25 August 2016:

The Trafalgar Medal

In 1840, Captain James Cottell Royal Marines painted a watercolour entitled: 'The Trafalgar Medal'. The painting depicts a sailor wearing his unofficial medal on the back of his tunic whilst a soldier proudly wears his official Waterloo medal on his left chest.

Cottell painted many cartoons and wrote several letters complaining that the Battle of Trafalgar was not celebrated and that no government medal had been awarded for the battle.  

After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 the government awarded a medal to every man who had taken part. The naval veterans of Trafalgar had been presented with an unofficial medal paid for by the industrialist Mathew Boulton whilst the crew of HMS Victory had received a similar unofficial medal from Alexander Davidson, Nelson’s Prize Agent. To make matters worse for those who valued their medals, soldiers were allowed to wear their Waterloo medals but sailors and marines were not allowed to wear their unofficial Trafalgar medals.


In 1848 the government relented and announced the award of the Naval General Service Medal. All naval veterans were to receive a medal with the clasp for each action they had taken part in. However the veteran had to be living to make their claim. Of the 18,425 sailors and marines at the Battle of Trafalgar only 1,561 survived to claim their official medal; Cottell was not amongst them.