In this monthly blog series, our collections team write about their Object of the Month, chosen from our collection. In this month’s blog, Edward Chapman, Archives and Records Assistant, uncovers a sword in the collection with an interesting history.
Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund was established on 28 July 1803 by a group of merchants and insurance brokers and is one of the oldest surviving armed services charities in the world. Named after Lloyd’s Coffee House in London, the fund aimed to provide grants to those wounded in action and provide annuities for their families. The fund enjoyed tremendous popular support fundraising over £170,000 through public subscription by early 1804. Lloyd’s also awarded prizes to Royal Navy officers who went beyond the call of duty. The prizes were a beautifully decorated and gilded sword, vase or cash. Awarded to their recipients in highly publicized ceremonies; they served to raise morale and support for both country and the fund.
These swords came in three tiers dependent on rank, each sword was inscribed with the action for which it was awarded and a total of 165 swords were awarded up to the 24th August 1809, when the prizes were discontinued to focus on aiding wounded servicemen and their kin. The Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund Sword was very much the Victoria Cross of its day.
In our collection, we have one of the first Patriotic Fund Swords awarded. It was presented to Lieutenant James Edward Bowen on 26 August 1803 for an audacious boarding action on 27 June 1803. The inscription reads;
From The Patriotic Fund at Lloyds to Lieutnt. James Bowen of H.M.S. La Loire who Commanded one of her Boats Engaged in a Daring and Successful Attack on the French National Brig Venteux close under the Batteries of the Isle de Bas on the 27th June 1803 Recorded in the London Gazette 5th July
James Bowen was born 29 November 1782 into a naval family. His father who later became a Rear-Admiral had served aboard Queen Charlotte as Master during the Glorious First of June, and his uncle was a Captain who fought alongside Lord Nelson during the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
He began his career on several Ships of the Line, as a servant to commissioned and warrant officers. He joined his first ship Jupiter, aged 5 years old, on 7 May 1788, on which he served for nearly a year and eleven months before joining Stately. Next, he served on Queen Charlotte, where his father was First Lieutenant; then Prince George and Glory between February 1793 (10 years old) to November 1795 (13 years old). On the 10 October 1797 (14 years old), Bowen served on the Sans Pareil for little over a year as an Able Seaman before joining Leopard as a Midshipman in November 1798 (15 years old). His father captained both Prince George and Glory while Bowen was a Midshipman. He joined Argo captained by his father, on the 31 August 1799 (16 years old), his last ship before his commission where he served as Master’s Mate then Acting Lieutenant.
Bowen had six years, eight months and three weeks of sea time according to his service record but was underage (minimum qualifying age for a Lieutenant’s commission was twenty) when he passed his lieutenancy exam for a commission in 1801. Following his commission, he began his career of command aboard Puissant, a captured 3rd-rate French ship of the line that he had recommissioned as a ‘receiving hulk’ in 1803 (20 years old). ‘Receiving hulks’ housed sailors before they were assigned to a ship’s company. In 1805 he commanded Snake, an 18-gun Sloop-of-War before his promotion to Captain where he first commanded the ship Camilla and frigate Pallas in 1806 and 1810 respectively, before his final ship Phoenix from 1810 until his death.
According to his report in the National Maritime Museum and his gravestone in All Saint’s Church in Jakarta, Indonesia he had been suppressing piracy in the East Indies before his death. His last action was leading an unsuccessful attack on the pirate Pangerang Anom’s stronghold at Sambasse on the 15th November 1812. Bowen’s force withdrew under heavy fire. He later succumbed to disease as a result of his exertion on December 26th, aged 30. His obituary described him as an active, brave and skilful officer and an amiable and distinguished ornament of society.