Tuesday, May 26, 2009

John Nicholson

In the story of 1857 mutiny there appears a remarkable man called John Nicholson (11 December 1822 – 23 September 1857). Though the Indian history texts book doesn't contain much about him for obvious reasons, he was a man who cannot be ignored by any serious student of history. A British East India Company officer, he played a legendary part in crushing the Sepoy mutiny of 1857. He was a junior officer in the First Anglo-Sikh war. Later, he was given much power as political officer, and later a District Commissioner. He was feared for his foul temper and authoritarian manner. Some Indian were so much in awe of his personality that they regarding him an incarnation of Vishnu. Many started worshipping him and formed a religious sect, the Nikal Seyn. Though he never concealed his distaste for Indians and even flogged and imprisoned some of his followers if they prostrated before him, this however, never stopped his followers from worshipping him. He would say, 'I dislike India and its inhabitants more every day'. He hated Afghans even more than Indians-'the most vicious and blood-thirsty race in existence.' During the disastrous Anglo-Afghan war of 1842 he was captured and imprisoned by the Afghans. After his release from their captivity he discovered the dead body of his younger brother whose genitalia was cut off and stuffed in his mouth. A most shocking incident of his life.

He was instrumental in planning and leading the storming of Delhi in 1857 to crush the uprising. A famous story about him is that one night during the Great Uprising of 1857, he 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.

He died at a young age of 34 from a wound that he had received while attacking Delhi. He had expressed his wish to see Delhi captured by the British force before he dies. He died a week after the fall of Red Fort. He became a sort of Victorian hero and inspired many young British boys to join the army. He was also source of inspiration to Rudyard Kipling who immortalized him in his book ‘Kim’. His tombstone, made from a white marble slab near Delhi’s Kashmir gate, was a former garden seat of the Mughals. His gallant service and untimely death are commemorated on a white marble memorial plaque at the Mutiny Memorial, on the Ridge in New Delhi. A large statue of Nicholson showing him with a naked sword in hand and surrounded by mortars was erected in his honour in Delhi, but was taken down when India became independent.
Epitaph on his grave reads-'The grave of Brigadier General John Nicholson who Led the assault of Delhi but fell in the hour of victory mortally wounded and died 23rd September 1857 Aged 35'

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