2 June 2010

It was a long held belief that the Victoria Cross and Indian Mutiny Medal awarded to Gunner Richard Fitzgerald, Bengal Horse Artillery, had been lost after the Bristol Museum, where it resided, had been more or less destroyed by a bombing raid in 1941. In fact the coins and medal collection had by then been transferred to the Art Gallery & Museum of Antiquities next door which suffered only minor damage in the raid.

The Fitzgerald VC is part of the Eberle Collection of several thousand medals currently lodged in the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. Eberle was a local Bristol councillor, Alderman and benefactor who established a Veterans Association to help the elderly destitute soldiers in the city, veterans of the Crimean War and Indian Mutiny. Eberle bought their medals from them as a way of providing ready cash, the story being that he lent them back for wearing on special occasions.

Recent research has discovered that Eberle also purchased medals for his collection through auctions. In a notebook that accompanies the medal collection is a small entry against Fitzgerald's Victoria Cross - Sp 3 / 98. Further research has discovered this signifies that the Richard Fitzgerald VC was listed in a Spink "Numismatic Circular" dated February 1898 ( Vol VI, No. 63 ), Item 43478, for sale for the sum of £40. It can therefore be concluded that Alderman Eberle purchased the Richard Fitzgerald Victoria Cross and his Indian Mutiny Medal from the Spink circular in March 1898. Unfortunately, the identity of the vendor of the Fitzgerald VC has not been established.

Richard Fitzgerald remained in India following the conclusion of the Indian Mutiny in 1859 and in 1861 volunteered to transfer to the Royal Horse Artillery. All trace of him was lost in 1884 and two years later, in 1886, the War Office suspended his Victoria Cross pension. The India House Quarterly Returns show no entry for the death of Richard Fitzgerald in India five years either side of 1884.

There is some thought that Richard Fitzgerald and a Gunner James Roots were one and the same person. Both served in the same Bengal Horse Artillery unit and Roots was therefore a witness to Fitzgerald's gallantry on 28th September 1857.

However, the story that Fitzgerald and Roots were the same man is believed not to be the case. The facts below have been obtained from the old India Office and were published by Lieutenant Colonel M.E.S. Laws, OBE, MC, in the Journal of the United Service Institution of India in July 1954. Colonel Laws gives the opinion that James Roots in his old age, he died in 1916, was convinced he had been awarded the Victoria Cross even stating he was wearing his VC when introduced to King George V at the Delhi Durbar in 1911. By this date Richard Fitzgerald's VC was safely in the Eberle Collection in Bristol.

Richard Fitzgerald James Roots
Born: St Finbar, Co Cork, in 1831 Born: 1836
Enlisted: Cork, 17 December 1851 Enlisted: Northfleet, Kent, 2 July 1856
Bengal Horse Artillery Bengal Horse Artillery
Profession: Carpenter Profession: Clerk
Arrived: Calcutta, 15 November 1852 Arrived: Calcutta, 29 November 1856
On troopship: 'Soubahdar' On troopship: 'Minden'

The action by Colonel Greathead's Column at the town of Bolundshadur was a full scale battle and was in effect the last piece of major resistance by the Delhi rebels. The reason for the action by Diamond and Fitzgerald was that two guns had gone too far forward and had been attacked by heavy small arms fire which totally disabled one gun and left the other with only two effective gunners.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 24 April 1858 ], Bolundshadur, Indian Mutiny, 28 September 1857, Sergeant Bernard Diamond & Gunner Richard Fitzgerald, 2nd Troop, 3rd Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery.

For an act of valour performed in action against the rebels and mutineers at Bolundshadur, on the 28th September 1857, when these two soldiers evinced the most determined bravery in working their gun under a very heavy fire of musketry, whereby they cleared the road of the enemy, after every other man belonging to it had been either killed of disabled by wounds.

Richard Fitzgerald and Bernard Diamond are assumed to have been invested with their Victoria Crosses in India in 1858. However, the location and by whom is unknown.

Extract from report dated 28th September 1857: Lieutenant G. Cracklow, Commanding 2nd Troop, 3rd Brigade, Horse Artillery to Captain C.H. Blunt, Commanding in charge 2nd Troop, 3rd Brigade

I beg to bring to your notice the gallant conduct of Sergeant Diamond and Gunner FitzGerald. These two men, when the rest of the crew were disabled, served the gun under a heavy musketry fire; their coolness and daring elicited the admiration of all present.

Extract from report dated 28th September 1857: Captain C.H. Blunt to Major F. Turner, Commanding Artillery with Movable Column, Camp Bolundshadur

I beg to call to your notice the high commendation which Lieutenant Cracklow has, in his report, bestowed on Sergeant Diamond and Gunner FitzGerald. This commendation has been confirmed and strengthened by several officers in Her Majesty's 9th Lancers, who were witnesses of their gallant conduct.

Extract from report dated 28th September 1857: Major F. Turner to Captain Bannatyne, Major of Brigade, Movable Column, Camp Bolundshadur

I have great pleasure in pressing upon Lieutenant-Colonel Greathead's attention the very gallant conduct of Sergeant Diamond and Gunner FitzGerald of the 2nd Troop, 3rd Brigade, Horse Artillery, who, after the rest of their gun's crew were disabled, continued to serve it under a very heavy fire of musketry, and I trust that by Colonel Greathead, this gallant conduct as also that of 2nd Lieutenant Cracklow, may be brought to the notice of Major General Wilson, Commanding Delhi Field Force, and Commandant of Artillery.

The reports are a good example of the initial progression of a recommendation and also it is worth noting the speed with which the reports were produced bearing in mind that all the officers had been involved in a very severe battle the same day.


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Iain Stewart, 2 June 2010