First Victoria Cross awarded to civilian sells for almost £1m at auction

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The first Victoria Cross awarded to a civilian – an Irishman from Co Westmeath – has been bought at auction for almost £1 million.

London auctioneers Noonans said the £930,000 paid for the VC given to Thomas Henry Kavanagh represents a new world record.

Kavanagh, from Mullingar, was honoured with the gallantry award, usually reserved for members of the British and Commonwealth forces, for his actions at the siege of Lucknow in 1857 during the Indian mutiny against British rule.

Thomas Kavanagh was awarded the gallantry honour for his actions during the siege of Lucknow in India in 1857 (Noonans/PA)
Thomas Kavanagh was awarded the gallantry honour for his actions during the siege of Lucknow in India in 1857 (Noonans/PA)

In November 1857 he volunteered to leave the safety of the besieged British residency in Lucknow and managed to avoid capture as he passed through rebel lines under the cloak of darkness to pass a vital dispatch to a cavalry outpost.

Kavanagh, who had worked in the civil service in Lucknow prior to the rebellion, then used his local knowledge to guide the relieving force through the city to the beleaguered residency garrison.

Queen Victoria presented him with a VC for his bravery at Windsor Castle in 1860.

The medal was sold at Mayfair-based auctioneers Noonans on Wednesday.

It went for a £750,000 hammer price from a phone bidder but the total cost, when commission was added, was £930,000.

The VC awarded to Thomas Kavanagh (Noonans/PA)
The VC awarded to Thomas Kavanagh (Noonans/PA)

Oliver Pepys, associate director and medal specialist at Noonans, explained the significance of Kavanagh’s VC.

“Kavanagh’s gallantry at Lucknow 165 years ago stands out as one of the most premeditated and sustained acts of gallantry in the history of the Victoria Cross and the price achieved at auction demonstrates the high regard which Kavanagh is still held in today,” he said.

Chairman and chief executive of Noonans, Pierce Noonan, said: “The record price achieved for Kavanagh’s Victoria Cross reflects not just Kavanagh’s extraordinary gallantry, but also the strength of the market for small collectibles more generally where the prices for high quality items continue to go from strength to strength.”