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Top prices for clerics’ bravery medals

by
09 October 2008

by Bill Bowder

GOLD and silver medals for gallantry, recalling the bravery of two Welsh clerics — father and son — who saved sailors from drown­ing off the coasts of Anglesey and Abersoch in the 19th century, were sold in London last month.

Canon James Williams of Llan­fairynghonrwy, near Holyhead, had been awarded his gold medal by the forerunner of the RNLI for riding his horse into a “mountainous” sea to rescue five sailors who were in danger of drowning.

The rescue took place in March 1835. “The Belfast smack, Active, . . . started to drag her anchors, then drifted out to sea,” the author Barry Cox wrote in his book, Lifeboat Gallantry (Savannah Publications, 1998). “Many hours later, the smack drifted into Cemaes Bay, Anglesey, and tried to anchor, but grounded a long way from shore with every successive wave breaking over her.

“Canon Williams arrived after several unsuccessful attempts had been made to launch a boat and, ignoring the mountainous seas, rode a horse into the surf and drew near enough to throw a grappling hook over the smack’s bowsprit.

“They were then able to launch a boat and pull out to the wreck whose crew of five were found in the cabin, too exhausted to move. All were landed safely.”

Canon Williams had been urged by his wife, Frances, to campaign for a lifeboat in the area, after they had both witnessed a disastrous sinking off Carmel Head in 1823, in which 140 lives were lost. They worked to raise funds, and the lifeboat arrived in 1828: Canon Williams became its first coxswain. He was also involved in the successful rescue of 14 sailors from the Sarah, from Liverpool.

Canon Williams died in 1872. His gold medal fetched £4000, twice the estimate, when it was auctioned last month, with a newspaper cutting about him and his wife.

His son, Owen Lloyd Williams, followed him into the clergy and into the lifeboat service; he was a coxswain at the age of 20. He is recorded as saying: “I am happiest when I am rescuing people at sea.”

He was in charge of the Abersoch lifeboat in North Wales, which rescued 13 men from the Liverpool ship Kenilworth in January 1870. The silver medal that he received for his bravery fetched £3500, including the buyer’s premium — three times its estimate.

Pierce Noonan, from the auc­tioneers Dix, Noonan and Webb in London, said|: “The buyer, who bought both the medals, does not usually collect in this area, but was delighted. It’s a cracking story.” The medals had belonged to the late William Fevyer, a collector.

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