b. 07/04/1832 Meerut, India. d. 14/04/1905 Lambeth, London.
Robert William Kells (1832-1905) was born the son of a serving soldier on 7th April 1832 in Meerut, India, where his father was on active service. Destined to be a soldier, Robert was just 12 years and 9 months old when he was attested as a boy soldier into the 9th Lancers. He took part in the Second Sikh War and was present at the Battles of Chillianwala and Gujarat.
He was promoted to Lance-Corporal and in 1857, found himself still in India when the Mutiny broke out. The outbreak of the Indian Mutiny found the 9th Lancers at Ambala where its four squadrons were divided between the 1st and 2nd Brigades of the Delhi Field Force, which, having effected a junction with Brigadier Archdale Wilson's Meerut Brigade, routed the mutineers at Badli-ki-Serai, and established itself on Delhi Ridge. After three months gruelling service on the Ridge culminating in the Fall of Delhi, the 9th Lancers were detailed to join the Flying Column under Colonel Edward Greathed which on the 24th September moved out to scour the Gangetic Goab.
On the 28th September 1857, the 9th Lancers found themselves involved in the action at Bulandshahr, and Kells would become one of 5 VCs awarded to the 9th Lancers in that event. Kells was acting as orderly to Captain Drysdale who was leading the charge on that occasion, when Drysdale’s horse was shot from under him. Falling heavily, Drysdale’s collar bone was fractured and he lay helpless in the open. Lance Corporal Kells and Private Jordan stopped their own horses and went to Drysdale’s assistance as the mutineers closed in on him. Kells and Jordan managed to keep the enemy sepoys at bay until further assistance arrived. Jordan was severely wounded by a musket ball, and sadly succumbed to his injuries. Kells was recommended for the VC as was Captain Drysdale. The award was approved for Kells but not for Drysdale.
Robert Kells continued with the Flying Column, and took part in the battle at Agra on the 10th October 1857, and was afterwards present with his regiment at the Second Relief of Lucknow, the Siege and Capture of Lucknow, and throughout the campaigns in Rohilkhund and Oudh.
Kells’ citation appeared in the London Gazette on 19th December 1858. He had to wait some time to receive his medal as it was one of the 15 which were forwarded to the Secretary of State for War for presentation in India. By the time they arrived, the 9th Lancers were already on the voyage back to Britain. Kells’ VC was included with those of the 9th Lancers and returned to London, despite Kells remaining in India and transferring to the 1st Bengal European Light Cavalry.
Finally, the much-travelled medal journeyed back to India and Kells finally received it at Allahabad in 1860. Kells was discharged from the 19th Hussars at Benares on the 14th November 1868 as the result of a fall from his horse and disease 'due to climate'. He told the discharge board he intended to reside at Blackfriars Road, London. It was strange he chose to live in England, a country he had never seen. On the 1st January 1881, Kells was appointed a Yeoman of the King’s Body-Guard at the Tower of London, and was present at many of the great State occasions of the latter part of Queen Victoria’s reign and the early years of King Edward VII’s. He died in Lambeth on 14th April 1905 and was buried in Lambeth Cemetery. In March 2005, his medals were sold at auction at Dix Noonan Webb and were purchased by an anonymous buyer for £130,000. The successful bidder then agreed to loan the medals to the 9th/12th Lancers and they are displayed at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: 9/12TH LANCERS MUSEUM, DERBY. CITY MUSEUM & ART GALLERY.
BURIAL PLACE: LAMBETH CEMETERY, LAMBETH, LONDON.
Robert Kells VC's medals on display at the Derby City Museum and Art Gallery, Derby
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
GRAVE 391 - F2
Robert Kells' death certificate courtesy of his great-granddaughter Christine Kipling