‘Redan’ Massy’s sword and medal

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Artefacts, General, Issue 2 (March/April 2013), Volume 21

Massy’s specially engraved sword and scabbard—made by the Wilkinson Company, London—was presented to him in July 1856 by the students of Trinity College.

Massy’s specially engraved sword and scabbard—made by the Wilkinson Company, London—was presented to him in July 1856 by the students of Trinity College.

Although born in Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, William Godfrey Dunham Massy (1838–1906) belonged to a prominent County Tipperary family and entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1854. He abandoned his studies, however, to volunteer for service in the Crimean War. Despite being aged just sixteen, Massy was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 19th Foot and came to notice during the final assault on the Redan on 8 September 1855. The Redan was a fortified Russian position outside Sevastopol that had already withstood several previous attacks. At the beginning of the attack, Massy was noticed standing in the midst of a hail of fire, encouraging his men forward. He then took command of his company when all the other officers had been killed or wounded and, perhaps unsurprisingly, he was also wounded, being hit in both legs. As the Russians withdrew, they detonated their gunpowder stores in the Redan, and Massy and the other wounded lay out overnight as the stores exploded around them. The survivors later testified how he crawled from one to the other, checking on their condition and trying to boost the spirits of these wounded men who had been left lying between the lines.

 

Redan’ Massy—an iconic figure in Victorian society.

Redan’ Massy—an iconic figure in Victorian society.

Owing to the shambolic way in which the war had been conducted, the generals, politicians and general public were desperate for positive news and heroic figures. Massy’s conduct was mentioned in dispatches and he was fêted in the press, while the French awarded him the Légion d’honneur. He soon became known as ‘Redan’ Massy. On his return to Ireland he resumed his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, where he soon enjoyed celebrity status among his fellow students and around the city in general. He was referred to in ballads of the period and in 1856 was sent to Nenagh in the hope that he could help to end the mutiny of the North Tipperary Militia. In 1873 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Trinity College.

The sword in the National Museum’s collection is an example of the 1822/45-pattern infantry officer’s sword and it was made by the Wilkinson Company, London. It was specially engraved and presented to Massy in July 1856 by the students of Trinity College for his heroic conduct at the Redan. The medal pictured is Massy’s Crimean Medal. This is the reverse side, which depicts the figure of Victory bestowing laurels on a heroic figure. The obverse depicts a young Queen Victoria.

Although almost totally forgotten today, ‘Redan’ Massy became something of an iconic figure in Victorian society. He was held forth as an exemplar for young men in Britain and Ireland and was referred to in later army recruiting campaigns. Massy returned to a military career and served with the 5th Royal Irish Lancers in India. He fought with distinction during the Second Afghan War (1878–80) and was again decorated and mentioned in dispatches. He retired as a lieutenant general, and in 1887 he was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). In later life he lived at Grantstown, Co. Tipperary, and held various offices for the county, including justice of the peace, high sheriff and deputy-lieutenant.  HI

 

All images: National Museum of Ireland.

All images: National Museum of Ireland.

David Murphy lectures in history at NUI, Maynooth.

'


Copyright © 2022 History Publications Ltd, Unit 9, 78 Furze Road, Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland | Tel. +353-1-293 3568