Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (18 & 19 July 2018)

Date of Auction: 18th & 19th July 2018

Sold for £15,000

Estimate: £12,000 - £15,000

The Third Mahratta War medal for the Defence of Corygaum to Physician General John Wylie, C.B., Indian Medical Service, who led the Sepoys to charges with the bayonet in the closing stages of the desperate action; he was the first medical officer of the Madras Army to be admitted to the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, a distinction conferred upon him by his Sovereign, ‘in reward more especially of his gallantry in the memorable conflict of Corygaum’

Army of India 1799-1826, 2 clasps, Poona, Corygaum (Asst. Surgn. John Wylie, M.D. Arty.) short hyphen reverse, officially impressed naming, suspension re-fixed, edge bruising and surface wear, otherwise about nearly very fine, an extremely rare and historically important medal £12000-15000


Provenance: Brian Ritchie Collection of `H.E.I.C. and British India Medals, Dix Noonan Webb, 23 September 2005.

Of the small number of Europeans present in the defence only three other men besides Wylie lived to receive the Corygaum clasp. They were Lieutenant Charles Swanston of the 102nd Madras European Regiment, Bugler John Nicholas of the Bombay Rifle Corps, and Private George Bainbridge of the 65th Foot.

John Wylie, the son of George Wylie, was born in Glasgow on 20 May 1790. He qualified as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1812 and was admitted to the Madras Establishment on 6 September 1813 with the rank of Assistant Surgeon. In 1817 he joined a detachment of the 1st Battalion, Madras Artillery, serving with the Poona Subsidiary Force and, following the outbreak of the Third Mahratta (Pindarry) War in November, was present at the capture of Poona by the combined forces of Colonel Burr and Brigadier-General Lionel Smith.

On 1 January 1818 he was serving with a Madras Artillery detachment in the small native force of 900 men under Captain F. F. Staunton when it stumbled upon the Peshwa of Poona’s army of 28,000 men. Taking up a defensive position in the village of Corygaum, Staunton’s men succeeded in driving off all attacks to emerge as the victors of an affair which would become an epic in the annals of British India.

Wylie played a full part in the desperate fighting at Corygaum, and earned a mention in despatches - a rare honour for a medical officer at the time. The London Gazette duly reported:

‘Towards the close of evening, the Detachment was placed in a most trying situation, nearly the whole of the Artillerymen were Killed or Wounded, and about one third of the Infantry and Auxiliary Horse. The exertions which the European Officers had been called on to make in leading their men to frequent charges with the bayonet had diminished their Numbers, Lieutenant Chisholm of the Artillery and Assistant Surgeon Wingate of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, were Killed, and Lieutenants Swanston, Pattinson, and Conellon Wounded, leaving only Captain Staunton, Lieutenant Jones and Assistant Surgeon Wyllie [sic] of the Madras Establishment, nearly exhausted, to direct the remaining part of the Detachment, who were nearly frantic from the want of Water, and almost unparalleled efforts they had made throughout the day, without any sort of refreshment, after a fatiguing march of twenty-eight miles.’

The Gazette continues: ‘The British character was most nobly supported throughout the whole of this arduous defence by the European Officers, and the small detail of Madras artillery. The Medical Officers also led the Sepoys to Charges with the Bayonet, the nature of the contest not admitting of their attending to their professional duties. In such a struggle the presence of a single European was of the utmost consequence, and seemed to inspire the Native Officers and Soldiers with their usual confidence of Success. Every Individual displayed the most romantic bravery under the pressure of thirst and hunger almost beyond human endurance.’

In 1819 Wylie was posted to the 52nd N.I., and on 1 July 1825 was promoted Surgeon. Thereafter the path of his career was a steady rise through the various grades of his profession, becoming Superintending Surgeon in 1838, Inspector General of Hospitals in 1846, Surgeon General in 1850, and Physician General a month before his retirement in February 1851. In 1844 the Royal College of Surgeons established a new grade of Fellows, and 227 of the most distinguished Members of the College were appointed. Of those eighty-three were officers of the armed services, and of those twenty-nine, including Wylie, belonged to the Indian Medical Service.

In 1850 medical officers became eligible for the Military Division of the Order of the Bath and in the first list (London Gazette 17 August 1850) Wylie was made a Companion of the Bath. His Record of Service states: ‘Physician General Wylie has the proud distinction of being the first medical officer of the Madras Army who has been admitted to the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, a distinction conferred upon him by his Sovereign, in reward more especially of his gallantry in the memorable conflict of Corygaum, when, as honourably noticed by the Governor Genl. and Commander in Chief in India, he repeatedly “led on the Speoys to charges with the bayonet”.’

John Wylie married twice, firstly in 1815, Helen, the daughter of T. Allen of Lonehead, near Edinburgh, and secondly in 1824, Susan the sixth daughter of the Rev Andrew Duncan, D.D., of Rathbone, Midlothian. Susan Wylie died at Nagpore just four years after her marriage. Physician General Wylie died suddenly at Dollar in Scotland on 16 June 1852.