Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (12 November 2020)

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Date of Auction: 12th November 2020

Sold for £5,500

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

The Indian Mutiny Medal awarded to Private F. Whirlpool, V.C., 3rd Bombay European Regiment, who showed unremitting devotion to the wounded under fierce fire on 3 April 1858 at Jhansi, and on 2 May at Sohari, rescued Lieutenant Donne, although in doing so, he was himself wounded seventeen times

Indian Mutiny 1857-59, 1 clasp, Central India (Fredk. Whirlpool, 3rd Bombay Eurpns) mounted for display purposes with a copy Victoria Cross, contact marks and edge bruising therefore good fine (2) £6,000-£8,000


Provenance: Sotheby’s, 26 November 1980

V.C. London Gazette 21 October 1859:
‘For gallantly volunteering on the 3rd of April, 1858, in the attack of Jhansi, to return and carry away several killed and wounded, which he did twice under a very heavy fire from the wall; also, for devoted bravery at the Assault of Lohari on the 2nd of May, 1858, in rushing to the rescue of Lieutenant Donne, of the Regiment, who was dangerously wounded. In this service, Private Whirlpool received seventeen desperate wounds, one of which nearly severed his head from his body. The gallant example shown by this man is considered to have greatly contributed to the success of the day.’

Frederick Whirlpool was born ‘Frederick Conker’ circa 1830. Competing theories have suggested either Liverpool, London or, most likely, County Carlow, Ireland, as his place of birth but it is accepted that he spent his early childhood in Ireland where he attended the Dundalk Institute, an Irish Protestant school. Assuming the surname Whirlpool, he enlisted in the Honourable East India Company’s 3rd (Bombay European) Regiment at Glasgow on 23 October 1854 and embarked for India in the Salamanca on 30 November. Arriving at Bombay on 26 March 1855, he remained there with his regiment until mutiny broke out amongst the sepoys of the Bengal Army. Although the Bombay Presidency was unaffected by the rebellion further north, the 3rd Bombay European Regiment was sent as reinforcements to join the Central India Field Force under Sir Hugh Rose in their campaign to relieve Saugor and Jhansi. At the latter fort, following the making of a breach, the 3rd Europeans made up part of the storming party and managed to force an entry despite suffering many casualties from the heavy rifle fire and attacks from above with boulders. On this occasion, Whirlpool was seen twice to rescue wounded comrades under fire and take them to safety.
Rose’s next objective was the rebel town of Kunch and it nearby forts, one which, at Lohari, was reached on the morning of 6 May 1858. With its walls unbreachable by artillery, the 3rd Europeans were again required to take it by storm, which they succeeded in doing, successfully forcing their way in amid heavy loss of life. Frederick Whirlpool again distinguished himself by rescuing the badly wounded Lieutenant F. C. Donne of the regiment. In doing so, Whirlpool was cut, hacked and stabbed 17 times with one attack nearly severing his head. For his gallantry in rescuing wounded comrades on two separate occasions, he was recommended for the award of the Victoria Cross, for which European soldiers of the H.E.I.C. were now eligible.
Recovering from his terrible injuries after five months in hospital, he was medically discharged from the army on 2 February 1859 and made his way to Australia where he changed his name to Frederick Humphrey James and enlisted in the locally raised Hawthorn and Kew Rifle Volunteers. He received his Victoria Cross on 20 June 1861 from Lady Barkly, the wife of Sir Henry Barkly K.C.B., the governor of Victoria, on 20 June 1861 at the first public Victoria Cross presentation ceremony to be held in Australia.

It isn’t clear whether Whirlpool changed his name to James before or after the investiture but his application to the War Office in London to have the name on the V.C. altered to James was denied. In 1864, he left Victoria for New South Wales where he found work as a teacher but later withdrew from society and with his £10 annual pension as a V.C. holder, he lived out his days as a recluse in a hut at Windsor, N.S.W., dying there in 1899.

Note: Whirpool’s Victoria Cross is on permanent display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Note: This lot is available for viewing in Swanbourne, Western Australia, by appointment with our Australasian representative, John Burridge.