Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (24 & 25 February 2016)

Date of Auction: 24th & 25th February 2016

Sold for £2,200

Estimate: £1,200 - £1,500

Five: Surgeon Hugh O’Hagan, M.D., Royal Navy

Naval General Service 1793-1840, 1 clasp, Syria (Hugh O’Hagen, Asst. Surgn.); Crimea 1854-56, 1 clasp, Sebastopol (Surgeon Hugh O’Hagan, H.M.S. Firebrand) contemporary engraved naming, clasp loose on ribbon as issued; St. Jean d’Acre 1840, silver, unnamed as issued, fitted with straight bar suspension; Order of the Medjidie, 5th Class breast badge, silver, gold and enamels; Turkish Crimea 1855, Sardinian issue, unnamed, fitted with replacement swivel bar suspension, all mounted on old velvet pad for display, nearly extremely fine (5) £1200-1500


Hugh O’Hagan was born in Navan, County Meath, and graduated M.D. (Glasgow) in 1837. He was appointed Assistant Surgeon in the Royal Navy on 4 May 1839, and promoted to Surgeon on 9 November 1846.

He was Assistant Surgeon in H.M.S.
Gorgon in operations on the coast of Syria, including the storming of Sidon, where he served on shore, and the bombardment of St. Jean d’Acre. He was Surgeon of H.M.S. Firebrand in the boats during an expedition up the Danube in which Captain Parker was killed, and at the blockade of Sebastopol and the attack on Fort Constantine.

Queen Victoria’s Bulgarian orphans

In 1854 a small squadron of British and French warships was operating in the Black Sea under orders to blockade the coast between Varna and the Danube Delta. Russia was at war with the Ottoman Empire and was advancing through Moldavia and Wallachia. The British in turn were concerned about the threat to their communications with India should the Russians approach Constantinople.

The task force patrolling the coast included H.M.S.
Firebrand, a steam frigate commanded by Captain Hyde Parker and, on March 28, 1854, they anchored off Kustenjeh (modern Constantsa) in order to obtain information about local troop movements. The town was virtually deserted as most citizens had fled before the advancing Russians and they were also greatly in fear of retreating bands of Turkish irregulars. When a British naval landing party returned on April 1 they came across two small coastal craft at anchor by the harbour.

Dr O'Hagan, the ship's surgeon on H.M.S.
Firebrand, described the scene in his Journal. “In them was found a number of persons badly wounded, a marauding party of Bashi-Bazouks having set on and massacred four of their crew and passengers and severely maltreated or wounded the remainder. Among them were two children, one about nine months and the other four-years-old. Their parents had been butchered and they themselves grievously wounded, the elder having five slugs or balls shot through the shoulder and elbow joint and the infant a pistol ball through the wrist. The wounded were brought on board and the adults landed at Balchik the next day, but the children were humanely adopted and kept on board...where by attention they rapidly recovered. They became great favourites with the officers and ship's company.”

Illustrated London News published a letter with more news of Johnny (Yani) and Georgy a few months later. “Captain Hyde Parker gladly took charge of them, there being no known relation anywhere... the elder boy at first spoke Bulgarian, but has now lost it, and speaks English only. When asked his name he says Johnny Firebrand.”

Captain Hyde Parker had decided to adopt the boys and take them back to England, but in July 1854 in a daring but mismanaged raid on Sulina he lost his life while attacking a gun battery. However, in August “a very exalted person” said she would take charge of the abandoned pair. Queen Victoria had heard about the rescue of the boys and the death of Captain Parker. She decided to have them brought up on the Osborne House estate and wrote in her Journal. “I shall have the greatest pleasure in watching over these wounded innocents, who are precisely the same age as our two little boys! We have consulted...on the estate who would be suitable to take charge of them before they could go to some Institution to be educated.” It was decided that Mrs Jackman “who has only one child of her own and lives in the Barton cottages” would be most suitable.

John and George Hyde were duly adopted and took their surname from the Captain who had saved their lives. In 1857 the Queen noted, “The little Bulgarian boys look so grown and nice”. They were constantly at Osborne House and the Queen frequently visited them, both at their school and in the cottage that had become their home.

Raid on Sulina and death of Captain Parker

After the capture of Sulina, many of our thoughtless seamen supposed that the Russians had altogether abandoned the neighbourhood, and thence arose a degree of confidence or negligence that led to a fatal result. On the 7th of July, Captain Parker, of the
Firebrand, planned a little excursion up the river, for the purpose of destroying some works that were occupied by the Russians. Accordingly he entered his gig, and pulled up the stream, followed by a second boat from his own vessel, and by a third, containing Captain Powell, of the Vesuvius.

The town or village of Sulina is almost surrounded by a jungle of reeds, where stockades had been formed for the defence of the place by the enemy. These reeds are so high that they conceal both men and horses from the view of anyone ascending the stream by a boat, and consequently furnish shelter from which a stubborn enemy could harass troops whom he did not feel inclined to meet in open combat. Instead of abandoning the neighbourhood, the Russian soldiers had occupied the jungle which lines the banks of the river, and there awaited their revenge. As Captain Parker’s boat came abreast of a stockade, supposed to have been long deserted, a shower of bullets saluted it from an unseen foe. A ball passed through the surgeon’s coat; others whistled near the heads of the crew, some of whom were wounded; and the boat was riddled. Captain Parker laughed at the Russians for being such bad marksmen, and put back to obtain the assistance of the other boats. A momentary consultation was held; then the sailors rowed rapidly towards the stockade, and Captain Parker leapt lightly on shore to lead the attack. Almost instantaneously did he meet the fate he had so recklessly provoked. Scarcely had he taken a few steps, when a bullet went through his heart, and he fell a corpse. Captain Powell then assumed the command, and despite a brave resistance, the Russians were driven from their stronghold in a few minutes. Besides the loss of Captain Parker, five men were wounded, three of them very severely. (History of the War with Russia, Henry Tyrrell, refers)

On 21 September 1854, O’Hagan traversed the Alma battlefield, aiding the wounded. When, on 17 October 1854, the
Albion’s crew were badly wounded in action, Firebrand was lashed to its side so O’Hagan could give them care whilst under fire. In March 1855 Firebrand being badly battered and in need of attention, returned to Malta, where O’Hagan remained in hospital until invalided home in the following June.