Brigadier-General John Nicholson CB (11 December 1821 â€“ 23 September 1857)
Robert Shane Hawes reminds us:
On this day in 1857 legendary Brigadier General John Nicholson died of the wounds he received when he led the storming of Delhi during the Indian Mutiny. it took nine days for him to die as he would only allow himself to go after he knew the battle was over, that Delhi had fallen, that the Mughal Emperor had been captured, and the rebellion crushed.
He was just 34 years old.
A veteran of the First Anglo Afghan and Anglo Sikh wars, where he was renowned for his daring exploits and decorated for bravery, Nicholson was also a God fearing Ulsterman of fierce repute who kept the severed head of a convicted outlaw on his desk as a warning to criminals and who hunted Bengal tigers on horseback using only a cavalry sabre.
One famous story recounted by Charles Allen in Soldier Sahibs is of a night during the rebellion 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 dropped dead on the spot, he proceeded to hang the cooks from a nearby tree without a trial!
Nicholson also called for the Mutiny to be punished with greater severity. He proposed an Act endorsing a ‘new kind of death for the murderers and dishonourers of our women’, suggesting, ‘flaying alive, impalement or burning,’ and commenting further, ‘I would inflict the most excruciating tortures I could think of on them with a perfectly easy conscience.’
A tablet in the church at Bannu in present day Pakistan where Nicholson served as Deputy Commissioner from 1852-1854 carries the following inscription: “Gifted in mind and body, he was as brilliant in government as in arms. The snows of Ghazni attest his youthful fortitude; the songs of the Punjab his manly deeds; the peace of this frontier his strong rule. The enemies of his country know how terrible he was in battle, and we his friends have to recall how gentle, generous, and true he was.”
Interestingly, he was also worshipped as a god in some parts of rural Punjab until the 1980’s, while sadly most people in our own country have never even heard of him.
One of the four Houses of the Royal School Dungannon is named after him and it is the youngest House at the school. There is also a statue of him in the city centre of Lisburn, Northern Ireland. His grave is in Delhi, India.
Badass of the week article
Nikal Seyn left a long memory in the Punjab. link:
Charles Allen reports that when in Bannu in 1999 he found the following expression of irritation common – “Te zan ta Nikal Seyn wayat?”- “Who do you think you are – Nicholson?”