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James Gorman, VC - His Death

On 15 October 1882, aged 47 years James Gorman VC suffered a severe stroke. Three days later with his wife and daughter at his bedside he died.

His funeral was held on 20 October 1882 with a grave side service taking place in the Church of England section of the Balmain Cemetery in Norton Street, Balmain. Among the large crowd of mourners were the Officers and a strong detachment of the boys from the NSS Vernon. A firing party comprising of the boys gave the usual naval salute.

In 1901, as the building of Sydney's Central Station encroached on the Devonshire Street cemetery. The remains of those buried there were moved to other cemeteries, James Gorman's daughter now Mrs Anne Elizebeth Cairns, obtained an exhumation permit that allowed her to bury her mothers remains in the grave of her father, James Gorman VC.

The Headstone erected on this grave, (plot 10053), was destroyed by the Leichhardt Council in 1944 as Balmain Cemetery was transformed into "Pioneers Memorial Park".

The inscription on the headstone had read:-

In Memorial
James Gorman VC
Late Spectacle Island, also
15 years NSS Vernon.
Died 18th Oct 1882. Aged 47 years.
Awarded VC brave deed, first VC. June 21st. 1854.
VC instituted Jan. 29th.1856.

A Memorial stone archway, dedicated as "a lasting tribute to the pioneers of the district" was erected at the Norton Street entrance in 1944. Just inside the entrance there is a monument erected as a memorial to the fallen soldiers of Leichhardt in World War One. After the Second World War, the names of servicemen from Leichhardt who died in that conflict were added.

There are three individual plaques for Victoria Cross winners. On the front of the memorial there are two plaques; one in honour of World War One VC recipient, Private William Matthew Currey who attended Leichhardt School, he was awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions at Peronne 1 September 1918; The other, for Leichhardt born World War 2 VC recipient Corporal John Bernard Mackey who received a Victoria Cross for his actions that cost him his life at Tarakan, North Borneo in 1945.

On the northern side of the memorial there is a plaque recording that the then Governor of New South Wales, Sir Walter Davidson K.C.M.G had unveiled the memorial on 9 April 1922, when the monument stood in its original position in the grounds of the Leichhardt Town Hall, on the corner of Marion and Norton Streets.

Above this, there is a plaque, probably added when the memorial was relocated in 1949, bearing the inscription.

JAMES GORMAN VC.
5th NOVEMBER 1854.
BATTLE OF INKERMAN.
LEST WE FORGET.

On November 11 2001 a plaque in memory of Seaman James Gorman was attached to the Balmain War Memorial in Loyalty Square, Balmain.

Gorman outlived his Inkermann companions. Thomas Reeves, born in Portsmouth in 1828 was an apprentice baker when he joined HMS Victory, aged seventeen and a half in August 1846. He joined HMS Albion was a ordinary seaman in September 1850 and was one of the Ship's Yeomen of Signals at the time he was awarded his VC.

Thomas had volunteered for a further ten years service in April 1856 but was discharged in June 1860, when only thirty two years of age, classified "Aged and infirm".

Thomas Reeves died of consumption in August 1862 at Portsea and was buried in a pauper's grave at the Portsea Island General Cemetery. This area that was later declared as open space known as Mile End Gardens is now the car park for the Portsmouth Continental Ferry Port. A memorial was erected in 2001 to mark his grave. His Victoria Cross and service medals were auctioned by Spinks in 1986 for 11,000 Pounds.

Mark Scholefield the eldest of the three surviving participants in the action at Inkermann, was born in Middlesex in April 1828, and joined the navy as a Boy Second Class in 1846, serving on Tortoise. He joined HMS Albion as an Ordinary Seaman in October 1850 and like James Gorman was paid off from Albion in January 1856. He went out to China in HMS Acorn where he was Quartermaster and Petty Officer when he died at sea in February 1858. His Medals were sold at Auction by Glendinning's in May 1965, for 1,200 pounds.

The two seamen men from Albion who did not survive the action at Inkermann were Thomas Geoghegan A.B., and John Wood, A.B., Wood who was 38 years of age was buried near the 3rd division camp. The Muster Book of HMS Albion held at the Public Records Office at Kew, reveal that 29 Men and boys died on board the ship during the months of October and November 1854.

James Gorman VC may have only lived a short life but it was a life full of purpose and caring for others. His thirteen years in the Royal Navy was followed by what to me was his greatest achievement, years of great work on the NSS Vernon, which changed the lives of so many boys destined to a future of hopeless misery and shame, into lives full of promise.

The success of the NSS Vernon becomes evident by the records that show that within 25 years of being discharged from the ship, slightly over one percent, were charged with any wrongdoing. The remainder became respectable and industrious citizens.

The last word on James Gorman VC., goes to James Pickering the shoemaking instructor on the NSS Vernon, who is quoted as saying "He was always among the boys, a terror to the bad boys, he was regarded with affection by the good boys who would not do anything to displease him. In fact he had only to speak and all was peace and quietness".

© Harry Willey, August 2009

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au