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Sword & Pistols of British officers with chequered careers head record sale of arms at Bonhams
A set of duelling pistols once owned by the colourful Lt-Colonel Thomas Thornton sold at £67,250. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- The Antique Arms and Armour market seems armour plated as Bonhams latest sale at £1.4 indicates. This was the top result for any sale of Arms and Armour in London this year with 89 per cent of lots sold.

The two top items in the sale on November 30th in Knightsbridge were not surprisingly weapons with a fascinating provenance – a Lloyds Patriotic sword awarded to Captain Arthur Farquhar which sold for £79,250 and a set of duelling pistols once owned by the colourful Lt-Colonel Thomas Thornton at £67,250.

David Williams, Director of Antique Arms and Armour at Bonhams, says: “The market remains buoyant with interest coming from round the world for what was an outstanding collection of material. Interest in collecting Antique arms and militaria continues to grow.”

Farquhar, Commander of HMS Acheron, survived the ultimate Royal Navy catastrophe of losing his ship to a French man of war, but in the subsequent court martial he was acquitted of any wrongdoing and complimented for his actions which were described as 'highly meritorious and deserving imitation'.

In a naval action off Malta while on convoy duty to 35 ships, he took on a much larger French adversary and after a stiff fight was overcome by a ship with many times the firepower of his own. David Williams comments: “Farquhar is the living embodiment of the plucky naval officer who helped Britain to rule the waves by his willingness to take on overwhelming odds, typical of many men of his time”.

Arthur Farquhar was born in 1772 and joined the Navy at the age of 15. He served as lieutenant on various ships until promoted to commander in 1802 and in January 1804 he took command of the Acheron. At dawn on the 3rd February 1805, in the company of the sloop Arrow, he was escorting a convoy of 35 merchant ships from Malta to England when two large ships were sighted. After a series of manoeuvres and signals the ships were identified as two French frigates, the Hortense (40 guns) and Incorruptible (38 guns). After an exchange of fire which considerably damaged the Acheron's rigging and sails, night fell. Dawn the following day saw the action continue and by 8.30 a.m. the Arrow, which had been totally disabled, struck her colours to the Incorruptible, twenty minutes later the badly damaged Acheron hauled down her colours to the French warship Hortense.

The action of these two greatly out-gunned and out-manned ships allowed all but three of the convoy to avoid capture and proceed safely to England. At his court-martial on the 28th March 1805 Farquhar was honourably acquitted and the action was described as 'highly meritorious and deserving imitation'. On the 8th April he was promoted to post-captain and later awarded a sword by the Patriotic Fund and a piece of plate by the Merchants of Malta.

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Thornton, an 18th century playboy was a crack shot, a keen horseman, and one for the ladies. His pistols were made by Joseph Manton of London in 1796.

The Colonel was notorious for his succession of mistresses, the first being Alicia Meynell or Massingham known as the 'Norwich Nymph'. She was famous in her own right for her horse race against Captain Flint at York racecourse in 1804, and again in 1805 on the Knavesmire when she beat Edward Buckle the crack jockey of his day. Thornton wagered 1,000 guineas on the first race which was lost and he reneged on the bet leading to an inconclusive court case. He then backed 2,000 guineas on the second race which Alicia won, however this led to his being publicly horsewhipped by the disgruntled winner of the first race as reported in the press of the day.

Thomas Thornton (1757-1823), self-styled Prince of Chambord and Marquess de Pont, is famous for being one of the most dedicated and flamboyant sportsman of the 18th and 19th centuries, dividing his time between hunting, racing, shooting, angling and hawking.

The pair of guns have gold inlay and octagonal barrels and bear two French inscriptions: ‘Ne Tirez Pas sans Raison...' (Don’t fire without a reason), and 'Retournez Pas sans Honneur’, (Don’t come back without honour).

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