b. 21/10/1833 Portsmouth, Hampshire. d. 22/05/1917 Billingshurst, West Sussex.
Israel Harding (1833-1917) was born in Portsmouth on the 21st October 1833. His father was John Harding, Queen’s Pilot at Portsmouth and his mother was Sophia Harding (nee Martin). At the 1841 Census, when Sophia is recorded as head of family with her 8 children including 7-year-old Israel, the family seem to have been living at 11 White Hart Row, Old Portsmouth. He was educated at the Royal Victoria School, Bath Square, Old Portsmouth.
Harding’s Naval career began aboard HMS Arrogant in 1849 which was swiftly followed by attendance at a gunnery course on HMS Excellent. He married Harriet, aged 19, daughter of George Ellis, a Cordwainer, of St Mary’s Road, at St Mary’s Church, Portsea on 10th January 1853. Harding was a Seaman on HMS Excellent at the time. They had a daughter Sophia, a son Joseph and a second daughter Harriett. Harding divorced his first wife Harriett on the grounds of her adultery in 1872 and on 10th November 1873 he married Emma Annette (nee Nunn) at Woolwich Parish Church. She was the daughter of an Inspector in the Storekeeper’s Department in Woolwich Dockyard. They had four daughters, Emma, Louise, Annette and Victoria Maud. Harding’s wife Emma died on 11th May 1912 at the family home, 84 St Augustine Road, Southsea, aged 69.
He served during the Crimean War on HMS Cressy and in 1862 took part in an expedition to Mexico and the occupation of Vera Crux. In 1871 he was a gunner aboard HMS Gladiator and received a Brazilian Order [medal] and a testimonial letter from Princess Imperial Regent of Brazil on behalf of Emperor Don Pedro II for services rendered in extinguishing a fire at the Arsenal of War in Rio de Janeiro. He saw further action aboard HMS Victor Emanuel as a Gunner during the Ashantee War and then on HMS Alexandra he was present at the bombardment of Alexandria, Egypt where he gained the Victoria Cross. During a lengthy career he was also Mentioned-in-Despatches and was awarded the Egyptian Medal [Alexandria clasp] and Khedive’s Bronze Star.
On 11 July 1882 at Alexandria, Egypt, HMS Alexandra, with other ships, was bombarding the forts of the city and suffering damage and casualties from the enemy’s guns. During the engagement a 10-inch shell passed through the ship’s side and lodged on the main deck. Gunner Harding, hearing a shout that there was a live shell just above the hatchway (which led to the magazine) rushed up from below, picked it up and flung it into a tub of water. Had the shell burst it would probably have caused many deaths.
Harding was gazetted for the VC on 15th September 1882. He was presented with his medal by the Commander in Chief Malta, Lord Alcester on 14th November 1882. Israel Harding died at his daughter’s house, Silkstead House, Billinghurst, Sussex on the 22nd May 1917, aged 83, and was buried four days later in the Highland Road Cemetery, Portsmouth. His medals were sold at auction in December 2003 at Morton & Eden for £75,000. The medals were purchased by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: HIGHLAND ROAD CEMETERY, PORTSMOUTH.
SECTION H, GRAVE 7-59
Kevin Brazier – Harding VC Grave and Highland Road Cemetery Plan.