Introduction to John Nicolson of India
Brigadier General John Nicholson was a charismatic, complex, and controversial Victorian Era political and military officer in India. He was actually only a captain and the promotion was deemed temporary for the duration of the crisis. Some men are trapped by events and some men became famous because of events. JN was all but unknown but he died famous because of a crisis that caught everyone by surprise.
Recruited by Henry Lawrence to establish the Pax Britainia in the Punjab (North India), JN was a one man government bringing police, justice, medicine, construction, mediation, law and order, revenue, scouting, spying, and whatever else was needful to the Frontier. Much like Will Bill Hickock in the American West, JN ran his district single handed . But unlike the sheriffs of the Wild West JN, as a British Political Officer, had to supply the entire government and civilization — British style, off the cuff, inventing as he went. Born in North Ireland, he was a clairvoyant and his brushes with the supernatural further alienated him from his more proper English associates who viewed such incidents as being ‘Too Irish to be respectable.”
In 1857 JN was recruited along with the rest of ‘Henry’s Boys’ to create a rescue moveable column to reach Delhi to save the British and Indian Forces stranded on the Ridge or high hill overlooking Delhi which was rebelling against British Rule in India. That this was a sort of civil war was clear. Two thirds of the army on the Ridge was Indian and two thirds of the moveable column were also Indian. They were attacking Delhi which was the old capital of India before the British came. Indians were fighitng Indians. Sadder still, Indian soldiers were fighting Indian soldiers. That is a civil war in anyone’s book.
JN not only commanded the rescue column toward Delhi but buttressed the Ridge, helped to organize the siege, and led the key assault column at Kashmiri Gate, during which he was fatally wounded. This earned JN the title ‘Butcher of Delhi’ by later historians writing for the Sepoy Rebels and ‘Hero of Delhi’ by later historians writiing for the British who won because of JN and other officers both British and Indian.
Later, after Independance, his name and image was vigorously removed and his grave left to be covered by weeds. Yet such was the paradox of the events that at his funeral his own troops, mostly Indian, wept with wild abandon on that same grave that is today decayed and all but forgotten.
After JN’s death the Victorians wanted his death gilded with the gold of the conqueror’s laurel crown. In the aftermath of the Sepoy Mutiny ie the undeclared civil war that ravished one third of India, JN was needed to salvage the propaganda situation no less than his death in battle at the walls of Delhi. In sort, people needed a hero. Later people needed a scapegoat. JN, being dead, was ideal for both needs.
So his records, journels, and letters were given to a Victorian biographer who apparently found them too controversial. When Victorians found things too controversial they engineered convenient ‘fires’ to accidentally destroy the records. Such a fire consumed JN’s writing resulting in generic white-washed books deemed safe for little Victorian boys to read. Today other books damn JN as anything but an example for anyone and he is accused of being just about every sort of dreadful thing a Victorian can be accused of being.
However it appears his journal, which JN kept off and on in a random and casual way, rather like a Victorian blog, was in fact saved, locked away in a vault and forgotten.
Today JN is all but forgotten too, a dusty soldier filed away by history. Today people by and large would rather forget about him. The Pax Britania he brought to the Frontier is politically incorrect. The Sepoy Revolt failed because Dehi fell to the British. His black and moody Irish personality is too dark. His odd behavior ( for he was painfully shy which can appear as arrogance) and odder way of handling situations ( he was known to weld a black ruler like a judge’s hammer during his court trials and wack people with it who bickered on too long), all appear decidedly odd in this politically correct age. Hunting tigers is politically incorrect too even if JN hunted tigers on horseback armed with only an Indian saber.
Surely now his journel can be safely read by the world at large. Therefore I plan to release the journal as JN wrote it, as a series of events he pondered as he wrote, a sort of Victorian Blog.
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