Thomas Lane VC

b. 05/1836 Cork, Ireland. d. 12/04/1889 Kimberley, South Africa.

Thomas Lane (1836-1889) was born in May 1836 in Cork, County Cork, Ireland. He enlisted in the 67th Regiment of Foot (later Hampshire Regiment) just prior to being posted to the developing conflict in the Far East in the China Campaign.

Thomas Lane VC

When, in 1860, the Chinese emperor declined to reply to a note demanding an apology for firing on British ships and his government’s failure to act on the provisions of the Treaty of Tientsin, a combined Anglo-French task force was sent to enforce compliance. The aim of the expedition was to force the Chinese from the Taku Forts positioned at the mouth of the Pei-ho river. In overall command of the assault was Major General Sir Robert Napier whose task was to expel the Chinese from the well defended Small North Fort.

At 06:00 on 21 August 1860, Napier gave the signal for the asault to begin. The attackers surged forward crossing a dry ditch and pouring through the abatis that had been smashed by the artillery. Two wet ditches were then crossed with great difficulty and upon reaching the fort’s wall the French erected ladders only to have them thrown down by the defenders. The troops, whose units had inevitably become intermingled, were crowded together at the base of the wall, being pelted with grenades, cannon shot, jars of quicklime and ‘stinkpots’ that gave off clouds of smoke. Desperate measures were needed urgently if the assault was to succeed. Close to the gate was Lieutenant Nathaniel Burslem and an Irishman, Private Thomas Lane, both of the 67th Regiment, who scrambled up to a narrow embrasure which they proceeded to widen, both sustaining serious wounds.

Not far away were Lieutenant Robert Rogers and Private John McDougall of the 44th Regiment who had swum the wet ditches, together with Lieutenant Edmund Lenon and Ensign John Chaplin both of the 67th, the latter carring the Queen’s Colour of the regiment. Lenon pushed his sword deep into the mud wall, supporting the hilt while Rogers used it as a step, fighting his way into the embrasure above. More men pushed their bayonets into the wall, creating a ladder up which Lenon, Chaplin and McDougall and others clambered up to join Rogers. At about the same time Burslem and Lane broke through their embrasure on to the ramparts. Men from both regiments then swarmed through the embrasures fighting their way at the point of the bayonet up the tower’s ramp enabling Chaplin to plant his Colour on the summit. The will of the Chinese, who until this point had fought stubbornly, suddenly collapsed and it was estimated that of the fort’s 500-strong garrison, 400 were either killed or wounded.

Following the publication of his VC on 13th August 1861, he received his medal on 28th November 1862 in Shanghai, China from Brigadier Staveley. After leaving the Army, Thomas Lane went to South Africa where, at various times, he joined several mounted police forces. Unfortunately, Thomas Lane was a habitual drinker, deserter and felon, which finally led to him being struck off the Victoria Cross Register (7th April 1881) resulting in him losing his pension and forfeiting his VC.

Although he gave himself up (as a deserter) his VC and other medals had been given to a friend for safe keeping and the War Office demanded their return by the authorities in South Africa. Having some spares for local issue and to avoid the wrath of the War Office, a VC complete with Lane’s details on it, but not the original, was returned to England to the War Office by the South African authorities. Sadly, Lane died aged 52 on 12th April 1889, and was buried in Gladstone Cemetery, Kimberley, South Africa. In 1909 two officers of the 2nd Hampshire found Lane’s original VC and his three other medals in a pawn shop in Pietermaritzburg and they were sent to Regimental Headquarters in Winchester, thus there were now two VCs said to be Lane’s.

The VC (not original) held by the War Office eventually found its way onto the market place where it changed hands several times and much debate followed as to which VC was the ‘right one’. It was in 1977 through scientific examination it was agreed that the VC held in Regimental Headquarters was the ‘original’ Lane medal being identical to the other three held (Burslem, Lenon and Chaplin) with the same metal content and engraving. The ‘War Office’ VC was also genuine in metal content but with variation in the engraving. In 1985 the ‘War Office’ VC was again sold by auction for £3,800 and the purchasers, Hamilton’s decided most generously, to donate it to the Regimental Museum.

His name along with seven others who had forfeited their VC was restored to the Victoria Cross Register by command of King George V in the 1920s who decreed no man should forfeit his VC even if he was a murderer!