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Thread: Indian Mutiny Sword - Just!

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    Indian Mutiny Sword - Just!

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    Last edited by james.elstob; 07-01-2016 at 02:41 AM.

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    I've moved my initial message from above to here as there was some problem with the initial post that wouldn't let me edit out my annoying typos. I've also checked back in my notes and find that I knew all along that he was 17 not 18 so I have changed this too.


    Hi all,

    As this is my first sword identified to a specific officer, I thought I would share my research. There may be more information sources out there but I feel like i’ve got a broad outline now. This is my first time reading about the Indian Mutiny so please bear it in mind that I am not claiming to be an expert and I am making some guesses and assumptions.

    The sword was purchased at auction, advertised as a George V Naval sword but it was obvious from images that it was an 1822 infantry sword with the gothic hilt with folding guard suggested it was more likely to be earlier than George V. As suspected when it arrived it had Victoria's "VR" blade etching and cypher.

    Not mentioned by the auction house was that it was a Wilkinson made numbered blade (8429) which pinned the year down to 1857. Because of the blade etching and the information identified below I haven't applied for the Wilkinson records. It seems pretty conclusive who the sword was owned by. Etched on the blade in its own cartouche was the name “Herbert W Irons”.

    My Initial enquiries identified an officer of this name in the London Regimental Territorial Force in 20th century; however because of the year of manufacture of the sword a more likely candidate seemed to be an Ensign serving in India in 1858.

    The first I found of him was a report of his death, aged 47 on 26th May 1858 (other sources say 20th May ) at Camp Bustee (now Basti) in the Gruckpor region . I was very confused about finding a 47 year old Ensign and initially speculated that he may have came thought the ranks but this didn’t seem to fit with the fact that he was also identified as an officer of HEICS. I later discovered another source document where the age is given as 17 so it seems that age 47 was simply a transcription error. There are many other similar discrepancies found in various online resources apparently reporting from the same original source, so it appears that errors are common.

    With the more likely age of 17, I was able to identify Herbert William Irons as the eldest son of Rev W. J. Irons, Vicar of Brompton, Middlesex and Anne Irons, born in 1840, baptised in 1841.

    I subsequently found reference to him in the Radley College archives, confirming him as an 'Old Radleian'.

    Irons, Herbert William. Born c.1840. Son of Rev. William Josiah Irons, Vicar of Brompton and Prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Entered Radley 1849. He was awarded one of the first Decimal places – a scheme devised by Singleton and Sewell for every tenth boy to enter the school to be educated for free as a gift to God. He rowed for the VIII in 1856. He left Radley in 1856 and joined the East India Company Service in 1857. He served in four engagements during the rebellion. He died of fever in India on 26th May 1858

    HEICS records show he was accepted as an HEICS Cadet in 1856/57. I understand that the application for the cadetship can be obtained for a small fee but I have not applied for this, not sure how much information it will give.

    A Mr Irons (The only "Irons" in 1857) is found in HEICS Embarkation Lists to have departed from Gravesend on 6th September 1857, sailing by HEICS ship Prince of Wales arriving Calcutta 6th January 2016. His route cross country to Gruckpor is a thereafter a mystery.

    A notice of death in the Bombay Times recorded him as having been in service with left wing of HM 13th Light Infantry although how, when and where he came to be attached to this regiment is unclear.

    In 1856 the 13th were based at Clonmel but recorded as operating from Gibraltar then South Africa before serving in India in 1857 although how and when they arrived I have not yet identified.

    Dispatches state that the left wing of HM 13th joined the Saran Field Force under Brig. Francis Rowcroft at or near Amorha after 5th March 1858 and before the "end of April". It is clear however that they took part in actions from as early as 17th April and there are multiple fascinating dispatches reproduced in the London Gazette about the actions of this force which included at the time the Pearl Naval Brigade.

    The information from Radley College suggests he took part in 4 engagements although it does not specify which, and I have no knowledge on the source of that information. However from 17th April to his death there were several engagements involving men of 13th left wing in which he certainly could have taken part, including Tilga, Jamoulee, Kaptangunge, Nuggur and Puchewas.

    Regarding his death from “effects of fever”, of interest is a dispatch from Cpt. Edward Sotheby of Pearl Naval Brigade, dated 1st May 1858 at a time when they were serving with the 13th in the Saran Field Force. It reads "I am sorry to report that my men and officer's are much suffering from fever". It seems probable that the whole of the Saran Field Force was similarly suffering.

    It seems that at the outset of his life and career; after drawing his sword in anger 4 times, poor Ensign Irons has succumbed to fever. His still new sword has probably been returned with his possessions to his grieving family, ultimately ending up rusty and unloved, until it landed in my collection.

    My research continues and I am currently seeking further information about the whereabouts and actions of Left wing of the 13th prior to their arrival in Amorha. I'd like, if at all possible to identify where Ensign Irons has joined them and trace his route from Calcutta to Camp Bustee.

    I know that at the same time as the left wing were in Gruckpore there are other units of the 13th in action under Lord Mark Kerr around Azimghur so presumably this was the right wing. I have not been able to identify when the left and right wing of the force diverged.

    I have also found an earlier reference to the 13th being in the Fattehpore region on 14th December 1857 where they formed part of a detachment under Col. GR Barker R.A. sent to destroy the Villages of Surkunder (now Sarkandi) and Laton (unknown).

    Their presence in the Fattehpore region In mid December suggests to me that the 13th must have arrived in India at least as early as mid November. As a comparison, the Pearl Naval Brigade took 25 days to travel from Calcutta to Dinapur by paddle steamer and Surkunder is an additional 254km farther away.

    I'll post a couple of images of the sword when I've had time to clean it up a little. However if anyone can suggest further relevant source material i'd be grateful.

    One thing is confusing me about this sword. As an HEICS officer i’m a little confused by why he would have purchased a Sword with the Monarch’s cypher. I was under the impression that the HEICS used their own cipher. Am I incorrect?


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    Last edited by james.elstob; 07-01-2016 at 02:46 AM. Reason: correcting typos

  3. #3
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    Great find! I know in the Crimea deceased officers belongings were sometimes auctioned off and the funds sent to their families. Possibly this sword was auctioned and later owned by another officer in India? The blade appears wider at the ricasso than average and could be a better sword for use against tulwars.
    Can you supply measurements and a full photo? Possibly the Wilkinson proof page will note the blade to be special?

  4. #4
    From The Indian News, July 15, 1858, casualty list: "At Camp Bustee, May 26, Ens. Herbert W. Irons, H.E.I.C.S., doing duty with left wing of H.M.'s 13th Lt. Inf., aged 17."
    In 1857, newly-arrived Company officers were commonly assigned either to Royal or non-mutinous units when those to which they were originally posted had mutinied.

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    Will,

    Here are more images. The blade is 32 1/2" long and 1 1/8"at the ricasso.

    I don't recall how this compares to standard blades off the top of my head. It does feel like a heavy substantial sword but the only other 1822 I own is pipe back with a broken blade so difficult to judge weight.

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    Quote Originally Posted by L. Braden View Post
    From The Indian News, July 15, 1858, casualty list: "At Camp Bustee, May 26, Ens. Herbert W. Irons, H.E.I.C.S., doing duty with left wing of H.M.'s 13th Lt. Inf., aged 17."
    In 1857, newly-arrived Company officers were commonly assigned either to Royal or non-mutinous units when those to which they were originally posted had mutinied.
    Hi

    It didn't occur to me that he must have been officially assigned to a native regiment. Would that still have happened after the news of the Mutiny reached home? Information would have been scarce and out of date so the HEICS could not have known a full picture of which regiments had mutinied.
    Last edited by james.elstob; 06-30-2016 at 03:07 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Will Mathieson View Post
    Great find! I know in the Crimea deceased officers belongings were sometimes auctioned off and the funds sent to their families. Possibly this sword was auctioned and later owned by another officer in India?


    I also forgot about the practice of auctioning of possessions of dead servicemen so perhaps this sword did continue in India with another officer.

    I see that there were plenty of promotions to Ensign gazetted for the 13th foot with the incumbents having been killed in action (or promoted for the same reason) . And new Ensigns need swords!

    It could have seen a great deal more action than young Herbert!
    Last edited by james.elstob; 06-30-2016 at 04:02 PM.

  8. #8
    According to The Indian News of Jan. 28, 1858, Irons was officially intended for appointment to an unspecified regt. of Bengal Native Infantry on 16 Sept. 1857, but had yet to arrive in India. Usually, a definite assignment was made after the officer arrived in India. The Quarterly Army List of Her Majesty's British Forces on the Bengal Establishment (1859) confirms this by indicating that he was intended for appointment to an unspecified "N.I." on 16 Sept. 1857.
    Last edited by L. Braden; 06-30-2016 at 06:01 PM.

  9. #9
    P.S. By the time that he arrived in India, the non-mutinous units (both regular and irregular) were evidently already fully officered, which explains why he was attached to the 13th, which evidently had a vacancy. This was common practice at the time, and necessitated by the emergency. No officer willing to fight was turned away! Some even formed units of their own, accompanied by civilian volunteers.

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    James the sword has a substantial blade being 1 1/8" wide. Medium bladed Wilkinsons were 1 inch wide. These fullered blades were also heavier then the pipe backed version.
    When new your sword with gilt guard and black leather hilt liner would have been impressive and still is.

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    Quote Originally Posted by L. Braden View Post
    According to The Indian News of Jan. 28, 1858, Irons was officially intended for appointment to an unspecified regt. of Bengal Native Infantry on 16 Sept. 1857, but had yet to arrive in India. Usually, a definite assignment was made after the officer arrived in India. The Quarterly Army List of Her Majesty's British Forces on the Bengal Establishment (1859) confirms this by indicating that he was intended for appointment to an unspecified "N.I." on 16 Sept. 1857.
    Hi,

    Thanks for this additional information. much appreciated. I'm surprised that he is recorded as not having arrived on 28th January '58. It is possible that the Mr Irons recorded as arriving on 6th January '58 on the 'Prince of Wales' was someone else however I am more inclined to believe it was him and that that the Bombay times report is erroneous on this point.



    Quote Originally Posted by Will Mathieson View Post
    James the sword has a substantial blade being 1 1/8" wide. Medium bladed Wilkinsons were 1 inch wide. These fullered blades were also heavier then the pipe backed version.
    When new your sword with gilt guard and black leather hilt liner would have been impressive and still is.
    Hi Will,

    Good to know, It seems like he has embarked to India after news of the Mutiny had arrived in England and so will have left expecting to see some action and could well have specified a more substantial blade. I understand that the HW proof slug identifies this as Wilkinson's 'Best proof'. I have decided to apply for the Wilkinson proof record just out of interest to see whether the sword was produced for him before or after he knew of the Mutiny. The serial number would tend to suggest later in 1857.

    After a bit of cleaning I also realised that the serial number was 8429 (not 8428).
    Last edited by james.elstob; 07-01-2016 at 06:01 AM.

  12. #12
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    Nice early Wilkinson - great find, James! Does the blade show any signs of sharpening?

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

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    Hi John,

    Yes it does, I had meant to mention that. It still remains sharp to a degree. There is a definite and very tidy bevel evident on the true edge I'm away from the sword at the minute but from memory it starts about 5 inches from the ricasso, i'll add to this post when I get home to clarify.

    It has also been sharpened on the ????? (what is that reverse part of the blade called near the tip? I want to call it the 'yelman' but I think that might be specifically something else.)

    An interesting thought occurred to me a little while ago about whether a modern forensic kit could ever identify traces of blood on a sword of this age. Especially where the original leather washer is retained which could have trapped a lot of goo. A quick search on the internet found test kits for sale for an affordable amount ..... hmmm! Watch this space!!
    Last edited by james.elstob; 07-01-2016 at 09:23 AM.

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    Hi, James. That would be an early Crime Scene Investigation , indeed!

    I remember now an even earlier case. In a book by Oakeshott he told us about a particular medieval sword that could had seen action in a battle between Swiss and Teutonic forces. That claim was a long shot, of course, but he split open the original wooden grip (I wouldn't have done that at all, but this sir was quite a straightforward man!), probably for no good reason, but he found inside remains of a substance that at the end resulted to be blood.

    A rather gruesome testimony of what a sword was intended to do...

    Best,
    JJ
    SI, SI
    NO, NON

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    I think the "re-used by another officer" sounds plausible, and would explain the re-hilting (may be worth checking the pommel nut to see if it looks like it's been disturbed during its lifetime as that would be extra supporting evidence). Otherwise if Irons had been accepted by the HEIC as a cadet, was always destined to serve with the HEIC, and had not previously served in the Queen's forces (eg in the Militia), I see no reason why he would have bought a sword with a VR cypher.

    The practice of auctioning off personal effects (via Committees of Adjustment) definitely hapened in India too, and was a way of sending money home to the deceased's family, often to offset the price of the commission which an officer might have purchased (though as a sponsored cadet the latter case obviously wouldn't apply to Irons). This is an extract from a letter from a friend of one of "my" officers, John Hudson, who was killed at Gungeree, also during the Mutiny:

    A Committee of Adjustment has not yet been appointed but when it is I will speak to the President & take(?) I may think(?) … to … in remembrance of one so dear, [to] be kept & forwarded to England when the country becomes more settled.
    I did a quick Google search, and it appears that Committees of Adjustment were still being enshrined, for example, in the Bangladesh Army Act of 1952, much later than our period - see this link:

    http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/sections...ctions_id=9067

    It seems the process was originally intended to ensure that the dead officer's debts were paid, but naturally also needed to take in the disposal of his personal effects.

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  16. #16
    From Historical Record of the Thirteenth, First Somersetshire, or Prince Albert's Regiment of Light Infantry (1867):
    Left wing at Benares, 9 Feb. 1858.
    18 Feb., to Azimghur.
    24 Feb., marched round the district without opposition.
    7 Mar., returned to Azimghur.
    13 Mar., marched into Goruckpore district to strengthen Sarun Field Force under Brig. Rowcroft, which it joined at Amorah on 26 Mar.
    17 Apr., Sarun FF engaged with enemy near village of Belwah.
    25 Apr., SFF again engaged on nearly same ground.
    27 Apr., SFF marched to Captaingunge.
    29 Apr., 6 m. from Captaingunge, enemy defeated by column under Maj. Cox, c.o. of left wing of 13th LI.
    8 May, left wing marched to Bustee.
    No further action until 9 June.
    Last edited by L. Braden; 07-01-2016 at 11:48 AM. Reason: 8 May

  17. #17
    P.S. The left wing landed at Calcutta from Port Elizabeth on 19 Jan. 1858, thence to Benares on same day, arriving on 9 Feb. No time was wasted in those critical days!

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by John Hart View Post
    I think the "re-used by another officer" sounds plausible, and would explain the re-hilting (may be worth checking the pommel nut to see if it looks like it's been disturbed during its lifetime as that would be extra supporting evidence). Otherwise if Irons had been accepted by the HEIC as a cadet, was always destined to serve with the HEIC, and had not previously served in the Queen's forces (eg in the Militia), I see no reason why he would have bought a sword with a VR cypher.

    The practice of auctioning off personal effects (via Committees of Adjustment) definitely hapened in India too, and was a way of sending money home to the deceased's family, often to offset the price of the commission which an officer might have purchased (though as a sponsored cadet the latter case obviously wouldn't apply to Irons). This is an extract from a letter from a friend of one of "my" officers, John Hudson, who was killed at Gungeree, also during the Mutiny:



    I did a quick Google search, and it appears that Committees of Adjustment were still being enshrined, for example, in the Bangladesh Army Act of 1952, much later than our period - see this link:

    http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/sections...8§ions_id=9067

    It seems the process was originally intended to ensure that the dead officer's debts were paid, but naturally also needed to take in the disposal of his personal effects.

    John
    Not all East India Company officers carried swords with the EIC crest on the blade and/or hilt, therefore the hilt (with VR cypher) may be original.

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    Typically Wilkinson swords VR in the oval is pierced in more places then this particular guard. This may have been purposely made to prevent a swords tip from intruding into the guard and hand.
    The minimal piercing of the "VR" it also strengthened this central area. The Wilkinson blade proof page may shed some light as to this and the blade itself.
    Well worth the few $$$ for this, what I believe is critical information.

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    Quote Originally Posted by L. Braden View Post
    P.S. The left wing landed at Calcutta from Port Elizabeth on 19 Jan. 1858, thence to Benares on same day, arriving on 9 Feb. No time was wasted in those critical days!
    Below is from dispatches of Col. G. R. Barker, Royal Artillery printed in the London Gazette issue number 22100, page 909. Dispatches dated 17th December 1857 at Futtehpore.

    I had previously wondered if this was an error. It seems so if your information is correct about the regiments arrival on 19th January 1858.

    I again sent detachments of Her Majesty's 13th Light Infantry and Madras Rifles, on either side of the road, to the villages of Surkunder and Laton, both of which places had become notorious for harbouring mutineers and budmashes, who were continually plundering and murdering the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages. These were both destroyed, and a few armed men shot down in each. These detachments then rejoined the column at Jummulmour.
    Last edited by james.elstob; 07-02-2016 at 04:30 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gordon byrne View Post
    Not all East India Company officers carried swords with the EIC crest on the blade and/or hilt, therefore the hilt (with VR cypher) may be original.
    Hi Gordon,

    Do you mean some EIC officers deliberately purchased swords without the EIC crest or is it just that for one reason or another they ended up carrying a different sword in the field?

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Hart View Post
    I think the "re-used by another officer" sounds plausible, and would explain the re-hilting (may be worth checking the pommel nut to see if it looks like it's been disturbed during its lifetime as that would be extra supporting evidence). Otherwise if Irons had been accepted by the HEIC as a cadet, was always destined to serve with the HEIC, and had not previously served in the Queen's forces (eg in the Militia), I see no reason why he would have bought a sword with a VR cypher.
    John,

    The pommel nut shows no evidence of tampering however I'm not sure what would give away that it had been rehilted.
    Last edited by james.elstob; 07-02-2016 at 04:34 AM.

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by james.elstob View Post
    Below is from dispatches of Col. G. R. Barker, Royal Artillery printed in the London Gazette issue number 22100, page 909. Dispatches dated 17th December 1857 at Futtehpore.

    I had previously wondered if this was an error. It seems so if your information is correct about the regiments arrival on 19th January 1858.

    I again sent detachments of Her Majesty's 13th Light Infantry and Madras Rifles, on either side of the road, to the villages of Surkunder and Laton, both of which places had become notorious for harbouring mutineers and budmashes, who were continually plundering and murdering the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages. These were both destroyed, and a few armed men shot down in each. These detachments then rejoined the column at Jummulmour.
    According to the official record, pp. 139-40, only the HQ and 400 of the 13th landed at Calcutta on 3 Oct. 1857 - the rest of the regiment, including the left wing, being temporarily left behind at the Cape of Good Hope because of insufficient transports. It was this detachment that formed part of the column under Col. Barker. As stated, the left wing landed at Calcutta on 19 Jan. 1858.

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    James,
    What a great find! Isn't it nice when they put their full name on the blade rather than a set of hard to read initials.

    Quote Originally Posted by Will Mathieson View Post
    James the sword has a substantial blade being 1 1/8" wide. Medium bladed Wilkinsons were 1 inch wide. These fullered blades were also heavier then the pipe backed version.
    When new your sword with gilt guard and black leather hilt liner would have been impressive and still is.
    To expand a little on what Will has said, I've found Wilkinson sized their standard blades like this: Regulation Cavalry 1 1/4" wide, Medium Cavalry 1 1/8", Regulation Infantry 1 1/8", Medium Infantry 1". Solid Hilts, at least Cavalry ones, are around 1 3/8" wide.
    Cheers,
    Mike

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    Just a thought. Did EIC swords with an EIC crested hilt also have the EIC crest etched on the blade too?

    Mine has VR etched on both sides of the blade. Could this be an indication that it never had an EIC crested hilt and that the VR hilt is original?

    Also I have found group photographs of fourth term EIC cadets in 1857 in the NAM collection. It's possible that one of them is Cadet Irons. Perhaps my sword is even in the photograph! They are both from Addiscombe although I know there was another college at Gravesend and I'm not sure which he was at.

    I would have counted myself lucky to have found only a fraction of the information I now have, I never dreamt that I could find a photograph. I feel like I've been very lucky.

    http://www.nam.ac.uk/online-collecti...961-07-66-1-52

    http://www.nam.ac.uk/online-collecti...61-07-66-1-132
    Last edited by james.elstob; 07-02-2016 at 08:11 PM.

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