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Revised: 3/30/2017 

Please Note: The painting of Captain Rutherford is not offered with this lot. The painting is on display at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich London, Greenwich Hospital Collection.


Captain William George Rutherford (1764-1818), Commander of HMS Swiftsure, at the Battle of Trafalgar was given this magnificent sword with presentation on blade, “FROM THE PATRIOTIC FUND AT LLOYDS TO W.G. RUTHERFORD ESQr CAPtn OF H.M.S. SWIFTSURE / FOR HIS MERITORIOUS SERVICES IN CONTRIBUTING TO THE SIGNAL VICTORY OBTAINED OVER THE COMBINED / FLEETS OF FRANCE AND SPAIN OFF CAPE TRAFALGAR, ON THE 21ST OF OCTOBER 1805”. Secondary inscription on brass plaque mounted on casing “FROM THE PATRIOTIC FUND / LLOYD’S LONDON / to CAPTAIN WILLIAM GORDON RUTHERFORD / OF H.M.S. SWIFTSURE / 1805”. Rutherford is shown wearing this sword and belt in painting from the National Maritime Museum, in London. “Swiftsure” was sixteenth in Nelson’s line between “Revenge ” and “Defiance”, Oct. 21, 1805 the battle which ensued became the most decisive naval victory in world history to that date. Lord Nelson’s 27 ships of the line defeated 33 French & Spanish ships. The Franco-Spanish fleet lost 22 ships, without a single British vessel being lost. Admiral Nelson was mortally wounded in this great fight and “Swiftsure” was damaged losing 17 men. “Swiftsure” proved decisive in several of the Trafalgar engagements, engaging several times with the 80-gun Spanish ship “Argonauta” and the 74 French ship “Achille”. From T.A. Heathcote’s Nelson’s Trafalgar Captains & Their Battles, 2005, pgs 149-150. “H.M.S. Belleisle had been dismasted and was being pounded by three enemy ships when from the gun smoke emerged the “Swiftsure”, her crew cheering and her guns firing double-shotted rounds into the enemy, principally the “Achille” which was dismasted and caught fire, flames racing through the wooden ship. As thousands of panicking French sailors jumped into the sea, Rutherford ordered his ship’s boats to rescue as many survivors as could be found, pulling hundreds aboard his ship but losing several men when the “Achille’s” magazines suddenly detonated, swamping one of his boats. “Swiftsure then tried to engage the 74-gun “Aigle” and the 80-gun “Neptune”. “Aigle” moved away, however, when her captain spotted the arrival of the H.M.S. Polyphemus. Following the battle, the barely damaged “Swiftsure” took the sinking “Redoutable” in tow but was forced to cut the line when the French ship suddenly sank. Amongst the hundreds who drowned were five “Swiftsure” men. Rutherford returned to Gibraltar and from there traveled to Britain, where he was rewarded for his part in the action.” William Gordon Rutherford no doubt was the only Trafalgar Captain to have been born in the United States; Wilmington, NC. During the Revolution, his Loyalist family moved to the Caribbean and at only 14 years of age, Rutherford was put to sea on the H.M.S. Suffolk and proved to be a very capable sailor. He advanced through the ranks serving with distinction in the West Indies Campaigns at Martinique, St. Lucia and Guadalupe. In 1794, he was promoted to Commander of the 16-gun sloop “Nautilus”, then H.M.S. Dictator, H.M.S. Brunswick, H.M.S. Decade. In May 1805, “He became acting Captain of the “Swiftsure”, a new 3rd rate seventy-four [74 guns], and at Nelson’s express wish, was given permanent command in July. In this vessel, he took part in Nelson’s famous pursuit of Villeneuve’s Fleet – the Toulon Fleet – which had sailed for the West Indies in the summer of 1804, in order to draw the British Admiral from the neighborhood of the channel to cross which for the invasion of England, Napoleon was waiting at Boulogne”. While on his return from the West Indies, Captain Rutherford wrote his brother August 4, 1805 describing his transition as Captain and the pursuit of the French fleet which would result in the great British victory at Trafalgar. This information taken from Janet Schaw’s Journal of a Lady of Quality; Being the Narrative from the Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, Yale University Press, 1921, this text has good biographies of Rutherford family along with details of the descendency of this sword. “Thus, “little Billy”, born in North Carolina, stands in history as one of the “Heroes of Trafalgar”. In his will, he leaves his Trafalgar sword and medal to his nephew, his sister’s son, and these interesting relics, the outward marks of a notable career… That Captain Rutherford would have been promoted by Nelson himself to be a Captain of a ship of the line was a rare distinction…North Carolina should take pride in being the birthplace of so noteworthy a man.” PROVENANCE: William Gordon Rutherford, 1805; left in his will to nephew, 1818; Royal United Services Museum; de-assessed in 1962 and purchased by Val Forgett (1930-2002); pictured in Leslie Southwick’s 1982 article. Special Note: This item(s) contains plant or animal properties that may be covered by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We have taken care to ensure that this item(s) meets the standard for sale under the ESA. However, certain states and other countries have laws that are more restrictive than the ESA. It is the bidder’s responsibility to ensure that it is lawful to purchase or transport this item(s) into their state, and to obtain the necessary import and export approvals. Delay or failure to obtain any such permit or approval does not relieve the buyer of paying for the item(s) and consummating the purchase. CONDITION: Very fine-extremely fine overall. 32″ x 1-1/2″ wide blade, gold & blue decoration are vivid and 98% bright, intact and discernible. 3-line presentation is excellent and among the finest you will see. Brass hilt, scabbard & decoration retain over 95% of their orig gold plating. Velvet backgrounds to scabbard panels have lost some of their velvet nap. Scabbard is excellent, complete and mounts retain 95%+ orig gilting with fine detailed chased engraving and relief casting. The certifiable antique elephant ivory grip has a fine mellow patina with light hairline crack unaffecting aesthetics. The accompanying sword belt is in equally fine condition showing light wear, but bullion stitching is virtually all intact with wear to nap, gilting of buckle is virtually all intact. The orig mahogany veneered case is very good to fine overall, with normal nicks, scratches and other minor blemishes to surface associated with 200 years. Interior of box is very good retaining good nap & color to the green felt lining. Richard Teed’s vellum label in case is very good and complete. No doubt, this is the finest Trafalgar sword to ever be sold in American auction. 51687-9 JS (150,000-250,000) ESA – Lot 1231

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Auction: Firearms - April 2017
Please Note: All prices include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium, which is paid by the buyer as part of the purchase price. The prices noted here after the auction are considered unofficial and do not become official until after the 46th day.