Military Subjects:  War of 1812


The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 17: January 2012


Clasps to the Naval General Service Medal Commemorating Actions Occurring During the War of 1812

By Jay Medves

The purpose of this article is to produce a comprehensive as possible list of clasps authorized for award with the Naval General Service 1793–1840 (NGS1793) medal commemorating actions fought against United States forces during the War of 1812.  The reader should bear in mind that there is the possibility that the list of clasps is incomplete.  To explain the uncertainty it is necessary to understand how the clasps to the NGS1793 medal came to be authorized and how claimants were directed to apply for the medal.

Notification of the decision to award the NGS1793 medal was first made in the London Gazette of 1 June 1847.  The list of actions to be commemorated through the attachment of clasps to the medal was identical to those actions where Gold Medals (Honorable Distinctions) had been granted to Flag Officers and Captains from 1794 until 1815.  For Fleet actions it was understood that the list of ship’s companies entitled to the medal would be identical to that having received Honorable Distinctions – the companies of smaller vessels, although present, were not eligible for the award of the medal.

The Naval General Service Medal awarded to William Bean, Carpenter.
(Mister Justin Young Collection)

Claimants were instructed to apply in writing to the Admiralty furnishing proof of their entitlement to the award.  All applications were to be vetted by a committee of Flag Officers who would approve or reject the claim to the medal.  It should be noted that the NGS1793 medal could only be issued to survivors, although next of kin could claim the medal if an applicant died after making his submission to the Admiralty, and the medal could not be issued without a clasp.

The members of the Flag Officer Committee were truly men of action.  They recognized that the existing criterion for the award of the medal precluded acknowledging the service of the majority who had fought valiantly in the conflicts from 1793 onwards.  Accordingly, slightly later than a year after the initial announcement was made, Her Majesty advised in the London Gazette of 9 June 1848 that further criteria had been established for the issue of the NGS1793 medal.  The additional criteria may be summarized as follows:

a.)   Actions of conspicuous merit from 1793 to 1815 where the First Lieutenant of the ship (or ships) present was promoted, or if fought by a smaller vessel where the Commander was promoted.

b.)   Boat Actions (usually the crew of a ship’s boats cutting out an enemy vessel) where the officer in charge was promoted.

c.)   Crew of frigates and smaller vessels present at Gold Medal actions.

d.)   Those that had participated in joint operations where the Army Gold medal had been awarded (Martinique 1809, Guadeloupe 1810, Java 1811, and Saint Sebastian 1813).

e.) The actions at Algiers in 1816, Navarino in 1827, and in Syria in 1840.

It is critical to note that the new irection did notprovide the reader with a list of actions where an officer had been promoted.  The claimant was expected to know and then state within his correspondence what where the actions he had been present at that merited promotion and the issue of clasps. 

The members of the Flag Officers Committee eventually realized that they should provide further assistance to claimants and in January 1849 a chronological list of promotion actions was published in the London Gazette–eighteen months after to the initial announcement of the authorization of the medal.  The comprehensive list of authorized clasps was reprinted without amendment, excepting a notification in 1850 granting a clasp for the conquest of Egypt in 1801, until 1869.

The committee of Flag Officers and Admiralty Clerks had done their work very well.  The list of non-Boat Service actions was complete and correct with the exception of the occasional confusion over the date of an engagement.  Compiling an exhaustive list of approved Boat Service clasps proved to be more difficult–the passage of years and the small number of individuals involved meant the list was not complete.  To their credit the committee in examining application for the issue of the medal considered all claims for Boat Service clasps and where a claim was proven to be merited they authorized the engraving of the clasp[1] and the issue of the medal.  What the committee did not do was amend their published list of authorized clasps.  Issued Boat Service clasps with dates that are not recorded in the London Gazette list are known as ‘unpublished clasps’.

All these details would be of little importance, but for a splendid innovation that had commenced with the issue of the medal for the Waterloo campaign–the name of the recipient of a NGS1793 medal was officially impressed around the medal’s edge (including rank if an officer, holder of a warrant, or a volunteer).  Therefore it is possible to cross reference a recipient’s entitlement to a clasp or clasps with the surviving medal roll, ship’s musters, description books, pay records, and other documentation.[2]

The Naval Service Medal group, with Endymion Crook and silver D’Acre Medal awarded to William Bean.
(Mister Justin Young Collection)

In the case of clasps authorized for actions occurring during the War of 1812 there are two Boat Service dates that do not appear within the London Gazette list.  In each case the recipient’s records have been reviewed to confirm their entitlement.  It follows that with the loss and destruction of many NGS1793 medals over time, and the extremely low or unique issues of certain clasps, that the completeness of any list of clasps, the numbers that were issued, or even the roll of recipients, can not be completely assured.

A Chronological List of Clasps to the Naval General Service Medal 1792–1840 Commemorating Actions Occurring During the War of 1812:

Shannon Wh Chesapeake’ (1 June 1813) the capture of the USS Chesapeake.

29 April Boat Service 1813’ the capture of the American privateer Wampoe.

29 April Boat Service 1813’ later clasps engraved as ‘Apr & May Boat Service 1813’ given for two actions on the Elk River.  The engraving of the clasp was changed to avoid confusion with the other action fought on 29 April 1813.

Pelican 14 Augt 1813’ the capture of the American brig Argus.

‘Phoebe 28 March 1814’ awarded to the crew of HMS Phoebe under Captain James Hillyar for the capture of the USS Essex, her prizes, and the sloop the Essex Junior, off of the Chilean Coast.

‘Cherub 28 March 1814’ for the crew of the HMS Cherub who participated in the above action.

8 April Boat Service 1814’ for an action on the Connecticut River.

6 May Boat Service 1814’ for the action at Oswego New York on that date.  This is an unpublished clasp.  The sole recorded recipient was James Wills (also spelled Welles Wells, or Willis).  Wills is confirmed as being on the pay list of HMS Princess Charlotte for 3 May 1814.  James Wills also served at Trafalgar and his medal was issued with that clasp as well.  Wills’ medal was recorded as being in Lord Cheylesmore’s collection and was last offered at the Sotheby’s auction of 28 June 1990.

The Companion of the Order of the bath Stall Plate to Captain James Hillyar  (later Rear Admiral of the White Sir James Hillyar KCB, KCH)  whose exploits resulted in the creation of the Phoebe 28 March 1814 clasp to the NGS1793.  Captain Hillyar was one of the many who did not live to claim his medal.
(Mister Justin Young Collection)

The Potomac 17 Aug 1814’ (actual date 29 August 1814) for the destruction of American shipping on the Potomac.

Aug & Sep Boat Service 1814’ for actions on and near the Potomac during these months.  This is an unpublished clasp.  The sole recoded recipient was Acting Surgeon Alexander Nisbett.  The issue of the medal is recorded within his service record.  Nisbett’s medal forms part of the Royal Navy collection at Portsmouth.

3 & 6 Sep Boat Service 1814’ for an action against the American schooners Tigress and Scorpion on Lake Huron.  The sole recorded recipient was Lieutenant Andrew Bulger of the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles.  This medal has not been sighted.

14 Dec Boat Service 1814’ for naval actions preparatory to the Battle of New Orleans.

Endymion Wh President’ for the engagement leading to the capture of the USS President.

It is interesting to note that, but for the efforts of the Flag Officer Committee only the surviving crew of HMS Shannon and HMS Endymion, whose Captain’s had been awarded a Naval Gold Medal, would have been eligible to claim the NGS1793 medal.



Arms, Armour, and Militaria, Orders, Medals and Decorations.  Sotheby’s 28 June 1990.

Douglas-Morris, Kenneth. Naval Medal 1793–1856.  , 1987, privately printed, London.

Joslin, E.C., Litherland A.R., Simpkin B.T. British Battles and Medals.  London: Spink, 1998.

Hayward’s Gazette No. 5 June 1975 (Naval General Service Medal 1793–1840 Instructions to Claimants, Captain K.J. Douglas-Morris, R.N.)

Long, W.H. Medals of the British Navy and How They Were Won. London: Norie and Wilson, 1895.

Naval General Service Medal Roll 1793–1840.  Anonymous compiler, typewritten, circa 1920.

O’Byrne, William. A Naval biographical Dictionary: comprising the life and services of every living officer in Her Majesty’s Navy from the rank of Admiral of the Fleet to that of Lieutenant inclusive.  .  1849.  Polstead: J.B. Hayward & Son, 1990.


[1] Boat Service clasps were of a standard type with the words ‘Boat Service’ die struck and the date of the action engraved before the word ‘Boat’ and the year of the action engraved after ‘Service” e.g. 14 Dec Boat Service 1814.

[2] Compiled to assist in the apprehension of those who ‘ran’ (deserted).


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