Sir William Olpherts VC GCB

b. 08/03/1922 Dartry,County Armagh, Ireland. d. 30/04/1902 Upper Norwood, London.

Sir William Olpherts (1822-1902) was born on 8th March 1822 at Dartry House, County Armagh, Ireland, the son of William Olpherts. He was educated at Dungannon School and in 1837 received a nomination to attend the East India Company’s Military Seminary at Addiscombe. From Addiscombe, he entered the Bengal Artillery on 11th June 1839. He saw much active service during the 1840s, campaigning in Burma, Saugor, Gwalior, and the First Sikh War of 1844-45 and the North West Frontier in 1851. During the Crimean War, he served in the Caucasus with General Sir Fenwick Williams at the Defence of Kars and Erzeroum. He then went to the Crimea where he commanded a brigade of bashi bazouks in the Turkish contingent.

Sir William Olpherts

At the start of the Indian Mutiny, he was involved in the disarming of mutineers at Benares and joined Havelock’s Column at Allahabad. Known as “Hell Fire Jack”, Captain Olpherts revelled in danger. Garnet Wolseley, who served in the 90th during the Mutiny described Olpherts: “His battery was a sort of military curiosity in every way. His gun carriages were old, and always on the verge of absolute dissolution; and as for his harness, it seemed be tied together with pieces of string. First came dear old Billy himself, clad in garments he had used in the Crimean War, a fez cap and a Turkish grego (a rough jacket), the latter tied round his waist with a piece of rope. About 50 yards behind him came his well-known battery sergeant-major, in a sort of shooting coat made from the green baize of a billiard table; then a gun, every driver flogging as hard as he could; then another, a long distance in the rear….Some of the spokes had gone; they all rattled.”

Olpherts described himself as an “old smooth-bore, muzzle-loader, hopelessly behind the times.” An example of his dash was apparent when he joined the 90th in their dash across the Char Bagh Bridge in Lucknow on 25th September 1857. Olpherts, who had charged with them, galloped back under a severe fire of musketry, and brought up the limbers and horses to carry off the captured guns. For this and many other actions, he was elected by his Regiment for the VC. He was awarded the VC on 18th June 1858 and received his Cross from Major-General Sir Sidney Cotton at Lucknow on 4th May 1859.

When the Residency was reached, Olpherts acted as brigadier of artillery and, after Sir Colin Campbell’s column relieved Lucknow, he was left to defend the Alumbagh as the British advanced position. He finally returned home and retired as full general in 1883, to being further honoured by an appointment as Colonel Commanding the Royal Artillery. He died at his home in Upper Norwood, London on 30th April 1902, at the age of 81. He was buried in Richmond Cemetery, Richmond, Surrey. His medals are held on loan by the Royal Artillery Museum.






Kevin Brazier – Olpherts VC Grave and Cemetery Map.