Skip to main content

Naval General Service Medal (1793-1840): CM.1388-2009

An image of Naval General Service Medal (1793-1840)

Terms of use

These images are provided for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons License (BY-NC-ND). To license a high resolution version, please contact our image library who will discuss fees, terms and waivers.

Download this image

Creative commons explained - what it means, how you can use our's and other people's content.

Alternative views

Object information

Current Location: In storage


Mint: London
Ruler: Victoria (1837-1901)
Artist: Wyon, William
Ruler: Victoria regina (With the title of)




Just as in 1848 the extensive land campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars and the other conflicts of the pre-Victorian era were recognised by the issue of the Military General Service Medal, those serving in the Navy at the time were recognised with the Naval General Service Medal. As with the Army equivalent and the East India Company's related award, many of the battles for which the medal was awarded had been fought so long ago that few if any claimants survived.
In addition, bars were awarded for many actions whose significance and size were, despite the heroism displayed by those involved, relatively minor. The result was that many of the bars were issued in tiny numbers, with some combinations all but unique, and the medals command a very high price among collectors because of this rarity and individuality. This in turn, along with the manufacture in most cases of more bars than were eventually issued, has led to the `improvement' of many common awards where recipients' names are shared with those present at `rarer' battles. The medal also shares with the Military General Service and Army of India Medals the oddity that Queen Victoria, whose portrait they bear, was not the ruler under whom the battles for which it was awarded were fought.
Almost the last battle fought between fleets of sailing ships, and the penultimate engagement for which the NGSM was awarded, was the Battle of Navarino on 20 October 1827. Somewhat alarmingly, this engagement of more than 150 ships began accidentally, during an intervention in the Greek War of Independence, in which Greek patriots had been engaged since 1821 to shake off the rule of the Ottoman Empire. There was great sympathy for the Greek cause among the (Classically-educated) ruling classes of Britain and France, which led to a number of volunteers from these countries joining the Greek rebels, not least the poet Lord Byron. Greek raiding of commercial shipping had also led to a build-up of French, British and Russian naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean. Nonetheless, since 1825 the Ottoman army of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt had been making considerable gains against the Greek forces (not least because of mutiny by Greek sailors in 1825 for lack of pay). The three European powers decided in the Treaty of London (6 June 1827) to secure autonomy for Greece under threat of force, and thus it was that an Allied fleet of 10 ships of the line, 10 frigates and 7 smaller vessels was to be found at Navarino Bay on the west of Greece, to enter into negotiations with the Ottoman, Egyptian and Austrian fleet that had been gathered there in defiance of Allied warnings.
Negotiations did not go well and the situation became hostile. On 20 October the Allied fleets began to move to an attack position, and a message was sent to a Turkish vessel in respect of a fireship which appeared to be being lit. The Turks fired on the message boat, the British frigate whence it had come returned fire and pitched battle rapidly followed: of the 103 vessels in the Ottoman fleet only 29 remained by the time tallies were made, and these included a reinforcing squadron which had arrived too late to assist. No Allied ships were lost, although several were heavily damaged. As, unlike many of the battles for which the NGSM was awarded, the battle was (comparatively) recent, the recipients were correspondingly numerous: 1137 bars were issued for participation in the engagement.
This example was awarded to Able Bodied Seaman Edward Birch, who served in HMS Talbot. The presence of such a man aboard the vessel at this time is verified, and the Medals Roll confirms the award of the piece to him. Lester Watson purchased the medal from the dealer Lowe at some point before 1928.


History note: Gift of L. Hoyt Watson; ex Lester Watson Collection, bt Lowe before 1928

Legal notes

Given by Lester Watson through Cambridge in America, 2009

Measurements and weight

Diameter: 36.2 mm
Weight: 36.2 g

Place(s) associated

  • London

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Given (2009) by Watson, Lester


1849 - 1851

Materials used in production


Techniques used in production


Inscription or legends present

Inscription present: Bust of Victoria facing left

  • Location: Obverse
  • Type: Design

Inscription present: Britannia with trident seated sideways on seahorse

  • Location: Reverse
  • Type: Design

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: CM.1388-2009
Primary reference Number: 141482
Watson Catalogue: 296
Ordering: M-0271
Previous object number: LW.0271
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Monday 15 January 2024 Last processed: Monday 15 January 2024

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Coins and Medals

Citation for print

This record can be cited in the Harvard Bibliographic style using the text below:

The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "Naval General Service Medal (1793-1840)" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-06-17 14:45:22

Citation for Wikipedia

To cite this record on Wikipedia you can use this code snippet:

{{cite web|url= |title=Naval General Service Medal (1793-1840) |author=The Fitzwilliam Museum|accessdate=2024-06-17 14:45:22|publisher=The University of Cambridge}}

API call for this record

To call these data via our API (remember this needs to be authenticated) you can use this code snippet:

Bootstrap HTML code for reuse

To use this as a simple code embed, copy this string:

<div class="text-center">
    <figure class="figure">
        <img src=""
        alt="Naval General Service Medal (1793-1840)"
        class="img-fluid" />
        <figcaption class="figure-caption text-info">Naval General Service Medal (1793-1840)</figcaption>

Sign up for updates

Updates about future exhibitions and displays, family activities, virtual events & news. You'll be the first to know...