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 £20,000

Estimate: £15,000 - £20,000

The important early Indian campaign group to Field-Marshal Sir George Pollock, G.C.B., G.C.S.I., Bengal Artillery, Commander of the ‘Army of Retribution’ for the recapture of Cabul in 1842, later Director of the H.E.I.C. and Constable of the Tower of London
(a)
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (Military) G.C.B., an impressive privately made Grand Commander’s breast star, gold, silver and enamels, the silver rays set with diamonds, the reverse centre engraved ‘General Sir Goerge Pollock, G.C.B., K.S.I.’, fitted with gold pin for wearing, lacking a number of stones and enamels chipped in places
(b) The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India, G.C.S.I., mantle star by John Hunter, Maddox St., London, silver, gilt and enamel, this with some chips and cracks
(c) Army of India 1799-1826, 4 clasps, Battle of Deig, Capture of Deig, Nepaul, Ava (Lieut. Col. G. Pollock Comg. Divn. Arty. Ava.) long hyphen reverse, impressed naming, fitted with silver ribbon buckle
(d)
Cabul 1842 (Major Genl. Sir Geo. Pollock, G.C.B.) impressed naming, fitted with scroll suspension
(e)
Royal Military Acxdemy, Pollock Prize Medal, gold specimen striking of the second type award, 45mm., unnamed
(f)
India General Service 1854-94, 1 clasp, Pegu, silver-gilt glazed specimen, as presented when a Military Member of the Supreme Council, unless otherwise described, generally very fine or better (6) £15000-20000

Footnote

23 medals issued with 4 clasps, only two with this combination of clasps. The other example was awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel T. P. Smith (Ritchie 1-26).

George Pollock was the youngest son of David Pollock of Charing Cross, saddler to King George III, and was born on 4 June 1786. He passed out of Woolwich in the summer of 1803 with a place in the Engineers but chose to serve in the Bengal Artillery and sailed for India in the Tigris that September to take part in the Second Mahratta War. Commissioned ‘Lieutenant Fireworker’ on 14 December 1803, he became Lieutenant on his arrival at Dumdum in April 1804, and in the August following moved to Cawnpore to join the army under Lord Lake, who having defeated Scindia of Gwalior in the Hindustan Campaign of 1803, now faced another great Mahratta chief, Holkar of Indore. From Cawnpore, Pollock marched to Agra where the remnants of the Hon. William Monson’s brigade was straggling in after a disastrous rout at the hands of Holkar’s host. Pollock, nevertheless proceeded another 30 miles to join Captain Marmaduke Brown’s battery at Muttra but soon found himself withdrawing with the detachment at the approach of Holkar’s army of 90,000 men. Lake countered the wily Holkar who then in a critical moment for the future of the British in India split his force into two, sending his cavalry to ravage the Doab and his infantry and guns to capture the symbolically important city of Delhi. But due to the heroic defence of Delhi by a small British detachment and the timely arrival of Lake, Holkar was forced to withdraw from the siege, and Pollock next joined the detached force under General Fraser which followed up the enemy to Dieg.

On 13 November Pollock was present at the severe battle fought at that place, his battery of 9-pounders being ‘pushed out into the open in front of the Sepoy battalions’, whence they carried on ‘an unequal combat with the 18 and 12-pounders of the enemy.‘ At length Holkar’s force was beaten and the enemy withdrew into the fortress of Dieg, a possession of the treacherous Raja of Bhurtpoor. On 2 December 1804 Lake united his force before Dieg and on the 17th fire was opened; Pollock serving in the mortar battery. On the night of the 23rd the outworks were captured, and next morning Pollock was detailed to destroy the gates of the citadel, but on reconnoitring that same evening with the Major of Brigade he discovered the enemy had evacuated the place. Lake moved onto Bhurtpoor which was invested on 4 January 1805, and again Pollock saw service in the mortar battery. After four gallant but forlorn and bloody attempts to carry the place by storm, the siege was abandoned. Pollock next took part in the pursuit of Holkar, and on 17 September 1805 was promoted Captain-Lieutenant.

In January 1814 Pollock’s offer to serve in the Nepal War was accepted and he joined, as the senior artillery officer, the 4th (Dinapore) Division under the command of Major-General Bennet Marley and, later under ‘The Royal Bengal Tiger’, Major-General George Wood (see Lot 7). At the close of the 1815 campaign against the Gurkhas, he became Brigade Major, Bengal Artillery, and subsequently Assistant Adjutant-General of the Artillery with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Shortly after the outbreak of the First Burma War, he was ordered to the front, and arrived soon after the capture of Rangoon. In February 1825 he took part operations near that place, commanding the artillery in Sir Willoughby Cotton’s division at the capture of Mallown (specially mentioned in despatches). On 9 February 1826 he was present at the defeat of the Burmese between Yebbay and Pagham, and a week later, when the force was within striking distance of Ava, was present at the Burmese surrender. Created a Companion of the Bath for services in Burma, he returned to Europe on sick leave in 1827 and returned to India three years later to become Brigadier-General at Dinapore in 1835, and Major-General, Agra District, in 1838.

Following the great British reverse in Afghanistan in January 1842, Lord Auckland gave Pollock the onerous responsibility of commanding the expedition to save Sale and his besieged troops at Jellalabad and overseeing the withdrawal of the other hard pressed British garrison at Candahar. Accordingly he moved up to Peshwar, taking with him his son Robert (afterwards killed in action at Moodkee) as his A.D.C. But, arriving on 5 February, was unable to proceed further for two months. His preparations had to be perfect. He knew that if he was repulsed in the Khyber Pass, his first obstacle, the thought would take firm hold in the minds of many would-be adversaries that the East India Company was dangerously vulnerable; the Sikhs, who were supposedly his allies in the venture, being among them. Pollock, however, suffered no illusions as to the reliability of the latter, and even reported that he had ‘no expectation of any assistance from the Sikh troops.’ There was also a great deal of sickness among his troops, and at one point in Peshawar he had nearly 2,000 men in hospital. Furthermore the Bengal sepoys were demoralised at the thought of entering Afghanistan. A British officer with the force summed up the mood, by saying, ‘The Sikh soldiery at Peshawar, and Mussulman inhabitants of the city evinced unequivocal satisfaction at the discomfiture of our arms [and] a sneer was in the expression of many countenances around us and not a few of the bystanders were heard to speak to us as ‘food for the Khyber.’

Finally, on 31 March Pollock marched with his force of 8,000 men to Jamrood, where he reduced the army’s baggage to a minimum, and was himself content to share a tent with two officers of his staff. Having completed his meticulous preparations, and having inspired the sepoys and acquainted every officer with his duty, Pollock moved against on the Pass on 5 April 1842. The enemy, estimated at 10,000 men, had constructed a formidable barrier across the valley floor and had taken up strong positions behind redoubts built on the high ground to the right and the left of the pass. But Pollock, ‘using the tactics of the Afghans themselves’, deployed flanking columns to seize the heights, while he moved along the valley with the advance guard. For the first time the astonished Afghans found themselves shot down from above, and at a cost of only fourteen British lives the Khyber was swept and the enemy fled. Pollock pushed on to the abandoned stronghold Ali Musjid, some five miles up the pass and occupied it.

On 6 April Pollock was detained at Ali Musjid when it was found that the Sikhs had failed to secure the line of communication with Peshawar, but on the 7th he advanced again to Ghari Lala Beg, and meeting with trifling opposition, reached Landikhana. He then proceeded to Daka and, emerging from the pass, formed a camp at Lalpura where Saadut Khan made an effort to oppose him but was driven off. Meanwhile at Jellalabad Sale and his senior officers had been extended an offer by the weakling Shah Soojah to capitulate to the besieging forces of Akbar Khan, to which they had issued the crushing request that he should address himself to General Pollock, the commander of H,M,’s troops in Afghanistan. A few days ater Shah Soojah was lured from the walled fastness of the Bala Hissar in Cabul ‘for talks’ with Afghan chiefs but was riddled with bullets instead. Finally at Jellalabad with stocks of food and ammunition running dangerously low Sale was persuaded by senior officers to effect their own relief by sallying forth in an all out attack against Akbar. The latter was successful, and on 16 April when Pollock marched into Jellalabad he was greeted by the band of H.M’s 13th Foot playing the old Jacobite air Oh! But You’ve Been a Lang a’ Coming.

In Calcutta, Lord Auckland had been replaced by Lord Ellenborough, who hawkish at first had determined that the Afghans must be taught a lesson, but who now began to get cold feet. Anxious about the draining cost of operations in Afghanistan and possibly fearing another catastrophe, he ordered Pollock and General Nott, who had successfully conducted a fluid defence around Candahar all winter, to return with their troops to India. Ellenborough argued that the release of the European prisoners taken during the retreat from Cabul could be better negotiated in a calmer atmosphere. Pollock disagreed and wrote to Nott telling him on no account to withdraw. A battle of wills developed between Pollock, who wanted blood retribution, and the new Governor-General who wanted a quiet life. Gradually Pollock gained the support of senior military officers both in India and at home, and he successfully prevaricated, producing a succession of excuses –weather, supply shortages, money, etc – in order to delay the withdrawal of the two garrisons while pressure grew on Ellenborough to change his mind. At length the Duke of Wellington, a member of the Cabinet, intervened and warned Ellenborough, ‘It is impossible to impress upon you too strongly the notion of the importance of restoration of the reputation in the East.’ Ellenborough at last gave way and, without altering his order to evacuate Afghanistan, he told Pollock and Nott the they might, if they judged it militarily expedient, ‘retire by way of Cabul’. Neither Pollock of Nott complained that the responsibility had been shifted on to their shoulders, and a race began between the two to be the first into Cabul, although Nott’s men had by far the furthest to march – some 300 miles against Pollock’s hundred.

Pollock had not been inactive in the matter of the European hostages who included Sales’s wife and daughter, and on 2 August he had received at Jellalabad Captains Lawrence and Troup who had been sent out from Cabul by Akbar with the latter’s terms. Pollock was however obliged to send the two officers back to captivity as he refused to agree to retire as Akbar now feverishly wished. On 20 August Pollock advanced towards Gandamack leaving a detachment to hold Mamu Khel and Kuchli Khel, and then out of their adjoining camp. Having dished out some retribution to the villagers of Mamu Khel, and posted a strong detachment at Gandamak, Pollock advanced again with two brigades under Sale and McCaskill (see Lot 32). On 8 September the enemy were encountered strongly positioned as breastworks studded around the natural amphitheatre of the Jagdalek Pass, but after a fierce shelling were forced out by Sale’s men. Pollock, having rejected Sale’s advice to give the men a rest, pushed immediately on, thus denying the enemy a chance to rally, and reached Tazeane on 11 September. Akbar, learning that Pollock had halted, at once set out to attack him and opened fire on the afternoon of the 12th .

‘Pollock immediately attacked the enemy, some five hundred of who had taken post along the crest and upon the summit of a range of steep hills running from the northward into the Tazeane valley. They were taken by surprise, and driven headlong down the hills. Hostilities were suspended by the approach of night. At dawn preparations were made for forcing the Tezin Pass, a most formidable pass, some four miles in length. The Afghans numbering some twenty thousand men, had occupied every height and crag not already crowned by the British. Sale, with whom was Pollock, commanded the advanced guard. The enemy were driven from post to post, contesting every step, but overcome by repeated bayonet charges. At length Pollock gained complete possession of the pass.’ But the fight was not over, and the Afghans fell back on Haft Kotal, ‘an almost impregnable position on hills 7,800 feet above sea level’, and the last they could hope to defend before Cabul. The Army of Retribution, however, having become accustomed to victory delivered another crushing blow, and opened the way to the Afghan capital.

A sombre march through the Khoord Cabul, passed the bleached skeletons of Elphinstone’s army which lay so thick on the ground that they had to be cleared aside to allow the gun carriages through, followed, and, on the morning of the 16th Pollock raised the Union flag over the Bala Hissar. Nott to his chagrin arrived next morning and for some days refused to speak to Pollock or assist in operations. Pollock, whose amiability was never in doubt understood, left his subordinate to sulk undisturbed. Later the same day Pollock despatched a cavalry detachment to secure the release of the hostages at Bamian, but it was soon found that they had managed to effect their own release with large bribes. Pollock then ascertained that the remnants of Akbar’s army had assembled under Amir Ullah Khan at Istaliffe in the Cabul highlands, which place was duly razed to the ground by a strong force under McCaskill. Pollock, having freed some 2,000 of Elphinstone’s Indian camp follower’s and Sepoys enslaved in Cabul, looked about him determined to make one last gesture ‘of reputation’ and his eyes fell on the celebrated Char Chutter, the Great Bazaar built in the reign of Aurungzebe by the renowned Ali Mardan Khan. Here Sir William Macnaghten’s head and mutilated body had been exhibited, and without delay Pollock ordered its destruction.

With winter approaching Pollock commenced the long withdrawal to India which was reached after further stiff fighting. On 19 December 1842 Pollock crossed the Sutlej to the British frontier station of Ferozepore where he was received buy Lord Ellenborough and ‘Banquets and fetes were the order of the day’. For his widely acclaimed services in Afghanistan, Pollock was created a G.C.B. and in the 1842 session of Parliament was voted the thanks of both Houses. Furthermore, a medal, the Pollock Medal, was instituted in his honour at the Company’s Military Seminary, Addiscombe, to be given to the most promising Cadet at the examination for commissions. He continued to serve in India as commander of the Dinapore Division; as Resident at Lucknow; and finally as Military Member of the Supreme Council, before returning to England and receiving many further honours including his baton in 1870, a G.C.S.I on the institution of the order in 1861, and a baronetcy on March 1872 with the signal distinction, ‘of the Khyber Pass’. In 1871 Pollock was appointed Constable of the Tower and Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum of the Tower Hamlets. He died at Walmer on 6 October 1872, and was buried with full honours in Westminster Abbey.

Refs: Dictionary of National Biography; The Life and Correspondence of Field Marshal Sir George Pollock, C.R. Low, 1873.