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Sir James Outram, 1st Baronet GCB KSI (29 January 1803 – 11 March 1863)


James Outram only gets two brief mentions in the story, and yet he was one of the major figures of the Mutiny, another of those larger than life Victorian military men for whom India was virtually their whole life.


He was born in Butterley, Derbyshire, but when, aged three, his father died, his mother returned to her native Aberdeenshire in Scotland. Outram received a local education at Udny school, then spent a year at Marischal College, part of the University of Aberdeen and, aged 16, gained an Indian cadetship. His arrival at Bombay (Mumbai) sparked the beginning of a successful military career, made all the more remarkable for the fact that, as ‘puny’ lad, he was prone to catch every tropical ailment going. Perhaps his frail health was the spur to over-achieve in his youth, and within a year his enterprise and application earned him the post of acting adjutant at Poona, the ‘monsoon capital’ of the Bombay Presidency, since its annexation by the Est India Company in 1817.


Accounts of the time point to Outram’s exertions to overcome every illness, each of which seemed to leave him stronger until he was described as having, ‘nerves of steel, shoulders and muscles worthy of a six-foot Highlander’. As part of his rigorous regime towards becoming a worthy Highlander, young Outram took up big game hunting in the wooded hills of the Khandesh region of central India, where he trained light infantry troops formed from the Bhils tribesmen. Although considered ungovernable, his hunting exploits and wilingness to throw himself into dangerous situations, often escaping by the skin of his teeth, earned him the respect and admiration of his wild troops.


Outram was sent as a political agent to the Mahi Kantha princely states of the Gujarat Division of the Bombay Presidency in 1835, after another of the regular outbreaks of civil unrest among the Bhils called for his skills in dealing with the unpredictable tribesmen. He remained there for three years before being recalled and appointed an aide-de-camp (ADC) to Sir John Keane, commander of the British and Indian troops in the First Afghan War (1839–42). During the conflict, he led raids deep into enemy territory and undertook long treks in Afghan dress to gain intelligence. These reported adventures made a thinly disguised Outram a hero of many boys’ stories.


By now a skilled political agent, Outram was active in both Lower and Upper Sind, where he clashed with his superior, Sir Charles Napier, over the latter’s harsh taxation policies. But when Sind was unilaterally made a part of the Bombay Presidency, and the local Baluchis rose up, Outram’s heroic defence of the residency at Hyderabad led Napier to dub his junior ‘The Bayard of India’, a reference the bold magic horse of medieval European romantic legend. He saw further service as a lieutenant-colonel in Mahratta country, incurred the wrath of the Bombay government for uncovering official corruption. In 1854, he was appointed resident at Lucknow and over the next two years undertook the annexation of Awadh.


Ironically, at the time when he would have been most needed, Outram was despatched to Afghanistan again to take command of forces fighting the Persians. The Anglo-Persian War (November 1857–April 1857) – sparked when Persia attempted to retake the city of Herat – only lasted six months, thanks to Outram’s speedy campaign, aided by Sir Henry Havelock. The ink had barely dried on the peace treaty before Outram and Havelock were recalled to India. The Mutiny had begun. Landing at Calcutta, Outram was given command of the two divisions of the Bengal army occupying the country between Calcutta and Kanpur. He was also given military control of Awadh, but in recognition of Havelock’s deeds in reaching Kanpur, conceded to his junior the glory of relieving Lucknow, offering his services as a volunteer. Throughout the conflict, his conduct in battles at Mangalwar, the Alumbagh and the final break through to the Lucknow residency led his troops to vote him the Victoria Cross, but this he declined, saying any such honour should go to the general commanding – Sir Henry Havelock.


Resuming command as Havelock became ill, Outram held the residency and arranged its evacuation in which Dick Warrener was engaged (Ned remaining behind at Kanpur). He was back at Lucknow for the final attack which defeated the rebels and recaptured the city, his force breaking through to retake the residency. As Sir Colin Campbell said: ‘He put the finishing stroke on the enemy.’ In February 1858, he received the thanks of the British government and was made a baronet, returning to England in 1860. The climate and his constant fight against illness had taken their toll, and he died on 11 March 1863, to be buried with honours in Westminster Abbey, where his epitaph refers to him as ‘The Bayard of India’.

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Sir James Outram


Sir James Outram

Appears in Chapter 21