Sir Rutherford Alcock, K.C.B., D.C.L., F.R.G.S. (1809 – 1897)

In previous articles dedicated to the bookplate of Doctor Sir Rutherford Alcock, the insignia from the ribbon around the Crest were wrongly identified[1].

The bookplate shows his Crest encircled by a ribbon with his motto, from which pend the insignia of three orders, initially thought to be those of the Orders of the Bath, Isabel, a Católica (Spain) and the Tower and of the Sword (Portugal) (F 274).

But, recent research led to a different conclusion.

Indeed, Dr. Rutherford Alcock was awarded the following decorations for services rendered during his time of service in Portugal, and in the British Legion, during the First Carlist War, in Spain:

  • Knight of the Military Order of the Tower and Sword, by a Decree of Queen D. Maria II, of May 30th1835 «…because since the battle of Ponte Ferreira, in most of the actions he took part, he behaved with gallantryhealing the wounded under fire and having been wounded in action at Lordelo, on the 25th July 1833».
    ·        Cross of 1st class of the Order of St. Ferdinando (Spain) date unknown, but surely between, 1839-42.
    ·         Knight of the Order of Isabella, the Catholic(Spain), by a Decree of the Regent General Espartero, of November, 19th 1842 and promoted a Knight Commander, circa 1843.

We also know that in November 6th, 1840, a Mixed Commission was appointed by the British and Portuguese Governments «…for the purpose of examining and deciding upon the claims of British subjects, who served in the Portuguese Army and Navy during the late war for the liberation of Portugal», Colonel J. Barreiros [2] and Rutherford Alcock being the Commissioners [3].

And the award of the Order of Christ, Knight Commander, by the Decree of August 2nd, 1844, must have been a consequence of the work of that Commission.

Strangely enough, Rutherford Alcock when later applying for permission to accept and wear his foreign decorations, did not include the Order of St. Ferdinand, nor the Order of Christ, and maybe that is the reason why they are never mentioned in his biographical notices.

Indeed, from the London Gazette (July 14th, 1857) we learn that Queen Victoria in July 14th, 1857, granted Rutherford Alcock her royal license and permission to accept and wear the Order of the Tower and Sword, the Supernumerary Cross of the Royal and Distinguished Order of Charles III and the Cross of Commander of the Royal Order of Isabel, the Catholic, the latter conferred for his services as Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals of the late British Auxiliary Legion.

For his services in the Empire of Japan, first as Consul-General and from November 1859, also as HM’s Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary[4] (1858-64), he was made a Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1860, promoted a Knight Commander, in 1862.

So, the insignia pending from the crest in his bookplate must be:

  • the Cross of the Royal and Distinguished Order of Charles III;
  •  the Cross of Commander of the Royal Order of Isabel, the Catholic; and the
  • the Military Order of the Tower and Sword, all awarded before 1857.

And the absence of the insignia of the Order of the Bath allows us to date the bookplate from after 1843-1857 and before 1860-1862.

The bookplate is particularly interesting since there are few British members of Portuguese Orders, namely the order of the Tower and Sword (f. 1808 and reformed 1832) who proudly bore the order’s insignia in their armorial bearings[5]. Apparently, Doctor Alcock used another bookplate with the same Crest but with his initials, without orders pending, which therefore should have been made before he received the decorations above mentioned (F 273).

Special thanks are due to my dear friend Paulo Estrela, a keen researcher and author on Phaleristics, for letting me know the documents referring the award of the Portuguese and Spanish Orders to Doctor Rutherford Alcock.

Caparica, August 8th, 2017


[1] Cf. José Vicente de Bragança, Insígnias de Ordens portuguesas na Heráldica Inglesa -Ex-Líbris, in «O Timbre», nº2, 2014, Lisboa, Academia Lusitana de Heráldica, pp. 33-34 and (reviewed July 14th, 2008).

[2] Joaquim António Velez Barreiros (1802-1865), Baron and Viscount of Nossa Sra. da Luz, later a General of the Portuguese Army, a highly decorated veteran of the Campaigns of the Civil War, and of the First Carlist War, as a member of the Auxiliary Division sent to Spain to fight against the Carlists.

[3] London Gazette, nº 19911, November, 6th, 1840.

[4] London Gazette, nº 22335, December 9th, 1859.

[5] José Vicente de Bragança, Insígnias de Ordens portuguesas na Heráldica Inglesa -Ex-Líbris, in «O Timbre», # 1, (2013), pp. 73-79 and #2, pp. 27-36, Lisboa, Academia Lusitana de Heráldica, 2013-2014.