Victoria Cross awarded to Thomas Henry Kavanagh - estimate £300,000-400,000 at Noonans.

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The Indian Mutiny ‘Siege of Lucknow’ VC given to Irishman Thomas Henry Kavanagh - one of five civilian VCs to be awarded and one of only two that are not currently in a museum - is estimated at £300,000- 400,000 by the Mayfair saleroom.

It will be offered just a couple of months after the last of the five VCs given to civilians was sold at another London auction house, Morton & Eden. Also from the Indian Mutiny, that honour awarded to George Bell Chicken, a civilian volunteer attached to the Indian Naval Brigade, made a hammer price of £280,000 on July 20. As reported in ATG No 2555, Chicken was actually given two VCs after one was thought to be lost. Both have now been sold by M&E at auction.

From clerk to hero

Kavanagh, who was born on July 15, 1821, in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, 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, struggled through swamps and narrowly avoided capture after startling a farmer who raised the alarm.


Thomas Henry Kavanagh, the first civilian to receive the Victoria Cross.

On finally reaching a British cavalry outpost, Kavanagh delivered Sir James Outram’s vital despatch to the commander-in-chief, Sir Colin Campbell, and ably guided his column to the relief of the Residency garrison using his local knowledge.

Kavanagh was presented with his VC by Queen Victoria in a special ceremony at Windsor Castle.

Oliver Pepys of Noonans said: “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 ensured that he became a Victorian legend; indeed, few histories of the conflict are without an image of ‘Lucknow Kavanagh’.”