George Hinckley VC

Alan Bricknell, Ford Park Cemetery

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The first of two profiles of Victoria Cross recipients whose graves can be found at Ford Park Cemetery.

George Hinckley was awarded the Victoria Cross during the Taiping rebellion in southern China, a massive civil war from 1850 to 1864, against the ruling Manchu-led Qing (Ching) Dynasty. There were many problems in China at this time. Britain was causing problems with its opium trade, the population had doubled from 150 to 300 million, there was a problem with female infanticide and the richer men in the community were prone to taking several concubines. 

As it was considered a disgrace in society for young men not to be married and produce several children but there was a real shortage of eligible women for them to marry, this was a recipe for civil unrest.

And so there came a movement led by Hong Xiuquan who, following an illness when he became delirious, announced that he had received visions in which he learned that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ. In the years following that pronouncement, at least 20 million people died, mainly civilians, in one of the deadliest military conflicts in history.

Hong established the Taiping or Heavenly Kingdom with its capital at Nanjing. The Kingdom’s army controlled large parts of southern China, at its height ruling about 30 million people. The rebel agenda included social reforms such as shared “property in common,” equality for women, and the replacement of Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion with their form of Christianity. Because of their refusal to wear the queue, Taiping combatants were nicknamed “Longhairs” by the Qing government, which besieged the Taiping armies throughout the rebellion. The Qing government eventually crushed the rebellion with the aid of French and British forces.

George Hinckley was an Able Seaman in the Naval Brigade and was based on HMS Sphinx. Perhaps he was inspired by the Captain of the Sphinx who was a holder of the V.C.  George was involved in one of the battles against the Tai Ping rebellion and won his medal in 1862 for going out into open ground under enemy fire, rescuing two of his wounded colleagues and bringing them back to safety. This is how the London Gazette reported George’s gallantry:

George was awarded the Victoria Cross for volunteering while under the East Gate of the city of Fung-Wha, to carry to a joss house, a hundred and fifty yards distant, under a heavy and continuous fire of musketry, gingalls and stink-pots, Mr Coker, Master’s Assistant of the “Sphinx“, who had been wounded in the advance to the gate; in which object Hinckley succeeded. On his return to the gate, under a similar fire, he again volunteered and succeeded in carrying to the joss-house Mr Bremer, an officer of Ward’s force, who had also been wounded in the advance on the gate; and he again returned to his post under the gate.

London Gazette

In July 1863 he was promoted to Quarter Master by the C in C Plymouth Command in a ceremony at Mount Wise. Later that year he lost his medal at funeral. How do you lose a V.C at a funeral you may well ask! 

He had to pay 24 shillings for a new one! In fact there appear to be four VCs with George’s name on – the original, the official copy and two forgeries! The Royal Naval Barracks at Portsmouth claimed to have the official copy hanging in the Barrack Wardroom where it had pride of place for 40 years. However when examined it was found to be a forgery.

During his career Hinckley had one or two brushes with naval discipline. He spent 28 days in Hong Kong prison six months before he won the V.C. 

One thing that is not in doubt was his courage in the face of enemy fire. A ceremony to remember him was held recently by his descendants here in Plymouth.

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