The Colonel’s medals

©Dix Noonan Webb

The Military General Service Medal 1793-1814 was awarded to soldiers of the British Army in recognition of their service in campaigns and battles in the Napoleonic Wars. The first medal of its kind, it was distributed to all ranks. It was not issued until 1848, which is why Queen Victoria appears on the obverse. Thus English only received it shortly before his death.

Men who had taken part in one or more of twenty-one battles and campaigns qualified; each was represented by a clasp. English’s medal has five clasps: Roliça and Vimiera in Portugal in August 1808, the battle and evacuation of Corunna in January 1809, and the final battles at Orthez and Toulouse on the French side of the Pyrenees in April 1814.

The Royal Humane Society’s Silver Medal was originally awarded only for rescues from drowning, but nowadays other kinds of rescue qualify. The Society was granted its royal status by George III, and the first award was made in 1775. The rescue for which English was honoured took place at Fort George in the autumn of 1823 and is described in these letters recommending the award:

Aldourie Inverness

20th November 1823 


                        I have the honor to enclose to you a letter received from Col Rose of Holm one of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the County of Inverness, residing in the neighbourhood of Fort George. 

                        The circumstance related is so highly honorable both to the intrepidity and humanity of an officer of your Corps, and has here excited so much deserved admiration, that I feel it my duty as chief magistrate of the County, after conveying to Captain English my testimony of approbation to bring it under your notice as his superior officer. 

                        I have the honor to be

                                    Sir etc etc 

                                    Signed Wm Fraser Tytler

To Lt Col Thackeray 

To Wm Fraser Tytler Esquire

Sheriff of Invernesshire


                         A circumstance occurred in this neighbourhood, a short time previous to your return to the Country which reflects so great credit on both the gallantry and humanity of Captain English of H.M. Engineers at Fort George that I cannot in justice avoid bringing it under your notice. The circumstance was as follows – a Boat navigated by four men and returning down the Firth in ballast was upset in a sudden squal of wind nearly opposite to Avoch, about four miles to the west of Fort George, the men contrived to get upon the bottom of the boat, but having lost their oars &c they were quite helpless, drifting to sea with a strong ebb-tide, they continued in this miserable plight (with the sea washing over them) for nearly five hours, when the current happened fortunately to carry them to within about 200 yards of the point on which Fort George stands. Their cries for assistance alarmed the Centinels; and all the inhabitants of the Fort who were not asleep (it being then nearly midnight) ran down to the point. The noise at length reached Captain English through his Servants, when he ran out to the beach and found a crowd gathered there; but so paralized from the darkness of the night and the high surf, as to be unable to offer any efficient assistance. Captain English immediately procured a long line, and at a very imminent risk swam to the boat, and by means of this line it was hauled to the shore, and three lives were thus saved. One of the four when the wreck first neared the point, attempted to swim in shore but failed and was unfortunately drowned; which must have been the inevitable fate of the other three, but for the gallantry and humanity of Captain English. I may add that these four Individuals were the fathers of nineteen young and helpless children. 

                                                            I am


                                                                                    J C Rose J.P.

Holm 14th November 1823

These testimonials were sent to Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Rennell Thackeray as English’s superior officer, which raises a problem: according to the ODNB, Thackeray did not occupy the post of Commanding Royal Engineer Scotland until November 1824. However that may be, English got his medal.