John Nicholson (general)

John Nicholson (general)

John Nicholson (December 11, 1822September 23, 1857) was a Victorian era military officer known for his role in the British India.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, the eldest son of Dr. Alexander Jaffray Nicholson and Clara Hogg, Nicholson was an officer of the army of the British East India Company. John Nicholson was instrumental in the settlement of the North-West Frontier and a played a legendary part in the Indian Mutiny.

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. Involved in the First Anglo-Sikh War as a junior officer, he was taken under the wing of Henry Lawrence along with several other similarly aged officers (Herbert Edwardes, James Abbott, Neville Chamberlain (EICo), Frederick Mackeson, Patrick Vans Agnew, William Hodson, Reynell Taylor, Joe Lumsden, Henry Daly, John Coke) and was given much power as a political officer, and later a District Commissioner. He was feared for his foul temper and authoritarian manner, but also gained the respect of the Afghan tribes in the area for his fairhandedness and sense of honour. He inspired the short lived cult of Nikal Seyn, despite the fact that he did not conceal his distaste for Indians and even went as far as to have some of his worshippers imprisoned and whipped (none of which shook the steadfastness of their devotion!) and inspired several contemporary sayings in Pakistan.

He was best known for his role in the Sepoy Mutiny, planning and leading the Storming of Delhi. Famously dismissive of the incompetence of his superiors, He said, upon hearing of Wilson's hesitancy "Thank God I have yet the strength to shoot him, if necessary". He died on September 23, 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.

One famous story recounted by Charles Allen in, "Soldier Sahibs" is of a night during the Indian Mutiny when Brigadier General John 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.

He became the Victorian "Hero of Delhi" inspiring books, ballads and generations of young boys to join the army. Nicholson is referenced in numerous literary works, including Rudyard Kipling's "Kim", in which the protagonist, Kim, meets an aged Rissaldar-Major (a native NCO of Cavalry). The man turns out to be a veteran of the Indian Mutiny, and in his interaction with Kim, he is said to sing the old song of Nikal Seyn before Delhi.

Dr Ali Jan in his paper "Nicholson of the Frontier" records: "A plain obelisk stands today on the crest of the Margalla Pass in Pakistan on the Grand Trunk road between Peshawar and Islamabad to honour the great soldier and administrator. Mr J. H. Lynos, executive engineer, built the monument in 1868. Brigadier-General John Nicholson's 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 tablet in the church at Bannu 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.”

He died quite young. He was 34, not as the tombstone gives it, 35."


* Harvard reference
title=Bound to Exile

External links

* [ 1911 Britannica article on John Nicholson]
* [ A Ballad of John Nicholson by Sir Henry Newbolt]
* [ John Nicholson's Tomb in Delhi]

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