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Thomas Henry Kavanagh - Victoria Cross


Thomas Henry Kavanagh VC - "Lucknow Kavanagh"

In 1857 following increasing British occupation and domination in India, the natives mutinied. Rebel sepoy's in northern India recruited tens of thousands of civilian volunteers and threatened to engulf the entire subcontinent in revolt.

The British had suffered defeat at Delhi and Cawnpore (now Kanpur). LucknowLucknow was the next major flashpoint. In June the city, on the banks of the river Gomti was under siege. The commander, Henry Lawrence, had heavily fortified the Residency compound within the city. By August the food was short, casualties were mounting and rats were everywhere. A relief force was promised but never materialised.

90 days after the siege began a thousand troops arrived on the outskirts of the city and began to fight their way to the compound. There were no maps of the city available to help and as they fought their way through the narrow side streets many troops were killed. When they reached the compound and closed the gates behind them there were too few left to help break the siege. The extra mouths now placed further strain on the meagre resources.  In October word arrived that a relieving  force was on it's way. The defenders were worried that the same fate would befall this new force.

British Residency, Lucknow : Source - Butler, Rev. Wm., The Lucknow Residency--Its Siege and Relief (illustrated). Ladies Repository, vol. 3, iss. 2.
British Residency, Lucknow  

A tall Irish postal worker, Thomas Henry Kavanagh volunteered to slip out of the Residency, make contact with the relief force and guide it back through the city to the compound. Kavanagh had gained a reputation for courage in the underground battles during the siege and his offer was accepted. Kavanagh made his way past checkpoints, swam the river Gomti and made contact with the British army.

The relief force made no attempt to enter the city but managed to pacify the area long enough for the Residency inhabitants to begin withdrawing, women and children first, on November 18th. When the rearguard left the city was given up to the mutineers, but the British flag which had flown day and night during the siege was removed to safety.

For his courage Thomas Henry Kavanagh was awarded the Victoria Cross. He is one of only five civilians to be awarded the VC. You can read Thomas Henry's personal account of his escape from the city here.

The VC awarded to Thomas is held by Militaria Collection Of www.historicalmilitaria.com of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The location of an Indian Mutiny Medal which he also received is unknown. If you know where this medal is locate please contact the webmaster.

 

Grave of Thomas Henry Kavanagh

The grave is located in the North Front Cemetery of Gibraltar and its GOG (Government of Gibraltar) ID number is 4567.

HERE LIETH
THOMAS HENRY KAVANAGH V.C.
WHO DIED AT GIBRALTAR 13TH NOVEMBER
1882
AGED 60 YEARS

HE WAS ONE OF THE BESIEGED IN THE
LUCKNOW RESIDENCY. ON THE NIGHT OF
NOVEMBER 9TH 1857, LEAVING HIS WIFE
AND CHILDREN, HE WENT ON, DISGUISED
RISKING DISCOVERY AND DEATH BY CRUEL TORTURE,
AT THE HAND OF THE MERCILESS MUTINEERS,
IN ORDER TO RELIEVE THE GARRISON.
HE SUCCEEDED. THE EMPRESS QUEEN
PLACED THE VICTORIA CROSS ON HIS BREAST
AT WINDSOR.
A LONG CAREER AS A DISTRICT OFFICER
ATTESTED THAT HIS DEVOTION TO DUTY
AS A CIVILIAN AND HIS GENTLE FORBEARANCE
TOWARDS THE NATIVES EQUALLED THE HEROISM
OF THE SOLDIER.

 

 

 

 The Grave of Thomas Henry Kavanagh VC


A lot of the information and photographs of Thomas Henry appear courtesy of Richard & Doug Arman.

The photograph and information from the grave are courtesy of Richard Tomlinson.