Kindly Discretion

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by Peter Conole, Guest Writer

Michael Monaghan was a Crimean War hero and a man of many parts in terms of his working life and career changes. One career would not have brought back fond memories had he been reminded of it later in life, but that business will be discussed with discretion later in this article. His contemporaries were very discrete about it, as was he, so we will respect the ancient decorum. He was born at Tuam in County Galway in 1835 and enlisted as a private in the 9th Regiment of Foot on 6 Feb 1854. Service in the Crimea followed from January to September 1855. Major battles in the open field lay in the past, but the fighting around besieged Sebastopol was bitter and deadly.

In a general attack on June 18 his regiment did very well and carried the Sebastopol cemetery, even breaking into part of the city itself before being ordered to pull back late at night. Young Michael had done wonders, despite a wound in the left leg, especially when he ran to and fro in the struggle bringing up extra ammunition. Special mention of such distinguished conduct was placed on his army file and he was promoted to corporal on the same day. The file also noted another deed during the trench fighting of July 8. A French officer was wounded and Corporal Monaghan dashed out under fire to pick the man up and carry him back to safety – and suffered another wound himself in the process. That one was severe and he returned to Ireland, minus a finger on his right hand and with other hurts and abrasions to consider.

Michael received the Crimean Medal with a clasp for Sebastopol, plus the Turkish Crimean Medal and another, a very rare decoration for a British soldier. The French emperor Napoleon III heard of his life-saving effort for one of his own men and was impressed. At a parade back in Galway a special French medal was presented to the corporal, one with the bust of the Emperor and an eagle on the obverse and the words ‘valour and discipline’ on the reverse. On the downside, a Military Board decided he was unfit for further service and recommended him for a pension at Limerick on 25 October 1855. He probably supplemented the payments with labouring jobs, as was common, until new horizons opened for him seven years later.

Michael was selected for the Enrolled Pensioner Force and arrived in WA on the York, 31 December 1862. By then he had married a woman named Mary and was the father of one child. During the early months of 1863 he and some other EPF men were stationed on Rottnest Island. Disaster struck in late June 1863. Michael Monaghan was indicted for rape and tried for the offence. The accuser was the daughter of a ‘brother pensioner’. When reporting the case on July 2 ‘The Inquirer’ newspaper refrained from giving all the details. The presiding magistrate found the evidence did not justify conviction for the capital charge of rape.

However, Monaghan was found guilty of ‘assault with intent’ and sentenced to one year in prison. The press also noted the veteran’s fine military record and previous excellent character – and that Michael ‘declared his innocence when sentence was passed’. On July 10 1863 his wife Mary applied for financial relief, as she and their child were left without support after Michael’s conviction. She will certainly have needed assistance, as a second child (son Thomas Patrick, born February 1864) arrived when her husband was in prison. There is no reason to doubt that the Sebastopol hero served his full sentence and was not released until July 1864.

Analysis of the disaster reveals it had a compounding affect when genealogists got to work in the 20th Century. By the 1970s he was wrongly identified with another Michael Monaghan (not an enrolled pensioner) who joined the constabulary in 1863 and held the position of lock-up keeper at Fremantle police station in January 1864. That totally different Michael Monaghan moved around the colony as policing duties required and married Ellen Lyons at Bunbury in 1865. Constable Michael Monaghan resigned from the WA Police in 1869. By the 1980s the confusion between him and the disgraced military pensioner even generated duplicated police records of service in two entries under ‘Michael Monaghan’ in a widely used reference work. Further problems in this case of mistaken identity continued until the current year. Happily, the issue has now been resolved.

After his release in about July 1864 Michael Monaghan (understandably after such a scandal) decided to ‘slip out’ of WA. He arrived in Adelaide per the Balclutha in August, only to run into additional legal problems. He was accused of passing himself off as a military pensioner in September 1864 and ended up in court both for that and non-payment of board and lodgings at the Hindmarsh Hotel. An Adelaide judge dismissed the case on October 4. Monaghan had simply not brought the standard certificate identifying himself as a military pensioner, hence a legal finding of false and fraudulent pretences could not be sustained. The debt issue was put to one side as a civil matter.

Whatever the outcome Monaghan returned to WA to collect and bring back his wife and children. In March 1865 they arrived in Adelaide on the Ann Saunderson. We learn that arrangements were made to pay his pension in South Australia in 1868, when he received an advance of several pounds from Perth, WA. The trouble is Michael was obliged to formally notify South Australian authorities, but he did not contact officials there, military or otherwise. The Enrolled Pensioner Force staff back in WA found out about the omission as late as December 1875 and suspended his pension for a month as punishment.

By then a lot of additional untoward things had happened. We will not dwell on the regrettable details, which were widely reported in the Adelaide press. Michael derived income from his pension and probably manual work, but from 1869 onwards he became involved in a sequence of encounters with the local police and judiciary. He was convicted eight times for various offences in the South Australian Supreme Court or the Court of Petty sessions. To put it bluntly there are indications Monaghan was developing a new profession outside the law. A second conviction for burglary in April 1876 resulted in a two-year gaol sentence. Then the authorities got serious – a ‘guilty’ verdict in another larceny case of June 1880 drew a sentence of eight years with hard labour.

The sad part is that by then the military authorities in London knew about Michael Monaghan’s decline and fall and were taking action on their own account. After the first gaoling in 1876 they took his pension away, but had merciful second thoughts and allowed his wife to retain half. After receiving news of the 1880 case somebody got really angry – the authorities struck Michael off the roll of pensioners. The rest is silence until a new century dawned. We may be sure a lot of people both in Britain and South Australia had been discreet, because when Michael made the news again he had no trouble in glossing over his past – in fact he expunged 25 years of his life from public memory.

In 1914, close to the end of his life, his status an old soldier and Crimean War hero attracted attention from the press and public officials of the State. Adelaide newspapers (South Australian Register, 3 June 1914 and Adelaide Advertiser, 30 June 1914) outlined Monaghan’s own version of his life story. He claimed to have arrived in WA as a Pensioner Guard in 1863 before moving quickly to South Australia soon afterwards. He then worked for two respectable employers and became active in veteran’s affairs. Thus the regrettable realities of his criminal career glossed over. It is quite likely Michael served out a full second sentence and was released as late as 1888. Surely some folk in the State knew something about his past problems, but if so they kept a discrete silence.

Furthermore, the rediscovered hero told the press another massive untruth which was believed not just by them and the general public but also by the Governor of the day and the Queen of England. We are referring to the tale of Queen Victoria’s handkerchief. According to Michael Monaghan the Queen reviewed the 9th Regiment when it returned from the Crimea and gave him a fine embroidered handkerchief as a token of admiration for his courage. Then woe, Michael took it to Government House after an invite from Governor Sir Dominic Daly, but the blessed relic got lost and he had been distressed about it ever since.

The story is so unlikely as to be ridiculous. Firstly, he did not notify folk in Adelaide of his status as a military pensioner and, as mentioned earlier, WA officials were annoyed when they found that out. He had good reasons for keeping a low profile, for if he had drawn attention to his role as a military pensioner, WA authorities might have seen fit to inform their Adelaide counterparts about certain embarrassing matters. Michael was also invalided back home to Ireland well ahead of his regiment and any possible royal reviews in 1856. But people took the story at face value and a royal handkerchief duly arrived from London. The press even sentimentalised about the reception of the new token just a couple of days before the noble old hero died.

There can be no doubt that Michael did turn his life around after that long stretch in prison. He found gainful employment and the military establishment in London eventually heard of his redemption. The Secretary of State restored his pension on 26 July, 1906 and increased it by 50% out of respect for his gallant conduct in various affrays and the grant of that French war medal. Michael Monaghan also took another step in the correct direction. He actually joined the Corps of Veterans at some stage and was a respected old warrior of the Adelaide community when he at last had a real – as opposed to an imaginary – meeting with the Governor of South Australia.

Former Corporal Monaghan died in late June 1914 and was given a fine, elaborate military funeral on the last day of the month, with many dignitaries of the time and soldiers and citizens in attendance. He deserved the recognition – there is no gainsaying those spectacular deeds of valour and self-sacrifice performed under the walls of Sebastopol three score years before.

Revised 12 June 2016.