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Thread: A sword with Indian Mutiny connection

  1. #1
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    A sword with Indian Mutiny connection

    What I have here (photos attached below) is a special-order sword from Wilkinson, pre-numbered (so pre-1854), with a blade marked to the Bengal Engineers. It has lost the shark skin to the grip. The blade is service sharpened and still very sharp. The hilt, rather than being the usual brass (infantry type, before the Engineers adopted the 1857 pattern scroll hilt), is gilt steel for extra strength, as is the backstrap and pommel, with some of the gilding remaining in recesses.

    It has a coat of arms on the blade, surmounted by what appears to be a ducal coronet. I have trawled the India Army Lists for 1851 and 1861 looking for potential original owners of this sword, trying to match officers to the coat of arms. There simply weren't a great number of Bengal Engineer officers in the period of the sword's date, which must be between 1845 (when the pattern was adopted) and 1854, when Wilkinson started numbering blades. However, it's entirely possible that some candidates served for such a short time that they don't appear in the lists I have to hand. I have checked all the officers on the 1851 and 1861 lists, as well as those killed in the Mutiny of 1857-58.

    I don't feel like I've hit the nail on the head, but according to Burke's one coat of arms for the name Smith (location unspecified) comprises three bezzants (shown elsewhere as or - gold) on a field of azure (blue).



    The crest comprises 5 feathers, which is different to the emblem on my blade, though in the loosest definition the ducal coronet does have five branches to it.

    Attached are photos of the sword and the coat of arms. In heraldic tincture horizontal lines represent azure (blue) and dots represents or (gold), so I do feel this shield shows three or bezzants on a field azure. I cannot find any other Bengal Engineers officer who even comes close to matching this coat of arms. But if this is Smith, then what is the ducal coronet doing on my blade? It seems rather presumptuous to use an indicator of high nobility, if there wasn't a genuine claim.

    Lastly, if this does indeed relate to the name Smith, then I feel that the only viable candidate is Richard Baird Smith, who was the Engineer in charge of the siege works at the Siege of Delhi. However, I don't want to make any assumptions at this point and I want to make sure I have dotted the i's and crossed the t's.

    Many thanks for your help

    Best,
    Matt
    Attached Images Attached Images   

  2. #2
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    Incidentally, if anyone knows of early photos of Richard Baird Smith in uniform that would help, as the steel hilts are recognisable from the brass ones.

  3. #3
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    Nice sword, Matt. You don't tend to think of Engineer officers as being from the nobility (and Duke is about as noble as it gets!), but in a way that might help you narrow the field down even more. Did your heart sink when you saw the name "Smith"?

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

  4. #4
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    My heart sank when I saw the number of entries for Smith in Burke's, which I then had to trawl through!

    Do you think that this does represent a Duke's coat of arms, or could there be some other explanation? R B Smith was the son of a vicar, not a Duke!

  5. #5
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    It did of course cross my mind that the owner could have initially been in the Bengal Engineers and then transferred to a different regiment - for example, R B Smith was originally in the Madras Engineers and transferred to Bengal. But given the extreme service sharpening and heavily used look of the sword.. Whoever owned this sword, they must have been in the Bengal Engineers at some point between 1845 and 1854, and I would guess must have seen service in 1857.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Easton View Post
    What I have here (photos attached below) is a special-order sword from Wilkinson, pre-numbered (so pre-1854), with a blade marked to the Bengal Engineers. It has lost the shark skin to the grip. The blade is service sharpened and still very sharp. The hilt, rather than being the usual brass (infantry type, before the Engineers adopted the 1857 pattern scroll hilt), is gilt steel for extra strength, as is the backstrap and pommel, with some of the gilding remaining in recesses.

    It has a coat of arms on the blade, surmounted by what appears to be a ducal coronet. I have trawled the India Army Lists for 1851 and 1861 looking for potential original owners of this sword, trying to match officers to the coat of arms. There simply weren't a great number of Bengal Engineer officers in the period of the sword's date, which must be between 1845 (when the pattern was adopted) and 1854, when Wilkinson started numbering blades. However, it's entirely possible that some candidates served for such a short time that they don't appear in the lists I have to hand. I have checked all the officers on the 1851 and 1861 lists, as well as those killed in the Mutiny of 1857-58.

    I don't feel like I've hit the nail on the head, but according to Burke's one coat of arms for the name Smith (location unspecified) comprises three bezzants (shown elsewhere as or - gold) on a field of azure (blue).



    The crest comprises 5 feathers, which is different to the emblem on my blade, though in the loosest definition the ducal coronet does have five branches to it.

    Attached are photos of the sword and the coat of arms. In heraldic tincture horizontal lines represent azure (blue) and dots represents or (gold), so I do feel this shield shows three or bezzants on a field azure. I cannot find any other Bengal Engineers officer who even comes close to matching this coat of arms. But if this is Smith, then what is the ducal coronet doing on my blade? It seems rather presumptuous to use an indicator of high nobility, if there wasn't a genuine claim.

    Lastly, if this does indeed relate to the name Smith, then I feel that the only viable candidate is Richard Baird Smith, who was the Engineer in charge of the siege works at the Siege of Delhi. However, I don't want to make any assumptions at this point and I want to make sure I have dotted the i's and crossed the t's.

    Many thanks for your help

    Best,
    Matt
    Hi Matt,

    Are you quite sure the charges on the shield are bezzants, they may well be roses as there seems to be some small protrusions around the outside, and some sort of patterning in the middle; beezzants a plain I believe.

    Gordon

  7. #7
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    Hi Gordon, well spotted! Yes there are engraved details in the circles. For some time I considered these might be elements of faces (lions/leopards etc), or indeed roses. However the outlines are perfectly circular, whereas all the heads and roses I can find have edges which aren't perfectly circular. The other thing I considered was that these were some kind of medallion or wheels, but I cannot find any Bengal Engineers of this period with any coat of arms that matches that at all. Quite simply I've been round and round in circles and the only coat of arms I can find that is remotely close is the three bezants of Smith. That being the case, I wondered whether, as they had used tincture to show the colour of the field, then perhaps the dots in the bezants were also tincture, to show gold colour.

  8. #8
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    I am reviving this old thread.
    Having been around and around in circles with this sword, I think that by process of elimination the arms and crest must be for Smyth.

    The crest from Fairbairn:



    Description of arms and crest from Burke's:

    Name:  Smyth-Burke.jpg
Views: 849
Size:  44.5 KB

  9. #9
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    I am currently thinking William Matthew Smyth is the most likely candidate, as he was serving in the Gwalior Campaign in 1843-44 and had commissioned as Lieutenant on 28 Sept 1827. The other Smyth candidates I can find are either too old or too young, given that this sword must predate 1854 (and presumably be post-1845 due to the blade type).
    Last edited by Matt Easton; 04-19-2017 at 08:56 AM.

  10. #10
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    The only other Smyth candidate who is remotely possible is Ralph Graham Smyth, but he was not commissioned until December 1855. I think that this sword, being un-numbered, must date to before 1854.

  11. #11
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    If this is the sword of W M Smyth then it introduces an interesting possibility.
    Henry Wilkinson got his 'new' blade design made official regulation for infantry, artillery and cavalry officers in 1845 (Navy in 1846), but he himself claimed that he had been making blades to this design for some time before that. I have been searching for references to Wilkinson swords before 1845, but they are scant. Wilkinson were primarily gun makers before 1845 and if there were making swords they do not seem to have been making many.
    This sword is extensively and repeatedly service sharpened. Given that W M Smyth went on campaign in 1843-44, but was engaged in peaceful pursuits in the Bengal Department of Public Works by 1845 (according to the East India Register for 1845), it seems at least possible that the sword was made actually before 1845. Perhaps this is one of the pre-1845 swords that Henry Wilkinson referred to.

  12. #12
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    Or he learned the valuable lesson that it you have a sword in India then it may as well be as sharp.
    Last edited by james.elstob; 04-20-2017 at 01:11 AM.

  13. #13
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    It seems very plausible that this sword was one of the earlier ones with the "Wilkinson" blade.
    This blade pattern was used from the 1820's with the 1821p British troopers sword and even earlier infantry and cavalry officers dress swords..

  14. #14
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    A great sword which is not diminished by the open (at this point) question of ownership.

    I have a couple of thoughts but am away from all references so this may be a bit vague. To me the proof stud suggests 1850's not 1840's. I have also found a gap in army lists between the official wind up of the HEIC during the mutiny and the appearance of former company officers in Hart's Army list in the early 1860s (1861?). There was also a number of company officers who didn't want to join the British army (I think at the time it was described as the White mutiny)?

    I have also seen several swords purchased long in advance of the formal commission dates. A company officer for the engineers would have had some formal training (Addiscomb?) including languages which must have taken more than a year. I think the company records for officer recruits are available, but can't remember where or if they are digitised.

    Sorry for the rambling reply but I know how frustrating this can be and there is a chance the smallest thing can shed a bit of light.

    Kind Regards
    Ian

  15. #15
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    Just had a quick look at RG Smyth and despot no active service recorded in Hart's Army List his Mutiny medal with Lucknow clasp was sold by DNW in 1995. His court martial details are also online!

  16. #16
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    Hi Ian,
    Thanks for your input.
    Yes I agree that it is entirely possible that the sword was ordered before his official commission by Ralph Graham Smyth who as you noted had medals sold by DNW and apparently acted as Provisional Assistant Executive Engineer at the final siege and capture of Lucknow in 1858.

    Having been through the records of the Bengal Engineers specifically, both before and after the Mutiny, I think that Ralph or William are the only two Smyths who could have owned this sword. The only other Smyth was far earlier.

    My doubt in the likelihood of Ralph being the original owner is that he was not commissioned until the very end of 1855. Wilkinson started numbering their swords in 1854. Presumably therefore Ralph would have had to have ordered the sword about a year and a half, or more, before he was commissioned, yet the blade is etched to the Bengal Engineers. While it’s not impossible that the etching was added later, it seems a bit of a long stretch to me. I think the earliest that Ralph was likely to have ordered a sword would mean that this would be a numbered blade.

    In contrast, William could have ordered such a sword from Wilkinson in the early 1840s, or indeed in 1845 after the Gwalior Campaign.

  17. #17
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    Hi Matt,

    It does seem likely that it is one of them. Is there any reference on when Wilkinson adopted the proof slug?

    On the commission dates I am not sure when an appointment to a specific unit is made but the East India Register and Army list references a six month general course at th end of which cadets are directed to the infantry or artillery, followed by four terms of further study totalling two years. RG Ryan is in the 1857 list as doing temporary duty as an ensign so presumably had passed out and was India later in the year. It is possible that he knew what corps he was heading towards in 1854, but if it was his sword he must have been very confident that he would pass the exams!

    In wouldn't discount the earlier Smyth though, India was a dangerous place at the time. There may be a service record available that gives an account of an offecers service (I have seen these for Bengal Artillery of the period) which could show participation in action not covered by the army list or recognised officially with a medal.

    EDIT - answered my own question, a previous post by Roberr Wilkinson Lathem suggests the proof slug was in use in 1845 (I found a 2009 post on Google). If I was a betting person I would lean towards the earlier Smyth

    Kind Regards

    Ian
    Last edited by IMoran; 04-20-2017 at 09:21 AM. Reason: Idiocy

  18. #18
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    I've been looking at the swords grip profile and believe now it dates into the early 1850's. I have an 1846 Wilkinson infantry sword, the grip does not taper (smaller in diameter) much to the pommel.
    I have an early 1850's Wilkinson the grip does taper more and a 1855 numbered Wilkinson grip also tapers. Based on that and the overall appearance, some things you just can't put a finger on, this sword should date early 1850's.

  19. #19
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    I have never seen a Wilkinson without the slug (except picquet weight swords), so I presume that they started using them as soon as they started making swords, which seems to have been in the early 1840s. I'm trying to pin down an exact date for when they started making swords. 1840/41 seems possible at the moment.

    I agree that William is the likely Smyth. I will look some more into Ralph though to see what he was doing before 1854.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Will Mathieson View Post
    I've been looking at the swords grip profile and believe now it dates into the early 1850's. I have an 1846 Wilkinson infantry sword, the grip does not taper (smaller in diameter) much to the pommel.
    I have an early 1850's Wilkinson the grip does taper more and a 1855 numbered Wilkinson grip also tapers. Based on that and the overall appearance, some things you just can't put a finger on, this sword should date early 1850's.
    To be frank, I have a lot of Wilkinsons of a similar date and their grip shapes all vary (I have about 12 swords just from 1858-1860 all with different grip shapes). I don't think we can date them that way.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Easton View Post
    To be frank, I have a lot of Wilkinsons of a similar date and their grip shapes all vary (I have about 12 swords just from 1858-1860 all with different grip shapes). I don't think we can date them that way.
    Definitely not science, your swords grip does appear to be the same as 1850-1856 Wilkinsons, not sure of 1858-60 ones. One would have to compare infantry to infantry etc.
    The proof discs of Wilkinson's did change in detail, a closeup of it would allow comparison.

  22. #22

    Coat of arms

    Hi Matt,

    Regarding the shield of arms on the blade, if it's etched correctly in accordance with the rules of heraldry, the horizontal lines on the shield are indicative of the fact that the colour of the shield is Azure (blue), which would not match the blazon of any one of the three Smyth entries of the arms in Burke's.

    In reference to the Smyth arms, they are all Ermines (a fur); and there is is no doubt that the shield on the blade is positively etched with horizontal lines.

    Whilst this particular etched display of arms, is no proof one way or the other, if it's not correct, why would they be bothered to display the shield in such detail?, when very detailed displays of arms are not as common as a display of just a crest, crest and initials, or just initials.

  23. #23
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    Hi Gordon,
    I think with the combination of the three bezzants and the five-feathered coronet that there cannot be any doubt left. There simply aren't any other families with those particular features combined. It's way beyond coincidence, especially when we put it with the Bengal Engineers etching and the fact Smyth is not a common spelling, yet there were two in the Bengal Engineers at this period. If you can find another family with anything like this crest and shield, please show me The crest alone is very unusual and specific though.
    Regarding the tincture, perhaps they got it wrong or perhaps it is not supposed to be tincture at all. There is a coat of arms in my family which was represented in various different ways and sub-branches of families sometimes made unofficial small changes (again I can see this in my own family history).

  24. #24
    Hi Matt,
    I wasn't suggesting that the person in question is not a Smyth, in fact, from what you present, it seems more than likely that one of them is your man. More to the point, I was suggesting that the particular representation of the Smyth arms on the sword, may not be indicative of one of the three in Burke's; further to that, and as you rightly point out, sub-branches of families were represented by changes (differences) in the original grant. If in fact the etching is correct, it may well represent a change along the lines of what you indicate is the case.

  25. #25
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    Just to throw all options out there, I have been through all the Smythe and Smith entries in Burke's as well. Perhaps surprisingly there are none that list the crest as being a set of features coming out of a coronet, despite the fact that the coronet and the bezzants are frequently used by families with names like Smith/Smyth/Smythe. Nowhere outside of Smyth can I find the exact combination of three bezzants (or similar) with a featured ducal coronet, nor in fact the feathered coronet at all.

    However there is this:

    Name:  smith.jpg
Views: 778
Size:  7.4 KB

    Although there is no mention of the ducal coronet, we do find the three bezzants on an azure field. Which the etched arms on the sword blade *may* indicate if the lines are supposed to be tincture.

    So at the broadest perspective I think this limits the arms and crest to either Smyth or Smith, but not exactly matching any of the descriptions in Burke's.

    Theoretically the sword should date to between 1844 and 1854 and it has been sharpened a lot. The older Smyth did not see active service after 1844 and the younger Smyth did not join until the end of 1855.

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