The War of 1812 Magazine
Issue 6: April 2007
Order of the Bath Stall Plates – An Underappreciated Napoleonic Collectable
By Jay Medves
For those interested in collecting British military numismatics of the Napoleonic period the retrospective award to survivors only of the Military General Service 1793 - 1814 (MGS 1793) medal in 1848, and the Army of India 1799 - 1826 (A of I 1799) medal in 1851 means that examples are scarce and pricy. Approximately ten percent of those who would have been entitled to claim a MGS 1793 medal were still alive in 1847 to do so. For those whose interest is purely collecting medals to those involved in the War of 1812 the situation is even worse. The decision to commemorate only Gold Medal actions on the MGS 1793 resulted in the issue of bars only for Fort Detroit, Chateauguay, and Chrystler’s Farm – survivors of other actions, Lundy’s Lane, Fort Erie, Queenstown Heights etc., received no recognition. Those factors suggest that there remains no unique medallic record of the majority of senior British Officers who served in the War of 1812. Some of those officers were awarded a grade of the Most Noble Order of the Bath, but the insignia of the Order was not impressed with the recipient’s details as was the MGS 1793
The authorities had planned to publicly commemorate the recipients of the Order of the Bath – what they envisioned and what was commissioned is unique, attractive, and available to collectors. The story of how those objects became available to collectors is one of a broken promise and tremendous disappointment for those that were to be honoured. This short article will discuss the Stall Plates prepared for Companions of the Order of the Bath and will examine the interesting career of a recipient who was a prominent War of 1812 personality and whose Stall Plate is in the author’s collection.
The Most Noble Order of the Bath was expanded to three classes in January of 1815: Knight Grand Cross, Knight Commander, and Companion. At that time it was announced and intended that all recipients of any grade of the Order would have a plate designating the location of their stall within Westminster Abbey. The plates of Knight Commanders would contain their names and arms and Companions plates would bear a representation of the insignia of a Companion of the Order and their names.
A process was created to allow those to be honoured with a means of paying for their recognition in the Abbey. In 1815 the cost to a Companion was a staggering 16 pounds, 17 shillings, and 8 pence. For this amount a recipient was supposed to: receive a copy of the rules and ordinances, have his plate engraved and mounted, and have his military services recorded in a book appropriate to Companions of the Order.
Production of the stall plates commenced and the Companions paid their fees. The examples in my collection are all stamped on their reverse HUGHES 8 PETERBOH COURT FLEET STREET LONDON, although other manufacturers are known. The gilded plates were stored within heavy bond grey envelopes on which the recipient’s name, rank, and grade of the Order were written.
All seemed to be progressing well until the time came to actually affix the plates. No one, or at no one who was listened to, had checked to see if there was sufficient room within the Abbey – there was not. The ensuing debacle caused great consternation and much polite outrage. As late as 1842 Sir Nicholas Harris Nicholas saw fit to address the broken promise in his work ‘History of the Orders of Knighthood of the British Empire’, but there the matter rested for no one could propose a manner of rectifying the lack of space within the Abbey. Time passed, those honoured with plates died, and the plates themselves were stored and forgotten about.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the plates were rediscovered in the 1970s. The job lot was supposedly purchased by a decorator who thought (rightly) that they would make for smashing interior embellishment. And so they did, at least until names such as Hardy and Gomm were recognized. Their worth as collectibles was considerably more than their worth as décor and the plates began appearing for sale as military collectibles. The plates still appear in auction catalogues and dealers’ lists with some regularity. Regardless of whom the plate honours the purchaser is assured of an interesting research project. Such were my thoughts when I purchased the stall plate to Major James Lewis Basden of the 89th Foot.
James Lewis Basden was commissioned as an Ensign in the Scotch Brigade (later the 94th Foot) on 12 January 1800. He was made Lieutenant on 17 March 1801 and Captain in the 2nd Battalion of the 89th Foot on 4 September 1806 by which time he had seen action in India at the fall of Asseerghur, the battle of Agraum, and the capture of Gawighur – the last two actions under the command of Wellesley. Captain Basden arrived with his regiment at Quebec in October 1812. He was sent to York with the light company and in July was publicly reprimanded by Sir George Prevost for having taken “a female of improper character” with him and was relieved of his command. By September of 1813 all was forgotten and Basden was reinstated. He was involved in the raid on Black Rock and Buffalo. During the winter of 1813 he and his light company patrolled the Thames River valley and were noted among other things for their wild behaviour. Captain Basden commanded at the skirmish of Longwoods where his attack was beaten back and he was severely wounded in the leg. Basden recovered to lead his company in several battles, including: the Battle of The Falls, where he was slightly wounded, Conjocta Creek, Lundy’s Lane, and the Siege, Assault, and Sortie from Fort Erie.
In recognition of his services Basden was breveted to major backdated to 30 December 1813. Promoted to major in the 89th Foot on 25 November 1821 Basden later served in the Ava campaign of 1826. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath on 26 December 1826 and breveted Lieutenant Colonel on 22 July 1830. Lieutenant Colonel Basden returned to Canada where he served during the Rebellions of 1837. He retired on full pay on 16 June 1843 and died on 22 May 1856 near Havant England having seen and experienced more of the world than most men do today.
James Lewis Basden did not receive a medal for his services during the War of 1812, but in 1851 he applied for and lived to receive a unique four clasp combination to his A of I 1799 medal.