LONDON – The famous Siege of Lucknow Victoria Cross (V.C.) awarded to Irishman Thomas Henry Kavanagh sold for a world-record price of £930,000 ($1.075 million) by Mayfair-based Auctioneers Noonans in a September 14 sale of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria. Bought by a collector, it was the first civilian V.C. of five to be awarded and was one of only two that is not currently in a museum. It had been estimated at £300,000-£400,000.
Kavanagh, who was born on July 15, 1821 in Westmeath, Ireland, was employed as a clerk in the Lucknow Office of the Bengal Civil Service prior to the Siege. In November 1857, he volunteered to leave the safety of the Residency, the main British stronghold in the area, disguised as a Sepoy – an Indian soldier serving under British or other European orders. He and the Brahmin scout who accompanied him 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 Major General James Outram’s vital despatch to Sir Colin Campbell and ably guided his column to the Residency garrison and performed a successful evacuation.
Associate Director and Medal Specialist at Noonans Oliver Pepys 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 auctions Pierce Noonan said: “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.”
Before the sale Pepys explained: “He was decorated with the highest honor 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.”
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