17 September 2004
The rare medal for Kirkee awarded to Major Francis Hunter, 1st Madras Light Cavalry, captured the day following the action at Kirkee and imprisoned for five months in Wasota Fort, one of only five European recipients of this clasp
Army of India 1799-1826, 1 clasp, Kirkee (Cornet F. Hunter, 1st Cavalry) long hyphen reverse, impressed naming, good very fine and extremely rare
This lot was sold as part of a special collection, The Brian Ritchie Collection of H.E.I.C. and British India Medals.
Ex Glendining October 1939 and Biddulph 1951.
Only five Kirkee clasps to European recipients, the only other officer being Cornet Morison, 2nd Light Cavalry (qv), who was captured along with Cornet Hunter. The other three recipients must have been wounded or sick to have missed the action at Poona.
Francis Hunter was the younger son of John Hunter, Writer to the Signet (a judicial officer in Scottish law who prepares warrants, writs, etc.) and was born in Edinburgh on 10 May 1792. He was admitted to the Madras Establishment in 1809 and appointed Cornet on 19 September 1811. In November 1812, he was posted to the 1st Cavalry and in 1815 became Acting Quartermaster. On the eve of the Third Mahratta (Pindarry) War, he was appointed to the Poona Auxiliary Horse. In 1817 the Governor-General, Lord Hastings, declared his intention to hunt down the Pindarries in the Deccan and invited the Mahratta princes to join him. It was, however, a diplomatic fiction that the great princes did not connive at the crimes of their own licensed robbers, the Pindarries, and at the isolated Mahratta capital of Poona, agents of the Peshwa, Baji Rao, began to stir up trouble by disseminating seditious propaganda among the Sepoys of the small British garrison. The British Resident, Mountstuart Elphinstone, having uncovered various plots against his life hatched by the Peshwa, knew that the small number of Company troops at hand were encamped in a vulnerable and indefensible position, but he had to refrain from doing anything that might suggest that war was inevitable until he knew the outcome of machinations at Scindia’s court at Gwalior. After living on the brink of destruction for many days, British reinforcements arrived in the shape of the Bombay Europeans and Elphinstone ordered the garrison to a stronger position four miles away at Kirkee, though he himself remained at the Residency. Then finally, on 5 November, the Peshwa, ‘confused by the fumes of indolence and debauchery and by the conflicting counsel of soothsayers and astrologers’, launched his army of 26,000 men against the 3,000 British and Indian troops under Elphinstone and Colonel Burr at Kirkee.
Meanwhile, apparently unaware of events at Kirkee, Hunter, accompanied by Cornet James Morison (qv) of the 2nd Madras Cavalry, and a party of one Havildar and twelve Sowars, was ‘travelling near Poona’ and arrived at Worlee which lay some twenty miles from the city. Here they were surprised by ‘a strong party of the Peshwa’s troops consisting of some hundred horse and some Arabs’. Hunter and Morison were offered safe conduct to the ‘British Camp at Poona’ but declined the ‘advantage, by which their followers who had claims to their protection, could not benefit’. Taking up a position in a choultry they constructed ‘a breastwork of their baggage’ and ‘defended themselves with honourable perseverance against a vast superiority of numbers for several hours.’ At length, Hunter’s detachment, reduced in strength by several casualties, ran out of ammunition, and was obliged to surrender after ‘the enemy got to the top of the building which they occupied and fired upon them, through holes made in the roof, when further resistance was evidently unavailing.’ The Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Deccan later recorded in General Orders, dated 11 January 1818, that ‘the loss to the enemy was four times the original number of this small party.’
The Havildar and Sowars were not detained but Hunter and Morison were made prisoners. For some days their fate remained uncertain, and at one stage they were believed to have been ‘murdered in cold blood’, but, by 23 November, Elphinstone had ascertained that they were in the custody of the treacherous Goklah, who had been largely responsible for the Peshwa’s attack at Kirkee, and who had fought on the British side at Assye in 1803, where Elphinstone had also been present.
‘...they were first in the charge of Major Pinto [an adventurer], who is said to have treated them well, and resisted Goklah’s orders to use them with severity, but before the Peshwa’s flight they were put in chains, and sent to Goklah’s fort of Kangoree, in the Concan.’ Later, Hunter and Morison were moved to the fort of Wasota, where they were held until 6 April 1818 when that stronghold fell to Major-General Pritegler. Thereafter, Hunter joined the pursuit of the Peshwa, and resumed his service in the Deccan with the 2nd Division. He was specially employed by Brigadier-General Lionel Smith, who had reinforced Burr after Kirkee, ‘with a party of horse, in giving escort to the stores for the siege of Malligaum [and] subsequently in Gunteroy and Candeish.’ On the cessation of hostilities in June 1818, Hunter continued with the Poona Auxiliary Horse until obliged to return to Europe for a period of three years on account of his health which had no doubt suffered during the 15 months of his imprisonment.
Promoted Lieutenant in September 1818, he returned to duty in 1823 and took charge of a recruiting party for the 1st Light Cavalry at Arcot. In the late 1820’s he was principally engaged in breeding horses for the Remount Department, a task for which he was ‘peculiarly qualified’. He advanced to the rank of Captain in 1829 and in 1835 reformed the Mysore Sillardar Horse. In 1837, he participated in the suppression of the Coorg rising in Canara, and was thus noticed in the narrative of proceedings concerning the rebellion: ‘Captain Hunter with a small body of Mysore Cavalry, Infantry and Peons dispersed a body of insurgents who occupied the road between Oochingly and Bisly and broke the stockade which they had erected.’ He afterwards received the Thanks of the Government of India for the ‘zeal and ability displayed by him on the occasion of the recent insurrection in Canara’ (Calcutta Gazette 21 June 1837). In 1838, Hunter resigned from the office of Military Assistant to the Commissioner of Mysore, and in January 1839 sailed for England. In 1840 he finally received the necessary papers from India which enabled him to claim his rightful Cornet’s share of the Deccan Prize, previously denied to him on account of his imprisonment and the unexpected death of the commanding officer of the Poona Auxiliary Horse. Hunter retired from the service with the rank of Major later the same year.
Refs: East India Registers 1817-18; IOL L/MIL/11/40; IOL L/MIL/9 Vol 144 & Index; IOL L/MIL/5/44; IOL L/MIL/11/1; GO C-in-C 11/1/1818; IOL L/MIL/3/1151 Madras Military Letters; IOL L/MIL/5/44 Medal Roll.