Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (23 September 2011)

Date of Auction: 23rd September 2011

Sold for £11,000

Estimate: £12,000 - £15,000

Sold by order of a direct descendant

A fine Light Brigade group of three awarded to Private William Pearson, 17th Lancers, who was severely wounded in the charge at Balaklava and nursed by Florence Nightingale at Scutari hospital

Crimea 1854-56, 3 clasps, Alma, Balaklava, Sebastopol (Pte. Willm. Pearson. 17th Lans.) contemporary engraved naming; Indian Mutiny 1857-59, no clasp (Wm. Pearson, 17th Lancers); Turkish Crimea, Sardinian issue, unnamed, fitted with scroll suspension; together with the Royal Navy L.S. & G.C., V.R., narrow suspension, awarded to his nephew (Ge. Toy, Corpl. 16th Co. R.M.L.I.) engraved naming, these four mounted in a contemporary gilt framed display, some light contact marks, otherwise dark toned, good very fine (4) £12000-15000


Sold with original parchment certificate of discharge; a small coloured Crimean war period ambrotype of Pearson in uniform; two portrait photographs of Pearson seated in later life wearing his medals, and another of him standing in a group, also wearing medals; and a photograph of Sergeant Toye with his wife, together with original news cutting giving a report of his funeral.

The following obituary was published on 14 June 1909 by the Yorkshire Post under the strap-line “Death of a York Veteran - Rode with the Light Brigade - The late Private W. Pearson - How he was Wounded in the Balaclava Charge”

‘York citizens will learn with regret of the death of Private William Pearson, of 54, Monkgate, late of the 17th Lancers, the “Death or Glory Boys”, who took part in the Balaclava Charge. The deceased was 84 years of age; he had been in failing health for the past two or three years though it was only lately that he took to his bed. Death was due to senile decay, although the end was hastened by frequently recurring attacks of acute bronchitis.

The late Mr.Pearson was born at Doncaster on 2 February 1825, and joined the 17th Lancers at the Royal Barracks, Dublin, on 8 February 1848. Having served several years at different stations in Ireland his regiment went to Hounslow, but only for a short time, for the outbreak of the Crimean War the Seventeenth received orders for the front, and embarked at Liverpool in January 1854. He was at Alma, Sebastopol, and Balaclava, and after having been certified as only fit for Depot duty as a result of a wound received in the Balaclava Charge, he returned to Ireland in December 1856. The fighting spirit, however, was strong within him, and so in 1857 he volunteered and to his joy was accepted to accompany his old regiment to India. He went right through that campaign and at its end, having completed thirteen years and 87 days with the colours, returned to his native county, and settled in York, where for many years he was employed as turnkey at York Castle.


Of the Balaclava charge, Mr. Pearson often related a thrilling story. Col. Marley commanded the regiment, but he was absent at the time, and Col. White, who afterwards commanded them in India led them into action. Sir George Wombwell was his own troop officer. Everyone knew the awful chances against them returning from the mad ride, but no one wavered. It was every man for himself and the devil take the hindermost. Three Cossacks tried to cut young Pearson off. He gave rein to his charger, which required no urging, and would have cleared them, having beaten all three off with his lance, but a fourth appeared wheeling right across his path. It was a moment in which the scales of life and death were balanced. There was no time for thought. More by inspiration than anything else Pearson pressed his knees. He was a trumpeter and had taught his horse to do certain tricks. In response the faithful animal reared itself and seemed as though it were to come down on the Cossack with its forefeet. The Cossack swerved, upset at this new mode of attack, and in a flash Pearson got through, not before, however, one of the other three had jabbed him in the side with his lance. At the time he hardly felt the wound though it had penetrated the left lung, and he reached the British lines in safety. Col. White and another officer were standing near where he pulled up and he heard him say, “Here’s another back.” Then Colonel White called out, “Are you hurt, my man.” Pearson replied: “No, sir,” but fell off his horse from weakness. The air had got to the wound and he writhed in awful pain. Till that moment he was unconscious of injury.


Pearson was taken to Scutari, where he had the good fortune to come under the personal care of Miss Florence Nightingale. She went to him one day when he was nicely recovering, and said, “Well, Pearson, you’ll be going away tomorrow, what clothes have you got?” He hadn’t many, and said so. “I thought as much,” she continued, and she fitted him out. On the transport Pearson nearly succumbed. He probably would have done so, but for one thing. He noticed a couple of soldiers trying on his togs. One man had appropriated his top boots. The couple looked foolish when he suddenly opened his eyes and yelled out that he was not yet dead. It was hard work living on that old packet, but he set his heart on wearing his boots again. He was, however, so bad he was set ashore at Malta. Here, he came under the care of Dr. Frank who “patched me up and made me fit for service again.”

The medals shown on private Pearson’s breast in the photograph reproduced are the Crimean, Turkish, and Indian Mutiny, with three clasps on the former for Alma, Sebastopol, and Balaclava. For a number of years Pearson regularly attended the Balaclava dinner in London, but he had not been to the Metropolis since the Diamond Jubilee, when the survivors of the charge were given a prominent place on the line of route. Here the gallant little band, alas, now so depleted, saluted her Majesty, and he used to recall with pride the remembrance of how the Queen, for whom he fought, halted her carriage and bowed to them in return.

Private William Pearson was discharged from the 17th Lancers at Secunderabad in April 1860, and returned to England to receive his final discharge, dated Horse Guards, 4 May 1861, his time expired, having served 12 years 87 days. He later became a turnkey at York Castle, where one of his many duties was to give the lash to unruly inmates. He signed the Loyal Address in 1887 and attended the Manchester Benefit in 1890. He received assistance from the Light Brigade Relief Fund, aged 62, and later received substantial help for the T. H. Roberts Fund, which also paid his funeral expenses. William Pearson died at Shambles, Yorkshire, on 14 June 1909, and was buried in York Cemetery.

A lengthy report on Pearson’s funeral, ‘Crimean Hero Buried with Military Honours’, was published in the Yorkshire Post on 17 June 1909. The chief mourners were Mrs. Toye (niece), whose husband George Toye had died in the previous year, as recorded in the cutting from the Yorkshire Post from 29 July 1908, which accompanies his Naval Long Service medal:

‘Funeral of an Army Veteran - At York Cemetery on Saturday afternoon the funeral took place of Sergeant George Toye, late of the Royal Marines, who died at his residence, 54, Monkgate, on Wednesday last at the age of 70. Deceased joined the Marines in 1858 and after twenty-one years service was discharged with a long service and good conduct medal and an exemplary character. He was afterwards engaged as a time-keeper at the N.E.R. Carriage Works, Holgate, and retired from this position on a pension three years ago. The late Mr. Toye leaves an uncle, Mr. William Pearson, late of the 17th Lancers, who took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade. Mr. Pearson is 84 years of age and resided with the deceased.’