SERGEANT JOHN CALLAGHAN – A SOUTH AUSTRALIAN SURVIVOR OF RUSSIAN CAPTIVITY
Like so many of his day, as a teenager John Callaghan accepted the call to arms and went to have a notable career in the Army of Queen Victoria. He was at Gallipoli sixty years before the Anzacs, served in two significant military campaigns in opposite corners of the globe, suffered captivity at the hands of the Russians through an almost intolerable winter, and was then among some of the earliest British soldiers to settle in South Australia. But not content to merely make Adelaide his home, he then volunteered for further service, coincidentally, just as the South Australian volunteer force was becoming more formally structured in Anticipation of a feared Russian invasion.
John Callaghan was born in County Cork, Ireland in February 1831. After working for a time as a laborer , he enlisted in the 50th Depot Regiment in Cork on 27 October 1846 aged just 15, and was allotted the regimental number 3277. Two years later, on 21 July 1848, he joined the 50th Foot (Queen’s Own regiment). The regiment had been known as such since 1831: it dated back to the 50th Regiment of Foot raised in 1756, and had been successfully tiled 50th (West Kent) regiment of Foot (1782-1827) and then 50th (Duke of Clarence’s) regiment of Foot (1827-31). By the time of John Callaghan’s enlistment, the regiment had recently seen action at Punniar (1843) and in the Sutlej campaign (1845-46).
In early 1854, he embarked for the Crimea with the regiment. John Callaghan maintained a parchment diary during his service, recording his experience of death in the snow (lost now). Shortly before his death, Callaghan began to document his military. On his early movement Callaghan recorded:
I served at home from 21 July 1848 until February 24, 1854 when the Regiment embarked for Malta. From there we embarked for Turkey, where we landed at Gallipoi, and after a few days stay at this place we proceeded to Bullahar to throw p entrenchments for defense against the enemy. Then we went back to Gallipoli and took ship to Varna, where we remained until we embarked for the Crimea."
Britain declared war on Russia on 28 march 1854, and John Callaghan was with the 50th Regiment when it arrived in the east, landing at Eupatoria on 14 September with a strength of 31 officers and 910 men, all newly equipped with Minie rifles. The 50th Regiment first took part in the battle on 20 September which successfully dislodged the Russians under prince Menshikoff from their strong position near mouth of the River Alma, and after the battle they were detained two days to bury the dead. They were then at the battle for Inkerman on 5 November 1854, in which the Russians attacked the Allied positions by night but were unable to dislodge them following an intense hand-to-hand battle in thick fog. The members of the 50th then marched on the road to Sebastopol where the Russians were for some considerable time besieged. Callaghan recorded:
"When we arrived in front of Sebastopol we commenced to throw up trehcnes and erect batteries, at which we had to work day and night. I need not mention the hardships we soldiers had to undergo and very severe weather too."
A Weekly State of the army for 3 June 1855 recorded that the English infantry had lost a total of one Sergeant and 28 men as prisoners of War or Missing. Throughout the whole campaign, the 50th lost a total of 512 men killed; further, 198 were invalided home and there were three deserters, while 25 were taken prisoner-of-war. Among them was John Callaghan, taken on the night of 20 December 1854 during one of the Crimea’s worst ever winters, when the Russians made a sortie in strength from Sebastopol in two columns. One column attacked the 34th Regiment on the right flank while, simultaneously, the other column attacked the left flank of the British. This flanking assault, made with considerable noise and with drums beating and bugles sounding, was speedily repulsed by the 38th and 50th regiments with considerable losses to the Russians: the 50th itself lost 13 men killed and 18 wounded, with 10 missing – snatched by the Russians.
At this time the Sebastopol siege was at standstill and the Russian garrison was suffering severely from half rations and outbreaks of cholera. The Russians took great pride in their ability to snatch equipment and prisoners. On 12 January 1885, Lieutenant Colonel Calthorpe, ADC to the English Commander-in-Chief, Field marshal Lord Raglan, recorded in a letter home that a Russian deserter had told them, that ""he Emperor of Russia has ordered that every man who brings in the following things from the Allies shall be paid accordingly; viz... for a prisoner, 50 paper roubles "(a paper rouble was then valued at about 10.5 pence). By January 1855, Colonel Calthorpe further recorded that the Russians were using the lasso for taking prisoners, a method which General Canrobet (C-in-C French Army) called "barbarous".
Those captured on this occasion included Captain H.J. Frampton, Lieutenant M.A. Clarke, and eight private soldiers. Of his capture and internment, Callaghan penned his recollection shortly before his death:
I was wit a detachment of my Regiment on duty in the advanced trench. We were very few in number considering the works we had to hold, as when we were extended each file was about twelve paces apart. The Russians made a sortie on our advanced works. They advanced in line with their supports, and I must say they made a bold dash. As I have said, there was not many of us to keep the works against the overwhelming numbers, as a company of them had only about six men to resist them. I had the misfortune to be taken prisoner on that morning. I received a bayonet wound in the right arm, and shortly after got a bullet wound in the head. I remembered no more until I came to, to find myself on the Russian side of trenches.
Four Russians had hold of me by the arms and legs, and were carrying me face downwards, while a fifth man carried the rifles of the other four. When I found how I was situated I kicked out and the two men who had told of my legs let go. I struggled to get free, but one of the men grabbed a rifle and struck me with the butt, knocking me down. I was covered in blood. I was then taken to the picket house near the Russian graveyard, where my wounds were dressed. Five stitches were put in my head. The bayonet wound was not so bad, as the bone stopped the point.
The same morning I was dropped in a boat to the north side of Sebastopol with a Captain, Lieutenant and others of my company who were in the same fix as myself. We were detained then some time, myself in the hospital until my wounds were thought to be sufficiently well for me to march. Before they were, we had to leave for Simferopol, 72 miles from Sebastopol, where all prisoners were kept until they had a batch to send to Voronesh, right away into Russia. I am sorry to say they had not long to wait, because there was a large batch of us. Between English and French there were seventy two of us, the prisoners taken in the Charge of the Light brigade being in this lot."
Some fifty years after the vent, Callaghan recalled some of those captured after the charge of the Light brigade who were now interred with him:
"Parker" [private Samuel parks], 4th Light Dragoons
Privates John Maccann and A. Harris, 13th Light Dragoons (both wounded)
Private Henry Parker, 11th Hussars
Privates James Wightman and James McCalister 17th Lancers (both wounded).
Samuel Parks was orderly to Lord George Paget, Colonel of the 4th Light Dragoons, and together with the Colonel’s Trumpeter Hugh Crawford was unhorsed during the charge. Parks saved his colleague’s life by fighting of two Russians, and was then shot in the hand while attempting to rescue a wounded officer. After a year of captivity, he returned to his regiment and was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross, one of only a few conferred for an act of valour performed before the issue of the Royal warrant instituting the decoration (January 1856).
The months of December to February, winter in the east, were the most severe of the entire campaign, and both British and Russian armies were losing hundreds of men from disease and exposure. Callaghan continued:
We left in January  – I cannot say the exact date. It was very cold and snowing the morning we left. We were under march until dark, when we came to a Russian camp, or, rather, collection of huts sunk in the ground and covered with thatch. They cleared some of the huts out or us, but the prisoners set some of the huts on fire and w had to stop out all night in the snow. We arrived at our destination in April of the same year, having traveled in the depth of winter about 1,700 miles through Russia. The last three days I had no boots, and the snow was melting about my feet."
The Malakoff and the Sedan were stormed, and Sebastopol fell on 8 September 1855, and the Russians fired the town, sank their fleet and withdrew across the River Tchernaya: an English Commandant was appointed in Sebastopol on the 12th. The fall of this fortress effectively signified the end of the war, although minor lashes and skirmishes continued until October 18th. On this day , the Russians blew up fort Otchakooff and the garrison withdrew to Nicholaieff and, by the 21st, fighting ceased, with a peace treaty being signed in Paris on 30th of March 1856. The fall of Sebastopol and the Russian retreat was of particular significance to those English soldiers who had endure captivity at the hands of the Russians; Private John Callaghan was exchanged on 21 October 1855, and he rejoined the regiment on the 26th. The 50th was one of the last of the British Army to leave the Crimea, and was present on 12 July 1856 when Balaklava was passed over to the Russians. Callaghan was a witness of these events:
The Russian troops came in the folowing order: - The Cossacks first, headed by Prince Menshikof and other staff officers, the Dragoons next, and followed by the infantry. My company was drawn up across the Katikoi Bridge, where we received the Russians with fixed bayonets. The usual salute being exchanged between the Russian leader and Major Danels. My company were ordered to retire, the Russians relieved the British guards, and everything was given over to them, stores and all. We sailed from Balaklava t 4 o’clock on the afternoon of July 12 1856. We were all pleased to leave the Crimea, and think that the hardships and starvation were over."
In 1858, he sailed with the regiment for duty in Ceylon and was there for about six years. On 29 May 1860, it is recorded that he forfeited one penny per day good conduct pay for some minor offence, while in the period Otober-December that year, he spent 38 days in hospital n Colombo. In 1864, the regiment sailed to New Zealand here John Callaghan served as a Corporal in the 50th as the British Army again tried to impose peace on the Maoris.
The landing of the first Governor, Captain Hobson, on 29 January 1840 and the subsequent signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 of February had led to an increasing perception by the native Maoris of a European infiltration and occupation. This in turn led to Maori risings on the North island in 1845-46 and on the South Island in 1847, with peace finally established by 1861 after yet another uprising. Fighting broke out again on 4 May 1863 and spread rapidly, and the British regiments suffered quite severely in early 1864, requiring the deployment of additional troops. fghting continued until 3 July 1866 and British troops withdrew during the following four years. The second Mario war more a series of outbursts o bush fighting throughout the North Island than a proper campaign, and the British soon learnt that their tactics from the Crimea – frontal infantry assaults in close order on the high wooden stockades and earthen walls of the Maori pahs – were costly and ineffective, and instead developed tactics which involved pursuing the Maoris into the bush. John Callaghan’s movements at this time are a little vague, but he certainly appears in the Adelaide City Council citizen Rolls. He was promoted to Sergeant in the 50th in New Zealand on 9 September 1867, the day following Sebastopol Day – a significant commemorative date in the regiment’ calendar, recalling the fall of Sebastopol and the service of the 50th in the trenches.
In October 167, after spending three years in New Zealand, the regiment sailed to Adelaide, South Australia. Callaghan took his discharge in Adelaide on 25 march 1869, with gratuity of twelve months’ pay. Eight years after his retirement from the British army, John Callaghan wished to resume military service in the forces of his adopted Colony, spurred on, no doubt by the strong anti-Russian sentiment in south Australia at that time, born in the fears of Russian naval aggression between 1804 and 1835, heightening with the war in the Crimea, and climaxing with the possibility of England becoming involved in the Ruse-Turkish war of 1877-78. So, suitably qualified and experienced in skirmishing with the Russians, in July 1877 John Callaghan was appointed a Drill Instructor in the active, partially paid Volunteer Military force with the rank of Sergeant-Major. It is believed that he also served as a Drill instructor at Christian Brothers College…
Just a week after his appointment as Governor of South Australia, admiral Sir Day Hort Bosanquet GCVO KCB hosted a garden party at Government House for Army and Navy veterans of the Crimean War, himself a veteran of the China wars. Some 38 elderly gentlemen John Callaghan among them, attended the function on Monday, 5 April 1909, and were photographed with Their Excellencies…
Having suffered from gout and chronic interstitial nephritis for a number o years, John Callaghan died on Wednesday 1909. Among the pall-bearers during the funeral was Patricia Connors who had served with Callaghan as a private in the 50th Foot during the Crimean war. Notably, Connors had been wounded during the Russian attack from Sebastopol on the night of 20 December 1854, during which Callaghan had been taken prisoner. His other pall-bearers were all veterans of Victorian campaigns around the globe.
Paul Rozenzweig. Sergeant John Callaghan - a South Australian Survivor of Russian Captivity. Sabretache Vol XXXV - October-December 1995
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