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Thread: A sword with Indian Mutiny connection

  1. #26
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    What a conundrum! As the younger Smythe served a full career and reached higher rank I would have assumed his sword would have been re hilted with the 1857 pattern hilt.

    Unless a further Smith crops up in the Bengal Engineers (FIBIS has a searchable database of passengers to India) I think your best bet is the older Smythe having had a need to keep a sword sharpened or even passing the sword on to another officer when he left India (which must have been in 1850/51 at the latest).

  2. #27
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    It was not mandatory to re hilt this sword, he had paid a premium for the steel hilt and it seems he wanted to retain it..

  3. #28
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    Though we still have no evidence that the younger Smyth would have had a Bengal Engineers sword before December 1855 and this sword pre-dates 1854
    I think the only options are that this belonged to William Smyth, or one of the two possible Smiths. But given the specific crest, I think it must be Smyth.

  4. #29
    Matt,

    Based purely on your comment re the blade being sharpened and re-sharpened, and made between 1845 and before 1854, and setting aside the absence of the Coronet in the blazon of the "Smith" crest, Richard Baird Smith had active service in the Sutlej Campaign 1845-46, the Punjab Campaign 1848-49 and the Indian Mutiny.

    He ranked in the Bengal Corps of Engineers 28th August 1841, received his promotion to Lieutenant 28th August 1844 (Suggestion only?? On promotion to Lieutenant, he purchased a new sharpened sword circa 1845, which he used during the 1st Sikh War 11th December 1845 - 9th March 1846). He then had the sword sharpened when serving during the Punjab Campaign 1848-49, and in due course he also served during the Indian Mutiny, which would also be good cause to have a sharp sword.

    Whilst identifying a person by researching a crest or coat of arms can be very easy at times, my own experience has taught me the what appears to be the obvious answer, is not always correct; and with at least two cases on my own account, the identity of two individuals behind two very distinct armorial bearings could not be found in the records of heraldic authorities. Having said that and apart from the crest, your most recent posting of the arms of Smith matches what is on the sword. Was the Coronet an un-official change added by Smith? For reasons as yet not established, was there a link between Smith and Smyth??

  5. #30
    If Baird Smith, why all the sharpening? He never used his sword! One must look for a Smyth(e)/Smith who used his sword in action, or someone else who used that sword. Good luck!
    P.S. Of course, B.S. could have loaned his sword to another officer or officers.
    Last edited by L. Braden; 04-22-2017 at 12:27 PM. Reason: P.S.

  6. #31
    How does one establish that Baird Smith never used his sword?

  7. #32
    By exhaustive research; and even then, you can never be absolutely be sure! But given the fact that he was an engineer, and that engineers rarely engaged in combat, I'm convinced that he never used his sword (based on my research). HOWEVER, if someone can produce credible evidence to the contrary, I'll be glad to see it.

  8. #33
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    He may never have had to USE his sword in combat, but since it was common practice for British officers to sharpen their swords prior to active service, multiple periods of active service may lead to multiple sharpenings of the sword. That is if the same sword was used over the periods of active service. Maybe there is some confusion over sharpening versus use.
    Cheers,
    Mike
    Last edited by MikeShowers; 04-23-2017 at 10:38 AM.

  9. #34
    But if a sword was never drawn, and never used, why would it require resharpening?

    P.S. The Ordnance Dept. advised officers against frequent or what they considered unnecessary sharpening, because it wore the blades out too soon, which is why troopers' swords were often to some degree blunt.
    Last edited by L. Braden; 04-22-2017 at 06:17 PM. Reason: P.S.

  10. #35
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    All officers engaging in a conflict were ordered to sharpen their swords. Ordnance dept. controlled swords owned by the crown, namely trooper swords.
    I have not read in any reference the board advising officers not to keep sharp their swords.
    Repeated sharpening could wear trooper swords to some degree being in steel scabbards, officer swords highly unlikely to wear with wood or leather lined scabbards, if so they could purchase a new one at their leisure.
    If anyone has references for or contrary I do like to read them!

  11. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by L. Braden View Post
    But if a sword was never drawn, and never used, why would it require resharpening?

    P.S. The Ordnance Dept. advised officers against frequent or what they considered unnecessary sharpening, because it wore the blades out too soon, which is why troopers' swords were often to some degree blunt.
    Yes, that is a good point. I have a sword that has been sharpened more than once and the periods of active service were close together. I think the most obvious reason was that the edge was getting dull through routine use,( ie drawing and sheathing the sword in a metal scabbard) and the officer wanted it really sharp again. The other idea was that the edge had sustained some sort of damage and needed to be touched up. Since we are really just dealing with historic probabilities I think it's sometimes hard to be certain, at least regarding whether or not a sword was used in anger, unless there is some kind of first hand account. I'm not 100% convinced that the sword in question was Baird Smith's but the type of service sharpening would seem to fit with the historical use he might have seen. Unless I'm really out to lunch regarding how officers treated their swords
    Mike
    Last edited by MikeShowers; 04-22-2017 at 10:37 PM.

  12. #37
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    Swords would dull just by being in their steel scabbards and the constant movement by horse or walking would dull the edge more than withdraw or sheathing would.
    Soldiers in India regularly experienced battles and knew that Indians carried swords in wooden and leather scabbards to keep an edge on their sword.
    I believe many officers swords we see that have been sharpened would have been used, early revolvers/pistols were not reliable and it was always taught that the sword was the primary weapon. Some troopers and officers after the Charge of the Light Brigade returning to their lines never using their pistols, they were found still loaded.

  13. #38
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    Hi Matt, the India Office has a couple of portraits of Richard Baird Smith from 1850 to 1860. Although they might just be head and shoulders, it might be worth asking for some copies and you might get lucky?

    http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_li...h&vid=IAMS_VU2

    http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_li...h&vid=IAMS_VU2

  14. #39
    Would someone kindly provide us with evidence that engineer officers were accustomed to wearing their swords all the time when in the field. Given the nature of their work, a sword would have been an encumbrance. Also, were they accustomed to using blade-blunting metal scabbards when they (unlike troopers) could have preserved their blades with leather or wood? And who would have ordered all officers (not ordinary troopers) to sharpen their swords previous to intended action, and why would that have been necessary? In any case, the contradictory imbecility of the Ordnance Dept. in providing metal scabbards and then restricting the amount of sharpening as a budgetary measure is quite evident! (This was a pet peeve of Sir Robert Baden-Powell.) Finally, I never said that the O.D. advised officers not to keep their swords sharp. (See what I wrote above.) There are various degrees of sharpness, any one of which can be effective, as the U.S. Cavalry Corps learned in the American Civil War. (See "A Boy in Blue" Calvert's testimony.) Razor-sharpness, or anything close to it, was a potential danger to horse, rider, and fellow troopers in a melee.

  15. #40
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    There is sufficient evidence of officers having their blades sharpened and resharpened, regardless of whether they impaled anyone or not. There seem to be a few reasons for this. Scabbards of various types will dull an edge, even wooden scabbards eventually. But most officers between about 1850 and 1890 had steel scabbards, often with wooden linings, but still with metal throats. Secondly, sharp edges get dull through contact with all sorts of materials, especially through repeated sheathing and unsheathing. We have plenty of references to native people honing their blades regularly. The Sudanese were famous for stopping their edges every time they took a rest from travelling. Lastly, morale. Before the assault on Sebastopol we read of officers repeatedly sharpening their blades to make them like razors. This was probably partly a way to deal with stress.

    In the case of this sword the repeated sharpening tells us nothing except it makes it more likely that the officer went on active service at least once. But even that is not guaranteed from sharpening alone ; I have one sword which has been very extensively resharpened, but the officer never saw active service. I do know however that he enjoyed tent pegging and other skill at arms, so he may simply have used it for cabbage chopping!

  16. #41
    "Our swords were seldom sufficiently sharp to do duty for knives." - Adventures and Recollections of Colonel Landmann, Late of the Corps of Royal Engineers (1852).

  17. #42
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    I hesitate to mention this since I am in the totally dark about heraldry, and I don't have anyone in mind but this thread came to mind when I came across a hyphenated-Smyth relating to another sword.

    Could you be looking for a 'somebody-Smythe'?

  18. #43
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    In this period there are only a couple of Smiths and a couple of Smyths in the Bengal Engineers. There were not many officers in the Bengal Engineers between 1845 and 1854, luckily!!

    So I think that we can say some certainty, for this reason alone, that the sword must have belonged either to one of these Smiths or Smyths.

  19. #44
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    From 'Biographical notices of officers of the Royal (Bengal) engineers' (1900), referring to the First Afghan War:

    LIEUTENANT JAMES SUTHERLAND BROADFOOT (BENGAL ENGINEERS)

    It was now resolved to blow in the gate of the fortress, and a
    few extracts from the Diary of Lieutenant James Broadfoot are
    interesting :
    "A bag of 300 lbs. of powder was to be laid at the
    Kabul Gate, protected by the fire of the batteries, and by the
    Ghoorkas of William's [William Broadfoot, 1st European LI] corps.
    The gate was to be blown open,
    and a storming party, composed of four European regiments, was
    to advance immediately. Pigou* was asked to take the scaling
    ladders, and imagining it a real storming party he was in ecstasy,
    sharpened his sword, loaded his pistols, &c., &c.

    I volunteered to carry the bag, as did Pigou, but was refused.
    Later in the day William came, very excited, and told me he was
    not to go, the corps having been stopped on the pretence that the
    Shah was not sufficiently protected. He nearly threw up his
    commission in the Shah's service, but at last went away to try
    to join his old corps as a volunteer.

    ' At mess on the evening before the assault was considered of
    very great gravity, except on the part of Pigou and myself. I
    rose at twelve and forgot to put on blue trousers, white being
    forbidden, and had therefore to go and .change after leaving camp.
    Batteries and embrasures were made and the guns put in position,
    and then daylight was awaited. At last Peat and the powder
    party appeared, when the eastern horizon was just strong enough
    to show the hills in strong relief. The garrison opened fire on
    them ; the covering party extended on the edge of the ditch
    replied: a few minutes afterwards a large volume of smoke
    above the walls and a rushing sound showed that the explosion
    had taken place. The head of the storming party now appeared
    with Brigadier Sale, doubtful whether to proceed or not. In this
    uncertainty I offered to go on to see if the explosion had been
    effectual. Being allowed, I ran in towards the gate ; my anxiety
    to get on, and the constant whirring of the balls past my head,
    made every step appear a mile."
    * Lieut Robert Pigou, Bengal Engineers.

    The fact is that the mid-Victorian accounts are full of examples of officers "sharpening" their swords. It seems to have held more than practical purpose, but also seems to have been virtually a ritual. If a sword has been repeatedly sharpened it does not tell us it was used, but it DOES tell us that the officer repeatedly sharpened it, for whatever reason. I would also add that the accounts of people using their swords and bayonets to kill or incapacitate opponents outnumber the accounts of those weapons failing. A sword edge does not need to be fantastically sharp (or sharp at all) for the sword to be used as a thruster to run someone through and this seems to have been the preferred method in India (just as with triangular bayonets and lances, which lack any cutting edge at all).

  20. #45
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    From the same source as above:

    MAJOR-GENERAL SIR FREDERICK ABBOTT, C.B. [Bengal Engineers]

    Frederick Abbott was the second son of Alexius Abbott, Esq.,
    of Blackheath, a retired Calcutta merchant, and of Margaret
    Welsh, granddaughter of Captain Gascoigne, a descendant of the
    celebrated judge. He was born, June 13, 1805, at Littlecourt,
    Hertfordshire, and was one of five brothers, all of whom distin-
    guished themselves in the service of their country.

    As a boy he was bold, strong, and active. He was educated at
    Warfield, Berks, and afterwards went to Addiscombe. He left
    Addiscombe in the summer of 1824 with a commission in the
    Engineers.

    From Addiscombe he went to Chatham and worked under
    Colonel (afterwards Sir Charles) Pasley.

    When he reached India, the first Burmese War broke out,
    and he was employed as Assistant Field Engineer under Captain
    (afterwards Sir John) Cheape. One day he led a storming party
    in assaults on three stockades; on this occasion he performed a
    feat of valour which in these days would have earned him the
    distinction of the Victoria Cross. On the third occasion, when
    he had climbed to the top of the parapet, the ladder broke, and he
    and one Grenadier were left exposed to the enemy's fire. He
    noticed that a strong bamboo had inadvertently been left resting
    on the top of the parapet, sloping down across the wet ditch to the
    interior. Passing his left arm over this with his sword in his
    right hand, he began to slide prosperously, when the Grenadier,
    trying to leap the ditch, collided with him and both fell into the
    water. Abbott scrambled out and assisted the Grenadier, who
    was encumbered with arms and ammunition, while the garrison
    seemed petrified by their audacity. Once on terra firma the
    Grenadier charged the defenders, two of whom seized his musket,
    from which a third unfixed his bayonet, while the fourth charged
    with his spear. Abbott cut this man down and had passed his
    sword through the body of another
    , when, a fresh ladder having
    been placed, the storming party entered the stockade, and the
    garrison fled.
    He didn't seem to have any problem using his sword effectively

  21. #46
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    And also from the same source:

    Major General William Greathead (Bengal Engineers)
    Appointed to Sir H. Barnard's staff, Greathed took
    part in the action of Badli-ka-Serai (June 8), which gave the
    Delhi field force the famous position on the ridge it held so long.
    When the siege was systematically begun, Greathed was appointed
    director of the left attack. He greatly distinguished himself in a
    severe engagement on July 9, on the occasion of a sortie in force
    from Delhi.

    Towards the end of the day he and Burnside of the 8th
    Regiment were with their party in a serai surrounded by Pandees.
    They resolved on a sudden rush, and, killing the men immediately
    in front with their swords, led the way out, saved their little party,
    and put the enemy to flight.
    Greathed had two brothers with
    him at Delhi, Hervey Greathed, the Civil Commissioner attached
    to the forces, and Edward (afterwards Sir Edward), Colonel of the
    8th Regiment.
    When the morning of the assault of September 14 came, he
    found himself Senior Engineer of the column commanded by his
    brother Edward. As they approached the edge of a ditch he fell
    severely wounded through the arm and lower part of the chest. On
    recovering from his wounds he joined in December, as Field
    Engineer, the column under Colonel Seaton, and marched down
    the Doab, and he took part in the engagements of Gungeree,
    Patiallee, and Mynpoory. His next services were rendered as
    Directing Engineer of the attack on Lucknow, under Colonel R.
    Napier (afterwards First Lord Napier of Magdala), where he again
    distinguished himself. On the capture of Lucknow he returned
    to his railway duties. His services in the Mutiny were rewarded
    by a brevet Majority and a C.B. In 1860 he accompanied Sir
    Robert Napier as extra Aide-de-Camp to China, was present at the
    Battle of Sin-ho, at the capture of the Taku forts on the Peiho, and
    took part in the campaign until the capture of Pekin, when he was
    made the bearer of despatches home.

  22. #47
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    Not only were Royal (and Bengal) Engineers officers expected to carry swords, and as we've seen above they sometimes had to use them, they were also expected to stay proficient in the Sword Exercise, as described here in the Morning Post from 10 May 1860:

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  23. #48
    From the journal of Lt. A. M. Lang, Bengal Engineers: "We have been sharpening our swords, kukris and dirks, and tried cutting silk handkerchiefs after breakfast; my 'favourite fighting sword' Excalibur, one of Aunt Mary's presents, has now an edge like a razor and a surface like a mirror. ... I found that I was no hand at using a sword; I cut at several, but never gave a death blow; to my surprise I didn't seem able to cut hard." (Lahore to Lucknow, 1992.)

  24. #49
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    Silk handkerchief cutting is a tricky feat indeed! It's much easier cutting flesh than silk (having done both myself ).
    Another great example of sharpening though, thanks.

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