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A George III Swedish East India Company Presentation Tea Urn, 1801
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A George III Swedish East India Company Presentation Tea Urn, 1801

Measurements: Height: 29.5cm (11.75in)



Silver. Urn and cover in the Greek Revival taste with tapering body, twin reeded and acanthus leaf handles, on a stepped and reeded foot. Reeded spout with paterae decoration and green hardstone twist tap. Gilt interior. Hallmarked London 1801. Domed cover,  hallmarked London 1809, with acorn finial and engraved with Captain Somerville’s wyvern crest. The urn engraved withe Somerville crest over the inscription: ‘Presented to / Captn P. Somerville / as a small acknowledgement of his / efficacious assistance and protection / granted to the Swedish East India Company's ship / Sophia Magdalena / when she was drove on shore near / the South Foreland and bilged, / and in danger of being plundered / of her cargo. / By his obedient servants & obliged friends / Chalmers & Cowie / agents to the Swedish / East India Company 1802.’ 39.4 tr.oz.

In late November 1801 while recovering from the rigours of leading Nelson’s attack on Boulogne, Somerville in the 16-gun sloop-of-war Eugenie was ordered in accompany with H.M.S. Anacreon to South Foreland, between Deal and Dover, to assist the Swedish East India ship Drottning Sophia Magdalena, Captain Hans Hansson, which had foundered on sands off Kingsdowne. Homeward bound from Canton, the 18-gun armed merchantman with a crew of 150 was heavily laden with 7000 chests of tea and bundles of nankeen cloth. Anchoring Eugenie as near as possible, Somerville remained on guard duty for the next two weeks sending parties of seamen and marines to recover the cargo from the stricken ship which, after losing her main and mizzen masts, had bilged and was fast filling with water. The decks were torn up to reach the sodden tea which was then sent under military escort to a warehouse in Deal.

The East Indiaman had been insured at Lloyd’s for nearly £200,000 and although much of the tea was destroyed, Somerville’s efforts mitigated this huge loss.  ‘As a small acknowledgement of his efficacious assistance and protection’, the SEIC’s insurance brokers Chalmers & Cowie of Lime Street, London presented Somerville, fittingly, with the present silver tea urn.

Captain Philip Somerville R.N. (1763-1817) entered the Service at a young age serving under John Jervis (later Earl St Vincent) in Foudroyant, then as first lieutenant for Lord Howe in Queen Charlotte. Made commander in 1782, he was eventually appointed to Eugenie, a 16-gun former French privateer captured in 1797 then attached to the Channel Fleet. Somerville’s son George also joined the ship as midshipman. On the night of 15/16 August 1801 Somerville was the most senior of the officers appointed by Rear-Admiral Lord Nelson to lead four divisions of boats in a night raid on Boulogne despite, in Nelson’s own words, being an ‘entire stranger’ to the admiral. Before embarking on his hazardous mission, Somerville was summoned by Nelson aboard Medusa for a final briefing alongside the other commanding officers: Edward Thornborough Parker, Isaac Cotgrave, and Robert Jones. At 11.30pm, they led their divisions into action although the preparations of the enemy and a strong tidal current disrupted the planned attack almost immediately sending it into a bloody shambles.  

In his report to Nelson the following day, Somerville praised the ‘undaunted and resolute behaviour’ of his officers, marines and sailors in the face of ‘a very heavy fire of musketry and grape shot that was directed at us from the shore’. He blamed the powerful current for taking his boats past the enemy line and the strength of her chains for preventing him carrying away a captured enemy brig, the only success of the entire attack. Nevertheless, Nelson noted that of the four divisions, Somerville’s alone had ‘succeeded completely in the fighting part of the business’. ‘Everyone’ he told Earl St Vincent, now first Lord of the Admiralty, ‘speaks of Captain Somerville’s coolness and gallant conduct’. Jones’s division failed to engage the enemy at all whilst both Parker’s and Cotgrave’s suffered heavy casualties. In addition to the casualties officially returned for Eugenie - 3 seamen and an officer killed, 5 seamen wounded–was Somerville himself. ‘I never heard of more firmness than was shown by the good and gallant Captain Somerville’, Nelson told St. Vincent, ‘I felt much in sending an officer who has a wife and eight children, all dependent on his life: although he has not reported himself injured, yet I fear he has suffered in his head, by the bow-gun of a brig that was fired over him’.