The Rainham Hero of Lucknow
At the turn of the 19th century a tall, upright and well-built man became a familiar figure on the streets of Rainham. He lived at 109 High Street, he took great pride in his appearance, people noticed that he polished his shoes every day and he wore a row of military medals on special occasions.
Born in Tarbert, County Kerry in Ireland in 1830, Cornelius Sparling joined the 81st Regiment of Foot as a twenty year old. Sent to India he completed 21 years of service on the continent and played an important part in the Indian Mutiny of 1857.
Sir Henry Havelock
Serving under Sir Henry Havelock he took part in the march on Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh where Sepoys in the army had mutinied against their British rulers because during their gun loading process they had to bite cartridges believed to be greased with pork and beef fat for their Enfield rifles which violated the religions of Muslim and Hindu troops. During the ensuing conflict Sparling rescued a regimental officer named Lieutenant Roberts who went on to become a field marshal in the British army.
During the course of the rescue Lieutenant Roberts mounted the shoulders of Sparling and nailed the colours to the flag mast that had earlier been shot down from the British residency building. The men did this while under heavy fire from the Sepoys and they were lucky not to be killed or wounded. While the siege of Lucknow progressed Sparling could not escape until the British relief column arrived.
The siege and relief of the city cost the British 2,500 killed, wounded or missing. After this Sparling marched with his regiment to relieve Cawnpore which had been captured by Indian forces, but they arrived too late to prevent the massacre of 120 women and children based there. After the British had surrendered Cawnpore to the Indians in return for safe passage to Allahabad, the men were executed and the women and children hacked to death with meat cleavers and their remains thrown into a well to conceal the evidence. This led to retaliatory counter atrocities by the outraged British relief force soldiers who killed an estimated 7,000 Indian locals and executed many of the leaders of the mutiny.
After the siege and the massacre at Cawnpore Cornelius Sparling remained in India where he completed his service. As a result of his part played in the Indian Mutiny he received the Mutiny Medal with two clasps engraved ‘Lucknow’ and ‘Defence of Lucknow.’ He also received the ‘Good Conduct’ medal.
When Cornelius returned to England and lived in Gillingham former lieutenant Lord Roberts twice visited him. He then moved to Rainham where he became a familiar figure who regularly worshipped at St Margaret’s church and became a member of the Men’s Bible Class.
When Cornelius died aged 84 in 1914, 50 soldiers from Chatham accompanied by General Mullaly, Commandant of the Thames and Medway area, visited St Margaret’s church where Cornelius was given a full military funeral, the first in the village for about 30 years. With his coffin draped in the Union Jack and escorted by members of the West Kent Regiment, three volleys were fired over his grave as a final farewell to the Rainham hero of Lucknow.