Brigadier-General John Nicholson

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Nicholson, John, Brigadier-General, son of an Irish physician, Dr. Alexander Nicholson, was born in Dublin, 11th December 1821. He lost his father when eight years old, whereupon his mother removed to Lisburn, and most of his education was received at Dungannon School. In 1837 he obtained an appointment as ensign in the Indian army, and joined the 41st Native Infantry at Benares. He took part in the Affghan war, in 1842, saw some severe fighting, and endured a miserable captivity of some months. On the 6th November in the same year his brother Alexander was killed in action in India. In 1846 he was appointed one of two military instructors to Gholab Singh's army in Cashmere, and next year assistant to Sir Henry Lawrence, Resident at Lahore. There his great executive abilities became apparent, and he was entrusted by his chief with several important missions.

In the spring of 1848 the Sikh war broke out, and he specially distinguished himself at Attock and the Margulla Pass. His services at Chillianwallah and Guzerat were fully acknowledged in Lord Gough's dispatches. In 1849, when the Punjaub became a British province, Captain Nicholson, then but twenty-eight, was appointed a Deputy-Commissioner under the Lahore Board, of which Sir Henry Lawrence was President. In 1850 he left for home on furlough-on his way engaging in an unsuccessful plot to liberate Kossuth from captivity in a Turkish fortress. On his return to India next year, he was reappointed to his old post in the Punjaub, and did good service as an administrator and governor for several years. The breaking out of the mutiny in May 1857 found him Colonel Nicholson, at Peshawur. He acted with the greatest promptitude, removed a large treasure to a place of safety, dismissed some native regiments under circumstances that required consummate tact and decision, and at Murdan, on 25th May, helped to put to rout a force of the mutineers. On this occasion he was fully twenty hours in the saddle, traversed not less than seventy miles, and cut down many fugitives with his own hand.

On 22nd June he took command of a movable column for the relief of Delhi, annihilated a large force of the enemy at Trimmoo, and effected a junction with the small band of British at Delhi on 14th August. Ten days afterwards he fought the battle of Nujufgurh, in which between 3,000 and 4,000 of the mutineers were slain. Already he had been created Brigadier-General. On 14th September, while heading an attack on a Sepoy position, he was mortally wounded; and died on the 23rd (1857), aged 35. Sir John Lawrence, writing a few weeks later to his brother, Lieutenant Charles Nicholson, who lost a foot in the same engagement, said: "His loss is a national misfortune;" and he remarked in a despatch: "He was an officer equal to any emergency... His services since the mutiny broke out have not been surpassed by those of any other officer in this part of India." Brigadier-General Nicholson, like his friend and fellow-countryman Sir Henry Lawrence, who fell shortly before him, was of a deeply religious cast of mind. He was never married. A pension of £500 a year was granted by the East India Company to his mother; and it was officially announced that had he survived he would have been created a Knight Commander of the Bath.

Sources

169a. Indian Officers, Lives of: John W. Kaye, F.R.S. London, 1867.

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