A Superb Royal Naval Officer's Fighting Sword/Cutlass Circa 1790's Monogrammed For A Junior Officer, Apparently Wounded at Trafalgar
This combat sword bears one of the rarest features we have ever seen on a Napoleonic period sword of a Royal Naval officer. It has a blade engraved with a Royal Naval warship, bearing the usual British royal crown of King George IIIrd, but also an engraving of British Naval Man O'War, along with his monogram J.S.C.S. We can't recall how long ago it was that we saw a depiction of a British warship engraved on such an early sword before. In fact it is very rare to be seen on British swords at all, although it can seen on German naval officer's dirks from the 20th century. As it is a typical purchased naval battle sword for an officer from the 1790's it could conceivably been used first by his father Capt John Samuel as a combat cutlass, and then given to his son when he joined the service, but this we can never know. The hilt and wire bound sharkskin grip is very good indeed, as is the blade, very grey with worn out areas of engraving, but all the engraving is easily identifiable. Obvious signs of combat use, as to be expected, but still very good overall. A tremendous amount of research has been undertaken, and that research has determined that the monogram is almost certainly for Lt. John Samuel C. Smith RN. He was serving as a midshipman, [and later lieutenant in 1813] on HMS Minotaur, a 74 gunner, and was wounded at Trafalgar. He died in 1840. He was the son of Captain John Samuel Smith who died in 1796. His grandfather sailed in Commodore George Anson's circumnavigation of the globe during the early 1740 s.
In 1772 his father John Samuel Smith was serving in the West Indies as a midshipman, and by 1777 was employed on that station as a sailing master. He was commissioned lieutenant in August 1778.
In July 1781 he was promoted commander, and in the summer of 1782 joined the store-ship San Carlos [22 gunner], serving in the East Indies and being present at the Battle of Trincomale on 3 September. Having already been posted captain on 29 July 1782 he was commanding the Exeter [64 gunner] in the spring of 1783 and fought at the Battle of Cuddalore on 20 June where she lost four men killed and nine wounded. After sailing for the Cape his command was deemed to be un-seaworthy and was destroyed on 12 February 1784.
During the Spanish Armament of 1790 Smith commissioned the new Castor [32 gunner] before paying her off later that year. He then recommissioned the Saint George 98 for the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Richard King during the spring of 1791, retaining her through the Russian Armament and paying her off that autumn.
He was the flag captain to Rear-Admiral Sir Richard King, the commander-in-chief of the Newfoundland station aboard the Assistance [50 gunner] from April 1792 and the new Stately [64 gunner] from March 1793, returning home each winter.
Smith commanded the Excellent [74 gunner] during May and June 1794 and in August 1795 joined the Captain [74 gunner], serving in the Mediterranean. Suffering from ill health, he exchanged with Captain Horatio Nelson of the Agamemnon [64 gunner] in the Mediterranean on 11 June 1796.
Captain Smith died at Gibraltar shortly after joining the Agamemnon, which ship returned home to be paid off at Chatham on 19 September.
His sons, William, who served with him from 1792 and John S. C. Smith, both entered the navy.
In the late 1780 s Smith was a witness to a House of Lords committee regarding his witnessing of the abhorrent treatment of slaves in the West Indies.
The Minotaur was built at Woolwich in 1793. Her
dimensions are given as: length on the lower deck,
172 feet; breadth, 48 feet; depth, 19 feet; and tons
burthen, 1721. She was commissioned in 1794 by
Captain Thomas Louis, one of Nelson’s band of brothers, and under him she joined the fleet in the Mediterranean, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral MacBride; later on serving with Rear-Admiral George Montagu's force. She bore a distinguished part in the battle of the Nile, the 1st August 1798, in which she was sixth in the line, and the biggest ship
engaged.Minotaur fought at the battle of the Nile in 1798, engaging the Aquilon with HMS Theseus and forcing her surrender. In the battle Minotaur lost 23 men dead and 64 wounded.
After the French surrendered Rome on 29 September 1799, Captain Thomas Louis had his barge crew row him up the Tiber River where he raised the Union Jack over the Capitol.
In May 1800, Minotaur served as the flagship of Vice-Admiral Lord Keith at the siege of Genoa.The naval squadron consisted of Minotaur, Phoenix, Mondovi, Entreprenante, and the tender Victoire.
On 28 April, the squadron captured the Proteus, off Genoa.
On 8 January 1801 Penelope captured the French bombard St. Roche, which was carrying wine, liqueurs, ironware, Delfth cloth, and various other merchandise, from Marseilles to Alexandria. Swiftsure, Tigre, Minotaur, Northumberland, Florentina, and the schooner Malta, were in sight and shared in the proceeds of the capture.
She was present at the landings in Aboukir Bay during the invasion of Egypt in 1801 where she lost a total of three men killed, and six wounded. Because Minotaur served in the navy's Egyptian campaign (8 March to 8 September 1801), her officers and crew qualified for the clasp "Egypt" to the Naval General Service Medal that the Admiralty authorised in 1850 to all surviving claimants.
On 28 May 1803 Minotaur, in company with Thunderer, and later joined by Albion, captured the French frigate Franchise. Franchise was 33 days out of Port-au-Prince, and was pierced for twenty-eight 12-pounder guns on her main deck and sixteen 9-pounders on her quarterdeck and forecastle, ten of which were in her hold. She had a crew of 187 men under the command of Captain Jurien.
Minotaur was present at the surrender of the French garrison at Civitavecchia on 21 September 1804. She shared the prize money for the capture of the town and fortress with Culloden, Mutine, Transfer, and the bomb vessel Perseus. The British also captured the French polacca Il Reconniscento.
Minotaur, under Captain Charles John Moore Mansfield, participated in the Battle of Trafalgar. There she was instrumental in capturing the Spanish ship Neptuno, although Neptuno's crew recaptured her in the storm that followed the battle.
Minotaur was towards the rear of Nelson's wing of his fleet at Trafalgar. Mansfield pledged to his assembled crew that he would stick to any ship he engaged "till either she strikes or sinks – or I sink". Late in the battle he deliberately placed Minotaur between the damaged Victory and an attacking French ship; he was later awarded a sword and gold medal for his gallantry. Both are now in the National Maritime Museum
The Minotaur at the battle of Trafalgar
An hour before the battle, Captain Mansfield mustered the ships company and spoke to them as follows:
"Men, we are now in the sight of the enemy whom there is every probability of engaging; and I trust that this day, or tomorrow, will prove the most glorious our country ever saw. I shall say nothing to you of courage: our country never produced a coward. For my own part I pledge myself to the officers and ship’s company not to quit the ship I may get alongside of till either she strikes or sinks – or I sink. I have only to recommend silence and strict attention to the orders of your officers. Be careful to take good aim, for it is to no purpose to throw shot away. You will now, every man, repair to your respective stations, and depend, I will bring the ship into action as soon as possible.
God save the King!"
Captain Mansfield kept his pledge, and not by sinking.
By the end of the day the Minotaur had played a pivotal role in defending the Victory against the counter attack by Rear Admiral Dumanoir's squadron, and had captured the Spanish Neptuno. The sword has no surviving scabbard. We have shown the monogram with added black script below in the photo for illustration purposes.