A Much-Injured Man

William Tayler at patna

On the 28th of April, 1853, the Lieutenant-Governor of India, one Mr William Tayler received the following letter from Mr. Frederick James Halliday, Lieutenant-Governor to the Government:

” Alipore, 20th April 1855. ”
My dear Tayler,

” I have written to Dampier to come down as early as possible. He is, perhaps, somewhat unwilling to move just yet. But this unwillingness will doubtless give way when he knows that the public service requires him here. Should he move earlier, I shall appoint you to act till Stainforth arrives, which may be some time. You are at liberty to communicate with Dampier on the subject.

“Yours sincerely, ” Fred. Jas. Halliday

This little letter would change Tayler’s life. He had, in effect, been promoted to Commissioner of Patna.

Due to the very nature of the Patna Crisis and the subesequent ill-treatment of Mr Tayler (by the self-same Mr. Halliday) and who to this day has not received his due praise, it is only fitting now, 164 years later, to give him the accolades he so rightly deserves.

William Tayler had not intended to to India. He received his writership in 1829 as, of all things, a passing joke. While visiting a friend in Devonshire who was on the eve of travelling to India it happened to pass his friend’s father died. Leaving the young man a substantial fortune of £800,.- and thus relieving him of the necessity to travel to India to be “devoured by mosquitoes and and killed by cholera” the friend offered, in a passing remark, if Tayler would like to have his appointment instead. Seeing Tayler thought he was joking the young man fetched his mother.
“He then left the room, and in a minutes returned with his good mother, who confirmed what he had said; but added, that if I wished to accept the appointment I must make up my mind at ounce, as she considered it a point of honour to inform the Director who had given it, without delay of her son’s decision.”
The decision would change Tayler’s life forever.
“Often have I amused myself with the reflection that, but for this, which most would call, accident, had I not been at that house at that particular moment; had not my volatile friend been imbued with horror at the idea of mosquitoes and cholera, and not the appointment been held by the mother on conditions which enabled her to transfer it, I should never have seen India; never have met the wife with whom I have passed more than fifty years of uninterrupted happiness; the forty grandchildren whom I know possess would never have seen the light, and Patna would not have been endangered by my “violent an unwise proceedings” in the Mutiny of 1857.” The last sentence, as we shall later see, is meant ironically.
As soon as the Director’s consent was received, Tayler proceeded to London where he was duly be expected to sit an examination in lieu of going to Haileybury. The criteria was the same as if he was applying for admission to the college. Only 20 such slots were open a year for candidates who had not attended Haileybury but wished to join the Indian civil service and thus were highly sought after. To Tayler’s advantage, perspective writers were expected to be scholars of Greek and Latin, not that a knowledge of the classics would prepare the for life in India, but would ensure they were men of good status and character, in other words, “gentlemen.”

” Each candidate shall be examined in the Four Gospels of the Greek Testament, and
shall not be deemed duly qualified for admission to Haileybury College, unless he be found to possess a competent knowledge thereof; nor unless he be able to render into English some portion of the works of one of the following:
Greek authors,—Homer, Hcrodotus, Xenophon, Thucydides, Sophocles, and Euripides;
nor unless he can render into English some portion of the works of one of the following
Latin authors,—Livy, Terence, Cicero, Tacitus, Virgil, and Horace ; and this part of the examination will include questions in ancient history, geography, and philosophy.
“Each candidate shall also be examined in English history and geography, and in the elements of mathematical science, including the common rules of arithmetic, vulgar and decimal fractions, and the first four books of Euclid. He shall also be examined in the first part of Paley’s ‘ Evidences of Christianity.’ ” It is, however, to be understood, that supe-
rior attainments in one of the departments of literature or science, comprised in the foregoing plan of examination, shall, at the discretion of the examiners, be considered to compensate for comparative deficiency in other qualifications.”
(From “Real Life in India,” 1847)

Tayler himself had been educated at the Charterhouse. Although it is now a highly presitgeous school, during Tayler’s tenure it would appear the emphasis had been on the classics (his mother had hoped he would persue a career in the church!) with practically nothing given over to mundane subjects such as algebra.

“Having reached a somewhat advanced stage in Greek and Latin, my list of Classics was alarming, and it was hinted that, to some extent, I was humbugging the examiners. The consequence was, that I was subjected to an extra ordeal…In the test list was a paper in algebra. Now I had been educated at the Charterhouse, and had never learned either mathematics or algebra, and some thought on this account I might be spun. There was no help for it, however – algebra could not be learned in a day – so, when the paper came before me, I wrote, with many misgivings, on a seperate piece – ” I have never learned algebra;” then, underneath, I drew some absurd charicatures, and left the papers all together.”

The charictures left the examiners in fits of laughter and Tayler received his writership.

A few weeks later, outfit procured and passage booked on the fine ship “Victory”, 21-year-old William Tayler left England for his new life in India. On board ship was the lovely Miss Charlotte Palmer (daughter of J. Palmer one of the original “nabobs” of the EICo who would warrant a book of his own) who in a few short months would be William’s wife.

Ill-prepared as he was for life India, William was not without some connections. His eldest brother (William was the youngest of 17 children; his father had died when he was 4 years old) Archdale Wilson Tayler had been chaplain in India for some years and had returned to England when William was still a boy – but he gave William no practical advice and William was only struck by Archdale’s extreme politeness to women when he returned from his sojourn in the East! Another brother, Tom, had gone out to India as cadet in 1823 – but his eccentricities were “fabulous and he injured all his prospects in life by incessant practical jokes…He never wrote home to our mother for years after his departure for India, but suddenly one day, without the slightest warning, made his appearance in Hinde Street, where we then lived, and in answer to the general exclamation of astonishment, gravely said that the heat was oppressive, and the mosquitoes, so troublesome, he really could not stay in India! In reality, he had served through the first Burmese War, in which he was wounded.”

From the first, young William was given privillages seldom bestowed on a young writer. He lived the first few months with John Elliot, the nephew of Lord Minto, who happened to be on intimate terms with Lord William Bentinck – the Governor-General – and his wife, and his friend often took William with him to Government House, where he made a splash in society as fine amateur portrait painter. So pleased was Lady William with the young man’s drawings and his singularily polite character,commissioned several pictures not just of her self and her husband but of the viceregal staff and even requested a full-length portrait of William himself. Her “kind and considerate sympathy” allowed William to marry his beloved Charlotte, for, as her father had recently been ruined by the fall of the great house of Palmer and Co., he was unable to fund his daughter’s wedding. On his own salary, William could not dream of paying for a wedding, much less supporting a wife. The Bentnicks not only gave him £200.- to keep William from taking a loan from a moneylender he would have been unable to pay back, Lady Bentinck procured them a house in Fort William having already allowed them the use of a bungalow in the Goverment park at Barrackpore for their honeymoon. Lord Bentnick then informed William he would lend him “any sum of money required for extra expenses incurred by our marriage, without interest…” They married on the 17th of July, 1830, at St. John’s Church in Calcutta.

William’s first appointment, after the obligatory language examinations and a stint of work as a writer in Calcutta, was to Cuttack as Head Assistant. His career progressed through India – from Cuttack to Burdwan where he took the position of Magistrate and Collector (he would return to Cuttack 2 more times in his career), then to Howrah as First Magistrate, to Midnapore then to an appointment as a magistrate in Kishnaghur. He left the outstations for an appointment as Postmaster General in Calcutta in 1845, he then took up the position of judge in Shahabad, which eventually led to his appointment to Patna in 1855. The young man who had arrived 25 years ago in India armed with Latin and Greek had formed himself into a competent civil servant, a master of Indian languages and above all, had found in India a country he called now called home. His children had grown and had duly been sent to England to be educated before they returned to the land of their birth, two of his sons taking positions in the civil service and his daughters marrying civil servants and army officers. His eldest son, Skipwith would play his part in the mutiny but no participation would be as controversial as that of his father, the much-maligned, William Tayler.

William Tayler at Patna

When William and his wife arrived in Patna, they found the city a warren of small houses, narrow streets. It was in his estimation, “slovenly…and choked with dirt.” It was considered “a very sink of dissaffection and intrigue” yet all this said, William had finally acheived the most coveted position any civil servant could aspire to – he had his own division.

Pen and ink drawing of a street in Patna by Sir Charles D’Oyley, 1825

Patna was one of the largest cities in India, some six miles in length and boasted a population of more than 300’000. The Taylers were not expected to live in Patna itself – like the other European residents, they set up home west of the city proper, in Bankipore.

As Commissioner he would have control over all the districts in the Patna Division of which these are follows:

The Patna Division, it’s Districts and their Capitals (2nd column)


The size of the division at the time was 24’000 square miles and housed a population of over 5 million people.

All the civil offices with the exception of those under the judiciary, were under the orders and supervision of William Tayler, who also served as superintendent of the police and was “generally answerable for everything that occurs.” Should an emergency arise, his authority reigned supreme, even superceding that of the judges. He was charged with providing for the safety of all public property and for very lives of the civil servants in the districts – “In every crisis, in each emergency as it arose, all looked to me for instruction and counsel, any symptoms of causeless panic exhibited by me, would, under the circumstances, communicate itself to the entire province; any serious mismanagement might raise a district, or involve the inhabitants in destruction.” Only a man of considerable experience could take on such duties; as we have seen not all were equal to the task, however, William Tayler certainly was.

Unusually, William Tayler viewed the incidents in Barrackpore and Berhampore in early 1857 with much trepidation. Although India was still months away from all out mutiny, Tayler saw these two events as a precursor of things to come. He did not subscribe to Cecil Beadon’s theory of a “passing and groundless panic” and as the months passed, Tayler noticed a change in Patna. There was a strange restlessness in the air, patricularily as Patna was the headquarters of some notable Wahabi chiefs, he felt he had some valid reasons to worry. He viewed the mutiny at Barrackpore particularily as “the germs of a very political disease” and if not caught at the outbreak it would more likely than not spread to his division. Sympathy in Patna for the sepoys at Barrackpore was high – yet what even Tayler could not foresee was just how quickly he would find himself in the thick of things.

When the catastrophe that was Meerut occurred, Tayler realised, after the initial surprise, he would need to use what means he had at his disposal to secure his division. It was the 20th of May.
On that afternoon, Tayler received a letter from the Judge, Mr. R.N. Farquharson, that Major Nation, commanding the Behar Station Guards, had just returned from Dinapore and had found the situation in the countryside most unsatisfactory. The judge proposed Tayler immediately send all the treasure of Patna with all haste to Dinapore and inform all the Europeans of Patna Division to prepare “to rendezvous there, on the first real alarm, under the protection of the H.M.’s 10th Regiment and guns.”
This would have meant Tayler would have had to abandon Patna, a move which would have undoubtedly produced a fatal panic at a time when, in Tayler’s estimation, Patna was still secure.
Not willing to trust just Farquharson in this matter, Tayler called Major Nation to a meeting that very evening. Major North acquiesed to Tayler’s opinion and as such, Patna would not be abandoned.
Tayler proposed garrisoning his own house and appointing it as the place for a general rendezvous should the situation require. Situated on an open ground at a considerable distance from the bazaar, ithad an extensive flat roof that could easily be adapted for defense. Over the next few days, several other proposals came through, for this house and that house, and even the overly large opium godown was considered however this was eventually abandoned and finally Tayler’s house was selected as the final meeting point.

Opium godown at Patna

In the meantime, Tayler was contending with opposition from Calcutta. A dispute which had started 2 years previously over an proposal for national educational reforms which Tayler had gained much support for had been turned into a vendetta, spurred on by none other than the Lieutenant-Governor and a very unstable individual, Mr. Samuells Judge of the Sudder Court. It had been trifling argument in regard how Mr Tayler had managed to gain such wide support for his proposed reforms with certain people insinuating Tayler had coerced rather than allowed free support for his plans. Halliday never bothered to check if there was any truth to the accusations; he simply went along with what he was told by who ever said it. It had escalated to the point where, in 1857, Halliday proposed removing Tayler from the Commissionership – he was in his estimation, a civilian who thought too much about the people of India. Tayler rightly complained of the obvious character assassination that was being perpetrated against him in Calcutta. In May, Tayler wrote to Cecil Beadon:

But here is the screw. In the midst of all this, I hear, though not from the Lieutenant-Governor himself, that I have been, or am to be, removed to Burdwan. As this has been told to me, I doubt not it has been told to others, and will soon be bruited about. On what ground this removal is to be made God knows (though from the fact of Mr Garrett’s unfounded attack upon me I can guess), but putting aside all personal consideration, I deem it my positive duty to protest against any weakening of my authority or prestige at the present moment, when life, property, and all our dearest interests are at stake. However I may, in the estimation of some, have sinned by enthusiasm in a great cause, no one doubts the extent of my influence among the natives or their regard and respect for me, and I think I may appeal to all in the division, official and non-official, covenanted and un-covenanted (always excepting the small knot which has maligned me), for the assurance that, at this trying moment, I have their respect and confidence, and from my knowledge of the native character, my acquaintance and intimacy with so many of them, and the notorious fact that I have always striven to prevent any interference with their religious and social customs, I am in a position peculiarly suited to carry this great and now restless province through this present crisis. This is not the time for false delicacy or mock humility, and what I say I say under a deep and solemn sense of the gravity of the case.”

Cecil Beadon quickly replied that although that it had been contemplated, in the light of the current crisis, Tayler would remain in Patna. However the vendetta was far from over.

On the 7th of June, Tayler received a letter from the Deputy-Adjutant General at Dinapore, informing him there was “great excitement” in the lines and warned Tayler to be on his guard. Tayler quickly gave notice to all the European residents of Patna, with their families and servants to collect at his house. Some, including Farquharson, preferred the Opium Godown nothwithstanding its undenfensible position.
Towards evening, Major Nation arrived, bringing with him a letter he had been given by one his men who had been handed it by 2 sepoys from Dinapore. The man, providentially loyal to Major Nation, had given it to him who in turn brought it to Tayler.
The letter was from the sepoys and Dinapore and addressed to the police under Nation’s command, in effect telling them they were on their way to Patna and should with all haste prepare themselves and make ready the contents of the treasury. Had the letter been delivered elsewhere, this particular moment of history may have been turned out very different. The police were Patna’s only defensive force in an uprising and all told, had the 700 men turned against Tayler and the Europeans, slaughter would have been the inevitable outcome.
“However laudible the act of the men who brought these letters to their commanding officer, we could not help feeling that the letters themselves bore internal and unmistakable evidence of a previous understanding between the Nujeebs (native police) and the Sepoys. Such a proposal would never have been made off-hand and with previous concert; the delivery of the letter to Major Nation might have been caused by mistake, by the exceptional loyalty of a single man, by individual fear, or hopelessness caused by our preparations for defence….still the unpleasent sensation was left, communication had taken place with the Nujeebs! their support and cooperation was evidently expected by the mutineers and our lives were in their hands.”

Whether it was the general disquiet that unnerved Tayler in the last few days, he had, several days before the letter from the Deputy-Adjutant General at Dinapore, already sent off an urgent message to Captain Rattray and his Sikhs, then some thirty miles from Patna, to hasten to his aid. As soon as the letter was brought by Nation, Tayler once again sent off messages to Rattray, urging him to hurry.

Rattray’s Sikhs

A few words must be spared for this illustrious regiment.
The 1st Bengal Millitary Police Battalion or as they were better known, Rattray’s Sikhs, was raised in Lahore in 1856 by Captain Thomas Rattray, (of the 64th BNI) as an answer to policing the Santhal Parganas of Bihar following the 1855 mutiny. Legend has it Rattray went through the villages challenging men to wrestle with him. The Sikhs couldn’t resist the offer but the condition was that they had to join up. One such story is as follows:
‘On three successive mornings on the right of the line of hopefuls, stood a tall muscular bearded Sikh about 35 years of age. Three times was he passed over; this apparent contempt at last riled the gallant Sikh and he exclaimed aloud to the inspecting officer “Am I not worth taking?” ” You are too old, look at your beard.” “Are you any the worse for your beard?” was the indignant and unanswerable retort. “Take me into your room.” continued he, ” and I think you will write down my name.” The Sikh was accordingly taken inside the bungalow and not forgetful of the fancied insult that he was not deemed fit for a soldier on account of his age, he with considerable warmth and pride, pointed to three scars on his martial body. “These”, said he, ” are wounds received at Ferozeshah and Muridki, fighting against you. I was faithful to my salt then, do you think I would be false to you now; take me, and you will never regret it.” He was enlisted and whether the scars he showed were the result of honourable wounds received in the battlefield, or of boils, which his friends in the regiment always declared them to be, it was never proven. But one thing is for sure, that the commandant never regretted giving service to Hookum Singh, now a much respected Subadar (Sergeant) in No 1 Battalion of whose acts and doings more honourable mention shall be made hereafter.

They were trained as an elite corps, consisting of 100 cavalry and 500 infantry, divided as a class regiment with 50% Sikhs and 50% Dogras, Rajputs and Muslims from the Punjab and the North-West Frontier. They would do outstanding service during the mutiny earning the battle honour Defence of Arrah and Lieutenant Charles George Baker, commandant of cavalry for Rattray’s Sikhs would receive a VC in 1858.
Their history did not end with the mutiny. They would participate in several campaigns in the Northwest Frontier Provinces in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century and then in both World Wars. Today the Battalion is the 3rd Battalion Sikh Regiment (Rattrays Sikhs) and remains an active battalion in the service of the Indian Government.

In 1862 the regiment petitioned the government to be allowed to keep their name “Rattray’s Sikhs”

“Sir, – When the order of His Excellency the Govenor-General in Council was received, stating that the services of this corps, which has been known as “Rattray’s Sikhs,” would never be forgotten and that publicity should be given them in General Orders ………………………this embolded us to present the following petition, which we hope the Government will of their great Kindness be pleased to grant, namely that when the Regiment becomes a Line Corps, we may still continue to bear the name of “Rattray’s Sikhs.” Our reason for making such a request is that from the time Major Rattray raised the Corps, he has always treated us well and considered our comforts; we bear him great love on this account and gladly followed him to Bengal, when the Mutiny broke out, volunteered to fight the rebels and were faithful to our salt. Our humble petition now is that the Regiment may be allowed to bear his name, the hearing will always be a source of pleasure to us, and we shall consider that, in granting our request, the Government has showered fresh favour on us.”

The petition fell on favourable ears and the name was kept. It must be well remember that Captain Rattray’s son, Haldane Burney Rattray would command the battalion (then the 45th Rattrays Sikhs) from 1916 to 1917 and his grandson, Peter Hugh Rattray would be the last British commanding officer of the battalion and had the honour of handing over command to the the first Indian commanding officer in 1947.

Captain (later Colonel) Thomas Rattray

The fifth son of the late Dr. Rattray, of Daventry, Thomas received his first commission into the EICo in 1839. He joined the 64th Bengal Native Infantry seeing active service in Afghanistain under Major-General Sir G. Pollock in 1841. In 1842 the regiment served under Sir Charles Napier in Scinde. Rattray commanded the Ramgurh Irregular Cavalry in the Burma campaign, returning to Calcutta in 1853. As a reward for his services in Burma, Rattray was selected by Lord Dalhousie to officiate as Commandant of his Lordship’s Bodyguard.
On the 1st of March, 1858, Captain Rattray was promoted to the rank of Major in the army, and on the 10th of November in the same year was, as a reward for his services, appointed Inspector General of the Military Police Battalions in the Lower Provinces. Sickness forced Rattray to return to England on medical certificate but in 1861 he returned to India and took up his post again as Inspector of Police Battalions.
In 1864-Rattray’s Sikhs “were added to the Bengal Army as the “46th Regiment of Native Infantry'” and Major Rattray attained the rank of Brevet Colonel in 1870. For his gallant services he was rewarded by the Companionship of the Order of the Star of India, and later by the Companionship of the Bath. In 1876 Col. Rattray, C.B., C.S.I, returned to England. He died at Sherborne, Dorset, on the 21st October, 1880.

45th Rattray’s Sikhs during the Delhi Camp of Exercise, 1886

We can now return to events at Patna and shall turn our attention to events at Dinapore. In the next post, we shall continue to follow the work of Mr Tayler in Patna and those of his maligners in the Government at Calcutta, leading, as it would to his completely undeserved disgrace.

The Patna Crisis or Three Months at Patna During the Insurrection of 1857 – William Tayler (1858)
38 Years in India Vol I and Vol II- William Tayler Esq., (1882)
The Indian Mutiny of 1857 – Colonel G.B. Malleson, C.S.I. (1891)