John Nicholson (East India Company officer) bigraphy, stories - British general

John Nicholson (East India Company officer) : biography

11 December 1822 - 23 September 1857

Brigadier-General John Nicholson (11 December 1822 – 23 September 1857) was a Victorian era military officer known for his role in British India. A charismatic and authoritarian figure, Nicholson created a legend for himself as a political officer under Henry Lawrence in the frontier provinces of the British Empire in India. He was instrumental in the settlement of the North-West FrontierCharles Allen, Soldier-Sahibs: The Men who made the North-West Frontier, London: Abacus/Time Warner Books UK, 2002 ed, various references between pp. 2-328. ISBN 0-349-11456-0 and played a legendary part in the Indian Mutiny.

Indian Mutiny

Nicholson was best known for his role in the Indian Mutiny of 1857, planning and leading the Storming of Delhi. Famously dismissive of the incompetence of his superiors, he said, upon hearing of Colonel (later General Sir) Archdale Wilson's hesitancy while on his deathbed, "Thank God I have yet the strength to shoot him, if necessary". One famous story recounted by Charles Allen in Soldier Sahibs is of a night during the Mutiny when Nicholson strode into the British mess tent at Jullunder, coughed to attract the attention of the officers, then said, "I am sorry, gentlemen, to have kept you waiting for your dinner, but I have been hanging your cooks." He had been told that the regimental chefs had poisoned the soup with aconite. When they refused to taste it for him, he force fed it to a monkey - and when it expired on the spot, he proceeded to hang the cooks from a nearby tree without a trial.pp.288-289

Nicholson never married, the most significant people in his life being his brother Punjab administrators Sir Henry Lawrence and Herbert Edwardes. At Bannu, Nicholson used to ride one hundred and twenty miles every weekend to spend a few hours with Edwardes, and lived in his beloved friend's house for some time when Edwardes' wife Emma was in England. At his deathbed he dictated a message to Edwardes saying, "Tell him that, if at this moment a good fairy were to grant me a wish, my wish would be to have him here next to my mother."Trotter,p.302 The love between him and Edwardes made them, as Edwardes' wife latter described it "more than brothers in the tenderness of their whole lives".Trotter,p.132

He died on 23 September 1857, in a small bungalow in the cantonments of Delhi, as a result of wounds received in the taking of the city nine days previously. He was 34, not as the tombstone gives it, 35.

Family and education

Nicholson was born in Lisburn, Ireland, the eldest son of Dr Alexander Jaffray Nicholson (who died when J.N. was nine) and Clara Hogg.Charles Allen, p.22-23 He was privately educated in Delgany and later attended the Royal School Dungannon, through the patronage of his maternal uncle, Sir James Weir Hogg, a successful East India Company lawyer and for some time Registrar of the Calcutta Supreme Court, and later a Member of Parliament;Allen, p. 23 and soon after his sixteenth birthday, it was also through the good offices of this uncle, that J.N. was able to secure a cadetship in the East India Company's Bengal Infantry.Allen, p.24 He then set out for a military career in India in 1839.

Sources

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  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Early career

On reaching India, he was ordered to join the 41st Native Infantry at Benares on temporary attachment, being transferred some months later in December, as a regular Ensign, to the 27th Native Infantry at Ferozepore.Allen, pp.28-29 He served in the First Anglo-Afghan War when his regiment was ordered up to relieve one of the infantry units already in Afghanistan, in November 1840, and during this time he saw early and fierce military action, and was taken prisoner by the Afghans and held for some time. Later on, upon his release and the consequent return of the British forces to India, he was stationed at Peshawar, and later for two years at Moradabad and in November 1845, on passing his Urdu vernacular examination, was posted to the Delhi Field Force which was being organised at that time, as the threat of a war with the Sikh Kingdom of the Punjab loomed near.Allen, p.62

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Living octopus

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