Waterloo 1815 - nearly a Bronze Medal

By John Hayward

"...... I would beg leave to suggest to your Royal Highness the expediency of giving the non-commissioned officers and soldiers engaged in the Battle of Waterloo, a Medal...".

This suggestion made by the Duke of Wellington to the Duke of York in his Dispatches, just ten days after his victory over the French, swiftly gave rise to a letter from the Master of the Mint, William Wellesley Pole to the President of the Royal Academy on 11th July 1815, which heralded the first British Medal to be given to all ranks present in a Campaign - an award which was not only named, but was originally intended to also be given to the next of kin of those killed in action or who died of their wounds.

The Directive

"I have been commanded to strike two Medals at the Royal Mint in Commemoration of the Battles of Les Quatre Bras and Waterloo; - One, in Gold, of the largest size, to embrace the Exploits of the Allied Army under the Duke of Wellington, The Prince of Orange and Duke of Brunswick, and of the Prussian Army under Field Marshal Blucher. This Medal will probably be given to each of the Sovereigns in Alliance with the Prince Regent, to their Ministers and Generals".
The Medal 'of the largest size' referred to resulted in the dies for the Pistrucci Waterloo Medal of 140mm diameter which, after a number of design disagreements, was never issued to whom it was intended and the whole idea was finally abandoned in 1849, by which time the alliances of 1815 were rather strained.

"The other will be struck in Bronze, of small size, to be given to every Officer and Soldier in the British Service who was present at the Battles; the Device on this latter must therefore be more particularly marked as expressive of the Services of our own Troops and Commander. Both Medals must have the Prince Regent's Head on the Obverse..." Pole's letter goes on to invite Artists belonging to the Royal Academy to submit designs for the two Medals. In the event a subsequent notice advised the Artists to confine their designs to the large Medal as a design for the small one had been formed by the Chief Engraver of the Mint from an ancient Greek coin of Elis selected by the Master from the collection of Richard Paine Knight Esq. The head of the Prince Regent was taken from a drawing by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

The Preparation

The Master of the Mint, Pole, obviously very anxious to proceed with this important departure from the normal routine, wrote to J.W. Morrison, Deputy Master of the Mint on 27th August: "I send you a few names that will enable us to begin lettering the Medals as soon as Jerome is ready for us. I shall have more names immediately and the whole number very soon...". Jerome and Harrison, two Mint Artificers, were awarded a £100 gratuity for devising a modification to existing 'Milling' machines, normally employed in serrating or 'graining' edges of coins, to accommodate the naming of Medals. The serrated sliding bar which marked the coins was replaced by the Artificers with a device for holding steel type, composed in a line of naming details which were then 'rolled into' the edge of the (unmounted) Medal. Just three days later, Pole wrote again to Morrison, this time with a number of interesting Memoranda - the pressure to commence and to complete the Waterloo operation was on:

"If the various branches of the Department proceed in the manner I have pointed out, Forty Thousand Medals will be ready for Delivery by the 9th November. I rely upon the zeal of the Heads of the Manufacture for seeing that the utmost exertions are used to complete the work. The whole grace of the distribution of the medals would be lost if any unavoidable delay was to take place in their issue; and, in the very perfect state of the Machinery of the Mint, no excuse could be allowed to us by the Public in such an event. You will be so good as to let it be generally understood that no other business whatever is to be suffered to interfere with the manufacture of the Medals; and particularly that no branch of the manufacture is to relax its efforts under an idea that it will be ready before any other branch is prepared to carry forward the work. Every person is to act as if the whole measure depended upon his individual exertions. If any extraordinary assistance should be wanted, you will be so good as to afford it to the full extent that may be necessary - and any suggestions that may be offered towards methodizing the Medals as they are lettered, I request may be submitted to me for consideration...I have applied to the Commander in Chief for the Names of the Officers and Soldiers who fought in the Battles, and I hope the List will be sent to you in a short time. I shall transmit to you the Extraordinary Gazette containing the names of the Wounded Officers, which will enable you to commence the lettering before you receive the General List...The Moneyers' work begins tomorrow morning [31st August], Rolling the Copper for the Medals, to which they are to put their whole force, and to cut out the Blanks as fast as possible...the Rolling can be finished, if the Moneyers begin to roll at daylight tomorrow, by Saturday night [2nd September]...if the rolling begins at daylight tomorrow, the Cutting may begin in the course of the day, and if the Rolling and Cutting continue without intermission for 10 hours each day, Sundays excepted, the Cutting may be finished on Monday night [4th September]. The Blanks will begin Milling on Monday morning [4th September]; they will be finished ready for annealing on Thursday evening [7th September]. The annealing will be done on Friday the 8th September".

The Dies

"Mr Wyon will have the preparatory dies ready for striking on the 5th October, with one coining press which is ready. The 40,000 Medals will be struck in 3 days, viz by the 8th October. The Bronzing and Lettering will begin together on the 6th October, the day after the preparatory dies begin to work and, with the arrangements hereafter named, can be finished in 30 days, viz by the 5th November. As the Bronzing and Lettering will commence on the 6th October, a sufficient number of Medals will be ready for striking on the 30th October, the day on which the finished dies will begin to work".

The Lettering

"There must be six sets of Marking Machines made for Lettering the Medals - 18 Sets of Letters are wanting for the Machines. The Type cutters, Mr. Phillips, Mr. Wyon's man, Mr. Lawson's man and another person, who is to come to the Mint tomorrow, have orders to make as many of the Types as they can deliver by the 12th September. Jerome to get as many Compositors as he may think necessary. The above Marking Machines will enable us to work two of the Milling Machines. When the two Machines are at work the Lettering may be completed in 30 days, viz at the rate of one piece a minute, for each machine working 10 hours a day. The six sets of Marking Machines will be ready for working on the 11th September. Supposing we begin to letter on Monday the 12 September, the Lettering may be finished by the 20th October".

The Bronzing

"The Bronzing and Lettering may begin on the same day (viz 12th September) and will consequently finish (in 30 Days) on the 12th October, but, omitting Sunday, say 16th October…Four Hearths can be used in the Smith's shop. Nine persons must be employed to work them…They can bronze 72 Dozen in a day, viz 18 Dozen at each Hearth, which would finish the Bronzing in 48 days from commencement. Two more Hearths must be put in the Turners' shop. They can be finished in one fortnight from tomorrow, viz by the 13th September…Orders have been given to the Bricklayer to set up this additional Hearth, which will enable us to finish Bronzing in 30 days…Mr. Wyon will be ready with his Dyes by the 10th October. If we work 8 Presses at the rate of a Piece per minute for each Press (working 10 hours a day) the Forty Thousand Medals will be struck in Ten days, and be ready for delivery on the 9th November 1815".

The Silver Medal

It is quite clear from the content of Pole's original letter to the President of the Royal Academy and abstracts from his memoranda relating to the Moneyers, Bronzing and the Lettering schedules that the Waterloo Medal was to be produced in bronzed copper. It is equally clear from the correspondence that certain minting procedures similar to those employed during the production of Coins, i.e. Rolling - bringing metal ingots down to the required thickness; Cutting - cutting out blanks; and the Milling and annealing process, had already been completed with base metal. Unfortunately due to a gap in Master to Deputy Master correspondence from September 1815 to March 1816 one must assume, even taking into account a number of delays, including a serious fire in the Royal Mint on the 31st October 1815 which caused extensive damage, that the preparations for the bronzed striking was well ahead. One thing is certain: it must have been quite a shock to Morrison and all those working on the Medal at the Mint when on 10th January 1816 Pole wrote a letter to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, which surely was copied to the Mint: "His Royal Highness the Prince Regent having signified to me his pleasure that Medals, to be distributed to the Officers and Men who served in the Battle of Waterloo, should be struck at the Royal Mint in Fine Silver, I beg to request your Lordships will provide the necessary quantity of Bullion for this purpose. The weight of the Medal is proposed to be One Ounce and the number to be struck will probably amount to Forty Thousand; but to enable the Mint to carry on the work with expedition a larger quantity of silver must be provided than will ultimately be used, and I therefore submit to your Lordships the necessity of furnishing me with Sixty Thousand ounces of Fine Silver for this service. It will be my duty, when the Medals are finished, to render to your Lordships an exact account of the Silver used and to dispose of the remainder as you shall direct. The Dyes and Machinery for striking the Medals are nearly ready to work; the Silver therefore should be sent to the Mint as soon as it can be procured". The Deputy Master sent a similar letter on the same day to the Bank of England but requested additionally that a quantity of silver in the Government's possession of an "inferior standard" be exchanged for "Fine Silver" - agreed by the Treasury on 19th January.

On the 4th March Pole wrote to Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies: "...The Medals which I received His Royal Highness the Prince Regent's pleasure to strike, for the Officers and Men who fought at the Battle of Waterloo, have been some time in preparation, and those for the General and Staff Officers are now ready for delivery. I propose packing the Medals in Boxes marked on the outside so as to specify the Corps or Regiment to which the Medals within may belong; and there will be packed in each Box a copy of the List transmitted from the Horse Guards, which copy will be certified by the Principal Officers of the Royal Mint. The Medals are all fitted with Rings, and a quarter of a yard of Ribbon for each will be packed in the Boxes. The Name of each Officer and Man, who is to receive a Medal, is impressed upon the edge of the Medal destined for him, and care will be taken to pack the Medals in the order in which the Names stand on the several Lists. The number of names, including Officers and Men, which have been transmitted from the Horse Guards to the Mint amount to more than 35,000; and I am in hopes that we shall be enabled to deliver finished Medals, packed as I have already mentioned, at the rate of about 1000 per day from this time forward until the whole are completed. Each Medal contains one ounce of Fine Silver, intrinsically worth, at the present market price of Bullion, about six shillings. There is no difference whatever in the quality, figure or workmanship, between the Medals for the Officers and those intended for the Soldiers…".

Contrary to the original intention and popular belief, the Waterloo Medal was not generally issued to the next of kin of those who were killed in action or who had died from their wounds in the Waterloo Campaign. On 5th July 1816 Sir Henry Torrens wrote from Horse Guards to Pole: "I enclose you a List of the Staff and Regimental Officers who were killed at the Battle of Waterloo as well as those who died of their wounds, in order that Medals may be struck and presented to their nearest Relatives...". Five days later, on 10 July, Pole's deputy Morrison replied to Torrens: "I am directed by the Master of the Mint to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 5th instant, enclosing a list of the General and Staff Officers killed at the Battle of Waterloo, as well as those who have died of their wounds, in order that Medals may be struck for their relatives; and I am to inform you that in consequence of the very greatest importance of giving all possible dispatch to the new Silver Coinage, every part of the Machinery and Apparatus of the Mint, as well as the whole time and labour of the Officers & Workmen, are fully applied to the business and that the least delay to the Coinage would be of the greatest detriment to the Public Service. It is therefore very desirable that the striking of the Medals for the deceased Officers and other ranks, as well as for the Regiment of the 1st Hussars King's German Legion (the List of which has been omitted) should, for the present, be suspended. Copies of the names will, in the mean time, be prepared so that, as soon as opportunity occurs, the Mint may resume the operation of striking the Medals". For the next ten years a small number of requests for medals from informed relatives of all ranks of the fallen were made to the Commanding Officers of the units concerned who, after agreeing with the merit of a specific claim, would then refer the case to Horse Guards. Each successful request was then passed to the Royal Mint for action, accompanied by an 'unappropriated Medal' taken from the Horse Guards' mountain of 'returns' which included duplicates, errors and unissued deserters' medals.

In total the Royal Mint, directed by the long-suffering, but wholly efficient Deputy Master Mr. James W. Morrison produced a total of 37,638 Waterloo Medals.