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Timothy O'Hea VC.

Elizabeth Reid. The Singular Journey of O'Hea's Cross, soft cover, 142 p., $C24.95 plus $C8 p&p see www.oheascross.com, Leamcon Press, Box 19, Yale BC VOK 2SO, Canada.

One Of my first memories is as a 2 year old, dressed au natural, walking 400 meters up Brunswick Road to the corner of Sydney Road and seeing the Sarah Sands Hotel. Although now renamed you can still see on the front of the hotel; "established 1846", This is not the date the hotel was opened but the date the Sarah Sands was launched at Liverpool. In 1854 the Sarah Sands sailed into Melbourne but it was as a troopship with reinforcements during the Indian Mutiny that the ship entered military history. The ship caught fire and the gallantry shown by troops in putting out the fire saw the warrant of the Victoria Cross changed to allow gallantry "not in the face of the enemy".

The new provision was not retrospective and was dropped in a rewritten warrant in 1881. Only six Victoria Crosses were issued under this provision, the first being to Private Timothy O'Hea of the 1st Battalion, the Rifle Brigade for saving life on 9 June 1866 at Danville, Quebec, Canada. A fire broke out in a railway car containing 900 kg of ammunition. The alarm was given and the car was disconnected at Danville Railway Station. While the sergeant in charge was considering what should be done, Private O'Hea took the keys from his hand, rushed to the car, opened it and called for water and a ladder. It was due O'Hea's example that the fire was suppressed.

After service in the British Army O'Hea travelled to New Zealand and in mid 1874 to Sydney where he joined Andrew Hume and Alexander Thompson is seeking a survivor of the Ludwig Leichhardt expedition lost in 1848. The group came to grief after leaving Nockatunga station, 200 kilometres north-east of where the New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland borders meet. Only Thompson made it back to Nockatunga station to tell the story, the body of Hume was found but the body of O'Hea was never recovered.

A new book, The Singular Journey of O'Hea's Cross by a Canadian author Elizabeth Reid presents a new and intriguing theory as to the fate of O'Hea. In 1868 O'Hea was medically discharged from the Army suffering TB. He returned to his family home in Ireland where according to Elizabeth Reid he died and his identity and Victoria Cross annuity was assumed by his brother John who was in danger of being arrested by the authorities for Fenian activities.

The book covers the railway car fire, the gazettal and presentation of the Victoria Cross and his discharge from the Army. The story then continues to New Zealand, Sydney,, and the ill fated journey from Sydney to Nockatunga and towards Cooper's Creek from which O'Hea did not return. This is a really remarkable story. I found the book very easy to read and follow, the evidence was well presented and the hypothesis not unreasonable.
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Title Annotation:The Singular Journey of O'Hea's Cross
Author:Staunton, Anthony
Publication:Sabretache
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:513
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