KIRK, John  [1827-1865]

On 12th April 1860 Private John Kirk was paraded before his comrades in the 10th Regiment of Foot and subjected to fifty lashes of the cat-o’-nine-tails, a punishment imposed by a court martial for his having been ‘drunk on the line of march’. This was wholly in keeping with Kirk’s conduct during his eighteen years in the army, a passage of time which saw him appear in the regiment’s defaulters’ book no less than fifty-six times, six of these involving a court martial. He was, as his discharge papers note, a “bad soldier”. And yet, on the 4th June 1857, he exhibited such bravery that he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

His regiment was stationed at Benares and it was the early stages of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (once more commonly known as the Indian Mutiny). Kirk volunteered to go to the rescue of an officer and his family who were surrounded by hostile forces at their bungalow. Kirk, along with two Sergeant Majors he met en route to the bungalow, charged through the rebels’ ranks and was able to take the officer and his family to safety. His Victoria Cross citation read

“For daring gallantry at Benares on 4th June 1857 on the outbreak of the mutiny of the Native Troops at that station, in having volunteered to proceed with two non-commissioned officers to rescue Captain Brown, pension Paymaster, and his family, who were surrounded by rebels in the compound of their house; and having, at the risk of his own life, succeeded in saving them.”

In May 1864, the regiment having returned from India and been posted to Ireland, Kirk was found to be unfit for further service, syphilis being the “primary cause of his incapacity”. Still three years short of earning a pension, Kirk returned to his home town of Liverpool to a life of destitution and on 31st August 1865 he died in the Brownlow Hill Workhouse.

Nothing is known of his early life other than on enlistment he gave his place of birth as Liverpool, his occupation labourer and his age eighteen and a half years. His year of birth was accordingly around July 1827. There were a number of John Kirks born in Liverpool around that time but in the absence of any other details it is impossible to determine which, if any, was John Kirk V.C.

The headstone in Anfield Cemetery


The fullest account of John Kirk's life is to be found in Liverpool VC's by James Murphy [Pen & Sword 2008].