Thursday, August 14, 2008

Travancore and its Victoria Cross connection

Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Until 1912, the Victoria Cross was not awarded to Indian members of the Indian Army and was restricted for award only to the Europeans.

Only Forty Indians and Gurkhas were awarded the Victoria Cross since 1912. Subedar Major and honorary Captain Umrao Singh, the last surviving Indian Victoria Cross recipient died in 2005 .Umrao Singh, was awarded the Victoria Cross, for beating off four Japanese attacks on his advanced battery position at Kaladhan valley in Burma on the night of 15th December 1944. He struck down three Japanese soldiers before being knocked out. Six hours later, a counter attack party found Singh at the site of his gun, so severely wounded that he was hardly recognizable. Around him lay ten dead Japanese soldiers.

No south Indian has ever won a VC and so what can be the Travancore connection to a VC?

During the reign of Maharajah Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma of Travancore (AD 1885-1924), various British Residents had been stationed in Trivandrum who assisted in the administration of the country.
Maharajah Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma of Travancore (1885-1924)

In AD 1887, for a brief period of four months between July and September, General Sir Henry North Dalrymple Prendergast was the British Resident (acting) for Travancore and Cochin. He later left for Mysore and was the resident there between 1887 and 1892 in two terms, with some gaps in between.

What is interesting about General Sir Henry North Dalrymple Prendergast is that he was a Victoria Cross winner and that too for his gallant action during the Indian mutiny or the first war of Indian independence as we call it now.

Lt. Henry North Dalrymple Prendergast was with the Royal (Madras) Engineers and aged 23 when his unit, the Malwa Field Force was assigned to suppress the mutiny.

General Sir Henry North Dalrymple Prendergast

On November 21st 1857, at Mundisore, Lieutenant G. Dew, of the 14th Hussars, was in imminent danger of being shot by a Velaitee,-a light infantry man- who covered him from the rear with his musket. Lieutenant Prendergast rushed at him and cut him down, but not before being wounded himself by the discharge of the piece. His gallant action saved the life of Lieutenant Dew, but he was almost cut down in his turn, had not Major Orr killed the rebel. He also distinguished himself at the actions of Ratgurh and Betwa, being severely wounded.

Major-General Sir Hugh Rose, in forwarding his recommendation of this officer, states-
“Lieutenant Prendergast was specially mentioned by Brigadier Stuart for the gallant act at Mundisore when he was severely wounded; secondly; he was specially mentioned by men when acting as my A.D.C. in the action before besieging Ratgurgh on the Beena River for gallant conduct. His horse was killed on that occasion. Thirdly, at the action of the ‘Betwa,’ he again voluntarily acted as my A.D.C. and distinguished himself by his bravery in the charge, which I made with Captain Need’s troop, against the left of the Peishwa’s army under Tantia Topee. He was severely wounded on that occasion.”

He was the son of Thomas Prendergast, a magistrate of the Madras Civil Service. Sir Henry Prendergast was born in India, in 1834 and entered the Army in 1854. He served in the Persian War of 1856-7 and the Central India Field Force of 1858 and was mentioned in dispatches. Ten years later he had taken part in the putative invasion of Abyssinia and was present when Lord Napier and his combined British and Indian army stormed and then destroyed Emperor Theodore’s mountain fortress of Magdala. He also saw through the Indian Expedition to the Mediterranean 1878 and the Upper Burma operations 1885-6 and had been thanked by Her Majesty Queen Victoria and the government of India. He was the British resident in Travancore and Cochin (1887) and Mysore and later held other distinguished positions in Baroda (1889) and Baluchistan (1889).

Since his term was rather short in the service of Travancore and Cochin, not many details are known of his days and work over here.
Dubai, Indian Independence Day 2008.

Reception to Lt.General Sir James Outram in Travancore at the court of Maharajah Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma in AD 1857

Maharajah Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma of Travancore (AD 1846-60)

In one of the earlier blogs I had written about the “Opening of a New Bridge at Travancore - The Rajah's State Procession “based on an article as appeared in The Illustrated London News of 5th August 1854. It was during the reign of His Highness Uthram Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the Maharajah of Travancore (1846-60) who had succeeded his elder brother Maharajah Swathi Thirunal . He was known for his progressive rule including the abolition of slavery. He was comfortable with the European sciences and was instrumental in starting the zoo at Trivandrum.

During his reign in 1857, immediately after the Indian mutiny, a reception was accorded to Lt. General James Outram and his staff in a grand durbar by the maharajah. Sir James Outram (1803-1863) was an English general, and one of the heroes of the Indian Mutiny.

Attached picture is from an original copy of the engraving of 1857 which depicts this reception. Original of this engraving is with the National portrait gallery of London and is done by an unknown artist. Maharajah Uthram Thirunal and General Outram are clearly seen in this along with many courtiers and dignitaries who attended the reception.


Durbar of the Maharajah of Travancore and the reception of LtGeneral James Outram and staff AD 1857
James Outram had joined the Indian army in 1819 and served in Poona and later in Khandesh where he tackled the robber tribes of the Bhils through his personal influence. Before the outbreak of the mutiny, in 1854 he was appointed resident at Lucknow, in which capacity two years later he carried out the annexation of Oudh and became the first chief commissioner of that province. He was appointed a lieutenant-general in 1857, and was asked to command an expedition against Persia in which he defeated the enemy with great slaughter at Khushab. From Persia he was summoned to India, with the brief explanation - "We want all our best men here." It was said of him at this time that "a fox is a fool and a lion a coward by the side of Sir J. Outram."

Sir James Outram, "The Bayard of India"


He arrived at Cawnpore from Calcutta with reinforcements, and supported General Havelock fully in relieving Lucknow. He commanded a cavalry and performed exploits of great chivalry that he was voted by the cavalry for the Victoria Cross but he refused it on the ground that he was ineligible as the general under whom they served. He held fort at Lucknow till Sir Colin Campbell arrived and later conducted the evacuation of the residency to deceive the enemy. In February 1858 he received the special recognition of both houses of parliament, and in the same year was made a baron.

He died in1863, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, where an epitaph is engraved as "The Bayard of India" which was originally called by Sir Charles Napier.
Dubai, Eve of Indian Independence 2008.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The first Englishwoman in India

Sir Thomas Roe

In one of my blogs about AR Banerji ICS, former Diwan of Cochin, I had written that his mother Rajkumari was the first Indian woman to have set foot on the soil of England. She went to England in AD 1871 following her husband, Sevabrata Sasipada Banerji, a great social reformer of Bengal who gave special emphasis for the emancipation of woman.

In this context I was curious to know as to who was the first Englishwoman who came to India. This information I got while reading the book “Chow Chow”, - A journal kept in India, Egypt and Syria- now a rare one at that written by Lady Falkland, the daughter of King William IV of Great Britain and the wife of Viscount Falkland. Lord Falkland was the governor of Bombay who came to India with his wife during the spring of AD 1848.

William Hawkins, nephew of Admiral Sir John Hawkins –pioneer of the English slave trade and the terror of the Spanish Armada- came to Surat in 1608 and travelled to Agra to negotiate a treaty with the emperor Jahangir. With an import tax of three and a half per cent, he imported English cloth and metals and exported calico to England. Calico, the name of which is derived from Calicut, became very desirable in Europe and set the fashion trends.

Emperor Jahangir reportedly gifted Capt. William Hawkins with an Armenian girl from the royal harem. Eventually, Mrs. Hawkins returned to England with her husband who died on the voyage. The ship’s captain was one Gabriel Towerson and the lady found a match in him. Towerson had later died at the hands of the Dutch.



Sir John Hawkins

In 1617, Mrs. Towerson set sail from England to return to India on one of the ships of the East India Company. She brought with her a companion, Mrs. Hudson, her maid Frances Webb, a factor named Richard Steele and a chaplain the Rev. Mr. Golding.

Interestingly, the tedium of the journey was too much for Frances and she compromised herself with Steele. At the Cape, they were married “under a tree “and a baby arrived soon after they set foot on the Indian soil at Surat.

Mesdames Hudson and Steele may jointly claim the title of the first Englishwoman in India.

The Rev. Golding had also a fascination for one of the ladies in the party to Agra and his clerical duties at the factory took a back seat. Sir Thomas Roe then employed as a diplomat put the amorous chaplain under arrest in order to create a good impression of his countrymen in the Mughal court. Incidentally Roe was a favourite of Jahangir and was his drinking companion.
Dubai,11th August 2008.