Rare gold medal of Nelson's Norfolk protégé expected to sell for up to £80,000

A watercolour of Captain Sir William Hoste wearing his gold naval medal

A watercolour of Captain Sir William Hoste wearing his gold naval medal - Credit: Morton & Eden

A rare gold naval medal awarded to a Norfolk Naval officer who was one of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s star protégés is expected to fetch up to £80,000 at auction

The Captain’s Naval Gold Medal for The Battle of Lissa in 1811 was awarded to Captain Sir William Hoste and is one of the star lots in Morton & Eden’s London sale on July 13 with an estimate of £60,000 to £80,000. This is the first time the medal has ever been sold as it has been in the collection of Sir William’s family until now. 

A spokesperson for the family said: “After considerable thought we have now made the difficult decision to part with these historic medals. Owning them has been a great honour, but it has also been a considerable responsibility and we believe now is the time to share the achievements of our illustrious forebears with a wider audience.”   

The obverse of the medal awarded to Captain Sir William Hoste

The obverse of the medal awarded to Captain Sir William Hoste - Credit: Morton & Eden

William Hoste was born on 26 August, 1780, at Ingoldsthorpe and joined the Navy at an early age. An introduction to legendary Norfolk naval officer Horatio Nelson sowed the seeds of a firm friendship between the two, and soon after Hoste joined HMS Agamemnon to serve as Nelson’s captain’s servant.  

Hoste was by Nelson’s side at the Battle of St Vincent and the Battle of the Nile. Letters written by Nelson to his wife during this time mentioned that he considered Hoste to be “without exception, one of the finest boys I ever met with,” stating also that he considered that Hoste’s “…gallantry can never be exceeded, and each day rivets him stronger to my heart.” Hoste rose swiftly to the rank of captain and would go on to become a great frigate captain.  

In 1805 he was sent by Nelson to deliver diplomatic gifts and messages to the Dey of Algiers, missing the great battle of Trafalgar and the tragic death of his mentor. Hoste wrote to his father: “Not to have been in this battle is enough to make one mad; but to have lost such a friend besides is really sufficient to almost overwhelm me…” 

The gold medal awarded to Captain Sir William Hoste for the Battle of Lissa

The gold medal awarded to Captain Sir William Hoste for the Battle of Lissa - Credit: Morton & Eden

In Hoste’s finest hour, during the opening stages of the Battle of Lissa (the island today known as Vis in the Adriatic Sea, off the coast of Croatia) on 13 March 1811, Hoste raised the signal ‘Remember Nelson’ from HMS Amphion in honour of his friend, which was met with loud cheers.   

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Hoste then led his ships in a devastating attack upon the larger French and Venetian squadron. Given the numerical superiority of the enemy, this battle has been considered ‘one of the most brilliant naval achievements during the war’ (Dictionary of National Biography), with a British loss of 190 killed and wounded, to the French and Venetian loss of over 700. 

Hoste continued to distinguish himself in action, but failing health forced him to return to England. In July 1814 he was made baronet and in 1815 he was nominated as Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. (His Knight Commander’s neck badge has an estimate of £4,000-5,000 in the sale.) 

He died of tuberculosis in London on 6 December 1828. 

The Hoste family coat of arms

The Hoste family coat of arms - Credit: Morton & Eden

The last member of the family to bear the name Sir William Hoste was killed in action in France on 9 May 1915, aged 20. Lieutenant Sir William Graham Hoste’s Great War 1914-15 trio of medals and memorial plaque are also included in the auction, together with the campaign awards bestowed on his grandfather as well as those of his great-grandfather. The Great War medals are estimated to fetch £400-600 and the young Sir William Graham Hoste’s death marked the end of the direct line of Hoste descendants, which then passed to other relations of the name Fortescue. 

The name Hoste is familiar to many people in Norfolk as the name of the eponymous inn in Burnham Market.

David Kirk, Morton and Eden’s medal specialist said: “This is a superb group of awards to an extremely important naval figure who, not only served with but was also a great friend of Nelson. Just four naval gold medals were awarded for the Battle of Lissa, and this medal to Hoste, who led the victorious British squadron, is without doubt the finest of the four.  For dedicated collectors of naval medals from this period, opportunities to buy historic groups like this at public auction do not come along very often.”