James Gorman VC

b. 21/08/1834 Islington, London. d. 18/10/1882 Sydney, Australia.

James Gorman (1834-1882) was born in Islington, Middlesex on 21st August 1834. He was the son of Patrick James Gorman, who was a Nurseyman, and his wife Ann (nee Furlong). Aged 13, James was one of the first intake of 200 boys who were accepted into the Royal Navy as apprentices.

James Gorman VC

In March 1848, he was assigned to HMS Victory as Boy Second Class. After completing six months of training, he was transferred to HMS Rolla. HMS Rolla cruised the English Channel where the apprentices continued their education before being seen as fit enough for active service. Impressing his instructors, Gorman was kept beyond his allotted time on HMS Rolla, to act as an instructor for the new intake.

James then served on a few ships before joining HMS Albion as a Boy First Class on 13th July 1850. He was promoted to Ordinary Seaman Second Class in May 1852, and two months later, to Able Seaman. It was at this rank that he served with the Naval Brigade in the Crimea. The Brigade, which consisted of 1,020 officers and men from a variety of ships including the Albion were placed under the command of Captain Stephen Lushington.

On 5th November 1854, at the Battle of Inkerman, Gorman alongside four others, lept into action and onto to a banquette to defend the guns which were at risk of being overrun by the enemy. They kept up a constant musket fire, whilst the wounded re-loaded their muskets from beneath the parapets. They kept up enough of a fire to drive the enemy back.

Two of the men were killed in the action, Thomas Geoghegan and James Woods, and would not be recommended for the Victoria Cross, which Gorman alongside Mark Scholefield and Thomas Reeves were. During the week after Inkerman, Gorman distinguished himself again when he saved Captain Lushington who had been unhorsed and surrounded by the enemy. Gorman was severely wounded in this action and had to return to the Albion, where his leg had to be amputated. After Captain Lushington recommended him for the VC, his award was announced in the London Gazette on 24th February 1857. Gorman was unable to attend the first investiture at Hyde Park on 26th June 1857 as he and Scholefield were both serving in the Second Opium War against China. The medals were despatched to them from the War Office. Gorman was serving aboard HMS Elk when he was presented with his VC.

He returned to the UK in 1860 and was paid off from the Navy at Sheerness on 21st August that year. During his time on HMS Elk, he had visited Australia three times and this must have attracted him to a new life. On 7th January 1863, James boarded the “Fairlie” at Plymouth to head for Australia.

James immediately found work on arrival in Sydney as a sail maker. He soon met his future wife, 20 year old Marianne Jackson, and they were married at St Philips Church, Sydney on 10th November 1864. Soon afterwards, their daughter Annie Elizabeth was born. Sadly, the marriage was short-lived, as Marianne died aged just 23 from a fever in July 1866.

James was then employed by the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, Henry Parkes, as a drill master and gunnery instructor on the Nautical School Ship, HMS Vernon. His duties were to teach the boys cutlass and rifle drill and other trades such as shoemaking. In 1869, he was promoted to Master at Arms in Charge and was responsible for the welfare and discipline of the 135 boys on board. He was promoted again to Second Mate in 1878 with a salary of £130 a year. He remained on the Vernon until 1881, when he decided to move to the Ordnance Department, becoming foreman of the magazines on Spectacle Island. Six months after moving to the island, he married Deborah King, who lived with him and his daughter.

On 15th October 1882, James aged just 47, suffered a stroke, and passed away three days later. He was buried in the Balmain Cemetery in Leichhardt. Sadly, the headstone which marked his grave was destroyed by Leichhardt Council in 1944 when the old cemetery was turned into Pioneers Memorial Park. Gorman is named on the War Memorial in Leichhardt. His medals are not publicly held having been sold at Dix Noonan Webb on 15th October 2020 for £240,000. They were auctioned again at Noonans on 6th December 2023 and sold for £406,400 and are now part of the Ashcroft Collection in the Imperial War Museum.