18 May 2013

Napoleon, Nelson, Menzies ...and Newcastle, Australia

Leonard Joel Auctioneers in Melbourne provided this historical evidence, based on Royal Marines Historical Society records (see reference). The auction is on 19th May 2013.

Charles A.F.N. Menzies (1783-1866) was born in Perthshire in Scotland, the son of an army captain. The young lad was educated at Stirling and, at age 15 commissioned as a second Lieutenant in the Royal Marines, serving on HMS Holden with Lord Nelson's squadron off Boulogne during the blockade of the French Invasion Fleet.

In 1803 Menzies sailed on HMS Calcutta to transport convicts to Australia and shortly after was promoted to lieutenant. In 1804 he was in com­mand of a detachment of marines that crushed an uprising near Castle Hill in New South Wales by a group of Irish convicts, who were political prisoners from an earlier uprising in Ireland. The Australian skirmish must have been horrible.

In March 1804 Governor Philip Gidley decided to separate the worst offenders to establish a new settlement on Coal River. He accepted Lieutenant Menzies' offer to found and take command of the new settlement. The group sailed from Sydney on the Lady Nelson and two other small ships, and soon arrived at the new settlement that Menzies initially named Kingstown, but was re-named Newcastle by Governor King. From the very beginning of this small settlement, Newcastle was to be a work camp, from which coal and timber would be taken for the benefit of the main settlement in Sydney.

General Sir Charles Menzies with sword, by Daniel Cunliffe
Oil on canvas, 54 x 38 cm, 1843
Royal Marines Museum in Hampshire

Although still only in his early 20s this Royal Marines officer acquitted himself well and by the time he resigned his position in March 1805 to return home to Britain, Newcastle was estab­lished.

Menzies resumed active service soon after returning home. He commanded the Royal Marines attached to HMS Minerva and was involved in many actions. In June 1806 Menzies was in one of the Minerva's boats that were responsible for cutting out five boats from under Cape Finisterre, the Spanish scene of many naval actions during the Napoleonic wars. He led a landing party which rushed the fort; in fact because Menzies was the first to enter, it was he who lowered the enemy's colours and safely raised the British flag.

In July 1806 he planned an attack on a barge that captured a Spanish privateer and was instrumental in cutting out a Spanish vessel of war, landing at the Spanish Bay of Arosa and taking prisoners. Menzies also led his men at the capture of Fort Guardia.

In 1813 Menzies was promoted to Captain of the Royal Marine Artil­lery. In 1817 he married the daughter of the physician to the Duke of Gloucester and had children. His career progressed smoothly until he was the Colonel Commandant of the Portsmouth Royal Marines.

Menzies was appointed aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria in 1851, then knighted and appointed General in 1857. He died peacefully in old age. Clearly he a significant military man, yet I have three important questions:
1. Why was Charles Menzies given a valuable Patriotic Fund sword that displayed the crowned arms and cypher of George III?
2. What was Charles Menzies’ importance to early Australian history?
3. Why did the sword come to Australia?

Since 1803 Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund has worked closely with armed forces charities to identify the individuals and their families who are in urgent need of support. The contributors created the fund to give grants to those wounded in service to the Crown and to set up annuities to the dependents of those killed in action. The Fund’s prizes, awarded to those British combatants who went beyond the call of duty, could be money, a sword or a piece of silver plate.

Charles Menzies was an obvious candidate for a Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund award. Not only was he brave and full of leadership; Menzies also led his men at the capture of Fort Guardia in 1806 when he was severely wounded and his right arm was amputated. He received a sword from the Fund.

Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund sword
Awarded to Lieutenant Charles Menzies of HMS Minerva, 1806
Leonard Joel Auctions, Melbourne 

His sword has a curved single-edged hollow-ground blade. The blue ground is intricately etched and gilt with a naval trophy, figures of Britannia and Hope, the crowned arms and cypher of George III, cornucopia and flora. The inscription says 'FROM THE PATRIOTIC FUND AT LLOYDS TO LIEUT. CHARLES MENZIES OF THE ROYAL MARINES, FOR THE DISTINGUISHED COURAGE & BRAVERY DISPLAYED BY HIM IN COMMAND OF THE ROYAL MARINES AT THE STORMING FORT FINISTERRE, BEING THE FIRST WHO MOUNTED THE BREACH AND PLANTED THE BRITISH COLOURS ON THE RAMPARTS ON THE 22ND JUNE - RECORDED IN THE LONDON GAZETTE OF THE 15TH JULY 1806.

There is an engraved inscription 'R. TEED Dress Sword Maker to the PATRIOTIC FUND Lancaster Court STRAND'; a red leather belt with embroidered silver-gilt thread, with gilt mounts, bosses in the form of lion's heads, and a fitted mahogany case lined with blue velvet.

Charles Menzies did not have this sword during his time in Australia. He had already returned to Britain in 1805 and was not awarded his Lloyds Patriotic Fund award until 1806. But any direct physical links with the larger-than-life characters whose energy helped build Australia are rare and to be treasured. Charles Menzies had an important role in establishing Newcastle, so the good burghers of Newcastle want the sword to rest there. It could sit next to the Menzies Commission, the original document appointing Lieutenant Charles Menzies and the Royal Marines to command and superintend the settlement of Newcastle. Signed by Governor King in March 1804, this ink-on-vellum warrant was presented to the Newcastle School of Arts in 1930 by a British family.

How did the sword get to Australia’s most famous and long serving prime minister Sir Robert Menzies (1894–1978)? Apparently the sword had been given to the prime minister by a British relative in the 1950s, believing he was related to the famous General Sir Charles Menzies. No evidence was found to support the claim, but the sword nonetheless remained in Australia for many years at one of the prime minister’s clubs in Melbourne. If the London-based relative wants the sword back, he needs to bid at the Leonard Joel auction this week (estimate: $80,000-120,000). 

Reference: 'The Battle of Hernai and General Sir Charles Menzies, Daniel Cunliffe's Royal Marine Artillery Paintings by Major Alastair Donald', Royal Marines Historical Society, The Sheet Anchor, Volume XXII No.2, Portsmouth, 1997.


the foto fanatic said...


Almost the Elgin Marbles in reverse...

Hels said...

Foto fanatic

Sometimes the story of how a historical document or object got to its (final?) home is as fasinating as the details recorded in the document or on the object.

I wouldn't have known about General Menzies at all, had the sword not been pushed into prominence in the Australian antiques world.

Hels said...


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Often the true provenance of an object becomes fuzzy and questionable over time, but the lineage seems clear here, and the sword itself is elaborately inscribed, both by the maker and by the Patriotic Fund. Many objects are only supported by tradition ("This was great-grandfather Menzies' sword...").

In America presentation swords from the 18th or 19th centuries are highly prized among military relics, so I imagine this sword should do well at auction.
--Road to Parnassus

Pat said...

As you know, I lived in Newcastle until we married. It was originally intended as a giant workhouse for very rough convicts. Especially since coal mining was a miserable job then. Although the penal settlement improved after a few decades, my Newcastle was always a tough city.

Hels said...


Ceremonial swords might not have been useful in battle, but they must have looked amazing in ceremonies and paintings. And think of the high status bestowed on the recipient.

I agree that the true provenance of an object is almost always open to question. Fortunately in this case Lloyd's Patriotic Fund awards were very well documented and preserved.

Hels said...


I suspect Newcastle's toughness over the 200 years was more related to its importance as a coal centre, rather than its originas a nasty penal settlement.

Leon and Sue Sims said...

Great insight as always.
Have you ever posted on Launceston's history. Sue and I considering retiring at Australia's third city. Is that true?

Hels said...

Leon and Sue

Here are the city populations, Australian Bureau of Statistics, July 2012.

Rank City Pop
1 Sydney 4,667,283
2 Melbourne 4,246,345
3 Brisbane 2,189,878
4 Perth 1,897,548
5 Adelaide 1,277,174
6 Gold Coast 590,889
7 Newcastle 418,958
8 Canberra 411,609
9 Sunshine Coast 285,169
10 Wollongong 282,099
11 Hobart 216,959
12 Geelong 179,042
13 Townsville 171,971
14 Cairns 142,528
15 Darwin 131,678
16 Toowoomba 110,472
17 Ballarat 95,021
18 Bendigo 88,668
19** Launceston 86,109
20 Albury-Wodonga 84,982
21 Mackay 81,594

Have a look at the blog called Art Deco and Modernism, Tasmanian Architecture