Thomas Grady was the first recipient of the Victoria Cross resident in Australia. Originally from Ireland, at the age of 19 he was a private in the 4th Regiment of Foot in the British Army during the Crimean War. This regiment was serving in New South Wales, and it is thought that Private Grady was probably a reinforcement to replace a soldier-settler.
The Crimean War is considered one of the first modern wars, since it relied upon technology such as railways and telegraphs, with up to date news reports in the media, and is famous as the birthplace of modern nursing, as it was Florence Nightingale who professionalised nursing while taking care of wounded soldiers. It was also the first war where the Victoria Cross was given for valour.
On October 18 1854, during the famous Siege of Sebastapol, which was immortalised in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Private Grady earned his VC. He volunteered to repair the embrasures of the Sailor’s Battery – embrasures are the openings in a battlement which allows weapons to be fired through them. He carried out this task under heavy fire, at great risk to himself.
On November 22, while under attack by the Russians, Private Grady refused to leave the front, even though severely wounded. By his example, he gave encouragement to the other soldiers, their force badly weakened, to maintain their position. For this he received a Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Thomas later emigrated to Australia as an assisted immigrant, and lived in Melbourne. His Victoria Cross is now displayed at the Australian War Memorial. Unfortunately, his Distinguished Conduct Medal was stolen from him in Melbourne when he went to collect his pension from the post office.
Grady is an Anglicised form of the Irish surname O’Grady, from the Old Gaelic O’Gradaigh, or “son of Gradaigh”, with Gradaeigh meaning “the illustrious one”. The O’Gradys are one of Ireland’s noble families, and a recognised Irish clan.
I can find Grady in the records from the late 18th century onward, and interestingly, the Gradys who were born in Ireland were all female, while overall the gender balance between male and female at that time was very even. However, the name Grady is overwhelmingly masculine today. In Australian records, Grady is rare as a first name, and mostly given to boys, although not uncommon as a middle name for girls.
Grady does not rank at all in Australia, and never has, although it is in the Top 500 in the United States, and has charted there since the late 19th century. I was a bit surprised to see how rare Grady is here, because it doesn’t sound rare.
It sounds like Brady, Graydon and Grayson, and like traditional Graham. Yet when I think about it, I don’t recall ever meeting a Grady, or seeing a Grady, or even hearing someone mention a Grady, although it wouldn’t have seemed even slightly unusual if I ever had.
It’s one of those handy names that other parents are hardly using, but won’t seem weird to others – and at a time when surname names for boys are booming, and in a country where Irish names are readily accepted, it’s rather strange how little used this name is.
Thank you to Brooke for suggesting the name Grady to be featured on Waltzing More Than Matilda
(Picture is a detail from The Siege of Sevastapol by Franz Roubaud – 1904)