Napoleonic Prize East India Company Silver Salver for the Capture of French Warship La Medee
Vendor: Jason Clarke Antiques
For sale a prize silver salver hallmarked to 1792 by the famous Georgian silversmiths, John Crouch & Thomas Hannam presented in recognition for Valentine Munden’s part in the capture of the French warship ‘La Medee” in 1803 off the coast of Brazil.
The engraving to the base of the salver reads:
“18th June 1803, Valentine Munden’s Prize Money when on board the Exeter East Indiaman for the capture of the French frigate La Medee”
The naval action in which La Medee was taken, took place on the 4th of August 1800. On that morning, the Royal Navy escort, The Belliqueux sighted a squadron of French Frigates and immediately gave chase and captured the largest ship, La Concorde whilst the East Indiamen, Exeter and Bombay Castle pursued and received surrender from La Medee. The Coutts and The Neptune were unsuccessful in capturing the last frigate La Franchaise owing to her speed but the action stands out as the only occasion during the Napoleonic Wars where a merchant vessel captured a French ship of war.
A contemporary account which was widely published during the period, explains the action in more detail:
“Extract of a letter from Captain Rowley Bulteel, Commander of his Majesty’s Ship Belliqueux, to Evan Nepean Esq.
On Monday the 4th day of August, soon after daylight, four sail were discovered from the mast-head in the north west quarter, and apparently steering about N by E. At seven AM they hauled their wind, tacked and stood towards us; upon which I bore down with the whole of my convoy. At noon the enemy perceiving our force (which was greatly exaggerated in their opinion by the warlike appearance of the China ships), they bore up under a press of sail, and by signal separated.
I stood for the largest ship, and notwithstanding the light and baffling winds, we came up with her, and after a few chase guns, and a partial firing for about ten minutes, at half past five in the afternoon (Tuesday) she struck her colours, and proved to be the French frigate La Concorde, of forty four guns, eighteen pounders, 444 men, commanded by Citizen Jean-Francois Landolphe, Capitaine de Vaissau, and Chef de Division.
At seven the same evening, the French frigate, La Medee, of 36 guns, twelve pounders, and 315 men, commanded by Citizen Daniel Coudein, struck her colours to the Bombay Castle, Captain John Hamilton, and the Exeter, Captain Henry Meriton.
The above frigates were of the squadron which sailed from Rochefort on the 6th day of March 1799, and having committed great depredations on the coast of Africa, had refitted in the Rio de la Plata, and were now cruising on the coast of Brazil.
La Franchaise, of 42 guns, and 380 men, commanded by Citizen Pierre Jurieu, escaped by throwing part of her guns overboard, and also her anchors, boats and booms, and by night coming on; as did also an American schooner, their prize fitted as a cruiser.
On this occasion I hope their Lordships will permit me to bear testimony of the spirit of the Officers and ship’s company of the Belliqueux, and I have particular pleasure in the mentioning the zeal and activity I have ever found in Mr Ebden, my First Lieutenant, to whom I only do justice in recommending him to their Lordship’s notice and favour.
Too much praise cannot be given to the Captains, Officers and crews of the different ships under my convoy, for their ready obedience to my signals, and for the whole of their conduct on that day, particularly to Captains Hamilton and Meriton, who very gallantly pursued and captured the aforesaid frigate La Medee; and also to Captain Torin, of the Coutts, and Captain Spens, of the Neptune, who with great alacrity pursued La Franchaise, although they had not the good fortune to come up with her, for the reasons above assigned; and my best thanks are due to the whole of the Commanders of the ships under my convoy, for their assistance in taking a number of prisoners on board their respective ships.
We arrived at Rio Janeiro on Tuesday the 12th of August”.
A foot note in an alternative contemporary publication also adds the following:
(The French frigate Medee is coming home as a cartel, with all the officers and about 300 men, under the charge of the first lieutenant of the Belliqueux, a midshipman, and two or three seamen. During the chase, the French, to improve her sailing, cut all her knees. The Concorde was to be sold at Rio Janeiro. The Indiamen share in the prizes in consequence of the Commodore having required their assistance. The mates get about 100l, a piece. The French crews are loaded with money, cloth etc, the plunder of various vessels they have taken).
Most unusually for this period, the East Indiaman crews were included in the division of the spoils relating to the capture of La Concorde and La Medee and the Captains of the Exeter and The Bombay Castle both received a £50 prize sword from the Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund for their parts in the action in 1804. Prior to that in 1803, the prize money was distributed after La Medee was bought by The Royal Navy and head money was paid. As the footnote states above, the French ships were loaded with spoils taken from their previous engagements so these may also have formed part of the distribution.
In 1803, Steel’s Prize Pay List and The Gazette both published notices relating to the distribution of the prize money.
Steel’s Prize Pay List
“EXETER, East Indiaman, H.Meriton; and BOMBAY CASTLE, East Indiaman, J. Hamilton…….Proportions of proceeds and head money arising from the capture of the French frigates La Concorde and La Medee, taken 4 August 1800; paid 22 April, at Messrs. Atkins’s, No 7, Walbrook, London. Recall, first Thursdays, at same place. – J. & A. Atkins for Richard Lewin and J. Dorin Agents”.
“London, April 12, 1803
Notice is hereby given to the Commanders, Officers, and Ship’s Companies of the honourable East India Company’s ships Exeter and Bombay Castle, who were actually on board at the capture of the French Frigates La Concorde and La Medee, on the 4th August 1800, that they will be paid their respective proportions of the proceeds and Head Money arising from the capture of the said prizes, on Thursday the 21st instant, at the Office of Messrs. John and Abraham Atkins, No 7, Walbrook; the shares not then paid will be recalled the first Thursday in the month for three years to come.
- & A, Atkins for Richard Lewin and Joseph Dorin, Attornies”.
Valentine Munden was a career man for The East India Company and little is known of his early employment although, The National Archive is likely to bear further fruit. Much of his life is revealed through a biography of his protector, the famous Georgian comic actor, Joseph Munden written by his son Thomas Shepherd Munden. Thomas and Valentine both shared the same family name but Valentine was a product of his father’s first partner a Mary Jones and another actor, a Mr Hodgkinson.
The author accounts the story as follows:
“There was another actress, of whom mention must be made, as she exercised a large influence over the fortunes of Munden. She played under the name of Mrs Munden, but her real name was Mary Jones. She possessed some beauty, but was vulgar and illiterate in the extreme. In the wild thoughtlessness of youth, when the looseness of his habits did not afford an introduction to respectable female society, Munden had formed a connection with this woman. When he had a settled abode at Chester, he sent for her, and had the imprudence to introduce her as his wife. By his consummate skill in his profession he had contrived to instruct her sufficiently render her competent to play minor parts, and to prevent an exposure of her ignorance on the stage. By Mary Jones, Munden had four daughters, when the event took place which we are now about to relate.
In the year 1789, this wretched female, with whom he had so long co-habited, and who had borne him so many children, eloped with Mr Hodgkinson, carrying with her thirty guineas of his money, his daughter Esther, and a child yet unborn. Munden had long suspected that some familiarities existed between the parties, and had called Mr Hodgkinson to account, but the fact was denied. A vile scrawl which she left behind her addressed to Mr Whitlock, apprised Munden of the step which she had taken. After many entreaties to soothe and calm him, which indeed, were not needed, she adds – “I likewise inclose a leter wich I beg give him – also the lisd of his property – with many thanks for your frenship for 9 years”. Mr Hodgkinson also wrote to Mr Whitlock attempting to justify his own conduct, and throw the blame on Munden. This precious couple were married at Bath, the female being in the last state of pregnancy; but Hodgkinson soon found out what a bargain he had got, and separated from her at Bristol, embarking for America with an actress of the name of Brett. Previous to his departure, he addressed a letter to Munden, begging him to take care of the children: - Mrs Hodgkinson had been delivered at Bristol of a boy, which she christened Valentine Joseph.”
Valentine was fortunate that Joseph Munden had the heart to accept Mr Hodgkinson’s begging letter, moreso because Mary Jones became ill and died soon thereafter, penniless in Bristol. Munden had quickly married a Mrs Butler that same year and his new wife received a similar letter from Jones requesting that she care for the children as her own.
The same diary later relates that Joseph Munden also kept company with Commodore Sir Nathaniel Dance of the East India Company whilst in London (Dance was famed for beating off a French attack on his fleet of East Indiamen at the Battle of Pulo Aura in 1804) and so it is likely that Munden used his influence to gain his illegitimate child a career with the company. In this career, Valentine Munden slowly rose through the ranks to become a Chief Mate and was present in three actions involving East India ships during that time. He was present at the taking of La Medee as is shown through the engraving, he was also present at the Battle of Pulo Aura but the last action related within the diary, still remains a mystery.
Munden’s later service can be traced to some extent through, “The Register of Ships, Employed in the Service of the Honourable, The United East India Company From the Year 1760 to 1810.” Published in 1811. It shows that beyond Pulo Aura, he was employed on the Cumberland sailing to China from 1807 – 1808 and listed as fourth in command and in 1809 – 1810, he was on the Sir William Pulteney headed for Bengal so his experiences had clearly not dampened his enthusiasm.
Valentine Munden did not live to see old age, his “brother’s” diary relates that he was, “an ingenious and brave young man, rose to the rank of chief mate in the East India Company’s naval service. Although in a merchantman he was three times in action. He ruptured a blood vessel off St Helena whilst in active discharge of his duty in command of the vessel during a gale of wind; was landed on the island, and, dying soon afterwards was followed to his grave by the military and naval officers on the station. No stone or monument marks the spot where his remains rest”.
From an 1833 publication about Joseph Munden there rests some further information relating to his will and the division of his great wealth at the time of his death in 1810. Valentine was only bequeathed a small amount of money (50l) by his “father” owing to him being advanced some large sums during his lifetime (500l) but it adds that “Mr V. Munden was a second officer in the Hon, East India Company’s ships, and died at St Helena about fifteen years ago”.
This scant piece of detail is somewhat useful in pinpointing Munden’s age as he must have died in and around 1818. He must only have been 29 at the time of his death but had clearly led a life of adventure and probably significant hardship during the many voyages he undertook. Why he needed to borrow such large sums from his father is unclear given his career and the prize money he received but it also proves that Joseph Munden treated Valentine as one of his own and took care over his son’s wellbeing throughout.
Research with the St Helena history society is ongoing but no records have yet been located relating to Valentine’s demise but given the period of his death it is interesting to note that Napoleon was resident on the island of St Helena and must have been aware of this Valentine’s arrival and subsequent demise.
A valuable piece of Georgian silver in its own right, this early piece of silver is unique and extremely rare. It relates the story of the only action in which an East India Ship successfully captured a French Naval Frigate during the Napoleonic period and tells the story of a man whose life story is both enthralling and somewhat sad in equal measure. His relationship with Joseph Munden was both the making and the undoing of his life but a life that was lived to the extreme during its short term.