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№ 22


17 September 2004

Hammer Price:

The Second Mahratta War medal to Captain John Ritso, 76th Foot, wounded at Allighur and later A.D.C. to the Marquess of Wellesley, the only combatant officer from Lord Lake’s ‘Handfull of Heroes’ to survive to claim his medal

Army of India 1799-1826, 2 clasps, Allighur, Laswarree (Captn. J. Ritso, 76th Foot) short hyphen reverse, officially impressed naming, good very fine and an important medal

Ex Sotheby, June 1988.

Eight medals issued with this combination, this being unique to the 76th Foot. Captain Ritso, Surgeon Corfield, Quarter-Master Stevens, and 30 NCO’s and men were all that survived of Lord Lake’s ‘Handfull of Heroes’ to claim their medals. Surgeon Corfield’s medal is held by the regimental museum. Approximately 66 clasps for Allighur and 100 clasps for Laswarree were issued to European recipients. Only 26 medals, including Staff, Surgeons and Quartermaster’s, were awarded to officers of British regiments for services during the second Mahratta War 1803-05.

John Ritso, the son of Captain George Frederick Ritso, R.E., was born in 1772 and served as a volunteer in the army sent against Tippoo Sahib of Mysore following his invasion of the British allied state of Travancore in 1790. Ritso was commissioned Ensign on 11 November 1791 in H.M’s 76th Foot, one of the four British regiments raised in 1787 for service in India, and was present in 1792 at the Siege of Seringapatam. Promoted Lieutenant on 5 October 1793 and Captain on 19 July 1803, Ritso served in the Hindustan Campaign during the Second Mahratta War as Major of Brigade of 1st Brigade under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel the Hon. William Monson of the 76th, and marched up the Ganges to Agra and Delhi with the Grand Army under the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Lake, against Scindia’s domains in the north. According to the journal of Lieutenant John Pester, Ritso was present at the Capture of Allighur on 4 September 1803, the first major action of the campaign.

Five days earlier the Grand Army encountered Scindia’s army of 20,000, under the French soldier of fortune Perron, encamped before the city. A sharp action ensued and on the 4th the fort of Allighur itself was stormed, Ritso at Monson’s side. ‘The Honourable Colonel Monson, who headed the stormers, advanced steadily at the head of his column, which was preceded by Shipton and two twelve-pounders, scaling ladders, etc.,’ recorded Pester, who on that day had been ordered by Lake to accompany the storming party and bring to him immediate information if any support should be required. As Monson’s party advanced under an intense fire from Mahratta heavy guns and mortars, one of Captain Shipton’s guns was lost in a ditch, which ‘misfortune’ Pester continued, ‘detained us considerably, and at this time it was that we lost so many of our officers and men. Never did I witness such a scene before the second gun could be hauled up; the sortie was become a perfect slaughter-house and it was with the greatest difficulty that we dragged the gun over our killed and wounded ... Lieutenants Browne and Turton were killed close to the gate. Colonel Monson, Lieutenant-Colonel Brown, Captain Bagshaw, Captain Shipton, Lieutenants Ritso, Andre, Sinclair, Fraser, Welner, Berry, and many others wounded.’

Following a string of successes which merited some units honorary colours inscribed with the legend LAKE and VICTORY, Ritso took part, on the first day of November 1803, in the desperately fought encounter at Laswaree - ‘as fierce a fight as ever was fought by men’ as Fortescue called it - as dramatic as Assye and even more decisive. In the late summer of 1804, a force under Ritso’s chief, Monson, was detached and marched south to meet Holkar. The enterprise ended in disaster. Monson, ignominiously driven from the field, was forced to turn back and reached Delhi with the loss of half his guns and stores and half his force.

In 1804, Ritso was appointed Aide-de-Camp to the Marquess of Wellesley, then in the penultimate year of his Governor-Generalship. In 1806, he exchanged with Lord Arthur Somerset to the West India Regiment, and returning to England was appointed Major of Brigade at Kingsbridge in Devon. In July of the following year he sold out, and afterwards became Professor of Fortifications at Woolwich until 1823. Captain Ritso survived into his nineties and eventually died at Tunbridge Wells on 8 September 1866.

Ref: Modern English Biography (Boase); Historical Record of The 76th ‘Hindoostan’ Regiment (Hayden); War and Sport in India, 1802-1806, An Officer’s Diary (Pester).