Lieut Alfred Gibaut

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Lieut Alfred Gibaut


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Lieut Alfred Gibaut was a young Jersey soldier killed during the siege of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny. Was he an early Jersey recipient of the Victoria Cross, as reported in two Jersey newspapers after his death? This page is based on an article [1] by Gareth Syvret and Neil Molyneux in the 2007 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise


Lieutenant Alfred Gibaut was born on 20 June 1836. His father was Moses Gibaut, Solicitor, of St Helier, who had an office in the Royal Square and lived at Oaklands; [2] his mother was Elisabeth Perchard. One of a large family, Alfred had five brothers and two sisters. The eldest brother, John, was elected Constable of St Helier in March 1861 and then later became the first Stipendiary Magistrate.

Other brothers joined the Army. Philippe (1830- ) rose to the rank of Colonel and was involved with the post-mutiny operations in India in 1858. Walter Moses (1831- ) was an Army Surgeon, and served in Crimea. The youngest of the brother, Clifford (1841- ) was a Major. He was one of the first pupils at Victoria College. t has not been possible to discover where the older brothers were educated.

Joined Army

Alfred joined the 84th Regiment of Foot as Ensign by Purchase on 9 June 1854, aged 17. It is probable that it was on this occasion that his photograph was taken. A curiosity of the photograph is that the shako on the table beside him. appears to be of a type already obsolete by 1850. Was his jersey hatter using up old stock?

His uniform itself was of a type soon to be rendered obsolete by the changes brought in during the Crimean War and as such the photograph is an interesting early military portrait.

In December 1854 Gibaut was already on his way to India and he was never to see his family or home again. On 7 September 1855 he was promoted to Lieutenant by purchase and he served in what were presumably peaceful surroundings for a further two years.

Lt Gibaut's Army enlistment record, showing that he purchased his commission

Indian Mutiny

After the Mutiny broke out in early May 1857 Gibaut was present in actions during July and August, during which time his regiment became attached to Sir Henry Havelock’s relief expedition advancing towards Lucknow. Gibaut was therefore present at the dramatic first Relief of Lucknow. Havelock's forces fought their way through the centre of the city, surging forward towards the Residency. All at once they arrived in front of the great gates, barricaded for so long.

The garrison within had to work with great haste to open them and allow Havelock’s men to flood inside. The intention had been to evacuate the Residency Compound immediately but it was realized that this could not be done without great loss of life to the civilians still inside, as conditions in the city were so dangerous.

So those of the relieving force who had reached the Residency had to remain and augment the garrison there. Thus Gibaut found himself under siege.

Gibaut reached the Residency on 25 September, and he died on 6 October. He was trying to extinguish a fire in a breastwork when he was shot and fatally wounded. One of his companions, Lance Corporal John Sinnott, who was wounded himself, returned to recover Gibaut’s body and was awarded the Victoria Cross for this action. Gibaut is commemorated both on a monument in the Residency at Lucknow and on the family gravestone in St Saviour’s Churchyard.

Victoria Cross mystery

There is a mystery which surrounds Gibaut. On Wednesday 21 November 1860 the following notice appeared in the British Press and Jersey Times:

"THE VICTORIA CROSS
"On Saturday last Mr Moses Gibaut, the father of Mr Advocate Gibaut, received from the Secretary for War a letter, accompanied by the Victoria Cross, which had been decreed to his son Lieutenant Alfred Gibaut of the 84th Regiment (who was killed at the glorious defence of Lucknow on 6 October 1857) in commemoration of his distinguished services in presence of the enemy. "

We can imagine the melancholy but deep gratification of a father on his receiving such an honourable public memorial of the valour and deserts of a lost son

A similar note appeared in the Chronique de Jersey on the following Saturday.

There is no record of this award in any of the official sources, and the above mentioned memorials to Gibaut do not include it. Efforts to trace a copy of the Secretary for War’s letter in the National Archive have not been successful.

Gibaut’s parents did however receive something more tangible for their loss. The Chronique de Jersey of Wednesday 28 April 1858 records that they received the sum of £ 457 1s 3d in lieu of his pension.

Photograph copies

The most likely explanation for a new print of Gibaut’s photograph having been made circa 1871, fourteen years after his death, is that his family had in their possession an earlier portrait photograph of which they wanted additional copies. The portrait would by then have become a precious link to the fading memory of their son and brother. It cannot be proven that an original had been made in Jersey, though if it had, it is almost certain that it would have been taken at Henry Mullins’ studio, at some time during the brief period between Alfred joining the 84th Regiment of Foot on 9 June 1854 and his first recorded service in India on 30 December 1854.

Another factor that may have caused a need for copies to be made could be that the original photograph had been taken by the daguerreotype process. This process, which provided a single unique positive image on a silvered copper plate, as opposed to a negative image permitting the production of multiple positive prints, was offered by Mullins from his arrival in Jersey in 1848. Though Mullins would undoubtedly have embraced the technological advances that brought the albumen print and wet collodion negative processes in 1850 and 1851 respectively, he awaited the further development of the disdériotype in November 1854 before having the necessary apparatus at his disposal to enable the production of commercial portraits cheaply in large numbers.

Though none of Mullins’ negatives seem to have survived it is extremely likely that it was this efficient method of production that allowed him to assemble many thousands of prints in vast ‘sample albums’ for display in his studio, while simultaneously supplying his customers with copies. It is not stated by Mullins in his frequent advertisements in the Jersey press until December 1855 that he ‘also takes portraits on paper' and by this time Gibaut had long since been in service in India.

Numerous examples of prints, ‘copied from daguerreotypes’ are found in the two extensive Mullins albums at the Société Jersiaise, indicating that this was a service that he provided frequently for customers who wanted copies of earlier ‘one off’ daguerreotype portraits. One such example, bearing great similarity of presentation to the portrait of Alfred, is a portrait of his elder brother, John Gibaut, Advocate, Constable of St Helier and Police Court Magistrate. This portrait is found on page one of the first of Henry Mullins albums. His status in Jersey society is clearly reflected in this prominent position on page one of the album, among other influential figures of the day.

Notes and references

  1. The idea for this article arose when a copy of a portrait of an unidentified soldier was sent by a correspondent to the Lord Coutanche Library, Société Jersiaise. All that was known about the portrait was that it was of carte-de-visite format and carried, on the reverse, the studio mark of the jersey photographer Henry Mullins. Information on the card mount, listing Mullins’ various accolades at exhibitions, indicated that it was printed some time after 1868. An inspection of the style of uniform worn by this young soldier, most particularly his tunic, epaulettes and shako just visible at left, caused, however, immediate intrigue and revealed that a probable date for origination of the photograph preceded 1868 by more thanfourteen years; this type of uniform had been replaced in 1855. In an effort to explain these conflicting pieces of evidence and establish the identity of this young soldier, a search was conducted through over 9,000 carte-de-visite size portraits contained in two remarkable albums compiled by Henry Mullins between circa 1854 and 1873, now in the Photographic Archive of the Société Jersiaise. Aided by the distinctive details on the uniform and his youthful features, Lieut Alfred Gibaut revealed himself, mounted on a page, towards the end of the second of Mullins’ albums, among a group of portraits made at his studio at Royal Saloon, 7 Royal Square, St Helier in 1871 and 1872. Once Gibaut’s identity had been established it was found that he had been killed during the Indian Mutiny 1857-58. Research in local newspapers to establish the circumstances of his death brought to light the names of three other soldiers with Jersey connections who had also served during the Mutiny. One of these men, Lieutenant Clifford Mecham, it transpired, was the central figure in a famous photograph reproduced in numerous books about the Mutiny, India and related subjects. Another, Lieutenant Samuel Hill Lawrence, was the recipient of a Victoria Cross. The authors felt that the story of these men and their photographs was worth telling for their own sakes, but also to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Indian Mutiny. Jersey in the 1850s was home to a comparatively large number of retired Army officers, wives and children of serving officers, and widows of officers. There was often more than one generation of the same family serving in the Army. News of the Mutiny was slow to arrive and the main events were not described until months after they had occurred. First reports were sketchy and often quite inaccurate. Further detail followed slowly until the final official military report appeared. Even then the fate of some British casualties remained undiscovered for years.
  2. Colonel RJM; Landowner, Solicitor and Banker (Gibaut and Orange). Did not live at 'Vale House, which was apparently somewhere near the bottom of Trinity Hill' as suggested in the original article
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