The Brian Ritchie Collection of H.E.I.C. and British India Medals

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Date of Auction: 23rd September 2005

Sold for £11,000

Estimate: £10,000 - £12,000

The Third Mahratta War medal for the battle of Kirkee to Lieutenant-Colonel James Morison, 2nd Madras Light Cavalry, captured the day following the action at Kirkee and imprisoned for five months in Wasota Fort

Army of India 1799-1826, 1 clasp, Kirkee (Cornet J. Morison, 2nd Cavy.) short hyphen reverse, officially impressed naming, rim nicks and bruises, otherwise very fine £10000-12000


Only five Kirkee clasps to European recipients, the only other officer being Cornet Hunter (Ritchie 1-34) who was taken prisoner with Cornet Morison. The other three recipients must have been wounded or sick to miss the action at Poona.

James Morison, the son of James Morison of Greenfield, Land Surveyor, was born at Alloa on 16 June 1789 and held a commission in the Clackmannan Local Militia before being admitted to the Madras Establishment in July 1810. He was granted his Cornetcy in January 1812 and joined the 2nd Madras Cavalry the November following.

In 1817 the Governor-General, Lord Hastings, declared his intention to hunt down the Pindarries in the Deccan and invited the Mahratta princes to join him. It was, however, a diplomatic fiction that the great princes did not connive at the crimes of their own licensed robbers, the Pindarries, and at the isolated Mahratta capital of Poona, agents of the Peshwa, Baji Rao, began to stir up trouble by disseminating seditious propaganda among the Sepoys of the small British garrison. The British Resident, Mountstuart Elphinstone, having uncovered various plots against his life hatched by the Peshwa, knew that the small number of Company troops at hand were encamped in a vulnerable and indefensible position, but he had to refrain from doing anything that might suggest that war was inevitable until he knew the outcome of machinations at Scindia’s court at Gwalior. After living on the brink of destruction for many days, British reinforcements arrived in the shape of the Bombay Europeans and Elphinstone ordered the garrison to a stronger position four miles away at Kirkee, though he himself remained at the Residency. Then finally, on 5 November, the Peshwa, ‘confused by the fumes of indolence and debauchery and by the conflicting counsel of soothsayers and astrologers’, launched his army of 26,000 men against the 3,000 British and Indian troops under Elphinstone and Colonel Burr at Kirkee.

Meanwhile, apparently unaware of events at Kirkee, Morrison, accompanied by Cornet Francis Hunter, the senior of the two by four months, and a party of one Havildar and twelve Sowars, was ‘travelling near Poona’ and arrived at Worlee which lay some twenty miles from the city. Here they were surprised by ‘a strong party of the Peshwa’s troops consisting of some hundred horse and some Arabs’. Hunter and Morison were offered safe conduct to the ‘British Camp at Poona’ but declined the ‘advantage, by which their followers who had claims to their protection, could not benefit’. Taking up a position in a choultry they constructed ‘a breastwork of their baggage’ and ‘defended themselves with honourable perseverance against a vast superiority of numbers for several hours.’ At length, Hunter’s detachment, reduced in strength by several casualties, ran out of ammunition, and was obliged to surrender after ‘the enemy got to the top of the building which they occupied and fired upon them, through holes made in the roof, when further resistance was evidently unavailing.’

The native troops were allowed to go free, but the two officers were taken prisoner, and for some days the British enclave at Poona assumed the worst. It transpired, however, that they had been incarcerated in the fort of Kangoree in Concan. Later they were moved to the fortress of Wassoola where they endured the remainder of their ‘rigid confinement of five months’ until liberated by troops under Major-General Pritegler on 6 April 1818 (London Gazette 28 August 1818).

Morrison’s ‘gallant conduct’ in the affair was officially acknowledged in General Orders of 11 January 1818 (London Gazette 18 April & 16 July 1818), in which the Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Deccan also recorded that ‘the loss to the enemy was four times the original number of this small party.’

Morison shared in the Deccan Prize, and was granted the sum of ‘2,500 Pagodas as compensation for loss of Baggage when captured by the Troops of Bajee Rao’. In 1822, he joined the Commissary General’s Department and was employed in the remount service. In 1835, Morison, then a Major, was appointed British Resident at Bushire. He sailed from Bombay in September, stopping en route at Muscat and several other places in the Gulf to ‘search for witnesses who could identify a prisoner at Bombay as the perpetrator of an act of piracy in April last’.

He reached Bushire on 11 October and was able to report ‘the tranquil state of maritime affairs in the Gulf’, although less happily in April 1836 he was forced to admit ‘the difficulty experienced in maintaining a proper state of discipline among the Resident’s Escort of Bushire’ in addition to ‘several acts of piracy committed by Armed Boats belonging to Howilla.’ Morison returned from his Persian post shortly afterwards and landed in India ‘with his lady at Tellincherry’ on 11 May 1836. A year later he became Lieutenant-Colonel, and on 10 April 1838 he embarked on furlough from Bombay. He retired from the service on 10 October 1840 and died on 30 May 1865 at Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Refs: Hodson Index (NAM); East India Registers 1817-18; IOL L/MIL/11/38; IOL L/MIL/11/40; IOL L/MIL/9 Vol 144 & Index; IOL L/MIL/5/44; IOL L/MIL/11/1; GO C-in-C 11/1/1818; IOL L/MIL/3/1151 Madras Military Letters; IOL L/MIL/5/44 Medal Roll.