At a time before official medals for campaign service or awards for gallantry were issued, it was cost and splendour that counted.
The London goldsmith James Morisset is known to have made five two-colour gold boxes granting freedom of the City of London to naval heroes. Two of them are now in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich but that issued to Admiral William Waldegrave, First Baron Radstock (1753-1825), was offered at Christie’s as part of the Exceptional Sale on July 6.
Waldegrave, who had entered the Royal Navy at the age of 13, had risen to the rank of vice-admiral in February 1797 when his ship HMS Barfleur joined Sir John Jervis’ small squadron off Cape St Vincent.
The enamelled scene to the lid of this box shows the moment Jervis in HMS Victory, closely supported by Waldegrave in the Barfleur, approached the Spanish ship Salvadore del Mundo and poured a broadside into its hull.
Additional battle scenes decorate the sides alongside the arms of the city of London, the arms of Waldegrave and the monogram WW.
The base is engraved with the Barfleur in full sail while the inscription inside the lid documents the decision taken by the Chamber of the Guildhall of the City of London on Friday, the 10th. day of March, 1797 to award boxes to vice Admiral Thompson, Vice Admiral the Hone, Willm. Waldegrave, Rear Admiral Parker, &; Commodore Nelson, for their gallant behaviour on the 14th of February last.
When it was last offered by a direct descendant at Christie’s in 1991, the box was followed to the rostrum by two related items: an inscribed gold ‘victory’ medal to a design by engraver Lewis Pingo and two illuminated vellum documents, one appointing Waldegrave as Governor of Newfoundland, the other addressed to Waldegrave as first Baron Radstock, confirming to his wife Cornelia Jacoba the arms of Radstock and Van Lennep.
At the time the three items were bought by the same buyer and they will remain together after being offered as a single lot 32 years later.
Estimated at £70,000- 100,000, the trio attracted many admirers as both a tour-de-force of English goldsmithing and a little piece of naval history. The last lot of the day, it took £190,000 (plus 27% buyer’s premium) from a phone bidder.