The Other Side of a Medal

Kelly Black, PhD, Executive Director

With a collection of over 12,000 artifacts, we frequently come across items that spark our curiosity. Sometimes details about artifacts in the collection are readily available, other times we reach out to experts who can help us understand what the object was used for or how it came to be at Point Ellice House. While conducting an inventory earlier this year, we came across a set of military medals that grabbed our attention. Although the medals were given an accession number a few decades ago (PEH 975.1.4940) they were not described in the database; there are no reports or background documents that explain where the medals came from or who they belonged to.

Given that both Arthur (Jack) and John O’Reilly served in the First and Second World Wars, it seemed, at first glance, that the medals could belong to one of them. However, upon closer inspection it was clear that the medals are older than that. Luckily, inscriptions around the edge of two medals revealed the recipient: Colonel Richard Hare (b. 1844, d. 1917).

But how is Richard Hare connected to Point Ellice House? Mary O’Reilly, the wife of Arthur (Jack) O’Reilly is our link. Mary O’Reilly’s father was Reginald Windham; Reginald had a number of siblings, including a sister named Mary. Mary Windham was born in 1857 and married Richard Hare on 4 November 1875. So the medals originally belonged to Mary O’Reilly’s uncle. Mary’s aunt died in 1932 and the last descendants of Richard and Mary died in the 1950s and 1960s. It is possible that the medals were left to Mary following the passing of a cousin, a hypothesis supported by the fact that the PEH collection contains a number of other Hare and Windham family items. The O’Reilly Family fonds at the BC Archives also contain correspondence between Mary and members of the Hare family – the majority of these letters date from 1952 to 1953 and may offer further clues. Both the Windham and Hare family have a long history of intermarriage and service in the British military.

Colonel Hare’s medals are as follows:

  1. Ashantee Medal with Coomassie clasp
    • Medal: for service during the Third Anglo-Ashanti War (1873-4) in West Africa. Hare was wounded at the Battle of Amoaful (31 January 1874); he also fought at the Battle of Ordashu (4 February 1874).
    • Clasp: awarded to those present at the Battle of Amoaful and the capture of Coomassie (or Kumasi), the capital, and those protecting the lines of communication north of the Prah river.
  2. Khedive’s Star
  3. Egypt Medal
    • For service during the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War.
  4. Order of Medjidie (4th Class)
    • Awarded November 1882. Reward for distinguished service to members of the British Army and the Royal Navy and the French Army who came to the aid of the Ottoman Empire.
  5. Order of the Bath
    • Hare was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath on 23 May 1900.
Left to Right: Order of the Bath, Ashantee Medal, Egypt Medal, Order of Medjidie, Khedive’s Star.

These medals were awarded in recognition of Hare’s service to the British imperial project in Africa and their presence at Point Ellice House points to the family’s desire to see the medals preserved and passed on. Until recently, these medals – in an archival box, on a shelf – were a forgotten part of the Point Ellice House collection. Through our research, we now know that Colonel Richard Hare was a decorated and celebrated soldier. But the story does not end there. Consider, for example, the reverse of the Ashantee Medal (image below); it graphically depicts British troops running Ashanti warriors through with bayonets. It was the death of Indigenous, Black, and Brown bodies that made the British Empire possible.

There is, quite literally, another side to these medals – one we must discuss and engage with to better understand Point Ellice House, its collection, and the people who lived here.

Ashantee Medal (reverse)
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