Original British Napoleonic Naval Dirk of Rear Admiral William Carnegie Lord Northesk Third in Command at Trafalgar
Original Item: One of a Kind. Originating from a British Collection, the owner now deceased, IMA obtained this amazing Dirk more over a decade ago. It is a rather exotic Naval Dirk having a 17 1/2" straight single edged blade and gilt brass or bronze mounts. The hilt grip is ivory with a gilt pommel embossed with drooping leaves. The cross guard, clearly influenced by the Battle of the Nile is of twin snakes with entwined heads protruding in each direction. The blade, which is somewhat aged, displays two running stags along one side. It comes with a long black leather scabbard with gilt brass mounts at top and bottom. The top mount displays several lines of engraved script on the reverse side but it is too faint to accurately read all of the words. However, we can see that they attribute the sword to Robert Foster along with the words St James St / Cutler / His Majesty / Prince of Wales / Duke of York. Robert Foster had succeeded to sole ownership of the business and to the appointment of ‘royal sword cutler and belt maker’ upon the death of his partner, John Bland, in August 1791. Foster continued the business until his own death in March 1798, which puts the date the sword was made right when Carnegie acceded to the Earldom in 1792.
Here is where this gets even more interesting: the front side of the scabbard throat mount is clearly engraved NORTHESK in script. When compared to the sword Rear Admiral William Carnegie carried at Trafalgar the engraving is identical and very almost certainly engraved by the same hand. There is a scan of that page in the pictures shown. It's very possible that this was the sword that he carried on his earlier commands before the Napoleonic wars.
Reference: NAVAL SWORDS & DIRKS by SIM COMFORT VOLUME ONE pages 86 - 89. Published 2008. A wonderful book in two volumes which every Royal Navy Collector should own. Below is an excerpted biography:
William Carnegie, Lord Rosehill and seventh Earl of Northesk (1758 - 1831), was born at Leven Lodge, near Edinburgh, into a distinguished naval family, his father, the sixth Earl (d. 1792), being an Admiral of the White. The young Carnegie entered the navy in 1771 and by 1780 had seen sufficient service for Sir George Rodney to appoint him a command. In the following years he was a captain of a series of ships on active service in the West Indies, Atlantic and North Sea. In 1797 his ship, the Monmouth, became one of those involved in the Nore Mutiny. After being confined a prisoner in his cabin, Northesk was appointed by the mutineers to convey their demands to the King, a task he dutifully performed, though their demands were rejected and he declined to re-turn to his ship within the 54 hours that the mutineers had granted him.
With the renewal of the war with France in 1803, Northesk was appointed to the 100-gun Britannia in the fleet off Brest under Admiral Cornwallis. In August 1805 he was detached under Admiral Sir Robert Calder to reinforce the fleet off Cadiz, and it was thus that he served as Rear-Admiral under Nelson when the latter was reappointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet on 26 September. At the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October, North-esk was third in command after Nelson and Collingwood, and his ship, the Britannia dismasted the 80-gun Bucentaure and then singly engaged and kept at bay three enemy van ships that were attempting to double upon Nelson's Victory, which was already under attack from two other ships and partly disabled. The Britannia thus endured some of the heaviest and most prolonged fighting of the battle and sustained losses of 52 killed and wounded men. [from a letter to his wife written immediately after the action, Northesk relates, 'I had a narrow escape for a splinter struck me in the breast'.] Northesk further distinguished himself by his humanity in rescuing the entire surviving crew of the French Intrepide despite the dangerous gales then raging, the hazardousness of the operation and the repeated orders by Collingwood to destroy the prizes.
`Following the battle, and in recognition of his manifest services, Northesk received many honours, including inves-titure as a Knight of the Bath. In subsequent years, he became Vice-Admiral in 1808, Admiral in 1814, serving at the end of his career in 1827 - 1830, as Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth. He was buried on 8 June 1831, in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral, near the graves of both Nelson and Collingwood.
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