A Collection of Medals for the Second Afghan War 1878-80

Date of Auction: 8th May 2019

Sold for £400

Estimate: £400 - £500

Afghanistan 1878-80, no clasp (Major, T. F. Dowden. R.E.) fitted with a contemporary silver riband buckle, nearly extremely fine £400-£500


Thomas Freeman Dowden was born on 26 June 1837, the son of Thomas and Mary Ann Dowden of Great Russell Street, London. He was privately educated at Burney’s Academy, Gosport, and by a Charles Howard, of St John’s Wood Park, London, receiving a Classical and Mathematical education. He was admitted to Addiscombe on passing the required examination on 24 May 1854, and entered the college on 1 February 1855, passing out as a 2nd Lieutenant on 12 December 1856.
Posted to Chatham on 19 March 1857, ‘to receive field instructions on the art of sapping and mining’, he left there on 21 September 1858, receiving promotion to Lieutenant on 27th September, and arrived in Bombay on 27th November the same year.

Whilst at Chatham, Dowden was amongst the large number of officers who paraded for the Queen’s Levee on 18 June 1857, at St James’s Palace, her first Levée following her Coronation. He was posted to the Bombay Engineers on 7 February 1859, but was attached to the Sappers and Miners at Poona between 4 December 1858 and 16 August 1859, after which he returned to the Bombay Public Works Department.

He was appointed Probationary Assistant Engineer until 29 July 1861, after which he was promoted to 2nd Class Assistant Engineer, additionally being placed in charge of the Office of Engineers at Ahmedabad from 3rd May to 28th July, 1862.
He became Acting 1st Class Assistant Engineer from April 1862 and Acting Under Secretary to the Government from 7 February 1865, which was confirmed as a permanent appointment on 6th December, that year. He was promoted to 2nd Captain on 31 October 1868, and to Captain on 5 July,1872, and an appointment as Deputy Consulting Engineer for Railways, Bombay.

Promoted to Major on 11 December 1873, he took a period of leave to deal with ‘Private Affairs' away from India from April 1875 to 16 February 1877, when he was sent to Agra as Manager of the Rajputana State Railway. Later, in connection with Railway construction in Baluchistan, he was Secretary to the Agent to the Governor-General.

During the Afghanistan War of 1878-80, in his capacity as the then Superintending Engineer in Baluchistan, he was seconded to Major-General Phayre’s Force which was marching to the relief of the besieged British troops at Kandahar, following Brigadier-General Burrows’ defeat at Maiwand in July 1880. A massive logistical exercise ensued, with the mobilisation of a large Force of men, munitions, animals, supplies and equipment, pushing towards Kandahar over extremely difficult ground, during the hottest part of the year, where temperatures regularly reached 120-130F each day. It was essential that the road between Chaman and Kandahar was made fully serviceable for the use of horse and mule drawn carts, for in its present state, it was totally unable to facilitate such movement of troops and equipment. Major-General Phayre calculated that the whole of his Force would be concentrated at Chaman by the 29th August, when he would endeavour to reach Kandahar in four marches, arriving there about the 2nd September. With this in mind, Major Dowden and Major E. D’O. Tremlow, R.E., Public Works Department, were put at the disposal of Major-General Phayre who later explained in his Despatch, dated 16 October, 1880, that as a result of Dowden’s and Tremlow’s work ‘… I was thus enabled to utilise the large number of carts which had brought supplies to Kila Abdulla and open the way for successive convoys of wheeled transport’.

Phayre continues: ‘Major T. F. Dowden, R.E. was good enough to detach his assistant, Lt. W. H. Chipendall, R.E., to fortify the Gazaband Pass - a matter of great importance at the moment it was undertaken. For this and other valuable services on the line I tender Major Dowden my best thanks.’

For his services during the Afghan campaign, he was awarded the medal and was mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 25 January 1881).

On 1 July 1881, he was promoted Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel and in November that year became Acting Senior Deputy Consulting Engineer and Under Secretary to the Government, Bombay. Between 17th March, 1882 to 11th November, 1883, he was given leave in Europe for ‘Private Affairs’ and it was during this period that he married Mary Louise Baskervyle at the Parish Church at Bexley, Kent, on 18th April, 1882.

He continued to live in India and became a writer, producing many articles for local newspapers and also authoring a 3 volume romance called ‘Love’s Empire’. He also developed an interest in the Cooperative Movement and wrote, ‘The Great Cooperation’ and ‘Cooperation with God and the Neighbour’. He also travelled widely and it would appear he embarked on a world tour during 1894, during which he was interviewed by a correspondent in Montreal, Canada, in which he warned of the deteriorating relationship between the British and the Indian people and the risk of another uprising.

During the Great War, Dowden was very critical of German professors and their ‘songs of hate’ and wrote ‘Southern Searchlights’, which also illustrated his devoted spiritualism. He remained in India for many years and did not return to live permanently in the U.K. until his 88th year in 1925, holding a deep affection for the Indian people and providing generous support to the Anglo-Indian Association.

Thomas and Mary Dowden produced one daughter. Mary died a few weeks before him on 20 February 1929 aged 81, possibly a loss from which he was unable to recover and he died at the age of 91, on 15 April 1929, after a brief illness, at his home in Kew, London. Both are buried in a joint grave at Mortlake Cemetery, (also known as Hammersmith New Cemetery), Richmond upon Thames, Surrey.

Sold with comprehensive research, including a copied photograph of Dowden in later years.