Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (22 July 2015)

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Date of Auction: 22nd July 2015

Sold for £8,000

Estimate: £8,000 - £10,000

The Third Mahratta War medal to Colonel Charles FitzGerald, C.B., 6th Bengal Light Cavalry, ‘the Hero of Sitabaldi’ whose gallant charge averted disaster and decisively won the day in one of the greatest actions in British Indian history

Army of India 1799-1826, 1 clasp, Seetabuldee & Nagpore (Lieut. C. Fitzgerald, 6th Ben. L.C.) long hyphen reverse, officially impressed naming, toned, extremely fine and rare £8000-10000

Footnote

Ex Brian Ritchie Collection, D.N.W. September 2004.

Only 19 clasps for Seetabuldee & Nagpore were issued to European recipients, including 12 officers, though three of the other ranks could well have been of Eurasian extraction.

Charles FitzGerald, a scion of the FitzGeralds of Newmarket-on-Fergus, was the seventh son of Colonel Edward FitzGerald of Carrygoran, M.P. for Clare, and Anne Catherine, the daughter of Major Thomas Burton, and was born in Dublin in November 1784. He was appointed Ensign in the H.E.I.Co.’s Bengal Infantry on 13 November 1801 and transferred to the cavalry on 1 April 1802, being posted Cornet in the 6th Bengal Light Cavalry. He served in the ‘Mud War’ of 1803 in the Jumna Doab, and was promoted Lieutenant on 1 October 1806. He became Acting Adjutant of his regiment the same year and was confirmed in that appointment in 1807. In October 1807 he participated in operations against Dundia Khan’s forts at Kamounah and Ganauri, and in February 1812 he repaired to England on furlough where he remained until August 1815. Promoted Captain in January 1816, he served with the 6th Light Cavalry in the force under General Adams on the frontier of Nagpore where Pindarries had been raping and pillaging with impunity. In May 1817 he proceeded with his own troop and two others to the temporary cantonment at Telingkeri at Nagpore, and there took a bungalow with Colonel Gahan. Gahan was called away at the end of September leaving FitzGerald in command of the detachment of his regiment which, nominally 300-strong, was much reduced by cholera. He also had under his command five European officers: viz. Lieutenant K. Wood, Lieutenant J. B. Hearsey, Cornet R. W. Smith, Dr Mansell, and Quartermaster-Sergeant Young, the acting riding master.

In November 1817 as the outbreak of the Third Mahratta War drew inexorably closer, the British Resident at Nagpore, Richard Jenkins, ordered the small garrison at Telingkeri, under the over all command of Lieutenant-Colonel Hopetoun Scott, to evacuate their camp and occupy two hills known as Seetabuldee, close to the Residency. Scott had less than 1,500 men, and the Bhonsla, 12,000 cavalry and 8,000 infantry of whom 3,500 were highly rated Arabs.

Appa Sahib, the Bhonsla, attacked Scott’s main position at sunset on 26 November, hurling his forces with increasing ferocity against the small enclave of Company troops, ‘till nature and hope were exhausted.’ FitzGerald with his three troops of the 6th Light Cavalry operated in the surrounding fields throughout the night keeping the Mahrattas clear of the Residency compound. At 8:00 a.m. next morning the Arabs overran the smaller of the two hills so that Scott’s force was crowded together on the crown of the larger hill. In the fields below FitzGerald could see the whole of the Mahratta cavalry, elated at the Arab infantry’s success, pressing forward to deliver the coup de grâce. It was clear that unless the tiny detachment of the 6th L.C. could pull off some extraordinary feat of arms, the whole force would be destroyed. FitzGerald’s repeated requests for permission to charge, however, had been obstinately refused. But, seeing the elation of the Mahrattas in their latest success he made one last request for permission: ‘Tell him to charge at his peril’, was Scott’s reply, recorded by Grant Duff; ‘At my peril be it’, was FitzGerald’s retort and, reinforced by a Native officer and twenty-five troopers of the Madras Bodyguard, he charged into the principal mass of the enemy horse and ‘scattered it like a whirlwind.’ Lieutenant Hearsay, meanwhile, with no more than a half troop, charged a battery of 12-pounder guns and having captured them, turned them on the retreating enemy horse, leaving FitzGerald and his Sowars ‘masters of the plain.’

The Adjutant-General of the Army of the Deccan stated shortly afterwards: ‘The three troops of the 6th regiment, of Bengal cavalry, under Capt. Fitzgerald [sic], reinforced by a small detail of the Madras body guard, have established a claim to the highest commendation. The judgement and decision displayed by Capt. Fitzgerald, in seizing the happy moment for attack, will ever speak the high eulogium on that officer’s professional skill and ability; and the gallantry and perseverance of this small but formidable body, place its merits and services in the most distinguished rank, nor is it too much to add, that the arduous contest which had been supported for 18 hours by the persevering gallantry of the infantry, was decided by the discipline and enterprise of this gallant detachment, led on by Capt. Fitzgerald.’

In thanking Colonel Scott, Jenkins, the Resident wrote: ‘... I cannot also help adding my unfeigned admiration of the conduct of the three troops of Bengal cavalry, under Capt. Fitzgerald [sic], in the charge which they made on so superior a body of cavalry, supported by infantry and guns, the success of which, at the critical moment in which it happened, may be said to have decided the fate of the battle.’ It is said that after Seetabuldee there was never any doubt as to the effectiveness of Indian cavalry in battle. FitzGerald’s ‘devoted and generous disobedience’ afforded Scott the chance to rally his troops and in one supreme effort, ‘animated by this glorious example’, the infantry responded with a volley and cleared the hills with the bayonet (London Gazette 6 May & 9 June 1818). Reinforced by three brigades under Brigadier-General Doveton, the fight was taken to the Bhonsla on 16 December at Nagpore where the Mahrattas were conclusively beaten. FitzGerald, himself, was awarded a special allowance of £200 per annum, in addition to his retired pay, for his ‘gallantry at Nagpur.’

In 1818, FitzGerald was made an Honorary A.D.C. to the Governor-General and was reaffirmed in that appointment in September 1824 and September 1826. He raised and commanded the 6th Local Horse at Bareilly in 1824 and was promoted Major in May 1825. It appears, however, that by this time he was feeling somewhat uncomfortable in regard to the fame and glory heaped upon him after Seetabuldee. In early 1826, he wrote to John Hearsey, ‘who had been hurt by the cold terms in which Major FitzGerald had mentioned his services at Seetabuldee in his official report written after the battle’. As a result of FitzGerald’s letter, Hearsey was free to write the following to the Military Secretary to Government: ‘Major FitzGerald of the 6th Regt. Light Cavalry, and now commanding the 6th Local Horse at Saugor, has informed me that it is his intention to apply for furlough to Europe as soon as the present war [Siege of Bhurtpoor] is brought to a close, and that he is very desirious that I should succeed him in command of that corps. This, he has been pleased to say, arises from a wish to serve me, as I was fortunately instrumental in gaining him renown by leading a charge and capturing the enemy’s artillery on the plain at Seetabuldee in the memorable action of the 27th November 1817 ...’

Advanced to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1830, FitzGerald remained on furlough until his retirement in 1833. He was created a C.B. on 17 September 1831, and in 1854 was made Honorary Colonel. Charles FitzGerald never married and died at his residence, 15 Regent Street, London, on 18 April 1859.