Naval General Service Medal, with bar for The Potomac 17 Aug 1814, awarded to William Mathews 1848
Obverse, a bust of Queen Victoria
Reverse, Britannia with a trident seated sideways on a seahorse
Naval General Service Medal, 1848 (American `War of 1812')
Just as in 1848 the extensive land campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars and the other conflicts of the pre-Victorian era were recognised by the issue of the Military General Service Medal, those serving in the Navy at the time were recognised with the Naval General Service Medal. As with the Army equivalent and the East India Company's related award, many of the battles for which the medal was awarded had been fought so long ago that few if any claimants survived.
In addition, bars were awarded for many actions whose significance and size were, despite the heroism displayed by those involved, relatively minor. The result was that many of the bars were issued in tiny numbers, with some combinations all but unique, and the medals command a very high price among collectors because of this rarity and individuality. This in turn, along with the manufacture in most cases of more bars than were eventually issued, has led to the `improvement' of many common awards where recipients' names are shared with those present at `rarer' battles. The medal also shares with the Military General Service and Army of India Medals the oddity that Queen Victoria, whose portrait they bear, was not the ruler under whom the battles for which it was awarded were fought.
Although the years 1812 to 1814 are mainly remembered for the closing of the ear of Napoleonic France, Britain was also at war on the other side of the Atlantic during this period, with the United States. The `War of 1812' originated in British arrests of United States ships in the cause of the blockade of France necessitated by the Napoleonic Wars, and various resentments left over from the American War of Independence. It featured two successive US invasions of Canada, both unsuccessful, and a British sack of Washington DC during which its public buildings, including the Capitol, were burned. These engagements indicate the seesawing successes of the war, which was ended in 1814 by the Treaty of Ghent which restored the territorial `status quo ante'.
The British Navy's engagements in the war were usually more successful than the landward ones, and one particular exploit was the dispatch of a fleet of 5 men-of-war and 2 rocket ships to bombard US towns up the Potomac River. The force sailed fifty miles upriver, repeatedly running aground, but despite this wrought considerable destruction both ashore and at anchor. The squadron had just forced the surrender of Fort Washington and the town of Alexandria when orders were received to return, which they did with 21 prizes. 107 NGSMs were awarded with the relevant bar in 1848.
This medal was awarded to William Mathews, who served in the Royal Marines contingent aboard HMS Euryalus. His service in the battle is verified and the General Honours Roll confirms the award of the piece to him. Either Mathews or a later owner seems to have been careless or unhappy with the original suspension, which has been replaced with a dark-green ribbon adorned with a pin in the form of an anchor. The label on the reverse of the ribbon was probably added by a collector, however. Lester Watson bought this medal at some point before 1928.