Naval General Service Medal 1793-1840, 1 Clasp: Algiers, awarded to Private 2nd Class John Willcox / Wilcox, Royal Marines

London Medal Company Naval General Service Medal 1.

A fine unique name on the roll Naval General Service Medal 1793-1840, 1 Clasp: Algiers, awarded to Private 2nd Class John Willcox / Wilcox, Royal Marines, who served aboard the 40 gun Endymion class frigade H.M.S. Severn from 11th March 1816, being present at the bombardment of Algiers on 27th August 1816, though some questionable record keeping has him aboard the 74 gun ship of the line H.M.S. Minden, which was also present.   

Naval General Service Medal 1793-1840, 1 Clasp: Algiers; (JOHN WILLCOX.)

Condition: severe edge bruising, and contact wear to both faces, hence about Fine.

John Willcox is a unique name on the Naval General Service Medal roll. Willcox was born in Batley, Yorkshire, and enlisted into the Royal Marines when aged 22 on 25th April 1805, joining the Chatham Division. He is shown variously as Wilcox / Willcox in his records. Willcox is listed as having served as a Marine 2nd Class aboard the 40 gun Endymion class frigade H.M.S. Severn from 11th March 1816, and between February and July 1816, Severn was refitting at Chatham for foreign service. In February 1816 the Hon. Frederick W. Aylmer assumed command of Severn. He then sailed her to Gibraltar and then took part in the bombardment of Algiers on 27 August 1816.

The British prepared an expedition against the forts and shipping at Algiers in retaliation for depredations against the crews of numerous small vessels. A fleet under Lord Exmouth in the 100 gun H.M.S. Queen Charlotte, set sail from Plymouth. Anchored of Gibraltar Bay, he was joined by a number of Dutch ships under Vice Admiral Baron Van de Capellan. The combined expedition had taken on a difficult target as the fortifications on all sides, and the water around was so shallow that large ships could not approach within reach. On 27th August, the British and Dutch ships lay outside Algiers almost becalmed and a message was sent ashore demanding compliance with a number of conditions. When no answer was received by the 2 pm deadline, the fleet bore up to attack, but were fired upon first, a sustained and fierce action then ensued. By 7 pm the mortar and rocket boats had set all the vessels within the harbour on fire and flames soon reached the arsenal and storehouses on the mole, and the city was also on fire in several parts from the shells thrown by the bomb vessels. An ordnance sloop, charged with 143 barrels of gunpowder was then run on shore and exploded at 9 pm. The fleet continued a tremendous cannonade until about 10 pm. With the city greatly damaged, the fleet withdrew and was soon beyond reach of the enemy's shot. The next day contact was made with the authorities in Algiers and soon the Dey of Algiers had agreed to British demands.

British casualties were heavy, though those of the Algerines were much heavier. Severn herself had three men killed and 34 wounded. As a result of the attack, the Dey agreed to abolish the enslavement of Christians in perpetuity, and to free all slaves whatsoever then in Algiers. The British also destroyed four large frigates, five large corvettes, numerous gunboats, and numerous merchant vessels. King Ferdinand of the Two Sicilies bestowed on Aylmer the cross of a Commander of the Royal Sicilian Order of St. Ferdinand and of Merit. Other captains and officers received similar awards. In May 1818 the participants in the battle were granted an award of £100,000, and in 1847 the Admiralty issued the Naval General Service Medal with clasp Algiers to the 1328 surviving claimants from the battle.

Willcox himself has some confusing entries in his musters, being in fact listed as having been aboard H.M.S. Minden at the time of the bombardment of Algiers, however this is incorrect, in terms of the dating, and it would appear that a conflicting record from the roll of crew of H.M.S. Severn, is more accurate, in that it states that Willcox was aboard Severn for her entire commission through to 2nd October 1818, and the very fact that there is only one John Willcox / Wilcox at the bombardment of Algiers would confirm this, though H.M.S. Minden, a 74 gun ship of the line, was also present at the bombardment of Algiers.

Severn initially remained in the Mediterranean, first under Captain James Gordon and then under Captain Robert Spencer. From May 1817 Severn saw service off the Kent and Sussex coasts in the Royal Naval Coast Blockade for the Prevention of Smuggling. under the command of Captain William ("Flogging Joey") McCulloch, scourge of the smugglers. Willcox himself was posted off Severn as previously mentioned on 2nd October 1818, and returned to No.2 Company at Chatham, being eventually discharged from the Royal Marines on 25th September 1828, and he may well have seen service aboard Minden from October 1818 through to 17th November 1820 in the East Indies, his date of entry having been put in error, and hence causing the confusion. A Greenwich Hospital Pensioners record was created for him in 1854, however no complete record of his services was created.

13 June 2017