THE VICTORIA CROSS AWARDED TO COMMANDER JOHN BYTHESEA, ROYAL NAVY, A BALTIC SEA AWARD, HAS BEEN SOLD AT AUCTION BY SPINK OF LONDON
19 April 2007



( select to enlarge )

Medal entitlement of Rear Admiral John Bythesea,
Royal Navy ( HMS 'Arrogant' )

  • Victoria Cross
  • Companion, Order of the Bath ( CB )
  • Companion, Order of the Indian Empire ( CIE )
  • Baltic Medal ( 1854-55 )
  • Second China War Medal ( 1857-60 )
  • Empress of India Medal ( 1877 )

The Victoria Cross awarded to Rear Admiral John Bythesea, Royal Navy, has been sold at auction by the auctioneer Spink of London for a hammer price of £135,000. The Victoria Cross was unaccompanied by Bythesea's decorations and campaign medals. The VC was purchased on behalf of the Michael Ashcroft Trust, the holding institution for Lord Ashcroft's VC Collection and will go on display in the Imperial War Museum's Lord Ashcroft Gallery.


For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 24 February 1857 ], Wardo Island, Baltic Sea, 12th August 1854, Lieutenant John Bythesea, Royal Navy ( and Stoker William Johnstone, Royal Navy ) of HMS 'Arrogant'. ( Gazetted as Commander John Bythesea, Royal Navy ).

On the 9th August 1854, having ascertained that an Aide-de-Camp of the Emperor of Russia had landed on the Island of Wardo, in charge of mail and despatches for the Russian General, Commander Bythesea obtained permission for himself and William Johnstone, a stoker, to proceed on shore with the view to intercept them.

Being disguised and well armed, they concealed themselves till the night of the 12th, when the mail-bags were landed, close to the spot where they lay secreted in the bushes. The mails were accompanied by a military escort, which passed close to them, and which, as soon as it was ascertained that the road was clear, took its departure.

Availing themselves of this opportunity, Commodore Bythesea and the stoker, attacked the five men in charge of the mail, took three of them prisoners, and brought them in their own boat on board the “Arrogant”. The despatches were carried to General Baraguay d’Hilliers, who expressed himself in the highest terms of approval.

( Despatch from Captain Yelverton, enclosed in a letter from Vice-Admiral Sir C Napier, of 31st January 1856 )

John Bythesea was invested with his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria in Hyde Park on 26th June 1857.


The background of Stoker William Johnstone is subject to some debate. Although he was gazetted thus, there was no one on the 'Arrogant's' muster list of this name. There was a Leading Stoker John Johnstone, who was born in Hannover, Germany, on the ship at the time, and this is the man usually credited with winning the Victoria Cross.

However, it is doubtful that he would also have spoken Swedish. It is possible therefore, that Lieutenant Bythesea's companion was one of the foreign nationals whom Sir Charles Napier had recruited in Stockholm on the way to the Baltic, to solve the problem of an under-strength crew, and that Johnstone was an anglicised version of Johanssen. ( Source: Spink Sale Catalogue ).

William Johnstone ( Johanssen? ) did not attend the first investiture of the Victoria Cross in Hyde Park on 26th June 1857, and most unusually, his VC was sent to him by registered post, whereas all the other recipients who were overseas at the time of the first investiture had their VCs presented to them personally by their Comander-in-Chief.


Medal entitlement of Stoker William Johnstone - Royal Navy ( HMS 'Arrogant' )

  • Victoria Cross
  • Baltic Medal ( 1854-55 )

Acquisitions

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Iain Stewart, 19 April 2007