THE famous Indian Mutiny ‘Siege of Lucknow’ Victoria Cross awarded to Irishman Thomas Henry Kavanagh – the first ever awarded to a civilian – was sold for a world-record price of £930,000 by Mayfair-based Auctioneers Noonans in a sale of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria earlier in September.
Bought by a collector, it was the first civilian VC of five to be awarded and was one of only two not currently in a museum. The pre-auction estimate was £300,000-400,000. Kavanagh, born on July 15, 1821 in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, was employed as a clerk in the Lucknow office of the Bengal Civil Service, Uttar Pradesh, India prior to the Siege.
In November 1857 he volunteered to leave the safety of the Residency disguised as a Sepoy (an Indian soldier serving under British or other European orders), accompanied by a Brahmin scout.
The pair jostled past armed rebels through the narrow Lucknow streets and talked their way past sentries in the moonlight, crossed deep rivers, tramped through swamps and narrowly avoided capture after startling a farmer who raised the alarm. On finally reaching a British cavalry outpost, Kavanagh delivered Outram’s vital despatch to Sir Colin Campbell and guided his column to the relief of the Residency garrison.
Oliver Pepys, Associate Director and Medal Specialist at Noonans said: “Kavanagh’s gallantry at Lucknow 165 years ago stands out as one of the most premeditated and sustained acts of gallantry in the history of the Victoria Cross and the price achieved at auction demonstrates the high regard which Kavanagh is still held in today.”
Chairman and CEO of Noonans, Pierce Noonan – a man very proud of his own Irish roots – told The Irish Post:
“The record price achieved for Kavanagh’s Victoria Cross reflects not just Kavanagh’s extraordinary gallantry, but also the strength of the market for small collectibles more generally where the prices for high quality items continue to go from strength to strength.”