Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria, to include the Brian Ritchie Collection (Part II) (2 March 2005)

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Date of Auction: 2nd March 2005

Sold for £4,600

Estimate: £2,500 - £3,000

The First Burma War and Capture of Ghuznee pair to Major-General Bulstrode Bygrave, Paymaster of the Cabul Army, one of the few survivors of the massacre in the Jugdulluck Pass who, after days walking through the mountains with the loss of the toes of one foot from frostbite, became the last European prisoner of Akbar Khan

(a) Army of India 1799-1826, 1 clasp, Ava (Lieut. B. Bygrave, Pionrs.) short hyphen reverse, officially engraved naming

(b) Ghuznee 1839 (Captain B. Bygrave, 5th Regt. N.I.) naming engraved in fine running script in the reverse field, very fine (2) £2500-3000

Footnote

Ex Whitaker collection 1890.

Bulstrode Bygrave, the son of George Augustus Bygrave, Barrack Master on the Isle of Wight, and his wife Elizabeth, was born on 9 October 1802 and was baptised at Newchurch, Isle of Wight. He was nominated for the Bengal Infantry by Alexander Allan, Esq., at the recommendation of Colonel Campbell, and did duty with the 3rd N.I. as Ensign from June 1821. He was posted to the 1/2nd N.I. (5th N.I. post 1824) as Lieutenant in 1823, and served in the First Burma War as Adjutant of the Native Pioneers, being present during operations on the Sylhet Frontier and in the Arakan. In July 1828 he was appointed Paymaster to the Native Pensioners and Adjutant of the Native Invalids at Allahabad. Later the same year he became embroiled in a dispute over 3829.5 Rs. with one Kallee Kooman, and in 1837, a fraudster called Sewdeen, aided and abetted by three native pensioners, attempted unsuccessfully to swindle him.

In late 1838 Bygrave was appointed Paymaster to the Army of the Indus and was subsequently present at the storming of Ghuznee on 23 July 1839, taking a share in the Ghuznee Prize, and receiving the Order of the Dooranee Empire, 3rd Class. After nearly two years service as Paymaster General at Cabul, Bygrave volunteered to rejoin his regiment and took part in Colonel Oliver’s punitive expedition to Zurmat in September and October 1841. By the time he returned to the British cantonment at Cabul, the capital was on the brink of open revolt. In November, Sir Alexander Burnes, was murdered by a mob, but no attempt was made to punish or disperse the rebels. Cut off from the garrison at Kandahar by snow and from Sir Robert Sale’s brigade at Jellalabad by ferocious Ghilzai tribesmen, the British at Cabul anxiously awaited the outcome of negotiations between the British Envoy, Sir William MacNaghten, and the rebel chiefs. In early December, MacNaghten agreed to the release of Dost Mohamed, the former amir at Cabul who had given himself up after Sale’s foray into Kohistan a year earlier, and to quit Afghanistan. However, before the retreat could begin MacNaghten suspected the good faith of the chiefs with whom he had signed his treaty, and opened talks with a rival Afghan faction. He was betrayed to Dost Mohamed’s son, Akbar Khan, and was assassinated less than a mile from the British cantonment on his way to a meeting. Yet not a British bayonet moved. Major-General William Elphinstone, the sick and indecisive commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, ignored the incident for fear of antagonising the chiefs, and refused to act on the advice of some of his officers to occupy the citadel or fight their way out to Jellalabad.

During the period of insurrection, Elphinstone appointed Bygrave to the command of the South East Bastion and angle of the Cabul cantonment and according to Lieutenant Vincent Eyre’s Journal of an Afghanistan Prisoner he ‘never slept away from his post (the battery near his house) for a single night and took his full share of fatigue without adverting to his staff appointment.’ Moreover, Bygrave later complained ‘... clothes never off my back, out in all weathers with my men and at all hours night and day.’

On 6 January 1842, Elphinstone, with Bygrave in close attendance, led the British garrison out from the cantonment to begin its disorderly and dangerous retreat and leaving behind the greater part of its guns and stores. The Cabul Army, comprising 690 British infantry, 2840 native infantry, 970 native cavalry, was hampered by a herd of panic-stricken native camp followers, and was attacked as soon as it left the cantonment, the Afghans closing in on the rearguard and killing more than fifty men and causing two guns to be abandoned.

That night the column camped without the benefit of shelter. ‘All scraped away the snow as best they might to make a place to lie down on’ wrote Lady Sale, ‘... there was no food for man or beast procurable ... At daylight we found several men frozen to death ... numbers of men, women and children are left on the roadside to perish.’

Next day, the Afghans continued to harass the struggling column, charging their horses into the throng, slaying and plundering indiscriminately. On the morning of the 8th, the 5th N.I. were thrown into confusion by a surging mass of camp followers at Boodhak. Bygrave, however, extricated the regiment and despite being under enemy fire managed to restore order and bring the sepoys to face the Afghan skirmishers. For his presence of mind on this occasion he received the thanks of Major Thain, A.D.C., and ‘every company officer’.

Periodically Akbar Khan rode into Elphinstone’s camp to offer advice and encouragement, bringing with him a momentary respite from the perpetual sniping. ‘Numbers of unfortunates’ recorded Florentia Sale, ‘have dropped, benumbed with the cold; to be massacred by the enemy: yet so bigoted are our rulers that we are still told that ... Akbar Khan is our friend!’ By the end of the third day, Major Eldred Pottinger, Political Agent, and two other officers had been handed over to Akbar as hostages, and the British wives and children had been placed under his ‘protection’. The menfolk struggled on and, having lost five of seven guns in a rearguard action in the Khoord-Kabul Pass, suffered severe casualties from the Afghan matchlock men ranged above them as they traversed a deep gorge no more than ten feet wide.

From this deadly defile emerged only seventy men of H.M.’s 44th Regiment, a hundred sowars, and one detachment of horse artillery. After the destruction of the native corps on the 10th, Bygrave attached himself to the 44th and bivouacked with the remnants of the half-starved column in the ruins of Jugdulluck on the following afternoon. A lull in the constant fusillade then heralded the arrival of Akbar who took Elphinstone and his second-in-command, Brigadier Shelton, hostage, and gave his assurance that the column would now be allowed to proceed unmolested to the Indian frontier. No sooner than he had departed, the Afghans redoubled their fire.

Nevertheless, ‘Individual acts of heroism’, recorded Kaye, ‘were not wanting at this time to give something of dignity to even this melancholy retreat.’ Collecting 16 or 18 men of the 44th, Bygrave, ‘the paymaster of the Caboul Army’, placed himself at their head and led a sally which was completely successful in temporarily driving off the enemy. ‘But’, Kaye continues, ‘the little party was soon recalled to the main body, which again retired behind the ruined walls; and again the enemy returned to pour upon them a destructive fire of their terrible jezails.’

On the morning of the 12th, Bygrave led another sally with a small party of the 44th who by his own account ‘did their work well, readily and most cheerfully’, and dislodged the enemy. A second sally led by Major Thain, Captain Hay and Lieutenant Wade was unsuccessful. The first two were wounded in the face, and Lieutenant Wade was killed.

At nightfall, Bygrave’s account continues, ‘... we gave three hearty cheers, one for our country, one for our Queen and one for Her Majesty’s 44th Foot [who] went to the rear, at this period the post of danger, and [I] told the men that I would stay with them to the last if only they would keep together and obey orders. This last, I had ever found them willing to do, but alas, the poor fellows foot-sore, tired and starved were at length unable to turn about and defend themselves, the Afghans having completed their work of blood and blunder at the Barriers [of holly-oak blocking the pass] began to dot the road in our rear, three came up close to me. I shot one, on which the other two fell back when I ordered the rear rank to face about and fire, but I now saw to my sorrow that these brave fellows could scarcely get one leg before another, much more turn to resist an attack, or to defend themselves.’

At this juncture, Bygrave, foreseeing the inevitable destruction of the force, decided to strike out on his own and reach Jellalabad by way of the mountains. He was joined in this hazardous trek by an enterprising Delhi merchant named Baness who had been caught up in the misfortunes of the British at Kabul, and who was equally anxious to put some distance between himself and the pursuing Ghilzai tribesmen.

Subsisting on a diet of dried coffee grains which Baness brought with him, supplemented by the occasional piece of wild liqourice root, they travelled by night and hid by day in the long rushes of the mountain streams or under the thick evergreen shrubs that dotted the snow-capped peaks. Steering a course in the dark soon proved extremely difficult and at one turn they found themselves on a high mountain road where they came upon the freshly despatched and mangled corpse of a European soldier, forcing them to laboriously retrace their steps for many miles. After four tortuous days and nights, Bygrave ‘with frost bitten feet, and worn-out shoes’ collapsed, telling Baness that he could go no further.

Bygrave suggested that they should find the nearest village and throw themselves on the mercy of the local chief, but Baness, thinking this a reckless course, declared that ‘for the sake of his large family’ he must go on alone to Jellalabad. Shortly after setting out on his own, Baness was assailed by pangs of guilt and twice returned desperate to urge Bygrave on. His efforts were in vain, and ultimately he reached Jellalabad alone, only to collapse himself and expire.

Awaking from a ‘prolonged slumber’, Bygrave summoned sufficient strength to reach the village of Kutch Soorkab on the night of the 18th, the second since Baness left him. At daybreak he gave himself up and was taken to the local chief, Nizam Khan, who ultimately handed him over on 15 February to Akbar then encamped at Charbagh and preparing to join the Afghan forces besieging Sir Robert Sale’s garrison at Jellalabad.In an ‘extremely weak and debilitated state’, Bygrave joined Akbar’s other European prisoners held in the fort at Buddeeabad on the 23rd and at last received some rudimentary treatment for his frost-bitten toes from Surgeon McGrath of the 37th, who himself had been wounded in the Khoord-Kabul Pass.

McGrath afterwards reported ‘On first seeing him mortification had separated the three centre toes of the left foot, and the other two were in such a state that I immediately removed the first joint of the great toe, and the entire of the little one - the foot was very much swollen and inflamed and his sufferings were intense. During his entire stay at Buddehabad [sic] - or from the 10th April - Captain Bygrave was totally unable to move from his couch without assistance. After the 10th April the foot became less painful and the sores [began] to heal gradually, and with the aid of a stick which he is still obliged to use he was enabled to move about a little - Captain Bygrave is of course lame and will continue so through his life.’

From 11 April, a few days after Sale’s garrison broke out from Jellalabad, the prisoners were obliged to follow Akbar in his movements, and it occurred to the Khan that Bygrave might be of use to him in the inevitable negotiation of terms. Accordingly Bygrave exchanged places as a potential hostage with Major Pottinger, who was allowed to rejoin the other prisoners on 25 August. On the evening of 11 September he was duly summoned with Captain Troup of H.M’s 44th to an ‘earnest consultation’ with Akbar. The British officers assured their captor that his defeat was certain, to which the Khan replied ‘ “I know that I have everything to lose; but it is too late to recede.” He declared that he was indifferent as to the result. The issue of the contest was in the hands of God, and it little mattered to him who was the victor.’

Next morning Akbar sent for Troup and told him that he and Bygrave must accompany him to Khoord-Cabul, where the Afghan chiefs had resolved to make their last stand against Pollock’s Army of Revenge. But Pollock (see Lot 21) had been forced to a halt in the Tazeane Pass, and so the Afghan chiefs moved forward, enclircling the British camp and deploying their ‘jezailchees’ on every available height. Bygrave, in the custody of Sir-Bolund Khan, accompanied the chiefs who were decisively beaten and put to rout on the 13th, and he thus became the unwilling companion of Akbar Khan in his flight to the Ghoraband valley.

On 15 September, Pollock established a camp on the Cabul race course and within a week all of the European prisoners, save Bygrave, had been released. The Afghan chiefs were now desperate to sue for peace and Akbar ‘perceiving that the further detention of his sole prisoner served no good purpose restored him to his liberty’. Akbar ‘would no longer make war upon a single man, and upon one, too, whom he personally respected and esteemed with the respect and esteem due to a man of such fine qualities as Bygrave. So he sent the last remaining prisoner safely into Pollock’s camp; and with him sent a letter of conciliation and an agent commissioned to treat for him’. Bygrave finally reached safety on the morning of the 27th, and having endured, what Elphinstone termed ‘trials and difficulties almost unprecedented’, he was ordered to proceed to Calcutta to settle the accounts of troops employed in Afghanistan.

In 1843, after a good deal of correspondence, Bygrave was granted a special pension equal to that awarded for the loss of a limb, receiving £80 per annum back dated to the fateful 6th of January 1842. He continued as Paymaster until 1853 when he transferred from the list of the 5th N.I. to the newly raised 3rd Bengal European Regiment. Promoted Major in July 1848, and Brevet Colonel in November 1854, he attained the rank of Major-General on his retirement in December 1861, and returned to England, where he died aged 71 years on 9 October 1873, at 4 Mansfield Place, London.

Refs: Hodson Index (NAM); Officers of the Bengal Army 1758-1834; Modern English Biography (Boase); IOL L/MIL/10/24; IOL L/MIL/10/57; A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan 1841-2 (Florentia Sale); Retreat from Cabul (Eyre); History of the War in Afghanistan (Kaye).