India
Conquest

John Nicholson (1821–1857), Army Officer in the East India Company

Nicholson was born in Dublin in 1821 to Dr Alexander Nicholson and Clara Hogg, sister of James Weir Hogg, a director of the East India Company. Raised in Lisburn, Co Down and educated at the Royal School Dungannon, Nicholson obtained a cadetship in the East India Company Army through the patronage of his uncle, joining the Bengal infantry in 1839. He was quickly called into action, fighting in the First Afghan War at the siege of Ghazni before being imprisoned along with George Lawrence, brother of Henry Lawrence. Following their release, Nicholson quickly became one of Sir Henry Lawrence’s most trusted lieutenants on the frontier. An effective and brutal military commander, he put down rebellions in the Punjab and Kashmir, and fought with distinction during the Anglo-Sikh Wars. In 1849, his military accomplishments were rewarded by Sir Henry Lawrence with the deputy commissionership of Lahore before taking furlough in Europe later that year. Upon his return in 1851, Nicholson proved to be an able administrator and was praised by the likes of Lord Dalhousie and Sir Herbert Edwardes. An enigmatic figure, he was revered by a group of Punjabi fakirs, or ascetic holymen, as the ‘Nikkeel Seyn’ a sort of demi-god which reportedly offended his evangelical Christian beliefs.

Nicholson is most famous, however, for his role in the putting down the Indian Rebellion, or ‘Mutiny’ of 1857-8. On hearing of the uprising in May 1857, Nicholson immediately acted to introduce fast-moving columns, disarming Sepoy regiments in Peshawar and driving insurgents from the region. By late June, Nicholson was ordered to Delhi, engaging in pitched battles along the way and on one occasion putting a force of 6000 rebels to flight. Finally, on 14 September, a force led by Nicholson began its successful assault on Delhi. However, Nicholson, in the course of leading his troops through the breach, was mortally wounded. He died nine days later of his wounds and was buried in front of the iconic Kashmir Gate. Nicholson quickly became a national hero; a saviour of the empire and symbol of muscular Christianity. His sacrifice, described by Sir John Lawrence as ‘a national misfortune’, was widely reported on and became the subject of countless newspaper and journal articles as well books. He is memorialised in statue at his former School in Dungannon and in his hometown of Lisburn.

Nicholson
Picture: Brigiadier General John Nicholson statue located in the grounds of Dungannon Royal School