VC medal

Thomas Kavanagh's Victoria Cross sold for £750,000 by Noonans.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Estimated at £300,000-400,000 on September 14, the Indian Mutiny ‘Siege of Lucknow’ VC awarded to Irishman Thomas Henry Kavanagh was bought by a collector for £930,000 once buyer’s premium is added.

It beat the previous top VC sum – for military or civilian recipients – of £700,000 (or £840,000 with premium) set at fellow London auction house Morton & Eden in 2017 for a group including Vice-Admiral Gordon Campbell’s VC awarded for First World War heroics fighting a U-boat (ATG No 2321).

Kavanagh’s medal was one of only two civilian VCs that are not currently in a museum.

Thomas Kavanagh

Thomas Kavanagh.

He 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.

After a hazardous journey they delivered a vital despatch to Sir Colin Campbell and ably guided his column to the relief of the Residency garrison.

Noonans associate director and medal specialist 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 VC and the price achieved at auction demonstrates the high regard which Kavanagh is still held in today.”

Pierce Noonan, chairman and CEO, added: “The record price achieved reflects not just his extraordinary gallantry, but also the strength of the market for small collectables more generally where the prices for high-quality items continue to go from strength to strength.”

Celebrity status

Kavanagh was further rewarded with promotion to the gazetted post of Assistant Commissioner of Oude and was presented with his VC 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 (now in the National Army Museum, London) ensured that he became a Victorian legend; indeed, few histories of the conflict are without an image of ‘Lucknow Kavanagh’.