A Collection of Awards for the Indian Mutiny 1857-59

Date of Auction: 1st March 2017

Sold for £3,600

Estimate: £2,400 - £2,800

The Indian Mutiny and North West Frontier campaign pair to Brigadier-General O. E. Rothney, C.B., C.S.I., 4th Sikh Infantry (late Rothney’s Sikhs), Commandant of the 5th Gurkhas 1860-73

Indian Mutiny 1857-59, 1 clasp, Delhi (Bt. Maj... O. E. Rothney, 4th Sikh Infy.) suspension claw re-affixed and loose; India General Service 1854-95, 1 clasp, North West Frontier (Major. O. E. Rothney, 4th Sikh Inftry.) contact marks overall, therefore good fine or better (2) £2400-2800


Provenance: DNW, September 2004.

Octavius Edward Rothney, the son of Alexander Rothney, of Mile End Old Town, a Sub-Inspector of the Military Stores Department, H.E.I.C.S, was born on 13 March 1824, and educated at Christ’s Hospital. He was nominated for the Bengal Service by G. Lyall, Esq., on the recommendation of Lieutenant-Colonel Bonner. Commissioned in June 1841, he arrived at Fort William aboard the Becephalus on 6 November of that year and was posted to the 45th Bengal N.I. at Dacca in December. Having been promoted Lieutenant and having qualified as an Interpreter, he was appointed to the 11th Bengal Cavalry at Loodianah and served with that corps during the Sutlej campaign (not entitled to a medal). In October 1846 he rejoined the 45th N.I. and proceeded towards the Kashmir frontier with General Littler’s force against Sheikh Emamoodeen. In 1848 Rothney was appointed Adjutant of the newly raised 4th Sikh Infantry (later 4-12th Frontier Force). In December 1851, he joined the 3rd Sikhs as second-in-command, and, from December 1852 until January 1853, took part in the expedition under Lieutenant-General F. Mackeson against the Hassanzais on the North West Frontier. He rejoined the 4th Sikhs as Commandant on active service in Burma in March 1854, when he was placed in charge of a chain of outposts in recently annexed Pegu where he fought several engagements with the rebel leader Goung Gee.

The outbreak of the Mutiny in 1857 found Rothney and Lieutenant Williams, his Adjutant and the only other British officer with the corps, at Loodianah. On 8 June 3,000 mutineers arrived from Jullundur calling on the Sepoys of the 3rd Bengal N.I. to rise in revolt. Rothney, however, managed to hold ‘the town and fort in check’ and protect ‘the cantonment with the main body of [his] regiment’ until the mutineers had passed. A few days later Sir John Lawrence ordered Rothney’s Sikhs to Delhi, where they arrived on 23 June, and subsequently played a prominent role in the siege, storm and capture of the city. Rothney was promoted Major by Brevet and mentioned in despatches for services at Delhi. In March 1858, he was summoned back to Delhi by Sir John Lawrence to serve as a member of the Military Court which sat in judgement on Bahadur Shah II.

Rothney was next actively employed with the 4th Sikhs in December 1859, under Sir Neville Chamberlain (qv), in the expedition to punish the Kabul Khel Waziris for harbouring the murderers of Captain Richard Mecham, and was present at the affair of Maidanee. On 23 March 1860, Rothney was transferred to officiate as Commandant of the Hazara Gurkha Battalion, which was then marching for field service under Chamberlain against the Mahsud Waziris who had attacked the frontier town of Tank. The Mahsud Waziris were estimated at a strength of between four and seven thousand, and accordingly a large force was assembled. The force was split into two and Rothney remained with the part left in camp at Palosin under the command of Colonel Peter Lumsden of the Guides. At reveille on 23 April 1860, 3,000 Mahsud Waziris attacked the camp which such ferocity that Lumsden lost 63 killed and 166 wounded. Lumsden afterwards recorded: ‘I had my clothes half on, ready for any emergency, and immediately took my inlying picket out to the ridge and placed them so as to rake the face of the ridge down which they were coming, and then returned to my Guides, who, though surprised in their tents and the half of them unaccoutred, still made a respectable resistance, falling back inch by inch on the guns (two 9-pounders and two howitzers). Here Bond and Lewis of the Guides contrived to get together some 200 men and formed them into line across camp, called on them to advance, which the men did with fixed swords and a cheer (which would have done your heart good to hear ... ), bearing down all before them and clearing the camp. While this was going on on the right, the Goorkhas and the 4th Sikhs had time to form, and being brought up on the flank of the enemy by Major Rothney, commanding the Goorkhas, soon turned the enemy’s repulse into complete rout.’

Following this action an attempt was made to negotiate a settlement but the Mahsuds would not accept the British terms. On 2 May Rothney advanced with Chamberlain’s force, and on the 4th encountered the Mahsuds, holding the Barari Pass in great strength. With some diffculty the Mahsuds were dislodged and forced to withdraw into the hills. They were then followed up, and on the 11th, Chamberlain’s force captured the Mahsud town of Makin and destroyed it. The British force, experiencing difficulties with its re-supply, was then withdrawn. Rothney was honourably mentioned in Lumsden’s despatch of 25 April 1860, and in Chamberlain’s despatch of 7 July 1860. He was confirmed in the appointment of Commandant of the Hazara Gurkhas the following December.

Promoted Lieutenant-Colonel in June 1867, he was still commanding his battalion (which was retitled the 5th Gurkhas under the reorganisation of the early 1860’s) in August 1868 when it was sent in to the Agror Valley to punish the Bazotee Black Mountain tribes who had attacked the police post at Ughi. Despite driving the tribesmen from the valley on one occasion, Rothney and his Gurkhas were outnumbered and were soon forced on the defensive. Unable to prevent further acts of lawlessness against villages under British protection, Rothney withdrew, having been slightly wounded, while a larger force was assembled. His efforts were acknowledged with the thanks of the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief. Rothney re-entered the Black Mountains with the expedition under Major-General A.T. Wilde in October. On the 4th of that month, the 1st and 5th Gurkhas overran the enemy positions at Mana-ka-Dana, and next day the heights at Machai Peak were taken by the 20th B.N.I., with the 5th Gurkhas in support. Thereafter enemy opposition faded away. Rothney was again favourably mentioned in despatches, and in December 1868 was created a C.S.I. The next year he served in a force with special powers in the Agror Valley, for which service he was thanked by the Government of the Punjab.

In April 1870, Rothney turned down an appointment which many ‘Piffer’ officers perceived as the height of ambition - the command of the Corps of Guides. He left the Punjab Frontier Force in 1873 and was next posted to the Brigade Staff at Agra. Having been awarded a C.B. and a distinguished and meritorious conduct pension of £100 per annum in 1877, he commanded the Gwalior District before taking up his final appointment, as acting commander of the Lahore Division. Colonel Rothney retired to England and died at Tunbridge Wells on New Year’s day, 1881, then in his 57th year.

Refs: Hodson Index (NAM); IOL L/MIL/10/33, 41, 45, 50, 64, 76 and 89; IOL L/MIL/10/37; IOL L/MIL/10/48; IOL L/MIL/10/52; IOL L/MIL/10/62; IOL L/MIL/10/66; Forty-One Years in India (Roberts); Life of Field Marshal Sir Neville Chamberlain (Forrest); The Times; History of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force).