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Statue of a forgotten earl

Equestrian statue of Lord MayoFew of the 8000 residents of Cockermouth, in England's scenic Lake District, near the Scottish border, know why they possess a fine statue of the Earl of Mayo, or even who he was. Local websites don't even mention him.

The tourist guide VisitCumbria.com says:

Today's visitors are attracted by the town's calm, its nearness to some of the more peaceful lakes and mountains, and the fact that Dorothy and William Wordsworth were born here... Another famous son of Cockermouth was Fletcher Christian, the man who led the mutiny on 'The Bounty'. He was born about a mile from the town at Eaglesfield in 1764, and attended the same school as Wordsworth. John Dalton, born in 1766 also at Eaglesfield, was one of the most brilliant scientists of his age, and was the originator of the atomic theory.

But not a word about His Grace, the Earl of Mayo, although they do show a fine photo of the Mayo statue.

Photographer Tony Richards tirelessly climbs the mountains (he calls them fells) with his black dog and camera every day of the year, to showcase his beloved Lake District to thousands of homesick Brits around the world. One day last month Tony featured on his famous website a photo of the statue with this sadly inadequate caption:

Earl Mayo standing in the main street, he represented the Cockermouth area in government in the 19th century, then disappeared to India for some reason.

That triggered a prolonged web search to find out exactly why the Earl had gone to India. It revealed an interesting but bloody story.

Richard Southwell Bourke, the sixth earl (1822-1872), aka Lord Naas (pronounced nace), born and educated in Dublin, became an Irish statesman and a leading member of Britain's Conservative Party. At different times he represented Kildare, Coleraine and Cockermouth in the British Parliament, and served as Chief Secretary for Ireland for three Parliamentary terms.

His big moment came in 1869, when Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India, appointed him Viceroy of her new realm. The earl was a good choice. "He consolidated the frontiers of India and reorganized the country's finances," says Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

"He also did much to promote irrigation, railways, forests and other useful public works.

"While visiting the convict settlement at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, for the purpose of inspection, he was assassinated by Sher Ali, a convict." [He had boarded the frigate H.M.S. Glasgow in Calcutta, and debarked at Port Blair.]

The Encyclopedia Britannica says "he was stabbed to death by an Afghan prisoner, who was hanged five weeks later for the crime." But in parts of the Indian sub-continent, Sher Ali was seen as a heroic freedom fighter. (Shades of 21st century Afghanistan!).

We discovered a detailed description of the assassination in the online archives of Radiance Viewsweekly, which described itself in these terms:

An independent organization, called "The Board of Islamic Publications" started bringing out ‘Radiance Veiwsweekly’ in July, 1963. By the Grace of ALLAH and commitment of its sponsors and functionaries, Radiance Viewsweekly is the only Muslim paper in India which has struck roots. The sapling planted 41 years ago has now grown into a banyan tree.

A feature item bore the heading Andamans: The Penal Settlement. The Forgotten Heroes of Freedom Struggle. It began:

ZUBAIR AHMED recounts the story of Muslim freedom fighters who were deported to Kala Pani and made to suffer the worst tribulations.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands enjoy a special status in the history of Indian freedom struggle. It was a norm of the Britishers that notorious criminals were deported to the far-flung settlements to keep them away from the civil society. The real objective of the Britishers in establishing such settlements and transporting the prisoners was to use them as labourers for developing the newly acquired lands on modern lines.

The Assassination of Lord Mayo

In the light of the Savarkar row and inconsequential discussions on the role of various personalities in the backdrop of freedom struggle, it is fit to introduce one of the most deserving freedom fighters of undivided India, who not only succeeded in his mission, but also sacrificed his life for his motherland.

Sher Ali Khan, 30 years of age, strong and well-built, son of Wali from a village near Jamrood, a Khyberee of Kookee Kheyl clan, and a resident of Pakhree in the Kabul territory, was convicted on the April 2, 1867 by Colonel Pollock, Commissioner of Peshawar and sentenced to transportation for life.

He reached Andaman Penal Settlement in May 1869 via Karachi and Bombay. No doubt can be cast on the character of this bold and gallant young man who had no history of any immoral act, except on one occasion, on which he had in his possession some flour for which he could not account.

Then followed a lengthy account of Lord Mayo's inspection tour of the Andaman Islands culminating in this description of the assassination:

After descending the hill the Lord safely reached the shore of Hope Town. But when they approached a carriage standing there, Chief Commissioner, with the permission of the Lord, stepped back for some urgent work while the Lord and Private Secretary kept on moving slowly.

At that time a person jumped like a tiger from behind the carriage and stabbed the Lord with his knife twice so sharply that Lord Mayo stumbled and fell into the sea.

The torch got extinguished in this confusion but another prisoner was brave enough to catch hold of the assassin, otherwise he would have killed some more people. Lord Mayo was taken out of the sea and was made to lie down in the carriage. After saying a few words Lord Mayo passed away.

When the assassin was asked why he did that, he said that he had done it on orders from God. Then he was asked, if there was any co-conspirator. He said: ‘Yes, God is the co-conspirator.’

After investigation, in accordance with the laws of Bengal, death sentence was awarded to the assassin. Many countries have severe corporal punishment laws. As any Cincinnati criminal defense attorney knows, the death penalty is not law in every state in the U.S

‘Since 1869 I wanted to assassinate some high British official and that is why for several years I had been preparing this knife. When Lord Mayo arrived on February 8, 1872 and salute was given to him, I sharpened my knife once again.

'The whole day I was looking for an opportunity to somehow reach an island where I could find him moving around. But I did not get the opportunity. In the evening when I had lost all hope, death brought the Lord to me. I accompanied the Lord on the mountain and came here too with him. But while going as well as while coming back I didn’t get a chance. Then I came and hid myself behind the carriage. My long cherished desire was fulfilled only here.’

Although old and short, he was a strong and brave man. Even then till the date of his hanging he was never upset. While being hanged, he loudly addressed the prisoners: ‘Brothers! I have killed your enemy and you are a witness that I am a Muslim.’ And then he breathed his last while reciting Kalima.

This incident, i.e. the assassination of Lord Mayo by an ordinary prisoner is an example of divine power. Otherwise how can an ordinary person like Sher Ali match with a powerful person like Lord Mayo, the Governor General.

When the death arrived, all the guards wearing swords as well as armed police, precautions and arrangements were of no use. God does the things the way He wants and no one can alter that: this was the remark made by several people.

The incident shocked the British Empire. It was not ready to accept any explanations. Hence, the trial that happened onboard Glasgow, a steam ship, would go down in history as the speediest trial ever.

On February 16, the Calcutta Appellate Court confirmed the death sentence and on February 21, the Calcutta High Court put its seal on the verdict. A copy of the verdict was dispatched to Andamans by Scotia, a steamboat and reached here on February 27. On March 11, 1872, the great son of the undivided India was hanged to death at the Viper Gang Jail.

Finally, we found this sequel on the website of The Anderman Association (which was founded in Switzerland, of all unlikely places, in 1997):

We now come to the saddest and most solemn moment of the terrible tragedy. The lifeless body of the beloved Viceroy was brought back to the capital after an unfinished task, midst the outbursts of grief and uncontrollable weeping of the thousands who had loved him dearly.

Some days later, Ireland received back her son, the "warrior dead." The English and the Indian Press paid glowing tributes to this noble son of Erin who had endeared himself to the people of India by his kind and sympathetic interest in their welfare.

This great hero now lies buried in a shady spot in a quiet little churchyard on his Kildare Estate, wither he had gone just a day before his departure for India and expressed the desire, rather begged the favour of being laid to rest in that shady spot.

Earl founded "India's Eton"

Mayo College, India

The Earl of Mayo may be forgotten in the United Kingdom, but in India he is remembered as the founder of Mayo College, modelled on Britain's exclusive Eton College. He "set forth this desire of starting a college for the sons of Rajahs and Nawabs in the course of his eloquent speech in full durbar in 1870 at Ajmer."

Even today, Mayo College is sometimes called "India's Eton." Its coat of arms was designed by Rudyard Kipling's father, Lochwood Kipling, a former principal of the Lahore School of Arts.

The school building is a huge, ornate structure more like a maharajah's palace than a place of learning. It's described as a blend of Hindu and Mohammedan architecture, and was once called "the dream palace of white marble."

Like Eton, Mayo offers web surfers an intriguing website. It says "Mayo, the grand citadel of learning, was established in 1875 to 'ensure to the sons of the aristocracy of India, a liberal and enlightened education to enable them to keep pace with the ever advancing spirit of the age.'

"True to its traditions, the Mayo College has made a tremendous contribution to every level and sphere of National life."

We were interested to learn that its senior cricketers visited Australia last month. The Mayo College boys played against teams from several exclusive (and expensive) private schools in Victoria and Tasmania.

So our internet search which began in Cockermouth took us first to India, and ended in Australia, where we learnt about cricket matches played in our own backyard. Ah, the power of the internet!

 

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Copyright © 2006

Eric Shackle

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