THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

66 posts categorized "Crime"

29 January 2019

The shooting of the British Consul General at Isfahan and Sowar Chowdri Khan

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Persia (Iran) declared its neutrality in the First World War on 1 November 1914.  Nevertheless, owing to its oil deposits and proximity to British-ruled India, Persia became a battleground for the Great Powers during the War.  In January 1915, the Germans launched a major infiltration campaign in British occupied southern Persia.  German agents sought to instigate popular rebellion amongst the local population against Allied forces, and to sabotage and destroy British installations and interests.

IOR L PS 10 332 f77Map of ‘Persia & Afghanistan’, April 1908 (IOR/L/PS/10/332, f 77) Open Government Licence

On 2 September 1915, Thomas George Grahame, British Consul General at Isfahan, and Chowdri Khan, one of the Indian sowars (cavalry soldiers) composing his escort, were attacked in a lane after riding out on horseback from the Consulate.  This attack resulted in the wounding of Grahame and the death of Khan.  The incident was viewed by Charles Murray Marling, HM Minister to Tehran, as being part of a German campaign of assassinations.
 

IOR R 15 1 710 f10Map of British consular jurisdictions in Persia, 1907 (IOR/R/15/1/710, f 10) Open Government Licence

Grahame sent an account of the incident to Marling.  He recounted that he saw a man walking in front of him in the lane, who suddenly turned around and stepped to the side of the path.  Grahame ‘saw his arm raised, heard a shot and felt a twinge under [his] left arm’.  He saw the man moving in the direction of Chowdri Khan, as Grahame’s frightened horse broke into a canter.  He then saw another man, who ‘raised both arms as if to give a signal to some one unseen’ as Grahame passed him.  As Grahame galloped away he ‘heard three shots fired – presumably on Chowdri Khan’.

IOR L PS 10 490 f249

IOR L PS 10 490 f250 Copy of statement by Thomas George Grahame, British Consul General at Isfahan, 2 September 1915 (IOR/L/PS/10/490, f 249-250) Open Government Licence

Grahame wrote that he sought help for Chowdri Khan from two policemen and another Indian Sowar he passed on his way back to the Consulate, from where orders were given to find and assist Chowdri Khan.

Resaidar Malik Rab Nawaz Khan, of the 11th King Edward’s Own Lancers, Native Officer in charge of the Isfahan Consulate General Guard, stated that Sowar Khan Mohamed Khan was the first to be ready to search for Chowdri Khan.  He left the Consulate alone, ‘regardless of dangers’, and found Chowdri Khan, ‘wounded, but still alive’.

Khan Mohamed Khan tried to carry Chowdri Khan to the nearby Church Missionary Society Hospital, but after going 200 yards his strength failed him.  Some Persians came to his assistance and Chowdri Khan was carried to the Hospital, but after a few minutes, he died.

The Resaidar stated that he hoped that Khan Mohamed Khan’s ‘promptitude and bravery’ would be ‘recognised in a fitting manner’.

IOR L PS 10 490 f252

IOR L PS 10 490 f253 Copy of statement by Resaidar Malik Rab Nawaz Khan, 11th King Edward’s Own Lancers, 6 September 1915 (IOR/L/PS/10/490, f 252-253) Open Government Licence

Grahame learnt that seven shots in total had been heard from the CMS Hospital.  The first was the one fired at Grahame, but the rest appeared to have been fired by two other men ‘lurking about in the lane’.  According to one informant, ‘two of these three men were wearing German badges’. 

This incident was soon followed by the British Vice-Consul at Shiraz being shot and killed in the street on 7 September.  By the end of 1915, the situation in southern Persia had deteriorated so badly for the British that they decided they needed to raise ‘a force for the restoration of law and order’, the South Persia Rifles.

Susannah Gillard
Content Specialist, Archivist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
India Office Records files which can be viewed on the Qatar Digital Library:
British Library, File 3516/1914 Pt 14 'German War: Persia; general situation' IOR/L/PS/10/490
British Library, File 3516/1914 Pt 9 'German War: Persia' IOR/L/PS/10/486
Touraj Atabaki, ‘Persia/Iran’, 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson (Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin, 2016).
Touraj Atabaki (ed.), Iran and the First World War: Battleground of the Great Powers (London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006).
Donald M. McKale, War by Revolution: Germany and Great Britain in the Middle East in the Era of World War I (Kent, Ohio; London: Kent State University Press, 1998).
Denis Wright, The English Amongst the Persians During the Qajar period, 1787-1921 (London: Heinemann, 1977).

 

20 November 2018

A case for the Society for the Protection of Women and Children

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On 29 August 1864 Henry Wilkinson was brought before the magistrate at Clerkenwell Police Court charged with the wilful murder of his wife Eliza who had died the previous night.  Henry was a stonemason’s labourer aged 29 and he lodged with 28-year-old Eliza and their three children at 9 Cross Street in the Hatton Garden area of London.  Relations between the married couple were not always happy because of Henry’s jealousy and heavy drinking.

  Quarrel - temperanceFrom T. S. Arthur Temperance Tales vol. 1 (1848)

The Wilkinsons had visitors on Sunday 28 August, going to the station in the evening to see them off on a train.  One of the friends kissed Eliza.  Henry flew into a rage, and he cursed and threatened his wife before striking her very hard.  At 10pm Eliza arrived at home and spoke to Sarah Collier who lodged in the same house.  Eliza was afraid her husband would beat her, so she was sent to sleep in the same bed as Mrs Collier’s aunt.   At midnight Henry came home drunk.  He went looking for Eliza, pulled her out of bed, and punched and kicked her as she lay on the floor.  She began to vomit blood, saying ‘Oh mistress, he has given me my death blow!’  Henry immediately began to help his wife, carrying her to her own bed, giving her brandy, and going to fetch a doctor.  But poor Eliza died about an hour later.

Sarah Collier testified that she had seen Henry ill-treating his wife before this, adding that he was very kind to Eliza when sober and also treated his children well.  The case was then remanded to allow a post mortem to take place.  Bail was refused.

An inquest into Eliza's death opened on 2 September 1864 at the Three Tuns Tavern in Cross Street.  Henry was brought up in custody under a warrant from the Home Secretary.  Large crowds, mostly women, gathered in the street, and the windows of neighbouring houses were thronged with spectators.   The Marquis of Townshend, chairman of the Society for the Protection of Women and Children, sat at the coroner’s side.  Several witnesses were questioned and Dr Thomas Clark who had conducted the post mortem examination gave the cause of death as a ruptured diseased spleen.  Clark said that the condition of Eliza’s spleen might have been aggravated by ill-treatment by Henry, but the slightest blow would have caused death.

  Clerkenwell News - Society for Protection of WomenClerkenwell News 3 September 1864 British Newspaper Archive

In summing up, the coroner said the case showed the importance of the work of the Society for the Protection of Women and Children.  Whenever a man ill-used his family, the women and children should apply to the Society and steps would be taken to prevent such calamities.

The inquest jury decided that Henry did not intend to kill his wife and therefore their verdict was manslaughter.  However, after hearing the evidence, the magistrate at Clerkenwell decided Henry should be tried for wilful murder rather than manslaughter.  At Henry’s trial at the Old Bailey on 19 September 1864, he 'received a most excellent character, amongst others, from the father, brother, and sister of the deceased'.  He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to twelve months in prison.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Clerkenwell News 3 & 5 September 1864; Holborn Journal 10 September 1864.

 

13 November 2018

The fate of two forgers

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On Sunday 6 February 1785 a mass hanging took place at Newgate Prison of individuals who had been found guilty of various crimes and sentenced to death.  The hangings were intentionally held publicly at the debtors' gate of the prison to serve as a warning to society that such crimes would not be tolerated.

  NewgateNewgate from G W Thornbury, Old and New London (London, 1887)

Two of the individuals hanged that day were James Dunn and William Abbott, two unrelated individuals and cases, who were both convicted of forgery and who had both attempted to defraud individuals connected to the East India Company.

James Dunn was found guilty and sentenced to death on 8 December 1784 for having forged the last will and testament of one James Potter, a seaman aboard the East India Company ship Rodney, who had died at St Helena on 14 March 1784.  Dunn had attempted to defraud not only James Potter’s widow Jenny but also the East India Company, several ship’s captains and other seamen.  The case was drawn out over several months as Dunn had successfully proved the forged will at the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury and it therefore had to be declared null and void by them before he could be tried and convicted of his crime.

William Abbott was also found guilty and sentenced to death on 8 December 1784 for having forged a bill of sale owed by Daniel Mcarthy to John How, a seaman aboard the East India Company ship Warren Hastings.  John How had died on board ship on 28 April 1783.  It was believed that Abbott had learned of this and of the money owed to How in July 1783 when the Warren Hastings was at Bombay alongside the Talbot, in which Abbot was a passenger.  On Abbot’s return to England in October 1784 he had forged the bill of sale to the value of £23 14s 10d and had posed as John How to claim the money from Mcarthy.

On finding William Abbott guilty, the jury had given the verdict ‘Guilty with recommendation'.  Although guilty, they believed he deserved some clemency.  The judge however appears to have disagreed and sentenced him to death.

Karen Stapley,
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive - Derby Mercury, 9 Dec 1784, reported on the conviction of William Abbott for forgery.
Reading Mercury, Monday 7 February 1785, reported on the hangings at Newgate Prison and gave details of the individuals and their crimes.

 

10 July 2018

Spence Broughton: A Ghostly Highwayman

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Spence Broughton was a highwayman executed for robbing the Sheffield and Rotherham mail in 1792.  His body was gibbeted on Attercliffe Common and, notoriously, it hung there for 36 years.  Thousands flocked to see this gory spectacle and it has remained somewhat of a local legend.  Only four contemporary publications about Broughton are recorded, all provincially printed (probably in York) and extremely rare.  We are delighted to add to this with the discovery of a hitherto unknown broadside: 'Full and complete particulars of the dreadful, surprizing, and alarming apparition of Spence Broughton, which appeared to Miss S---- H----, on Sunday morning, April 15, 1792'. 

Highwayman1'Full and complete particulars of the dreadful, surprizing, and alarming apparition of Spence Broughton...'

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Broughton’s fate was of his own making; he deserted his family, gambled and committed many highway robberies after all.  However, in this broadside, the highwayman is instead a victim of a seductress, absolving him of responsibility for his crimes and condemning his unfortunate mistress to a life of' 'never-ending tortures'.

The night before his execution, the highwayman appeared as an apparition in his mistress’s bedroom.  Upon waking she saw Broughton’s coffin, flanked by his widow and three orphans.  The widow reportedly cried:
'Most worthless of thy sex, behold the misery thou hast occasioned!  Behold the widow and the orphans thy infamy has plunged into woe! … The blood of a whole family calls aloud for vengeance upon thee!'

The widow then disappeared, leaving Broughton in spirit-form to condemn his mistress:
'If the sufferings of an innocent and virtuous woman cannot avail, I charge thee to mark my words, for surely they must strike thee with unspeakable remorse.  Have thy not delusive tongue occasioned me to relinquish the chastest love for the lewdest dalliance? Canst thou exist on earth without a foretaste of never-ending tortures? … Surely thou canst not behold my mangled limbs without shedding the most heart-rending tears!'

Broughton then disappeared in a ball of fire, leaving poor Miss S---- H---- terrified and the curtains mysteriously soaked in blood.  The landlady admonished and urged her to 'forsake the highway of destruction, and seek the happy path of reformation and amendment'.  The other surviving printed sources about Spence Broughton strike a similarly sympathetic note about his fate; he apparently repented for his crimes prior to execution and that earned him a measure of public compassion.

Highwayman2'Full and complete particulars of the dreadful, surprizing, and alarming apparition of Spence Broughton...'


This grubby but unique survival adds to the small corpus of provincial printing about Spence Broughton, and to the corpus of highwaymen broadsides more generally.  Popular print in the eighteenth century was saturated by sensationalist tales, infamous criminals and the odd, squeezed-in, moral lesson.  This was perhaps printed just hours before the execution and its extraordinary but decidedly misogynist tale would’ve been avidly consumed by locals.  It was printed cheaply on waste paper – on the back of a Register of Freeholders form - and it cost only a penny.  It could also provide a valuable clue about the identity of Broughton’s much-maligned mistress, whose name has long since been lost.  The initials “S H” may be the printer’s invention but, then again, they may not.  Either way, this is an intriguing piece of printing.
 
Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

26 April 2018

Charlotte Canning’s burning tent

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On the night of 11-12 December 1859, the Governor General of India Charles Canning, his wife, and extensive entourage were encamped outside Deeg, en route to Delhi.  Just after midnight, Charlotte Canning awoke to find the tent she was sleeping in ablaze.  The stove being used to heat the tent had set it on fire.  Lady Canning quickly sounded the alarm, and raced to remove her most precious belongings from the path of the fire.

 Charlotte-Canning-ne-Stuart-Countess-Canning 2Charlotte Canning (née Stuart), Countess Canning by William Henry Egleton, after John Hayter (1839) © National Portrait Gallery, London

It was no ordinary tent, and no camping holiday.  The Governor General was taking part in a grand progress through Oudh (Awadh) and the Punjab.  It was the first time Charles Canning had travelled beyond Calcutta and Allahabad.  The uprising known as the 'Indian Mutiny' had begun in early 1857, and peace was not deemed to have been restored to India until mid-1858.  The tour enabled the Cannings to see more of India and to take part in a series of Durbars or ceremonial gatherings.  The Governor General conferred official thanks and gifts upon local rulers and dignitaries who had remained faithful to the British.

Howdah X108(42)The Governor-General's state howdah from William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern (1867) X108(42) Online Gallery Noc

Charlotte Canning was not averse to travel.  Her papers include a number of diaries from European tours in the 1840s, including those she had taken with the Royal family in her position as Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria.  In 1858, while the Governor General was in Allahabad, she travelled to Madras to visit the hill stations at Coonoor and Ootacamund.  One particular viewpoint is still known as ‘Lady Canning's seat’, a point where she sketched and painted the Nilgiris.  However, Lady Canning did not particularly enjoy being in camp.  She wrote to her mother: 'A tent is not pleasant with the walls shaking, the dust coming in, and draughts kept out with the greatest difficulty. I like seeing new places and can bear anything, but cannot the least see the delights of camp-life' (Agra, 4 Dec 1859, Mss Eur F699/2/1/17).

So, what did Charlotte Canning rescue from her burning tent?  We know she left her clothes as they were all destroyed and she had to borrow some from Lady Campbell.  She didn't think to rescue her jewellery at first, only later remembering to send an officer to rescue the boxes.  Many items needed professional cleaning on the Canning’s return to Calcutta, and receipts survive from jewellers Allan and Hayes.  A number of rings were actually stolen in the mayhem, turning up later in Calcutta when the culprit attempted to sell them. 

Image of Charlotte Canning's jewelleryCharlotte Canning’s jewellery from file Mss Eur F699/2/5/31 ‘Papers relating to Purchases and Commissions’ Noc

Charlotte Canning pulled out from her tent the things most precious to her – her personal papers, letters, diaries and paintings. She managed to extract the boxes, and must have been relieved to do so - only to witness a burning tent awning fall on the precious items that had not been moved far enough away. 

 Mss Eur F699-2-2-2-3Charlotte Canning’s Diary, Jun-Dec 1857 Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/3 Noc

Traces of the fire remain in the collection. Her diaries were badly burned, and letters to Queen Victoria charred.  The British Library Conservation Centre has been working on this damaged material to make it available to researchers.  Loose correspondence and papers have been treated, and Lady Canning's Indian diaries will be fully conserved in the coming year. 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Mss Eur F699/2 Papers of Charlotte, Lady Canning
Mss Eur D661 Charlotte Canning Memorial Album
Charles Allen, A glimpse of the burning plain: leaves from the journals of Charlotte Canning (London: Joseph, 1986)
Virginia Surtees, Charlotte Canning (London: J. Murray, 1975)
Augustus Hare, The Story of Two Noble Lives: being memorials of Charlotte, Countess Canning and Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford (London: George Allen, 1893)

Related articles

Papers of Charles and Charlotte Canning

14 February 2018

A much married man

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Following our stories about cases of bigamy and trigamy, colleagues suggested that I find a man with four wives for an ‘alternative’ Valentine’s Day blog post.  The British Newspaper Archive provided plenty of examples of four wives, and five, six, seven, and more.  I stopped looking when I found a man with twenty wives!

Lot of Fun B20130-10From Lot-of-Fun vol.2, no.28, p. 8 Images Online

One ‘most sensational’ case stood out from the rest.  Reuben Henry Chandler was born in Bristol in 1849, the son of a cabinet maker.  After leaving school he was apprenticed to an organ builder, then became a joiner before enlisting in the British Army, ‘being of fine physique’.  His father bought him out when he tired of military duties.

In 1870 Reuben married Mary Elizabeth Day in Bristol.  Soon afterwards he went to America and joined the US Navy.  On his return to England he did not rejoin his wife.  Instead he was wed in Bath in 1874 to Harriet Ellen Hales, a married woman who had been deserted by her husband Edwin.  At the time of the 1881 census, Reuben was working as a carpenter in Bath and living with Harriet Ellen and one of her two daughters, a servant, and three lodgers.  Reuben used to leave home for days, and then he disappeared altogether.

Reuben’s next wedding was in July 1885 to Flora Jenkins at St Mary Bitton in Gloucestershire.  The couple settled in Newport Monmouthshire.  In September 1887 Reuben filed a petition for divorce on the grounds of Flora’s adultery with a Richard Hermann, demanding £1000 in damages.

However Reuben and Flora stayed together and in January 1888 were both convicted of letting their coffee house in Newport be used as a brothel.  They then moved to Cardiff where they had a lodger, a master mariner called John Collins.  Reuben helped Flora to pass herself off to Collins as his daughter rather than his wife.  Flora married Collins in 1892 and Reuben attended to give the bride away.

Wedding number four was to Ada Maria Stutt at Bristol June 1898.  Reuben and Ada ran the Lord Chancellor pub on Easton Road until Ada’s death in the summer of 1902 at the age of 29.  Reuben’s stepmother Ann had a dream that her husband’s grave had been disturbed.  She was very upset to discover that Reuben had buried Ada there without her permission and went to the police with Ada’s father to report the multiple marriages. William Stutt wished to claim his dead daughter’s property as her rightful next of kin.

Chandler bigamySheffield Evening Telegraph  1 October 1902 British Newspaper Archive

Reuben’s trial took place in November 1902 at Bristol Assizes.  He was charged on three counts for marrying Ada Maria Stutt, Flora Jenkins, and Harriet Ellen Hales whilst his wife was still alive in Bristol.  The judge Mr Justice Wright commented that it was over 30 years since the first marriage, and said he considered the prosecution to be oppressive and ridiculous.  Reuben was found not guilty.

Reuben then moved to London and set up house with Frances Maria Wheeler.  I can find no evidence that the couple married.  They had twelve children, the last born five months after Reuben died in July 1922 at the age of 73 after a most eventful life.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive

 

04 January 2018

Trigamy - a man with three wives

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Our last post told the story of a soldier who forfeited his Victoria Cross because he had committed bigamy.  Today we bring you a case of trigamy.

WeddingFrom Thomas Hood, Humorous Poems, illustrations by C. E. Brock (London, 1893) BL flickr

George Meaden was a shoemaker in Marylebone, London.  In March 1842 he married Sarah Cash, a servant, at St Mary's Church. Sarah was the daughter of an agricultural labourer from Lakenheath  in Suffolk. 

St Mary Bryanston SquareSt Mary Bryanston Square from Thomas Smith, A Topographical and historical account of the Parish of St. Mary-le-bone (London, 1833)

In November 1845, George married for a second time, this time in Hoxton.  His new wife was Mary Ann Taylor, daughter of a tailor.  The marriage certificate records that George was a widower.  Apparently George went to measure Mary Ann for a pair of boots and had fallen in love ‘with her feet or her money’.  Mary Ann gave George £800 or £900 to study medicine.

Hoxton St JohnSt John Hoxton from James Elmes, Metropolitan Improvements ... From original drawings by T. H. Shepherd, etc (London, 1830) BL flickr

However, George's first wife Sarah was still alive. According to one press report, George and Sarah had fallen out soon after marrying, when he discovered that she had had a child. They separated and Sarah went home to the country. This may be true, but in 1851 Sarah was working as a cook in Marylebone, describing herself in the census as a widow. And whatever the truth behind the separation, Sarah also committed bigamy by marrying James Ludlow in Reading in January 1852.  Complicated, isn’t it?  And it gets worse.

Depending upon which newspaper you read, Mary Ann either knew about Sarah’s existence all along, or she discovered that George’s first wife was still alive shortly after their wedding.  George broke his promise to get a divorce.  Mary Ann left him, ‘unhappy differences arising between them’.  George agreed to pay her a weekly allowance of £2 but payments dried up when he lost money through speculating in mining shares. In February 1852 George Meaden, chemist and druggist, appeared at the Insolvent Debtors Court, pursued by creditors. 

However, by 1857 George had set up in business as a surgeon in Islington.  He married for a third time in March 1857 in St Pancras to Emma Exall. Both Sarah and Mary Ann were still alive.

St Pancras New ChurchSt Pancras New Church from Albert Henry Payne, Illustrated London (London, 1846) BL flickr

In September 1857 Mary Ann brought forward a charge of bigamy against George.  He appeared at Clerkenwell Police Court ‘very gentlemanly attired’.  Certificates were produced for all three marriages.  The sum set for bail was increased when it was claimed that George was preparing to do a runner.

George claimed that he had married Emma believing that his first wife was dead and that the second marriage was illegal.  But Sarah was found and she attended court.  Richard Morris, who had been a witness at George’s marriage to Sarah, was tracked down in Liverpool for the purpose of identifying George as the man who had taken part in the ceremony in 1842. After it was revealed that Sarah had re-married, she disappeared, perhaps fearing that she too would be charged with bigamy.  As Sarah was not present, the prosecution failed and George was discharged.  He left court with a large number of friends who had attended to hear the case.

By 1860, George and Emma had emigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn.  He appears in directories mostly as a physician, but also as a dentist and as a drug store proprietor. Emma died in 1872 at the age of 42, and George in 1882 aged  67.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Morning Chronicle 21 February 1853; Hampshire Advertiser 5 September 1857; The Era 6 September 1857; Clerkenwell News 19 September 1857

 

02 January 2018

Forfeiting a Victoria Cross

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Documents in the India Office Records shed some light on the story of a flawed Victorian military hero.

The man in question is Edward James Collis, who was serving as a Gunner with the Royal Horse Artillery during the Second Afghan War when an act of near-suicidal bravery gained him the country's highest military honour, the Victoria Cross. The citation in the London Gazette of 17 May 1881 gives brief details of his feat:

' ... during the retreat from Maiwand to Kandahar, on the 28th July 1880, when the officer commanding the battery was endeavouring to bring in a limber [part of a gun carriage], with wounded men, under a cross-fire, in running forward and drawing the enemy's fire on himself, thus taking off their attention from the limber'.

Battle of MaiwandBattle of Maiwand - from Archibald Forbes and Major Arthur Griffiths, Illustrated Battles of the Nineteenth Century (1895) BL flickr

The battle of Maiwand, fought on the previous day, had been a disaster for the British, who lost almost 1,000 officers and men killed in action. As it was deemed impractical to travel back to the UK for the purpose, Collis was presented with the medal at Poona on 11 July 1881 by Sir Frederick Roberts, who had himself won the Victoria Cross during the Indian ‘Mutiny’.

Collis later joined the Bombay Police, marrying a widow, Adela Skuse, on 14 March 1882 and fathering four children in quick succession - Arthur (born on 5 January 1883), Elsie (born 5 May 1884), William (born 11 December 1885) and finally Robert (born 7 October 1887). By the time of Robert’s birth, he was working as a railway engine driver.

Unfortunately the domestic bliss of the family was not to last. Eight years later, on 6 August 1895, the Assistant Commissioner of Police at New Scotland Yard wrote to the Chief of Police in Bombay. He requested assistance in tracing Mrs Collis, as part of an investigation into a charge of bigamy. Collis had left India and married again in Wandsworth on 26 February 1893, his hapless bride having no inkling that he already had a wife and family in far-off Bombay. The un-divorced and still living first Mrs Collis having been located, in November 1895 her errant husband was sentenced to eighteen months’ hard labour.

Contemporary regulations dictated that he was also obliged to forfeit his precious medal which, in a further sad twist, poverty had driven him to pawn. He is thought to be one of only eight individuals who came to be deprived of their Victoria Cross through subsequent dishonourable behaviour.

Collis Evening Star 26 Nov 1895Evening Star 26 November 1895 British Newspaper Archive 

Collis Worcester Journal 30 Nov 1895Worcester Journal 30 November 1895 British Newspaper Archive

Collis died aged 62 in June 1918, and was buried with full military honours. His medal, which had no doubt brought him both pride and pain, can be seen in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery in the Imperial War Museum.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Services

Further reading:
The Victoria Cross, 1856 – 1920, edited by Sir O'Moore Creagh and E.M. Humphris, - shelfmark OIA355.134.
Correspondence on the Collis bigamy case is in files 2057 & 2081 of the volume IOR/L/PJ/6/409 and press reports can be found in the British Newspaper Archive
Collis’s marriage to Adela and the baptisms of their children can be viewed on the Find My Past website, free of charge in any British Library Reading Room.