James Outram 1st Baronet 1803 – 1863
October 09, 2011
James Outram 1st Baronet 1803 – 1863 was an English general who fought in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and is considered a British hero.
’… who in these his last days is quite a picture and a study to me. He talks very unreservedly of his past life…’ (Clement John Wilkinson, James John Garth Wilkinson; A Memoir of His Life, with a Selection of His Letters. (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, 1911). Page 42).
James Outram was the son of Benjamin Outram of Butterley Hall, Butterley, Derbyshire, a civil engineer. His father died in 1805, and his mother, a daughter of Dr James Anderson, the Scottish writer on agriculture, moved to Aberdeenshire in 1810. From Udny school the boy went in 1818 to the Marischal College, Aberdeen; and in 1819 an Indian cadetship was given to him.
Soon after his arrival at Bombay his remarkable energy attracted notice, and in July 1820 he became acting adjutant to the first battalion of the 12th regiment on its embodiment at Poona, an experience which he found to be of immense advantage to him in his after career. In 1825 he was sent to Khandesh, where he trained a light infantry corps, formed of the wild robber Bhils, gaining over them a marvellous personal influence, and employing them with great success in checking outrages and plunder.
Their loyalty to him had its principal source in their boundless admiration of his hunting achievements, which in cool daring and hairbreadth escapes have perhaps never been equalled. Originally a puny lad, and for many years after his arrival in Indiasubject to constant attacks of sickness, Outram seemed to win strength by every new illness, acquiring a constitution of iron, nerves of steel, shoulders and muscles worthy of a six-foot Highlander. In 1835 he was sent to Gujarat to make a report on the Mahi Kantha district, and for some time he remained there as political agent.
On the outbreak of the First Afghan War in 1838 he was appointed extra aide-decamp on the staff of Sir John Keane, and besides many other brilliant deeds performed an extraordinary exploit in capturing a banner of the enemy before Ghazni. After conducting various raids against Afghan tribes, he was promoted to major in 1839, and appointed political agent in Lower Sind, and later in Upper Sind (as part of the Bombay Presidency). Here he strongly opposed the policy of his superior, Sir Charles Napier, which led to the annexation of Sind. But when war broke out he heroically defended the residency at Hyderabad against 8000 Baluchis; and it was Sir Charles Napier who then described him as the Bayard of India.
On his return from a short visit to England in 1843, he was, with the rank of brevet lieutenant-colonel, appointed to a command in the Mahratta country, and in 1847 he was transferred from Satara to Baroda, where he incurred the resentment of the Bombay government by his fearless exposure of corruption.
In 1854 he was appointed resident at Lucknow, in which capacity two years later he carried out the annexation of Oudh and became the first chief commissioner of that province. Appointed in 1857, with the rank of lieutenant-general, to command an expedition against Persia during the Anglo-Persian War , he defeated the enemy with great slaughter at Khushab, and conducted the campaign with such rapid decision that peace was shortly afterwards concluded, his services being rewarded by the grand cross of the Bath.
From Persia he was summoned in June to India, with the brief explanation “We want all our best men here”. It was said of him at this time that a fox is a fool and a lion a coward by the side of Sir J. Outram. Immediately on his arrival in Calcutta he was appointed to command the two divisions of the Bengal army occupying the country from Calcutta to Cawnpore; and to the military control was also joined the commissionership of Oudh. Already hostilities had assumed such proportions as to compel Henry Havelock to fall back on Cawnpore, which he only held with difficulty, although a speedy advance was necessary to save the garrison at Lucknow.
On arriving at Cawnpore with reinforcements, Outram, in admiration of the brilliant deeds of General Havelock, conceded to him the glory of relieving Lucknow, and, waiving his rank, tendered his services to him as a volunteer. During the advance he commanded a troop of volunteer cavalry, and performed exploits of great brilliancy at Mangalwar, and in the attack at the Alambagh; and in the final conflict he led the way, charging through a very tempest of fire.
The volunteer cavalry unanimously voted him the Victoria Cross, but he refused the choice on the grounds that he was ineligible as the general under whom they served. Resuming supreme command, he then held the town till the arrival of Sir Colin Campbell, after which he conducted the evacuation of the residency so as completely to deceive the enemy. In the second capture of Lucknow, on the commander-in-chief’s return, Outram was entrusted with the attack on the side of the Gumti, and afterwards, having recrossed the river, he advanced through the Chattar Manzil to take the residency, thus, in the words of Colin Campbell, putting the finishing stroke on the enemy. After the capture of Lucknow he was gazetted lieutenant-general.
In February 1858 he received the special thanks of both houses of Parliament, and in the same year the dignity of baronet with an annuity of 1000l.. When, on account of shattered health, he returned finally to England in 1860, a movement was set on foot to mark the sense entertained, not only of his military achievements, but of his constant exertions on behalf of the natives of India, whose weal, in his own words, he made his first object. The movement resulted in the presentation of a public testimonial and the erection of statues in London (by sculptor Matthew Noble) and Calcutta. He died on the 11 March 1863, and was buried in the nave of Westminster Abbey, where the marble slab on his grave bears the poignant epitaph The Bayard of India.