A Pair of Naval Reward Presentation Entree Dishes and Covers, 1807
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Height: 7in (18cm)
Length: 12in (30cm)
Width: 8in (20cm)
Weight: No.1, 50.0 troy oz (1557g) & No.2, 50.8 troy oz (1580g).
Silver. Of elongated octagonal form, each dish engraved to the interior with initials and armorial crest of a demi-Saracen holding a lance for Captain John Christopher Lochner, H.E.I.C.S. The numbered covers (1 & 2) similarly engraved to the exterior, being of an unusual Chinoiserie design with pineapple knopped finials, and inscribed within a border of victor’s laurels: ’Presented by / The EAST INDIA COMPANY to / CAPTAIN JOHN CHRISTOPHER LOCHNER / in Teftimony of his Gallant Conduct in the / defence of their SHIP OCEAN on the 15th. Feb.1804 / when a FLEET of 16 of the COMPANYS SHIPS under the orders of / COMMODORE SIR NATHANIEL DANCE / beat off a FRENCH SQUADRON under the Command of / ADMIRAL LINOIS confifting of the MARENGO of 84 Guns / three FRIGATES and a SLOOP.’
Maker’s mark of William Bennett. Hallmarked London 1807.
On 31 January 1804, a convoy of sixteen East India Company merchant ships and eleven smaller vessels, all under the command of Commodore Nathaniel Dance, set sail from Canton to Europe with a cargo of tea, silk and porcelain valued at around £8m – the equivalent of over £709m today. The fleet did not have any naval escorts, and though the East Indiamen were heavily armed for merchants, carrying nominal batteries of between 30 and 36 guns, they were no match for disciplined and professional naval forces. As it headed for Strait of Malacca, the convoy had swollen to include a Portuguese merchant ship from Macau, and a vessel from Botany Bay, Australia. Four warships were then spotted on the horizon off the island of Pulo Aura. They turned out to be a French squadron commanded by Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Léon Durand Linois, who had been despatch to the Indian Ocean on the express orders of Napoleon to interrupt British trade with Qing Dynasty China.
Dance had two choices. He could turn and run, but he knew that his ships would easily be captured. The alternative was to face the French, raise ensigns as if for battle, and hope his merchantmen were mistaken for British men-of-war. He did, they were, and after an exchange of fire the French withdrew. If the French had seized the cargo, both the Honourable East India Company and Lloyd’s of London would suffered catastrophic financial loss. The achievement of a convoy of merchant ships not only escaping without loss from a French squadron, but going so far as to attack, drive off, and then pursue their would-be predators, was widely hailed as a signal victory. Dance’s convoy resumed course towards the Malacca Strait, and, having met two British ships of the line from Admiral Peter Rainier's fleet on 28 February, were escorted as far as Saint Helena whence they met with other British merchant ships, and were escorted to Britain by Royal Navy warships, arriving in August 1804.
At a time when Britain faced an invasion threat that was only lifted by the victory at Trafalgar in October 1805, The Naval Chronicle was unstinting in its praise. ‘We cannot sufficiently express our opinion of the coolness, intrepidity, and skill, with which the Commander of this Fleet, unaccustomed as he was to the practice of naval engagements, provided against every emergency, and prepared his plans, either for attack or defence, as the manoeuvres of the French Admiral might render it expedient for him to adopt either the one of the other. His conduct was worthy of the experience and science of our most approved and veteran Admirals, while the ardour and promptitude with which his orders were obeyed and his plans executed by the several Captains under his command, may have been rivalled, but can scarcely be exceeded in the most renowned of our naval exploits.’
Dance had most probably been inspired by the Bali Strait Incident of 1796 when six East Indiamen were similarly beset by French warships and won the day by bravado and bluff. The insurance underwriters of Lloyd’s Coffee House had long raised money for the Royal Navy’s wounded and for the dependents of those killed. Now, buoyed by public contributions since the outset of the war, it was decided also to reward those of the Commodore Dance’s India Fleet who distinguished themselves with ‘successful exertions of value or merit’. Rewards took the form of valuable silverware, a sword to the value of £30, £50, or £100 or a sum of money. Captain Lochner of the Ocean was presented with a £50 Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund sword for his part in the Battle of Pulo Aura. Such presentations officially ceased in 1809, and this was the only occasion when swords were presented to officers of the merchant service. The battle, moreover, was demonstration of the reliability and discipline of the lower decks, and perhaps exemplifies autobiographical accounts of sailors deserting the Royal Navy for a ‘cruize’ in an East Indiaman. Given the financial disaster that was averted in the City of London, it is pleasing to report that it was not only the officers but the seamen too that were rewarded by the East India Company.
Captain John Christopher Lochner (1773-1852), was born in Tripoli, Barbary Coast, the son of Christof Conrad Lochner (1729-1779), a German-born Tripoli merchant and the Danish Consul there between 1771 and 1776. John Christopher entered the East India Company’s maritime service at an early age and by the time of the declaration of war with Revolutionary France was a third officer in the East Indiaman Europa, commanded by his maternal uncle Captain Applegath. In 1797 he was first officer in the ‘Private-man-of-war’ King George when on the homeward leg the second mate assaulted the captain, who carried a letter of marque, while ashore at the Cape, resulting in a Court Martial held aboard H.M.S. Stately. Had the assault taken place at sea Lochner’s shipmate would have undoubtedly faced the death penalty for Mutiny under the Royal Navy’s Articles of War, to which such merchantmen were subject,
In 1802 Lochner rejoined the East Indiaman Ocean for her second China voyage as first lieutenant. Ocean was originally armed with 26 6-pounder guns and was manned by a complement of 125 men under the command of Captain Andrew Patton. Britain and France were temporarily at peace when they sailed from the Downs on 13 October 1802 for the Cape of Good Hope, Madras, Bombay and China, but following Napoleon Bonaparte’s order to detain British citizens in France war was declared again on 18 May 1803. Captain Patton died at Bombay the following month and posthumously received a new letter of marque dated 1 July 1803 for the Ocean now with a crew of 140 men and 36 guns. The command of Ocean thus devolved on Lochner eight months before of the Battle of Pulo Aura.
Lochner went on to make further voyages to China during the Napoleonic Wars in Company ships, and eventually became a shipowner himself. Commodore Dance, who was the nephew of the architect and portraitist George Dance the younger, R.A., declined a baronetcy but accepted a knighthood and enjoyed a well earned retirement. As for Admiral Liniois, he was perpetually embarrassed about his miscalculation, but lives on as a minor, but highly respected, character in the Aubrey-Maturin book series by Patrick O’Brian, while the Battle of Pulo Aura itself is a feature of Frederick Marryat’s 1832 novel Newton Forster, or The Merchant Service.
Defeat of Admiral Linois by Commodore Dance, February 15th 1804 (1804), William Daniell. National Maritime Museum