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Admiral Lord Lyons’ Silver Dish, 1798
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Admiral Lord Lyons’ Silver Dish, 1798

Measurements: Length: 55.5cm (21.75in)

£4750

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Silver. Oval shaped dish with gadrooned border, the rim engraved the Baron’s coronet and armorial crest of the maverick diplomat and naval officer Edmund Lyons, in the form of the 1840 augmentation of honour to the Lyons family crest of a sea lion holding a flag inscribed ‘Marrack’ in respect of his capture of Fort Marrack in the Dutch East Indies - a feat widely regarded as one of the outstanding examples of initiative, leadership and daring during Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Hallmarked London 1798. Weight: 93 Troy ounces.

Edmund Lyons (1790–1858), first went to sea in H.M.S. Terrible at the age of eight in which year the present dish was made by important London silversmith Robert Sharp. At thirteen, after further schooling ashore, Lyons joined the frigate Active (38-guns) and as a midshipman took part in Admiral Duckworth’s forcing of the Dardanelles and was present at the stand off with the Ottomans at Constantinople in 1807. With his white-blonde hair and slight physique Lyons liked to think he bore a passable physical resemblance to his hero Admiral Lord Nelson and was ever ready emulate his gallantry, and indeed that of his own elder brother John Lyons, who as a midshipman in Victory at Trafalgar and had been recognised by Captain Hardy with the award of special medal. Edmund Lyons seized his chance for glory in July 1811. He was then a Lieutenant in the Minden (74-guns)  and part of an expedition from Madras to retake the Dutch island of Java.

French frigates were expected daily to reinforce the Dutch, and the only anchorage available to them was Fort Marrack, mounting 54-guns, some seventy miles south west of Batavia. A night attack by 450 sailors and marines from H.M. Ships Leda and Minden was proposed and Lyons had put himself forward to lead it. Shortly before the attack was to begin, intelligence reached the raiding force that garrison had been heavily reinforced causing the operation to be cancelled as too hazardous. A few days later Lyons was detached in Minden’s launch and cutter in charge of nineteen Dutch prisoners with orders to land them at Batavia. On the 27th he landed them and discovered the Dutch at Fort Marrack had no knowledge of the expedition and did not expect an attack.  On the 29th he wrote to his Captain on board Minden telling him he had decided to make a midnight attack on the Fort with the thirty-five officers and men he had with him.

At half past twelve, with the moon fast sinking below the horizon, he pulled for the fort. Challenged by the Dutch guards who fired their muskets and raised the alarm, Lyons ran his boats ashore and entered the defences by scaling ladder, capturing the lower battery and killing three Dutch gunners in the act of putting matches to their guns. Having regrouped he took the upper battery and continued to the summit of the defences where he found the garrison formed in line to receive him. Lyons shouted he had four hundred men with him and would give no quarter. He then ordered the small band around him to fire a volley and charge. The Dutch broke and fled the Fort leaving sixteen dead and twenty-seven wounded.  A Dutch gunboat and a battery in the rear concentrated fire on Lyons’ raiding party who set about destroying the main defences and spiking the guns, while recently arrived Dutch reinforcements mustered for a counter attack. Leaving the fort gates open, Lyons prepared two twenty-four pounders, each loaded to the muzzle with musket balls to command the entrance. As the Dutch column charged the gateway, Lyons and his second in command, Midshipman Langton,  fired with deadly effect driving off the enemy. By dawn the fort was deemed incapable of protecting the French frigates and Lyons withdrew his men without a loss, leaving the British colours flying over the fort and taking then enemy’s with him.

Lyons’ triumph won him widespread approval and in time promotion to Commander, R.N., despite having acted without orders.  He ended the Napoleonic Wars in the rank of Post Captain and following a long period ashore returned to sea during the closing stages of the Greek War of Independence. In 1829, while attending the British ambassador in Constantinople, he cruised the Black Sea, and visited Sevastopol, the Caucasus, and Odessa. Twenty-five years later during the Crimean War, Lyons was to be the only senior officer with experience of the area. In 1835 he was appointed minister and plenipotentiary at Athens.  In this and subsequent diplomatic posts in Sweden, Switzerland, he wielded considerable influence. Moreover, like Nelson, he was showered with British and foreign honours. Distinguished by his ‘bravery, spirit, and commitment’, he was also loved by the officers and rank-and-file in operations which often defied or lacked the approval of his immediate superiors, whose authority over him he refused to acknowledge.

In spite of his issues with authority, Lyons's contribution to the Crimean campaign was immense, from the Allied Council of War that decided to attempt the operation. Lyons worked productively with Lord Raglan to improve supply arrangements in the Bosphorus. He secured a major diplomatic advance in May 1855, in gaining French consent to the capture of Kerch and occupation of the Sea of Azov, by which the logistic support of the Russian army in the Crimea was destroyed and the Allied victory enabled. While Lord Lyon’s enthusiasm, energy, and leadership made him an outstanding fleet commander, he was was also described by the Foreign Secretary, Lord Clarendon, whom he had disobeyed, as ‘irritable and one of the vainest men I ever knew’. His life-size statue stands today in St Paul’s Cathedral.


 

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