Lot Archive


№ 261


29 November 1996

Hammer Price:

An important group of three to Captain T. B. Ryley, Bengal Commissariat Department, one of the European prisoners of Akbar Khan in Afghanistan
Ghuznee 1839 (Conductor) with original suspension; Maharajpoor Star 1843 (Actg. Depy. Afs. Comy. of Ordce., Delhie Magazine) fitted with original brass hook and silver bar suspender; Sutlej 1845-46, reverse Sobraon 1846 (Act, Depy. Asst. Com., Ord. Comt. Dept.) light contact marks, otherwise good very fine (3)

Thomas Baskerville Ryley was born in Dublin in 1798 and attested at Rochester, Kent, 7 March 1817, for unlimited service in the East India Company’s Artillery. He embarked for Bengal in the William Pitt arriving at Calcutta on 10 September 1817, where he was subsequently posted to the Bengal Horse Artillery. He served at the Siege of Hathras in 1817. Promoted Troop Sergeant Major, 17 June 1823; Sergeant Major 3rd Troop (Captain Rodber’s), 28 February 1824. Appointed a Sub-Conductor in the Bengal Ordnance-Commissariat Department at Delhi in July 1825, and promoted to Conductor in September 1836.

He served with the Ordnance Department in Afghanistan and was present at the capture of Ghuznee and subsequently
witnessed the anihilation of the Cabul Force in 1842, becoming one of the European prisoners of Akbar Khan. The disastrous retreat from Cabul and the destruction of a force of 5,000 fighting men and upwards of 12,000 camp followers must rank as one of the darkest episodes in British military history. From first to last, the losses amounted to more than 100 British officers, six entire regiments of infantry, three companies of Sappers, a troop of European horse artillery, half the mountain train battery, nearly a whole regiment of regular cavalry, and four squadrons of irregular horse, besides a well stocked magazine. The story of the few surviving prisoners is well told in the published diaries of Lieutenant Eyre and Lady Sale. Ryley and his wife, Sarah, with two small children, are mentioned by both, as well as other contemporary accounts including Captain Mackenzie, Political Officer, of the Madras Army who wrote that some of the ladies “gave themselves great airs towards Mrs Riley [sic]”, which he thought “not only most unfeeling but absurd; Conductor Riley and his wife were very superior people, he being a gentleman’s son who had enlisted”. Sarah Ryley was in fact pregnant with child when taken by Akbar Khan, and was one of at least four wives who gave birth to babies during the period of captivity, which ended in September 1842 with the arrival of Generals Pollock and Nott at Cabul.

Ryley was present at the Battles of Maharajpoor in 1843, and Sobraon in 1846. In October 1848 he was granted a commission as Lieutenant on the Veteran Establishment after representations made on his behalf: ‘Begs to be advanced to the commissioned grade of Lieutenant on the Veteran Establishment. He has served upwards of thirty years, during 23 of which he has held a Warrant & he is represented by the Commander-in-Chief as one of the most deserving Warrant Officers in the service & highly meriting the distinction he solicits.’ This recommendation was duly approved by the Court of Directors of the East India Company who granted him a commission ‘In consideration of the long and highly meritorious services of Conductor Ryley, of his exemplary and gallant conduct when employed in the field, and of Government’s recommendation and that of the Commander-in-Chief in his favour, Court authorize Government to grant him a commission of Lieutenant on the Veteran Establishment from 9 October.’

In December 1848 he was directed to take charge of the Ferozepore Magazine, and the following year, to have charge of the surrendered and captured Sikh guns at Ambala. He assumed charge of the Magazine Depot at Lahore in 1852 and was made Captain in 1855. Ryley was next posted to the Gwalior Ordnance Depot in June 1857, and to proceed on service with a siege train from 2 November 1857. He was given charge of the Magazine at Cawnpore in July 1858 but died there on 24 September 1858.