07/08/2017
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Gallant Scotman’s Victoria Cross to be auctioned

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The Victoria Cross won by a Scottish artilleryman chosen to receive Britain’s highest gallantry decoration by his comrades for his bravery during the relief of one of the most famous sieges of the Victorian era is to be auctioned by Dix Noonan Webb, in London on 27 September 2017.

The VC won by Gunner James Park of the Bengal Horse Artillery during the relief of Lucknow in the Indian Mutiny is expected to fetch up to £80,000 at the sale of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria.

Tragically Park, who came from Glasgow, did not live to receive his Victoria Cross, dying from cholera aged only 23 in 1858 – the year after the siege and six months before his award was officially announced in The London Gazette. However he would no doubt have been aware that he had received the ultimate accolade of being selected to receive the decoration by his fellow gunners in the Bengal Horse Artillery.

“There is something very special about a Victoria Cross bestowed on a man as a result of a vote by those who had fought alongside him,” says Pierce Noonan, a director of Dix Noonan Webb. “These were soldiers who knew which of them had shown the greatest courage in the face of the enemy. There could be no suspicion of intervention by someone higher up the chain of command and no accusations of unfairness. It was an unusual example of democracy at work in the ranks of the Victorian Army.”

Park’s decoration, which is being sold by a private collector, is one of only 46 so-called ‘Clause 13’ awards of the Victoria Cross. When the original Warrant for the VC was drawn up there were concerns that singling out one or two individuals for special recognition for gallantry might cause resentment among their comrades. In 1855 Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, suggested that in certain cases the distribution should be decided by men of the same rank as the person to be rewarded. When the VC was formally announced in 1856, the Prince’s proposal was included as Clause 13 of the Royal Warrant. This said that when a gallant act was performed by an entire unit, officers, non-commissioned officers or petty officers and seamen or privates should be selected for the VC by the men of their own rank. Clause 13 was mainly used during the Indian Mutiny when 29 VCs were awarded this way. Four more were awarded during the Boer War and 13 in World War I, after which the practice died out. Of these 46 balloted VCs, 32 are known to be in museums.

James Park was born in Barony, Glasgow in January 1835. After working as a labourer, he enlisted into the Honourable East India Company Artillery in Glasgow on 6 February 1855 for 12 years continuous service. The Company was a commercial organisation which effectively ruled India until the time of the Mutiny and had its own Army. Park embarked for India on 10 July 1855, arriving in Calcutta the following October where he was posted to 1st Troop, 1st Brigade Bengal Horse Artillery. He served during the Indian Mutiny, which broke out in May 1857 and lasted until November the following year.

During the Mutiny the 1st Brigade Bengal Horse Artillery took part in the relief of Lucknow, where the British Residency was under siege from May 1857 until November that year when a column reached the city and evacuated the defenders. The Bengal Artillery behaved with great bravery and under Clause 13 Park and four comrades were elected by their comrades, ‘for conspicuous gallantry at the relief of Lucknow from 14 to 22 November 1857’. The precise nature of Park’s deeds were not recorded.

Park was the youngest of the Bengal gunners so honoured but he did not live to collect his Victoria Cross, dying of cholera at Lucknow on 14 June 1858. Effectively he was awarded a posthumous VC, although in theory this was not allowed at the time. The location of his grave in India is unknown although he is commemorated on a memorial in the  Royal Artillery Chapel in Woolwich.

More details on the upcoming auction will be available at www.dnw.co.uk.

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