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10 ISSUE 11 | MARCH 2011

HAWKESBURY DISTRICT INDEPENDENT NEWS | Hawkesbury history by Michelle Nichols & Jonathan Auld

Hawkesbury’s adopted VC winner F

rederick Whirlpool was born Humphrey James on 17 July 1831 to Irish parents Humphrey James and Lavinia Murphy. He was the third of ten children born

between the years 1827 to 1848, his siblings being William, Thomas, Susannah, Elizabeth, Benjamin, Dinah, Deborah, Josiah and Samuel. By his early twenties, Humphrey was working

as a clerk in Liverpool Lancashire. In 1854 aged twenty three years, he enlisted with the East India Company in Glasgow on 23 October joining the 3rd Bombay European Regiment for a term of ten years under the assumed name of Frederick Whirlpool. It is not known why he changed his name but some accounts state he had differences with his father. The ‘3rd’ was an infantry regiment established in 1853 by the British East India Company to defend Bombay (Mumbai). Whirlpool embarked for service in India on-board the ship Salamanca, arriving at his destination in early 1855. After a period of unrest in India a mutiny of Indian soldiers took place in 1857 against the monopoly of the British East India Company. This led to widespread rebellion and the closure of the East India Company in 1858. It forced the British to govern under a different administrative system which was called the British Raj. Whilst stationed at

Jhansi on 3 April 1858, Private Frederick Whirlpool volunteered during the attack of Jhansi to return several times to the battle scene under very heavy fire and carried several of his comrades who had been wounded and killed. His second courageous deed was “for devoted bravery at the Assault of Lohari on the 2nd of May, 1858, in rushing to the rescue of Lieutenant Doune, 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.” These gallant acts were reported in the London Gazette dated 21 October 1859. For these acts of bravery Whirlpool was

recommended for a Victory Cross (VC). The VC was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1856, and is awarded to members of the British Empire’s armed forces for valour “in the face of the enemy”. Since its inception just over 1,300 medals have been awarded in the various wars that have taken place.

Despite suffering near fatal

wounds in the battle of Lohari, Whirlpool spent five months in hospital recovering before being invalided from the company. By December 1859 Whirlpool had decided to settle in Victoria, Australia, having accepted a pension that had originally been set at nine pence per day, but was raised to fifteen pence after special representation by Field Marshal Sir Hugh Rose who was in command of the British troops in India. Volunteering his services

with the Victorian Volunteer Rifle Corps, Hawthorne and Kew Company, Frederick Whirlpool took part in the Volunteer Review held in Melbourne on 20 June 1861 in celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday. This was a significant event for Whirlpool, as it was here that he received his VC in front of upwards of 1,300 men on the field and between 13-14,000 spectators. The VC was presented to him by Lady Anne Barkly, the wife of his Excellency the Governor, followed by three cheers from the volunteers. This VC was the first Victoria Cross medal of valour to be awarded in Australia. Within a week of the

The Storming of Jhansi from “Heroes of the Indian Mutiny” by Edward Gilliat. Source:

historic presentation, a question was raised within the Victorian Legislative Assembly about possible employment

of Whirlpool to which the reply stated that Whirlpool had been entered onto a list of candidates for the police force, and would

Victoria Cross awarded to Private F Whirlpool, 3 Bombay European Regiment. Courtesy Australian War Memorial.

be appointed at the first available vacancy. But this vocation was not to be, as it was reported in mid- August that Whirlpool was employed as a schoolmaster, a position he had held whilst in the army. By 1864 Whirlpool had

moved to New South Wales, where he took charge of a new school near Wisemans Ferry whilst working for the Board of National Education. This job only lasted three years, after which Whirlpool, now using his birth name of Humphrey James, became a recluse from society. One has to wonder if the trauma and psychological scars of India had taken a toll on his later years.

Living the rest of his life

in the Hawkesbury district, Humphrey James was listed on the 1880 Hawkesbury Electoral Roll as living in the Pitt Town district. By the late 1880s he had become so distant from society that

he lived in what was described as a shanty hut at McGraths Hill. Humphrey James alias Frederick Whirlpool passed away at his home on 24 June 1899, just prior to his sixty eighth birthday. Alone to the last, Humphrey’s funeral was attended by only one man, a man he had befriended by the name of Mr John Dick Smith. Despite this outward appearance of isolation, Humphrey had started to correspond with his family, sending a letter and pencil drawing of himself to his brother in May. Unfortunately for Humphrey he was never to see a reply, with three heartfelt letters from surviving siblings arriving within months of his death.

His medals and small estate, worth

approximately £160, was distributed to his surviving siblings. His sister, Deborah Manifold, requested the Indian Mutiny Medal, whilst the VC was sent to his younger brother, Josiah James. The VC was eventually donated to the Australian War Memorial’s collection in 1983. Humphrey now rests in peace in an

unmarked grave in the Windsor Presbyterian Cemetery. Perhaps the time is right for the community to erect a memorial dedicated to an old soldier and VC winner.




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