Sam Hanna Bell Samuel Beckett John Hewitt Bernard (Barney) Hughes James Joseph Magennis VC Frances Elizabeth Clarke Stewart Parker William Carleton Rosamond Praegar

General Sir William Olpherts VC (1822 - 1902):

William Olpherts was a distinguished soldier from Ulster, who was awarded the Victoria Cross, the principal military medal for bravery in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. He was also awarded the sobriquet of “Hellfire Jack”.

Olpherts was born at Dartry Lodge, Blackwaterstown, County Armagh, third son of William Olpherts, a lawyer, and Rosanna Olpherts (née Macartney). He attended Gracehill School, Ballymena, County Antrim, and the Royal School, Dungannon. In 1837 he entered the Military College at Addiscombe, Surrey, England, where he passed out in 1839, joining the Bengal Artillery in December of that year. His first serious mission was Burma, which then under British rule, where he was posted in October 1841, to Tenasserim district. Within a year he was back in India in the Saugor region; he was mentioned in despatches for his action suppressing insurgents at Jhirna Ghaut on 12 November 1842. The following year he was again m mentioned in despatches for his action at Punniar, December 29. In 1852 he returned England to the college at Addiscombe.
On the outbreak of the Crimean War he immediately sought service and ended up commanding a force of bashi bazouks (Turkish irregular troops with a reputation for wildness), intended to deploy against the Russians. At the conclusion of the war he returned to India and assumed command of a horse artillery battery at Benares. He served throughout the Indian Mutiny, largely in the north of the country, where he commanded a horse battery. It was at Lucknow on September 25, 1857 that his considerable bravery brought him his Victoria Cross, including charging an enemy gun detachment and returning with two captured guns which he pulled using his own limber. All this was accomplished despite enemy grapeshot and rifle fire. The following year he was again mentioned in despatches for his actions at the battle of Outram. He spent most the 1860s in India as an artillery commander, largely at the frontier stations of Peshawar and Rawalpindi.
He made a trip back to Ireland in 1868, but in 1872 returned to India where had a number of commands including the Gwalior, Ambala, and Lucknow brigades. He left India finally in 1875, his promotion to major-general. Promotion to Lieutenant-General followed on 1 October 1877, full General on 31 March 1883, and in 1888 became colonel commandant of the Royal Artillery. He was made KCB in 1886 and GCB in 1900. On his trip to Ireland in 1868 he had been presented with a sword of honour by his native County Armagh.
His nickname reflected his approach to fighting, which was full-blooded to say the least. One of his commanding officers once quipped that every time Olpherts went into battle, won a Victoria Cross. He also had a reputation for animated colourful language – a real trooper. However, he died in his bed at home in England. He had married Alice Maria, eldest daughter of Major-General George Cautley of the 5th Bengal European light cavalry, on 3 June 1861; they had one son, William Cautley, who became a soldier in the Royal Scots, and three daughters. He was buried with full military honours at Richmond, Surrey. His Victoria Cross was donated to the National Army Museum.


Born: 8 March 1822
Died: 30 April 1902
Richard Froggatt

Dictionary of Irish Biography; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Doherty & Truesdale: Irish Winners of the Victoria Cross (Dublin, 2000);