The Great Siege of Gibraltar
GREAT BRITAIN, temp. Hanover. George Augustus Eliott.
|Triton XX, Lot: 1626. Estimate $500.
Sold for $1100. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.
Governor of Gibraltar, 1777-1790. Æ Medal (60mm, 95.5 g, 12h). The Great Siege of Gibraltar. By J.P. Droz. Dated 13 September 1782 (in Roman numerals
). GEORGE AUGUSTUS ELIOTT GOVERNOR OF GIBRALTAR, bust left, wearing military uniform, hair tied in ribbon / FORTITER ET RECTE, Hercules standin facing, holding Golden Apples in right hand, resting club on ground with left. BHM 247; Eimer 794. Choice EF, warm brown surfaces with faint toning. Extremely rare.
From the J. Eric Engstrom Collection.
Hoping to take advantage of British involvement in the American War of Independence (1775-1782), Spain and France fought to retake the island of Gibraltar. Known as the Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779-1782), it was numerically one of the largest actions fought during that time, and the longest siege endured by British armed forces. Gibraltar is a rugged peninsula, located on the coast of Spain, it was considered to be one of the Pillars of Hercules, the ancient gateway between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. During the War of the Spanish Sucession (1701-1715), a combined English and Dutch fleet captured Gibraltar from the Spanish. Under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), Gibraltar was ceded to the British, who subsequently fortified it as a naval base in the Mediterranean, making its name synonymous with an impregnable fortress. In 1727, the Spanish tried unsuccessfully to lay siege to it, and again, during the War of Jenkins' Ear (1739-1748), when their plans to establish nearby trenches was thwarted by the strengthening of the British squadron there by Admiral Vernon, fresh from his victory at Portobello (see lot 1624 for a Portobello medal of Admiral Vernon). In 1779, a combined French and Spanish operation once again laid siege to Gibraltar, as part of each country's attempt to help the other recover territory lost to Britain.
At the time of the siege, British forces on Gibraltar were under the command of George Augustus Eliott, its governor from 1770 until his death in 1790. A veteran of the Royal Engineers, he once served in the Prussia Army under Friedrich Wilhelm I, and was an Aide-de-camp to George II, Eliott distinguishing himself during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). He was second-in-command at the capture of Havana in 1762. A few years before his appointment to Gibraltar, Eliott was made a Privy Counsellor and temporary governor of Londonderry. Anticipating the siege, Eliott applied his experience in the Engineers by shoring up Gibraltar's fortifications. Prior to the Grand Assault of 13 September 1782, the Spanish attempted to starve the British garrison. Eliott, ever an abstemious individual, in a letter posted during the initial period of the siege (late September 1779), stated simply, "Nothing new. G.A.E.."
On 13 September 1782, the combined French and Spanish forces launched their great attack against Gibraltar. Known as the Grand Assault, ten newly engineered "floating batteries", as 18 ships-of-the-line, 40 gunboats and 20 bomb-vessels, were tasked to destroy the fortifications. Once this was completed, a combined land force of 35,000 Spanish and 7,000 to 8,000 French troops, as well as 86 cannon, would assault those same fortifications once they had been demolished. Over 80,000 spectators occupied the adjacent hills over the Spanish border, among whom were members of the Spanish aristocracy, hoping to watch, "the British flag trailed in the dust." (R. Chartrand and P. Courcelle, Gibraltar 1779-1783: The Great Siege [Gibraltar: 2006], p. 65). But, when the guns of the floating batteries opened fire, the British garrison replied with red-hot shot to set fire to and sink them. Among the three floating batteries that blew up as a result of this red-hot shot was the Pastora, commanded by Rear-Admiral Buenaventura Moreno. To commemorate this, badges, possibly manufactured within the fortress and hand engraved with a design of the event and the names of the recipients, were presented to the members of the actual battery that sank the ship (see lot 1627).