Mullingar man's British medal makes over €1m at auction
The famous Indian Mutiny ‘Siege of Lucknow’ Victoria Cross awarded to Thomas Henry Kavanagh was sold for a world-record price of £930,000 (€1.045m) by Mayfair auctioneers, Noonans, on Wednesday, September 14, 2022 in a sale of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria.
Bought by a collector, it was the first civilian VC of five to be awarded and was one of only two that is not currently in a museum, it was estimated at £300,000-400,000.
Kavanagh, who was born on July 15, 1821 in Mullingar, was employed as a clerk in the Lucknow Office 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.”
Pierce Noonan, chairman and CEO of Noonans auctions, added: “The record price achieved for Kavanagh’s Victoria Cross reflects not just his 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.”
Before the sale, Mr Pepys explained: “Kavanagh was decorated with the highest honour for undertaking an epic quest to escape the surrounded Residency at night, crossing enemy lines, making contact with the camp of the Commander-in-Chief, and then using his local knowledge to guide the relieving force through the city to the beleaguered garrison by the safest route.”
“The first of just five civilians to have been awarded the VC, he was further rewarded with promotion to the gazetted post of Assistant Commissioner of Oude and was presented with his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria in a special ceremony at Windsor Castle.
“A tour of England and Ireland further enhanced his celebrity while the publication of his account of the siege, ‘How I won the Victoria Cross’ and Orlando Norrie’s painting of him donning his Indian disguise, one of the truly iconic images of the Defence of Lucknow, ensured that he became a Victorian legend – indeed few histories of the conflict are without an image of ‘Lucknow Kavanagh’.”
(Price includes 24% buyers premium.)