Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (10 & 11 May 2017)

Date of Auction: 10th & 11th May 2017

Sold for £13,000

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

Family Group:

An Albert Medal Second Class for Land awarded to Miss Hannah Rosbotham, for gallantry following the destruction of the Belfry at the Sutton National Schools, St. Helens, Lancashire, that fell into the Infants’ Schoolroom during a violent gale on 14 October 1881- she remained at her post until all 200 children had been safely evacuated, including rescuing one infant who had been completely buried under the falling débris. Only 16 Ladies received the Albert Medal - Miss Rosbotham was not only the first woman to receive the Albert Medal, but the first woman to ever receive a gallantry medal from the Crown and the only woman to have the Decoration conferred upon her by Queen Victoria
Albert Medal, 2nd Class, for Gallantry in Saving Life on Land, bronze and enamel, reverse officially engraved ‘Presented in the name of Her Majesty to Hannah Rosbotham for exhibition of great Gallantry on the destruction of the belfry of the Sutton National Schools 14th. October 1881’, reverse of the crown with maker’s cartouché Phillips, Cockspur St., and officially numbered ‘47’, with original narrow riband, in embossed leather case of issue; together with a presentation silver half-hunter ladies’ pocket watch, the backplate engraved ‘To Miss Hannah Rosbotham from the Managers of the Sutton National Schools and other residents to express their sense of her courageous behaviour in rescuing the school children during the gale of October 14th. 1881 that destroyed the roof of the school and for which act of bravery she has been awarded the Albert Medal by Her Majesty. January 11th. 1882’, very fine

A Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society and Port Sunlight Order of Conspicuous Merit pair awarded to Mr. J. J. Rosbotham, for saving life from drowning at St. Helen’s Reservoir, Lancashire, on 13 March 1886, and again at Leasowe, Cheshire, on 17 August 1911
Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society Marine Medal, 3rd type, silver (John J. Rosbotham, for rescuing a young man who had fallen through the ice at St. Helen’s Reservoir. Mch 13. 1886) with top silver riband buckle, in fitted case of issue; Port Sunlight Order of Conspicuous Merit Cross, gold, the reverse engraved ‘Presented to Mr. John J. Rosbotham for Bravery in rescuing a lady from drowning at Leasowe Aug. 17. 1911’, in fitted case of issue, scratch to obverse field on first, minor edge bruising, good very fine (4) £6000-8000


A.M. London Gazette 16 December 1881:

‘During a violent gale of wind on the 14th of October last, the stone belfry of the Sutton National Schools was blown down, and fell through the roof into the Infants’ School-room (where nearly two hundred children were assembled), causing the death of one, and injuring many others, and filling the room and its gallery with stones, slates, and timber. Whilst others fled for safety, Miss Rosbotham, an Assistant Schoolmistress, (who at the time of the accident was teaching elsewhere) deliberately entered among the falling mass and cloud of dust; and, while fully conscious of the extreme danger to which she was exposed, remained on the spot until every child had been placed in safety. At the imminent risk of her own life, Miss Rosbotham removed four infants who were partially covered with the débris, and rescued therefrom a little girl who was completely buried, and who must inevitably have been suffocated had not such gallantry been displayed.’

Hannah Rosbotham was born in St. Helens, Lancashire, in 1859, one of eight children of Peter and Elizabeth Rosbotham, and was educated at the Sutton National Schools, St. Helens. ‘At the age of twenty she was appointed to be assistant mistress in the school where she herself had been educated. A slightly-built, delicate-looking girl, with quiet unassuming manners and a singularly guileless expression of countenance, she appeared to be just one of those women who go quietly through the world, doing the duty that lies nearest, and abstaining from asserting themselves in any way. No one imagined that this small, slight, modest-looking girl was capable of performing a deed of heroism whose fame would echo the length and breadth of the land.
On the morning of 14 October, 1881, the young teacher found herself in charge of the infant school the head mistress being absent on account of sickness. The children were all busily engaged in various parts of the room. A class of the youngest scholars (aged between three and four years) were seated on the gallery immediately under the large stone belfry. Hannah was herself engaged in teaching a class of older children at the further end of the room. It must have been difficult to keep the attention of the little scholars fixed on their lessons, for the wind was blowing “great guns” and , every now and then, wailing shrieks as though the spirits of the air were uttering notes of lamentation swept around the schoolhouse. The children, as they sat at their lessons in the Sutton school-room, could see the branches of the trees tossing wildly to and fro, and could hear the wind-driven leaves crackling against the panes. At eleven o’clock a tremendous rumbling noise was heard, followed by an awful crash. A portion of the stone belfry, weighing sixteen hundredweight, had fallen a distance of thirty feet, breaking the gallery into atoms. The children, panic-stricken, fled from the school-room and rushed helter-skelter into the playground. No one remembered the little ones upstairs save the young mistress Crying to an assistant to come to her aid, she rushed towards the gallery. The staircase was encumbered with débris, and the air was thick with flying dust, but still she went bravely onward, one thought filling her mind, that of the danger of the little ones entrusted to her care.
The assistant, overcome by terror, turned and fled with the rest. One or two of the little ones escaped at the first hint of danger. The rest sat still, too terror-stricken to move hand or foot. At sight of the welcome apparition of their friend and teacher, life and power seemed to revive, and, starting up, they made their way down the steps.
But there were some, alas, who were unable to move. Six or seven of the little scholars who had been so full of life and gladness a few moments ago were buried beneath the mass. Two, a boy and a girl, were seriously injured, and lay helpless under a heap of slates and timber. The sight of their white death-like faces struck a chill of terror to the young mistress’s heart. Their bodies were completely hidden, but their pleading faces, filled with an agony of supplication, were plainly visible. Kneeling down in the midst of the mass of ruins, Hannah set herself to tear away the portions of timber which were crushing their little frames. She worked unremittingly, alone and unaided. The tempest raging outside with extraordinary violence, caused the slates of and fragments of the broken roof to fall in a shower around her. It was more than probable that her task would terminate fatally, but she was utterly regardless of her own peril. “I must be quick” she thought. “I must get them out or the whole of the belfry will fall, and it will be too late.”
She was a fragile delicate girl, but the horror of the situation seemed to inspire her with the strength and energy of a man. Those death-like faces, those agonised brows, those childish eyes, filled with unnatural terror, urged her to fresh exertions. She literally dug out the little sufferers with her hands, tearing away the mass of débris by means of her slight fingers, and uttering meanwhile hopeful, encouraging words, although her own heart must have been faint with terror. One by one the little victims were given back to life and liberty. Those who were but slightly hurt made their way at once down the steps, only too thankful to escape from their horrible prison. At last the boy and girl whose case had seemed so hopeless were set free, and half carrying, half dragging them, the brave young mistress struggled towards the doorway, which was blocked by screaming, terrified children. Here she met the master of the boys’ school trying to force an entrance. She told him that all the children were saved- believing this to be the case- and then proceed to clear the playground, for the whole building seemed to be in danger of falling.
The news of the calamity spread quickly through the village, and excited the greatest consternation in the minds of the parents, who flocked out to seek their little ones. The meeting that took place at the gate of the playground was a most touching one, and few could have witnessed without emotion the joy of the fathers and mothers as they clasped their children in their arms and rejoiced over their deliverance. One sad incident marred the general harmony. A little girl named Harriet Bradbury was missing. Search was made in every direction, but in vain. Sadly the steps of the master were retraced towards the schoolhouse, and, after a long search, the lifeless frame of the little sufferer was found completely buried under a huge fragment of the stone belfry. It is probable that other children would have shared her fate if the young mistress had been less prompt and energetic.
Wonderful to relate, our heroine escaped unhurt, with the exception of a few scratches on the hands. It was not till she reached home that she realised the full extent of her risk, and that her overwrought feelings found relief in a fit of weeping. But she soon sufficiently recovered to visit the injured children, and to bring comfort and encouragement to the afflicted parents of the little lamb who was already folded in the ams of the Good Shepherd.’ (
Heroes of Everyday Life, by Laura Lane refers).

After the storm, the people of Sutton, desiring to mark their appreciation of Miss Rosbotham’s conduct, subscribed and raised the sum of £13, which was used to purchase the presentation watch included in this lot. For her act of great gallantry she was also awarded the Albert Medal Second Class, the first women not only to receive the Albert Medal, but indeed to received any gallantry medal from the Crown, being presented with her Albert Medal on 11 January 1882. Two years later she married Mr. James Parr, and later was appointed headmistress of the school, where she remained until her retirement in 1922. She died on 15 August 1935 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Nicholas’s Church, Sutton, St. Helens.

Sold together with a portrait photograph of the recipient.

John Joseph Rosbotham was born in St. Helens, Lancashire, in 1862, one of eight children of Peter and Elizabeth Rosbotham, and the younger brother of Hannah, and was employed as an Engineer. On 3 March 1886 he rescued a young man who had been ice skating and fallen through broken ice into the deep water of the reservoir near St. Helens. For this rescue he was presented with the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society’s Silver Medal. Nor did the family’s life-saving exploits end there. Some 25 years later, having left St. Helens and moved to Birkenhead, near to the ‘model village’ of Port Sunlight, he was awarded the gold medal of the Port Sunlight Order of Conspicuous Merit for his gallantry on 17 August 1911, for an action described in the January 1912 issue of the Port Sunlight magazine Progress:
‘Rosbotham was on his holidays, and, along with some friends, was as Leasowe [on the Wirral Peninsula, Cheshire]. A lady was bathing there, and having got out of her depth, was seen to be in difficulties. She had already sunk twice, when Rosbotham’s attention was called to her plight. He, without the slightest hesitation, or waiting to remove any clothing, rushed into the sea and swam to the drowning lady, whom he succeeded in bringing back to the shore. Prompt means were at once taken, and were successful in restoring animation. In the opinion of witnesses, there is no question that the promptitude and bravery of Rosbotham were instrumental in saving this person’s life. The incident was brought to our notice not by Rosbotham, but by others who witnessed it, and the above facts were elicited.’

Rosbotham was presented with his Port Sunlight Order of Conspicuous Merit by the Chairman of Lever Brothers, Sir William Lever, in January 1912, and Lady Lever also shook his hand. He subsequently gave both of his bravery medals to his sister Hannah.

Note: A total of 16 women were awarded the Albert Medal, all Second Class awards for saving life on land, throughout the existence of the award- Hannah Rowbotham was the first, in 1881, with the other 15 awards all for acts of gallantry between 1905 and 1967; Miss Rowbotham was therefore the only women to have a gallantry award conferred upon her by Queen Victoria.