.
The Tynewydd disaster was the first occasion on which the Albert Medal was awarded for acts of bravery on land; previously it had been available only for acts of bravery at sea.
The disaster so captured the concern of the queen and nation that 25 AMs were awarded on this occasion, of which four were 1st class awards. Only 45 gold and 290 land medals of this type were ever issued.
Professional men who took part in the events in 1877 were not included in the award of AMs, which must have played a part in prompting the BMA to institute its own award, said Lawrences.
In the final sale before it rebranded to Noonans, London saleroom Dix Noonan Webb (24% buyer’s premium) offered a CQD Life-Saving Medal awarded to a recipient for his bravery in a shipwreck in 1909 – only for him to perish when the Titanic hit the iceberg three years later.
Hugh Roberts was a First Class Bedroom Steward on the SS Republic, in charge of the four cabins occupying the point of impact when the Italian liner SS Florida’s bow crashed through the ship’s superstructure off Nantucket in January 1909.
As the New York Times reported: “As soon as some semblance of order was obtained he [Roberts] had gone from room to room, looking to the safety of the passengers in his immediate charge.
“He helped Mr Lynch out of Cabin 34 and Mrs Mooney to gain the deck from Cabin 32. He found, too, that Mrs Lynch’s body had been terribly mangled and carried some distance aft by the collision. Mr Mooney had apparently been sleeping on one of the settees, his wife being in a lower berth. His body carried some distance, and the head was terribly crushed.”
Roberts’ selfless actions won him the CQD Medal, while more than 1700 lives were saved between the two ships. CQD is understood by wireless operators to mean All stations: distress and predates the Morse code of SOS.
The medal sold for a hammer price of £1700 on April 20 against an estimate of £1000-1400. (Noonans is the new brand of Dix Noonan Webb.)
Having survived that tragedy, Roberts found himself aboard the Titanic for her delivery trip from the Belfast shipyard where she was built to Southampton, from where she was to undertake her maiden voyage.
He decided to sign on for that fateful voyage in Southampton on April 4, 1912, and died in the sinking on the night of April 14-15 after the ship struck an iceberg.
The rescue ship CS Mackay-Bennett, a transatlantic cable-layer, was berthed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, at the time and recovered more bodies from the disaster than any other vessel. One of those recovered and buried at sea on April 23 was Roberts, who was then thought to be aged 40. He had been identified through a letter addressed to him, found in his pocket.