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Lot 6


Estimate: £5,000 - £8,000
Bidding ended. Lot is unsold.

a label to the mounting inscribed:

       “Extract from History of Norwich, Ensign of the French Ship Genereux taken in the Mediterranean February 18th, 1800, by his Majesty’s ship Foudroyant and squadron commanded by Lord Nelson. The Genereux with the Guillaume Tell, once taken by the Foudroyant, Lion and Penelope were the only ships which escaped, the memorable victory obtained by Lord Nelson over the French at the Nile August 1st 1798, Presented to Sir Edward Berry Captain of his Majesty’s Ship Foudroyant.” “Presented to Mr Augustus Stilt by his friend Samuel Clarke Junr. Norwich 1867” indicating that the mounted fragments included belong to the French battleship 'Le Genereux', captured by Admiral Lord Nelson and Captain Sir Edward Berry on HMS Foudroyant at the Battle of the Malta Convoy, February 1800, the frame measuring 37cm x 44cm

Lot Essay


Launched in 1795 from Rochefort, the Genereux was a seventy-four gun Temeraire class ship of the line, commanded by Captain Renaudin. It was also the flag-ship of Admiral Jean-Baptiste Perree. Nelson and Captain Berry both had personal reasons for wanting the Genereux captured. For Nelson, it was one of only two French ships-o-the-line (the other being the Guillaume Tell) which had escaped after the French fleet’s defeat at the Battle of the Nile (1st August 1798), Nelson’s greatest naval victory. Berry’s reasons were more personal and poignant. On 18th August 1798, whilst carrying despatches regarding the Nile victory on board the smaller HMS Leander, Berry had encountered Le Genereux, and after a battle during which the ship suffered 35 killed and 57 wounded, he was forced to surrender. Berry and his men were taken prisoners on board the Genereux, whose crew proved brutal captors, robbing Berry of all his possessions including his uniforms, and even plundering the surgeon’s instruments as he was performing amputations. Berry was held prisoner until December, when an exchange with French prisoners took place. It was with particular relish therefore that both Nelson and Berry encountered the Genereux off Malta in February 1800.

The Battle of the Malta Convoy, 18th February 1800

Only two achievements were required to complete the Mediterranean aspect of Nelson’s career: The recapture of Malta, and the taking of the two French ships which had escaped him after the Nile. The navy’s sixteen month long blockade of Malta (The Siege of Malta) had failed to provoke any confrontation with the enemy, but Admiral Keith had ordered Nelson to the Mediterranean, on board his flag-ship HMS Foudroyant. The ship was captained by Sir Edward Berry, one of Nelson’s legendary “Band of Brothers.”

It was a remarkable piece of luck, Mahan [1]  states, “The division had no sooner arrived at the island, than a frigate brought word of a French squadron having been seen off the west end of Sicily……..Keith took his own station off the mouth of the harbour, placed other ships where he thought best, and signalled Nelson to chase windward with three ships-of-the-line, which were afterwards joined by a fourth……..The next day the wind shifted to north-west, but it was not until the morning of the 18th that the enemy was discovered. Guns were then heard to the northward by those on board the Foudroyant which made sail in pursuit, and soon sighted HMS Alexander chasing four French sail.” Mahon further quotes an eye-witness account of this action by a midshipman on the quarter-deck of the Foudroyant, the scene opening with a hail from a Lieutenant at the masthead :

“Deck there! The stranger is evidently a man of war – she is a line-of-battleship, my Lord, and going large on the starboard tack.”

“Ah! An enemy, Mr Stains. I pray God it may be Le Genereux. The signal for a general chase, Sir Ed’ard, make the Foudroyant fly!”

“This spoke the heroic Nelson, and every exertion that emulation could inspire was used to crowd the squadron with canvas, the Northumberland taking the lead, with the flag-ship close on her quarter.”

“This will not do, Sir Ed’ard; it is certainly Le Genereux, and to my flag-ship she can alone surrender. Sir Ed’ard, we must and shall beat the Northumberland.”

[Le Genereux was in fact fired upon first by the smaller HMS Success, one of its several broadsides killing Admiral Perree.]

The midshipman’s journal continues :

“The Success has hove-to athwart-hawse of the Genereux, and is firing her larboard broadside. The Frenchman has hoisted his tr-colour, with a Rear-Admiral’s flag.”

“Bravo – Success, at her again.”

“She has wore round. My Lord, and firing her starboard broadside. It has winged her, my Lord – her flying kites are flying away all together. The enemy is close on the Success, who must receive her tremendous broadside. The Genereux opens fire on her little enemy, and every person stands aghast, afraid of the consequences. The smoke clears away, and there is the Success, crippled, it is true, but, bull-dog like, bearing up after the enemy.”

“The signal for the Success to discontinue the action, and com under my stern” said Lord Nelson, “she has done well, for her size. Try a shot from the lower deck at her, Sir Ed’ard.”

It goes over here.

“Beat to quarters, and fire coolly and deliberately at her masts and yards.”

“Le Genereux at this moment opened fire on us; and, as a shot passed through the mizzen stay-sail, Lord Nelson, patting one of the youngsters on the head, asked him jocularly how he relished the music; and observing something like alarm depicted on his countenance, consoled his with the information, that Charles XII ran away from the first shot he heard, though afterwards he was called “The Great”, and deservedly, from his bravery. “I therefore”, said Lord Nelson, “hope much from you in future.”

“Here the Northumberland opened her fire, and down came the tri-coloured ensign, amidst the thunder of our united cannon.”

This action is now known as the Battle of the Malta Convoy. The French Admiral Perree was killed by the first blow from HMS Success and, having little stomach for further action, her Captain struck her flag at t 17.30 hrs, Le Genereux surrendered to Admiral Nelson on board Sir Edward Berry’s Foudroyant. According to an eye-witness (see below), Captain Berry had the French flag parcelled up and sent to the Mayor of his home town Norwich as a trophy.

Later that evening, Nelson wrote to Emma Hamilton : “I have got her, Le Genereux – thank God – 12 out of 13, only the Guillaume Tell remaining – I am after the others – I have not suffered the French admiral to contaminate the Foudroyant by setting foot in it.”

Malta surrendered to the British in September 1800. The Guillaume Tell was captured on March 31st. Le Genereux became HMS Genereux, serving in the Royal Navy. She was broken up in 1816.

Captain Sir Edward Berry (1768-1831):

Berry was a fearless, swashbuckling- and some would say foolhardy – sailor, one of Nelson’s original “Band of Brothers,” Among Nelson’s sea captains, only Collingwood had such a long and distinguished naval career. Berry was present at many of the great battles of the period. He had served in the American Revolutionary Wars, and unlike Nelson was with Howe at the Glorious First of June (1794). He had served with Nelson since his appointment to the Agamemnon in 1796 and was present with Nelson at the Battle of Cape St Vincent (1797) and the Battle of the Nile (1798). At the Battle of Cape St Vincent, “The first man,” wrote Nelson, “who jumped into the enemy’s mizzen chains was Captain Berry, late my first lieutenant.” In 1797, Berry was taken to the Royal Court by Nelson. On King George remarking on the loss of Nelson’s right arm, Nelson presented Berry as his right hand. At the Battle of the Nile, as Captain of Nelson’s flag-ship, he caught the wounded Nelson in his arms. In December 1797, Berry was knighted and given the Freedom of the City of London. Norwich gave him a hero’s welcome too.

In 1796, Berry had married his cousin Louisa, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Forster of Norwich. Louisa became one of Fanny Nelson’s closest friends.

Berry and his ship the Agamemnon joined Nelson on 13th October 1805, just in time to play a crucial role in the Battle of Trafalgar. This prompted Nelson to exclaim : “Here comes Berry! Now we shall have a battle!”

Berry died on February 13th 1831. Leaving no children, his baronetcy died with him.

The French Tri-Colour Ensign

The national flag of a ship, called the Ensign, is flown from the stern flagpole of the ship, and international law requires that a ship flies its country’s flag in wartime. During times of battle, large versions of naval ensigns, called battle ensigns, were flown, the size of the Genereux’s ensign being approximately 50 x 27 feet. The tricolour of red white and blue was adapted as the national flag of France following the revolution of 1789. When Le Genereux “struck her colours”, she hauled down her ensign as a token of submission. Under these circumstances, it then becomes an offence for either ship to fire on the other.

A local Norfolk newspaper [2] much later in 1871 recorded an eye-witness’s account of the taking of this flag :

“Died, in his 93rd year, at Alexandra Road, Norwich, Christopher Bunting. He was present at the capture of the French ship Genereux, whose ensign now hangs in St Andrew’s Hall. In his early days he was a steward in the Royal Navy, and not only saw the ensign strike to the Foudroyant, but on the quarterdeck of that vessel saw it packed and addressed to Robert Harvey, Esq., then (1800) Mayor of Norwich, little imagining that he would subsequently reside in Norwich, and for more than half a century have the opportunity of seeing the flag decorating the walls of its principal building.”

Whilst Berry claimed the tricolour, Nelson claimed the French Admiral’s rank flag for himself, and sent it to Naples as a gift to Young Prince Leopold, son of his friend the King of Naples. [4]

The Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service [3] later gave further information on the whereabouts and state of the flag before its restoration:

“French tricolor, ensign  of “Le Genereux” blue, white and red vertical woollen bands with cotton and wool lining; a plaited cord of linen or jute terminating in a wooden toggle enclosed within a fabric sleeve, late 18th century, captured in the Mediterranean.”

"The ensign was later displayed with a shield bearing the following handwritten inscription : “The Ensign of the French ship GENEREUX taken in the Mediterranean, Feb 18th 1800 By His Majesty’s Ship Foudroyant, and Squadron Commanded by Lord Nelson.”

“The ensign was presented to the Corporation of Norwich by Sir Edward Berry in 1800. It hung in St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich for most if not all of the 19th century before being displayed in Norwich Castle. The flag is in extremely poor condition, fragile and dirty.”

“It is a simple French tricolor, measuring over 15 x 8 metres, is made of woven wool and cotton and is in a poor and dirty state. Estimates of the cost of conserving it to enable it to be displayed range from £70,000 - £340,000 depending on the extent of the work required. It could never be draped or hung on display again, so any display solution would need to involve proper support of the white flag. In other words a massive space would be required. It is self-evidently one of the most important maritime artefacts surviving from this crucial period.”

The flag undertook extensive repairs and was put on display in the Castle Museum, Norwich in September 2017. Details of the restoration were published in the Nelson Dispatch of Autumn 2017. 


[1]. Mahan, A.T. The Life of Nelson. The Embodiment of the Sea Power of Great Britain (1898). Vole 2, p23-24.

[2]. Norfolk Chronicle, January 18th, 1871

[3]. www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/Research/Collections/Social_History_Collections/Maritime/Nelsoniana/French_flag_of_Le_Genereux.

[4]. Bush Advocate, Vol V, Issue 360, 30 Aug 1890, Page 6. Quoted in W. Clark Russell’s “Nelson.”

Provenance: Purchased from a dealer, May 2013, who inherited it from his grandfather Antony John Bradfield Cowdery, who was by repute a second cousin twice removed to Lord Nelson.

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