"During the disastrous retreat from Arrah in July 1857, when Mr. Mangles and Mr. McDonell both won the Victoria Cross by acts of heroic devotion, Dempsey was one of the retreating party, and helped to carry Ensign Erskine of his regiment from the pursuing Sepoys. On August 12th 1857, he was the first man to enter the village of Jugdispore under a terrific fire, and further, on March 14th 1858, he carried a bag of powder through fire, and further on March 14th 1858, he carried a bag of powder through a burning village in order to mine a passage in rear of the enemy's position. As the sparks from the burning houses were falling in showers around him, and the path he took was open and exposed to a terrific fire from the enemy, who were behind loop holed walls, his brave act appears all the finer. Dempsey died in Canada January 10th 1886." [Extract from "The British Army and Auxiliary Forces" Colonel C. Cooper King, R.M.A., 1894.]
Dempsey enlisted in the 1st Battalion, 10th (the North Lincolnshire) Regiment of Foot which was in India at the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny in 1857. He was approximately 31 years old when this deed took place, for which he was awarded the VC. The Battalion was stationed at Dinapore, some 650 kilometers north-west of Calcutta. Their duty was to guard the communications line between Calcutta and Delhi and could not be spared to participate in the siege of the capital.
The commander of the garrison at Dinapore, feared trouble from the Sepoys in his area, so on July 25, he decided to disarm them. The Sepoys were not inclined to lay down their arms and instead nearly 2000 of them deserted and marched to Arrah to besiege the garrison there. Four hundred men from the 37th Foot and the 10th Regiment, including Private Denis Dempsey were sent to relieve the besieged town. The Sepoys ambushed them just outside Arrah. The British suffered 50% casualties. As the remainder of the 10th Regiment of Foot retreated back to Dinapore, Private Dempsey courageously took on the task of carrying the severely wounded Ensign Erskine for more than 2 miles. Unfortunately, Erskine died of his wounds.
Two weeks later, on 12th August 1857, the 10th Regiment assaulted the town of Jugdispore. Despite being under heavy fire from the enemy, Dempsey was the first man to enter the town, leading his regiment to a successful attack.
In March 1858, Dempsey and the 10th Regiment formed part of the 20,000 reinforcements arriving at Lucknow with Sir Colin Campbell. They planned to attack Lucknow from the east with 4 divisions against the three defensive lines of the enemy (estimated at 100,000 men). The assault on Lucknow began on 1st March and continued for over two weeks.
In order to keep casualties down and yet continue to advance through the city, the British artillery blasted their way through buildings and walls. The black powder they used was carried forward under difficult circumstances as sparks from the burning buildings floated through the area and settled on the powder bags.
On 14th March Private Denis Dempsey was assigned the task of carrying a powder bag through a burning village. The plan was to blast a hole behind the enemy position. Dempsey made his way through the burning buildings with the powder bag, ignoring the hot sparks settling around him and the bullets from enemy sharpshooters. For this action, and the other acts of bravery mentioned above, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Two days later 20,000 mutineers escaped from Lucknow, leaving the city in British hands. The efforts of the army now turned to pacification of the area and the hunting down of the remaining rebels.
In 1859 Dempsey and the 10th Regiment returned to England after 16 years in India. Over the next few years Dempsey saw service in Ireland, the Cape Colony in South Africa, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. In 1877 the Regiment returned to England where they stayed for the next 18 years.
Denis Dempsey left the army and moved to Canada, settling in Toronto where he died on January 10, 1886 at the age of 60. He was buried in St. Michael's Cemetery in Toronto. His medals, which include the Victoria Cross and the Indian Mutiny Medal with Lucknow bar, are not publicly held.
[Thanks to Bill Sylvester for permission to use his research on Denis Dempsey: Bill's article on Denis Dempsey at suite101.com.]