08 August 2020

215 AB Edward O'Connell - NSW Naval Contingient 1900

This search has been one of the longest and most difficult searches I've done. I received the China 1900 Medal awarded to AB E O'Connell in 2002. This has been a difficult search as, in the early phases, so little information was available. Over the years I have revisited this search often and each time I've got a scrap more of information that has made up the complete story. Not knowing what the E of the first name stood for didn't help and it is only recently that I've confirmed that his first name was Edward.

This is the only China 1900 Medal I've come across and it is worth spending a bit of time exploring why the medal was awarded. 

In 1900 several International Legations in Peking were placed under siege by Chinese Boxer rebels who were protesting foreign intervention and the spread of Christianity in China. The film 55 Days in Peking tells the story of this rebellion. To defend the Legations an Eight Nations Alliance was formed. This all occurred just prior to the Federation of Australia and military forces were based on colonial arrangements. Similar to the contingents sent by the colonies to the Boar War, the colonies offered their naval forces in support of Britain. By the time the colonial navies arrived the main actions were over. When the colonial contingents returned to their colonies, Federation had occurred and Australia had been formed. For their service, the contingents were awarded the China 1900 Medal. The numbers of medals awarded to each colony were: NSW 257, Victoria 198, South Australia 98 and Queensland 1. 

Early in the research I found that E O'Connell was 215 Able Seaman E O'Connell and even found his picture as part of the company he was in.

Even though I could confirm that E O'Connell served in this conflict and was awarded the China 1900 Medal the medal itself concerned me. The naming on medal consists of Initial, Surname, Rank, UNit (NSW Naval Contgt). The rank and unit are exactly as expected but the name is crudely engraved. By running my fingers over the rim it is easy to feel that the rim at the site of the name is thinner than the rest which suggests that the edge has been skimmed to remove the original name and E O'Connell added. It is hard to see the thickness of the rim in these pictures but I've circled the area.

Additional information that I've found over the years was the published list of men in the NSW Naval Contingent as they departed and then when they were awarded the medal.

 It wasn't until recently that I found that O'Connell was also awarded the Reserve Naval Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1914. Below is the entry in the Commonwealth Gazette from 1914 for Royal Australian Navy awards. I couldn't find any evidence that O'Connell served during WWI.

As I researched this name there were several candidates who E O'Connell could have been. By a process of elimination I discarded those who didn't quite fit the bill. For example an Edmund O'Connell I found in the records turned out to be 14 years old in 1900. Through a family tree on Ancestry I recently put the final piece in place and with the help of Anita S I'll soon be able to forward this medal to Edward O'Connell's descendants.

I usually don't like to value a medal as I'm no expert. In this case it is probably worth noting that a China 1900 medal awarded to another sailor from this contingent recently sold for about $5000. However, the renaming of the medal would reduce the value considerably despite O'Connell being confirmed as having been a member of the force that went to China. I can only imagine that he lost the medal awarded to him at some point and then purchased another original medal and had it renamed. 

The returned medal tally is now 2511.

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