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District pioneer was VC hero

William Napier, whose remains lie in Rochester cemetery, received the Empire's highest honour for gallantry while fighting for the British army during the Indian Mutiny.

JOHN GLOVER, ROCHESTER RSL April 25, 2014 3:10am

Former Rochester resident Sergeant William Napier VC.


 

Rochester RSL member John Glover wrote this story about a former Rochester resident who migrated to Australia:

Sgt William Napier was born in Yorkshire to Scottish parents in 1827.

An uncle had served in the British army at the Battle of Waterloo and this inspired young William to enlist in the 13th (1st Somersetshire, Prince Albert’s Light Infantry) Regiment of Foot at the age of 18.

He subsequently served in the Crimean War (Battle of Sebastopol) and was stationed in South Africa when the regiment deployed to India to help quell the Indian Mutiny.

Sepoys (soldiers) employed by the East India Company had refused certain orders based on religious principles and a small rebellion transformed into the First Indian War of Independence.

Many lives were lost and the British Raj was significantly restructured as a consequence.

In April 1858, Sgt Napier saw a regimental soldier badly wounded and cut off from help.

Sgt Napier went to his aid, received a significant head wound while tending to the soldier’s wounds, returned fire despite being blinded by blood from his own injury, then carried the wounded soldier to safety.

Declining the offer of a commission as a reward for his gallantry, Sgt Napier was awarded the Victoria Cross and promoted to Company Sergeant Major.

Queen Victoria established the Victoria Cross during the Crimean War in 1856, but 182 were awarded during the Indian campaign.

Created to reward those who displayed supreme courage and gallantry under fire, the Victoria Cross was the premier award for gallantry and remains so today.

 

Sgt Napier discharged at his own request, travelled to Australia, married in Melbourne, was widowed within a few years, remarried in Bendigo and settled in Rochester, where he is regarded as one of the pioneers of the district.

He was the only VC winner living in Victoria at the time of Queen Victoria’s silver jubilee.

Initiated into St John’s of Rochester Masonic Lodge before the formation of the United Grand Lodge of Victoria in 1889, he was subsequently installed as Master and later served as treasurer for a considerable period.

He died in 1908 and is buried in Bendigo Cemetery where his grave is maintained by the Australian Office of War Graves.

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