Forgotten heroes of Crimea

The Crimean War in modern Ukraine territory was fought by an alliance including Britain against Russia in 1853 to 1856. It was immortalised by Lord Tennyson in his poem The Charge of the Light Brigade. The veterans of the war dispersed around the world, and this is the story of five of them who went to one town in colonial Queensland. I told a version of this live on West Bremer Radio.

William Bryant lived at Churchill in Ipswich. When he died in 1936 aged ninety-seven, he was buried in the Ipswich Cemetery, and the most incredible story was revealed. It was reported that he served in six wars and was Ipswich’s only recipient of the Victoria Cross. This is the highest and most prestigious award in the British honours system.

William Bryant

Bryant served with the British Navy in the Crimean War, Indian Mutiny, Second Opium War in China, insurrections in Jamaica, Maori Wars in New Zealand, and on both sides in the American Civil War.

It was reported that in China, Bryant was awarded the V.C. When he climbed the walls of the Chinese Tacu Forts, he was greeted by the point of a Chinaman’s bayonet, he quickly deflected the thrust with a cutlass he had in his right hand, and with a revolver he had in the other, shot his opponent. He then saved the lives of two men who were with him and was the first to leap over the wall.

Bryant’s medals were never publicly displayed because they were reportedly stolen from Laidley when he first arrived in the district. His story seems just too good to be true. Unfortunately it is. Some of Bryant’s story might be based on fact, but his Victoria Cross just didn’t happen.

Another veteran was Sergeant Michael Kearnan who lived in Ipswich for many years before selecting land at Stanley River. He was a sergeant in the historic 88th Regiment, Connaught Rangers. He was severely wounded during both the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. He received the Crimean medal with clasps for AIma, Inkermann, and Sebastopol, Turkish war medal, and Indian mutiny medal with clasp for Central India.

When Sergeant Kearnan died in 1882, he left a widow and eleven children. Shortly before the sergeant passed away, his brother-in-law got lost in the bush but was found near starving days later. One of his sons later also disappeared but was never seen again, and was presumed dead.  A grandson disappeared during the First World War at Polygon Wood in Belgium and was never seen again, believed killed in action. Sergeant Kearnan’s own story almost remained lost to history, except for it being reported to the newspapers by his former commander at the Connaught Rangers, Captain Robert Vernor.

Captain Robert Vernor

Captain Vernor also lived in the district. In Crimea, the captain and several of his men were recommended for the Victoria Cross. However, he was subsequently decorated with the Order of the Medjidie by the Ottoman Empire. Captain Vernor’s grandfather was a major in the Scots Greys and was wounded in action at the battle of Waterloo. The Waterloo medal hung alongside Captain Vernor’s own five medals in his house at Wivenhoe.

For many years, he was an Ipswich cricketer and a patron of what was then the Ipswich Navy and Army Veterans’ Association. He passed away in 1920.

Another Ipswich veteran of the Crimean War was Private Henry Bloom of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders. He was wounded in action no less than four times. The last occasion was a gash to his head that remained unhealed until Ipswich’s Doctor Dorsey sewed it up nearly a year later. Private Bloom worked everywhere from Ipswich to Goondiwindi. He settled first as a storekeeper and hotelkeeper at Murphy’s Creek and then at Helidon.

Private Henry Bloom

Private Bloom said the red-letter day of his life came in 1909 when he met Lord Dudley who was the fourth Governor-General of Australia, and they discovered that they had mutual acquaintances. He proudly wore his Crimean medal with clasps for Alma, Inkerman and Sebastopol, until the day he died aged eighty-five in 1914.

All these veterans went to Ipswich after they served in the Crimean War, but there’s one who actually went there from Ipswich. His name is Captain Francis Vignolles. He had a sheep run out west and spent much of his time at the old North Australian Jockey Club in Ipswich on South Street.

Captain Vignolles arrived in Australia in 1835 with the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment. He went to the Ipswich district and was appointed magistrate at Drayton. In 1854 the captain was recalled to his regiment to go fight in the Crimean War. Afterwards he returned and in 1860 ran unsuccessfully for the first Queensland parliament. He was defeated by James Taylor who became known as the father of Toowoomba.  The captain kept his sheep run at Western Creek, and even had the mail held up there by a bushranger.

But neither Ipswich nor bushrangers could compare to when the captain and the other Ipswich veterans boldly faced the Russian guns in Crimea.

Every town has forgotten local heroes like these men from a long ago war. They should be remembered especially now with what’s going on in Ukraine today.


Photo credits:
The Relief of the Light Brigade, 25th October 1854 – Richard Caton Woodville 1856–1927, UK National Army Museum.
William Keen Bryant – uploaded to Find a Grave by James Gray.
Captain Robert Vernor 1837-1920 – Jack Edwards.
Crimean War veteran Henry Samuel Bloom – Brisbane Courier, 18th October 1913, page 12.

One comment

  1. Wonder if there was a Crimean Veterans Association in Brisbane as there were a few in the Sandgate area including John Baxter of seafood fame in Cabbage Tree Creek—-

    Baxter, John Thomas
    d.1897 by drowning in Cabbage Tree creek, Sandgate
    ex-Royal Navy
    Served in Crimean War
    Made Sandgate a notable name with Baxter`s Oyster Saloon


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