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Thread: 16th Bengal Cavalry Officer's Scroll Hilt

  1. #1

    16th Bengal Cavalry Officer's Scroll Hilt

    In March of 2008 I decided that I wanted to take my collection in a new, more focused direction. Soon after making this decision I was able to buy a nice Pattern 1897 Infantry Officer’s Sword to an officer of the Indian Army. Researching his life and career sparked an interest in the Indian Army and the various campaigns in the North West Frontier and Afghanistan. I decided to further narrow my collecting efforts to Indian Army officers’ swords. After that initial purchase, however, I struggled to find swords which fit into my framework, and when I did they were out of my price range, or scooped up by other collectors. I was able to satisfy my interests in India, the NWF, and Afghanistan by pursuing swords of officers of the British Army who served in my region of interest. Now, just about a year and a half later, I have had the good fortune of finding a sword to another officer of the Indian Army, and better yet, a special pattern favored by officers in India.



    Originating from John Jacob of the Scinde Horse, the scroll hilt (or acanthus hilt) is best known for its brass incarnation in the form of the British Pattern 1857 Royal Engineers Officer’s Sword. But well before 1857 a steel version was favored by officers serving in India, and continued to be produced for discerning officers of both the British and Indian Armies who wanted good fighting swords. My sword, serial number 13539, was made in 1865 for Captain Richard Topham of the 16th Bengal Cavalry. The 1 lb. 14 oz. sword is an excellent example of a weapon intended for service. The steel guard is engraved with an acanthus leaf design. The rest of the weapon is rather Spartan in design. Aside from the standard Wilkinson Pall Mall, and the proof disc, the only blade decoration is the officer’s family crest. The rest of the 34 ¼” blade is plain, and has been sharpened for service. The sharpening begins 8” from the guard and continues to the tip, while almost 7” of the false edge has been sharpened. The scabbard is steel with a German silver mouth, and the inside is lined with wood.









    Richard Topham’s first commission was as an ensign in the Royal Lancashire Militia (1st March, 1855). Soon thereafter, he was promoted lieutenant (June, 1855). In July of the same year, he purchased his first regular army commission as a cornet in the 4th (The Queen’s Own) Regiment of Light Dragoons. Less than one year later, on 14 March 1856, Topham was promoted lieutenant (without purchase). At some point in 1857 he transferred top the 7th (The Queen’s Own) Regiment of Light Dragoons (Hussars) and embarked for service in India. Topham served with distinction during the Indian Mutiny (also known as India's First War of Independence, the Great Rebellion, the Indian Rebellion, the Revolt of 1857, the Uprising of 1857 and the Sepoy Mutiny). The Hart’s List for 1860 records:

    Lieut. Topham served in the Indian campaign from Feb. 1858 to March 1859 and was present at the repulse of the enemy’s attack on the Alumbagh, siege and capture of Lucknow, affairs of Barree (wounded) and Sirsee, action of Nawabgunge (contused), occupation of Fyzabad, passage of the Goomtee at Sultanpore, throughout the Byswarra campaign, including the affairs at Kandoo Nuddee, Paleeghat, and Hyderghur, and pursuit of Benhi Madhu's force to the Goomtee; also the Trans-Gogra campaign, including the affair near Churda and pursuit, taking the fort of Meejeedia , attack on Bankee with pursuit to Raptee, advance it to Nepaul and affair at Sitkaghat (twice mentioned in despatches, Medal and Clasp).
    Topham’s mentions in dispatches are recorded in the London Gazette:

    Quote Originally Posted by Gazette Issue 22143 published on the 25 May 1858
    Quote Originally Posted by Gazette Issue 22259 published on the 5 May 1859
    And his actions in the field are recorded in several texts, including The Life of General Sir Hope Grant with selections from his correspondence:

    Quote Originally Posted by General Sir Hope Grant
    On the 13th April we marched at daybreak, but had scarcely gone three miles on our way when I heard the advanced - guard commence firing. The road, or rather track, had been very bad, and I had remained behind to see the heavy guns brought across a nullah. I immediately galloped to the front, and found that a strong cavalry picket of the enemy had attacked our advanced- guard—had surrounded a troop of Wales' Horse, wounding one of the officers, Prendergast1 — and would have taken the two guns which were with it,—when they suddenly perceived a squadron of the 7th Hussars, which the dust had hitherto prevented them from seeing, ready to charge them, whereupon they wheeled about and galloped off. When I reached the scene of the conflict I saw this hostile force, which now amounted to some thousand men, working round our right flank, evidently bent on attacking our baggage, which extended over a line of nearly three miles. I instantly brought up 300 cavalry and two of Mackinnon's guns to protect our flank, and fired several shots at them, but without effect. In addition to our rear-guard, I ordered the Bengal Fusiliers to cover our right flank. I sent a troop of the 7th Hussars to patrol along both flanks, and another squadron to watch the movements of the sowars. The enemy came round in rear of a village, and were in the act of charging upon our baggage when the troop of the 7th Hussars, who were ready prepared for them, dashed down and galloped through them, putting them .to flight and sabring many of their number. Captain Topham, who commanded the troop, and who had run a native officer through the body, was wounded by a lance. He had two men mortally, and six men slightly, wounded. A little after, another body of the rebels charged down upon our baggage, but were met by two companies of the Bengal Fusiliers, who poured a volley into them when within 30 yards distant, which rolled a number in the dust. Thereupon they desisted from further attacks, and retreated as quickly as possible. The infantry were then ordered to advance. The enemy occupied a village on a hill in front of us, at the base of which a stream flowed. Large columns were posted on both sides of this valley. I threw out the Rifle brigade in skirmishing order, supported by the 5th Punjab corps. The main line in rear advanced close up to the village under a heavy fire and stormed it gallantly, capturing two colours. We afterwards advanced and took the higher ground, the rebels bolting without firing a shot. The cowardly fellows might, with a little resolution, have defended the position.
    Following the Mutiny, Topham remained in India and was attached as commandant to the 16th Bengal Cavalry in 1860. Topham purchased his captaincy 16 October 1863. In 1865 Topham officially transferred to the Bengal Staff Corps, and the occasion merited the purchase of his scroll hilt sword. He continued to serve as commandant of the 16th Bengal Cavalry—a position he would keep for the remainder of his career.

    Topham’s next and final active service was during the Black Mountain (sometimes called 1st Hazara) Expedition of 1868. He would have carried his new scroll hilt during this campaign. Topham ably commanded his regiment and was mentioned in despatches for his service (William Henry Paget , A Record of the Expeditions Undertaken Against the North-West Frontier Tribes):



    He received further commendations, as well:

    The remainder of Topham’s career appears to have been relatively quiet. He continued to command the 16th Bengal Cavalry:

    Quote Originally Posted by Parliamentary Papers, 1877
    Topham was promoted Major on 27 July 1875. Sadly, he died the following year while his regiment was station in Bareilly. I have not been able to determine his cause of death, but cholera seems a likely suspect as there was an outbreak in Bareilly just before he died.

    Based on the regiments with whom Topham served, he was probably quite familiar with special patterns and may have owned several throughout his career. The 4th Light Dragoons carried a variation of the scroll hilt which feature their regimental device (see Stephen Wood’s “Swords for the Crimea: some Scottish officers’ swords manufactured for Britain’s war with Russia 1854-56”, Journal of the Arms and Armour Society, London, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, pp 115-135.) In addition to the individual flair of his previous British regiments, Topham would have been influenced by the fashion and preferences of officers of the HEIC and Indian Armies (see Graeme Rimer’s “The swords of John Jacob”, Royal Armouries Year Book 2, 1997), which probably led to the purchase of his final fighting sword.

  2. #2
    I have yet to address some grime and active rust. I was too excited to post the sword and do the write-up, so I put the task of conservation off for a day. I will post some "after" pics if there is a noticeable difference. Here are some additional images that would not fit into the previous post:










  3. #3

    Re: Scroll Hilt......

    That is a beautiful sword with a fascinating history....just the sort I love.
    My compliments on a superb addition to your collection.
    Regards,
    Ray.

  4. #4
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    A truely magnificient sword and history Jonathan, well researched. A great addition to our knowledge of the swords of 'India hands'!

    Here is a Wilkinson hilt drawing of Topham's style as detailed by Jonathan above dated 1865 and also with the word in pencil 'Bengal' on the front.


  5. #5
    Great sword Jonathan! A facinating bit of research. I bet your pleased with it.

    Thanks for posting!

  6. #6
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    Congrats

    A great sword, Jonathan, made all the better by some top-quality research - bet you had fun doing that!

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

  7. #7
    Ray,
    Thank you very much! I am really proud of this one. I sold two good swords several months ago in order to bid on a similar sword at auction this June. I am now glad I did miss out on it because I like this one better!

    Robert,
    Thank you for your kind words and for providing that striking illustration of a c.1865 scroll hilt design. I was reluctant to post it given some recent image thievery, so thank you for going ahead with it! The "India hands" knew where to turn for quality fighting swords, and Wilkinson was at the top of their lists!

    Mark,
    Thank you for your comments. I am exceedingly happy. My wife can attest to my excitement.

    John,
    Thank you, and yes, I had a blast researching the officer and doing the write up. It took a good chunk of time to get it all together (especially with active kids and a new kitten). Your research and collection is part of what inspired me to pursue Victorian swords, and after you acquired your scroll hilt, how could I not endeavor to find one on my own?!

    Best Regards to All!

    Jonathan
    Last edited by J.G. Hopkins; 11-04-2010 at 03:41 PM.

  8. #8
    I bet your wife didn't get much help with the household chores last Saturday........
    Regards,
    Ray.

  9. #9
    Ray,
    I was not completely useless, but I was not completely helpful...

    All,
    The proof book entry just arrived. It confirms that this was Topham's sword, which is listed as "scroll hilt cavalry, Indian scabbard". I wonder if this refers to the wood lining of the scabbard? (A la John Jacob's scabbards?) That, or the scabbard now with the sword is a replacement.

    Jonathan
    Last edited by J.G. Hopkins; 08-11-2009 at 06:35 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by J.G. Hopkins View Post
    Ray,
    I was not completely useless, but I was not completely helpful...

    All,
    The proof book entry just arrived. It confirms that this was Topham's sword, which is listed as "scroll hilt cavalry, Indian scabbard". I wonder if this refers to the wood lining of the scabbard? (A la John Jacob's scabbards?) That, or the scabbard now with the sword is a replacement.

    Jonathan
    Jonathan - Spot on!
    Indian' scabbard would have been lined with beech wood with the mouthpiece (Jacob style when wanted) in either beech or rosewood - two very hard woods not liable to too much termite nibbling and perfect for preserving the edge.

    Top of the range scabbards were at this period (1860's) lined in leather.

    Hope that helps
    Robert

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Wilkinson-Latham View Post
    Jonathan - Spot on!
    'Indian' scabbard would have been lined with beech wood with the mouthpiece (Jacob style when wanted) in either beech or rosewood - two very hard woods not liable to too much termite nibbling and perfect for preserving the edge.
    Hi Robert,

    Didn't we decide a while back that "beech" should read "obeche" for scabbard liners?

    See http://forums.swordforum.com/showthr...ghlight=obeche

    On a related note, does anyone know what the thickness of these wooden strips used as liners should be? I have found an online source for obeche sheets, and the available thicknesses of 0.8mm, 1.5mm or 3mm would appear to be most suitable for scabbard lining.

    See http://www.alwayshobbies.com/Store/C...e-Wood-Panels-

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

  12. #12
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    Agreed that obeche was used for Sam Brown scabbards and scabbard linings from about 1890 but the earlier 'India' scabbard did have a much harder denser wood for lining and especially the 'Jacobs' style wood mouthpiece and so beech.
    From the 1882 pattern Trooper's cavary swords, the linings to the scabbard were "...Pine or other suitable wood,desiccated, free from galls, shakes. injurious knots, or any other defects." They were on certain contracts for the 1885 sword supplied to Mole by Enfield.

    Scabbard linings for Trooper's swords continued with Pine (or other suitable...etc) with the 1908 sword and the Household Cavalry troopers sword. Both these swords made today for the MOD by Pooley have Pine linings to the scabbard.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Hart View Post
    Hi Robert,

    Didn't we decide a while back that "beech" should read "obeche" for scabbard liners?

    See http://forums.swordforum.com/showthr...ghlight=obeche

    On a related note, does anyone know what the thickness of these wooden strips used as liners should be? I have found an online source for obeche sheets, and the available thicknesses of 0.8mm, 1.5mm or 3mm would appear to be most suitable for scabbard lining.

    See http://www.alwayshobbies.com/Store/C...e-Wood-Panels-

    John
    John
    Depends on what sword and scabbard you have!
    If you want the Obeche strips in place of the linings that were used previously in the 19th/ 20thC up to WW2, (probably wood) then it really depends on the scabbard section as to thin and the blade with 'rattle' and too thick and the blade wont go in.

    I would think 3mm too thick (2 x 3 = 6mm) so perhaps 1.5mm for simple strip lining (instead or modern fibre linings). The only problem (Peter from Pooley tells me) is that when cut that thin obeche is very brittle and likely to break as did the old thin pine liners used in some Victorian officer's swords where when you were restoring one, you took off the mouthpiece, upended the scabbard and out fell 6 or so pieces of oil stained pine!!

    Having said that as simple 'strip' lining it may work.

  14. #14
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    metal Sccabbard linings

    The plot thickens.
    I have just turned up the specification for 'Sword and Scabbards - British Officers Indian Army 1908' supplied via the India Store Department. This is the 1897 pattern.

    The scabbard "to be of steel nickel plated and fitted with German Silver mouthiece....the lining to be of leather, flocked flesh side out, turned, butted and herring bone stitched with fine waxed thread on the right side of the lining and held in place by the sputcheon.'

    A sword for Rifles regiment Officers, Indian Army of the same date has the above crossed out and 'Wood strip' inserted.

    Police Inspectors swords, again for India, have the specification call for 'lined with wood.'

    For War Office supplied swords:
    Basically, we can say that from 1882 Cavalry trooper's swords had a 'solid' Pine wood scabbard lining while others had either leather or 'wood strip'. With heavier scabbard for the Staff Sergeants pattern of 1889 (and 1905 conversion) solid Pine liners were used.

    These are just random samplings but I'll try and tabulate the answers per sword type and post under Wilkinson Sword Characteristics sticky!
    Robert

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    That is a very nice sword with an awesome story behind it.

    Congrats on the new acquisition!

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    A superb sword Jonathan,

    And excellent research as always, I wish I had your flair for it!!

  17. #17
    Thank you all for your positive responses!

    Robert,
    Thank you for clarifying the meaning of "Indian scabbard". I was pleasantly surprised to see it in the proof entry as I think it adds another layer to our understanding of British military swords of the 19th century. Where would be be without the Wilkinson ledgers and pattern books?

    Jonathan

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    Excellent sword and research! I often wonder how you find the time with a young family, work, etc. Between work, new house and young boy about all I can manage at the moment is about 10 minutes visiting SFI.
    Mike

  19. #19
    Lunch breaks and late nights!

  20. #20
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    Hi Jonathan

    Not sure if you still have Topham's sword and if you ever figured out how he died?

    Well that is now two in a row...Will's EIC sword owner...Forbes "cutting his throat while labouring under temporary insanity" and now Topham:



    Cheers
    Jordan

  21. #21
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    Very sad.
    One of my most prized swords belonged to Major Vicars' of the 61st (fought at the Siege of Delhi and became ADC to the Viceroy) and he died in an accident in an asylum while suffering from 'heat stroke' (I suspect what we'd now call PTSD).

  22. #22
    Thank you, Jordan. That is a very sad end for him!

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by J.G. Hopkins View Post
    Thank you, Jordan. That is a very sad end for him!
    Indeed. I was looking for any info on suicide rates among British soldiers in the Victorian period (there doesn't seem to be much), and found a study of Crimean War suicides (1854-6). During this period there were 18 documented suicides in the British Army, which I thought was quite low. I wonder if the events of the Mutiny caused an increase in this figure or whether the stresses on individuals were broadly comparable? We also have to factor in the stigma attached to "self murder" during this era and the perhaps understandable wish of colleagues to spare the families of the deceased from additional distress.

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

  24. #24
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    Now we know the reason for his 'temporary insanity' and how he committed suicide:

    The Friend of India , October 28, 1876

  25. #25
    Jordan,
    Thank you for sharing all of this information--it has answered a number of questions!

    Jonathan

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