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O’HEA, TIMOTHY, soldier; b. 1846 in Bantry, County Cork, Ireland; d. November 1874, in the desert of Queensland, Australia.
Little is known of O’Hea’s early life or parentage. He joined the 1st Battalion of the Prince Consort’s Own Rifle Brigade as a private before the age of 20 and was sent to Canada with his regiment in 1866. On 9 June 1866, during the Fenian uprisings, O’Hea and three other men were guarding a munitions shipment attached to a passenger train carrying 800 German immigrants; the shipment was bound from Quebec to the Lake Erie front. En route, at Danville, in the Eastern Townships, a fire was discovered in the munitions car. The car was disconnected, and before a decision had been made about further action O’Hea took the keys to the burning car from the sergeant in command, opened it, and fought the fire for nearly an hour at great peril to his life. He singlehandedly put out the blaze. On 7 Jan. 1867, at Quebec, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. This was the only instance in which the vc was given for service within Canada and awarded for an act of valour not performed in the presence of an enemy.
Shortly afterwards O’Hea left the army and joined the New Zealand Mounted Police. In June 1874 he moved to Australia where he joined Andrew Hume and Lewis Thompson in a search party looking for a reported survivor of the Ludwig Leichhardt expedition lost some 20 years earlier in the interior of the country. The party set out from Nockatunga station in November, apparently inadequately supplied, and soon met with tragedy. O’Hea and Hume died of thirst; Thompson managed to return to Nockatunga with the report of their deaths. He afterwards led a search party, which found Hume’s body but not O’Hea’s. O’Hea’s body was recovered sometime later apparently by aborigines.
O’Hea is buried at Nockatunga station in Queensland. His vc remained for many years in the National Art Gallery in Sydney, Australia. The gallery was to give it to Canada in 1950, but at the request of Field Marshal Lord Henry Maitland Wilson, Baron of Libya, Canada waived her claim and it was returned to the regimental museum in Winchester, England.
PAC, RG 8, I, AI, 1038, pp.47–53. Town and Country Journal (Sydney, Aust.), 9 Jan. 1875. The Australian encyclopædia (10v., Sydney, 1965), II, 331; V, 284; VI, 391. Encyclopedia Canadiana, VIII, 7. A. H. Chisholm, Strange new world; the adventures of John Gilbert and Ludwig Leichhardt (2nd ed., Sydney, 1955), 256–58. “For valour”: the V.C.; a record of the brave and noble deeds for which her majesty has bestowed the Victoria Cross from its institution to the present date, ed. J. E. Muddock (London, 1895), 155. Canadian Military Gazette (Montreal), XV, no.19 (1900), 20. A. H. Chisholm, “The V.C. of Timothy O’Hea,” Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Feb. 1950. Thomas Dunbabin, “Tim O’Hea’s Canadian V.C.,” Ottawa Citizen, 10 Aug. 1951.