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Thread: Sword Fighters of British India

  1. #1
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    Sword Fighters of British India

    Sword Fighters of British India...
    mark@swordforum.com

    ~ Hostem Hastarum Cuspidibus Salutemus ~

    "Those who beat their swords into plowshares usually end up plowing for those who don't."
    Benjamin Franklin

  2. #2
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    "Sword Fighters of British India" - D.A. Kinsley (self published)

    All,

    The above title is available from lulu.com, either as a "real" book or as an electronic download. I have recently purchased the latter, and wondered if forumites might be interested in my (subjective) observations:

    As its name suggests, the book covers the subject of the use of the sword in British India. It is basically an illustrated volume of reminiscences and quotations from original source material. It doesn't claim to put forward any new theories or break new ground, and certainly does not cover the actual patterns of swords in use. It is rather a set of eye-witness accounts concerning hand-to-hand combat with swords in the period roughly covering the initial conquest and the subsequent maintenance of the British Raj.

    The book has a lot of illustrations from contemporary publications (books and magazines) showing sword fights and melees; unfortunately none of these is captioned (and one or two are duplicated), so other than adding atmosphere they don't really add much value to the text. Also, because the illustrations are from non-specialist publications, the artwork is frequently inaccurate (the British swords being used often bearing no resemblance to actual patterns in use at the time).

    There are however a lot of good eye-witness accounts of swords being used, and the author has amassed some excellent source material, including personal memoirs, private correspondence and contemporary magazine publications. All are attributed, which adds authority to the quotes, and the author has usefully employed several differing accounts of some of the actions described, demonstrating the difficulty of obtaining a "true" picture of what actually happened in combat, even from people who were actually there.

    The book has no index (a real minus point, this, since all officers are named and the book would otherwise be a good source for checking whether that new sword you've just purchased belonged to anyone mentioned!). In addition it ends rather abruptly with no sense of a conclusion or rounding off, and this gives it a slightly unfinished feel to the text.

    The proof-reading and editing are very good (I didn't notice any typos), although it might have been good to have the actual quotes in italics so it would be easier to differentiate them from the author's own comments. The latter are minimal and he is content to let the subject material speak for itself (an approach which other budding authors would do well to consider ).

    As swords of the Raj are one of my specialist areas of interest, I was expecting to spot factual errors on some of the sword-related detail. Actually I didn't spot any mistakes to speak of (although at one point the author seems to think that Wilkinson swords were made in Birmingham), and this meant that I wasn't continually being distracted by jarring errors of fact.

    All in all, I'd consider the electronic download good value for the price (less than £4.00), but given the limitations mentioned above I probably wouldn't bother with the paper version.

    Hope this helps,

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

  3. #3

    Re availability and review of Sword Fighters of British India

    I see that SWORD FIGHTERS OF BRITISH INDIA is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers. I don't understand how Steven Dick paid Lulu $29.67 for shipping and handling. I ordered the book via Priority Mail (as good as UPS and FedEx), paid only $9.52 for S. & H., and had it in 2 days.
    As for the artwork in the book being frequently inaccurate re the patterns of swords in use at a particular time, it should be noted that many officers of the mid-19th century were using swords (often inherited or gifted) dating from the Napoleonic period or even before, and ditto those of the 18th century; that many Asian warriors were armed with remounted European cavalry sabres dating from the same period; that Arab warriors in Africa and India were armed with genuine Ferraras and other swords (e.g., Toledos) that dated from the time of the Crusades; etc. With few exceptions, artists were particularly careful about details by consulting military authorities, knowing that they would otherwise be criticized for inaccuracies.
    Wilkinson swords were evidently made in London (steel from Birmingham?); but perhaps Mr. Kinsley thought that the allusion to Birmingham also implied Wilkinson, since Wilkinson blades were sometimes neither better nor worse than those that were manufactured in Birmingham and Sheffield: synonymous with inferior steel in the popular literature.
    All in all, John Hart presented a fair and balanced and EXCELLENT review.
    Last edited by L. Braden; 07-06-2009 at 11:33 AM. Reason: spacing

  4. #4
    Received my copy of Sword Fighter of British India from Amazon and read it.

    The book certainly seems to make a case for the edge being superior to the point in mounted combat. Time after time "giving point" proves totally inadequate for preventing a counter blow. I also wonder about the number of swords that are said to have broken in close-combat. I understand no blade is infallible but I would have thought the average issue sword would have been stronger than that. They certainly look stronger than that when you handle them.

    About all these people being "clove from crown to teeth" and "clove from head to belt." Are these exaggerations? Several references have examples of skulls from medieval battle fields showing head wounds from what would probably have been much larger blades. Frankly, I always been surprised at how little damage was done to the bone. None come close to being clove from crown to teeth.

    Highly recommend the book to any one interested in this subject.

  5. #5

    Accounts of sword wounds, etc.

    Evidently, even the best of swords failed if they struck a solid object (like bone or armor) the wrong way--without the edge leading truly.

    I can't speak for medieval broadswords in European warfare, but I have read a number of eyewitness accounts of the effects of these weapons in the hands of Arab warriors, as well as of claymores throughout history; and unless they are all exaggerations, which I doubt, these weapons, if properly wielded with strength and skill, could split a man from crown to crotch. The same has also been said of the Gurkha kukri, which has a heavy and well-balanced scimitar-like blade.

    As for the lighter tulwar, I too thought at first that some of the accounts of its effects might be exaggerations--except that there are too many credible eyewitness accounts, including those of surgeons.

    Am glad that you finally got the book and enjoyed it! (By the way, I'm credibly informed that the author is working on a sequel.)

  6. #6
    I should have added that unlike Asians, Europeans had a long history of blunt swords, which probably accounts for some of the blunt-force traumas found in medieval skulls. But when European swords were kept razor-sharp, here were some of the results: "I dare be bold to say, there were scarce ever such strokes given in Europe, as were given that day by the Highlanders. Many of General Mackay's officers and soldiers were cut down through the skull and neck to the very breast; others had skulls cut off above their ears, like night-caps; some soldiers had both their bodies and cross-belts cut through at one blow; pikes and small swords were cut like willows; and whoever doubts of this, may consult the witnesses of the tragedy." (Memoirs of Lord Dundee.) The Scots generally maintained their swords better than the English, which is why they preferred Ferrara claymores and did extraordinary butchery with them. And here are some of the effects of razor-sharp Ferraras and other European-made broadswords in the hands of Arab warriors: "Their long, thin and very sharp swords, of which they were complete masters, gave them great advantage over our men. ... I saw some of the Arabs seize the sepoys by their belts with the left hand, and strike off their heads with the right. ... In one man, the face had been removed from the rest of the head by a single stroke; in another, the whole of the head above the lower jaw had been struck off; another had received two blows at the same moment, which had cut out the fore-part of the head between them." (Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, 1852.) As for tulwars, the testimonies of a couple of surgeons, plus a number of other authentic narratives quoted in Sword Fighters of British India, are evidential enough. But I'll add this: "Terrific is the force that can be put into a skilfully directed blow ..., well exemplified in a story told me by Henderson, the well-known professor of swordsmanship, who was present at the battle of Chillianwallah, in the year 1849," re a single combat between a Sikh and a Briton: "though mortally wounded, the Sikh instantaneously, with his razor-edged tulwar, cleft his opponent's head in two." (Arthur H. Beavan, Marlborough House.) As for Henderson, "a well-known swordsman" and "a most powerful man": "He could with one blow cut through two sheep, and could also sever 2 3/4 inches of solid lead. Steel plates, it is recorded, six to the inch, and ordinary pokers, were severed at a blow by the same strong arm." (J. H. Settle, Anecdotes of Soldiers.) There are a number of eyewitness accounts of such swordsmanship, but enough is enough!

  7. #7

    Review of SWORD FIGHTERS OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE

    The sequel to SWORD FIGHTERS OF BRITISH INDIA, entitled SWORD FIGHTERS OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE, is now available at a bargain price EXCLUSIVELY from lulu.com. It covers every major conflict from the Napoleonic Wars to the Sudan War, including the cavalry actions at Balaklava. I think it's as good as, if not in some ways better than, the prequel. All in all, a highly entertaining and informative read. (The prequel is also now available exclusively from lulu.com in a new and cheaper edition.)
    P.S. I'm having trouble getting this message through; so if it appears twice, that's why!

  8. #8
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    L.Braden; can you cite the "Europeans had a long history of blunt swords" I have read accounts dating back to the early medieval period ("dark ages") of Europeans interested in the sharpness of their swords.
    Thomas Powers
    CoFounder of the Intergalactic Union of Bladesmiths
    "when you forge upon a star"---you better have your union card handy!

  9. #9
    Let me know when Amazon or somebody besides Lulu has it. My feelings about that company have not changed.
    I did enjoy the first book.

  10. #10

    Re "blunt swords" & availability of SWORD FIGHTERS

    Thomas Powers:
    The "blunt swords" accusation, even when it was GENERALLY without foundation but just an accuse for poor swordsmanship or whatever, has been documented in Kinsley's books. Perhaps I should have better worded it "According to certain 'authorities', Europeans had a long history of blunt swords"! I don't know any more about it than what's on record; but Kinsley DOES point out that the amount of "execution" done by European swords (e.g., at Waterloo and Balaklava) belied the accusation of such critics and observers as war correspondent W. H. Russell. Anyway, welcome to "The Defense of European Swords and Swordsmen"!

    Steven Dick:
    I'm informed that the book may eventually be available in paperback from Amazon. Will keep you posted. Unfortunately, those who want it from Lulu may have to wait a bit, because I hear they're having some temporary problem that prevents access to it. So much for modern technology!

  11. #11

    Sword Fighters of the British Empire

    The problem was fixed, so SWORD FIGHTERS OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE is again available from lulu.com (and will soon be available from Amazon).

  12. #12
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    It seams that had been solved only temporarily as book is not available again.

  13. #13

    Sword fighters of the british empire

    I have just checked the Lulu website, entered "Kinsley" under "Books", and it IS available! Also, it's just now available for the same price from Amazon; but it will take a while for it to get processed onto the website. (The supplier is Lulu, but you pay Amazon.)
    Last edited by L. Braden; 10-12-2009 at 01:34 PM.

  14. #14
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    It is strange. I can see the book on the search result list but when I try to add it to the cart it says that product is no longer available. Anyway I will wait till it will be available on Amazon.

  15. #15

    Sword Fighters of the British Empire

    It is now available from Amazon!
    I don't know what Lulu's problem is,
    unless they made a deal with Amazon
    that the book would be sold only
    through them. Time will tell.

  16. #16
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    Unfortunately when I tried to get it from Amazon I was told that seller do not ship to Ireland. So I will have to wait for Lulu to put it back on their site.

  17. #17

    Sword Fighters of the British Empire

    I have just discovered that you can buy it via Kinsley's Storefront, but not (until the problem is fixed) via the author/title listings. That means you have to click onto the author's name, then click onto "Visit This Author's Storefront," and order from there. Ditto for SWORDSMEN OF THE RAJ, the new edition of the British India book, also due to be available from Amazon.

  18. #18
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    It worked. Thanks

  19. #19
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  20. #20
    Matt,
    Thank you for your excellent review! What sort of background knowledge are you suggesting? History of India? British swords? Historical swordsmanship?

    Thank you,
    Jonathan

  21. #21
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    Hi Jonathan,
    A bit of everything really.
    However, I understand that it is difficult for an author who is mostly compiling source material to cover this in such a concise work. It is not a major criticism, more a caution.
    The source material presented will be interesting to anyone, but will be far more useful and understandable to people with background knowledge of arms and armour, tulwars and British swords, military history of the period and 19thC military fencing. For example; one source metions a 'cut number 5' - I know this to be a horizontal cut from the right, but most readers would probably not know that. Equally, most readers would not know that some of the weapons shown in the images are neither British nor Indian.

    Regards,
    Matt

  22. #22
    Just the sort of thing I wanted to know. Thank you!

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by L. Braden View Post
    It is now available from Amazon!
    I don't know what Lulu's problem is,
    unless they made a deal with Amazon
    that the book would be sold only
    through them. Time will tell.
    There is a copy listed by an Amazon US seller (Not Amazon themselves)

    A bit pricey don't you think!
    £54.29
    + £2.75shipping
    When an earlier post/review says electronic download is £4!

  24. #24
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    I got both books (Raj and Empire) in softcover, including postage, for £21 direct from Lulu. Despite paying in US dollars, the books were printed in the UK and therefore posted only within the UK, so no extra duties or taxes.

    Matt

  25. #25

    Sword Fighters of the British Empire

    I haven't been able to read Matt's review, because his website is presently unavailable, but I can comment on his observation that "some of the weapons shown in the images are neither British nor Indian". True; but not every Briton or Indian was armed with a British or Indian sword, regulation or otherwise. Many chose to purchase their weapons from German, Persian, and other swordmakers; and of course even some patterns of British regulation swords were made in Solingen, etc.

    As for the author's occasional lapse in not defining certain technical terms, I suppose that any author has a hard time deciding just how much his readers know or ought to know; and since these books were probably intended mostly for those interested in or knowledgeable about swordsmanship, he probably assumed that such terminology would be understandable. Perhaps you should never assume anything, but you also don't want to possibly insult your readers by "writing down" to them. It's a tough call!

    P.S. The books are available either directly from lulu.com or indirectly via amazon.com, both of which ship to the UK, etc.
    P.P.S. Subject heading should be SWORDSMEN OF THE RAJ. Sorry about that!
    Last edited by L. Braden; 11-10-2009 at 02:01 PM.

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