b. 13/01/1827 Clapham, London. d. 16/09/1860 at sea
Robert Haydon Shebbeare (1827-1860) was born on 13th January 1827 in Clapham, London. He was educated at King’s College School, London and was a fellow pupil of Philip Salkeld, who would also be awarded the Victoria Cross for actions on the same day during the Indian Mutiny. After training at Addiscombe Seminary, he was commissioned on 29th February 1848 in the 60th Bengal Native Infantry. He was with his regiment at Umballa when they learned of the outbreak of the Mutiny at Meerut. They were ordered to march to Rohtak, which was in danger. When they arrived on 9th June, the sepoys of the 60th Bengal Native Infantry, who had behaved well on the march, mutinied. The British officers saddled up and rode as a body to join the Delhi camp.
Now without a regiment, Shebbeare was appointed second in command of the Guides Infantry of Sikhs from the Punjab. He saw a lot of action as he regiment defended Hindoo Rao’s House, a particular target of the rebels. During the siege, Shebbeare was wounded no less than six times. As he wrote in a letter to his mother “I was wounded by three bullets on 14th July and again by one on 14th September…In addition to these wounds, two musket balls went through my hat. The first slightly grazed my scalp; giving me a severe headache and making me feel very sick. The second cut through a very thick turban and knocked me down on my face, but without doing me any injury. On the same day and shortly afterwards a ball hit me on the right jawbone but glanced off with no worse effect that making me bleed violently and giving me a mumpish appearance for some days.”
When the assault on Delhi began on 14th September 1857, his regiment was attached to No 4 Column, tasked with taking the Lahore Gate. The column was in a perilous position from the start as they had to contend with the maze of Kissengunge suburb on the right flank before they could reach the Gate. The rebels had constructed a strong breastwork across the approach to the city and enfilade fire from Kissengunge held up any advance. Even when the breastwork was taken, the column was unable to follow through and was forced to pull back. It was during this action, that Lieutenant Shebbeare performed the action which lead to the award of the VC (London Gazette, 21st October 1859).
Shebbeare twice charged beneath a wall of the loopholed serai and found it impossible owing to murderous fire, to attain a breach. Shebbeare endeavoured to reorganise his men, but had lost one-third of them, so his efforts failed. He then conducted the rear-guard of the retreat across the canal successfully. He left the action with the aforementioned wound to the cheek and scalp. After all the action he had seen and endured, he received his Victoria Cross through registered post. Curiously, it was engraved with his old Regiment, the 60th Bengal Native Infantry and not the Guides as published on his citation.
He raised and commanded the 15th (Pioneer) Regiment of Punjab Infantry and in 1860, led them during the Second China War, but ill health forced him to leave in September. After sixteen years away from the UK, he set sail from China on the SS Emau to be reunited with his family again. When the ship docked, his family were waiting eagerly for him on the quayside. Tragically, it was only then that they were told that he had died from malaria whilst on the voyage, and had been buried at sea off the coast of Shanghai. Shebbeare’s medal was loaned to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in 1949 by the family. It remained there until the Centenary of the award of the VC approached in 1956. When the Shebbeare family asked for the return of the medal it could not be found, and no satisfactory reason could be given. In 1959, the Shebbeare family applied for and were issued an official replacement, which is still in private ownership.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SOLD AT AUCTION ON 25/04/2018 FOR £30,000.
BURIAL PLACE: EAST CHINA SEA.