A silver medal awarded to an heroic lifeboatman who rescued sailors left clinging to the rigging of their sunken ship for 16 hours in the hurricane-force gales that devastated the South East Kent coast in 1891 is to be sold in a sale at The Canterbury Auction Galleries.
The Folkestone, Hythe and Sandgate medal for the rescue of the crew of the “Benvenue”, on November 11, 1891 awarded to Albert Moore, is among more than 1,000 lots of fine art, antiques and collectors’ items to be offered in the saleroom’s Two-Day Sale on Tuesday and Wednesday August 11-12. Sent for sale by Moore’s nephew, the medal is expected to realise £400-600.
A contemporary report in the Folkestone Chronicle and Advertiser details how the Bienvenue, 2033 tonnes laden, with a general cargo bound from London to Sydney, ran aground off Sandgate and sank, leaving only its three masts and rigging clear of the tumultuous waves.
Watched by a thousand-strong crowd standing helpless on the shore, a valiant attempt to reach the Benvenue by the Sandgate lifeboat, “The Meyer de Rothschild” failed when the lifeboat was overturned in the surf. Attempts were also made fire lines to the wreck from a Royal Artillery field gun but that also failed.
A scratch crew of coastguard men and fishermen from Folkestone and the surrounding area subsequently relaunched the lifeboat and ultimately rescued the 27 survivors, who had been lashed to the rigging for 16 hours. Others had perished when they tried to swim ashore. It is not known how many crewmembers were lost.
In a statement, Able Seaman Moore said he caught hold of the captain’s arm shortly after the rescuers had climbed into the rigging to help him but a huge wave swept violently over the ship. The captain jumped down but was sucked below decks by the tremendous force of water and was lost.
Sir Edward Watkin and directors of the South Eastern Railway later awarded £20 for the lifeboat crew and he also decided that a medal should also be awarded to each man. His wife undertook the design, the dies for which where prepared by Sir Alfred Gilbert (1854-1934). They were manufactured by London medal makers Heming & Co and presented by the Mayor, Mr. S. Penfold, on January 1, 1892.
The full report of the incident can be found here.
The medal will be offered on the second day of the sale among a small group of military and gallantry awards and weapons, militaria and sporting guns.