NAVAL GENERAL SERVICE MEDAL
NAVAL GENERAL SERVICE MEDAL, 1793-1840, 2 clasps, 1 June 1794, 23rd June 1795 (William Burk.); officially impressed.
Lightly toned, polished and proudly worn but otherwise very well kept, about very fine.
Boatswain William Burk was born at Plymouth Dock, c.1770, and first came aboard HMS Nautilus (16) as an Ordinary Seaman in 1785, at the early age of 15. Progressing to Able Seaman within just two months, he continued to serve aboard the Nautilus until late 1788, serving largely within British coastal waters. In early 1789 however, he joined HMS Perseverance, and found great adventure aboard that vessel for nearly 4 years, travelling west via Rio de Janeiro to Madras, Bombay and Port Cornwallis during his service in the East Indies. He returned to Portsmouth in 1793, when the Perseverance was paid off, joining HMS Boyne briefly, before moving aboard HMS Royal George.
William Burk served as an Able Seaman aboard Admiral Hood’s flagship HMS Royal George (100) during the action involving the defeat of the French Fleet on the ‘Glorious First of June’ 1794, which resulted in the capture of six French ships, and the destruction of one. The Royal George was heavily involved against the French Sans Pareil and Repulicain, and as recorded much later at the time of William Burk's retirement on the 3rd of June 1847, the Morning Post, of London, recorded that: "William Burk...in the heat of the action, when the Royal George, in consequence of her spars being shot away - was fighting without a flag, climbed with nails in his mouth and hammer between his teeth up the shattered stump and nailed the colours to the mast..." (There is only one William Burk recorded aboard the Royal George at this time, so it must be this same recipient).
Following another promotion, presumably as a result of his bold efforts that day, Quarter-Master’s Mate William Burk continued aboard the Royal George, and was also involved in the action against the French Fleet which took place on the 23rd of June, 1795, off the Isle de Groix, Brittany. Here, a further three French ships of the line were captured, under the leadership of Admiral Bridport. He remained aboard the Royal George for some 6 years service in total, largely within British coastal waters, during which time he was promoted to the rank of Midshipman in 1796 on the 1st of July, 1796. He served for nearly 4 and half years as a Midshipman aboard the Royal George, and during the latter part of this service the vessel served in Mediterranean waters.
Following a very brief service as AB aboard HMS Belleisle, he took what might be considered a sideways move through his promotion to the rank of Boatswain (in commission) aboard the Augusta yacht. We can assume that this move to Boatswain (rather than chasing a Lieutenancy) was made for practical and social reasons - since at the age of 36, and having come to the rank of Midshipman through merit rather than as a Gentleman cadet with aristocratic connections, he may have simply have chosen to take a meaningful pay-rise over the possibility of being caught in ‘limbo’ between promotions, and even having to face officers’ examinations. Furthermore, as a man of more humble beginnings, he may never have felt fully comfortable or indeed welcome in the company of well-to-do junior officers of better means.
Boatswain William Burk served briefly aboard the Princess Augusta before coming aboard HMS Leda in February 1801 for Mediterranean service. Whilst aboard Leda, he was kept very busy fighting and interfering with French vessels and privateers including: the capture of the Bolton (20) on the 20th of March (itself very recently captured by French privateers), the French ship Desiree on the 5th of April, the Portuguese vessel Caesar on the 9th of April, the French privateer Jupiter (16) on the 1st of May, the Portuguese vessel Tejo on the very same day, and finally the French Venturose.
William Burke would also have been present aboard Leda at Aboukir Bay in July 1801, in support of the recently arrived British forces sent to engage and remove the French Expeditionary Force left behind by Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt. He served as Boatswain for nearly 5 years aboard this ship before his discharge in 1806 - taking a position at the Naval Yard in Table Bay, South Africa (this announcement made with spelling BURKE). He appears to have remained in South Africa, as a Boatswain of the Yard, until 1810. Some time later, a man of the same name appears in 1835, as a ‘William Burk - Boatswain of the Yard’ in Plymouth (as recorded by the Royal Kalendar, 1835) presumably the same man, at the age of 65.
Genealogical research shows him as retired on half pay, residing in Stonehouse, Devonport at the time of the 1841 census (aged 70). It appears that he retired c.1846-47, as the previously mentioned article in the Morning Post, 1847, notes his as 'late boatswain of the Devonport Dockyard...respected by all who knew him. Similar research appears to show William Burk as having died also at Stonehouse, in October, 1851, at the age of 81 – concluding a long and extremely colourful career with the Royal Navy during this classic era of Naval warfare (this also goes some way to explaining his proudly polished medal).
Sold with copy service papers, roll mentions, a research summary page covering the details of his service, and a quantity of useful genealogical research. Worthy of further research, particularly in his years between 1810 and 1835.