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№ 109


17 September 2004

Hammer Price:

The Indian Mutiny medal to General Sir Richard Meade, K.C.S.I., commanding Meade’s Horse 1857-60, who orchestrated the capture of Tantia Topi in 1859, and was later Resident Governor of Hyderabad

Indian Mutiny 1857-59, 1 clasp, Central India (Captn. R. I. Meade, Meade’s Horse) very fine and rare £1200-1500

Following the capture of Delhi by the British, there was considerable fear that the rebels might next concentrate on Agra and put the fort’s defences to the test. Consequently, urgent appeals went out to Greathed’s Column, which arrived early on the morning on 10 October only to be attacked almost at once by mutineers of the Gwalior Contingent. Meade took part in the battle of Agra but did not go on with Greathed’s force to Cawnpore and Lucknow. Instead he set about raising his own irregular cavalry regiment, around a nucleus of 100 Sikhs and Punjabi Mussulmans. To these were added some 85 Eurasian and Native Christians, chiefly drummers and bandsmen, who were total strangers to horses. At the start of 1858 Meade gained an assistant for drilling and instructing purposes in the shape of Sergeant Hartigan of the 9th Lancers, who had won a V.C. for gallantry at Delhi and at the battle of Agra. By the end of January Meade’s Horse was some 600-strong, but as many of the recruits were destitute it proved impossible to set up the regiment on the silladar system, whereby each man had a financial stake in the corps. Meade therefore prevailed on the Government to advance the men the price of their horses, which was to be recovered by monthly cuttings from their pay. He also tried to obtain special allowances for the Eurasian members, who were accustomed to a somewhat higher standard of living than their purely Indian comrades; but here he was unsuccessful, and it was nearly always the case that these members of that unhappy breed were nearly always in debt.

In early June 1858, after a string of defeats at the hands of Sir Hugh Rose’s Central India Field Force, the rebel leaders, Tantia Topi, the Rani of Jhansi, and Rao Sahib, conceived a bold plan to rekindle the flame of rebellion. They marched with 11,000 men and twelve guns on Gwalior, the seat of the Maharajah Scindia, in the hope that his army, still consisting of 2,000 loyal men of the Gwalior Contingent, might be persuaded come over to the rebels’ side. The Maharajah opposed them near Morar, but after firing only one round his guns were captured, and this induced his army to declare for the rebels. His bodyguard remained loyal, but he and they were soon put to flight and forced to flee to the safety of Agra, leaving his capital in rebel hands.

Scindia’s treasury was plundered by Tantia Topi and his priceless pearl necklace was purloined by the Rani of Jhansi. When news of the fall of Gwalior to rebel forces became known, British columns closed in from all sides, and after Rose’s successful action at Morar and the battle at Kotah-ki-serai, where the Rani of Jhansi, wearing her newly acquired necklace, was mortally wounded, Meade was sent to Agra with a wing of his regiment to bring Scindia and his consort, the Maharani, and his adoptive mother, the Baiza Bai, back to the Gwalior area, where he arrived on 18 June.

Owing to his knowledge of the locality, Meade was then appointed acting Aide-de-Camp to Sir Hugh Rose, who next day cleared the rebels from Gwalior. The palace however was still occupied by a number of men who had gone over to the rebels during Tantia Topi’s occupation, and in the hope of averting further bloodshed Meade volunteered to go forward and parley with them. ‘My life was certainly in imminent peril,’ he later wrote, ‘for several muskets were levelled at me, and a single shot from the Europeans in the rear would have ensured my destruction.’ At length, Meade was recognised by an old Mussulman who cried out “This is Meade Sahib”, and after some debate the palace was handed over.

Next day, Meade was ordered to proceed with a reinforcement of 500 cavalry, including two squadrons of Meade’s Horse, and catch up with the cavalry, under Napier, which Rose had sent in hot pursuit of the rebels. Despite the superior size of the rebel force, 10,000 with 25 guns, Napier attacked at Jowra-Alipur before Meade arrived and effected a perfect rout of the enemy. This duty prevented Meade from attending the banquet which the Maharajah insisted on giving in gratitude for being restored to his throne. His gratitude was pronounced and lasting. When Lord Northbrook visited Bombay in 1872, a far grander banquet was given, at which the Maharajah in returning thanks after his health had been proposed said there were three things for which he was grateful to the British Government. The first was that the British had re-established the throne after the Gwalior Campaign in 1844; the second was that his state had been saved by British forces during the Mutiny; and the third was that ‘Meade Sahib’ had saved his palace.

In 1859, Meade was appointed to the command of a field detachment and joined the hunt for Tantia Topi. For nine months the rebel leader evaded his pursuers and eventually crossed into Nagpur with Rao Sahib. A dispute between Man Singh and his overlord, the Maharajah Scindia, brought the former into conflict with the British, and in March 1858, Man Singh surrendered to Meade, who then set about persuading him to betray his ally Tantia Topi and thereby gain the support of the Government in his efforts to reclaim lands confiscated by Scindia. By early April, Meade was hot on the heels of Tantia Topi, and finally gained Man Singh’s co-operation. Meade later wrote: ‘I had the utmost difficulty in bringing him to the point of consenting to betray him and enable us to catch him; at length, on the afternoon of the 7th April, he agreed to put him in my hands. Much caution was necessary as Tantia Topi had spies in my camp, and I could not therefore send an officer or European troops upon this duty; I selected therefore a party of the 9th Bombay N.I. under an intelligent native officer, and despatched them into the jungle that evening, and, under Man Singh’s direction, they captured Tantia Topi and brought him a prisoner into my camp by sunrise the following morning.’

Under the pretence of wishing to consult him about the advisibility of joining forces with Firuz Shah, whom Colin Campbell had recently driven out of Rohilkhund, Tantia Topi granted Man Singh an interview. After a long talk Tantia Topi lay down to sleep and at that moment Man Singh gave the signal for the soldiers to pounce, and thus the most resourceful of all the rebel commanders fell into British hands. Meade convened a Court-Martial at Sipri, under the presidency of Colonel Arthur Scudamore (qv), by which Tantia Topi was tried and sentenced to death. Tantia Topi made a long and voluntary statement, in which he maintained that he had committed no murders and that as a Mahratta he had merely carried out the wishes of his master, Nana Sahib, the Peshwa of Bithur. At the execution on 18 April 1859, before a large number of spectators, Meade read out the charge and the sentence that he be hanged by the neck until he was dead.

For services in the Mutiny, Meade was mentioned in despatches by Sir Hugh Rose, received the thanks of the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Clyde, and received a Brevet Majority for his services at Gwalior. He commanded Meade’s Horse until 1860, when he entered civil employ as Political Agent at Gwalior, but without losing his military rank and position. Meade’s Horse was subsequently amalgamated with Mayne’s and Beatson’s Horse to become the famous Central India Horse. In 1861, he became the Governor-General’s Agent in Central India. In 1862 his name was transferred to the rolls of the 10th Bengal N.I., and two years later he was posted Lieutenant-Colonel in the Bengal Staff Corps. In 1866 he was made a Companion of the Star of India and four years later was advanced to the rank of Knight Commander in the Order. In 1870 he was appointed Commissioner of Mysore and Coorg. Promoted Major-General in 1881 he retired as Resident Governor of Hyderabad and withdrew to Europe, residing at first on the Continent before moving to 65 Queen’s Gate, Kensington. Major-General Sir Richard Meade died at Hyeres, South of France, on 21 March 1894.

Refs: IOL L/MIL/9/187; General Sir Richard Meade and the Feudatory States of Central & Southern India (Thornton); The Great Mutiny (Hibbert); The Rebellious Rani (Smyth); The Revolt in Hindustan 1857-1859 (Wood); The Times.