South Eastern Gazette 4th August 1857
Presentation of Medals – The Northern Belle
On Friday morning last, the 31st July 1857, medals were distributed to the men who had rendered such essential service to the Northern Belle on the 5th January last.
Eleven o’ clock was the hour fixed, but long before that time, the entrance to the town-hall was crowded by persons anxious to obtain a sight of this interesting ceremony.
About half an hour after the time appointed, the deputy (F.W. Cobb, Esq.,) took the chair, supported by J. Cuttler, Esq, the Deputy-Sergeant of the Cinque Ports, Dr. Hunter, W.Caveler, Esq, R.G. Higgins,Esq, and other influential residents.
The body of the hall was occupied by a very respectable audience.
The flag of the Northern Belle waved over the entrance, and the American and other flags were suspended from the windows.
The gallant fellows whose names are Thomas Watler, John Fox, Alfred Emptage, H. Doughty, George Miles, and Stephen Ralph, having been arranged in front of the chairman, the latter opened the proceedings by alluding to the interesting occasion that had called them together, and the very great pleasure it gave him to to preside over them.
He recapitulated the circumstances connected with the rescuing the crew of the Northern Belle, and alluded to the fact that these men were on board of her to take their lot for life or death, and were the means of keeping her together until further succour could come.
He thought it his duty on this occasion to allude to the very great sympathy which had been shown towards the fund raised in behalf of the families of those lost in the “Victory”.
He then called upon Mr Cuttler to read the correspondence which had taken place between Mr Dallas and Mr Caveler to the American Minister, which expressed their satisfaction that those who had saved the lives of the crew had been rewarded, and at the same time they hoped that their claims – seeing that they had rendered great service to the vessel-might not be overlooked.
The appeal was not made in vain, for the American Government, immediately they became acquainted of their claims, recognised them and sent over additional Medals for the persons we have mentioned.
Mr Cobb then presented to each of the men, a beautiful medal, weighing 4 and a half ounces, bearing the man’s name and an inscription of the services he had rendered; on the reverse is a shipwrecked mariner floating on a broken mast, with a vessel bearing down to his rescue.
The Chairman congratulated the men on the result of their efforts; he hoped that they would still continue the same course of undaunted bravery, and at the same time he enjoined them to remember the great risks they themselves ran in their endeavours to save the lives of others, and the loss of the “Victory” proved the necessity of being at all times prepared for another and better world; their being better men would not make them any worse sailors.
Mr Caveler said that the men had desired him to say half a dozen words on their behalf. Their bravery on all occasions was unquestionable, and they had desired him to say that should a similar case unfortunately occur again, their services would be ready; they would not want any incentive, other than that of saving a life; but if an incentive was required, the remembrance of these medals would be a sufficient stimulant.
Mr Walder apologised for the absence of Mr Weber, the consul, and stated that, from his experience of the boatmen, he could say they had fairly earned their reward, and they wanted no incentive to induce them to do their duty.
Mr Hunter joined in congratulating the men, and alluded to this being one of the circumstances that would still draw closer the ties of affection which existed between this country and the flourishing States of America.
He then moved that the best thanks of the meeting be given to the President and Government of the United States, for the handsome manner in which they had acknowledged the services of these men, which was carried by acclamation.
A vote of thanks was then passed to the chairman, who briefly returned his thanks, and in so doing took the opportunity of alluding to the efforts now being used to get a life-boat for this place to further the efforts of the boatmen.
Mr Chancellor said as this was the last time perhaps that Mr Cobb would preside over them in the capacity he was now in, he proposed three cheers, which was cordially responded to. The Anglo-Italian band was in attendance, and played the National Anthem.
It would seem invidious to distinguish one man from another, but we cannot refrain from calling attention to the fact that during the dreadful night of the wreck of the Northern Belle, our hardy Alfred Emptage was the main stay of the crew during the proceedings of that dreadful night; it was he who took the crew and lashed them to the mast, and who during the night, endeavoured to keep up the spirits of his fellow sufferers; he it was who had a willing hand and a trusting heart, although the next wave might have swept him off the wreck.
All honour to such men we say.
Life-boat,- We are very glad to find that the imperative necessity of having a life-boat, which has so long existed, and which the loss of the “Victory” confirmed, has at length drawn attention to this subject, and a project has been started to procure one for this station.
The cost of procuring one, thoroughly equipped, with every requisite, and furnished with life-belts for the crew, will be 150 pounds, towards which the Margate Mariners’ Society, composed entirely of boatmen, have liberally contributed 40 pounds and W. Cobb, Esq., 10 pounds.
Alfred Emptage was my 2 x great grandfather and David Emptage’s great grandfather. Reading that account I got a lump in my throat. I cannot begin to verbalise the sense of pride I feel about Alfred’s actions and those of his three brothers who also took part in the rescue attempt (and who received medals at a separate event). I am very sad that my mother never got to know of the bravery of her great grandfather.
Alfred Burnett Emptage 1832 – 1875, husband of Ann (Phoebe) Hopkins and son of Humphrey Emptage and Isabel Brett.