George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa: Serving the Empire [1st ed.] 9783030508333, 9783030508340

This book offers a detailed investigation of George S. White’s career in the British Army. It explores late Victorian mi

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George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa: Serving the Empire [1st ed.]
 9783030508333, 9783030508340

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-ix
Introduction (Stephen M. Miller)....Pages 1-14
The Start of a Military Career (1853–1878) (Stephen M. Miller)....Pages 15-39
Recognition in Afghanistan (1878–1884) (Stephen M. Miller)....Pages 41-69
The Making of a General: War and the Occupation of Upper Burma (1885–1889) (Stephen M. Miller)....Pages 71-102
On the Edge of Empire: Baluchistan (1889–1892) (Stephen M. Miller)....Pages 103-128
Commander-in-Chief, India: Administrator (1893–1898) (Stephen M. Miller)....Pages 129-158
Commander-in-Chief, India: Campaigns (1893–1898) (Stephen M. Miller)....Pages 159-191
The Outbreak of the South African War (1899) (Stephen M. Miller)....Pages 193-222
The Defender of Ladysmith (1899–1900) (Stephen M. Miller)....Pages 223-258
Ending a Career on the Rock (1900–1912) (Stephen M. Miller)....Pages 259-284
Conclusion (Stephen M. Miller)....Pages 285-289
Back Matter ....Pages 291-323

Citation preview

George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa Serving the Empire Stephen M. Miller

George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa

Stephen M. Miller

George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa Serving the Empire

Stephen M. Miller University of Maine Orono, ME, USA

ISBN 978-3-030-50833-3    ISBN 978-3-030-50834-0 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustrations: Historic Images / Alamy Stock Photo This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


A timely dinner with my wife, Jessica Miller, and Trina and Ian Beckett following the 2018 “Britain and the World Conference” held in Exeter, set me on the path to this project. I am very grateful to the Becketts for their hospitality and for the idea! I would like to thank John Laband, Edward Spiers, Rodney Atwood, Tim Bowman, and Douglas Peers for help along the way. Fransjohan Pretorius kindly read a draft of some of the chapters and provided valuable feedback. Daniel Whittingham was nice enough to share page proofs of his recent book on Charles Callwell when Covid-19 and the global pandemic shut down our University library and its lending services. I would also like to thank Michael Lang and Wendy Morrill, History Department, University of Maine, for their support. Dean Emily Haddad, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Clement and Linda McGillicuddy Humanities Center, University of Maine, provided important financial assistance, as did the family of Adelaide C. and Alan L. Bird. Mel Johnson, Greg Curtis, Deb Rollins, and Dean Joyce Rumery, Fogler Library, University of Maine, deserve a huge thank you for purchasing digital copies of the George White papers and for assisting in the acquisition of a number of texts. Emily Russell and Ruby Panigrahi at Palgrave Macmillan have been extremely helpful throughout the process and a delight to work with. The two anonymous reviewers provided substantial assistance at the start and close of this project. I also want to thank Jason Begy, who indexed the book. Thanks to the staff members of the British Library, the National Army Museum, The National Archives, the v



Ladysmith Siege Museum, the Devon Archives and Local Studies Service, the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, and the Public Records Office for Northern Ireland. Finally, I want to thank my boys, David and Max, who have been stuck in the house with me for the past four months and, lastly, Jessica, who makes everything better.


1 Introduction  1 2 The Start of a Military Career (1853–1878) 15 3 Recognition in Afghanistan (1878–1884) 41 4 The Making of a General: War and the Occupation of Upper Burma (1885–1889) 71 5 On the Edge of Empire: Baluchistan (1889–1892)103 6 Commander-in-Chief, India: Administrator (1893–1898)129 7 Commander-in-Chief, India: Campaigns (1893–1898)159 8 The Outbreak of the South African War (1899)193 9 The Defender of Ladysmith (1899–1900)223 10 Ending a Career on the Rock (1900–1912)259




11 Conclusion285 Bibliography291 Index305

List of Maps

Map 2.1 Map 3.1 Map 4.1 Map 4.2 Map 5.1 Map 7.1 Map 8.1

India, c. 1860. (Source: Author) Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1878–1880. (Source: Author) The Nile Campaign, 1885. (Source: Author) Burma, c. 1885. (Source: Author) Baluchistan, c. 1890. (Source: Author) North-West Frontier and Kashmir. (Source: Author) Northern Natal, 1899–1900. (Source: A Handbook of the Boer War, with general map of South Africa and 18 sketch maps and plans. London: Gale and Polden, 1910) Map 9.1 Siege of Ladysmith. (Source: A Handbook of the Boer War, with general map of South Africa and 18 sketch maps and plans. London: Gale and Polden, 1910)

22 46 75 84 108 161 210 228




On the afternoon of the 28th of February 1900, a small detachment of Imperial Light Horse and Natal Carbineers commanded by Captain Hubert Gough approached Ladysmith in the British colony of Natal in South Africa. A group of armed Boers situated on a low ridge of Umbulwane, a small mountain which dominated the nearby town, stood in their way. As “Long Tom,” the long range 155 mm Creusot gun which had terrorized the soldiers and civilians of the beleaguered town since late October 1899, opened fire, Gough was given an order by his superior, Lord Dundonald, to retire.1 Eager to make it to Ladysmith in part to see his brother, Captain John “Johnnie” Gough, VC, he “crumpled up the note,” pushed back the Boers, and rode the remaining three miles through open land to Ladysmith. No shots were fired. 1  Hubert Gough, Soldiering On (London: Arthur Baker, 1954), 75. In his own memoir, Dundonald refuted Gough’s two claims that there were Boers on the ridge and that he ordered Gough to retire. Instead, he asserted that since there was no Boer force to prevent his movement, he told Gough to “push on towards Ladysmith, I am supporting.” Dundonald, accompanied by Winston Churchill, arrived in Ladysmith shortly afterwards. Douglas Dundonald, My Army Life (London: Edward Arnold, 1926), 151. White does not mention Gough in his letters, only Dundonald, when he wrote to his sister Jane, from aboard the RMS Dunvegan Castle, “Was it not fine, Dundonald being the first of Buller’s force to ride into Ladysmith.” White to Jane White, 5 April 1900, White’s letters to his sister Jane White, Mss Eur F108/97(a)-(b)(c. 1845–1910), Papers of Field Marshal Sir George White, British Army 1853–1912, C-in-C, India 1893–98 (1845–1912), [GWP], India Office Record and Private Papers, British Library, London.

© The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




As Gough entered the town late in the afternoon, the appearance of his small force, full of health and looking nearly immaculate, contrasted sharply with the men of the Natal Field Force they were rescuing. The siege was in its 118th day and the material situation in the town had deteriorated significantly since the first of the year. Enteric fever or typhoid had spread and the number of casualties moved to the nearby hospital at Intombi was growing to alarming proportions. The population of over 12,000 soldiers and 8,000 civilians had been reduced to eating chevril, horse soup, to supplement their meager rations.2 Three failed British attempts to force the Tugela River resulting in defeats at Colenso, Spion Kop, and Vaal Krantz (Vaalkrans) had hurt but not crushed morale. Lieutenant-General Sir George Stuart White, VC, suffering from repeated bouts of fever, reduced rations, and the exhaustion of maintaining Ladysmith throughout the siege, emerged from his headquarters, the former town hall, and greeted Gough with a simple and understated, “Hallo, Hubert, how are you?”3 White then turned to the growing crowds and over the dim of the celebrating voices, H.H.S. Pearse, a special correspondent for the Daily News, who had endured the ordeals of the siege as well, heard White’s voice tremble with emotion as he spoke to his depleted force. “I thank you men, one and all, from the bottom of my heart,” he declared, “for the help and support you have given to me, and I shall always acknowledge it to the end of my life. It grieved me to have to cut your rations, but I promise you that I will not do it again. I thank God we have kept the flag flying.”4 No longer reliant on runners who were captured regularly by the Boers or the heliograph which could only function when the weather cooperated, congratulatory messages flooded into Ladysmith from around the British Empire. Queen Victoria’s telegram was one of the first to come through the wires. Friends and fellow officers like White’s primary benefactor, Field-Marshal Lord Roberts, and Major-General John French and Major Douglas Haig, both of whom had left Ladysmith just before it was  Gerald Sharp, The Siege of Ladysmith (London: Macdonald and Jane’s, 1976), 25.  Gough, Soldiering On, 78–9. White was well acquainted with the Gough family; he knew General Hugh H. Gough, VC, Hubert and John’s uncle, from the Second Anglo-Afghan War. There is no mention in White’s papers of the two brothers’ father, General Charles Gough, also a veteran of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. 4  H.H.S. Pearse, Four Months Besieged: The Story of Ladysmith being unpublished letters from H.H.S.  Pearse the ‘Daily News’ Special Correspondent (London: Macmillan and Co., 1900), 211. 2 3



invested, sent White their regards. Mayors and provosts from Liverpool to Edinburgh, and leaders of social clubs in New Zealand, Canada, Gibraltar, and Burma all chimed in. The Secretary of State for War, Lord Lansdowne, who White had developed a close working relationship with while serving as Commander-in-Chief in India when the former was Viceroy, messaged, “I cannot tell you what pleasure it gives me to know that your gallant defence which we have watched with so much admiration and sympathy has not been in vain. I know you have suffered seriously in health from the prolonged hardships and anxiety which you and the force under your command have borne bravely.”5 Lansdowne was correct: White was suffering physically and emotionally. He needed to go home. Although most of his officers remained in South Africa to continue the struggle against the Boers, after the siege was lifted, White immediately made his way to Cape Town to begin his voyage back to Great Britain. White had been to Cape Town only twice before. The first visit took place in 1854, when after his troopship, The Charlotte, sank off Algoa Bay with most of its crew, White was stranded in Cape Town for about a month while he awaited passage to Calcutta.6 The second time was perhaps even more tragic. After arriving on 3 October 1899, he met a “nervous and overdone” Sir Alfred Milner, the British High Commissioner in South Africa and Governor of the Cape Colony, at Government House.7 Assessing the situation as critical and one demanding his immediate attention, White abruptly left Cape Town and hurried to Natal. War began just a few days later on 11 October. This time, however, a visit to Cape Town brought White some much needed relief. There, he discovered a very kind gesture made by Roberts: Jack, White’s only son who was currently serving with the Gordon Highlanders, had been sent to accompany his father home. In mid-April 1900, White returned to Great Britain as the newly christened, “Defender of Ladysmith.”8

5  Lansdowne to White, Bound volume of telegrams to White congratulating him after the relief of Ladysmith, with notes of replies sent, initialed by Beauchamp Duff, White’s Military Secretary, Mss Eur F108/62 (Mar 1900), GWP. 6  White to James Robert White, 29 September, 18 October, and 31 October 1854, White’s letters to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Robert White, Mss Eur F108/96 (1854–1870) GWP. 7  White to John White, 6 October 1899, White’s letters to his brother, John White, Mss Eur F108/98(a)-(c) (1857–1910), GWP. 8  See, for example, Western Morning News, 16 April 1900, Newspaper cuttings relating to the War in South Africa, Mss Eur F108/72 (1899–1905), GWP.



Yet despite a long and commendable career which included a Victoria Cross awarded in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, command of the Upper Burma occupation force in the late 1880s and Zhob Field Force in 1890, and, as successor to Lord Roberts, Commander-in-Chief in India, White is a relatively unknown figure today. There are a few places where White is memorialized, commemorated, and remembered. There is a statue of a mounted White in Portland Place in London; a headstone at his family plot in the First Presbyterian Church’s cemetery in Broughshane, Northern Ireland; and a number of placards and photographs in the Siege Museum in Ladysmith, South Africa. But White remains largely a forgotten figure of British imperial military history. Some of this is due in part to the lack of scholarly work on the subject. There has only been one biography to date. The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White was written by Mortimer Durand, his friend, colleague, and Indian official noted for the 1893 negotiations with Abdur Rahman, the Afghan Amir, which produced the “Durand Line,” the boundary between Afghanistan and India’s North-­ West Frontier. It would not be fair to call Durand’s 1915 biography a hagiography; it is a thorough account of White’s life in two volumes, well-­ written, and based largely on White’s personal correspondences with his family members.9 Yet, written just after White’s death, and supported by White’s wife, Amy, it shies away from controversy and makes no attempt to portray him in any but the most positive light. Perhaps the main reason why White has largely been forgotten is because the siege of Ladysmith was something Great Britain did not want to remember. Although praised as the man who saved the town and its garrison and kept the Boers from organizing a successful invasion of Natal, White was also criticized for making the decisions which led to his force getting stuck in Ladysmith in the first place. To make things worse, even before the South African War ended, White became embroiled in a scandal over messages sent between he and General Sir Redvers Buller, the former Commander-in-Chief of British forces in South Africa, as to Ladysmith’s ability to hold out against the Boers’ investment. Although publicly White remained silent through it all, (privately, his letters show a very frustrated individual unable to defend himself), and Buller was largely blamed, eventually being dismissed from the army, the incident convinced many that the event was best forgotten. Leo Amery’s colorful, multi-volume series, 9  Mortimer Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, 2 volumes (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1915).



The Times History of the War in South Africa, was very critical of White.10 And the Earl of Elgin’s 1903 hearings which produced the significant report of the Royal Commission on the South African War also raised concerns about some of White’s decisions.11 Perhaps ironically, as the status and reputation of the much younger “Hero of Mafeking,” Sir Robert Baden-Powell, grew in the years to come, that of the “Defender of Ladysmith” shrank. White’s career in the military, however, merits further investigation. Although a member of Roberts’ ring or circle of close associates, as opposed to Lord Wolseley’s rival Ashanti Ring, he never identified as such, establishing professional contacts on both sides of that often, overstated divide. For much of his long career he was a regimental officer—first, as a junior officer with the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment and later, with the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders) Regiment which he joined in 1863 after exchanging for a captaincy, and eventually served as Colonel of the Gordon Highlanders regiment. Although it was Roberts that he owed the most to in gaining promotion and securing positions, it was Wolseley who gave him his first staff position as an Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster-­ General in the force sent to Sudan to save Charles Gordon at Khartoum.12 For most of his later career, however, White saw Wolseley as a hindrance to advancement rather than as a supporter. “Little Bobs” and his wife, Lady Roberts, continued to remain loyal to White. White made his name in Afghanistan at Charasiab (Char Asiab) and Kandahar in 1879–1880, but he really came into his own and left his mark in Burma where he served first in General Harry Prendergast’s expedition to Upper Burma in 1885 and later as commander of the British occupation force between 1886 and 1889. From there he went to Quetta, where, working alongside the very influential British agent, Robert Sandeman, he strengthened the British hold over Baluchistan (Balochistan) and extended their interests along the North-West Frontier. This part of Great Britain’s Indian empire, remained a focus of his attention when he succeeded Lord Roberts as Commander-in-Chief in India, and ordered expeditions to 10  L.S. Amery, ed., The Times History of The War in South Africa 1899–1902, 7 volumes (London: Sampson Low, Marston and Co., LTD., 1907). 11  Report of His Majesty’s Commissioners appointed to Inquire into the Military Preparations and Other Military Matters connected with the War in South Africa, 1903: cd 1789 xl, 1; cd 1790 xl, 325; cd 1791 xli, 1; cd 1792 xlii, 1. 12  White’s services were only requested after Khartoum had already fallen and Gordon had been killed.



Malakand, Chitral, and Tirah, the latter being the most substantial campaign to secure the region and establish a viable frontier with Afghanistan. As Commander-in-Chief, White oversaw some of the most significant reforms in the Indian Army since the Rebellion. After India, White expected his career to quietly end but with  war looming in South Africa, he was selected to secure the safety of the Natal colony. He achieved that goal, in part. As he always maintained after the war, had he abandoned Ladysmith and the colony north of the Tugela River, the Boers would have been able to launch an invasion into the south, endangering both Pietermaritzburg, its capital, and Durban, its chief port; a strategy which the Boers identified in the month leading up to the declaration of war as a necessary requirement to achieving a victory. When his part in the South African War ended, White went to Gibraltar and oversaw the reforms to the colony’s defenses made incumbent by the advent of longer-range naval guns. Largely a ceremonial position, White oversaw Kaiser William II’s visit just before and after his infamous speech in Tangier in 1905 which sparked the First Moroccan Crisis. His last years in command of the Royal Chelsea Hospital finally brought him the rest that he always longed for but routinely rejected in exchange for active service. An examination of White’s career provides much more than insight into these events and the Victorian army, in general. White was a prolific letter writer and note taker, both in his professional and personal lives. He saved copies of most of the letters and reports he wrote and did his best to save the ones he received. When he died, Amy White put a request out in newspapers for any materials related to her husband’s life to help with the biography which Durand later wrote. This treasure trove of papers eventually made its way to the India Office and is now housed in the British Library. A careful reading of White’s papers reveals an officer with well-­ informed and strong views on such issues as Great Britain’s forward policy in Afghanistan and the risks of war with Russia, the fiscal pressures of conducting military operations on the fringes of the empire, and the challenges of working side by side with civilian administrators in winning the “Hearts and Minds” of local people not fully incorporated into imperial governance. As Commander-in-Chief of India, White had to consider the value of martial race theory advocated by some of his fellow officers, the importance of investing in transportation and communication networks, the structural problems of the Presidency Armies, and the challenges which British legislation, such as the Contagious Disease Acts, could



create for local conditions. In addition, White’s correspondences show an officer, especially after the abolition of purchase, consumed with navigating personal and professional networks in order to advance his career and secure an improved position which could support both his ambitions and his family and estate. Finally, a study of White’s career can add to the literature on asymmetric warfare by examining the variety of so-called small wars which he participated in during the second half of the nineteenth century. Colonel C.E. Callwell’s significant work, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice referenced all of these conflicts from the hill warfare of Tirah to the bush warfare of Burma; and from the desert warfare of the Sudan to the varied terrain and climate of South Africa. As an officer, White participated in, as Callwell identified, campaigns of conquest, punitive expeditions, and wars of pacification and suppression. These included wars fought on foreign soil against a tangible force where there was a clear objective of defeating an acknowledged sovereign or overturning a government; expeditions where the goal was not to completely overrun the enemy but to decisively defeat its army in the field; and, internal campaigns against guerrillas where there was no central government, single authority, or organized army and where objectives might range from the destruction of crops and stores of grain to the raising of a village or, as Wolseley identified, “the capture of whatever they prize most and the destruction or deprivation of which will probably bring the war most rapidly to a conclusion.”13 White’s correspondences show an officer who was always assessing the martial abilities of his enemy and the challenges posed to his own force by technology,14 climate and terrain, and political and fiscal limitations. Because this project covers a historical period of over 50 years in length and spans multiple continents, it required an examination of a great deal of historiography but it could not hope to be exhaustive. Literature on the Victorian military has grown tremendously since the early 1970s in terms of reach and breadth. Military historians may have been a bit slow in incorporating the tools of social and cultural history, but when they did, the “New Military History” produced important works examining, among other things, institutions, social relationships, and racial and class 13  C.E. Callwell, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice, 3rd edition (London: HMSO, 1906; Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 1996), 19. 14  A notable example was the introduction of the expanding Mark IV bullet, the dum-dum, developed in India when White was Commander-in-Chief.



constructs which permeated all facets of the study of war and society and the military experience. No longer content with disseminating information through monographs and a few peer reviewed journals, military historians have found new outlets for their work, particularly through specialized conferences, the growing number of high-quality journals, and open source media, which have promoted important discussions. This work relies heavily on White’s personal papers. In order to avoid the challenges associated with the problems that brings, as I learned when writing Lord Methuen and the British Army more than 20 years ago,15 a thorough examination of the secondary literature has been critical to this project to validate personal claims, to provide historical context, and to re-examine how letter-writing and journaling explicitly or implicitly creates bias. Exemplary studies of military figures exist and this work is indebted to them. Although the secondary literature of the Victorian military and empire is referenced throughout this book, it is important to make note of a few key texts and historians here. Edward Spiers’ The Army and Society, 1815–1914 and The Late Victorian Army 1868–1902 served as important reference works throughout the process of writing this book.16 Spiers’ knowledge of the institution of the Regular Army, the relationship of the civil (Secretary of State for War) and the military (Commander-in-Chief of Forces), the Cardwell reforms, the regimental system, and other topics, is comprehensive. Ian Beckett’s many works on the Victorian Army but A British Profession of Arms: The Politics of Command in the Late Victorian Army with its emphasis on networks and personal and professional relationships, in particular, provided an essential framework for understanding White’s place in the British officer corps.17 Just as contemporary British officers like Wolseley and Buller often viewed the Indian Army as a world apart, White’s long career in India involved not just a thorough investigation of the British Army but research 15  Stephen M. Miller, Lord Methuen and the British Army: Failure and Redemption in South Africa (London: Frank Cass, 1999). 16  Edward M. Spiers, The Army and Society, 1815–1914 (New York: Longman, 1980), and, The Late Victorian Army 1868–1902 (London: St. Martin, 1992). 17  Ian Beckett, A British Profession of Arms: The Politics of Command in the Late Victorian Army (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018); also see The Victorians at War (London: Hambledon and London, 2003), and “The Third Anglo-Burmese War and the Pacification of Burma, 1885–1895,” in Queen Victoria’s Wars: British Military Campaigns, 1857–1902, ed. Stephen M. Miller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,  2021).



into the geopolitics of the subcontinent, the racial, religious, caste, and regional variations in manpower and recruitment, and the demands and needs of its military at home and abroad. The works of Douglas Peers, David Omissi, Kaushik Roy, and T.R, Moreman were important to provide that knowledge.18 Brian Robson’s The Road to Kabul: The Second Afghan War 1878–1881 furnished invaluable information on Afghanistan as did Daniel Whittingham’s Charles E.  Callwell and the British Way in Warfare on late Victorian military theory.19 Finally, Fransjohan Pretorius’ analysis of the South African War is unsurpassed and his work provided great insight into Boer strategy and the Natal Campaign.20 This book is written largely as a military biography and therefore chapters will explore White’s life through a chronological narrative. However, the goal is not simply to update Durand’s biography. It is to use White to examine the many issues raised above which are crucial to understanding the late Victorian army and its role in extending and maintaining empire. It will also cast light on civil-military relations, British attitudes towards the people it ruled over, encounters with nature and meanings of frontier, as well as what Britishness meant to an Anglo-Irish Protestant landlord who spent most of his life outside of the British Isles. White’s career was so long and rich that it can be used to explore many facets of Victorian society. In an era of purchase, George Stuart White obtained his first commission without purchase after graduating from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in 1853. Chapter 2 will examine the formative years in White’s career when he was posted to India just before the start of the Rebellion of 1857–1858. He served primarily in the Punjab during this period, at cantonments and outposts in Sealkote (Sialkot), Umballah (Ambala), Fort Attock, Jullundhur (Jalandhar), and Mooltan (Multan), as well as  at  See Douglas Peers, “The Indian Rebellion, 1857–1858,” in Queen Victoria’s Wars; David Omissi, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army, 1860–1940 (London: Macmillan, 1994), Kaushik Roy, The Army in British India: From Colonial Warfare to Total War 1857–1947 (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013); and, T.R. Moreman, The Army in India and the Development of Frontier Warfare, 1849–1947 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988). 19  Brian Robson, The Road to Kabul: The Second Afghan War 1878–1881 (New York: Arms and Armour Press, 1986); and Daniel Whittingham, Charles E. Callwell and the British Way in Warfare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020). 20  Fransjohan Pretorius, Life on Commando During the Anglo-Boer War, 1899–1902 (Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, 1999). 18



Allahabad, Chakrata, and Simla (Shimla). White was restless, during these years, always worried about his next posting and seeking opportunities for advancement and promotion, concerns which he continued to share in his letters to home throughout his career. He saw others, like those who were sent to Crimea, as more likely to succeed in a military career and more than once considered returning to civilian life. Interestingly, it was only in these years which, in his letters, he displayed racial attitudes which historians have to come to expect of Victorians. In the years to follow, however, when his views were shaped by experience rather than the attitudes of his peers and superiors, White became remarkably open-minded for someone of his time and background. As a regimental officer who rarely heard a shot fired in anger, these years were filled with drill, order, and monotony. In late 1877, White’s regiment was posted to Sitapur. The Russo-­ Turkish War seemed to be heating up and by early 1878, White “hope[d] the 92nd will form part of any force going from India against the Russians.”21 The arrival of a British fleet in the Straits, however, was enough to bring Russia to the negotiating tables and no British troops were required. Disappointed, White took a leave of absence to return to Whitehall, the home he inherited in Broughshane, County Antrim, and to visit with his wife and 17-month-old baby. Afterwards, as he made his way back to India to rejoin his regiment in March 1879, a passing soldier told him that the 92nd was on its way to join Roberts’ column at Kurram, in preparations for an invasion of Afghanistan. Chapter 3 examines the Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1879–1880, the development of White’s relationship with his newly found benefactor, Roberts, and his actions at the battles at Charasiab and Kandahar which garnered him the Victoria Cross. Despite the laurels he gained from the military prowess and bravery he displayed in Afghanistan, White was still just a captain in the army and, to that point, had served for nearly 30 years. Things were, however, finally going to change. First, Wolseley offered him a staff appointment in 1885 in Sudan and then Roberts called him back to India where he was given command of a brigade in the Third Anglo-Burmese War, 1885. After the rapid defeat of Burmese troops, the seizure of Mandalay, and the removal of the Burmese king, Thibaw, White remained in Mandalay and eventually was given an independent command over all the troops in Upper Burma with the task of putting down the rebels, quieting the dacoits (bandits), and pacifying the newly annexed colony. Chapter 4 investigates the two and  White to John White, 4 January 1878, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.




half years White spent in Upper Burma where he honed his military and administrative skills while working alongside the British political agents, Charles Bernard and later Charles Crosthwaite, to allow for the transition from military to civilian control and to extend the frontier of Burma to the Chinese border incorporating Kachin, Chin, and the Shan states. White was eager to leave Burma after a couple of years, but Lord Dufferin, the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, as well as Roberts, the Commander-in-Chief, India, were reluctant to let him go. In return for remaining an additional year, White was given his choice of a number of open divisional commands: he chose Quetta. Chapter 5 looks at White’s three-and-half-year stint in Baluchistan from late 1889 to early 1893. As he had worked in Upper Burma with Bernard and Crosthwaite, White developed a close relationship with Robert Sandeman, the British agent in the region. The Sandeman system, in which the British attempted to rule through existing traditional institutions while securing the alliance of the local people by recruiting them through a system of tribal levies in order to preserve security, was already in place before White arrived. But with White’s support it was strengthened and White also began considering how it could be extended and utilized among the Pashtun tribes of the North-West Frontier.22 While in Baluchistan, White personally conducted the Zhob Valley expedition in 1890 which extended British control over the region. The Great Game, the political intrigue between Great Britain and Russia in Afghanistan and along the vast Central and Southern Asian frontier, was on the minds of many British officers serving in India during the late nineteenth century and White was no exception. The divisional command in Quetta greatly heightened his interest in it and when he succeeded Roberts as Commander-in-Chief, India in April 1893, it became a major responsibility of his to oversee British security in the region. Chapters 6 and 7 examine White’s five-year tenure at Snowdon and his working relationship with Lord Lansdowne and then Lord Elgin, who served as Viceroys during this period. White was busy with issues ranging from the introduction of new weaponry to the reform of the Presidency Armies and from the issue of promotion of Indian high caste officers to 22  Magnus Marsden and Benjamin D. Hopkins argue that the Sandeman system was the basis of General Gerald Templar’s “Hearts and Minds” campaign in Malaya in the early 1950s. See Marsden and Hopkins, Fragments of the Afghan Frontier (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 231.



the recruitment of Anglo-Indians. He also had to face the political and fiscal costs of Roberts’ aggressive forward policy. Furthermore, during this period, the frontier was anything but quiet. White was responsible for launching a number of expeditions to the North-West Frontier including those to Malakand, Chitral, and Tirah, the latter of which proved to be Great Britain’s largest in the region. In 1898, White returned home and briefly took up the post of Quartermaster-General to the British Forces. Chapters 8 and 9 focus on White’s brief period of command in South Africa in 1899–1900. In some ways the selection of White as Commander of the Natal Field Force was inspired; in other ways, it was short-sighted. White possessed much more experience both as a brigadier and as an administrator in a war-zone than did his counterpart in the Cape Colony, General Sir F.W. Forestier-Walker. He was also not beholden to Wolseley, the Commander-in-Chief of British forces, or to Buller, who only departed Great Britain after war was declared. Lansdowne could trust that White would not only do his duty but would keep him in the loop. But unlike Buller or General Lord Methuen, who arrived in November to take command of the British 1st Division which was ordered to relieve Kimberley, White had never served in South Africa. When his regiment was sent out in early 1881 to take part in the First Anglo-Boer War and tragedy struck at Majuba Hill, White was in Calcutta, serving as military secretary to the Viceroy, Lord Ripon. All his efforts to join his men afterwards failed despite Ripon’s advocacy. The Duke of Cambridge, Commander-in-Chief of British Forces from 1856 to 1895, believed it would be an “injustice to other majors.”23 At the start of the South African War, therefore, without regional experience, White was dependent on local actors to supply him with political advice as well as knowledge about the land and its people. This proved critical. White ultimately opted to keep troops north of the Tugela River and move his main force to Ladysmith. White’s decision to do this will be examined as will his leadership throughout the siege. When he left South Africa, White took up the post of Governor of Gibraltar. Although largely a sinecure, White’s tenure on “the Rock” was busy to say the least. Naturally, there were the many visits by British and foreign dignitaries which White had to oversee, none more significant than the German Kaiser’s scheduled visit in March 1904 as well as his

 White to John White, 7 March 1881, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.




non-­scheduled return the following year.24 The British monarch, Edward VII, also came to Gibraltar to promote White to field-marshal and personally award him his baton. More critically, the development of longer-range naval artillery guns kept White busy in Gibraltar as he had to work closely with the admiralty office, in particular Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, then Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet, to insure the safety of the vitally, strategic British colony. But the issue which most consumed White psychologically and aroused great anxiety was the preservation of his Ladysmith legacy. This was challenged first by Buller’s “amazing speech” and the “surrender” telegram,25 then by Lieutenant-General Sir Archibald Hunter’s claims about his role at the Battle of Wagon Hill and Caesar’s Camp (Battle of Platrand) on 6 January 1900, and, finally, the drafts and eventual publication of the second volume of The Times History of the War in South Africa. Chapter 10 will discuss these issues and more including White’s role in Indian Army reform during Lord Kitchener’s tempestuous period as Commander-in-Chief, India. After Gibraltar, White did not return to Antrim. Instead, in 1905, he took up his last post as Governor of the Royal Chelsea Hospital, succeeding two field marshals, Sir Donald Stewart and Sir Henry Norman, men White knew from his time in India. His remaining years in London were mostly uneventful. In June 1912, at the age of 76, White passed away. Fittingly, Lord Roberts led the procession from Chelsea to Euston Station where White’s remains were then transported to Broughshane.26 An historical investigation of White’s nearly 60 years of service reveals much insight into the inner workings of the Victorian army. It shows an officer very concerned about promotion and obtaining the necessary influential contacts to succeed in his profession. It also demonstrates the financial difficulties placed on officers on service overseas who were required to secure servants, horses, clothing, and equipment, as well as to obtain housing for themselves and their families, while at the same time trying to maintain their property and possessions at home. Through his correspondences with family, friends, and colleagues, a picture emerges of an extremely well-informed soldier who kept up on global geopolitical 24  After giving his speech in Tangier which sparked an international crisis, the Kaiser’s transport was damaged as it pulled out of the port and needed emergency repairs. It docked in Gibraltar and the Kaiser was once again entertained by White. 25  White to John White, 16 October 1901, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 26  Order of White’s funeral procession, and a list of wreaths, including a sash sent with a wreath from Kaiser Wilhelm II, Mss Eur F108/124 (27–28 Jun 1912), GWP.



affairs, domestic politics, and troubles arising throughout the empire in which situations might require a military presence. A new case study of George White is not just long overdue, it provides an essential examination of the British Empire and the Victorian Army.


The Start of a Military Career (1853–1878)

George Stuart White was born on 6 July 1835 at Rock Castle near Portstewart, County Londonderry.1 His mother, Frances, was the daughter of Frances Ann and George Stuart, Esq. of Donachy, County Tyrone. His father, James Robert White, a barrister, was the second son, of James White, Deputy Governor of County Antrim. This branch of the White family had left England many generations earlier and had settled in County Antrim.2 It was George’s grandfather, James, who left the Presbyterian Church and adopted the Church of England as his spiritual home.3 George White remained devoted to both the Anglican Church and to Ulster throughout his life. There appears to be no particular reason why George White chose the military as his profession as a young man, nor, when he was older, did he reflect on his earlier decision. His uncle John, who had served in the Peninsular War, seems to have been the first White with any overseas 1  The site was later known as Low Rock Castle. It was torn down in 2001. “Low Rock Castle,” Lord Belmont in Northern Ireland, accessed 18 November 2019, 2  According to Leo Keohane, a biographer of George White’s son, Jack, the Whites, originally Whyte, were from York and after supporting the Royalist cause during the English Civil War, relocated to Ireland. During the Glorious Revolution, the family supported William of Orange. Leo Keohane, Captain Jack White: Imperialism, Anarchism & the Irish Citizen Army (Sallins, Ireland: Merrion Press, 2014), 9–12. 3  Mortimer Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, Volume I (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1915), 6–7.

© The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




service. Nevertheless, after briefly attending Bromsgrove School in Worcestershire, where his older brother James was a student, and then King William’s College, Castletown, Isle of Man, White headed to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in 1850. Sandhurst was a conservative institution both in temperament and in its dedication to teaching traditional subjects.4 It began to embrace a degree of modernization only after the death of the Duke of Wellington and the end of the Crimean War (1853–1856) which revealed many major flaws in the British Army. It was far from a professional institution when White arrived, discipline was very lax, and most graduating cadets continued to purchase their commissions.5 The few letters that have been preserved from White’s three years at Sandhurst do not reveal much. He appears to have been mostly content as a student at the Royal Military College and, like many of his peers, displayed more of an aptitude for riding and sport than academic studies. Always a bit socially awkward, he did not make many lasting friendships. White was eager to get his commission and to see active service and had no interest in pursuing staff training at Farnham, an institution which was floundering in the 1850s and would soon be redesigned as the Staff College in Camberley.6 In November 1853, without purchase, he was gazetted an Ensign in the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot, and set off for Dublin to join his regiment.7 The Irish infantry regiment, first raised during the Glorious Revolution to defend Ulster Protestants from King James II and his Catholic allies, was a fitting place for White to start his career. It had served during the War of American Independence, in the Wars of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, notably at Waterloo where despite very high casualty rates it held its ground, and most recently in South Africa during the latter 4  For more on Sandhurst, see Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, “The Shop”: The Story of the Royal Military Academy (London: Cassell and Company, LTD, 1900); and, Hugh Thomas, The Story of Sandhurst (London: Hutchinson 1961). 5  Anthony Clayton, The British Officer: Leading the Army from 1660 to the Present (London: Pearson, 2006), 106, 139. 6  In a letter to his sister, Jane, shortly after arriving the Royal Military Academy, White was already expressing his impatience in getting a commission. White to Jane White, 8 September 1850, White’s letters to his sister Jane White, Mss Eur F108/97(a)-(b)(c. 1845–1910), GWP. 7  The commission had been held by the scandalous, self-titled, Viscount Forth, George Henry Drummond. For more on Viscount Forth, see Deborah Cohen, Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain (Oxford: University Press, 2013), 56–83.



Cape Frontier Wars. White had high expectations that his new regiment would be sent to the Crimea where a demand by the British and French in March 1854 had failed to convince the Russians to evacuate Moldavia and Walachia and led to declarations of war. His older brother, James, secured a lieutenancy without purchase, and was at the Siege of Sevastopol and the Battle of Balaclava. James wrote to their parents who were residing at the time in Beardiville, Coleraine, to urge his brother to try to obtain a transfer to one of the regiments in the thick of the war.8 His brother needed no urging. George had already written to his sister, Jane, “[James] is in great luck. I wish I was a Lieutenant. It would make the difference of about 6 years service to me which is no small consideration to a man who intends [to pursue a military career].”9 The younger brother would not make it to Crimea, however; instead, on 20 June 1854, he travelled with a section of his regiment to Queenstown (Cobh), County Cork and boarded the Troopship Charlotte. His destination was Calcutta (Kolkata).10 The journey to India from Great Britain in the mid-nineteenth century could take three to four months. White’s first voyage would take more than six. From the start, he had a difficult time. Writing to his mother, he was alarmed by the alcohol consumption of his regiment. “Everybody on the ship is drunk but myself,” he complained.11 Later in his life, White became very active in establishing temperance societies in India and gave speeches to groups in Great Britain when he returned home for good in the 1900s. Things were, however, about to get a lot worse aboard the Charlotte. After three months of a “long, dull trip,” the ship hit bad weather off the Cape of Good Hope. It continued eastward, and shortly afterwards, it anchored off Port Elizabeth in Algoa Bay to take on drinking water on 19 September. White was desperate to go ashore but he was duty officer for the day and had to stay aboard the ship. When he was 8  James White to James Robert White, 30 May 1855, Letters from James White to his father James Robert White and to his sister Elizabeth White, during the Crimean War, Mss Eur F108/117, GWP. 9  White to Jane White, 9 June 1854, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 10  According to William Copeland Trimble, the 27th left for India on 27 June 1854. White’s letters disputes this. The right wing of his regiment, which included White, embarked from Cork on 20 June; the left wing, 30 June. White to James Robert White, no date, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. Trimble, Historical Record of the 27th Inniskilling Regiment, from the period of its institution as a volunteer corps till the present time (London: Wm. Clowes and Sons, 1876), 111–12. 11  White to Frances White, 27 June 1854, White’s letters to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Robert White, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP.



finally relieved on the 20th, the “surf was coming up” and he was advised by his superior, Captain C. Warren, to wait for the next day. He ignored the advice, however, later writing to his father, “with the true mischief of an Irishman, I trusted to my powers of swimming to get on shore in case of an upset (little knowing the strength of the surf in Algoa Bay) and the boat was upset, and I with great difficulty reached the shore with nothing but the clothes on my back.”12 Exhausted and cold, White made his way to a hotel to take off his thoroughly soaked clothes. What White did not know is that about 6:00 p.m., while he was at the hotel, one of the Charlotte’s anchor cables snapped. The Captain signaled to the shore for a replacement but the harbor master responded that the water was too rough to assist. Very soon afterwards “the other [anchor cable] went and to the horror of all on the shore we saw the Charlotte was gone.”13 “Shrieks of the women were awful as their children were washed overboard one after another” into the “clouds of foam,” White wrote.14 Despite being only 150 yards off shore, rescue attempts largely failed. Ninety-nine of the 208 passengers, including 26 children, and 18 of the 24 crew members were lost.15 White spent the next couple of days helping to recover bodies, fitting them for coffins, and attending funerals. Not only had White lost friends and comrades, all his personal belongings were swept away and he had no money to purchase replacements. White and the other men of the 27th Regiment made their way to Cape Town, the administrative center of the Cape Colony, to await their new conveyance. This would be White’s only visit there for the next 45 years. He quite liked the colonial town which the British had first taken from the Dutch in 1795, and after returning it to fulfill the peace terms at Amiens, retook it in 1805 and held on to it after the Treaty of Paris in 1815. In a letter home, he compared it favorably to London, noting that the biggest difference was its many “Black People.”16 White had no idea how long they were going to be stranded in Cape Town. Rumors were rife that another frontier war with the Xhosa was going to erupt but White was hoping none would. “It would be a great go if we were to be kept here for  White to James Robert White, 29 September 1854, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP.  White to James Robert White, 29 September 1854 and 5 October 1854, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 14  White to James Robert White, 5 October 1854, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 15  White was incorrectly listed in most contemporary reports as being aboard the ship when the tragedy struck. Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Telegraph, 9 December 1854. 16  White to James Robert White, 18 October 1854, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 12 13



a Caffir war,” he wrote home. “For my part, I hope most sincerely we won’t as we would run every chance of being shot and get no promotion.”17 Within two years, the Great Cattle Killing would begin which would spread havoc and lead to the deaths of thousands, but White would be long gone from the Cape Colony by then. In November, he boarded the Maidstone and arrived in Calcutta early in the New Year. As a low-ranking officer, White had no privileged information as to where his regiment was going to be deployed. It was not until he arrived in Calcutta on 8 January 1855 that he learned he had another journey of over 1200 miles to make. The Inniskillings were ordered to proceed via steamer up the Ganges (Ganga) River to Allahabad (Prayagraj) and then to march to Lahore and onto Sealkote (Sialkot), a strategically important position in the Punjab, which had only been incorporated into British rule in 1849. The presence of an armed force in Sealkote helped to preserve British interests in the northeast Punjab and influence affairs in neighboring Kashmir. Sealkote would be White’s home for the next year. Despite referring to his new posting as a “healthy station,” by June, newly promoted Lieutenant White was writing home that soldiers were dying every day in “this awful hole.”18 White ascribed this to excessive drinking of alcohol and high temperatures. Whether his assessment was correct or not, the 30% invalid rate he reported was quite high. Life in Sealkote became too routine for the young officer. He soon stopped discussing with his family parade, drill, shooting and riding, and doing his best to stay out of the sun.19 But without influential friends back home, he was stuck there. When Lieutenant-Colonel H.D. Kyle learned that White was discussing switching regiments, he “was most indignant at the idea of my going, [and] he spoke to me about it.”20 Nevertheless, in the New Year when he learned that a junior lieutenant had purchased a rank which made him now senior to White, he began negotiating with a lieutenant in the 87th (Royal Irish Fusiliers) for an exchange. His efforts however failed

17  Ibid. The wars with the Xhosa along the Eastern Cape Frontier were known as the Kaffir (Caffir) Wars through the nineteenth and mid twentieth centuries. Kaffir is a pejorative with its roots in the Arabic word for infidel. 18  White to Frances White, 14 June 1855, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 19  White to Fanny White, 29 April 1855, White’s letters to his sister Fanny White, Mss Eur F108/99 (1855–1906), GWP. 20  White to James Robert White, 29 July 1855, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP.



when the young officer’s father had “returned him for purchase.”21 White was not optimistic about his prospects of advancement in the 27th, because, as he wrote to his father, in India, the officers “lived very hard,” often got into debt, and therefore could not afford to purchase up, creating a bit of a logjam. White, however, did not ask for assistance from his father to purchase a higher rank but continued to try to secure a better position through exchange.22 White did his best to interrupt the monotony of his duties with a trip to the higher altitudes and cooler temperatures near the British hill station at Dalhousie. Hiking in the hills and mountains of Central and Southern Asia would remain a favorite past time of his throughout his career in India. He would return to Dalhousie more than once, take trips into Kashmir, west of Srinagar, and even found the time during the war in Afghanistan to ascend several peaks. He also attended races and balls in Sealkote, despite his “most fervent contempt of Indian society at large.”23 Arriving in India before the Rebellion, at a time before biological racism began to shape imperial views and martial race theory deeply informed military recruiting policies, and growing up in Northern Ireland, race would have meant something very different to White than to late Victorians. Although it is possible that White came into contact with Africans, Asians or the small Black population living in Great Britain, mostly in London, his experience as an officer in the British Army presented opportunities to see a different world and a variety of people not available to most Britons.24 His short time in Cape Town was eye-­opening; his many years in India no doubt had a great impact on the convictions which he brought with him from County Antrim. The use of the pejorative “nigger” does pop up periodically in letters home during the 1850s, as does “coolie,” although the latter is not used by White deliberately as a term of derision, but instead to describe Indians who were employed to carry baggage and perform menial labor, although he did not use the word to describe personal servants. Although still deeply problematic, 21   White to James Robert White, 8 March 1856 and 22 March 1856, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 22  For more on the purchasing of commissions and the eventual end of the practice, see A.P.C. Bruce, The Purchase System in the British Army, 1660–1871 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1980). 23  White to Frances White, 4 January 1856, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 24  Douglas A. Lorimer, Colour, Class and the Victorians: English Attitudes to the Negro in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1978), 41.



White’s writings during this period show a man struggling with racial constructions. For example, in May 1856, White was given a 30-day leave of absence. He travelled to Putankote (Pathankot), Diancoon (Dainkund), Dumtail (Damtal), and Dalhousie. Unable to post letters, White kept a daily journal. After a day of being carried on a dooly (palanquin) for 25 miles, White looked at his Indian servants and contemplated, “If black men can be properly called brethren then in the natural run of thoughts’ rapid stream, I was led to consider if Black women can be truly said to belong to the fairer sex.”25 Three days later, he again turned to his journal, and wrote, “these wretched creatures carry wonderful loads up these hills . . . and yet these men eat only once a day and then only a few cakes made of what they call otter, which is nothing more than ground barley, and yet I who eat meat twice a day and am ravenous as an athlete.”26 In the years to come, his musings on race disappeared from his letters. His use of pejoratives also vanished. Yet White, residing in India, obviously could not avoid thinking about race, and later in the century, as martial race theory became accepted and advocated by his fellow officers, White would be forced to consider its merits (Map 2.1). After purchasing an “expensive” house in Sealkote, White was ordered in November 1856 to move to Nowshera, a new station where a British regiment had never been posted before. Barracks had yet to be built. Nowshera lies some 200 miles northwest of Sealkote, past Islamabad, and closer to the Afghan border. White was not happy with the prospect of losing money on the house, nor with the challenges  of buying a new house, especially knowing that the regiment could be ordered to a new posting at any moment. Although he enjoyed the nearby hills and the Kabul River valley offered fine opportunities for hunting, he hated Nowshera. The days were too hot, the nights were too cold, “the rats are too numerous to be pleasant,” and the insecurity in the region meant that White could not wander from the station “without being in danger of being quietly murdered.”27 Without hope of getting sent to the Crimea and unable to negotiate an exchange into another regiment, White looked for opportunities to break the boredom. He wrote to his father, “I am getting tired of regimental duty – day after day inspecting rations and seeing rooms are clean – any  White’s journal, 1 May 1856, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP.  White’s journal, 4 May 1856, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 27  White to Frances White, 16 December 1856, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 25 26



Map 2.1  India, c. 1860. (Source: Author)

fool could do that. I hope I have done my last day’s duty as a regimental subaltern. I only wish that [they] would give me command of a brigade going to Persia. I used to fancy I should like to sell out and become a respectable member of society, but the moment I get away from my



regiment I find that I am heart and soul a soldier.”28 After his regiment marched to Peshawar to take part in the ceremonial review for the Afghan Amir, Dost Mohammed, White obtained permission to go to Sealkote and qualify for regimental musketry instruction. He completed this task and departed Sealkote on 25 April, returning to his regiment still garrisoned in Nowshera. Days later, everything would change in India. In India, in 1857, there were British Army regiments and there were East India Company regiments. There were also Indians employed by the East India Company. Since Indian soldiers were three times cheaper to maintain, and also, since it was believed they were better suited for the climate than Europeans, the Company relied on them.29 In total, there were about 36,000 British soldiers, 257,000 Indian regulars, and 54,000 irregulars. Of the regular forces, 24,000 European and 136,000 native troops were in Bengal, with the bulk of the European troops in Punjab and along the frontier.30 Indian infantrymen or sepoys serving under British officers had a host of grievances they could point to in the mid-­ century including limited opportunities for advancement, poor terms of service, and racial, class, and caste antagonisms.31 In the Bengal Army, in particular, signs of unrest were emerging in early 1857, and the issuing of greased cartridges to be used with the new Enfield Rifle only made things worse.32 Disturbances erupted in March and April, although it was not until a mutiny struck the sepoys in Meerut and then spread to Delhi in May that it was clear to British authorities that they had to immediately deal with the situation. Mutineers were joined by civilians and the movement developed into an agrarian uprising,33 although the rebellion was largely confined to the recently annexed Oudh and the North-Western Provinces (Uttar Pradesh). The East India Company’s Armies of Bombay and Madras remained loyal throughout the Rebellion as did most Muslims  White to James Robert White, 21 January 1857, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP.  Kaushik Roy, The Army in British India: From Colonial Warfare to Total War 1857–1947 (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 2. 30  Douglas Peers, “The Indian Rebellion,” in Queen Victoria’s Small Wars, edited by Stephen M. Miller (Cambridge: University Press, 2021), Chapter 2. 31  See, for example, Amal Chatterjee, Representations of India, 1740–1840: The Creation of India in the Colonial Imagination (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998); T.A. Heathcote, The Indian Army: The Garrison of British Imperial India, 1822–1922 (London: David & Charles, 1974); David Omissi, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army, 1860–1940 (London: Macmillan, 1994); Douglas Peers, “The Indian Rebellion.” 32  Irfan Habib, “The Coming of 1857,” Social Scientist 26: 1/4 (January–April 1988), 8. 33  Roy, The Army in India, 34. 28 29



from Western Punjab, Pashtuns from the North-West Frontier, and the recently conquered Sikhs. In Nowshera, there was knowledge of the earlier disturbances, even among junior officers and the ranks. Upon hearing the news that the “Sepoys [were] in open mutiny” and “all Europeans [had been] murdered at Delhi,” White wrote to his father, “You will suppose I was not a little astonished on receiving this – but I think it surprised me less than anybody here…. I had thought things looking very awkward for some time past and I think if my memory does not deceive me I said as much in my last letter to you written from Sealkote about the 15th April.”34 The British were slow to take aggressive action. Many officers chose not to disarm the sepoys they commanded, believing that they would remain loyal; others, disarmed loyal troops. The East India Company was reluctant to move regiments from areas which were relatively quiet, like the Punjab, to the more troubled spots of Oudh. As late as July, for example, there were still fewer than 1,500 Europeans near Delhi.35 Luckily for them, the Indian response was not unified, and its leadership was similarly divided and weak. Upon hearing the news of the incidents at Meerut and Delhi which arrived on 14 May, the 27th Regiment was immediately put on alert, and ordered to proceed to Jhelum.36 Only a few days later, however, new orders were delivered, splitting up the regiment into two wings with one moving to Fort Attock; and the other, including White, temporarily to Rawalpindi and then to Fort Attock. The sixteenth century fort guarded the strategic confluence of the Kabul and Indus Rivers and the road to Peshawar. For the next ten months, White remained busy in the Peshawar Valley patrolling the area and disarming rebels, including the 10th Irregular Cavalry “who had been found out in treasonable correspondence,”37 and those who had served in the 51st Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry which mutinied at Peshawar in late August. Writing to his mother, White explained, “I sleep every night on the ground outside the house in a blanket or on a blanket with my rifle all ready for immediate service.”38  White to James Robert White, 13 June 1857, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP.  Eric Stokes, The Peasant Armed: The Indian Revolt of 1857 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 27; as cited by, Douglas Peers, “The Indian Rebellion.” 36  Trimble, Historical Record of the 27th Inniskilling Regiment, 122. 37  White to Frances White, no date (most likely June 1857), Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 38  Ibid. 34 35



The early stages of the Rebellion were marked by atrocities committed by both sides. White was eager to go to Delhi to avenge his fallen comrades but was forced to stay where he was, an area which can only be described as being on the fringes of the Rebellion. He shared vivid details of his activities and the events around Fort Attock and Peshawar with his parents. “The country is swimming in blood,” he wrote to his father. “Not that I have pity for the Sepoy, but it is a disgusting kind of service shooting down mutineers.”39 Shooting the mutinous sepoys was not the only retributive action the British took. “A day or two ago forty men were blown away from guns at Peshawar where the right wing of my regiment now is – they say it was great fun…. They say after the blowing away the air was full of bits of black flesh flying about in all directions.”40 Although things quieted down a bit in July, by September 1857, there were new disturbances. “A few days ago, they had a slaughtering match at Peshawar,” he wrote to his mother without censoring any of the details. “One of the native infantry regiments gave some trouble which was immediately seized on by the military authorities as a good opportunity to make away with them. The sepoys were therefore attacked on all sides by our regiment and two others (70th [Surrey] and 84th [York and Lancaster]) and shot down like dogs. They were disarmed and of course could not make much of a fight for it.”41 He reported to his mother that an officer told him that at first he “rather liked it, but after a while he was quite disgusted.” Although only a dozen or so men mutinied, according to White, the troops were so upset and scared that they shot 780 sepoys “like crows” and another 100 “were drawn up in line and shot.”42 I hear it was the most perfect thing to see them die – they were marched up in military style… and every sepoy placed himself in front of the (84th) man who was told off to shoot him  – they stood up with uncovered eyes and without a tremble and many of them pointed out where they wanted to be hit – they are a strange race who can meet death with such perfect apparent indifference and yet in action they are the most abject and contemplated cowards.43

 White to James Robert White, 13 June 1857, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP.  Ibid. 41  White to Frances White, 5 September 1857, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 42  Ibid. 43  Ibid. 39 40



Racial animosity helped propel fear of the sepoy and his allies to new heights and led to countless atrocities.44 “These very officers who used to swear by their men now go to bed every night with the expectation of being murdered before the sun rises on the next day,” the young Inniskilling officer wrote to his father. White, for one, also recognized that fear cut both ways when he continued in the same letter, “One of my servants asked me a day or two ago if the Europeans intended killing all the natives of India.”45 To his sister, he echoed this sentiment, and added that the rebellious Indians were not just fearful of the British in the moment but they were worried about the future. “The niggers now say if we are not driven out of India this year that they will have to wear our yoke for ever. I fancy they will rather….”46 After a friend of his was killed by “Jack Sepoy,” when the 46th Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry mutinied at Sealkote, White shared his growing anger with his brother. The Rebellion was becoming more personal. Disarming them, putting many in chains to work the roads, and executing hundreds was not enough. Referencing the events of 27 June in Cawnpore (Kanpur) where hundreds of women and children were slaughtered by the followers of Nana Sahib (Saheb), White advocated drastic measures: “who could without provocation murder and mutilate helpless women in the manner these sepoys have. It would be a sin to spare [them]. The Israelites were punished of old for not utterly exterminating the heathen and all I can say is we deserve the same.”47 Things quieted down around Fort Attock and in the Peshawar valley and the 27th Regiment returned to Nowshera in December. The regiment had been rocked by the sudden death of its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Kyle, to enteric fever and dysentery. White, who much admired Kyle, also struggled with sickness at this time and “Peshawar 44  For British public reactions to the Rebellion, see Christopher Herbert, War of No Pity: The Indian Mutiny and Victoria Trauma (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). 45  White to James Robert White, 13 June 1857, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 46  White to an unnamed sister, 13 July 1857, in Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 71–2. 47  White to John White, 28 August 1857, White’s letters to his brother, John White, Mss Eur F108/98(a)-(c) (1857–1910), GWP. Almost fifteen years later, White stopped in Delhi on his way home. He visited Hindu and Muslim religious and cultural sights, the tomb of Brigadier-General John Nicholson, and the old fort. He wrote to his sister, “some of the scenes are rather apt to make you slay the first native you see such as the tree where the few Europeans inside the walls when the mutiny took place were tied up and shot at, the princes of Delhie [sic] looking on.” White to Jane White, 15 March 1871, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP.



fever” interrupted his Hindustani language studies. Thanks to some leeches and claret, however, White was back on his feet quickly.48 In late March, the regiment was ordered to begin its 425-mile march to Umballa (Ambala). Umballa had been a major hotbed of rebel activity in May 1857 and, some argue, that the Rebellion began there rather than in Meerut.49 However, order had been restored for some time in and around the cantonment and by the time the regiment took up its new quarters, the Rebellion was sputtering to its end. White was not particularly happy with his situation in Umballa. The Crimean War had passed him by and his regiment’s role in the Rebellion had been extremely limited. No promotions were forthcoming. Even when Kyle died and then Lieutenant-Colonel Usher Williamson, who succeeded Kyle, was forced to return home for health reasons, it was not deemed prudent to promote from  within the regiment. White was also losing money on the sale of his houses each time he relocated, and horses as well, when they fell lame or, as in the case when he moved to Umballa, he was given the poor advice that he would not need one. He had to continue to ask his father for financial support.50 Musketry training which had at first been an amusement became a burden. White was quite a capable instructor. Fifty-one men in his regiment qualified as marksmen at the annual course offered in 1858,51 but he did not care for the work. “I have been constantly bothered from the regiment about something or other connected with my old situation,” he wrote to his mother from Simla (Shimla). “What think you of a second mutiny in India of the Europeans?”52 In January 1860, Lord Canning, who had served as Governor-General during the Rebellion and had been elevated to Viceroy as a result of the Government of India Act, 1858, which ended the British East India’s Company rule in India and vested in the Crown the power to govern India, came to Umballa and served as one of the stewards for White’s 48  White to James Robert White, no date, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. The letter was most likely written in late 1857 due to the reference to the death of Nicholson in September 1857. 49  Pardeep Rai, Times of India, 25 March 2011, accessed 25 November 2019, https:// ticleshow/7790074.cms 50  While in India, White’s uncle, John White, the Auld Captain, died. His father inherited the family estate known as Whitehall in Broughshane, County Antrim. White’s older brother James also died in 1857 and, as a result, George became his father’s heir. 51  Trimble, Historical Record of the 27th Inniskilling Regiment, 126. 52  White to Frances White, 19 July 1859, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP.



Hindustani and Persian language exams. Competence in Indian languages was deemed necessary for advancement in India by the local authorities but surprisingly not in London by the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of Cambridge.53 With support from Major-General Sir Robert Garrett, the divisional General Officer Commanding, and passing results on both his language exams, White was made Deputy Assistant Quartermaster-General and left his regiment for Allahabad. White was very mixed in his reaction to the appointment. He had dined with Garrett earlier in the year and they had discussed the possibility. He knew that a staff position could bring him new responsibilities which could pose interesting challenges. He also liked the idea that the position meant more money. But White saw himself primarily as a regimental officer and what he really wanted was a captaincy. Through late 1859, he had communicated with at least a half-dozen officers to see if they were interested in exchanging their lieutenancies, hoping that he could secure a position elsewhere with a quicker path to promotion. All of his attempts failed. He also began contemplating purchasing a captaincy but he was reluctant to ask his parents for support. Without it, however, this path was also a dead end. Finally, when rumors that the 27th would be shipped out to China to join the British effort in the Second Opium War 1859–1860 proved false, White reluctantly accepted the staff appointment.54 Situated on the banks of the Ganges and the Jumna Rivers, Allahabad, was a fine posting. Unlike during his time at Umballa, White never complained about the weather or potential dangers posed by the locals. In fact, he enjoyed wandering through the rich green vegetation on his horse. He also was amused and stunned when visiting the “sacred Ganges” to gaze at the “Hindoo fakirs” with “with long matted hair nearly or quite naked with nails growing into the flesh who live in a condition more wretched than it is possible to imagine. They are the most ill looking set of men you see and do not show off their countenances.”55 But he hated the work in Allahabad. He was extremely busy in assisting regiments departing for China, and perhaps a bit jealous that he could not go with them. He found himself very tired and stressed, fighting with everyone, and often feeling 53  Ian Beckett, A British Profession of Arms: The Politics of Command in the Late Victorian Army (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018), 71. 54  White to Frances White, 18 December and 25 December 1859, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP; White to Jane White, 15 January 1860, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 55  White to Jane White, 10 August 1860, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP.



bullied by regimental officers and their demands. “I am a fatalist to a great extent,” he wrote home despondently. “Surely something brighter must be in store for me. So far, I have seen little of the bright side of life – I have been significantly unlucky in not seeing service of any sort and have no prospect of seeing any….”56 Tired of his situation and aware that returning to his regiment, posted to Gwalior, in central India, in December 1860, would bring him no relief from the monotony, he did what he could to try to secure a new appointment. He appealed to a fellow Ulsterman and family contact, Sir Robert Montgomery, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, for assistance, but nothing came of Montgomery’s attempts to find him something.57 “Sick of everything Eastern” and longing “to eat strawberries instead of Mangoes,” White secured a leave to go home.58 It wasn’t easy navigating the red tape and securing the necessary names which included his Brigadier in Allahabad, General Commanding Officer the Division, Adjutant-­ General of the Army, Quartermaster-General of the Army, Officer Commanding 27th Regiment, General Officer Commanding Umballa division, Adjutant-General of the Forces in India, Commander-in-Chief, India, “and then back through several of the officials mentioned above.”59 But he managed it and was back home by 1861. The next few years were uneventful. The 27th Regiment despite suffering heavily from a cholera epidemic which struck Gwalior in the late summer of 1861 remained in India. It continued to rotate between Indian cantonments moving to Gondah (Gonda), Dinapore (Danapur), and Hazareebagh (Hazaribagh).60 White, with help from his father, at last managed to purchase a promotion and was made Captain in July 1863. But almost immediately upon obtaining what he had wanted for some time, he turned around and exchanged his new position the next month with Captain James Moorhead of the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders) Regiment of Foot.61 White believed that there were better advancement opportunities in the Gordons.62  Fragment of a letter, White to unnamed parent, March 1860, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP.  White to Frances White, 8 June 1860, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 58  Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 94. 59  White to Frances White, 11 July 1860, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 60  Trimble, Historical Record of the 27th Inniskilling Regiment, 127–9. 61  White’s surviving correspondences during the mid-1860s are very sparse. It is unclear how he came up with the money. 62  White to Frances White, 16 May 1867, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 56 57



Unlike the history of the Inniskillings, the history of the 92nd was rather brief. It had been formed in the 1790s when war with France seemed likely and, when it erupted, the Gordon Highlanders participated in several events including the Walcheren Campaign, the Peninsular War, and the Battle of Waterloo. After the Napoleonic Wars, the regiment served at several colonial garrisons and then saw some minor activity in both the Crimean War and the Indian Rebellion before returning to Scotland in 1863, for its first visit since the 1840s, where White caught up with it. He moved around from Greenlaw and Glasgow to Edinburgh and Stirling before heading to Aldershot in March 1865 where the regiment remained for nearly a year. Next, the regiment headed to Dublin and was on high alert during the Fenian Rebellion before relocating to Curragh in July 1867. While stationed there, White learned he would be returning to India with his new regiment in the new year. Sailing out of Cork in late January 1868, aboard the HMS Crocodile, White was in command of the headquarters. The trip was uneventful with stops at Malta, Alexandria, and Aden via Suez, arriving in Bombay (Mumbai) at the end of February. He found Alexandria particularly depressing. With its “Jews, Turks, Greeks, Maltese, French, English, Americans, Bedouin Arabs, Nubians and Abyssinians and a number of others, I believe Alexandria to be about the worst city in the world as it combines the vices of Europe, Asia and Africa,“ he wrote to his sister, Jane. And it was not the sight of Pompey’s Pillar nor Cleopatra’s Needle which fascinated him in the ancient Egyptian city. Instead, he wrote without any real understanding of what he espied, “what interested me most was an encampment of Bedouin Arabs that outlied the town which I hit upon by accident ... They appear to live in perfect peace and filth with their dogs and pigeons.”63 From Bombay, it was the typically difficult trip to the cantonment which included a ship to Karachi, a train, flatboats up the Indus, and finally a march from Mooltan (Multan) to Jullundhur (Jalandhar), arriving in the Punjab at the end of March. Jullundhur was situated along the Great Trunk Road, one of Southern Asia’s most vital networks for communication and transportation connecting Afghanistan via Peshawar and Delhi to the Bay of Bengal. White did not enjoy his time there. He often complained about the heat and the lack of rain. When he was posted temporarily to nearby Amritsar to command a detachment, his discontent shifted to the mosquitoes. In Amritsar,  White to Jane White, 16 February 1868, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP.




however, White spent important time among the Sikh. Amritsar holds a special place among the Sikh; according to White, it was their “headquarters” and “chief city.” White had come into contact with Sikh soldiers during the Rebellion and was quite impressed with what he identified as their chief cultural traits including possessing a strong sense of loyalty and displaying exceptional bravery in battle, features which British officers in India were beginning to identify as racially and culturally constructed martial traits. In Amritsar, he discovered another trait of the Sikh which he admired. “They never smoke,” he wrote home, “which I think accounts in a great measure for their being so much finer men than the Bengalees [sic].”64 His time there, however, was cut short because the health of his detachment deteriorated rapidly. That was fine with White. New Year’s Eve was “about the most dangerous thing we encounter[ed] in the curse of the 12 months.”65 Nevertheless, his brief time in Amritsar shaped his attitudes on the future of the Indian army and the role of the Sikh in it while he formulated his own martial race theory. Even when far from home, White kept abreast of domestic politics, particularly when it affected Ireland. In the years to come, the Land Acts would have an impact on his position as a landlord and owner of Whitehall. However, it was the issue of the church which he followed closely at this time. In December 1868, the Liberals won an impressive victory over the Conservatives, allowing William Ewart Gladstone to form his first government. Gladstone ran on a platform of reform and was particularly interested in certain Irish issues, among them the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. In 1869, he introduced the Irish Church Bill which passed and as a result separated the Church of England from the Church of Ireland and weakened the hold of the church that White belonged to over the Irish majority. Despite enjoying overwhelming support in the House of Commons, the Conservative House of Lords for a time obstructed the bill’s passing and threatened a constitutional crisis of a sort. In the end, Queen Victoria intervened, and the Lords backed down. White chortled in a letter to his sister, “I have heard of the compromise agreed on by the Lords regarding the Irish Church bill. I write to you as a supporter of that institution and must say your friends, the Lords, have behaved in a very cat like way. They barked very hard but a hint or two about their endangering their own existence as a house brought them  White to Jane White, 1 September 1869, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP.  White to Frances White, 4 January 1870, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP.

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round.”66 He hoped that his church would survive and “show sufficient humanity” to decide on a course which would benefit all Irish.67 Although religion helped form who White was and the values which he held, there is no evidence that he was ever a religious man. While at Jullundhur, Sher Ali Khan, the Afghan Amir, paid a visit to White’s regiment. Sher Ali had seized power in 1863 upon the death of his father, Dost Mohammed Khan, and then fought to retain it against his rivals, including his older brother, Mohammad Afzal Khan. The Amir was on his way to attend a durbar at Umballah called by the new Viceroy, the Earl of Mayo, and stopped in Jullundhur. He reviewed the regiment on parade and also inspected the accuracy of their volley fire.68 Although White mocked the Amir’s dress in a letter to his sister, Fanny, he was very impressed with his intelligence and his demeanor. Unlike the other “Eastern dignitaries… Shere Ali has been brought up as a warrior and has had to gain his kingdom with the sword and keep it with the same.”69 Ten years later, White would join his regiment en route to Afghanistan in a campaign which would lead to Sher Ali’s removal. The regiment also received a surprise visit from the new Commander-­ in-­Chief, India, Lord Napier of Magdala. White was lucky enough to dine with the veteran of the Sikh Wars, the relief of Lucknow, the Second Opium War, and most recently, the expedition to Abyssinia (Ethiopia). His opinion on Napier was mixed. “He seems a very nice old man but somehow I cannot think him such an able man as he is made out,” he wrote. “He is a great contrast to the man who has just given up command in chief in India, Sir William Mansfield, who was a man who was rather oppressively a man of weight – who never spoke without appearing to have weighed every sentence, still Lord Napier is a man that would make people serve with him much more readily than the other.”70 In the summer of 1870, White was due to get ten days of leave. But when the opportunity to go to Dalhousie arose to oversee a detachment building roads, he jumped at the chance. A trip to Dalhousie meant he would not have to suffer another hot season in Jullundhur. Dalhousie may have offered better weather but the work he had to complete there was  White to Jane White, 28 July 1869, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP.  White to Jane White, 29 March 1870, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 68  Charles Greenhill Gardyne, The Life of a Regiment: The History of the Gordon Highlanders From 1816 to 1898 (Edinburgh: D. Douglas, 1903), 110. 69  White to Fanny White, 4 April 1869, Mss Eur F108/99, GWP. 70  White to Jane White, 21 April 1870, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 66 67



monotonous. Rising at 5:00  a.m. every morning, White headed out to inspect the work of his two companies. In the evenings, he found he had nothing to do. Although he stayed with his men at first, he found the quarters were so close that he could overhear everything the men said to one another and it made him very uncomfortable. He moved out soon afterwards. The other officers were too young for his liking and White found himself alone most of the time. Following the events of the Franco-Prussian War with great interest, White longed for the chance to “to shake us out of the contemptible groove we have got into.”71 But he knew Great Britain was not ready to get involved in a war on the continent. “The army certainly gets very little chance in England,” he wrote to his father, “but even if the Conservatives were in full power we would have to alter our system entirely if we are to take part in European land wars. Voluntary enlistment will never supply an army that has to fight modern battles. Citizens must learn that it is their duty to fight their country’s battles.”72 White, however, would never get involved in the fight for conscription although he did give at least one speech to members of the National Service League in the new century. Still, he longed to see war. Rumors of an expedition to China in October were never realized, and so he turned his attention to Russia in November. “Russia would suit me best. I want to see Cabul and we would have to advance in that direction to check our great rival in the East. As I grow older I feel more inclined for the excitement of a fight.”73 The Great Game, however, remained a cold war for the time being. When Gladstone formed his first cabinet in December 1868, he gave the post of Secretary of State for War to Edward Cardwell.74 Cardwell retained the position until the Conservatives ousted the Liberals in the 1874 election. Supported by a brash, young officer and Assistant Adjutant-­ General at the War Office (after May 1871), Garnet Wolseley, Cardwell was able to bring reform to the British Army even when fiercely opposed by the Duke of Cambridge and the Queen. Those reforms included reorganization of the War Office, the end of flogging during peacetime,  White to John White, 2 August 1870, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  White to James Robert White, 30 August 1870, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 73  White to James Robert White, 29 November 1870, Mss Eur F108/96, GWP. 74  For more on the Cardwell reforms, see Robert Biddulph, Lord Cardwell at the War Office (London: Murray, 1904); Halik Kochanski, Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero (London: The Hambledon Press, 1999); and, Edward M. Spiers, The Late Victorian Army 1868–1902 (London: St. Martin, 1992). 71 72



i­ntroduction of Short Service, and the linking of regular, auxiliary, and reserve battalions. Some of these reforms were quite controversial and later deemed by some as failures, particularly the Army Enlistment Act of 1870 and the Regulation of the Forces Act, 1871. After serving many years in India, White, for one, believed short service did not work well there at all. He believed that British soldiers needed several years to get acclimated to the conditions of India and six years, the period of active service abroad initiated by the Army Enlistment Act, was just not enough time. But it was the end of purchase, which Cardwell initiated in late 1871, which most interested White. It is fairly easy to understand why a Liberal government interested in meritocratic reform aimed at a rising middle class might target the purchase system. But it was not just the idea of purchase but the abuses associated with it, such as overpayment, of which Cardwell was interested in getting rid. Nevertheless, it was not a popular move. For one thing, it was going to be expensive. For another, it was generally accepted by many that the officer class was the preserve of the landed classes. Ultimately however, it was passed through the House of Commons and when the House of Lords temporarily stopped it a Royal Warrant was issued to force it into law. Edward Spiers has written that, in the Victorian era, “abolition neither altered the social composition of the officer corps nor infused the army with a new professional spirit.”75 White, in a letter to his sister, Jane, identified why that was the case. “I have read Mr. Cardwell’s scheme for doing away with purchase in the army. It reads fair, but I doubt the possibility of ‘selection’ ever being conducted fairly. Men who are what we used to call as school ‘sucks’ are sure to get on at the expense of better men who won’t stoop or take the trouble to get on by such means.”76 White identified himself as one of those men who would not stoop and when he returned to India in 1872 after a lengthy leave home, perhaps because of that attitude, he was still a captain going on ten years. After landing in Bombay, he embarked on a 63-hour train ride to Saharanpur. From there it was a 13 ½-hour carriage ride to Deyra (Dehradun) and then he was carried by palanquin up to Chakrata where he rejoined his regiment. Chakrata is situated high in the hills, 125 miles south of Simla, the Indian government’s new summer headquarters. White enjoyed the  Spiers, Late Victorian Army, 18.  White to Jane White, 15 March 1871, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP.

75 76



climate and the views. Professionally, his career was tolerable but it had stagnated. On a personal level, however, White was in a thick of a transitional period. With the death of his father in 1872, which followed on the heels of that of his mother, White inherited Whitehall and became a landowner and landlord. White never actually settled at Whitehall, his adherence to his career stood in the way, and instead his sisters Jane, and later Fanny, took up permanent residence there.77 Yet, he benefited from the small income generated from his property and also worried every time a new Land Bill was discussed in Parliament which could raise his taxes or impose restrictions on landlord/tenant relationships. Leo Keohane claims that George White treated his tenants very well, so well in fact, that few of his tenants took the opportunity to purchase their holdings with the funds made available by the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act, 1885.78 Although he had estate agents, and his brother Johnny (John), and Jane, his “paymaster-­ general,” handled much of the business, White always remained actively involved in running Whitehall and its properties, and to the best of his ability, playing a role in the affairs of Broughshane.79 For example, when asked to contribute to a local school, he was willing to annually subscribe on one condition: “I don’t go in for Church Education but if it is open to all religions and means, merely secular education, I will give….”80 The other life changing event which took place at this time was, while posted to Simla, meeting the much younger, Amelia Baly. Only 20, Amy was the daughter of Joseph Baly, the Archdeacon of Calcutta. The Balys had some money and since Amy was their only child she was bound to inherit it, but they were closer in age to White and he could not expect to see any of it for a long time. “She is not pretty,” he wrote to Fanny, “but I think I can promise that you will be nearly as much in love with her as I am.”81 The newly promoted Major White and Amy Baly were engaged in

77   White’s sister Libby (Elizabeth) did not return to Whitehall after she wed Mr. Montgomery. White’s aunt, Victoria, and her husband John Clements, also lived at Whitehall. See J.R. White, Misfit: An Autobiography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930), 108. 78  Keohane, Captain Jack White, 14. 79  White to Jane White, 29 August 1875, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 80  White to Jane White, 30 January 1873, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 81  White to Fanny White, 13 July 1874, Mss Eur F108/99, GWP.



July 1874 and married in October.82 “Amy is one of those bright natures that would be happy anywhere,” he told Jane. “Being the daughter of a clergyman, she has been religiously brought up and delights in going about amongst the poor with whom she is an especial favorite.”83 White remained devoted to his wife for the rest of his life, and Amy proved to be a valuable asset to his career, acting as host in many situations and developing networks with the Royal family, peers, and other military families. The 92nd Regiment was stationed in Mooltan from the end of 1873 to the beginning of 1877. The town is situated in the Punjab on the Chenab River, 200 miles southwest of Lahore. It has a long and rich history and served as an important center of trade. It was annexed by the British when the Sikhs were defeated in 1848–1849. It was not a place that White liked very much. He complained that the winters were too cold and the rest of the year was too hot. He was regularly laid up with fever. He purchased a house for he and his young wife and employed 23 servants.84 He was busy with his work and fixing up the house, and during leisure time, played badminton and lawn tennis, went riding, and hunted parrots and quail. He also received visits from his mother-in-law, Mrs. Baly. Promotion to major had come as a great relief after ten years as a captain. His commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Forbes McBean, had left the regiment in early 1873 but refused to retire, instead taking an extended sick leave. Arthur Wellington Cameron, who succeeded McBean, went home in late 1875. He asked if he could extend his leave until October 1876 and when the Commander-in-Chief replied that he had to come back in August, he waited until the last possible day and then, like McBean, retired when his leave was over. White was very frustrated by these actions. George H. Parker, who succeeded Cameron was forced to leave Mooltan for an extended period of time due to his health. Parker did 82  White learned of his promotion in a letter from his brother in February 1874. He immediately wired London to confirm it. Lieutenant-Colonel F. McBean’s retirement led to Major A.W.  Cameron’s promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel and opened up a spot for White. Cameron commanded the 92nd until 1876. Lieutenant Henry (Harry) Brooke who acted as White’s best man at his wedding was made captain at the same time. White to John White, 12 February 1874, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP; London Gazette, 20 January, 1874, p. 239. 83  White to Jane White, 20 July 1874, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 84  These included a khansamah (house steward), a cook, a plate cleaner, two kitmaghars (table attendants), two bearers (house maids), two gardeners, an ayah (female maid), a man to sweep the house, five grooms, five grass cutters, an English maid, and a soldier servant. White to Jane White, 4 February 1875, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP.



eventually return and served admirably as the regimental commanding officer. But all these absences meant that White often had to do the work of his superiors and was left in command for stretches of time.85 In April 1876, Lord Northbrook, the Viceroy, frustrated by an inability to convince the government to support his path to settle growing disputes with Afghanistan, resigned.86 Benjamin Disraeli, who had formed his second government in February 1874, replaced him with his close colleague Lord Lytton, an adherent to a strategic forward policy which advocated for pushing British imperial borders and influence into central Asia. This, he believed, was necessary to curtail Russian ambitions in the area which could directly threaten India. This policy put Afghanistan back into the spotlight. Lytton arrived in India just as the Royal Titles Act received royal assent.87 As Disraeli declared, in order to signify “the unanimous determination of the people of this country to retain our connection with the Indian Empire,” Queen Victoria would be pronounced Empress of India in January 1879.88 To honor the occasion an imperial assemblage was held in Delhi. The durbar was an attempt by Lytton to codify and make manifest British authority over India through this ritualized idiom.89 Nearly 70,000 people attended, including dignitaries from around the empire and India, and 15,000 British and Indian troops played a role in the festivities.90 It was an elaborate and expensive affair. The 92nd Regiment arrived at the beginning of November 1876 to take part in it; White celebrated the birth of his first child, Rose Frances, and then caught up with it. From Delhi, the regiment moved on to Sitapur. Sitapur is a bit north of the large city of Lucknow, a focal point of the Rebellion and the site of a desperate siege, lifted by the British after six months. Sitapur was much  White to John White, 22 March 1876, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  David James, Lord Roberts (London: Hollis & Carter, 1954), 78–80. 87  It should be noted that Lytton also arrived at the start of a devastating famine which struck India and led to the deaths of over five million people. See David Fieldhouse, “For Richer, for Poorer?” in The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire, ed. P.J. Marshall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 132. 88  Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, 3rd Series, ccxxvii, 1876, p. 410; as cited in, Bernard S. Cohn, “Representing Authority in Victorian India,” in The Invention of Tradition, eds. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge: Cambridge University, Press, 1983), 184. 89  Cohn, “Representing Authority in Victorian India,” 208. 90  Anchi Hoh, “The Delhi Durbar and the Proclamation of Queen Victoria,” Library of Congress, accessed on 4 December 2019, 85 86



smaller and quieter than Lucknow albeit an important cantonment in Oudh situated near Nepal. The 92nd regiment remained there until it was called to participate in the Afghan campaign in December 1878.91 Although White was happy to leave Mooltan, he had no desire to uproot his wife, sell yet another house, and move to another posting which offered him little chance of promotion. When he heard of an opportunity to take a command at a post in Naini-Tal (Nainital), not far from Sitapur, but in the foothills of the Himalayas, he offered his services. He was not confident that he would get it because he believed Sir Frederick Haines, the Commander-in-Chief, India (1876–1881), would probably give it to an officer “notoriously incapable however he has got 55 years service which is what weighs most with [him].”92 Nevertheless, White did get it. Ironically, once there he longed for the plains around Sitapur. White arrived in Naini-Tal in April 1877, the same month that the Balkan Crisis begat a Russian invasion of Ottoman territory across the Danube River. The “Dogs of War” had been loosed “and the rugged Russian Bear, All bent on blood and robbery has crawled out of his lair.”93 A Russian resurgence in the Balkans coupled with a military victory over the Ottoman Empire would pose a major challenge to the geopolitical balance of the region and threaten British interests in the Near East. Many, including White, anticipated a second Crimean war. White hoped that “the 92nd will form part of any force going from India against the Russians.”94 Ultimately, a British naval threat was sufficient to bring the Russians to the negotiating table and no land forces were required. Just as things were quieting down over the Balkans, however, tensions began mounting over Afghanistan. White’s letters at the time, surprisingly, show no concern. As an officer in the British Army, serving in northern India, who often wrote to his family about war scares and the potential to see action, especially when Russia was involved, his silence on Afghanistan is of interest. It suggests that at least through the first few months of 1878, if there was a crisis brewing over Afghanistan it was one that few knew about. Despite hints that he might get selected to serve on Haines’ staff, White took his wife and young child in May 1878 and returned to

 Gardyne, The Life of a Regiment, 121.  White to John White, 2 March 1877, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 93  G.W. Hunt, “By Jingo,” 1877. 94  White to John White, 4 January 1878, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 91 92



Whitehall on leave.95 He would not return to India until February 1879. The next several months proved critical to his career and change his life. Promotion in the Victorian officer corps could be accelerated through purchase and opportunity. George White was a bit unfortunate at the start of his career. His family did not have the resources to purchase a commission in the cavalry or in a highly visible infantry regiment nor did they have the connections to get him placed where he might get recognized. Had he been just a couple of years older, passing through Sandhurst would have all but guaranteed him an opportunity to serve in the Crimean War. Instead, his regiment was shipped off to India where, when the Rebellion erupted, it served in a mostly quiet sector of the conflict. Even after White secured a more desirable captaincy in the 92nd Regiment, advancement was stalled by senior officers who enjoyed their status and pay and were reluctant to step down even when health concerns demanded it. White soldiered on through the monotony, inclement weather, and the postings to inhospitable cantonments in India. His life did not stall; he married and he had his first child. But by the late 1870s, he had been in the service for over 25 years and his career was floundering with few paths opened to him. He considered giving up more than once, returning home, and entering civilian life. Perhaps, had there been opportunities available or had he had professional interests outside the military he would have pursued them. But as much as White may have complained about his time in the army, he never seriously entertained the possibility of a life outside it. He returned to India at the start of 1879 and headed to join his regiment situated in Kohat, 60  miles southeast of the Khyber Pass and the Afghan border.

 White to John White, 11 January 1878, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.



Recognition in Afghanistan (1878–1884)

Well before the “forward policy” was clearly articulated by British administrators and military officers in the late nineteenth century, Great Britain had kept a watchful eye on Russian activity in central Asia. In the 1830s, aware of their growing influence in Persia and fearful of their ambitions in Afghanistan, Lord Palmerston, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, sent a diplomatic delegation to St. Petersburg to express his concerns. Although the Russians agreed to keep their hands off Afghanistan, Palmerston felt that Britain needed to take direct action and increase its own influence in Kabul.1 Under the Governor-General of India, Lord Auckland, the British launched a military campaign in 1839 to overthrow the Amir, Dost Mohammed, and replace him with a candidate they believed they could more easily manipulate, the former Durrani Afghan monarch, Shah Shujah. Although the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–1842) was initially successful in achieving its aims, the aftermath was disastrous. The retreat from Kabul led to the near annihilation of the entire British expeditionary force and its civilian followers, the assassination of Shah Shujah, and the return to power of Dost Mohammed. Great Britain was left without a voice at the Amir’s court.2

1  M.  Raziullah Azmi, “Russian Expansion in Central Asia and the Afghan Question (1865–85),” Pakistan Horizon 37, 3 (1984): 108–109. 2  H.B.  Hanna, The Second Afghan War 1878-79-80, Its Causes, its Conduct and its Consequences, vol. 1 (Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1899), 2.

© The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




By the mid-1850s, Dost Muhammed had grown sufficiently anxious about Persian and Russian interest in Herat that he reached out to the British for aid. Although no military support was promised, the British government and the East India Company agreed to respect the independence of Afghanistan and, in return, the Amir would be “the friend of its friends and the enemy of enemies.”3 Two years later, in 1857, amidst a crisis, Dost Muhammed temporarily welcomed British officers to Kabul and, when they left, accepted a permanent Native Envoy. The Amir’s death in 1863 and subsequent Russian activity, however, led to new challenges. The British policy of “masterly inactivity” or the belief that India’s security lay in its own natural borders rather than their extension was practiced by successive Viceroys, Sir John Lawrence, The Earl of Mayo, and Lord Northbrook. Lord Lytton’s appointment in 1876 signaled a change in British policy. As Major George White steamed back to India from his leave, he knew little of the events unfolding in Afghanistan. In fact, while writing to his wife, Amy, who stayed behind in Broughshane, he was much more concerned about the “disaster” which had struck the 24th (The 2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot at Isandlwana in Zululand in January 1879.4 But as he made his way to Sitapur to rejoin his regiment, he learned of the gravity of the situation. In the aftermath of Dost Muhammed’s death, a power struggle had erupted in which the Amir’s chosen successor, Sher Ali, emerged victorious by 1868. The British failed to recognize him as ruler early on choosing to remain out of the Afghan civil war. Financial support also decreased during Lord Mayo’s viceroyship.5 Both policies led to increasing tensions with Sher Ali. In addition, Sher Ali was becoming very alarmed by Russian activity in the region, like their assertion of influence upon the Turkmens,6 and was frustrated that successive viceroys appeared unwilling to take the threat seriously. His relationship, in particular, with Lord Northbrook, was highly problematic. The 1873 Simla Conference failed to secure his

 Ibid., 3.  White to Amy White, 18 February 1879, White’s letters to his wife Amy (nee Baly), Mss Eur F108/101(a)-(j) (1879–1909), GWP. 5  Hanna, Second Afghan War, I, 16–18. 6  G.B. Malleson, The Russo-Afghan Question and the Invasion of India, 2nd ed. (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1885), 42–3. 3 4



goals of obtaining British military support in the event of a war with Russia and recognition that his son, Abdullah Jan, would be his successor.7 The Conservative victory in 1874 led to the formation of Disraeli’s second government. Lord Salisbury’s appointment as Secretary of State for India meant that policy would be directed by someone with much stronger views on central Asia. Salisbury was much more concerned with the advance of Russian interests than his Liberal predecessors had been. Ultimately, when Northbrook pushed back against his more assertive position, Disraeli found a viceroy who would comply with the interests of a forward policy. Lord Lytton arrived in April 1876, in the midst of a new crisis with Russia over the Balkans, prepared to strengthen Sher Ali as a bulwark against Russian expansion. Although Lytton was ready to offer a more substantial subsidy to the Amir, as well as to recognize his son as his successor and make a statement of support against Russian advances, he also insisted that Sher Ali accept a permanent mission in Kabul.8 This move would guarantee British influence over the Amir and give them a strategic advantage in the region over the Russians. Sher Ali refused, claiming that if he were to welcome a British mission to his capital he would be forced to make the same gesture to Russia.9 He also said that he could not guarantee the safety of the mission.10 Through 1877, Lytton continued to press the Amir on this issue but Sher Ali held firm. Lytton’s detractors later argued that he “had visions of conquest” and was prejudiced against the Amir, while Sher Ali’s critics claimed he had turned towards Russia and “was faithless” and “untrue” to the British.11 Certainly to Lytton, Sher Ali’s acceptance of a Russian mission in 1878, something which the Russians denied, was not just a personal slap in the face but deeply endangered British influences in the region.12 Lytton was now ready to force the issue. 7  Brian Robson, The Road to Kabul: The Second Afghan War 1878–1881 (New York: Arms and Armour Press, 1986), 15–21. 8  Abdullah Jan died in August 1878. 9  Robson, The Road to Kabul, 43. 10  Afghan Committee, Causes of the Afghan War Being a Selection of the Papers Laid Before Parliament with a Connecting Narrative and Comment (London: Chatto & Windus, 1879), 97. 11  Hanna, Second Afghan War, I, 224; Sultan Mahomed Khan, ed., The Life of Abdur Rahman, Amir of Afghanistan (London: John Murray, 1900), 150–1. 12  Charles M.  MacGregor, The Second Afghan War 1878–80, revised ed., F.G.  Cardew (London: John Murray, 1908), 1–2.



Although he thought he could rely on Disraeli, Lytton was unsure whether he would have Salisbury’s support if he opted for a direction which could lead to war and therefore decided against seeking the government’s approval for his actions.13 He turned to his Military Secretary, Colonel George Colley, “the ablest man in the army,” to consider the possibility of a limited war in Afghanistan.14 In the meantime, however, he would direct a mission to proceed to Kabul in September with or without the support of the Amir. Brigadier-General Sir Neville Chamberlain was directed to lead it, and Major Sir Louis Cavagnari was attached to the staff as a political officer. At Ali Masjid, the narrowest point of the Khyber Pass, the Afghans turned the mission back. Although Disraeli’s cabinet was taken by surprise and very unhappy to receive the news, it recognized the damage to British prestige in the region if aggressive action was not taken at once to reinforce Lytton’s will.15 Approval was given to the Viceroy, in the event of a rejected ultimatum, to send a force to occupy the Kurram Valley and seize the Khyber Pass. Despite the objections of Salisbury and a few others, the path was also cleared politically to advance upon Kabul and Kandahar after the winter had ended.16 The ultimatum demanded a full apology and it required that the Amir allow the mission to continue to Kabul. It was issued on the last day of October, 1878. The Afghans were given 20 days to respond; they allowed the time to elapse. War was declared on 21 October and the British advance began the next day. Lytton and Sir Frederick Haines, the Commander-in-Chief, India, had not seen eye to eye on many issues since Lytton’s arrival. Lytton had specifically tried his best to work around Haines while planning for Chamberlain’s mission.17 Lytton now wanted limited measures to force the Amir to comply with his wishes; Haines felt that a larger force had to be prepared just in case. As a result, 40,000 soldiers were readied for the campaign. Two large columns, the Kandahar Field Force, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Donald Stewart, and the Peshawar Valley Field 13  Mary Lutyens, The Lyttons in India: An Account of Lord Lytton’s Viceroyalty 1876–1880 (London: John Murray, 1979), 132–4; Robson, The Road to Kabul, 50–1. 14  White and Colley were cadets together at Sandhurst and White much admired him. White to John White, undated letter written in 1876, White’s letters to his brother, John White, Mss Eur F108/98(a)-(c) (1857–1910), GWP; Ian Beckett, The Victorians at War (London: Hambledon and London, 2003), 115–6. 15  Robson, The Road to Kabul, 50–51. 16  Ibid., 52. 17  Beckett, The Victorians at War, 116–9.



Force, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Sam Browne, were to advance on Kandahar, via the Bolan Pass, and Jalalabad, via the Khyber Pass, respectively. The much smaller Kurram Field Force, commanded by Major-General Frederick Roberts, would advance towards the Peiwar Pass and Khost, a reserve force would be left in the rear, and border garrisons would be strengthened just in case. Although the entire force was not strong enough to occupy Afghanistan it was thought large enough to defeat the Afghan army and deter the Russians from making any advances.18 All three invading columns met their initial goals. Sher Ali, sick, grieving over the death of his son, challenged by his rival, Yakub (Yaqub) Khan, and unable to secure Russian support, in desperation, headed to the Russian border to push them to reconsider their involvement. He never returned, dying near the Russian border in February 1879. With British troops in winter quarters and busy overseeing improvements to communication and transportation networks, the death of the Amir provided Lytton with an opportunity to negotiate a settlement with Sher Ali’s successor, Yakub Khan, and end the war. He would push for a permanent mission, limited Afghan independence in asserting foreign policy, the recognition that the Khyber Pass was now British territory, and British protection for Afghans who had supported the British advance, particularly those who aided Roberts in the Kurram Valley.19 Yakub Khan was open to the possibility of negotiations and received Cavagnari in May 1879. The Gordon Highlanders had left Sitapur on 18 December 1878 and arrived in Kohat three days later. They were to join Roberts’ Kurram Valley Field Force if an advance on Kabul had been deemed necessary.20 It was not, at least not immediately. In mid-March 1879, White finally caught up with his regiment in Kohat. “The first sight of them gave me a sensation,” he wrote to his brother,21 although the condition of the camp 18  Rodney Atwood, “The Second Afghan War,” in Queen Victoria’s Wars, ed. Stephen M. Miller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021) Chapter 7; G.R. Elsmie, Field Marshal Sir Donald Stewart: An Account of his Life (London: John Murray, 1903), 214. 19  Hanna, Second Afghan War, II, 336–337. 20  Frederick Sleigh Roberts, Forty-One Years in India: From Subaltern to Commander-inChief (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1898), 375; as cited in, Charles Greenhill Gardyne, The Life of a Regiment: The History of the Gordon Highlanders From 1816 to 1898 (Edinburgh: D. Douglas, 1903), 122. 21  White to John White, 17 March 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.



Map 3.1  Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1878–1880. (Source: Author)

and the men left much to be desired. The soldiers were in short supply of basic necessities like water, shoes, and socks, and the rotting carcasses of baggage animals were littered about. He was excited to move out for Ali Khayl at the end of the month (Map 3.1). The regiment passed through the Peiwar Kotal on 10 April, the site of Roberts’ victory over Sher Ali’s forces in November 1878, and entered Afghanistan. “The country we have marched through from Kohat is a very wild one” and “the most beautiful country…I have ever seen,” White wrote to his siblings.22 Movement was very difficult, however, due to poor roads, “if the tracks we follow deserve to be dignified with the name of

22  White to Jane White, 29 March 1879, White’s letters to his sister Jane White, Mss Eur F108/97(a)-(b)(c. 1845–1910), GWP; White to John White, 29 April 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.



roads.”23 Whenever it rained, there were significant delays. Mules, bullocks, camels, and especially the elephants had difficulty traversing the washed-out paths. But White also looked forward to the rain which cooled the temperature down to the mid-1890s. The land was thinly populated. Occasionally, he passed by a house, and when he did, he noted that it was built like a tower, with its door 10–15 feet above the ground, always with a long rope ladder which could be pulled up to keep strangers from entering. Rather than judge it as something foreign or exotic, he viewed it as something out of Britain’s own past. “The state of society,” he wrote, “must be much what it was in the old days of the Highland clans.”24 White was deeply concerned with his regiment’s war readiness. He was critical of his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel George Parker, convinced that he was “taking things too easy by half.”25 He felt that the men had not been instructed in many of the basics and travelling through enemy country, often along narrow, winding river beds, put them in grave danger of an ambush. If they did have to face the enemy on this terrain, he feared the worst. “I know what it will be,” he wrote his brother. “A company will be ordered up under perhaps a pot-bellied captain who will not be able to go, the men not knowing what ground is practicable and what isn’t, weighted with a load of ammunition and accoutrements that would anchor you.”26 He also criticized what he perceived as the lack of intelligence, coming to the conclusion that “the British army [is] the very worst organized institution in the world. Thank God I believe the Afghan army is even worse and our men are good stuff and beautifully armed.”27 White reached Ali Khayl in mid-April where he would remain until July. He spent much time with members of Roberts’ staff, with whom he got along, and occasionally got the opportunity to dine with the Commanding Officer himself. There was one senior officer, however, he did not like and that was Colonel Hon. George Villiers.28 Villiers was the son of the late Fourth Earl of Clarendon, who had served as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under both Lord Russell and William Gladstone. He was also a cousin of Lady Lytton. Villiers, “of doubtful repute amongst husbands,” got into a messy scandal involving the wife of a doctor, and was forced to  White to Amy White, 30 March 1879, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.  White to Jane White, 29 March 1879, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 25  White to Amy White, 30 March 1879, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 26  White to John White, 29 April 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 27  Ibid. 28  White to Amy White, 6 May 1879, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 23 24



return home.29 Villiers had served as The Times special correspondent with the army and, with his forced departure, Roberts urged White to take the post. White agreed under one condition: he “be allowed to get well to the front in case of an advance.”30 Roberts agreed. White ended up writing several articles for The Times during the war. None were published however. Looking for excitement and wishing to be free of Parker, who he considered irritable and “difficult to deal with,” White made friends with the engineers who were responsible for surveying the countryside. While most of the regiment remained behind, he would regularly escort a few engineers accompanied by a small handpicked party of the 72nd (Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders) Regiment, a Pashtun interpreter, and a dozen local Jagi (Zazi) tribesmen on their surveys. This involved many climbs and long treks, often through deep snow. White was most proud of his ascent of the highest peak in the Safed Koh (Spin Ghar), Mount Sikaram. From its position atop a high peak, the party would map out the area and heliograph Roberts information from many miles away. White loved the work and became quite close with two of the engineers, R.G. Woodthorpe and M. Martin, and one Jagi guide in particular. At Ali Khayl, White witnessed a wondrous sight: About nine o’clock we saw a long line of people and camels slowly winding their way up the valley towards the Pass; these turned out to be a Caravan, or Kafila, of Mulla Khels, a subdivision of the great Ghilzae [Gilji] tribe on their return to the highlands of Cabul for the summer months after having wintered in Hindustan. The custom of these tribes is to cross over the passes from Cabul, as soon as the winter is over, with their wives, children, camels, sheep, and goats. The camels, loaded with merchandise, find their ways into every bazaar in Hindustan from Kohat in the remote N.W. [northwest] to Calcutta and Benares. Their women and children, flocks and herds, they deposit in safety within our borders but trans Indus, with a guard to await the return of the traders in the spring, when the whole tribe turn their heads towards the cooler hills of Cabul, often fighting their way desperately against the hill tribes and robbers . . . whose hill fastnesses provide a safe retreat in case of defeat, while their numerous defiles offer points for attack of a long string of animals very favourable to the assailants.  Ian Beckett, A British Profession of Arms: The Politics of Command in the Late Victorian Army (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018), 130–1. 30  White to John White, 19 May 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 29



They had about five or six hundred camels with them, hill camels that travel in groups, not strung together in a long line from tail to nose, but picking their own way like goats over the roughest watercourses and hills. These camels would be invaluable to us when crossing the Shutur Gardan, where plain camels will die in hundreds, and the C.O. here wired to Kurram, the headquarters of General Roberts, to know if he should stop the Kafila and buy the camels, but wiser counsels, as I think, prevailed, and they were allowed to proceed on their way, although they allowed they would have to throw in their lot with their own people against us when we advance. As they filed past us the men, with matchlocks slung over their shoulders, and huge Afghan knives in their belts, passed with a haughty stare, neither saluting nor speaking, and not even deigning to turn round to get a second look. The women displayed more curiosity, and the shaggy hill dogs snarled their dislike of the infidels.31

In May, White experienced his only hot encounter with the enemy. He was with a small surveying party of two engineers, two British soldiers, and five Indian soldiers ascending a peak, when a strong band of 130–140 tribesmen attacked.32 Armed with long knives and poorly crafted jezails, muskets, they made a half-hearted attempt to penetrate the British defenses. Having failed, they then retreated down the mountain. White pursued and signaled to a corporal of the 72nd to bring him a rifle. He was able to fire off some rounds before they managed to get a way. He later learned that he had killed one.33 On 26 May, four days after White’s only son Jack was born back in Ireland, Cavagnari’s efforts finally bore fruit, and at Gandamak, on the other side of Mount Sikaram from Ali Khayl, Yakub Khan agreed to all of the British terms.34 Shortly afterwards, the Amir returned to Kabul and Cavagnari led the British mission into the capital in late July. White was upset that there would be no war but conversely he also welcomed peace 31  White to his sister, 16 April 1897, in Mortimer Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, vol. I (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1915), 164–6. 32  White identified them as Admad Kheyl. In all likelihood, they were Ahmad Khels, a subdivision of the Muhammad Khel (Orakzais). See Intelligence Branch, Division of the Chief of Staff, Army Headquarters, India, comp., Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 2, North-west Frontier Tribes between Kabul and Gumal Rivers. (Simla: Government Monotype Press, 1908), 279. 33  White to Jane White, 21 May 1879, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 34  Sydney H. Shadbolt, The Afghan Campaigns of 1878–1880, Compiled from Official and Private Sources (London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, 1882), 39–40.



if it meant that he could leave Ali Khayl where he was simply spinning his wheels. “I am sick of the place,” he wrote his brother. “All excitement is over and peace brings no advantages to compensate. Strict orders not to go more than a mile from camp without an armed escort. I have been twice caught breaking this mile and think it better to be off as I cannot stand taking a walk with Alistair McAllister and Jack McTarrish carrying their rifles immediately behind me.”35 To make things worse, cholera had hit the Peshawar Valley Field Force and White was worried that the disease would spread to Ali Khayl. As the regiment prepared to return to India, White wrote home. He was still very concerned with the ongoing Anglo-Zulu War and believed Lord Chelmsford, the British commander, was receiving unfair criticism for his part in the disaster at Isandlwana. He was disturbed about the news that the Prince Imperial, Louis-Napoleon, had been killed in June in Zululand while out on a reconnaissance sortie with only a partial escort.36 He hoped that Gladstone would be defeated in the Midlothian campaign outside of Edinburgh by Lord Dalkieth. And he gave a prescient warning about the future of the Cavagnari mission: “Until the fanatical Mahommedans get accustomed to the white face and Kafir customs they are apt to get carried away by religious frenzy and use their formidable knives.”37 By mid-July, the regiment was in Murree, 35  miles northeast of Islamabad in the Punjab. White had some time to consider the successes and failures of the first campaign in Afghanistan. He reached two conclusions: the first, he would not abandon later in life; the second, he would. Although there were many crack British regiments serving in Afghanistan, White believed the quality of some of them had declined over the course of the past decade. As mentioned in Chapter 2, as part of the Cardwell reforms, short service was introduced in 1871. Edward Cardwell, the Liberal Secretary of State for War, believed that the quality of the military could be increased, an effective reserve could be developed, and  White to John White, 24 June 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  White later wrote that the officer assigned to the Prince Imperial, Lieutenant J.H. Carey, “ought to be shot, if he had had the pluck of a louse he would have shot himself. I can understand a fellow bolting in a panic but I cannot understand a fellow riding into camp to describe his own cowardice to a Court of Enquiry and declare himself a hen to all Europe.” White to John White, 28 July 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 37  White to Amy White, 25 May 1879, 19 May 1879, and 21 June 1879, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 35 36



savings could be achieved if the required years of active service was reduced from 12 to 5 or 7.38 Over the objections of many, including the Duke of Cambridge, the Commander-in-Chief, Gladstone’s ministry passed the bill through Parliament. Many officers serving overseas in areas where climate, topography, and other considerations created by local conditions posed unique challenges believed that a lengthy period of acclimatization was necessary before a military unit could perform at its peak. White, for one, thought that British soldiers in India could require as many as four to six years before this occurred. British performance in Afghanistan seemed to substantiate his claims. He thought that too many of the men were inexperienced and, as a result, “bolted” at the first sight of combat. Writing to his brother, he asserted that “the ranks [are] filled with sickly, undisciplined boys who can neither march nor fight. I believe the native army could kick us out of India now if they tried. It is lamentable to see the difference between a fine native regiment and the undersized, ill-shaped, modern British soldier. If some radical reform is not made in our army we should be let in for a disaster the very first time we are fairly tried. The present men could no more have held Inkerman than a lot of women could. I wonder how Dizzy proposes to carry out his guarantees of the frontiers of Asia.”39 It should be emphasized that White and his regiment did not experience any major combat and so his opinion was shaped by what others told him and what he witnessed on march and in camp. But he was convinced that the poor performance of the 12th (East Suffolk) Regiment and particularly an alleged and unconfirmed incident of “disgraceful cowardice” on the part of some of the 8th (Liverpool) Regiment at Peiwar Kotal was a result of short service.40 The other issue which weighed heavily on White as he marched back to India was the purpose of waging the war in the first place. He wondered whether it was necessary and entered the debate between the positions of masterly inactivity held by many of the Liberals and the forward policy held by many of the Conservatives. For the time being, at least, he came to understand the position embraced by the former which included the previous viceroy, Lord Northbrook. “I am now more than ever convinced in my own mind that the advance in search of a scientific frontier was a mistake and that far from strengthening our position we have advanced to  Edward M. Spiers, The Army and Society 1815–1914 (London: Longman, 1980), 179.  White to John White, 13 July 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 40  Ibid.; White to John White, 20 July 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 38 39



share the difficulties with Russia,” he wrote to his brother. “What would be the plight of a Russian army if we held the mouth of the passes on the Indian side and locked them up with their Russian filth and want of sanitation in the passes? They would disappear off the face of the earth.”41 He also believed that Russia held a distinct advantage over the British in the region in securing allies. There was little wealth in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, or Uzbekistan, but “the loot of the cities of Hindustan will ever be a greater inducement to join the Russians than anything we can offer against it.”42 The venture into Afghanistan therefore was the wrong decision, White believed at the time. Rather than spending lots of resources on a limited campaign, the money could have been utilized for the construction of railroad lines to the border. That would assist the British need to hold the passes which guarded India from an invasion and would have provided it with security for years. While the regiment remained at Murree, White was called to Simla where, when he not doing committee work, he was “tortured on the social treadmill,” dining with Roberts and playing lawn tennis with Alfred Lyall, Lord Lytton’s Foreign Secretary, whom White considered “a power in the state.”43 He was in Simla when the shocking news arrived: on 3 September, Cavagnari and his staff had been murdered in Kabul. “Lord Lytton is terribly knocked down about the affair,” White wrote. “This wretched business at Kabul is about the greatest disaster that England has had since the last Kabul one.”44 He packed his bags and immediately headed back to Ali Khayl where he expected to rejoin his regiment. The second phase of the war in Afghanistan was beginning and this time, White hoped, the 92nd would be in front, Kabul would be permanently occupied, and “if the Indus tribes only join in we shall have got a really cheap scientific frontier by the time it is all over.”45 White’s views on masterly inactivity were already changing. The exact details of the 3 September massacre are unclear.46 It was later reported to the British that Afghan soldiers had rioted and had broken into the British Residence. After several hours of fighting, Cavagnari and his escort were dead and only a small party which had been dispatched  White to John White, 13 July 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  Ibid. 43  White to Amy White, 17 July 1879 and 31 August 1879, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 44  White to John White, 4 September 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 45  Ibid. 46  The massacre may have been the result of non-payment of troops. 41 42



earlier in the day to cut grass managed to survive.47 Sultan Mahomed Khan, a biographer of the future Afghani Amir, Abdur Rahman, claimed that the soldiers were led by Daoud Shah Khan, Yakub Khan’s Commander-­ in-­Chief.48 Whether the Amir played a role in the incident cannot be confirmed; he certainly denied any responsibility. However, the British believed the soldiers acted on his orders and were also convinced that he was inciting others to oppose them. Browne’s large Peshawar Field Force had already been disbanded and most of Stewart’s equally large Kandahar Field Force had returned to India. Roberts’ small force, most of which was concentrating in Thul in the neighboring Kurram Valley, was ordered to proceed at once to Kabul via the Shutargardan Pass, and re-establish order. Roberts, accompanied by many of his staff and White, hurried from Simla to join it.49 After reaching Thul, White proceeded to Ali Khayl where he arrived on 16 September, joining the Kabul Field Force, as it was now being called. Roberts spent the next week gathering supplies, building roads, and awaiting further reinforcements. On the 24th, White’s wishes were fulfilled. In the absence of Parker, White took the Gordons to Shutargardan, leading the column’s advance. Four days later, with Parker back in command, they made it to Kushi (Khushi) where the Amir had arrived to meet with Roberts. Although he tried his best, Yakub Khan failed to convince the British commander that he was not culpable and to halt the advance. On 30 September, accompanied by the Amir, British forces moved along the road to Kabul to the village of Zargun Shahr and on the first day of October, the entire force reassembled in the neighboring Logar Valley.50 On 5 October, the 92nd reached Charasiab (Char Asyab), “a pretty village nestling in orchards and gardens,” on the outskirts of Kabul, well ahead of Brigadier-General Herbert MacPherson’s brigade to which it had been attached.51 Roberts did not have his entire force but his patrols were met with enemy fire and intelligence reports told him that large numbers of Afghans  Atwood, “The Second Afghan War.”  Khan, ed., The Life of Abdur Rahman, 152. 49  Brigadier-General W.G.D. Massy had been left in command of the force while Roberts was in Simla. 50  According to Gardyne, the force consisted of 192 British offices, 2,558 British noncommissioned officers and men, and 3,867 native troops. Gardyne, The Life of a Regiment, 128. 51  Ibid., 129. Durand uses the same description but does not credit Gardyne. Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 192. 47 48



were heading to Charasiab to halt the British advance and he decided that an immediate attack was necessary. Six miles separated Roberts’ force from Kabul. To reach the Afghan capital required utilizing the Sang-i-Nawishta, a gorge which ran along the Logar River between two sets of steep hills. It was believed that the path could not be crossed by British field artillery and so Roberts, despite the objections of his Chief of Staff, Major-General Charles MacGregor, ordered Lieutenant-Colonel A.A. Currie to take a party of the 23rd Bengal Native Infantry (Pioneers), “who work like sappers and miners,” into the gorge the next morning to make the necessary modifications.52 To provide cover, Roberts sent along 20 men of the 9th Lancers, a squadron of 5th Punjab Cavalry, two guns of No. 2 Mountain Battery, and a party of 200 Gordons commanded by White.53 Roberts’ plan was dashed when he discovered at daylight that large numbers of Afghan troops had secured the hills overlooking the gorge. As a result, Currie and his Pioneers could not do their proposed work. White was leading the advance into Charasiab and towards the gorge when some 14th Bengal Lancers commanded by Captain J.P.C. Neville rode past and warned him that the enemy had appeared in full force. White told Neville to continue riding to the rear and report the news to Currie. “I expected every minute to get some orders from Currie, but none came,” he later wrote his wife.54 Growing frustrated and recognizing the danger that would soon be upon if his men continued to advance through the village, White rode back to find his superior officer. When at last he met up with him, White proposed a new route, “a more soldierly one,” but Currie “would do nothing” and remained in place waiting to hear from Roberts. White returned to his advanced guard and could clearly see the enemy in the hills commanding the route to Kabul. While he awaited news from Currie, the 9th Lancers came under attack. White returned to speak to Currie but he “was nowhere to be found.”55 After hearing from a staff officer, Captain Manners Smith, that he believed Currie wanted 52  MacGregor grew to despise Roberts who he described as a brute and blamed him for not helping to advance his career. He remained on very good terms with White, however. Charles M.  MacGregor, War in Afghanistan, 1879–80: The Personal Diary of Major General Sir Charles Metcalfe MacGregor, ed., William Trousdale (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1985), 99, 198; White to Amy White, 15 October 1879, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 53  MacGregor, The Second Afghan War 1878–80, 215. 54  White to Amy White, 15 October 1879, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 55  It is possible Currie had received Roberts orders to retire by this time. If he had however, it is most unusual that he did not convey these orders to the rest of his command.



White to advance, White took his men, and fighting off the enemy, made his way to the Lancers, just to the right of the village. Although the 9th Lancers were relatively safe behind their cover, “a big square enclosure,” the enemy was “peppering” them from atop a very steep hill 1600 yards away. White knew that the hill on the right was the “nut” he had “to crack.”56 Assaulting it directly was too dangerous a prospect. To its left was open ground and he feared the effects of enemy artillery fire if he tried that position. However, on the far left, he espied through his field glasses, the enemy’s position on a smaller hill was relatively weak and an advance in that direction could be covered by folds in the ground. He could also maneuver to his left behind an old ruined wall and a watercourse. Using covering fire and extended order, he got his men in position without losing any, despite the fact that “every rifle and jezail on the hill was directed at us.” Just as White was ready to launch his attack, he received word that Brigadier General T.D. Baker, who was commanding the main assault on Charasiab, wanted him to “await the development of his attack.” White “thought these orders rot,” and opened fire on the enemy’s position on the left. Unable, however, to make any dent in the enemy’s defenses, he ordered the mountain guns to shell the heights “as long as they safely could” while he personally led 100 Highlanders in a direct frontal assault on the enemy’s position. The artillery officer, Major S. Parry, called White’s plan “madness” and tried to talk him out of it. He was not to be stopped. “It was not absolutely my duty to lead the attack of two companies, but I thought that my higher standing in the regiment and personal influence would inspire a confidence in the men which a junior officer might nor command and that I judged the occasion and the heavy odds against us (near 10 to 1) combined with the strength of the position called for stirring up all the enthusiasm possible.”57 White took the hill with the loss of only three men and, when reinforcements arrived, continued to advance further. “It was the most splendid sight you ever saw and the only pity was that there were so few spectators.”58 “After the first hill…I did not lose another man,” White told his wife.59

 White to Amy White, 15 October 1879, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.  White to T.D. Baker, 5 January 1880, Letter-book containing copies of letters and despatches relating to the Afghan campaign of 1879–80, Mss Eur F108/1, GWP. 58  White to C.M. MacGregor, Mss Eur F108/1, GWP. 59  Ibid. 56 57



At one point in the assault of the first hill, White emerged from climbing up some rocks onto a ridge when he heard, “Look out Sir” and ducked as a bullet whistled past him. He then spun around and shot his assailant, an Afghan officer, through the back. Some of White’s men took the man’s sword and presented it to their major. The hill was later named “White’s hill.”60 After taking two more hills, White ordered the cavalry to seize the gorge, and the final hill, the nut he had to crack, was secured by Captain D.F. Gordon. Victorious, White sent a message to Roberts: “I hold the pass to Cabul and the 92nd have all the Afghan guns.”61 Roberts heliographed his congratulations and retroactively overrode Baker’s orders. Meanwhile, Baker had successfully captured the village and drove the main enemy force away but it was White’s attack on the hill which proved decisive. Although there was some minor resistance offered by the Afghans in the next few days, Kabul fell without a shot fired and the British formally entered the Bala Hissar, the fort where Cavagnari was murdered, on 12 October. White received a lot of attention in the British press over the course of the next couple of months and all of it was positive. He even received a letter from an “old 92nd man” from Forfarshire who had composed a Gaelic war song in his honor. White was very proud to be “described as ‘mac ille bhain’ or the son of the fair man – not a bad way of getting over the un-Ossian-like name of White is it?”62 Most of the newspaper stories focused on his “gallantry.”63 There were a lot of inaccuracies, however, in the reporting of the actual battle. Most of the war correspondents or the officers who were commissioned to write the stories did not understand that White was acting independently and was solely responsible for the decision to attack the hill overlooking the Sang-i-Nawishta. They believed Baker had given White the orders. This view was certainly reinforced by Roberts’ telegram of 8 October to the India Office which incorrectly stated Baker’s role explicitly.64 But some reporting did still manage to get 60  Ibid.; Gardyne, The Life of a Regiment, 132; Maud Diver, Kabul to Kandahar (London: Peter Davies, 1935), 87; and, Edward M. Spiers, The Scottish Soldier and Empire, 1854–1902 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 53. 61  White to Amy White, 15 October 1879, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 62  White to Jane White, 20 January 1880, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 63  See, for example, Penny Pictorial News and Family Story Paper, 18 October 1879, p. 6. 64  See, for example, The York Herald, 9 October 1879, p.  5; The Standard, 9 October 1879, p. 5; and, The Nottingham Evening Post, 9 October 1879, p. 2. In his autobiographical Forty-One Years in India, Roberts acknowledged that he only truly learned of the impor-



it right.65 The Times continued to reject White’s own submissions and he felt that it and the other newspapers did not fully understand why he had been so successful and why others had suffered heavier casualties. “The small loss was a great deal to the way I worked the ground,” he wrote to his brother in mid-November. “Colonel Clarke marched the 72nd under a heavy fire in line shoulder to shoulder. It was at this game that he lost all his men. If he had sent them across the open in companies with three or four paces between the files he would not have lost so many. The first hill I attacked was very steep. I studied it well with my glasses and [determined a] place where I could halt the men for health in perfect safety. The very steepness of the hill was, I knew a great safeguard to my men.”66 White was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Charasiab and Kandahar (see below) and that acknowledgement of his leadership and bravery changed his career.67 Marching into Kabul, like so many of the British officers and men, White wanted vengeance for Cavagnari’s death. The white washed walls of the Residency “bespattered with blood” and the burned skulls and bones lying all around could not but help elicit these base feelings.68 “An army sent to avenge the second ambassador of ours murdered in Cabul, ought to have razed it to the ground, instead of sprinkling rose water about as we are doing. I dare say you can spare my dissertation upon what the fate of Cabul really should have been,” he wrote home.69 White was certain that Yakub Khan was responsible for Cavagnari’s death and also that he was the one who had ordered the resistance at Charasiab. He did not regret that many men were hanged in Kabul and others were executed by firing squad under the terms of the martial law proclaimed after the city fell.70 Brian tance of White’s actions the next day after he met with White and examined the ground for himself. Roberts, Forty-One Years in India, 224. 65  The Pioneer, 22 October 1879, p. 3. 66  White to John White, 15 November 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  LieutenantColonel W.H.J. Clarke led the 72nd (Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders) Regiment in the attack on “Red Ridge” at Charasiab as part of Baker’s brigade. He was praised for his gallantry. Due to pneumonia, he was invalided home in December 1879 and died en route at Allahabad in April. Shadbolt, The Afghan Campaigns of 1878–1880, 45 and 230. 67  Color-sergeant, later Major-General Sir, Hector MacDonald, 92nd Highlanders, was awarded with a commission for his actions at Charasiab. 68  MacGregor, The Second Afghan War 1878–80, 232; George Forrest, The Life of Lord Roberts (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1914), 97. 69  White to Amy White, 15 October 1879, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 70  MacGregor, War in Afghanistan, 101 and 108.



Robson has set the number of executions at 49, short of the 87 provided by MacGregor’s official history.71 The numbers were high enough to generate much controversy in India. Lytton was so “dismayed” by Roberts’ retribution that he proclaimed an amnesty and warned Roberts not to take further action.72 In Great Britain, the Liberal Party took advantage of the situation by portraying Conservative foreign policy as reckless and cruel. The Bala Hissar was dismantled and the treasury was plundered.73 Yakub Khan, however, was spared and perhaps ironically, White was assigned the task of guarding over him. After his forced abdication, Yakub Khan was sent into exile where he died in Ootacumund (Udagamandalam) in 1923. The 92nd Regiment prepared to move into winter quarters at the Sherpur cantonment, just a mile or so outside of Kabul. A few days after its arrival, amid rumors of an Afghan rising, Baker took 500 of them with White in command to Maidan about 27 miles to the southwest, leaving Parker and the remainder of the regiment at Sherpur. Although White considered his selection to be a great honor, his feelings towards Baker were mixed. He felt his methods at times were too ruthless. He explained to his brother, “General Baker surrounds a village, gets hold of the head man, asks if there are any sepoys. The Mallick replies with pride, ‘Yes, my son is a sepoy of the First Herat regiment.’ The Herat regiments were forward in attack on residency. Said son and sepoy was hanged the next day with 26 others.”74 White returned to Sherpur on 1 December. If the British invasion and the removal of the Amir had not inflamed Afghan sentiment enough, actions like those of Roberts and Baker stirred things up even more. The one ally the British had was winter which although would make their own position difficult to endure and limited their offensive operations, it also sucked the spirit out of the Afghans. Nevertheless, in early December, Mahomed Jan led a sizable force towards Kabul. Roberts responded quickly in order to hit the Afghans before they could concentrate their forces. Near Arghandeh, about half way between Kabul and Maidan, with White commanding the advanced guard, a  Robson, The Road to Kabul, 142.  Lutyens, The Lyttons in India, 166. For more on British retribution at Kabul, see Rob Johnson, “General Roberts, the Occupation of Kabul, and the Problems of Transition, 1879–1880,” War in History 20 3 (2013): 300–322. 73  Much of the Bala Hissar was blown up by “some devil of an Afghan,” which resulted in the death of three Gurkhas and a soldier in the 67th (South Hants) Regiment. White to Amy White, 15 October 1879, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 74  White to John White, 15 November 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 71 72



brigade under Baker met the enemy on 11 December. Many of the Gordons, with their mustaches and beards sprouting icicles, while bleeding from the cold in their thighs and the chafing of their kilts, worked successfully to disperse the Afghan force.75 Upon returning to Kabul on the 13th, they found Macpherson’s Brigade engaged with the enemy, attempting to force the Afghans from the Takht-i-Shah. Mahomed Jan had brought a sizeable army to Kabul and Roberts had no idea how many men he had or where he would strike.76 He took control of the Takht-i-Shah (King’s Throne), a position about 2400  feet above the plain which acted like a natural fortress. Thick stone sangars made it even more difficult to assault.77 Macpherson had attempted to drive the defenders from it the day before with an attack from the north side. He failed. Roberts now ordered Baker to attack from the south in coordination with a renewed attack by Macpherson. With his artillery firing upon the summit and his cavalry working to cut off reinforcement, Baker ordered White, the 92nd Regiment, and some men of the Queen’s Own Corps of Guides to cross the plain to the base of the slope on which the Afghans were in strength. When they arrived there, White astutely changed the battle plan. While Lieutenant St. John Forbes led a frontal attack, White struck at one of the spurs. Although Forbes fell just before he reached the top, Lieutenant William Dick-Cunyngham successfully led the men over the first sangar and into the enemy’s defenses.78 White met with success as well, gaining a nearby ridge and the Guides flooded onto the Takt-i-Shah dispersing the enemy. Men of Macpherson’s Brigade were first to reach the peak.79 “I volunteered for everything and really managed the whole of the assault and capture of the Takt-i-Shah,” White wrote to his brother. “Baker was commanding the Brigade and he confided the dangerous part to me. I made 2 really good moves, the first a rapid change of front to the right which simply won the action, the enemy deprived of two thirds of 75  White to John White, 2 December 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP; White to Jane White, 2 December 1879, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 76  Robson, The Road to Kabul, 154–5. 77  Gardyne, The Life of a Regiment, 149. 78  For his actions at Takht-i-Shah, Dick-Cunyngham was awarded with the Victoria Cross. He and White were quite close and remained so until the latter’s death at Wagon Hill, just outside of Ladysmith, 6 January 1900. 79  Archibald Forbes, The Afghan Wars 1839–42 and 1878–80 (London: Seeley and Co., LTD, 1896), 244.



the strength they had reckoned on were easily cowed. The second move was when I had collected the 92nd in the plain again, after the assault. I saw a chance of intercepting some of the enemy again and surroundings, a fort held by them, cutting off all chance of retreat from the defenders. I succeeded in both.”80 Baker who had served in Crimea told him, “it was the finest thing he had ever seen,” White reported to his wife.81 It was no time yet, however, to rest on his laurels. The Afghans continued to press British defenses at Kabul. Although Roberts had close to 7,000 healthy men, he had to defend a perimeter of 8,000 yards against a force of over 10,000; Roberts estimated it at 60,000.82 On 15 December, the Afghans laid siege to Sherpur. Every day the siege lasted, “there was perpetual firing all round and constant explosions.”83 On the 23rd, Brigadier-General Charles Gough’s relief column arrived. I was awoke by the sentry announcing a fire on Deh-i-Afghan. . . . Soon the cry of “Allah, Allah” from thousands of throats told that on this, the last day of the Muharram, the full tide of the Jehad was to be hurled against the followers of the Christian’s God, and that with such a fury that the forty-eight hours that to elapse before their great festival should not one of them left to hail the natal morn of their prophet. The . . . musical cries of “Allah” were soon drowned in the hoarser roar of the breech-loader, the continued roll from the eastern face telling that the attack must be a real one there. You can picture to yourself a Highland officer leaning on his long straight claymore, impatient to dye its blade in the Moslem’s blood, his tartans waving gracefully to the morning breeze, a look of determination on his fine face which boded no good to the follower of Islam who should cross the zone swept by that bright blade and muscular arm. Well! that wasn’t me, that must have been some other fellow. I was wrapped in a poshteen, with a worsted nightcap on my head, very actively sick at intervals of five minutes, and wishing to goodness that the children of Mahomet would go away and call another day. A call for support from the Eastern face under General Hugh Gough [who was with Roberts’ force], despatched three companies of the 92nd Highlanders in that direction, and I volunteered to go with them. Carried away by their enthusiasm, the [enemy] had, in the darkness, rushed in immense numbers into a village within 400 yards of our position, but as the light improved and they saw what they had yet to cross, their  White to John White, 3 January 1880, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  White to Amy White, 18 December 1879, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 82  Robson, The Road to Kabul, 167. 83  Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 232–3. 80 81



hearts failed them. I saw the waver and begged to be allowed to execute my movement, which would have put me on the flank of their retreat, where I could have shot them down in hundreds within 300 yards and been under cover myself. Soon my words were verified, and the enemy taking the very line I had pointed out streamed out of the village in headlong flight. My three companies were the only white troops within range of the point. We poured volleys into them, but at 800 yards. Even at that distance it is a miracle to me how so many of them got away, but we afterwards counted sixty bodies in one field, and they were very plucky in carrying off some of their dead.84

The siege was lifted and the British restored their control over Kabul and Bala Hissar; Roberts re-imposed martial law. The Afghan army dissolved. White was glad to get the opportunity to command his men on these situations but he also wanted the recognition from the War Office. After all he had led the 92nd in every attack it was involved in the during the campaign, except one, when Captain Gordon commanded two companies at Asmai Heights.85 His commander, Colonel Parker, meanwhile was typically left behind with the reserve. White wrote with frustration, “within the last week I have been superseded by 4 majors, in this little force, who were all my juniors at Charasiab who have received Lt. Colonelcies for the last campaign.”86 He begged his brother, who was now employed as a private secretary to Robert Haldane-Duncan, 3rd Earl of Camperdown, to ask his influential employer to speak to Sir Frederick Stanley, the Secretary of State for War, on his behalf. Stanley, however, did not remain in office much longer. While British troops endured Kabul through the winter and the heavy snow and the bitter cold allowed for few opportunities to strike out, changes were occurring back at home which would impact Afghan affairs. In April 1880, with White still in Kabul, the Midlothian campaign produced a large victory for the Liberal party, and much to his dismay, Gladstone formed his second government. Although the Liberals had campaigned on a number of domestic issues, foreign policy issues were also key, notably the events in Afghanistan. Roberts’ martial law and the executions of many Afghans had received a lot of bad press, and the 84  White to Amy White, 25 December 1879  in Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 236–7 85  Gordon was shot in the chest leading his men on 14 December. The bullet pierced a lung. 86  White to John White, 2 December 1879, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.



Liberals argued that his actions were part of an amoral foreign policy run amok. White reported that “the result of the elections has called forth a good many d[amn]s from the soldiers here. I fancy Sir F[rederick] R[oberts] is about as much put out about it as anyone can be. His part in the atrocities here deserves to be forgotten from the bravery with which he has lied about them. There were (sic) no end of men shot simply because [they were] taken prisoners. However, for God’s sake don’t quote me about it as it is no affair of mine.”87 Lord Lytton immediately resigned, unwilling to work with the Liberal government. Although many expected Lord Dufferin to be named, and White hoped that Lord Camperdown would get the job, Gladstone gave the viceroyship to a fellow progressive, a Home Ruler, and the first Catholic to hold the office, the Marquis of Ripon. White did not expect any changes, however, which would alter things in Afghanistan for British soldiers. “I don’t think the Libs can make any change in Afghan affairs for the present. Abdur Rahman is said to be raising the country against us rapidly” and it was believed he had “the flower” of Sher Ali’s army armed with the 5,000 breechloaders that Lord Mayo gave to him.88 Before the Liberals won their election, the Conservatives had struggled over what to do with Afghanistan. A permanent occupation, they believed, was not the solution. There was some support in the Cabinet for partitioning the country; Roberts supported retaining Kandahar.89 There was also the question of whether Yakub Khan should be re-instated as Amir. Lytton was against both ideas. But if Afghanistan was to remain independent and the Russians were to be kept out of the region, a new Amir who possessed a legitimate claim to the title, had the respect of the tribal leaders, and could work with the British, would have to be located. Lytton as well as his successor, Ripon, identified Abdur Rahman, a grandson of Dost Muhammad, as the most viable candidate. After difficult negotiations, which involved keeping the terms of the Treaty of Gandamak intact, both sides came to understand that they needed the other party. Abdur Rahman was recognized as Amir of Kabul in July. Unhappy with some of Roberts’ decisions, it was decided to send Stewart, his superior, from Kandahar to Kabul to take command of the  White to John White, 13 April 1880, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  Ibid. 89  Johnson, “General Roberts, the Occupation of Kabul,” 318; S. Gopal, British Policy in India 1858–1905 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 215. 87 88



Kabul Field Force. He arrived on 5 May. The 92nd was not relieved because there was still fighting to be done but White’s time in Afghanistan seemed to be coming to an end. White, like most of the force in Kabul, had seen little action since the siege of Sherpur had been lifted. He spent much of February training 60 men from each regiment to act as mounted infantry. It was not work he cared for. On 25 April, he was involved in a minor affair near Charasiab. White commanded a wing of the 92nd but overall command had been entrusted to Colonel F.H. Jenkyns of the Guides. On the day after Stewart arrived in Kabul, White learned that he had been offered the job of Military Secretary by Ripon.90 Both Roberts and Macpherson told him to take it; Roberts added that the fighting was over.91 White arrived back in Simla in time to say goodbye to Lord Lytton and then proceeded to Bombay to meet Ripon upon his arrival. On paper, the Viceroy’s Military Secretary did not have many important responsibilities. He was tasked with overseeing a lot of household matters like travel arrangements, ceremonies, and supervising the large military staff. But in practice, a strong Military Secretary could assert influence over military policy. He served on the Executive Council, along with the Commander-in-Chief, the Military Member of Council, and a few others, which ultimately directed military policy in India. Since the Commander-in-Chief was an appointment made by the Duke of Cambridge, there was no guarantee that he would see eye to eye with the Viceroy. Lytton and Haines, for example, did not work well together. The Military Secretary, however, was the Viceroy’s appointment and therefore could be the Viceroy’s important ally. The Viceroy also employed a Private Secretary who was responsible for all civil work. Similar to the Military Secretary he was the Viceroy’s personal appointment and could wield a lot of influence over policy. If the Private Secretary had military experience, the job of the Military Secretary could be even more challenging to navigate. Ripon brought with him to India Colonel Charles Gordon, also known as Gordon Pasha and “Chinese” Gordon. Gordon, a Crimean War veteran, made his reputation in the 1860s during the Taiping Rebellion and then later, in the 1870s, as Governor-General of the Sudan, where he rigorously pursued the end of the slave trade. Everyone knew of him. “I was greatly delighted to find 90  White believed that he was offered the position due to Lord Camperdown’s influence. White to Amy White, 14 May 1880, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 91  White to John White, 17 May 1880, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.



that Chinese Gordon was to be my brother Secretary,” he wrote to his brother. “I have never met him but he is one of the men I have always looked to as the embodiment of all that is straight and chivalrous.”92 But upon meeting him, White knew that Gordon was the not the right man for the job. He told his wife, “He is a queer fellow with a vengeance and won’t fill the post he has undertaken. Quite too uncompromising. He has put me into a most awkward position already by his extraordinary bluntness. He is however a real fine fellow. But won’t do here.”93 Gordon lasted only a few weeks at the post and was replaced temporarily by the Undersecretary in the Indian Foreign Office, Mortimer Durand, White’s future biographer.94 White was not sure if he would last at his new posting much longer than Gordon. The work did not suit him. He felt he was more like a “housekeeper” than a soldier.95 He expected that hostilities would flare up in Afghanistan, and if they did, he would immediately ask Ripon for permission to join his regiment. He did not have to wait too long. After the 22 July durbar which recognized Abdur Rahman as the new Amir, the British made preparations to leave the country. Stewart was soon to withdraw along the Khyber Route and Roberts would take his force back to India via the Kurram route. There were some problems however to be addressed. Not all of the Afghans had recognized Adbur Rahman as Amir and were willing to accept continued British influence in Afghanistan. Ayub Khan, Sher Ali’s youngest son and Yakub Khan’s brother, for one, continued to assert his claim. He took a force from Herat and marched toward Kandahar. The British offered support to the Wali of Kandahar who they had installed and dispatched a brigade under the command of Brigadier-General George Burrows to assist the much large force of local levies. The levies, however, deserted en masse and on 27 July,96 Ayub  White to John White, 25 May 1880, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  White to Amy White, 2 June 1880, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 94  A military correspondent for the Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser claimed Gordon quit his post because he feared being seduced by Ripon’s Catholicism. Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, 22 June 1880, n.p. 95  White to Amy White, 6 July 1880, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 96  Colonel O. St. John, the political officer at Kandahar, believed that the Wali’s troops were mutinous and asked that they be disarmed. The troops deserted before Burrows gave his reply. White to Camperdown, 4 August 1880, Miscellaneous letters, papers, minutes and telegrams concerned with the Afghan campaign of 1879–80, and White’s minutes as Military Secretary to Lord Ripon, Mss Eur F108/2, GWP. 92 93



Khan’s much larger force heavily defeated Burrows at Maiwand.97 British losses were close to 1,000 dead. Ayub Khan followed this up by moving on Kandahar and laying siege to the town and the British garrison in early August. “Little Bobs is down on his luck,” White had written at the end of May.98 Roberts had been superseded by Stewart and the political fallout from the executions in Kabul had left him a pariah among the Liberals who were now in charge. “I think Bobs’ political career appears to have been considered a failure.”99 However, the disaster at Maiwand gave Roberts an opportunity. He telegraphed Simla and asked if he could march to Kandahar. Haines gave his assent as did Stewart. On 9 August, Roberts left Kabul with a handpicked force of over 10,000 men which included the 92nd Regiment and began the 300 mile-long march only halting twice, other than to sleep, for 24  hours.100 They reached Kandahar on 1 September. Roberts routed the enemy and lifted the siege. Upon hearing the news of Maiwand, White met with Ripon. White had come to appreciate the Viceroy’s talents and “never met a man I like[d] so much.”101 Nevertheless, he felt a responsibility to his regiment and asked if he could rejoin it, knowing that it would soon head out for Kandahar with Roberts. Ripon agreed. White left Simla immediately and reached Kabul on the 8th. He was greeted by his regiment with three cheers. The force left the next day; White was in charge of the baggage. The march was grueling and, conducted through territory which was not fully controlled by the Amir, risky. Roberts’ Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel E.F. Chapman, later claimed it was one of the great achievements

97  On 26 June, Ripon received a telegram from Teheran that Ayub Khan was moving from Herat to Kandahar. Ripon discussed an appropriate response with Haines, and Haines suggested that he consult Stewart, who had commanded in Kandahar. Stewart advised an advance to Helmand to support the Wali’s troops. Haines agreed as did Sir Edwin Johnson, the Military Member of Council. As a result, Lieutenant-General J.M. Primrose, the commander in Kandahar, was instructed to send a brigade forward. According to White, Ripon was against the move because he was fearful that there were not enough European troops near Kandahar, but having only just arrived in India, gave way to his generals. White to Camperdown, 4 August 1880, Mss Eur F108/2, GWP. 98  White to Amy White, 25 May 1880, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 99  White to Amy White, 15 June 1880, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 100  David James, Lord Roberts (London: Hollis & Carter, 1954), 151–160. 101  White to John White, 3 August 1880, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.



of the war.102 Roberts himself was stricken by an ulcer and had to be conveyed by doolie for some of the trip.103 White wrote that if he had not taken part in it, he would have never appreciated how challenging it was to continue on with so little rest, a scarcity of water, and only one meal of chapatis a day.104 The heat was oppressive and the legs of the kilted highlanders were terribly burnt. As bad as it was for the British regiments, White opined in a paternalistic tone, “the dear little Goorkhas (Gurkhas) stood it worst of all. Their little legs cannot take an ordinary soldier’s pace, and they evidently suffer horribly from the heat, but when it comes to the fight they are little beauties.”105 The force reached Kandahar on 31 August and attacked Ayub Khan’s men the next day. Roberts identified the village of Gundi Mulla Sahibdad as the key to the enemy’s defenses at Pir Paimal and entrusted its attack to MacPherson’s 1st Brigade, which included the 92nd Highlanders, 2nd Gurkhas, 23rd Pioneers, and the 24th Punjab Infantry; the latter two units remained with the guns and were held in support.106 Two companies of Gordons commanded by White and two companies of Gurkhas commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel A. Battye succeeded in forcing the enemy to retreat. “I first tried shooting [the enemy] out of their positions,” White wrote, “but the longer I tried it the more steadily they held on. I consequently adopted shock tactics & went at them with the bayonet whenever they made a stand, with the same invariable result. They would not wait for the bayonet but stalked off, leisurely enough, when we were nearing them, always separating as they went to avoid the loss which they would have sustained if in solid groups, which nervous men would undoubtedly have got into.”107 The Battle of Kandahar continued for some time. Other assaults were launched, most significantly, against Pir Paimal, which included Parker and the rest of the 92nd and Baker’s Second Brigade. But White was not done yet. 102  Speech given at the Royal United Service Institute, 9 March 1881, MacGregor, The Second Afghan War 1878–80, 549. 103  Atwood, “The Second Afghan War.” 104  MacGregor, The Second Afghan War 1878–80, 560; White to Amy White, 6 September 1880, in Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 256–7. 105  White to Amy White, 6 September 1880, in Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 256–7. 106  Gardyne, The Life of a Regiment, 180. 107  White to Amy White, 6 September 1880, in Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 260.



Late in the day, the Afghans made a stand at Baba Wali Kotal and their guns fired down on Roberts’ men. White, in an advanced position, saw enemy columns coming to support their artillery and beginning to deploy. Lieutenant Forbes MacBean, 92nd Highlanders, reported, “The 92nd were lying in a shallow ditch in line. The enemy was pouring in a tremendous fire both from the rifles lining the bank and two artillery guns. Major White’s voice was hardly heard above the rattling fire from both sides, but ‘The 92nd are to take the two guns,’ was quite enough. Up we jumped, and with a cheer went across the onion field.”108 In extended order, and with artillery offering cover fire, they charged the enemy’s position and succeeded in capturing the guns.109 White was first to reach them, with Sepoy Inderbir Lama, 2nd Gurkhas, right behind him.110 Roberts again recommended White for the Victoria Cross, and, this time, he got it.111 Although Roberts remained in Afghanistan for another month and some British troops remained much longer, White was back in Simla by the end of the month.112 Not surprisingly, he grew tired quickly of the staff work and travelling around with the Viceroy as he gave speeches and held dinners in Lahore, Poona, and Allahabad, and longed to be back with his regiment. But he reached the conclusion that he would muddle through and continue to assist Ripon until Parker stepped down from the command and the 92nd Regiment was his. It caused White great anxiety when he learned the Gordons were going to South Africa in January 1881 without him. A detachment and White’s friend, Lieutenant Ian Hamilton, were atop Majuba Hill on 27 February when a small group of Transvaal Boers climbed the flat mountain and took the British by surprise in the First Anglo-Boer War. Hamilton and another Gordon officer were wounded and captured; a third officer was killed. The regiment suffered 96 other casualties, 44 of whom  died.113 Perhaps even more tragic, the  Times, 15 October 1880, n.p.  Gardyne, The Life of a Regiment, 184–5. 110  Roberts, Forty-One Years in India, 368. 111  Although both Roberts and Baker recommended White for the Victoria Cross after Charasiab, nothing came of it. “My friends at the Horse Guards,” he wrote his brother, “sent a most snubbing repeal saying that I had but done my duty. When I know what others have got it for, I know I have earned it more than once. If I only did my duty at Charasiab. There has been a very strange misconception of their duty on the part of the other officers.” White to John White, 25 May 1880, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 112  White returned to India accompanied by one of Roberts’ staff officers, Reginald PoleCarew, later Lieutenant-General. 113  Gardyne, The Life of a Regiment, 211. 108 109



officer who White had thought was one of the brightest lights of the British army, Colonel Sir George Colley, was killed as well. White was despondent when he heard the news of the Majuba disaster. He wrote to his sister: I know you will understand the state of mind I have been in ever since I heard about the affair at Spitz Kop. I did my best to get out to the 92nd, but the Duke of Cambridge won’t hear of it. Lord Ripon too backed me as well as ever. The Duke wired that I could not be allowed to resign without injustice to the other Majors. As [J.C.] Hay & [L.C.] Singleton, who, I believe, represent the Majors, are both reported severely wounded, it is not quite plain why my rejoining would be an injustice to them. The regiment must be nearly without officers of any standing. However, I am not to go, and there’s an end of it. The affair, as far as I have heard of it, is utterly inexplicable. I am unfit for work; I cannot get my thoughts together on any other subject.114

If the start of the year was very trying, the second half of the year brought White great satisfaction. First, in June, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for “conspicuous bravery during the engagement at Charasiab,” and “at the battle of Candahar… in leading the final charge, under a heavy fire from the enemy, who held a strong position.”115 Next, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, and finally, in October he was given command of the 2nd Battalion, Gordon Highlanders.116 He left India shortly afterwards to see his family and rejoin his regiment. The first 20 years of White’s military career were slow and monotonous. Although he did experience action during the Rebellion, most of his time, even then, was spent engaged in the routine. Ambitious officers dream of opportunities, but the reality is that those moments come infrequently. White’s opportunity finally arose during the Second Anglo-­ Afghan War. He was given the chance to lead men in battle and he proved 114  White misidentified Spitzkop as the battle site. Major J.C. Hay was wounded but Captain L.C. Singleton, who had fought with White at Kandahar, died from his wounds. White to Jane White, 7 March 1881, in Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 236–7; White to John White, 7 March 1881, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 115  London Gazette, 3 June 1881, 2859. 116  As part of the Cardwell reforms, see Chapter 2, the 92nd and the 75th (Stirlingshire) Regiment of Foot were linked under the localization scheme. The 75th became the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, the 92nd became the 2nd Battalion, and the Royal Aberdeenshire Militia became the 3rd Battalion.



himself a more than capable commander, who elicited loyalty from his men, and displayed intelligence in his decision-making and bravery in his personal actions. For the latter, White was awarded with a Victoria Cross, Great Britain’s highest honor for gallantry. He eventually became only one of a handful of field-marshals in the Victorian Army to hold that distinction. Afghanistan also gave him much needed recognition, earned him a staff appointment in Simla, and won him a most important benefactor in Frederick Roberts who continued to support White for the rest of his career. White’s correspondences during this period show an officer who was beginning to see the bigger picture, and was able to understand the importance of balancing the political need with the military. With the war in Afghanistan over, White’s potential seemed unlimited.


The Making of a General: War and the Occupation of Upper Burma (1885–1889)

Lieutenant-Colonel George S. White, V.C., returned to Whitehall at the end of December 1881, in bad shape. Twenty-seven years of service in India was finally catching up with him. He was “very seedy,” the result of overfatigue and bad water. Although the horrible red patches on his forehead, behind his ears, and on his hands had healed, he could not sleep without taking medicine.1 Nevertheless, he managed to remain in good spirits when he was feted by the inhabitants of Broughshane. The village was all lit up, bonfires were raised on the surrounding hills, and the church bells rang out as White, his brother, and his sisters were met in a carriage by the local brass band and accompanied to the Orange Lodge where the family was celebrated by a group of local dignitaries. Speeches were given, songs were sung, and praise was lauded upon White. White himself protested that everyone was too flattering, made jokes that the local contractors would not have even dared try to fix the roads that he had travelled on in Afghanistan, reminded them that it was everyone’s “duty of citizenship to give their life if necessary in defense of the privileges and the freedom of the community,” and proudly declared that “the sun never set over the territory of the British Empire.”2

1  White to Jane White, 5 October 1880, White’s letters to his sister Jane White, Mss Eur F108/97(a)-(b)(c. 1845–1910), GWP; White to Amy White, 22 April 1882, White’s letters to his wife Amy (nee Baly), Mss Eur F108/101(a)-(j) (1879–1909), GWP. 2  Ballymena Observer, 31 December 1881, n.p.

© The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




After visiting with his family and trying to heal by taking in the waters at Aix-la-Chapelle (Bad Aachen), White joined his regiment, no longer called the 92nd, but instead the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, in Portsmouth. Over the course of the next couple of years, he travelled between Portsmouth, London, Edinburgh, and Broughshane. The 2nd Battalion, however, was not going abroad anytime soon. After serving overseas for so long, they were due for a lengthy rest. The linked battalion system which went into effect 1 July 1881 had joined the 92nd with the 75th (Stirlingshire) Regiment and, in theory, one battalion was supposed to remain at home while the other served abroad. The 75th, now 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, had gone to Malta in early 1881 and then joined General Sir Garnet Wolseley’s expedition to Egypt the following year. That meant White and the 2nd Battalion were not going anywhere anytime soon. As can be expected, White began to get restless, looking for new opportunities. He got turned down so many times by the Duke of Cambridge that he began to consider the Commander-in-Chief’s Assistant Military Secretary, Major-General Martin Dillon, his “arch-enemy.”3 Despondent, he wrote to his wife from Edinburgh, “I have now no prospect from the Army. There must be 12 men ADC’s made (sic) since I was recommended and the two years that have nearly elapsed have spoilt my chances of profiting by promotion now… . I have two chances open to me. One is to follow in the steps of Parker  – a miserable command  – or to get staff employ[ment] in India. The latter is uncertain and I feel that I have had more than enough of India already.”4 He even went so far as to write the pension board to determine if he retired whether he could live off the income. He was offered the Lieutenant-Governorship of Chelsea Hospital, where Field Marshal Sir Patrick Grant was finishing his career as Governor, but he turned the offer down. Out of the blue in February 1885, White was summoned to Cairo, Egypt, by General, now Lord, Wolseley, to take part in the advance up the Nile River to Khartoum. He had no specific orders, he had no idea what he was going to do, and he was not even sure why a British army was needed in the Sudan, but nevertheless was thrilled by the prospects of seeing action again. As he steamed pass Brandisi, he discussed the future with his companions Colonel Walter R.  Lascelles and fellow County Antrim  White to Amy White, 4 February 1883, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.  Ibid.

3 4



man, Colonel Sir Owen Lanyon, and wondered whether they would take part in the Suakin expedition, go to Khartoum, or perhaps stay in Cairo. British interests in Egypt grew considerably after Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s Conservative government purchased Khedive Ismail’s shares of the Suez Canal Company in 1875. Gross mismanagement and British and French economic exploitation fueled an outburst of Egyptian nationalism in 1881. In order to restore order in Alexandria, safeguard British interests in the Suez Canal, put down the Arabi Rebellion, and install a more compliant Khedive, the British sent troops to Egypt in the summer of 1882.5 Wolseley’s campaign was victorious but despite Prime Minister William Gladstone’s desire to bring British troops home, it committed Great Britain to a lengthy occupation and to a more active policy of interference in Egypt. The rise of the Mahdi, a self-proclaimed Islamic leader in the Sudan, threatened not just Egypt’s control over the Sudan but Egypt itself. To deal with the Mahdi’s mounting challenge, a British trained Egyptian army was sent south but it was defeated at Kashgil in the Battle of Obeid.6 Roused by the British defeat, the revolt spread to the Red Sea port of Suakin in the eastern Sudan. While British soldiers were sent to deal with Osman Digna’s threat to Suakin, Gladstone searched for a quick and cheap exit strategy from the Upper Nile. After he resigned as the Viceroy’s Private Secretary in 1880,7 Charles Gordon had been restless, working and traveling in China, Mauritius, Basutoland (Lesotho), Palestine, and Great Britain. With his experience in the region and a history of success in political endeavors, Gladstone turned to Gordon to solve the problems caused by the Mahdist revolt, chief among them the isolation of a number of garrisons in the Sudan. Upon his arrival in Khartoum, the administrative capital of Egyptian Sudan, Gordon did not order the immediate withdrawal of European and Egyptian troops however and soon, he too, was cut off and surrounded by Mahdist forces. Wolseley was sent again to Egypt, this time to move up the Nile, break the siege, and deliver Gordon. The relief expedition however failed to reach Khartoum in time, arriving two days too late, on 28 January 1885. Gordon 5  See M.J. Williams, “The Egyptian Campaign, 1882,” in Victorian Military Campaigns, ed. Brian Bond (London: Hutchinson, 1967), Rob Johnson, “Egypt and the Sudan, 1881–85,” in Queen Victoria’s Wars, ed. Stephen M.  Miller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), Chapter 10; and, Wilfrid S.  Blunt, Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1907). 6  Johnson, “Egypt and the Sudan, 1881–85,” Chapter 10. 7  See Chap. 3.



was dead and the city had fallen.8 With a growing number of British troops arriving in the Sudan, and unsure what steps the Gladstone government would undertake next, Wolseley felt he needed staff support and asked for White. White’s time in Egypt and Sudan was mostly uneventful. Not only did he not know what he was doing there, it became pretty clear after his arrival, that Wolseley’s reasons for asking for him were unknown as well. Upon arriving in Cairo, he reported to General Sir Frederick Stephenson, who had commanded British troops in Egypt until Wolseley’s arrival, and after his supersession, remained to assist in the expedition.9 Stephenson had no idea that White was coming, telegraphed Wolseley, and told White and his companions to stay in the city until he got a response. Writing to his wife, White was clearly frustrated by the delay. He was also deeply saddened by the news of the death of Brigadier-General Sir Herbert Stewart, “the most rising soldier of his day,” who had just succumbed to his wounds suffered at the Battle of Abu Klea on 17 January.10 After receiving word that he was to proceed to Dongola, still without word of his appointment, White and Lanyon hired a cook and a servant and secured passage aboard the National Aid Society’s Steamer, Queen Victoria (Map 4.1). The trip to Wadi Halfa, an important station on the Egyptian-Sudan frontier at the point where the Nile narrows just above its second cataract, was interesting. White had opportunities to visit Luxor and view the ruins of Thebes and Karnac and the Colossi of Memnon. He also enjoyed walking through the ruins of Edfu. He saw his colleague from the Gordons, Hector MacDonald, who fought at Charasiab with White and earned a commission for his service and was later captured at Majuba; Colonel George Wolseley, the younger brother of Lord Wolseley who White would serve with in Burma (Myanmar) and India in the years to 8  For details of Gordon’s death, see Douglas H.  Johnson, “The Death of Gordon: A Victorian Myth,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 10 (1982): 285–310. For Wolseley’s expedition, see A.  Preston, ed., In Relief of Gordon: Lord Wolseley’s Campaign Journal of the Khartoum Relief Expedition 1884–1885 (London: Hutchinson, 1967); R. Neillands, The Dervish Wars: Gordon and Kitchener in the Sudan 1880–1898 (London: John Murray, 1996); Mike Snook. Beyond the Reach of Empire: Wolseley’s Failed Campaign to Save Gordon and Khartoum (London: Frontline Books, 2013); and, J. Symons, England’s Pride: The Story of the Gordon Relief Expedition (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1965). 9  Frederick Charles Arthur Stephenson, At Home and on the Battlefield (London: J. Murray, 1915), 283–4. 10  White to Amy White, 20 February 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.


Map 4.1  The Nile Campaign, 1885. (Source: Author)




come; and, the Earl of Dundonald, whose path would cross again with White’s in Ladysmith. While at Wadi Halfa, White learned that he had been promoted to Colonel. He also heard more of the details of Stewart’s death and of Major-General William Earle’s death at the Battle of Kirbekan.11 Continuing his journey to Dongola via rail and camel around the third cataract, with temperatures rising to the high 90s, White arrived on 17 March. Lascelles was to stay put in Dongola; Owen was to continue to Debbeh (Aldabbah); and White had the longest journey, continuing 40 miles past Debbeh to Camp Tani (Hetani) where he would act as Assistant-­ Adjutant and Quartermaster-General on Major-General Hon. J.C. “Jemmie” Dormer’s staff. White was not happy with this arrangement at all. Despite his rank, Dormer was essentially the commander of a brigade, and the staff officer of a brigade, he told his wife, was always a major. “It was most infra-dig.”12 He was certain that this kind of job was not what Wolseley intended, but Major-General Henry Brackenbury, who commanded the River Column,13 said that Brigadier-General Sir Redvers Buller, Wolseley’s Chief of Staff, “did not know what to do with us.”14 White was already inclined to think badly of Buller. He “has I hear great power and is a most disagreeable fellow.” Both officers played significant roles in White’s later career. White liked Dormer and found his high level of energy intoxicating but “Dormer is not just the man I care to work with. He is a capital official, has been on the staff all his life and keeps all details in his head wonderfully – but his tendency is to do the very reverse of anything suggested and to say, ‘no.’ This does not suit the temper of the Whites.”15 But no sooner had he written the above words to his brother, he received a telegram from  White to Amy White, 15 March 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.  White to Amy White, 23 March 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 13  See Henry Brackenbury, The River Column: A Narrative of the Advance of the River Column of the Nile Expeditionary Force, and its Return down the Rapids (Edinburgh and London: Wm. Blackwood and Sons, 1885). 14  White to Amy White, 23 March 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 15  Dormer’s ADC was Captain Frank Rhodes, Royal Dragoons, the oldest brother of Cecil Rhodes, future Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and Diamond and Gold magnate. White would meet Rhodes again in Ladysmith just before the siege began. For more on Rhodes, see George Thomas Hutchinson, Frank Rhodes: A Memoir (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1908); Major Herbert Kitchener, later Field Marshal, served on Dormer’s staff as an intelligence officer. White to John White, 28 March 1885, White’s letters to his brother, John White, Mss Eur F108/98(a)-(c) (1857–1910), GWP. 11 12



Wolseley telling him that White had been offered the command of a ­brigade in Quetta, Baluchistan, and asking if he wanted it. White wired back immediately in the affirmative. He began getting ready to make his way back to Alexandria, going as far as to sell many of his belongings. When he reached Debbeh, however, there were two telegrams awaiting him: the first told him not to leave yet; the second, the Indian government no longer needed his services.16 White was furious, probably in part due to his hasty decision to leave camp. He wired Wolseley, Sir Donald Stewart, Commander-in-Chief, India, his benefactor and ally, Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Roberts, and Lord Ripon, the Viceroy, for assistance. But despite Roberts’ reply that he was doing what he could, nothing came of the appointment and White made a slow camel ride back to Tani.17 After rumors of an advance, Dormer’s brigade was ordered back to Debbeh in mid-May. It was becoming clearer that Wolseley was not going to seek revenge for Gordon’s death nor crush the Mahdist revolt. White started to rethink his earlier encounter with George Wolseley and when he learned that Major-General Sir H.  Evelyn Wood, the Sirdar, or British Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Army, who claimed to be ill, was also going home, he concluded that the British forces would soon be following them.18 White considered the withdrawal from Sudan to be a betrayal. “I cannot say I am sorry to leave this beastly desert but next to a possible abandonment of the Irish Roman Catholic Loyalists of Ireland to Home Rule perhaps the very cowardliest and falsest abandonment ever made is that your humble servant now is aiding in.”19 On the last day of May, his request for a leave to return home was granted, he said his goodbyes to Dormer, and he left Debbeh. He entered a brief note in his private diary: “Thank God. Last day here.”20 In June 1885, White learned that Roberts was going to succeed Stewart as Commander-in-Chief, India, in November, and expected that some good position would open up for him in India. He had finally become colonel, and, ironically, the Gordon Highlanders had ceased to be his  White to Amy White, 23 March 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.  White never learned the details regarding why he did not get the position. White to Amy White, 4 April 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 18  White and Wood worked together for many years and were promoted to Field Marshal on the same day. 19  White to John White, 17 May 1885, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 20  Diary entry, 30 May 1885, White’s Private Diary, describing services in Nile Expeditionary Force, and Third Burmese War, Mss Eur F108/118 (1885), (1886), (1887), GWP. 16 17



main concern. As it turned out, even before Roberts’ term began, White was offered the command of a brigade stationed in the Kamptee cantonment, near Nagpur, in Maharashtra. He left for India right away. The trip was uneventful. Aboard the Steamer Nizam, he happened to come across a Chinese envoy who was bringing letters to the young Guangxu Emperor from Queen Victoria and quickly made him his “pal.” White considered the possibility of an Anglo-Chinese alliance, directed against the encroachments of Russia which, with the additional support of the Ottoman Empire, Nepal, and the “Muslims of India,” they could “chase her back to the Volga.”21 After stops at Aden and Bombay, White, now with the local rank of Brigadier-General, arrived in Kamptee on the first day of September. In the wake of the Indian Rebellion, British governance over much of India was transferred from the East India Company to the British Crown. The military structure likewise became subordinate to the British Army. However, until 1895, it was still divided into three Presidency armies, Bengal, Bombay, and Madras, each with its own identity, shaped in part by its unique history, its customs,22 its class, caste and religious makeup, and the conceptions held by the ruling British. In addition to British regiments which would cycle through as part of their overseas service or had been part of the Company’s army, each Presidency relied on local recruitment to fill regiments of “Native Infantry,” cavalry, artillery, and corps of engineers. The Rebellion deeply shaped British attitudes towards this system. The Madras and the Bombay remained “loyal” to the British during the Rebellion but elements of the Bengal Army, mostly non-Muslim and high caste, were now considered dangerous and untrustworthy, having played a significant part in the rising.23 Taking on the position of Commander-in-Chief, India, Roberts brought with him strong ideas of martial race theory. In addition to Gurkha regiments raised in neighboring Nepal and Scottish Highlanders, he believed that men recruited from the Punjab, and in particular, Sikhs, were best physically and culturally suited for war.24 Roberts may have used  White to Amy White, 18 August 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.  Kaushik Roy, “The Construction of Regiments in the Indian Army,” War in History 8, 2 (2001): 139. 23  David Omissi, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army, 1860–1940 (London: Macmillan, 1994), 5–7. 24  Heather Streets, Martial Races: The Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857–1914 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), Introduction. 21 22



the term race to best suit his own ideas and the traits that he assigned to groups were largely fictitious, nevertheless, his seven-year term in India provided an opportunity to entrench his attitudes on the military within the establishment. The brigade that White took command of included the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers, a regiment whose roots were in the East India Company, two regiments of Native Infantry, the 7th Madras and 20th Madras, and the 4th Madras Light Cavalry. Despite remaining quiet during the Rebellion, the Madras Presidency Army was not favored by Roberts. It was rarely utilized after 1857 and therefore had great difficulties recruiting capable British officers, those most likely pursuing opportunities to advance their career as opposed to those searching for sinecures.25 Its men served longer and were less healthy than those in other Presidencies.26 British officers like Roberts believed that the men of Southern India, Tamil, Telugu, and Deccani Muslims, from which Madras mostly recruited, due to environmental and biological factors, were feminine and cowardly, and did not compare favorably to the lighter-skinned men of the north.27 Madrassis may have been more intelligent, they concluded, but they were not born fighting men.28 By the time White arrived in Kamptee, he had strong thoughts about Punjabi Sikhs and Nepalese Gurkhas, and he was very impressed by many of the Bengal Regiments like the Pioneers who he fought alongside at Charasiab, but the Madras Presidency Army was rather unknown to him. He would soon learn about them under conditions he did not anticipate. A month after arriving back in India, he began to hear rumors that the political situation in Upper Burma was deteriorating, threatening British interests, and that it was growing more and more likely that a British force was going to be sent up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay. “It is quite probable that Madras may have to send some of the troops,” he wrote from Kamptee. “What better Brigadier could they select!”29 In October, the commander of the expedition was named as Lieutenant-General Harry 25  David Omissi, “‘Martial Races’: Ethnicity and Security in Colonial India 1858–1939,” War and Society 9:1 (May 1991): 14. 26  Omissi, The Sepoy and the Raj, 14–15. 27  Streets, Martial Races, 95. Kaushik Roy, “Race and Recruitment in the Indian Army: 1880–1918,” Modern Asian Studies 47, 4 (2013): 1329. 28  T.A. Heathcote, The Indian Army: The Garrison of British Imperial India, 1822–1922 (London: David & Charles, 1974), 92. 29  White to Amy White, 19 October 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.



Prendergast, a veteran Madras Army officer, and he took with him many Madras troops. White was selected to command a brigade and he left for Rangoon (Yangon) on 28 October. The British had first come to Burma in the sixteenth century. The East India Company established a trading presence in the following century. Although rivalries with the Dutch and Portuguese were dispatched, the presence of the French in the region persisted and continued to shape strategic and economic policy regarding Burma. In 1826 and then again in 1852, the British went to war with Burma and afterwards annexed territory and imposed political and trading conditions. Lower Burma emerged as a political unit by 1862, governed by a Chief-Commissioner who answered to the Viceroy; Upper Burma remained independent.30 Interested in teak, rubies, and in gaining access to Chinese markets via Bhamo (Manmaw), the British continued to press the Burmese crown in Upper Burma for special considerations. As it was in the case of Afghanistan, the British placed particular importance on the acceptance of a British resident in Mandalay, the capital from which King Mindon Min ruled Upper Burma from 1853–1878. Although he allowed a Resident in Mandalay, the King imposed restrictions which the British considered unacceptable including the requirement that the British resident remove his shoes and sit on the floor when in the presence of royals. Both the Liberal Viceroy Northbrook and the Conservative Lytton refused to allow a British representative to prostrate himself before a foreign dignitary.31 Anglo-Burmese relationships grew increasingly tense. Mindon’s death in 1878 created a succession crisis in which Thibaw, one of Mindon’s forty-eight sons, emerged victorious.32 King Thibaw began his consolidation of power with a massacre of eighty members of the royal family including eight of his own brothers. Although the British supported Thibaw’s claims, his actions suggested that he would not be a compliant ruler and British interests in Upper Burma could be jeopardized. This proved to be the case as a number of grievances emerged claiming British subjects were being insulted, mail-boats were being

30  D.P. Singhal, The Annexation of Upper Burma (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1960), 26–7. 31  D.G.E. Hall, A History of South-East Asia (London: Macmillan & Co., 1955), 546. 32  A.T.Q.  Stewart, The Pagoda War: Lord Dufferin and the Fall of the Kingdom of Ava (Newton Abbot, UK: Victorian (& Modern History) Book Club, 1974), 60.



seized, and an alleged plot against the resident was uncovered.33 For the time being, however, Lytton was unwilling to take any action. Events in Afghanistan kept him busy enough. Ripon’s arrival in India, however, hinted at a desire to improve relations with Thibaw, especially with his visit to Burma and his determination to solve the “shoe question.”34 Negotiations over trading rights, boundary issues, sales of arms, and the shoe question, however, failed to produce the desired results. When Thibaw’s attempt to go over the Viceroy’s head and directly to Victoria was met with scorn, he tactically reached out to the French offering them trade concessions in return for their assistance.35 The British became increasingly alarmed; British trading concerns in Burma even more so. France was already in possession of Cochin China, had just grabbed Cambodia, and was making moves into Annam and Tongking. A treaty between the French and Thibaw could be disastrous to British economic and strategic interests and was central to the concerns of the new Viceroy, Lord Dufferin, who had replaced Ripon in December 1884, before the fall of Gladstone’s government.36 The final straw arose out of an accusation of improper conduct made by Thibaw’s government against the Bombay-­ Burmah Trading Company in which the Burmese refused to allow the British to see their evidence. A new Conservative government, formed in June 1885 and led by Lord Salisbury, with Lord Randolph Churchill as Secretary of State for India, decided war was necessary. Dufferin issued an ultimatum demanding that the British Resident be given full access to the King, that he be given “suitable protection,” and that the charges against the Bombay-Burmah Trading Corporation be suspended.37 On 9 November 1885, Thibaw’s rejection of the ultimatum was received; the next day, the invasion of Upper Burma began. Even before the ultimatum was delivered, Dufferin had started making military arrangements for the expedition. Just over 9,000 troops, 3,000 British and 6,000 Indian, along with 2,000 followers were assembled in 33  Intelligence Branch, Division of the Chief of Staff, Army Headquarters, India, comp., Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 5, Burma (Simla: Government Monotype Press, 1907), 111–112. 34  Singhal, The Annexation of Upper Burma, 58–60. 35  Ibid., 65–8. 36  George Bruce, The Burma Wars 1824–1886 (London: Hart-Davis, McGibbon, 1973), 152; Alfred Lyall, The Life of the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, vol. II (London: John Murray, 1905), 118–9. 37  Intelligence Branch, Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 5, Burma, 123–5.



British controlled Lower Burma, near Rangoon.38 It was estimated that Thibaw could put together a force of approximately 15,000. Prendergast, who had earned the Victoria Cross as a young lieutenant in the Madras Sappers during the Indian Rebellion and had served in the Persian and Abyssinian Wars, was selected to command the expeditionary force and was given complete political responsibility as well, at least until Upper Burma had been annexed. The removal of Thibaw and annexation was the stated intent of the mission.39 Roberts, not Prendergast, was responsible for the selection of the brigadiers and the staff, and once again, Little Bobs proved important to the advancement of White’s career. White was selected to command the Third Infantry Brigade, one of three infantry brigades, which consisted of the 2nd Battalion Hampshire Regiment, and the 12th and 23rd Madras Infantry. White was excited to see his Madras troops in action. “I have been so far very appreciably surprised by the Madras Army,” he wrote home, “and if they work as well under fire as they do on parade I shall become a very warm supporter of the Madras sepoy or as his officers like to call him “the representative of the grand old Coast Army.”40 He did fear, however, that as the junior brigadier, his men might be chosen to work the lines of communication. Nevertheless, he began his voyage up the Irrawaddy optimistic, supportive of Prendergast, and “more afraid of the mosquitoes than of anything else.”41 The conquest of Mandalay was rapid, taking under two weeks to complete, and went as well as it probably could have gone. Some resistance was offered to prevent the British flotilla steaming up the river. Troops were put ashore just south of Sinboungweh (Sinbaungwe) to remove the first stockades on the 16th. A few days later, the forts at Gwe-Gyomg-­ Kamyo and Minhla fell, leaving only the forts at Ava (Inn Wa) standing in the way to defend Thibaw’s capital. White was very impressed with the fleet which the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company provided, comparing the quick moving boats very favorably to his trip up the Nile. The pilots’ 38  Henry Vibart, The Life of Sir Harry N.D.  Prendergast (London: Eveleigh Nash, 1914), 230. 39  Foreign Secretary to Chief Commissioner, British Burma, telegram of 30 October 1885, printed in Intelligence Branch, Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 5, Burma, 140–3. 40  White to Amy White, 7 November 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 41  Ibid. The other brigade commanders were H.F. Foord and F.B. Norman. The order of brigades was later altered and White’s command became the Second Brigade.



knowledge of the river, and the reliability of the boats and their capacity as gunboats to offer support to the advancing troops, was unmatched. Despite his optimism, he was quite disappointed by the performance of his Madrassi troops who took part in the action at Minhla. He was also disgusted by the “usual horrid accompaniments of war with savages. They had caught one of our river pilots and had fastened his feet in the stocks, fixed his head back and hacked his throat with a rough chopper.” The Burmese which they had taken prisoner anticipated similar treatment. They “crawled up to us on all fours Theebaw-fashion expecting to have their throats cut at once but I patted them on the back and made the interpreter tell them to be of good cheer that we would not cut their throats and that Theebaw would not reign over them anymore.”42 As the British fleet approached Ava not knowing what resistance to expect, Thibaw’s state barge sailed toward it flying a white flag. “It was in the evening of the 26th as the sun was pouring a flood of golden light upon the last hours of Burmese independence that the smooth and uninterrupted lustre of the Irrawaddy’s broad bosom was suddenly broken by the flashing of many golden oars and the richly gilded state barge of the king,” White told his wife.43 The Burmese Commander-in-Chief told Prendergast that he understood that there was nothing they could do to stop the advancing forces and asked for terms. The British commander refused and demanded an unconditional surrender (Map 4.2). The next day, the British took precautions as troops were landed. White took his brigade to the forts on both sides of the river, at Thabyedan and Sagaing. At Sagaing, he sent a message to the Burmese general in command to present himself. When he did not show up, he ordered some soldiers to collect him. “He was discovered in his hut eating his dinner, and when told to come at once he said he would like to finish dinner. However, it was hinted to him that his dinner of tomorrow night might be unnecessary if he got my dander up, so he leisurely lit a cheroot [cigar] and lounged out, and immediately sat down and appeared entirely unconcerned.”44 White’s brigade captured guns and confiscated small arms, but the only Burmese his force came into contact with welcomed them peacefully. Prendergast then ordered the advance to continue to Mandalay. British troops made their way through the thronged streets of  White to Amy White, 15 November 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.  White to Amy White, 4 December 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 44  White to Jane White, December 1885; as cited in, Stewart, The Pagoda War, 95. 42 43



Map 4.2  Burma, c. 1885. (Source: Author)



the capital and towards the Palace, an imposing structure protected by an eighteen-foot masonry wall and a fifteen-foot teak stockade, which was surrounded and secured.45 White was put in charge to prevent looting.46 After meeting with the British political officer, Colonel E.B. Sladen, Thibaw agreed to abdicate. He asked for some time to get his things together. He was given ten minutes and then, along with the royal household, he was escorted to the Irrawaddy.47 With Mandalay captured and its immediate vicinity quiet, Prendergast continued his advance up the Irrawaddy to Bhamo, an important trading town just 40 miles from the Chinese border. White was left behind to occupy Mandalay and maintain peace. He also worked on securing the Konbaung Dynasty’s wealth. In almost every dark corner of the palace lay some hidden valuable, he wrote to his wife. His men found atop a pile of over 10,000 rupees, French silks, gold vessels, rubies, French jewelry and a case of watches.48 There were many golden Gautama figurines and a huge horde of white elephant tusks. It became immediately clear that removing Thibaw from the throne and beating his army was one thing; establishing order in Upper Burma was another. Everywhere, it seemed, former soldiers, rebels, and dacoits (gangs of bandits) were roaming around pillaging the countryside and challenging British authority. The British did not entirely understand their opponents, labeling them all as dacoits.49 In the official history of the campaign, it was stated that “From time immemorial the Burmese have been much addicted to gang robbery and dacoity.”50 Grattan Geary wrote that the Burmese view dacoits as “natural employment for villagers in a time of  Vibart, The Life of Sir Harry N.D. Prendergast, 243–4.  Over White’s angry objection, Prendergast allowed women to come and go into the palace and many valuable items were looted. Stewart, The Pagoda War, 97. 47  Thibaw delayed for more than an hour but then emerged from the palace. He lived out his years in exile in Ratnagiri, India, dying in 1916. Edmond Charles Browne, The Coming of the Great Queen: A Narrative of the Acquisition of Burma (London: Harrison and Sons, 1888), 184–186. White described the events of 29 November as “the most remarkable day of his life.” He was very impressed by the dignity which Thibaw displayed and by the tenderness he showed to his two queens. He was well aware he was witnessing a historical moment. White to Amy White, 12 December 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 48  White to Amy White, 4 December 1885, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 49  Ian F.W.  Beckett, “The Campaign of the Lost Footsteps: the Pacification of Burma, 1885–95,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 30, 4–5(2019): 100. 50  History of the Third Burmese War, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing, India, 1887–1894), I, 52. 45 46



civil war or general disobedience.”51 Colonel Edmond Charles Browne, Deputy-Assistant Adjutant-General, Madras Army, who served in the Burma Field Force wrote in his narrative of the war, that the dacoit was an accepted figure in Burmese society and was seen more as a military figure than as a common thief.52 Browne, like so many of the British, deeply distrusted the Burmese people who he considered to be violent by nature, yet, at the same time and in seeming contradiction, lazy. “The most prominent of the Burman’s moral characteristics,” he wrote, “is his predatory instinct. His desire to lay violent hands on his neighbour’s property outweighs with him every other consideration, human or divine.”53 White did not share these beliefs. He explained to his brother that there were some in the hills who were lawless and “robbers by inclination and by heritage,” but most Burmese who joined dacoit bands did so out of economic need. “Occupy the capital and you have conquered the country, so said the school men and as the task was easy their aim was rapidly accomplished. But the capture of the capital is generally the final event of a long series each of which has disheartened the enemy, convinced the enemy’s army of its inferiority and inflicted on it such heavy loss that it looks forward to a cessation of hostilities as a relief. The case of Upper Burma is far otherwise. The soldier class, which was numerous, was largely employed in occupying the city and a circuit of forts thrown around the city extending, on the eastern side up to the Shan hills.” With the fall of Thibaw, these men were now out of work and not being paid. “The greater part, however were thrown upon their military instincts for their bread. Under such circumstance every Burman becomes a phongyi [monk] or a dacoit.”54 White’s views of the Burmese people were certainly shaped by contemporary British racial attitudes but he rarely acted on them without carefully considering the military and political consequences. For example, in the 51  Grattan Geary, Burma, After the Conquest (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1886), 46. 52  The dacoit is still a figure in modern southern Asian society. They do not identify themselves as thieves but instead as rebels who fight injustice and whose actions cannot be understood outside the context of their motivations. Paul Salopek, “Trekking India’s wild north, where bandits ruled,” National Geographic, 6 February 2019, accessed 27 December 2019, h t t p s : / / w w w. n a t i o n a l g e o g r a p h i c . c o m / c u l t u r e / 2 0 1 9 / 0 2 / dacoit-highway-robbers-in-india/ 53  Browne, The Coming of the Great Queen, 268, 54  White to John White, 10 January 1886, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.



advance to Mandalay, when he was leading his men to secure Minhla fort, White spied a senior officer carrying two large wooden images of the Buddha which, no doubt, he was going to take home as souvenirs or sell them. “The General was brief, but severe,” Lieutenant J.R. Dyas, 2nd Hampshire Regiment, wrote in his diary. “The images were restored to their shrine. His experience in the East has made him very determined to check anything likely to wantonly rouse the religious animosity of the nation we were fighting.”55 White had his share of difficulties. Many of the laborers brought to Burma from Mandalay were killed off by cholera. Transport shortages made movement anywhere but along the river very challenging. He was short of intelligence with few maps and surveys and a tiny staff. And, of course, there was the difficulty of taking action against the “swarms of dacoits” “in every direction to meet” in a countryside which White described as “the most difficult I ever saw or thought of to plan operations in. Everywhere water or jungle.”56 White described dacoity as a “hydra.” Every time they killed one, more popped up.57 Although there was no national resistance movement, there were not enough troops to establish order and successfully occupy 140,000 square miles to prevent local leaders [bohs] from building up their own bases of power.58 Every action taken in the countryside had enormous risks—especially to the Burmese. “The greatest difficulty I find,” White wrote, “is to keep these poor Madras soldiers from firing their rifles at night and killing innocent villagers.”59 When British troops disarmed villagers, the villagers became more prone to attack. “They will be shot as dacoits if they have arms; if they have none, they will be robbed and possibly murdered by the dacoits.” The villagers’ only choice was “dacoiting or being dacoited.”60 White rarely could oversee these types of operations personally since work in Mandalay kept him busy. Prendergast returned from Bhamo in 55  Diary entry 18 November 1885, Notes of Lt. J. R. Dyas, 2nd Hampshire Regiment, (Orderly Officer to White), on the Burmese Campaign; compiled from Dyas’ diary, letters and recollections, Mss Eur F108/12 (1885–1887), GWP. 56  White to Amy White, 20 December 1885 and 3 January 1886, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 57  White to John White, 14 August 1886, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 58  Intelligence Branch, Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 5, Burma, 164. 59  White to Amy White, 3 January 1886, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 60  Geary, Burma, 45–46, 74; as cited in Ian F.W. Beckett, “The Third Anglo-Burmese War and the Pacification of Burma, 1885–95,” in Queen Victoria’s Small Wars, ed. Stephen M. Miller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), Chapter 11.



January but only for a short time before leaving on another mission, this time to Shwebo. But before White was put back in charge, Prendergast made a controversial decision which would, in the end, be fatal to his career. Like Roberts had done in Kabul, Prendergast gave his approval to a number of military and civil executions. And, as it was in the case of Afghanistan as well, the news of these executions was reported in India and Great Britain by the press. Even more harmful, however, was the scandal which erupted over some of these executions. Colonel W.W. Hooper was Provost Marshal, responsible for law and order and overseeing a number of executions in Mandalay in January. He was also an amateur photographer, “more devoted to it… than to his profession,” and, according to White, “he had the bad taste to photograph prisoners who were being shot.”61 A correspondent for The Times, Edward Moylan, who had been forced out of Burma in December by Prendergast for breaking censorship rules and for his criticism of the war effort, came across the story and ran with it. The Times published the news and there was an immediate uproar. The incident made its way onto the floors of Parliament and many saw it as stain on the moral conduct of the British military overseas. Dufferin, upset over the bad publicity, directed Prendergast to cease all executions immediately and to take strong action against Hooper. The newly elected Liberal Unionist government, which served very briefly in 1886, however, was not satisfied. Gladstone, back in power at the end of January, wanted Prendergast and Hooper removed at once.62 In consultation with Roberts, Dufferin called upon Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Macpherson, a veteran of the Rebellion who earned a Victoria Cross at Lucknow for capturing the enemy’s guns and who White served with in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, to proceed to Mandalay to take over the command. Hooper’s “want of decorum is very distressing and creates a bad impression at home,” White wrote.63 He understood the political necessity of removing Prendergast though he felt bad for him. Regardless, Prendergast’s 61  White did not think Hooper’s actions were “cruel” since the victims “were blindfolded and quite unconscious of what was taking place but he did not approve of them.” He told his sister Jane that so many dacoits had been executed that one “gets accustomed to almost anything and death is no exception.” White to Jane White, 28 February 1886, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP; White to Amy White, 1 February 1886, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 62  In his biography of Prendergast, Henry Vibart defended Prendergast’s actions arguing that he censored Hooper and ended military executions by handing sole power over them to civilian authorities. Vibart, The Life of Sir Harry N.D. Prendergast, 281. 63  Ibid.



recall could have been an opportunity for White to get an independent command. Foord and Norman, the other brigadiers, had both returned to India, and that meant White would be the remaining senior officer. Dufferin, however, did not think Upper Burma should be put in the hands of a Brigadier-General. Dufferin, accompanied by Roberts, had visited Mandalay in February. He was convinced that the situation was not good and that more British troops needed to be sent to establish order and put down the rebels and dacoits. He wrote White to explain his decision to employ a more senior and more experienced general officer. It was not based on “any misgivings as to your perfect competence… but simply because having determined, after my visit to Mandalay, greatly to increase the forces in Burma, they have no reached so high a figure as to render it fitting that they should be placed under the command of an officer of very high rank.”64 White agreed that the choice of Macpherson was a good one and that the new commander would be very popular with British troops in Burma, but still, he would have preferred to have been offered the job himself. But he felt indebted to Roberts and was “bound to follow his wishes” and agreed to stay at least until Macpherson arrived.65 White would have recommended the appointment of Lieutenant-General Sir George Arbuthnot over Macpherson. Arbuthnot, who was currently serving as Commander-­ in-­Chief of the Bombay Army, like Macpherson, had many years of service in India. White knew his reputation as an “uncompromising disciplinarian” which he thought was needed in Burma because the Madras officers were such an “indolent military lot.”66 With Prendergast gone by March and Macpherson not to arrive until October, White, given the local rank of Major-General, was senior officer in Burma for most of 1886. The decision to remove Thibaw was, from the British perspective, an easy one to make. But the consequences of that decision were not fully considered. Sladen thought it was best for the British to rule through the remaining existing political structure, the Hluttaw or Council of State, but most of the senior military figures thought the mingyis (commissioners) could not be trusted. The most viable alternative, annexation, was not one favored by the Whig, Dufferin, and feared by some in India who worried 64  Dufferin to White, 16 February 1886, Miscellaneous correspondence relating to the Burma Campaign, Mss Eur F108/6 (1885–1888), GWP. 65  White to Amy White, 14 February 1886, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 66  White to Amy White, undated letter, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.



about the difficulties and expenses involved in permanent British rule in Upper Burma. Nevertheless, after his visit to Mandalay, and with pressure coming from London, which was deeply concerned by the growing French presence in southeast Asia, Dufferin agreed to it. The Hluttaw was dissolved. Upper Burma was divided into 14 districts, each to be governed by a Deputy Commissioner with a supporting police apparatus. Sir Charles Bernard, the Chief Commissioner, who had been in Mandalay since December, would sit atop this structure and govern Upper Burma as a province of British India. White was happy to see the Hluttaw disbanded but he did not support annexation. He believed that annexation was being pushed mostly by the merchants who thought they would financially benefit by direct British rule. He felt the British could maintain peace with its neighbors in the region without it, just as a resident in Kabul was now doing, and that annexation could lead to a rift with the Chinese at Bhamo. He thought Bhamo served better as a “buffer” than as a “border.” “She is our best ally in the East against the aggression of Russia,” he wrote to his brother, and he did not want to do anything which upset what he saw as an uneasy friendship.67 Of course, no one reached out to White to get his opinion! Since annexation was a fact, White turned to solving the problem of increasing violence and resistance to British rule in the countryside. He believed that the “the most effective plan of establishing our rule, and at the same time protecting and gaining touch of the villages, is a close occupation of the disturbed districts by military posts.”68 First, the military needed to establish order in a district. Then, a civil police force needed to maintain order. Only then could the British actually govern over the people. White wrote, “Our annexation must be followed by a rain of district officers all over the country – civilians whose courts must be hedged in by British bayonets for a long time to come.”69 This process was going to involve much time and expense and the recruitment and training of a competent police force. The senior military figure would need to work closely with the senior civil officer. In addition to the military reinforcements he had agreed to send, Dufferin began raising police levies in Northern India. By Summer, Bernard had more than 3,000 police at his

 White to John White, 10 January 1886, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  Charles Crosthwaite, The Pacification of Burma (London: Edward Arnold, 1912), 15. 69  White to Jane White, 11 April 1886, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 67 68



disposal, albeit many still untrained, and later in the year he asked for another 16,000, half of which he hoped to raise locally.70 In the meantime, there was little British control over Upper Burma. “The country is still very disturbed and I am fighting in all directions,” he wrote his sister in April.71 To his brother, he tried to provide his recent military experience as context for his current situation. Troops are rapidly despatched but arrive to find the surrounding embers of last night’s fires and the vacant countenances of the looted villagers on whom a system of terrorism has been introduced not unworthy of Ireland’s uncrowned king. Their plea is an unanswerable one and I have heard it now in many lands. Amidst the rocks of the Kurram Valley; on the green oases of Kabul; on the sun-steeped sands of the Bayuda and now, over the swamps and jungles of Burma – “stay with us” they say “and shield us from the consequences of our partisanship and will throw in our lot with you; but it is cruel to compromise us and to leave us to our fate.”72

Resistance continued to persist without any diminution. White was busy in the months before Macpherson’s arrival visiting posts on the Irrawaddy at Myingyan, Pagan (Old Bagan), Myinmu, organizing expeditions up the Chindwin and Mu Rivers, and working with Bernard to quell the risings and put in place the necessary structures to ultimately bring peace. Little progress, however, seemed to be achieved. He asked for more soldiers, more police, and cavalry to hunt down the more mobile bohs but he was told he would have to wait for better weather and Macpherson who was bringing with him significant reinforcements— the total force of occupation would grow from 14,000 in April to 31,000 in October.73 Malaria, dysentery, cholera, and the heat were already taking a heavy toll on the troops and Roberts was cautious not wanting to risk more men then was absolutely necessary. “I have such a large country under my command… scarcely a day passes without an account of a fight

 Crosthwaite, The Pacification of Burma, 15–6.  White to Jane White, 11 April 1886, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 72  Bayuda refers to the desert in the Sudan. White to John White, 10 January 1886, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 73  History of the Third Burmese War, II, 42–5; Crosthwaite, The Pacification of Burma, 17. 70 71



somewhere,” White wrote home.74 Indeed, there were over 100 engagements between April and July, 1886.75 The rainy season was very hard on White and the British army in Upper Burma. The temperatures were rising and mud made movement even more difficult. Flooding washed out telegraph lines and “the dead” were rising out of burial grounds.76 With the exception of the death in August of the Myinzaing Prince, a “pretender” to the throne who had served as a unifying figure for some of the resistance, “the greatest stroke we have done since we captured Thebaw,” there was little positive news to report.77 The excitement of a de facto independent command had long since worn off. In July, he learned about the birth of his daughter Gladys. He also heard that Gladstone could not keep his government afloat as the Unionists, led by the former leader of the Liberal Party, Lord Hartington, rejected Home Rule, and joined with Conservatives to bring Salisbury back into power. The political change at home, however, had no effect on White’s struggles in Burma. In early September, White boarded the Steamer Irrawaddy for Prome (Pyay) to pick up Macpherson and hand over the Upper Burma command. He found Macpherson to be very pleasant and agreed with most of his future plans. White disagreed, however, with Brigadier-General William Elles, who served on Macpherson’s staff and wanted to ditch White’s small operations and carry out much larger ones.78 White advocated for the creation of a corps of mounted infantry, made up of British and Indian troops, in which companies, assigned to flying columns, could act independently.79 Before making any decision on what to do, Macpherson wanted to see the country himself. After reaching Mandalay, he prepared for a trip to Bhamo; White chose to remain behind. On 11 October, Macpherson returned, but was so ill he would not land and instead decided to continue down the Irrawaddy to seek treatment in Rangoon. A few days later, the news of his death reached Mandalay. White had been planning on leaving Burma; his plans changed quickly.

 White to Amy White, 18 June 1886, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.  Beckett, The Campaign of the Lost Footsteps, 1003. 76  White to Amy White, 19 August 1886, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 77  White to Amy White, 19 August 1886, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 78  Callwell advocated the use of small columns in the bush. White to Amy White, 26 September 1886, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. Callwell, Small Wars, 362. 79  Intelligence Branch, Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 5, Burma, 233. 74 75



Macpherson’s sudden death did not change the Viceroy’s view that White was not senior enough to command in Burma, and with no promotion coming, he turned to Roberts fill the gap.80 White travelled to Rangoon in early November to meet with Little Bobs. Roberts was receptive to White’s advice to continue to maintain small military posts, gain the support of the local villagers by offering them protection, and then establish a police presence that would free up the soldiers to move further into the interior. White explained in a message to one of his new brigadiers, William Lockhart, that simply defeating the enemy and moving on to the next village would not achieve anything. “The first duty of conquerors is to protect the conquered. After leaving villagers at the mercy of dacoits who take all they have we reassert our power spasmodically, drive off the dacoits and compensate the villagers for their losses by burning their villages. The dacoits on to the next village and repeat the practice; the village are left houseless and destitute.”81 In his seminal study, Charles Callwell identified Burma as a country which possessed terrain which guerrilla warfare was best suited.82 Bush warfare offered the dacoits and rebels frequent opportunities to ambush and harass the British. Night time operations were extremely difficult to conduct against the enemy. Transport and communication posed unique challenges. So too did marching on any but established roads and paths. Intelligence was essential. As White indicated above, Callwell argued that it was essential not to turn the civilian population against the counter-­ insurgency effort. Great precautions had to be made to reduce risks to villagers and to separate them from active combatants.

80  Despite Roberts’ agitation, the Duke of Cambridge refused to promote White believing he was too junior to other brigadier-generals. Instead, White was offered his choice of brigades at Madras or Aldershot, the latter of which, Roberts considered an insult. Ian Beckett, A British Profession of Arms: The Politics of Command in the Late Victorian Army (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018), 95. 81  Letter book entry, 31 October 1886, Letter-book entitled “Upper Burma Field Force Demi-Official Correspondence,” Mss Eur F108/3 (1886–7), GWP. Roberts compared the situation in Upper Burma to General Lazare Hoche’s pacification of the Vendée in 1794–5 and had a copy of Adolphe Thiers’ History of the French Revolution sent to Bernard. History of the Third Burmese War, 55. Charles Callwell also used Hoche’s operations in the Vendée as his model for suppressing a rebellion when discussing the events of Upper Burma. Charles Callwell, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice, 3rd ed. (London: HMSO, 1906; Bison Books, 1996), 41. 82  Ibid., 127.



Roberts agreed that more soldiers and police were needed immediately. Arguing in a martial race language Roberts could understand, White suggested more Gurkhas for fighting in the hills; Sikhs, for the plains; and Pashtuns to relieve the Sikhs once the valleys were peaceful and to move into the foothills to help the with the transition to the civil occupation.83 He also happily reported that the Madrassi troops had improved significantly once the senior officers, “old and past ambition,” tired of Burma, and resigned or found service elsewhere.84 A year later, however, White was not as sure. He continued to blame the senior officers of the Madras Army for their lack of discipline and training but he felt that perhaps the years of neglect and mismanagement had doomed the force. British and other Indian troops alike shared a “general want of confidence in the Madras sepoy as a fighting man,” and this attitude had begun to permeate the civil officers as well. If the other men did not trust them, then the only purpose he saw for the Madras Army in Upper Burma was to post detachments to stations in unhealthy areas where “imperial interests are better served” by using them instead of the more valuable “men of Northern India.”85 As regards to China, White shared information which Bernard had written up. As noted above, White valued a peaceful and working relationship with China which would both benefit trade and could work in Britain’s favor in the event of a war with Russia. The British could not identify a historical frontier between Burma and China and therefore were willing to “yield the shadow” in order to “secure the substance.”86 Potential hurdles to peace were the southern Shan States which shared a border with French Indo-China, and the northern Shan States, including the Kachin hills, which shared a very long border with China. Bernard and

83  Letter book entry, copy of letter to Colonel H.P.  Hawkes, 31 July 1886, Mss Eur F108/3, GWP. 84  Letter book entry, copy of letter to Colonel Godfrey Clark, 27 September 1886, Mss Eur F108/3, GWP. 85  Letter book entry, copy of letter to Lieutenant-General George Chesney, 9 July 1887, Letter-book entitled “Upper Burma Field Force Demi-Official Correspondence,” Mss Eur F108/4 (1887–1888), GWP. 86  Letter book entry, 31 July 1886, copy of letter to Colonel H.P.  Hawkes, Mss Eur F108/3, GWP.



White particularly feared that tribal incursions into China could lead to retributions and the British could be drawn into war.87 The significant increase of troops allowed the British to target and hunt down a number of high profile bohs, disrupt dacoit activity, occupy more territory, and make other substantial gains in their campaign of pacification during the 1886–1887 winter, leaving Roberts comfortable enough to return to India. Bernard was replaced by Charles Crosthwaite, who like his predecessor, worked tirelessly on civilian administration, although despite Roberts’ pledge, he still had too few police to establish lasting order quickly. Seeking to win the hearts and minds of the Burmese, one of Crosthwaite’s first acts was to start repairing damaged monasteries and compensating the pongyis who had suffered.88 He also worked to interrupt the opium trade, restore the ruby mines and teak farming, and train Burmese for police work. Of course, the establishment of an effective network of transportation and communication was a necessity to maintaining order and promoting trade. White remarked that “in a country, itself one vast military obstacle, the seizure of the leaders of rebellion, though of paramount importance, thus becomes a source of greatest difficulty,” and Crosthwaite set his sights on building infrastructure.89 Roberts’ decision to leave Upper Burma in February 1887 left White quite anxious about the future. In his mind, it was 1886 all over again. Still without appropriate rank, he expected that the command of Upper Burma would not be offered to him, and he did not want to serve under a new chief. Roberts, he could stomach, but he was the exception. Roberts had told him that Arbuthnot, who now was Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army, would be coming at the end of January. A year earlier, White had supported Arbuthnot’s candidacy but now it was unlikely that he would, privately at least, support anyone. He dreaded his arrival and when he did show up, White was predisposed to dislike him. He described Arbuthnot to his wife as a slow and suspicious man who knew nothing of the work which was required.90 Roberts comforted White by telling him 87  Expeditions to both areas were conducted in the late 1880s and into the early 1890s. Letter, dated 5 Nov [1886], from Sir Charles Bernard to White, enclosing a confidential paper by Bernard, dated 31 Aug 1886, on the arrangements for carrying out the convention between India and China of 24 July 1886 (with map); and an undated memorandum (with map) on the Chinese Frontier, Mss Eur F108/9 (1886), GWP. 88  Crosthwaite, The Pacification of Burma, 37–8. 89  Intelligence Branch, Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 5, Burma, 233. 90  White to Amy White, 21 February 1887, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.



that Arbuthnot would only be there a few months, until April. Oddly enough, the histories of the Third Anglo-Burma War make no mention of Arbuthnot and the Secretary of State for India, Viscount Cross, in his official dispatch, tersely stated that Arbuthnot completed Roberts’ winter operations, at the same recognizing that White held command of the Upper Burma Field Force throughout.91 Despite his rank, White was still running the “show.” Limited spring and summertime operations, including expeditions which White led personally to Wuntho and up the Chindwin River to Mingin, met with success, and with an increase in the civilian police force, White felt he could reduce his military force. Things were finally quieting down. Dufferin felt comfortable enough to report to Cross that “Within two years a territory larger than France, which had been for generations a prey for lawlessness and intestine strife, has been reduced to peace and order and furnished with a string and efficient government, complete in all departments, which minister to the security, the prosperity, and the comfort of the people.”92 White began to prepare for winter operations against the Shan States on Burma’s extended frontiers. He planned on holding Mogaung, an important town among the Kachin, and constructing barracks and establishing a permanent police presence as a first measure to stabilize the region.93 In June, White learned that Cambridge had finally agreed to his promotion to Major-General, although he would have to wait until November for it be official. He thanked Roberts, Dufferin, and George Chesney, the Military Member of Council, with whom he worked closely. Privately, to his wife, he feigned disinterest. “I am not the least grateful however for it,” he wrote home. “I have no hesitation in saying that no Major General has ever before experienced so large and so onerous a command as I have held for the last few months.”94 Yet, to his brother, he gloated that he was 91  Dispatch of 16 June 1887, The London Gazette, 2 September 1887, p.  4755–6. For histories of the war, see, for example, History of the Third Burmese War; Intelligence Branch, Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 5; and, Crosthwaite, The Pacification of Burma. 92  Lyall, The Life of the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, II, 131. 93  White to Roberts, “Memorandum on operations to be undertaken next open season,” Mss Eur F108/10 (1887), GWP. 94  The London Gazette, 25 November 1887; In August, Roberts actually told White that Cambridge had changed his mind and urged him to get Ripon “to get involved.” White to Amy White, 4 June and 28 August 1887, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.



jumping over 280 colonels, “including some who think themselves quite the pick of the bunch such as Baker-Russell, [Lord] Methuen and many others” and will be “the best hated man in the Upper ranks of the Army.”95 He also asked Roberts to consider letting him leave Upper Burma after the next winter campaign, but Roberts was reluctant to let his protégé leave without a suitable replacement and, no doubt, considered the promotion as well as the recent KCB (Knight Commander Order of the Bath) bestowed upon him as advance payment rendered for his services. As the police were assigned to more posts, White continued to send troops to the more remote areas of Upper Burma under his revolving list of brigadiers such as George Wolseley, Charles Anderson, Richard Griffith, Henry Collett, Edmund Faunce, Robert Stewart, Cecil East, A.T. Cox, Edward Stedman, William Penn Symons, Robert Low, and William Lockhart, the latter three of which he was most impressed by and would work with again. In June 1887, White had reported to Roberts that nearly 30 of the 141 military posts had been transferred to civilian authority.96 By the end of the year, military posts were down to 84, and the police held 175.97 Reductions in the British military presence followed, but White still had the capacity to launch campaigns in areas of stress farther away from Mandalay. The year 1887 witnessed campaigns against the Shan states as the British moved troops to Pyinulwin (Pyn Oo Lwin) near the Chinese border, east of Mandalay, and to Kawlin, near Wuntho in the north. White ordered troops to Kalewa and Kalemyo in the northwest against Chins and, in the northeast, to Mogaung against the Kachins in 1888. Planning for the future, he wrote to Roberts, “I think we shall be forced to give some big Kachin a good beating before we can arrive at any satisfactory settlement with the tribes generally. They have not yet felt or recognized our military ascendency. Any future expedition must be carefully organized and made up of Goorkhas and Pathans who can play the same game as the Kachins in their own hills.”98

95  The list included White’s cousin, William Stuart. White to John White, 21 November 1887, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 96  Letter book entry, 11 June 1887, copy of letter to Frederick Roberts, Mss Eur F108/3, GWP. 97  Crosthwaite, The Pacification of Burma, 95. 98  Letter book entry, copy of letter to Frederick Roberts, 18 March 1888, Letter-book entitled “Upper Burma Field Force Demi-Official Correspondence,” Mss Eur F108/5 (1888–1889), GWP.



Despite these efforts and the growing transition to civil power, White was still concerned about the future and the potential of dacoity to return to Upper Burma. He warned that despite the risks to villages, the civilian population had to be thoroughly disarmed. Only that measure would secure order: Although the general progress made towards happier relations between the people and the system of government introduced by us has been very satisfactory, yet a system of dacoity such as I have described takes long to eradicate thoroughly. The minor military expeditions during the past year sufficiently establish the national tendency of the Burmans to take up arms in season and out of season. It is this tendency that makes a general disarmament of the people so necessary. Arms left in a village for defence will in nine cases out of ten sooner or later fall into the hands of some enterprising dacoit leader, or be used by the villager himself for a little venture of his own in some neighbouring district…. It has been urged that a disarmed village is at the mercy of dacoits. Experience, however, shows how often the arms are the special prize of which the dacoits are in search, and how seldom they are used by the villagers to defend themselves…. If villagers will help the authorities now constituted by giving the intelligence which is at their disposal, dacoity will be rapidly stamped out. A few hard cases may result from a general disarmament, but individual cases make bad law.99

Yet, White did envision a time when Great Britain did not need to keep large numbers of British troops in Upper Burma and he did not want to stick around and wait for  that to  happen. There were already plans to merge Upper Burma with British Burma. White only agreed to extend his command through 1888 and into 1889 due to his sense of duty and loyalty and after Roberts gave him leave to visit his home to meet his daughter, Gladys, for the first time.100 Roberts did his best to assure White that he would get him employment after his service in Upper Burma. There was another pressing reason he needed to go home. Major-General Sir Martin Dillon had been promoted and he was vacating the divisional command at Rawal Pindee (Rawalpindi). Roberts had written to Cambridge regarding the vacancy  on behalf of White. Cambridge refused the request. White  Intelligence Branch, Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, V, Burma, 303.  On White’s recommendation, Low served temporarily as acting commander of the Burma Field Force when White was in Europe. 99




believed that if he visited the Horse Guards he could “personally overcome the prejudice against” him held by the Duke, Wolseley, the AdjutantGeneral, and Major-General Sir George Harman, the Military Secretary, and convince them that he was deserving of a divisional command. He was unsuccessful. “When the opportunity to save me offers itself, [the Duke of Cambridge] does his best to wreck my chances. One of the first things Wolseley said to me when I called upon him at the Horse Guards in May last was “Why didn’t they give you the last division vacant in India – you ought to have got it. A second vacancy occurs, when I think I am justified in saying I have added to my claims and Lord Wolseley goes against me.”101 In August, Major-General W.W. Lynch suddenly died from cholera which opened up the Allahabad command. Again, Roberts asked to employ White and again Cambridge said no. But two weeks later, Roberts wrote back to White; Cambridge had changed his mind.102 He could have the Allahabad command after all or, if he wished, he could take Lucknow or Quetta. White immediately wrote home asking his wife to join him Quetta in the spring.103 There were still some things to do before leaving Upper Burma. Two issues which demanded his attention would resurface in Quetta. In demonstratively racist language, The History of the Third Burmese War made a clear distinction between the “Burmans of the plains” which the British had subdued in the first couple years of the campaign and the “hardier tribes” which White had been fighting against since. Whereas the Burmans (Bamar people) were naturally “slothful and averse to war,” the “savage” Kachins in the north, the “terrorizing” Shan in the east and north, and the “dirty” Chins in the west, were “always ready to seize an

101  White to Amy White, 23 January 1888, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP; Letter book entry, copy of letter to Frederick Roberts, 23 January 1888, Mss Eur F108/5, GWP. Around the same time, White read an inaccurate Reuters report that he was taking the Aldershot command after Burma. White to Amy White, 27 February 1888, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 102  Roberts told White that Lieutenant-General Sir Charles H. Brownlow, a much-decorated officer who had served in India, had been aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria, and was Assistant Military Secretary for Indian Affairs, convinced Cambridge and Harman. White to Amy White, 22 October 1888, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 103  Lord Lansdowne would succeed Dufferin as Viceroy of India in December 1888. He asked White’s brother to serve as his Private Secretary. White was very excited, but ultimately John White turned the position down. White to Amy White, 1 September 1888, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.



unguarded moment, and, swooping from their fastnesses on the unprepared villagers, raid and steal, kidnap and burn.”104 As for the Chins, in particular, the Intelligence Branch in India wrote that “drunkenness” was their “besetting sin.”105 Alcohol was certainly a problem in Burma, but for White, it was a British problem too. He attributed the high wastage of officers and men to sickness as a result of excessive alcohol use and believed that if he could “succeed in decreasing drunkenness in the British Army in India much will have been done towards getting rid of crime of other sorts. It is possible to get a great hold on the men… Much of the insubordination may be traced to the disinclination to work after a heavy drink or to the sore head of the day after.”106 He was working on a legal recourse to limiting soldiers’ access to it. White was also keenly aware that alcohol went hand in hand with a second problem: sexually transmitted diseases. “Men lose their common sense,” he wrote Roberts, “and go into places where they know venereal disease is rife. It is a plague here.”107 In later years, White spent more of his time on the subjects of British soldiers and prostitution, sexually transmitted diseases, the Contagious Disease Act, and lock hospitals.108 Although Great Britain witnessed a successful movement to repeal its own Contagious Disease Act in 1888, the Indian Contagious Disease Act and its associated Cantonment Act were still part of colonial law and enforced, without care to the local women, but for the good of the army. White was an advocate of these laws and saw much value in the lock hospital system but felt that British control over Upper Burma was still too tenuous to move forward with any but an improvised system. In May 1887, Lockhart, who had taken a force south of Mandalay to Wundwin, Meiktila, and Yamethin, brought to White’s attention the growing problem his troops were facing. White’s instructions were to treat the district as if the Indian Contagious Disease Act of 1868 was applicable, but was not optimistic without a cantonment and a system of lock hospitals in place. He warned, “only if it is

 History of the Third Burmese War, IV, 1–3.  Intelligence Branch, Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 5, Burma, 316. 106  Letter book entry, copy of letter to Frederick Roberts, 13 August 1887, Mss Eur F108/4, GWP. 107  Ibid. 108  See Chap. 6 for a more detailed discussion. 104 105



worked most jealously and perseveringly the regulations are wholly inoperative.”109 In January, with his tenure in Upper Burma winding down, White wrote to his four-year daughter, May, to tell her that he was “going to fight some naughty people who came down here and killed poor innocent people and carried away others as slaves.”110 Anticipating that work in Quetta would be routine and uneventful, he wanted to get a little excitement in before he left. The trip up the Chindwin River to the Chin hills and then to western Burma was productive. The British had considered opening a direct route to Chittagong on the coast, and White wanted to evaluate the possibility. White let Faunce do all the work putting “the screws” to the Chins while he simply observed. At Gangaw and Kan, he witnessed the 10th Madras Infantry in action and was distressed. He told Arbuthnot, who was back in India as the Commander-in-Chief, Madras, that “There is no disguising the fact that Madras Infantry are very inferior troops in the presence of even the most contemptible enemy.”111 In his final letter to Roberts from Mandalay, White told his friend, who he often privately criticized for obsessing on Russia, to consider the French position in southeast Asia, as British interests moved into eastern Burma. A game of beggar my neighbor would thus commence which would eat deeply into our perspective financial developments in Upper Burma and would be an ever-increasing drain on our military resources and, at a point, the very furthest from that at which it is the interest of our Eastern Empire to concentrate our forces. We can afford to laugh at the machinations of France as long as they filter through the states that now separate us from Tonquin and while her agents are wild Shan Chiefs. Every mile of buffer state knocked off not only increases her opportunity of exercising evil influences towards us, but is, in its advance towards nothing short of a challenge to exert it.112

109  Letter book entry, copy of letter to William Lockhart, 28 May 1887, Mss Eur F108/3, GWP. 110  White to May White, 14 January 1889, White’s letters to his daughter, May White (later Mrs. Currie), Mss Eur F108/104 (1889–1897), GWP. 111  Letter book entry, copy of letter to Charles Arbuthnot, 28 January 1889, Mss Eur F108/3, GWP. 112  Letter book entry, copy of letter to Frederick Roberts, 6 March 1889, Mss Eur F108/3, GWP.



On 1 April, White handed command over to Major-General B.L. Gordon and sailed to Rangoon. By May, he was in Quetta. White’s time in Upper Burma was largely fruitful. As a brigadier, he oversaw successful operations along the Irrawaddy and established order in and around Mandalay. Even when Upper Burma was not his independent command, for the most part, he continued to direct policy. Gradually, his strategy led to the pacification of the Burmans and the extension of British influence over the Kachins, Chins, and Shan. Working with Bernard and Crosthwaite, he helped establish the foundation for imperial rule through civilian authority. Throughout his time in Upper Burma, he maintained the approval of Roberts and Dufferin which was necessary to continue his advance up the ranks. The work in Upper Burma may not have been the kind that White desired, but it was the type he excelled at. He had proven himself more than a capable regimental officer in Afghanistan, but in Mandalay he showed his administrative skill. He was hard-working, detailed oriented, worked well with civilian officials, and was able to evaluate the men and officers who served under him. He was also mild-mannered and knew how to avoid political conflict and personal scandal. By chance, his career had brought him to India as a young junior officer. In 1889, he returned as a 54-year-old seasoned and beknighted Major-General.


On the Edge of Empire: Baluchistan (1889–1892)

In mid-May 1889, after spending three and a half years in Mandalay, Major-General Sir George White approached Quetta, the largest town in Baluchistan, on the frontier of Great Britain’s empire in India, situated about 150  miles from Kandahar in Afghanistan. He shook off his fever and, as he breathed in the cool air, he donned his great coat, an article of clothing which he never had to use in Burma. After a long trip through the rough terrain of the highlands, he made his way into the green Shal Valley, passed the tall cornfields, and rode toward the cantonment ready to meet his new divisional command of British and Indian troops. The British had aggressively extended their Indian empire since the mid-nineteenth century. Under the East India Company’s rule, in 1843, Sir Charles Napier had conquered the Sindh and incorporated the territory around the mouth of the Indus River and beyond into the Bombay Presidency. At the end of the decade, Lord Hugh Gough, Commander-in-­ Chief, India, defeated the Sikh in two wars, and after the decisive Battle of Gujrat (1849), annexed the Punjab. The end of the Rebellion may have ended Company rule, but British Viceroys regularly continued to pursue ambitious foreign policy. Although Afghanistan was neither partitioned nor annexed after the war ended in 1880, the British did establish a permanent Resident in Kabul and safeguarded their interests over the Khyber Pass. Part of Bhutan was ceded to the British after the Duar War (1864–1865) and Upper Burma was added to Indian-governed British Burma in 1889. © The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




The Company had shown some economic interest in Baluchistan in the early nineteenth century, but it was the first war in Afghanistan (1839–1842) which highlighted its strategic value. The route from India to Kandahar went through the Bolan and Khojak Passes, on either side of Quetta, and movement through these passes, during the war, was threatened. Not only could their influence over Baluchistan secure the safety of the passes and assist in Afghan affairs, it could also strengthen their defensive position in the possibility of a war with Russia.1 As they did in Afghanistan, the British, through force, overthrew Mehrab Khan, the Brahui ruler of the large and influential neighboring princely state of Kalat, and replaced him, beginning in 1839, with a series of men with whom their political agents could work. Despite the difficulties created by internal rivalries, the British managed to play an influential role in the region and aided the extension of Kalat’s power, and hence theirs, all the way to Las Bela and the Arabian Sea. When White arrived in Quetta, Sir Robert Sandeman had already been there for 13 years. Sandeman, who played a very important role in White’s career during his years in Quetta, had been a young British lieutenant who had served as a political agent in Peshawar, Hazara, Bannu, and Dera Ghazi Khan on India’s North-West Frontier. It was in Dera Ghazi Khan, while working with primarily Pashtuns, that Sandeman first came into contact with Baluchis and, although he was a Punjab officer in charge of a Punjab district, he began to get involved in their affairs.2 The Pashtuns of India’s North-West Frontier and Afghanistan like the Baluchis were primarily pastoral, tribal peoples. Contemporary British observers described both, using racially loaded language, as brave, strong, used to suffering from hardship, protective of their community, self-reliant, and possessing strong codes of honor.3 Yet, they also made two significant distinctions. First, although they were both Sunni Muslim, with a few exceptions among the Pashtuns such as the Turis, religion did not play the same role among the less orthodox Baluchis as it did in Pashtun daily life. Second, the Baluchis had a long tradition of established government, a structure akin to a limited monarchy, whereas the Pashtuns had no permanent 1  Intelligence Branch, Division of the Chief of Staff, Army Headquarters, India, comp., Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 3, Baluchistan and the First Afghan War (Simla: Government Monotype Press, 1907), 52. 2  T.H. Thornton, Colonel Sir Robert Sandeman: His Life and Work on our Indian Frontier (London: John Murray, 1895), 28. 3  See, for example, P.D. Bonarjee, A Handbook of the Fighting Races (Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1899), 47–8.



structure but only came together for specific needs in a jirga or council of elders.4 T.H.  Thornton, Sandeman’s biographer wrote in crude, racist terms: Both are warlike, revengeful, predatory; but while the Patán is a republican, having little reverence for the person of his chief, the Baluch respects and obeys the head of his clan; while the Patán is bigoted and priest-ridden, the Baluch pays scant respect to the Sayyad or the Maulavi. Conciliate a Baluch chief, and you in most cases conciliate the clan; the Patán chief is head of a dominant faction only, and friendliness with him secures ill-feeling from his opponents . . .. The Balúch is thus easier to deal with than the Patán, and consequently better suited for initial experiments in a “peace and goodwill” policy.5

Sandeman remained very interested in the region and its people despite not playing any official role in Baluchistan. In what might be described as a prescient moment, Sandeman met White’s future wife, Amelia Baly, with her parents in Dera Ghazi Khan in the winter of 1872–3, pointed to a map of Quetta, and declared, “That is where we ought to be, and that is where I hope to be some day.”6 In 1875, Sandeman was dispatched by the Government of India on his first official mission to Baluchistan where he travelled through Sibi and Quetta, meeting with Brahui, Baluchi, and Pashtun chiefs, in an attempt to further British ambitions in the region and open up the Bolan Pass. On a second and more fruitful mission undertaken the following year, Sandeman laid down the groundwork for the Treaty of Kalat, a settlement agreed to by Lord Lytton, the Viceroy, and the Khan of Kalat as well as other Baluchi and Brahui chiefs. The treaty reaffirmed an earlier one which recognized British suzerainty over Kalat and, in exchange for material assistance, military support, if necessary, and British recognition of Kalat’s independence, the British were given land on the outskirts of Quetta to build a cantonment, allowed to open the Bolan Pass to traffic and communication, and established a permanent political agency at the court of the Khan.7 The agreement was also that Sandeman, who the Khan and  Ibid.  Thornton, Colonel Sir Robert Sandeman, 28. 6  Ibid., 59. 7  Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 3, Baluchistan and the First Afghan War, 63–4. 4 5



chiefs respected and trusted, would be made the first, permanent political agent representing the Indian government in Baluchistan. In the years which followed, the British built up and extended the cantonment at Quetta and also established themselves in the town. The 1876 agreement proved extremely valuable during the Second Anglo-Afghan War which followed just a few years later. Unlike in the first war, there was no threat to the Bolan Pass and Sir Donald Stewart’s Kandahar Field Force used it as a route in its advance and had support from the local population.8 As a result of the Treaty of Gandamak of 1879, the British took over the administration of nearby Sibi and Pishin, thereby safeguarding the route to Quetta. Through the 1880s, the British continued to exert a strong presence in the region, often using force, to make the people of Baluchistan adhere to their role as paramount power. Military strength alone, however, was not enough to secure British interests. Sandeman wanted to create a system which did not have to rely on force. This was going to be very difficult to achieve and he worked hard at improving civil relations with the locals. Lord Curzon, who served as Viceroy from 1899–1905, later described the “Sandeman system”: The system adopted by Sir Robert Sandeman consisted in reconciling conflicting local interests under the common aegis of Great Britain; in employing the tribes as custodians of the highways, and guardians of the peace in their own territories; in paying them for what they did well (and, conversely, in fining them for transgression), in encouraging commerce and traffic by the lightening or abolition of tolls, and the security of means of communication; in the protection, rather than diminution, of tribal and clan independence, subject only to the overlordship of the British “Raj”; in a word, in a policy, not of spasmodic and retributive interference, but of steady and unfaltering conciliation.9

Although this quote explains the mechanics of the system, Sandeman’s dealing with the local leaders and communities should not be seen as simply a transactional relationship. The key “to be successful on the frontier,” as he noted was “to deal with the hearts and minds of the people and not

8  The Achakzai, a Pashtun tribe, threatened the Khojak Pass in 1880 and the British had to send a small force to disperse them and occupy it. Ibid., 139. 9  Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 3, Baluchistan and the First Afghan War, 57.



only their fears.”10 To do this, the British had to understand the people of Baluchistan, play a role in their lives, and rather than rule over them, rule through them. This meant utilizing local political and cultural structures which had history and meaning to the people rather than merely imposing a new system upon them which the British might have considered culturally superior. Lord Frederick Lugard, most famously, would practice a similar method of indirect rule in Northern Nigeria in the early 1900s.11 Although Sandeman believed that British rule would bring material and cultural benefits to the local people, and that the British had a moral obligation to do so, those benefits were a means to an end—British dominion and security on the Indian frontier.12 The Sandeman System was working in Baluchistan with some success when White arrived in May 1889 but occasional “punitive” campaigns in the region were still required.13 Shortly after his arrival in Quetta, White received a visit from Emilie Prendergast and her husband, his old commanding officer, Sir Harry Prendergast, who was acting Chief Commissioner of Baluchistan (Map 5.1). It was a very pleasant meeting and White felt that he had renewed an old friendship and looked forward to working with Prendergast. But a few months later, Prendergast got very ill and was invalided and Sandeman, still the Governor-General’s agent in Baluchistan, replaced him. White’s working relationship with Sandeman, as it had been with Charles Bernard 10  Thornton, Colonel Sir Robert Sandeman, i; as cited in, Christian Tripodi, “‘Good for one but not the other’; The ‘Sandeman System’ of Pacification as Applied to Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier, 1877–1947,” The Journal of Military History 73 (July 2009): 767. 11  See, for example, Margery Perham, Lugard: The Years of Authority 1898–1945 (London: Collins, 1960); Oboro Ikime, “The Establishment of Indirect Rule in Northern Nigeria,” Tarikh 3 4 (1970): 1–15; and, Robert Home, “From Cantonments to Townships: Lugard’s influence upon British colonial Urban Governance in Africa,” Planning Perspectives 34: 1 (2019): 43–64. 12  Tripodi, “Good for one but not the other,” 772; Rashmi Pande, The Viceroyalty of Lord Elgin II (Patna: Janaki Prakashan, 1986), 26; Magnus Marsden and Benjamin D. Hopkins, Fragments of the Afghan Frontier (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 62. Marsden and Hopkins directly link the “Hearts and Minds” campaign of Sir Harold Templer, British High Commissioner in Malaya, 1952–1954, to Sandeman through Richard Bruce, who served as Sandeman’s first assistant, and his son Charles, who also served in Beluchistan. Ibid., 231. 13  Charles Callwell, Tirah, 1897 (London: Constable and Co., 1911), 5. For a discussion of “punitive” or “butcher and bolt” campaigns, also see Charles Callwell, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice, 3rd ed. (London: HMSO, 1906; Bison Books, 1996); and, Daniel Whittingham, “‘Savage Warfare’: C.E.  Callwell, the roots of counter-insurgency, and the nineteenth century context,” Small Wars & Insurgencies, 23 4–5 (2012): 591–607.



Map 5.1  Baluchistan, c. 1890. (Source: Author)

and Charles Crosthwaite in Upper Burma, was very good and the interests of the British military became closely aligned with the civil authority. White referred to Sandeman as his “co-adjutor and good friend.”14 As divisional commander on the fringe of the British empire, in an area which regularly experienced unrest, White was very busy. One of his first tasks was to safeguard transportation and communication. In 1886, the railroad from Sibi was extended to Quetta after the construction of a tunnel through the Bolan Pass was completed. The following year, the British decided to improve its network further by extending it another 80 miles to Chaman, near the Afghan border. This was no easy feat of engineering. Unable to run the line through the Khojak Pass, it was decided to tunnel 14  White to Jane White, 15 February 1892, White’s letters to his sister Jane White, Mss Eur F108/97(a)-(b)(c. 1845–1910), GWP.



2.5  miles from Shelabagh through Khwaja-Amran mountain and then drop the line some 2000 feet to Sanzala. The Khojak Tunnel was eventually completed in September 1891.15 Even before this date, land and supplies were acquired at the northern terminus where the British would establish the new military station of “New Chaman.” White inspected the work on the tunnel and the site of the proposed new station. Prendergast asked White to send troops to garrison it after it was built. White recognized the importance of having an armed presence on the Afghan border and for strengthening the “weakest link in our communications” and ordered two companies of Native Infantry to proceed to New Chaman.16 After travelling to Simla to meet with Lord Lansdowne, who had become Viceroy in December 1888 and played an important role in his later career, White arranged for a visit to the Khojak tunnel. First, however, he went home to help his wife prepare for the move to Quetta. This would be the first time in a long time she would be living with him. The children, however, would remain behind. White felt that it was imperative to have his wife in Quetta by the time the Viceroy arrived since Amy proved herself a keen ally in advancing his career.17 Lansdowne, accompanied by Lord Roberts, Commander-in-Chief, India, and his staff, including White’s good friend, Ian Hamilton, arrived in Quetta in mid-November. White arranged for a tour of the tunnel and for a large durbar with the local chiefs. Sandeman joined as well, and on his recommendation, White offered “less parade” and “more time to talk about politics.”18 The viceregal visit went well and plans were laid out for the next steps in Baluchistan. For the next few months, White worked on his official Burma report, conducted a number of inspections of British and Indian troops, and travelled to Sibi and elsewhere in northeastern Baluchistan. He also began a pet project, trying to create an “institute system.”19 Endeavoring to 15  Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 3, Baluchistan and the First Afghan War, 157; Owais Mughal, “Khojak Tunnel,” IRFCA: The Indian Railways Fan Club, accessed 7 January 2020, 16  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 12 June 1889, Letter-book, entitled “Quetta District Demi-Official,” including White’s account of Lady Roberts’ Fund for Nurses Homes, Mss Eur F108/14 (1889–1892), GWP. 17  White to Amy White, 13 July 1889, White’s letters to his wife Amy (nee Baly), Mss Eur F108/101(a)-(j) (1879–1909), GWP. Amy White did not join him for a few months. 18  Copy of letter, White to Sandeman, 19 October 1889, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP. 19  Copy of letter, White to Lieutenant-Colonel R.C. Graeme, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 29 July 1889, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP.



­ inimize unnecessary contact between officers and their wives with the m local merchants, who White considered untrustworthy, he wanted to set up a commissary or exchange whereby they could buy what they needed, at reasonable prices, directly from army suppliers. The difficulty with the plan, however, was the remote location of Quetta. Although now accessible by rail, the distance and costs associated with the transportation of goods seemed insurmountable and White found little support for his scheme in Simla. Although it took over two years, he finally got the program up and running. In March 1890, White travelled 200 miles to Apozai (Zhob) in the Zhob valley in the northeastern corner of Baluchistan, not far from the border of both Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier. Situated roughly halfway between the Khyber and Bolan passes, Apozai is the only town of consequence near the Gomal Pass which served as a strategic and economic passage connecting the Punjab to Ghazni in Afghanistan. The area witnessed a number of disturbances in the 1880s and Sandeman, who had visited it and recognized its importance, urged an extension of British power in the region. Sandeman was able to convince Lansdowne of its value during his visit to Quetta. Roberts who continued to be a leading advocate of a forward policy did not need convincing. If the British were able to construct a fort near Apozai, they could safeguard the Gomal Pass, pressure the Afghans, and, in the event of a war with Russia, rapidly move troops to defend the Kandahar-Kabul line. Sandeman successfully negotiated with most of the local Shirani and Waziri tribes at the end of 1889 and White went to inspect the ground outside of Apozai selected for the site of the yet to be built Fort Sandeman. White was glad to get out of Quetta where rising numbers of soldiers, followers, and locals were contracting influenza though he feared for his wife’s health. He also was anxious about his journey into “the very wild and lawless Zhob valley.”20 Before leaving, he wrote Roberts praising Sandeman for all his work. He emphasized that they could not rely on force alone to maintain their protectorate over Zhob but needed Sandeman’s methods of winning the hearts and minds of the people to take root. This he knew would take some time. Roberts had offered more troops to be sent to Quetta but White was reluctant to accept them. Roberts continued to recruit heavily from among the “fighting races” of the Raj and nearby Nepal. Although White agreed that Sikhs and Gurkhas  White to Jane White, 6 April 1890, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP.




were excellent in general, and perhaps even better suited for the terrain around Quetta, he feared that any increase in his native contingent without an accompanied increase in his European contingent could be a risk. He was not as confident as Roberts that in a war with Russia a disproportionate number of native troops could be relied upon.21 White was also increasingly advocating the recruitment of Baluchi troops as well as men from Pashtun tribes like the Afridis, Swatis, Yusufzais, and Adam Khels for local service. In reaching this position, he was greatly influenced by Major G. O’Moore Creagh, Bombay Staff Corps, who commanded the garrison in Loralai.22 Creagh, a fellow veteran of the Second Anglo-Afghan War and a Victoria Cross recipient as well, who White considered an excellent officer, pushed for more “mountain tribesmen.” White wrote to Roberts, “I am so convinced of the superiority of those races over the Sindis and other down-country races that I think it most desirable to do all possible to make our service attractive to them. Mountain tribesmen dread service in the plains. Indeed, it stands to reason that races who have been brought up to spend the hot weather at great elevations do not like the change to a Sind Summer.”23 White was against Roberts sending “southern men,” primarily Bombay Army regiments, who were rotated through Baluchistan to give them experience in the climate in case there was a war in Afghanistan. He said they all hated being there, they couldn’t bring their wives and families because of the heat, and by their second year more and more had to be sent home. One year, he argued, was sufficient for peacetime training.24 “If the Baluch regiments were given the chance,” White wrote, “they would form a really warlike element in the Bombay Army fit to take their place in front line with any native troops we possess. I believe that service in Baluchistan would be so popular with the class of recruit I aim at getting that it would be possible to expand this section of the Bombay Army and raise more regiments of fighting hill races.”25 White had a number of concerns regarding the security of the proposed permanent British force at the Fort Sandeman cantonment and headed to the region to take a look around. By the time he reached Loralai, about 130 miles east of Quetta, halfway to Apozai, he was sick with fever and had  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 8 March 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP.  Creagh served as Commander-in-Chief, India, 1909–1914. 23  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 7 August 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP. 24  Copy of letter, White to Chesney, 31 August 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP. 25  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 7 August 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP. 21 22



to remain there for a week. Because of this experience, he began to consider the medical arrangements and the water supply. He wanted a medical offer in Loralai but Major-General William Elles, the Adjutant-General, India, who White had not seen eye to eye with in Burma, refused his request. He wanted a system established to inspect the medical facilities. He wanted better hospital assistants. And he also wanted more medical supplies, chief among them, quinine and stimulants. He protested to Roberts that medical officers although quick to dispense medicine to British troops were reluctant to give anything to Native troops for fear that when white troops needed the supplies there would not be enough to go around.26 By June, White had most of the supplies he needed.27 With Sandeman’s assistance, White constructed a line of communication between Quetta and Apozai via the Hindu Bagh (Muslim Bagh).28 He also acquired a number of camels to meet the needs of transportation, and assisted Sandeman in the military works at the cantonment, building roads, digging irrigation, and solving the problems of water supply and forage. But always in the back of White’s mind remained the issue of Russia and how best to safeguard the area in the event of a war. White’s friend, Lieutenant-General Sir George Chesney, remained the Military Member of Council during much of White’s time in Quetta. Working closely with Roberts, Chesney had great influence over Lansdowne and continued to push an aggressive forward policy.29 In July, Chesney shared with White his recent paper, “Further Considerations on the Central Asian Question and Our Military Policy.” White agreed with most of what Chesney had to say. British officers who spent much of their careers in India like White, Roberts, and Chesney, regularly complained that their concerns about Russia and Afghanistan were largely ignored in London. The Duke of Cambridge, the Commander-in-Chief, General Lord Wolseley, the Adjutant-General, and Lieutenant-General Sir Redvers Buller, the Quartermaster-General who would succeed Wolseley in 1890, were often  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 11 May 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP.  Copy of letter, White to Sandeman, 24 June 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP. 28  White pursued this primarily for strategic reasons. Sandeman also considered how roads and railways would provide easier access to the local tribes and give the British more influence in the region. Tripodi, “Good for one but not the other,” 787. 29  For a discussion of Lansdowne’s forward policy, see Christian Tripodi, Edge of Empire: The British Political Officer and Tribal Administration on the North-West Frontier 1877–1947 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011), Chapter 3. 26 27



the targets of their scorn. These men, from their perspective, never took the Russian threat in central Asia seriously. They might concede that Russia could move into Afghanistan, but they argued it did not possess the strength nor the interest to seriously threaten the Raj. Indeed, some critics in London welcomed a Russian advance into Afghanistan because it would result, they asserted, in stretching and therefore weakening their lines of communications. This Great Game, as discussed in earlier chapters, did threaten peace more than once, and although Russian troops moved into Tashkent, Samarkand, and Merv, only Russian intrigue and not troops managed to enter Afghanistan. For White, Roberts, and Chesney, it was more of a matter of when and how the Russians would make their move rather than would they. White admitted that he too once believed that Russia would not invade India but he no longer held that position. “Whatever Russia’s original idea may have been,” White wrote Chesney, “her later advance has been so rapid that it is to cling to the tradition of a state of affairs which she has now left behind her and to ignore accomplished facts to base our calculations for defence on the supposition that she has not realized the field of military adventure open to her towards India to which she is so systematically working up.”30 He agreed with Chesney’s paper that India’s defenses needed to be reorganized, and the first task was determining the best position “to hold as military frontier.” Britain had gone to war with Afghanistan to ensure that British influence was paramount in Kabul and, in the aftermath, the Amir’s rule over Afghanistan was shored up to serve as a buffer between Russia and the British empire. Roberts insisted that more had to be done and advocated for a defense of the Kabul-Kandahar line. With intimate knowledge of Baluchistan and the Punjab, White saw an opportunity to strengthen that position by offering a second line of defense from Quetta in the southwest, running through the Zhob valley, to Fort Attock, behind the Indus River, in the northeast. It was necessary to continue to strengthen the British presence in Baluchistan and, he believed, rail lines should be constructed along that second line to allow for rapid movement of men and material. He was well aware of the political difficulties of accomplishing this goal but considered the move essential to guaranteeing security. He thought that Sandeman should be sent to Kabul to discuss the possibility with the Amir, Abdur Rahman.31 “[Great Britain] must therefore  Copy of letter, White to Chesney, 6 July 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP.  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 8 June 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP.

30 31



from the outset of operations, not only show a bold and strong front to ward off the enemy, but also to keep up the confidence of her constituents in the rear who have not the interests of [Britain] very deeply at heart and cannot be expected to support it if they detect shakiness.”32 White’s logic rested on his belief that the home government would never be convinced by Roberts and Chesney’s arguments for “a move forward.” As a result, Russia would always make the first move and the defense of India would succeed or fail based on how quickly Britain could react and how strong its defenses were in Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier. The Kabul-Kandahar line could therefore not be guaranteed but a second line, Quetta to Attock, could. If that proposed line could be strengthened, White told Roberts, it “would carry us back to an era of warfare when strong places stopped armies for years.”33 In “Note on the most suitable frontier for us to adopt and to prepare for defence against Russian aggression,” issued by White on 14 July 1890, White wrote: As it at present stands, the whole of the very extended line which bounds India is equally open; except where nature has thrown geographical and physical difficulties in the path of an invader. Man has done practically nothing to narrow the area towards which the first waves of invasion may roll, or to construct a breakwater upon which they must expend the first energy of their inward course. Our frontier now lies entombed in the midst of vast mountain ranges which are held, in our immediate front, by warlike races practically hostile to us, and whose hills we cannot enter. We do not hold the issues from these mountains, the first essential of a frontier in a military sense. Our present front line is therefore as unscientific as it could be.34

White advocated (1) strengthening the 300-mile defensive line between Kabul and Kandahar; (2) creating a new 500-mile line between Quetta and Fort Attock; (3) building railway lines from Peshawar to Kabul and from Quetta to Kandahar, as well as from Quetta to Fort Attock; and (4) establishing British influence over the tribesmen of Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier and attracting them to military service.35  Copy of letter, White to Chesney, 6 July 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP.  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 7 August 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP. 34  White, “Note on the most suitable frontier for us to adopt and to prepare for defence against Russian aggression,” Mss Eur F108/14, GWP. 35  Ibid. 32 33



When I was in Zhob in April last a Pathan Malik described the increased hold our occupation of Zhob has given us over the tribes to the east of that valley. Previous to the occupation of Zhob these tribes cared little for us. They now lie between our troops occupying the Zhob Valley and the Punjab Frontier Force. To exemplify the hold we now have over them, the Malik put his finger between his closed teeth and asked – “What can my finger now do?” We must make the Malik’s simile applicable to the Pathan tribes still outside our border; but the upper jaw is still wanting. Once the leverage with it is established, we hold them in the hollow of our hand. The position selected must therefore enzone them.36

When Sandeman travelled to Apozai in late December 1889, to make peace with the local tribes, purchase land to establish Fort Sandeman, and safeguard the Gomal Pass, he forged relationships with most of the headmen of the Kakars, Mundo Khels, and Mahsud Wazirs.37 A group of Largha Shiranis, however, refused to sit down with him. The Shirani are a Pashtun tribe who lived throughout the region from Dera Ismail Khan to Ghazni and all the way to Kandahar. Sandeman had success bringing most of the Zhob valley Shirani into his agreement but the Khidderzai, who lived northeast of Apozai near Takht-e-Sulaiman, remained hostile. In addition, the Kakar leader, the “murderer,” Dost Mohammed, was also at large.38 He and his son, Bangal, were rumored to have been preying upon some of the vulnerable clans in the region had been accused of a number of crimes and their capture, it was believed, would win over the support of more of the local people. At the time, White did not support Sandeman’s request to take punitive action against them and neither did Lansdowne. Brigadier-General O.V. Tanner’s 1884 expedition had not quieted things down much, nor did Prendergast’s advance in 1889. Now, in October 1890, based on what he advocated above, White believed it was imperative to take action in the Zhob again. This time, the Indian government concurred. White commanded the Zhob Field Force and Sandeman served as his political officer. Richard Isaac Bruce, the Deputy Commissioner, Dera Ismail Khan, with a small escort of 100 men would join White at Apozai,  Ibid.   Rai Bahuder Hittu Ram, Sandeman in Baluchistan (Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, 1916), 79–80. 38  Administration Report of the Baluchistan Agency for 1890–91 (Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India, 1900), 127. 36 37



to ensure that the interests of the civil authorities in Punjab were being considered as well as those in Baluchistan.39 Although White had ultimate responsibility for the expedition, Sandeman more than once insisted on a course of action based on political exigency. “This is a great bother to me,” White wrote to his wife, “but as the considerations are nearly entirely political, I have to accept his plans.”40 This position, that military interests had to be subordinated to civil interests, was not embraced by all officers. White understood, however, the dynamics of the relationship. His decisions in Natal in 1899 would be based on similar principles. The first part of the expedition was “explorative rather than militant.”41 Leading a small force of just over 1,700 men, White made his way first to Hindu Bagh.42 There, he inspected the survey work which was being conducted for a rail line and reported to Roberts that they were still having problems acquiring enough camels from the locals in the event of a war in Afghanistan.43 White soon learned from eager locals who had no love for Dost Mohammad that his son Bangal was held up in his stronghold—an “insurmountable,” 8,800-foot high rocky peak near Thanishpa (Tanishpa); it was believed Dost Mohammad had already fled across the mountains into Afghanistan.44 Dividing his force into two, both columns, via different routes, journeyed through very difficult and elevated terrain to the Khaisor valley. A party of 50 Baluchi soldiers climbed the mountain, recovered much that had been stolen from the local people, and blew up the

39  Richard I. Bruce, The Forward Policy and Its Results or Thirty-Five Years’ Work Amongst the Tribes on our North-West Frontier of India (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1900), 211. 40  White to Amy White, 14 October 1890, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 41  “The Zhob Valley Expedition Despatches,” The Homeward Mail, 31 March 1891, p. 393 42  The force included 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 2nd Baloch Battalion, 29th Bombay Infantry, 3rd Battalion, 30th Bombay Infantry, two squadrons of the 18th Bengal Lancers, No. 7 Mountain Battery, Royal Artillery, and No. 1 Company, Bombay Sappers and Miners. Lieutenant-Colonel P.D. Jeffreys who was “invaluable,” served as White’s Assistant Adjutant-General. Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 3, Baluchistan and the First Afghan War, 211; White to Amy White, 3 October 1890, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 43  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 5 October 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP. 44  Administration Report of the Baluchistan Agency for 1890–91, 127; Thornton, Sir Robert Sandeman, 237.



hideaway. Bangal and his followers, however, managed to get away. Attempts to pursue the fugitives failed.45 Before dealing with the Khidderzai faction, White visited the Kundar valley and the Gomal Pass. “The country we are now passing through,” he told his wife with some prescience, “would be useless to occupy as a frontier, but the river Kundar is a distinctly marked line which might be fixed as a frontier between us and the Amir’s territory.”46 In a letter to Roberts, White noted that the land was poor and mostly uninhabited, he saw no places suitable for building an outpost, potable water was scarce, and the lack of roads would make it very difficult to move supplies into the region.47 Nevertheless, he planted the “English” flag on the southern bank of the river.48 While doing so, White reminisced, “It was interesting to me to think that about 2 years before I had planted the British flag on the Salween (Thanlwin), east of the Shan States, and this year had put it on the Western bank of the Kundar and the Gomal.”49 At the end of October, Sandeman, with Bruce’s involvement, issued an ultimatum to Murtaza Khan and other non-cooperative Khidderzai headmen. In Apozai, White attended a durbar in which the local tribes were rewarded for their support. When Sandeman received a response from Murtaza Khan asking for a month to consider the terms, he informed White that force would be required. White agreed. The two men discussed their options against the Khidderzai. “When a punitive expedition has been rendered necessary,” he wrote Roberts, “the hand with the stick in it should be used first, the other hand may contain sweets but it should be kept behind the back in the earlier stages. What must first be applied is a

45  Dost Mohammad and Bangal continued to raid the Zhob region from the Afghan side of the Kundar. An attempt by the political agent in the Zhob, Major McIvor, to capture them in 1892 failed. However, a jirga was convened at Fort Sandeman in November 1892 to discuss the murder which Bangal was alleged to have committed and an amicable agreement was reached. In June 1894, Bangal turned himself over to British authorities. He and his father were fined, and he was allowed to return with his family. Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 3, Baluchistan and the First Afghan War, 231–4. 46  White to Amy White, 23 October 1890, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 47  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 31 October 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP. 48  White to Amy White, 17 October 1890, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 49  White to Amy White, 15 December 1890, in Mortimer Durand, The Life of FieldMarshal Sir George White, vol. I (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1915), 397–8.



deterrent against the necessity of more severe punishment for a repetition of the offense.”50 In his Small Wars, Charles Callwell wrote that “campaigns of regular troops against hill-men fighting in guerrilla fashion in their own native mountains and in defence of their own homes” are “the most trying disciplined soldiers can be called upon to undertake.”51 They are subject to constant sniping, and officers in particular are singled out, they often have to re-visit the same area numerous times, the care of the wounded can be quite challenging, and the terrain, in particular, gives the defense great advantages. Crowning the heights is an essential part of operations and is often the most difficult.52 White would take one column on the most direct, yet challenging, route to Nmar (Anmar Kalan), the main Khidderzai village, through Wana and over the Maramazh (Sulaiman) mountains. The other column would proceed via the Chuhar Khel Danna Pass. In addition, two columns from the Punjab were also joining the second phase of the expedition. White had been given a “free hand” by Roberts to pick his troops and he chose well—“mostly hillmen, and as good as the Shiranis in their own hills.”53 The three supporting columns moved to prevent any escape from the valley while White “took a small force over the hills and got above their strongholds. When they knew that we had marched an army where they only drive goats they knew the game was up, and all came in and salaamed.”54 On 4 November, the Khidderzai, led by their headmen, laid down their arms without offering any resistance outside of Wana. They informed White that Murtaza Khan had fled. A few of the headmen were taken as prisoners. On the 6th, White and a small party ascended the Maramazh, and hiked down into Nmar Kalan the next day, only to find that the Khidderzai had fled. White was not satisfied. “I am quite confident that we must show our teeth more here if we are to leave an impression that will continue to be of sufficient deterring force to prevent a relapse into the old and defiant order of things,” he wrote Sandeman.55 “I think you will agree with me that we must work this district now with  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 7 December 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP.  Callwell, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice, 286. 52  Ibid., 287–293. 53  White to Amy White, 15 December 1890, in Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 397–8. 54  Ibid. 55  Copy of letter, White to Sandeman, 8 November 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP. 50 51



energy and hunt up their highest fastnesses and hiding places, securing all their flocks.” He continued, If we absolve members of a community who choose to come in to us when the game is up from the common responsibility of belonging to a village where our advance through our own territory was resisted and our soldiers were killed, what inducement is there for them in future to bring tribal pressure to bear on those who defy us or to refuse asylum to outlaws who have committed murder in our territory. There can be no reasonable doubt that the headmen can guide us to where the outlaws are. If they refuse to show us they should pay the penalty of losing their flocks and herds, otherwise we have no material guarantee that they will not repeat the practice.56

During the following week, an inquest was held in nearby Karam Hezai and a collective fine was levied against the offending Shirani. White explained to Roberts, “I have seen quite enough to convince me that Sandeman’s policy of insisting on tribal responsibility for the acts of individuals is the only way to deal with these tribes.”57 A few of the prisoners were sent to Quetta for formal trial and it was agreed that Murtaza Khan would be tried as well if, or when, he was caught.58 White also gave orders to begin improvements to the local roads and to conduct surveys for future railroad work. A few small and temporary garrisons were left behind to make sure there were no immediate disturbances. Before he returned to Quetta, White decided to do something which no European had ever done before.59 Accompanied by 50 hand-picked British soldiers and 50 Baluchi soldiers, and carrying rations and little else, he ascended the Takht-e-Sulaiman, “a precipitous hill on which white men have never before stood.”60 Reaching its top from the east side, he heliographed “all over the country to show the people that we could go where they could not drive their goats.”61 Writing from Zhob a few years later, for the Geographical Journal, Captain A.H. McMahon, the British Joint Commissioner of the Afghan-Balochistan Boundary Commission, claimed  Ibid.  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 24 November 1890, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP. 58  Murtaza Khan later surrendered himself to the British authorities in Dera Ismail Khan. Administration Report of the Baluchistan Agency for 1890–91, 128. 59  The Zhob Field Force only suffered one fatality, that of a grass-cutter. 60  White to Jane White, 29 December 1890, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 61  White to Amy White, 15 December 1890, in Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 397–8; Administration Report of the Baluchistan Agency for 1890–91, 129. 56 57



that White did not actually reach the summit or the shrine which pilgrims often visited. He and Major Ivar McIvor, the political agent in Zhob, however, reached both albeit from the west side.62 White never said he visited the shrine but insisted he had summited the mountain. “The ascent of the Takht-e-Sulaiman was by far the most difficult operation, from a physical point of view, I have ever called upon soldiers to perform, and the fact that British soldiers and Baluchi sepoys, fully accoutred, scaled these dangerous heights, will not be lost on the Shiranis.”63 The Zhob expedition witnessed White’s only command in the field during his tenure in Quetta. There were certainly war scares in and around the region, and periodically he got excited at the prospect of a combat command over an administrative one. Disturbances around the Kundar River did not require his immediate attention. White expressed deep regret to his brother over the murder of his close friend and Burma colleague, Lieutenant-Colonel C.  McDowal Skene, at Kangla Fort, which precipitated the British expedition to Manipur in March 1891.64 The force, however, was small and did not need an officer of White’s rank. As senior Major-General, he expected to get the command over the large Black Mountain expedition against the Yusufzai clans of Hasanzai and Akozai in 1891. The honor, instead went to his rival, Elles, who was commanding in the closer Rawal Pindee district. White was certainly busy in Quetta and did not complain that much about his lack of “soldiering” opportunities. Due to the lack of roads, it was always time consuming just to tour the district. In the spring of 1891, alone, he was gone for three months.65 Cholera hit Quetta briefly in August 1891 and actions had to be taken. When winter storms damaged the Nurses Home, he had to find the money and the workers.66 In October 62  A.H. McMahon, “Ascent of the Takht e Suleiman,” Geographical Journal 4 5(November 1894); reprinted by, accessed 14 January 2019, places/2011/Ascent_of_the_Takht_e_Suleiman.shtml. McIvor participated in the Zhob Field Force expedition but did not accompany White up Takht-e-Sulaiman. 63  “The Operations of the Zhob Field Force,” White’s official despatch, reprinted in The Times, 20 May 1891, p. 6. 64  White to John White, 18 April 1891, White’s letters to his brother, John White, Mss Eur F108/98(a)-(c) (1857–1910), GWP; Yumkhaibam Shyam Singh, “Political Economy of the British and the Manipuri Responses to it in 1891 War,” International Journal of Social Science and Economic Research 4 1 (January 2019): 551, 559. 65  White to Jane White, 18 April 1891, Mss Eur F108/97, GWP. 66  Lady Roberts paid for most of the repairs. Copy of letter, White to Lady Roberts, 23 June 1891, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP.



1891, Roberts, accompanied by Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Brackenbury, the new Military Member of Council, who had replaced Chesney, visited the Gomal Pass and White conducted the tour and then escorted them to Quetta. Major Lord Dundonald, “a very nice fellow,” who would play a part in White’s later career, had also come with Roberts.67 Colonel Lord Harris, the Governor of Bombay, visited Quetta shortly afterwards and the Indian Foreign Secretary, White’s future biography, Sir Mortimer Durand celebrated Christmas there. Sadly, for White and the British administration, a major change was coming to Baluchistan in early 1892. Robert Sandeman, after a brief personal leave and work in the Panjgur district of Western Baluchistan, returned to Quetta in November 1891. He and his wife hosted a party on New Year’s Eve for the Europeans at the cantonment which the Whites attended and, a week later, they headed to Las Bela. En route, Sandeman got sick. Although his condition appeared to improve, he died on the 29th. White told Roberts that Sandeman’s health had been deteriorating for some time and had gone to Las Bela to recover. Still, the news was very difficult to receive. Sandeman had been involved in Baluchistan affairs in one way or another for 20 years and the Sandeman system was firmly in place throughout the territory and efforts were being made to extend it to the Pashtuns on the North-west Frontier. Although he and White had their disagreements, their working relationship had been quite fruitful and Sandeman’s personal relationships with the Khan of Kalat, and other chiefs and headmen could not be automatically transferred to his successor. While White was in Quetta and in the Zhob, an important discussion was going on back concerning the health of the British military. As discussed in Chap. 2, the Liberal Secretary of State for War, Edward Cardwell, introduced a number of reforms in the early 1870s to improve the army. These included ending purchase and creating a linked battalion system. Chief among these reforms, and perhaps the one which received the most criticism, was the introduction of short service. Recruitment in the British military was not producing the results for which the War Office aimed. Cardwell wanted to create conditions which would be seen as more attractive, not just to the urban unemployed and underemployed, but particularly to the rural, yeoman farmer who was healthier and deemed better equipped to ride and shoot and obey orders. Reducing the length of active service was his driving idea. Not only did he expect to get a better class of  White to John White, 6 December 1881, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.




recruit, but after the term of active service ended, soldiers would form a Reserve, in which, in the event of a national crisis, these men would be ready and able to continue to serve.68 The results, however, were disappointing. Annual wastage, the loss of men to death, disease, discharge, and so on continued to offset recruitment, which actually rose during this period.69 Problematic as well was the fact that the balance that was supposed to be maintained between units serving at home and overseas continued to favor the latter, exposing Great Britain, some argued, to unnecessary risk. Finally, wages in other comparable fields of employment were rising in the last quarter of the century, but there was no commensurate increase in soldiers’ pay. Hon. Edward Stanhope served as the Secretary of State for War (1887–1892) during most of Lord Salisbury’s second government. Stanhope tasked Lord Wantage to establish a committee and investigate the terms and conditions of service in the military. The committee met a number of times between May and December 1891 and eventually issued its report in March 1892. A number of notables testified including the Duke of Cambridge, Wolseley, Buller, and Lieutenant-General Sir Evelyn Wood. Among its more controversial recommendations was to allow men to extend their service with the colors up to 12 years while at the same time giving more flexibility to soldiers who wished to enter the reserve sooner.70 On this issue, four members of the commission dissented including Stanhope’s Assistant Under-Secretary, Sir Arthur Haliburton.71 Wolseley, who recognized that training and military education needed to be improved, that pay could be raised a bit, and the current force was “very inferior to the Home Army of olden times,” still supported the Cardwell reforms, and objected to any major revisions.72 He even questioned whether the Wantage Committee should have been constituted at all.73 68  Edward M.  Spiers, The Late Victorian Army 1868–1902 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992), 9–10. 69  Ibid., 120–121. 70  J.A. Spender, The Life of the Right Hon. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, G.C.B., vol. I (London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1924), 131–2. 71  J.B. Atlay, Lord Haliburton: A Memoir of His Public Service (Toronto: William Briggs, 1909), 92. 72  “The Report of Lord Wantage’s Committee,” The Speaker: The Liberal Review, 16 April 1892, p. 457. 73  Halik Kochanski, Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero (London: The Hambledon Press, 1999), 204–7.



Roberts, White, and most of the officers who spent their careers in India, had always objected to short service and continued to argue that the difficulties created by climate, topography, and distance required a lengthy tour of service there and advocated for abandoning the short, six-­ year term. Everyone who testified agreed that the existing system was “inadequate” to fulfill both the needs at home and of India. Wolseley remarked that after providing enough troops for India, the home battalions are like “a lemon when all the juice is squeezed out of it.”74 And yet, he and most involved seemed satisfied with these deficiencies or at least did not think it worth the cost to correct them. White was very alarmed by this. He wrote to his brother that the critical testimony “ought to bring a shout of indignation from the British public.”75 He could not believe that Wolseley and Buller could complain so demonstratively about the institution but then object to fixing it. Their attitudes, White considered, were “inexplicable.” He protested privately to Roberts: They appear to rejoice in speaking disparagingly and flippantly of the organization of the home army for which they are individually more responsible than any other men in it. The cynicism with which Redvers Buller announces to the nation that the only way in which England can take part in an European war would be to employ the troops quartered in India and the colonies and to replace these by the useless stuff now in England. . . . I hope the public will take the subject of our army up. Radical reform is required. If England is to maintain her place in the family of nations and would avoid conscription she must put her hand very much more deeply in her pocket and pay for fighting material in larger quantity and of a better quality. No modification of terms of service will meet the requirements though it is indispensable that these should accompany the rise in the price of the soldier if the nation is to get value for its increased outlay.76

Three days later, still upset, he wrote Roberts again. Wolseley’s testimony about discipline and British soldiers in India, he found particularly galling. Of course Lord Wolseley’s opinions “that the longer you keep a battalion in India the slacker becomes the discipline” is entirely opposed to fact. If we take discipline as only referring to crime or its absence, when these battal74  Lady Wantage, Lord Wantage, V.C., K.C.B.: A Memoir (London: Elder & Co., 1907), 337. 75  White to John White, 11 October 1891, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 76  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 24 September 1891, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP.



ions in India are much better behaved than those on home service. In a battalion that has been some time in India there is but one cause of crime – viz. drink. At home there are numerous cases daily of absence, frequent desertions and many other offences scarcely known in India. If discipline is taken to mean efficiency the late AG’s statement is [even] more startling.77

In the new century, Lord Roberts would take on the presidency of the National Service League which advocated for compulsory service to meet the military needs of the home district and the empire. White, however, never embraced that position and remained committed to an all-volunteer army. When the Wantage Report came out, he wrote to Roberts, “An army of conscripts may be drilled all day and every day because they cannot help it,” but worse, compulsory service would deal “a heavy blow to voluntary enrollment.”78 White’s career had been linked to Roberts since the Second Anglo-­ Afghan War. By the time 1892 rolled around, Roberts, with one exception, had served as Commander-in-Chief, India, longer than anyone, including those who held the position during the East India Company’s rule. There was a lot of speculation about who would replace him. As early as June 1890, White was almost certain that Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, the Queen’s third oldest son, would succeed Roberts but he ended up taking a domestic command.79 Naturally, White was very concerned about who would become the next Commander-in-­ Chief, India, and how it would affect his own future. Rumors abounded and a report of a change in lifestyle of one of the perspective candidates could lead to much discussion. British officers were as likely to spread gossip as anyone else. For example, when Lieutenant-General Sir George Greaves, Commander-in-Chief of the Bombay Army, sold his house in July 1892, White was convinced that he was relocating to Simla to replace Roberts.80 Greaves, who White for some time had believed was one of the top candidates for the job, would make a good chief, he told his brother,  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 27 September 1891, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP.  Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 5 June 1892, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP. 79  White to John White, 1 and 15 June 1890, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP; In his biography of Roberts, George Forrest claims that Lord Lansdowne, the Viceroy, because of the political responsibilities of the office, had strong objections to the appointment of the Duke of Connaught as Commander-in-Chief, India. George Forrest, The Life of Lord Roberts (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1914), 159. 80  White to Amy White, 24 July 1892, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 77 78



“but he is very free with his tongue and generally has one or two women in tow.”81 Another potential candidate was Wood, a member of Wolseley’s Ashanti Ring. White did not want him to get the job and the testimony he gave to the Wantage Committee only seemed to reinforce his belief that he would be out of his element in India. Luckily for White, “E. Wood is declared by very high authority at home to be such a nuisance, so meddlesome and so deaf that he could not do for council.”82 For a few months in late 1892, it seemed Major-General Sir T.D.  Baker, who had been at Charasiab with White and was now serving as Quartermaster-General, might get the job even though White considered him too ill. There were also rumors that the job would go to Lieutenant-General Sir James Dormer, Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army, who White briefly served under in the Sudan, but after being attacked by a tiger, he died from a heart attack.83 The Naval Military Gazette made the case for Lord Wolseley, but he had no interest in the position.84 In September, Roberts wrote to tell White that Buller was being considered for the job. White thought that Buller “is a strong man, inspires confidence and has great home influence,” particularly with Cambridge and Wolseley. He believed that once Buller spent some time in India, he would appreciate its unique challenges and would be a strong advocate back home. In White’s mind at least, Buller was “an undeniably good man” and was going to get the job. White accepted the result and was ready to go home.85 Buller, however, with four stepchildren, would not leave England for India.86 Certainly, White must have known that he was a potential candidate for the position but he never mentioned that to Roberts. Compared to the men listed above, he was far junior and, with the exception of Roberts, did  White to John White, 6 December 1891, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  White to Amy White, 17 October 1892, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP 83  Ian F.W.  Beckett, A British Profession of Arms: The Politics of Command in the Late Victorian Army (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018), 167–8. Dormer was hunting tigers with Brigadier-General George Wolseley, who had served under White in Burma. Wolseley told White that right before the tragedy, Dormer told him that “the tigers here never come after you.” White to Roberts, 10 May 1893, Letter-book entitled “No. 2 Book. Miscellaneous Letters,” Mss Eur F108/17 (1893–1895), GWP. 84  The Naval and Military Gazette 17 October 1891, p. 451. 85  White to Amy White, 12 September 1892, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP; Copy of letter, White to Roberts, 16 October 1892, Mss Eur F108/14, GWP; White to John White, 11 September 1892, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 86  Ian F.W. Beckett, “Soldiers, the Frontier and the Politics of Command in British India,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 16 3(2005): 289. 81 82



not have many powerful connections. There is no doubt that he had gained supporters. Throughout his time in Upper Burma and Quetta, he regularly received requests from a father or a family friend who was seeking a position for his son or their neighbor and he did his best to help. In December 1891, when Roberts and Brackenbury toured the Gomal Pass, Brackenbury pulled White aside and told him that he, Roberts, and Lansdowne had all written to the Duke of Cambridge on his behalf.87 White did not entirely trust Brackenbury, however. “He is an extraordinary crooked man,” he later wrote his wife.88 And yet, by August 1892, White believed he had the support of the Government of India but was not sure if he would prevail among the influential officers of the Horse Guards.89 In November 1892, with the expectation that Buller would come out to as the new Commander-in-Chief, India, White boarded a steamer for home. When he arrived in Suez, a telegram was awaiting him.90 He had been offered the Indian command. Ian Beckett has written that White got the job “almost by default.”91 There may be much truth to that. On the other hand, he had developed a good, close working and personal relationship with Roberts, Chesney, and a number of Viceroys over the years. He had also done his time, staying in Upper Burma much longer than he wanted to, and, very importantly, he had shown his talent for administrative work in Mandalay and Quetta. The pacification of Baluchistan nearly completed Great Britain’s hold over the frontier. Only the region between the Gomal Pass to the Khyber Pass and up to the Broghil Pass remained a “vulnerable frontier.”92 Some of the press were critical of White’s appointment. Still early in the process when rumors circulated that Lansdowne, Roberts, and Chesney were pushing for White’s candidacy, the editors of The Naval Military  White to John White, 6 December 1891, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  White to Amy White, 17 October 1892, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 89  In 1892, Lansdowne had written in support of White over Buller to Lord Kimberley, who was then, among other things, the Secretary of State for India in Gladstone’s fourth government. T.W.L. Newton, Lord Lansdowne: A Biography (London: Macmillan and Co., 1929), 103. Rodney Atwood claims Kimberley did not support White because of the latter’s forward policy but found no suitable alternative. Rodney Atwood, The Life of Field Marshal Lord Roberts (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), 10–18. 90  Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 409. 91  Beckett, A British Profession of Arms, 168. 92  J.P.  Misra, The Administration of India Under Lord Lansdowne (1888–1984) (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1975), 7. 87 88



Gazette wrote a scathing critique, claiming White was far too junior, and endorsed Wolseley or Wood over White’s possible “untimely promotion.”93 When the appointment was announced, other periodicals were just as surprised “for he steps over eleven major-generals and about forty lieutenant-­ generals to the highest military post in India.”94 The Devon and Exeter Gazette claimed that he was “very lucky.”95 Most of the press, however, saluted the War Office for making the best choice. A correspondent for the Sheffield Independent wrote that White was “the best possible man for the berth. His reputation in India is second only to that of his old comrade-in-arms, Lord Roberts.”96 The editor of the Morning Post made similar connections to Roberts. “There is little doubt that the home authorities felt that, as it were impossible to keep Lord Roberts longer in India, the next best thing to do was to appoint a successor whom Lord Roberts himself had perfect confidence.”97 And of course Ulster newspapers like the Belfast News Letter were excited to have one of their own in such an important position. The appointment of White “will be hailed with the utmost satisfaction by his many friends and admirers in Ulster, and particularly by the people of County Antrim, to whom he is so well known. Sir George White has well earned this command by a long series of meritorious and distinguished services in India, and his friends and countrymen may well look upon it as the highest honour that can be paid a soldier to succeed so distinguished an officer as Lord Roberts.”98 Regardless of the public reception of which White was keenly aware, he was still elated to receive the news.99 He continued on his voyage home to briefly see his children, other family members, and friends. He also renewed some old acquaintances, visiting the Horse Guards where he had a meeting with Wolseley. It went well. He wanted to thank Wolseley for the position and hoped to dispel any notion that his only allegiance was to Roberts and his ring of Indian officers. When he conveyed the details of  The Naval and Military Gazette 17 October 1891, p. 451.  Leeds Times, 10 December 1892, p. 7. 95  Devon and Exeter Gazette, 9 December 1899. 96  Sheffield Independent, 1 December 1892, p. 4. 97  Morning Post, 9 December 1892, p. 3. 98  Belfast News Letter, 2 December 1892, p. 5. 99  White saved many of the newspaper clippings. Newspaper cuttings relating to White’s services in the Afghan War (1881), Zhob Field Force (1890), appointment as Commanderin-Chief (1892), and retirement (1898), Mss Eur F108/48 (1881–1898), GWP. 93 94



the meeting to Roberts, Roberts wrote him back. “I am glad you paid Lord Wolseley a visit and that you found him flourishing. We are credited with not being well-disposed towards each other, but why this should be the general idea I know not. We have never been thrown together, and though there are certain questions about which we do not agree, I see no reason why we should not be good friends.”100 That never happened. Roberts and Wolseley, to some extent, remained rivals, and although officers like White could work with one or another, it was rare to have both as a patron. Even as his rank and status allowed him more independence of thought and action, White remained indebted to Roberts. White’s time in Baluchistan was not too dissimilar to that spent in Upper Burma. He continued to hone his administrative skills and he developed a close working relationship with the civilian authorities. He had few field opportunities but he made the most of them. He hid his ambition from all but his family and continued to serve the Empire and follow Roberts’ lead. White’s advocacy of the forward policy may have arisen out of his fear of Russia, but he used the policy to defend his general belief that British political institutions needed to be extended for Great Britain’s own good and to promote the moral and economic benefits of those subjected to them. At the end of 1892, his hard work and his loyalty paid off. George White was given one of the most desirable and influential commands in the British Army.

100  Roberts to White, 21 March 1993, Misc. Private Letters to White, Mss Eur F108/22 (1894–1898), GWP.


Commander-in-Chief, India: Administrator (1893–1898)

In March 1893, Major-General Sir George S. White returned to India to succeed Lord Roberts as Commander-Chief of the Forces in the East Indies with the temporary rank of Lieutenant-General and the local rank of General.1 When not in Calcutta, he was primarily in Simla (Shimla), in the Himalayan foothills in the Northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, where he set up residence at Snowdon, which his predecessor had purchased in the early 1870s and sold to the Government of India on his departure. Snowdon became the official residence of the Commander-in-­ Chief until the end of British rule and White’s home for the next five years.2 White had a lot of work to do upon his arrival. There were meetings with the Viceroy’s Council and his new staff,3 reviews of military infrastructure which had to be extended or repaired, a tour of cantonments, and, most pressing, White had to take the necessary steps to respond to unrest along the frontier and the continued Russian threat. “We are in a

1  White was made Knight Grand Commander of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire, 6 March 1893. The appointment of Commander-in-Chief, India, officially began on 8 April 1893. Roberts had been made Baron Roberts of Kandahar on 1 January 1892. 2  Edward John Buck, Simla, Past and Present (Calcutta: Thacker, Spink and Co., 1904), 62. 3  White’s staff included the Military Secretary (Colonel Ian Hamilton 1893–1894, Lieutenant-Colonel Beauchamp Duff 1895–1897), the Adjutant-General (Colonel William Galbraith 1893–1894, Colonel Gerald de Courcy Morton 1895–1897), and the Quartermaster-General (Colonel Edward Stedman 1893–1894, Colonel Alexander Badcock 1895–1897).

© The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




very nasty position in Chitral and Chilas,” he wrote to his brother, John.4 Hanging over his head and restricting all of the above was the tight budget imposed on his spending made worse by Roberts’ most recent expenses and commitments which he had to cover. “I find Council funked by late lavish expenditures and causeless campaigns…. They were bills with “Bobs” on the back.”5 He bitterly complained that the Commanders-in-­ Chief used to have headquarters in both Calcutta and Simla and would get “everything free.” White would have to cope in the new fiscal environment. At home, one of Secretary of State for War Edward Cardwell’s reforms in 1870 was to reorganize the War Office. The Commander-in-Chief was given responsibility over things like discipline, training, and recruitment in the army, while the Inspector-General of Ordnance was tasked with supply and barracks and the Financial Secretary was given charge over spending. In 1888, the number of departments was reduced to two when the Commanderin-Chief was given control of all concerns of the soldier; the Financial Secretary, all things civilian.6 It was not until 1895, after the Duke of Cambridge retired, that the new and much-weaker Commander-­in-­Chief, Lord Wolseley, had the opportunity but failed to initiate new reforms. In India, the division of military responsibilities was not too different than that created by the post-1888 British reforms, yet there were more men with their fingers in the cake. The Commander-in-Chief’s office, Army Headquarters, administered over 200,000 soldiers, controlling training and organization and overseeing war plans and making war, while the Military Member of Council and the Military Department, which White labeled “the natural enemy of the Commander in Chief,” handled civilian issues like supply and finance.7 When White succeeded Roberts, the Military Member of Council was Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Brackenbury who held the position until 1896 when he was replaced by 4  White to John White, 25 April 1893, White’s letters to his brother, John White, Mss Eur F108/98(a)-(c)(1857–1920), GWP. 5  White to John White, 10 May 1893, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 6  Anonymous [James Grierson], The British Army by a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army (London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co, 1899), 18. 7  Lovat Fraser, India Under Curzon & After (London: Heinemann, 1911), 416–8; H.H.  Kitchener, Administration of the Army in India, unpublished secret document, 1 January 1905, in Letter from General Sir Beauchamp Duff (Adjutant-General in India 1903–1905) to White, dated 25 May 1905, enclosing copies (printed and typescript) of the main documents in the Curzon-Kitchener dispute, Mss Eur F108/88 (1905), GWP; White to John White, 5 May 1897, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.



Major-General Sir Edwin Collen. Both the Commander-in-Chief and the Military Member sat on the Viceroy’s Council and both could influence decision-making even over affairs outside their given purview, as could the non-military members of council. The Viceroy also had his personal military secretary, a position White had held briefly under Lord Ripon, who could influence the process. On most important issues, therefore, such as launching a military expedition or building a rail line to the frontier, White needed to convince both the Viceroy and the Council of its merits. The process of military administration in India was confusing and White rarely had an easy task finding support. Often, the key was to get Brackenbury, and later Collen, on his side. Even then, however, the military men could get outvoted by the civilians. The difficulty in getting what he wanted through council was apparent to White from the start of his tenure. Lieutenant-Colonel Algernon Durand, who had served with White under Roberts in the Second Anglo-­ Afghan War and was currently the Military Secretary to the Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne, was with a small force of about 3000 men, mostly locally raised Kashmir Infantry, near Chilas. The troops were garrisoning outposts in Chilas, Gilgit, and Hunza as well as protecting the lines of communication.8 Holding Chilas was seen as strategically important because it safeguarded the dependent Kashmir state as well as linked it to Chitral, a strategic town near the Afghan border. Just a few weeks after becoming Commander-in-Chief, Chilas was attacked by Kohistanis, a Maiyã speaking tribe. The attack jeopardized Chilas and the British mission to Chitral. Always concerned about how the Russians could penetrate the defenses of the Raj, White urged sending troops to Kashmir, Gilgit, Chilas, and Chitral. The Council refused to back him.9 White remained very concerned and continued to push the Viceroy towards his position but Brackenbury argued against intervention. Before becoming Military Member, Brackenbury had limited experience in India.10 Most identified him with Wolseley’s Ashanti Ring, although he and his old boss were no longer on the same friendly terms they once had enjoyed. Still, Brackenbury did not yet favor the forward policy which 8  White, Confidential Report, 10 June 1893, Printed Minutes by White, Mss Eur F108/24 (1893–1896), GWP. 9  White to John White, 25 April 1893, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 10  For more on Brackenbury, see Henry Brackenbury, Some Memories in My Spare Time (London and Edinburgh: Wm. Blackwood and Sons, 1909).



White and Lansdowne had come to embrace.11 Brackenbury’s solution was to give the troubled region to Abdur Rahman, the Amir of Afghanistan. White vigorously objected to this policy believing the area was too important to British defenses. “Chitral is closed to them during snows,” he wrote. “If Russia could get it before us she would establish herself in position from which she could gain Kashmir and also, in another direction, threaten the Punjab and also threaten the flank of our advance on Kabul.”12 He wanted the road from Abbottabad to Chilas completed and more reinforcements sent to the area, including Bengal Infantry.13 At a meeting of the Council on 12 May, White made his case. He argued that Lord Lytton, as Viceroy, had encouraged the Maharaja of Kashmir to extend his influence over Chitral and promised him support. Lord Ripon had continued this policy. If the Indian government was now to do nothing, or worse, give the land to Afghanistan, it would be an “unfaithful friend.” “Our withdrawal from Chitral now, would I believe shake that faith.”14 Calling on his experience in Quetta, he continued, “From the annexation of the Punjab to the year 1890, the tribes of the Takt-i-Suleiman forced constant and expensive punitive expeditions on us. In 1890 we opened a road through the Zhob Valley, which took these tribes in reverse under parallel circumstances to the proposed Khagan road. The tribesmen are now peaceful.”15 Brackenbury was convinced and the Council voted with him. The road would be built, plans were put in place to build a strong fort at Chilas, the government sent a political officer to Chitral, and, partly as a result, the Kohistanis quieted down.16 The unrest around Chilas and the threat to Chitral had raised some important questions about Russia, Afghanistan, Britain’s forward policy, and the extent at which Great Britain should get involved in local politics on India’s frontier. White was an advocate of Sandeman’s system as it was 11  Ian F.W. Beckett, “Soldiers, the Frontier and the Politics of Command in British India,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 16 3(2005): 288. 12  White to John White, 15 May 1893, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 13  White, Confidential Report, 10 June 1893, Mss Eur F108/24, GWP. 14  Minute on Council Note, Retention of Chilas, 12 May 1893, Letter-book entitled “Book No. 1, Council Notes & important subjects from Adjutant General, Quarter Master General etc,” Mss Eur F108/16 (1893–1895), GWP. 15  Ibid. 16  White to Roberts, 16 July 1893, Letter-book entitled “Book No. 2, Miscellaneous Letters,” Mss Eur F108/17 (1893–1895), GWP; White to Cambridge, 13 June 1893, Letter-book entitled “Book No. 3, Letters to H.E. the Viceroy, General Brackenbury & H.R.H. the Commander in Chief,” Mss Eur F108/18 (1893–1895), GWP.



practiced in Baluchistan and had some hope that it could be extended among the Pashtuns of the North-West Frontier and perhaps even father eastward. Lansdowne also saw great advantages to the extension of a formal British presence right up to the Afghan border.17 In order to gain more certainty in the region by clearing up frontier and trade issues with Afghanistan and limiting the Indian government’s role over the people on the British side of the border, as well to strengthen Afghanistan’s position as a buffer state to Russian aggression, Lansdowne sent his Foreign Secretary, Sir Mortimer Durand, White’s future biographer and Lieutenant-­Colonel Durand’s brother, to Kabul to negotiate with the Amir and demarcate the territory. Durand was received at the beginning of October 1893 and remained in Afghanistan for six weeks. The formal agreement was reached on 12 November.18 Settlement over the Baluchistan border running all the way to Persia required little negotiation. The Amir also accepted the British presence at New Chaman (see Chap. 5) and the Gomal Pass. The real significance of the Durand Line was that it firmly put Dir, Swat, Peshawar, Chitral, and most of Waziristan on the British side of the border while Afghan claims to Nuristan, the Wakhan Corridor, and part of the Pamir Mountains, were recognized by the British.19 White, in particular, was concerned about the Russians “creeping” into the Pamirs.20 But if Lansdowne and White believed that physically separating the Amir from the tribes of the North-­ West Frontier and Kashmir with an imaginary line would make the British position more tenable and allow them to better manage the tribes, they were wrong. As Abdur Rahman warned the Viceroy, “If you should cut them out of my dominions, they will never be of any use to you or me. You will always be engaged in fighting or other trouble with them, and they will always go on plundering. As long as your government is strong and in peace, you will be able to keep them quiet by a strong hand, but if

17  S. Gopal, British Policy in India 1858–1905 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 216–7. 18  J.P.  Misra, The Administration of India Under Lord Lansdowne (1888–1984) (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1975), 59–62. 19  Bijan Omrani, “The Durand Line: History and Problems of the Afghan-Pakistan Border,” Asian Affairs 40 2(2009): 184–5. 20  White to Cambridge, 3 May 1893, Mss Eur F108/18, GWP.



at any time a foreign enemy appears on the border of India, these frontier tribes will be your worst enemies.”21 When it was announced that Durand was leading the mission, White wrote to his brother, “Sir Mortimer Durand has charge – thank God it is not Sir George White.”22 White had served alongside of Durand when the latter replaced Charles Gordon as Lord Lytton’s Private Secretary. He understood the complexities of negotiating with the Afghan Amir, satisfying Lansdowne’s position, and, at the same time, meeting the requirements of William Gladstone’s last Liberal government which had formed in August 1892. Although the negotiations primarily focused on the Raj’s border with Afghanistan, Gladstone was concerned about Afghanistan’s northern border as well, fearing that confusion could set off an Afghan-­ Russian war, and he insisted that Durand stick close to Lord Granville’s 1873 boundary, which had been set at the Oxus (Amu Darya) and Pandjeh (Panj) Rivers. White was deeply worried that the Amir would not give up territory which he had taken in the north and which Russia now wanted. “We of course will offer the Amir every compensation in our power,” White wrote, “but the one thing an Eastern believes is the show of might and they are only too apt to consider compensation as a sign of weakness and fear.”23 Nevertheless, the demarcation of the Afghan borders, to some extent, helped reduce tensions in the area, and more importantly, as far as the British were concerned, gave them a freer hand along the North-West Frontier and north of Kashmir. White thought that it “came off all right.”24 During his first year, not surprisingly, a number of items came to or were initiated directly by White regarding the number, training, and composition of troops in India. The first of which was a proposal by the Military Department to reorganize Native Infantry battalions into four companies each under a British officer. It was endorsed by Roberts and Collen. This was not a proposal which White supported but he did not wish to go against his old chief. He also admitted that he had never served in a Native regiment. Roberts and Collen were concerned about 21  Rashmi Pande, The Viceroyalty of Lord Elgin II (Patna: Janaki Prakashan, 1986), 28; as cited in Mir Munshi, ed., The Life of Abdur Rahman, Amir of Afghanistan G.C.B., G.C.S.I., vol. II (London: John Murray, 1900), 158. The Durand Line is still largely ignored by locals today. See Andrew M. Roe, Waging War in Waziristan (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2010). 22  White to John White, 28 August 1893, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 23  Ibid. 24  White to Buller, 5 November 1893, Mss Eur F108/18, GWP.



maintaining European control over Indian soldiers and they did not believe that there were enough competent British junior officers currently employed in India to ensure that. White, however, did not agree. He had major objections. First, showing a conservative attitude towards change which seemed to be creeping in and affecting his life in general, he argued that the “Native Infantry is made up of races whose guiding principle is dustoor, and change in regimental organization . . . starts discussion and creates a spirit of suspicion and unrest.”25 Change was certain to come with the reforms currently being discussed proposing to alter the structure of the Presidency Armies. Those changes, he felt, would cause enough disruption without adding regimental reorganization on top of them.26 Second, he feared setting up a system which was too different from how the British infantry was currently organized—infantry regiments were typically organized into eight companies. Altering the numbers of companies per regiment would alter the size of the company, and drill books were written, in part, based on the number of men on parade, and who and how many officers directed it. Not only did White believe that there should be one common drill book, he agreed with the distinguished officer and former Commander-in-Chief, India, Lord Napier of Magdala who argued “that the Native Infantry should follow and not go in advance of the British Infantry.”27 Third, having inspected and observed numerous battalions and current British junior officers in India, White felt that their value was underappreciated. And finally, the proposal invested more executive command over the company to a British officer, reducing the role of the subadar, the Indian officer. White believed this was a critical oversight in the proposal. Subadars in the Native Infantry in the 1890s, he argued, were “smart and intelligent” and extremely loyal. A perceived or real reduction in their status would be viewed by them as a personal effacement and he argued against decreasing their roles and responsibilities. Before the issue could be resolved, White was directed by Brackenbury to look at and evaluate Madras Sepoys currently serving in Burma. White well-understood the charges against the Madras Army. It was considered to be the weakest of the three Presidency Armies by many top British 25  White was using the Urdu word dustoor or dastoor to refer to ritual or routine practice. “Note on Military Department’s proposal to organize Native Infantry in 4 Comps. each under a British Officer,” 21 April 1893, Mss Eur F108/16, GWP. 26  This was the argument he made to Lieutenant-General Sir Redvers Buller, the AdjutantGeneral. White to Buller, 10 May 1893, Mss Eur F108/17, GWP. 27  Ibid.



officials like Roberts, despite the loyalty it displayed during the Rebellion. Under Prendergast, Roberts, and White himself in Upper Burma, it performed inadequately. White had much to say about the British officers who ended up in the Madras Army and believed they had much to do with its poor reputation. Whereas Roberts saw the root of the problem, through a lens of martial race theory, in the racial makeup of the Tamil, Telugu, and Deccani Muslims from which it was recruited, White tended to emphasize environmental determinism which he believed shaped conditioning and service. That is, the men of the Madras Army were not inferior to those of the Bengal and Bombay Presidency Armies, they were just better suited to serve in areas which replicated the environment in which they were raised. Those who lived in the hills performed better in the hills; those who lived in the lowlands, performed better in the lowlands. In Upper Burma, White had preferred Sikh troops around Mandalay but wanted Gurkhas to go to the Chin hills, for example. In Quetta, he advocated for the use of more Baluchi troops. Madrassi troops, however, he did not know what to do with. The Madras government was alarmed by the proposals mentioned above to reform the Presidency Armies. It believed that their unstated goal was the “extinction of the Madras Army” to which it strongly objected.28 If indeed that was what the reformers were after, White objected. He concurred that oftentimes he “found the Madrassee soldier a very poor fellow and very prone to malinger.”29 He claimed that he saw many that would sell their rations and starve themselves in order to be invalided home. But he also witnessed “cases of very brilliant conduct on their part.” Even though the British officers were not always good, he felt that when push came to shove, they would rise to the occasion and that Native officers, now trained “to exercise their companies,” had shown initiative, courage, and others qualities necessary to lead men into battle. If the Madras Army was to lose its independence, White argued, Madras soldiers still had great value.30 He advised, however, agreeing with Brackenbury,

28  “Military letter to the Secretary to the Government of India, Military Department, No. 2349, 10 April 1893; as cited in “Fitness of the Madras Sepoy for Service in Burma,” 21 April 1893, Mss Eur F108/16, GWP. 29   “Fitness of the Madras Sepoy for Service in Burma,” 21 April 1893, Mss Eur F108/16, GWP. 30  Ibid.



that they not be used in Upper Burma; Hindustani troops were preferred for low areas and “Northern races” for the hills.31 White was also asked to consider the proportion of European to Native troops and make recommendations. This issue was a perennial point of controversy since the Rebellion had shattered British complacency and led to an increasing number of British officers fearing that Native troops could not be trusted and that a disproportionate number of Native troops was too dangerous and could lead to another mutiny. In 1856, the strength of the Native force in the Presidency Armies was over 235,000 while the European troops in India numbered just over 45,000, a ratio of approximately 5 to 1.32 Lord Canning, the Governor-General at the time of the Rebellion, reported to the Royal Commission on Indian Army Organization (Peel Commission) of 1858 that Native troops outnumbered British troops 3 to 1.33 The following year, the Commission’s report recommended maintaining a 3 to 1 ratio in the Bombay and Madras armies, but reducing the ratio in the Bengal Presidency Army, which was much larger and more insubordinate, to 2 to 1.34 It also recommended that the artillery should be dominated by Europeans. Those proportions were more or less achieved by 1860, however, as one of the commissioners, Colonel H.M.B. Burlton, warned and White emphasized in his memorandum, the numbers did not include Native police which were growing at a rapid pace. In Bengal, by 1859, they numbered 40,000.35 To complicate matters further, as reports in 1869 and 1886 indicated, although the ratio remained more or less the same, if the numbers of native police continued to be disregarded, the overall strength

31  Revised version of “Fitness of the Madras Sepoy for Service in Burma,” 22 June 1893, Mss Eur F108/16, GWP. 32  East India (Army and Population), “Return showing the Strength of the Army in India, European and Native, and the extent of the population and area under British Rule in India at the following periods, namely, 1856, 1860, after the reductions effected by Lord Lawrence, 1886, at the present time, and also showing the recommendations as to Numbers made by different Army Commissions and the Increase in the Garrisons of Burma after the annexation of Upper Burma,” 23 July 1908, C. 208 (London: H.M.S.O., 1908), 2. 33  “Proportion of British to Native troops in India,” 28 July 1897, Mss Eur F108/16, GWP. 34  Royal Commission on Indian Army Organization, 1859, C. 2515; as cited in, East India (Army and Population), “Return showing the Strength of the Army in India,” 3. 35  “Proportion of British to Native troops in India,” 28 July 1897, Mss Eur F108/16, GWP.



of the army, both European and Native, was shrinking while the population of India was growing as well as its total area.36 Nevertheless, the numbers alone did not tell the entire story. White argued that the British maintained much greater control over the Native troops in 1893 than they did in 1859. This was the result of seven factors, as he laid out in his memorandum. First, advances in communication and transportation, such as the opening up of the Suez Canal, the placement of strategic rail lines in India, and the telegraph, meant that Britain could respond more rapidly to any potential domestic threat.37 Second, the advent of the breech-loading rifle meant not only that troops were armed with a superior weapon, but that Britain maintained a monopoly over production and supply in India as long as British troops could protect their factories and arsenals. Third, with the exception of a few batteries of mountain guns, the artillery was not just “mainly” a European force as the Peel Commission recommended, it was “entirely” a European force. Fourth, thanks largely to Roberts’ belief in martial race theory, Gurkhas, “the most loyal Native soldiers,” had been heavily recruited, stabilizing the entire structure.38 Fifth, as a result of the Indian Arms Act, 1878, the Indian population had been largely disarmed and were unable to acquire new weapons. Sixth, British efforts to segregate Indians in the army by race and class had been successful and, as a result, Britain could employ a policy of divide and conquer in the event of a rebellion. Finally, seventh, White believed that the quality of British officers serving in India had increased considerably since 1857. After effectively demonstrating that the proportions proposed by the Peel Commission had never been reached, and yet, the British had better control over India and the Native Army then they did in 1859, White argued against altering the current proportions of its forces in India. Either European forces had to be raised or Native troops had to be reduced, and he believed neither could or should happen. The cost of increasing the size of the European force, he knew, was prohibitive. Decreasing the size of the Native force to achieve a more preferred 36  East India (Army and Population), “Return showing the Strength of the Army in India,” 3. 37  For more on the importance of the railway and the Forward Policy, see Edward M. Spiers, Engines for Empire: The Victorian Army and its Use of Railways (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015). 38  Uncited Roberts’ quotation in “Proportion of British to Native troops in India,” 28 July 1897, Mss Eur F108/16, GWP.



proportion posed its own problems. Unlike in 1857–1858, “We are, however, no longer in a position to ignore ‘external aggression.’”39 Once again, the specter of Russia was on his mind as was the French threat to Burma. “The great successes of Germany in 1870 have thrown these two gigantic military Powers (France and Russia) into a more or less close military alliance. Russia is knocking at the north-western gate and France at the south-eastern gate of our Indian Empire. The armies of both which in 1859 were expressed in thousands, are now counted in millions.”40 He urged that the Council not take any action which could jeopardize Britain’s security in India. There was resistance to White’s argument. Sir Charles Bradley Pritchard, an Ordinary Member of Council, wrote a lengthy response rejecting the elevated external threat which White emphasized and stressing that the high proportion of Native troops continued to threaten security in India. Although he did address some of White’s military concerns, the bulk of his argument was rhetorical and based on his fears of Indians in general. He felt that the situation was perhaps even worse than it was in 1857 because of the rise of native associations and native newspapers which had been granted legitimacy by Great Britain itself. He believed that they were exciting “anti-English jealousies” and fostering “dissensions and discontent.” They were becoming a force for the dissemination of dangerous ideas and religious fanaticism, particularly within Hindu society. Their rebellious ideas, according to Pritchard, were spreading and were starting to affect the growing number of Indians in the civil service, another worrying trend. The Native Army, he warned, had to be reduced.41 Ignoring Pritchard’s unsubstantiated claims about the dangers of association, the press, and Indian employment, White responded to his specific military claims, forcefully rejecting each and every one. He also continued to emphasize the Russian threat showing the encroachment on India that Russia had made, and the challenges which France now posed as well, since 1859 when the Peel Commission had issued its report. “I have shown strong reason for thinking it would be very imprudent to decrease our Native army,” he wrote, “and I believe it would be nearly as foolish to

 “Proportion of British to Native troops in India,” 28 July 1897, Mss Eur F108/16, GWP.  Ibid. 41  “Minute by the Hon’ble Sir C.B. Pritchard, K.C.I.E., C.S.I.,” 29 August 1893, Mss Eur F108/16, GWP. 39 40



show want of confidence in our Native allies now by disarming them.”42 White’s arguments carried the day and no major adjustments were made.43 When arguing for the necessity of having more Europeans serving in India, Pritchard inflated his total of Native troops, some would argue, by including roughly 15,600 Imperial Service Troops.44 In 1885, with the Russians pushing south from Merv toward the Afghan border, the Afghans responded by dispatching troops of their own and a war scare erupted. Several Princely states, in order to show their support for Britain, offered to assist by sending troops of their own. Although the war scare passed, the desire to retain some sort of independence while playing a role in imperial defense remained. Led by Asaj Jah VI, Nizam of Hyderabad, the rulers of the Princely States managed to convince the Viceroy, Lord Dufferin, in 1888, to accept their offer and, in 1889, a force of Imperial Service Troops came into existence.45 Hyderabad, for example, sent men to Upper Burma while White was in command and Imperial Service Troops later participated in the expedition to Chitral in 1895.46 There was still much to be worked out regarding terms of discipline and conduct, and, in July 1893, Brackenbury asked White to consider rules and regulations for their service. In October, White produced a Memorandum on the subject. As troops of independent Princely states and not formally part of the British or Presidency Armies, there was a fundamental question of whether Imperial Service Troops were subject to British regulations. White argued that the troops had been designated Imperial Service Troops “because

42  “Rejoinder to Hon’ble Sir Charles Pritchard’s Minute on the proportion to be maintained between British and Native troops in India,” 16 September 1893, Mss Eur F108/16, GWP. 43  In 1886, 35% of the army in India was British; in 1908, 34%. Both forces grew in size very slowly over this period of time. East India (Army and Population), “Return showing the Strength of the Army in India,” 3. Within the Native force itself, Hindus, including Sikhs, outnumbered Muslims 2 to 1 in each of the three Presidency Armies in 1893 (94,384 to 45,510). The Sikhs numbered 23,718. White to Sir Dennis Fitzpatrick, “Regarding the proportion of Hindus to Mahomedans in the Punjab,” 25 August 1893, Mss Eur F108/17, GWP. 44  By 1896, the force had grown to 18,710. The Gazette of India, 4 April 1896, p. 202. 45  Stuart B.  Beatson, A History of the Imperial Service Troops of Native States (Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent, 1903), i–iii. 46  Harold E.  Raugh, Jr., The Victorians at War, 1815–1914: An Encyclopedia of British Military History (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2004), 171.



their raison d’etre is the defence of the Empire.”47 That is, they existed to serve British needs and therefore they had to be treated as the other Native troops. His argument cited the 177th section of the Army Act. At the second reading of the Army (Annual) Bill on 23 March 1885, the House of Commons, among other things, was asked to consider the question of how volunteers from the colonies were treated in regard to military law when serving with British or Indian troops. The Judge Advocate General, Hon. Osborne Morgan, shared his opinion that those forces fell under British law. Recognizing that there could be some discrepancies, such as who would constitute a court martial if a colonial soldier committed an offense or if rules governing corporal punishment differed among units, and resolving these issues could be challenging, he advised “the Colonial Forces serving with British Forces should be put unconditionally under Imperial military law; but that could only be done with the sanction of the Colonies themselves.”48 The Legal Member of the Governor-General’s Council, Sir A.E.  Miller, however, during deliberations on this issue in 1893, rejected the Judge Advocate General’s stance. There was strong precedent for Miller’s objections. Henry Fowler, who served as Secretary of State for India under Lord Rosebery (1894–1895), would make it clear the following year that the Army (Annual) Bill “did not apply to Her Majesty’s Forces in India who were natives of India, they being governed by the Indian Army Act and the Indian Articles of War.”49 White had a number of recommendations but until the War Office amended section 177 to specifically name the Imperial Service Troops and place them under the Indian Article of War, the British Army in India could not impose regulations over the Imperial Service Troops. During White’s tenure as Commander-in-Chief that never took place. White was later asked to address the issue of whether Native forces should be subject to their own military law or to the Army Act. There were a number of significant differences between the laws governing British troops in India and Native troops in India. None of them, perhaps, were more arcane and abusive than those related to corporal punishment. In April 1894, during discussions of the Army (Annual) Bill, Robert 47  Untitled memorandum on Imperial Service Troops, 20 October 1893, Mss Eur F108/16, GWP. 48  House of Commons Debates (23 March 1885) Third Series, vol. 296, cc.366–371. 49  House of Commons Debates (16 April 1894) Fourth Series, vol. 23, cc.554–585.



W. Hanbury, MP (Preston), proposed an amendment which would eliminate flogging in the Indian forces. As Hanbury explained, “the natives of India were as amenable to discipline as any people in the world, and if flogging was a bad thing for Englishmen, it was also bad for the natives of India. They should either abolish flogging altogether or treat all races within their Army upon the same footing.”50 Fowler responded by explaining that no amendment could change the rules since the Indian Army Act and the Indian Articles of War, as mentioned above, governed conditions of service in India and not the Army Act. The former had not been amended since 1869 and, at the time, flogging in the British Army, which although had fallen out of favor and was no longer used during peacetime, was still permissible during war. Although Fowler did not defend its use in India, he argued that only the Government of India could stop the practice.51 Of course, an alternative to amending the laws governing Indian forces was to fold them into the Army Act. White vigorously objected to both approaches. If the House of Commons wanted to abolish flogging in India, he believed, it should convey that sentiment to the Indian Legislature, which would then take action if it deemed it appropriate. However, if it were to eliminate the Indian Army Act altogether, Major W.H.F. McMullen, the Judge Advocate General, India, feared, “the military code to which they have been long accustomed” would disappear and its place would be substituted provisions of the Army Act which would have “very undesirable results,” among them the end of summary courts-­ martial, the disruption of rules governing camp followers employed with the Indian Army, and an alteration of the existing laws governing recruitment of sepoys and followers.52 Major-General William Galbraith, Adjutant-General, India, was most concerned about the abolition of flogging which he believed would have “disastrous results.” It would lead to the loss of discipline, he warned White, and “our mercenary sepoy army at

 Ibid.  The Indian Articles of War were amended in 1894. The Gazette of India, 4 April 1896, p. 202. 52   McMullen Memo. to Adjutant-General, 19 March 1895, Notes by Major W.H.F.  McMullen (Judge Advocate-General), Major-General W.  Galbraith (AdjutantGeneral) and White, on the “Abolition of Flogging in the Native Army,” Mss Eur F108/29, GWP. 50 51



once becomes a danger.”53 Perhaps White was not as worried about the repercussions or he knew that he had to give some ground on the matter and so he suggested to Brackenbury a one-year suspension of flogging and then a re-examination of its use as a form of punishment. If that was not substantial enough, he suggested abolishing flogging altogether, but he urged Brackenbury to fight to hold onto India’s separate military code.54 Privately, he wrote to him, “I think it would be a great mistake to abolish flogging in the Native army.”55 Neither the Indian Army Act nor flogging in the Indian Army was abolished during White’s tenure as Commander-­ in-­Chief, India.56 Another matter White was asked to consider his first year was a proposal to form an Indo-Eurasian Regiment. The mixed-racial Eurasian population of India was sizeable and significant numbers had been serving in the Presidency Armies as well as in the Princely states since the turn of the century. Many had embraced military service to escape poverty. The British had already “experimented” with Eurasian corps including the Lahore Light Infantry and a Eurasian Battery of Artillery.57 According to White, all these were disbanded in the aftermath of the Rebellion because they had become deeply suspect “in the minds of authorities.”58 As a rule,

53   Galbraith Memo. to Commander-in-Chief, 19 March 1895, Notes by Major W.H.F.  McMullen (Judge Advocate-General), Major-General W.  Galbraith (AdjutantGeneral) and White, on the “Abolition of Flogging in the Native Army,” Mss Eur F108/29, GWP. 54   White Memo. to Military Member of Council, undated, Notes by Major W.H.F.  McMullen (Judge Advocate-General), Major-General W.  Galbraith (AdjutantGeneral) and White, on the “Abolition of Flogging in the Native Army,” Mss Eur F108/29, GWP. 55  White to Brackenbury, 31 May 1894, Mss Eur F108/18, GWP. 56  What prompted the second consideration of the Indian Army Act and the practice of flogging in 1895 seems to have been the result of Hanbury’s renewed attempts in February in the House of Commons to reform the Army Act and abolish flogging in colonial forces. This prompted Fowler to communicate directly with the Viceroy on the matter. See Radhika Singha, “The ‘Rare Infliction’: the Abolition of Flogging in the Indian Army, circa 1835–1920,” Law and History Review 34 3(2016): 804. 57  Large numbers of Eurasians served in important non-combatant roles including in the Indian Subordinate Medical Department. See Valerie E.R. Anderson, “The Eurasian problem in nineteenth century India,” PhD diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, 2011, Chapter 9. 58  Minute of Military Department Proposal to form an Indo-Eurasian Regiment, undated (ca. April 1893), Mss Eur F108/16, GWP.



White opposed the recruitment and use of Anglo-Indians, as had Roberts.59 He claimed that “The better class Eurasian now finds an outlet for his martial instincts in the ranks of the Volunteers.60 And he continued, using class and racially loaded language, “it is but too likely that only the lowest class would offer themselves for the Army; not the spirited and combative gutter-snipe of London and our towns at home, but the effete timorous wafer of Calcutta and Allahabad. This is what is anticipated and aimed at by the Committee appointed to enquire into the poverty and destitution amongst Europeans and Eurasians in Calcutta.”61 White argued that the service of Eurasians would actually be detrimental to themselves, since they were bound to short service and therefore they would return to the “Civil population at a riper age, when they would be… less inclined to learn a trade then when they first enlisted.”62 The Government of India for as long as White was Commander-in-Chief would not pursue the issue further.63 When it came to altering many of the structures of the Indian Army and supporting institutions, White was clearly a voice of conservatism. He opposed the reorganization of the Native Infantry; he was against reducing the size of the Native army even though it would mean a more favorable European to Native ratio; he did not want to see the end of an Indian military code; and he did not advocate for the creation of new Eurasian regiments. In his position as Commander-in-Chief, he was able to influence the Viceroy’s Council and impact decision-making. On the issue of abolishing the Presidency Armies, however, any opposition was not going to stop the process which Lansdowne, Roberts, Brackenbury, and others had pushed to its logical conclusion.64 At most, White could only raise concerns. 59  Hira Lal Singh, Problems and Policies of the British in India 1885–1898 (New York: Asia Publishing House, 1963), 189. 60  By the late 1890s, there were 29,000 Eurasians and Europeans in the Volunteer forces in India. Joseph Whittaker, An Almanack for the Year of Our Lord 1897 (London: Warwick Lane, 1897), 462; as cited in, Anderson, “The Eurasian problem,” 224. 61  Minute of Military Department Proposal to form an Indo-Eurasian Regiment, undated (ca. April 1893), Mss Eur F108/16, GWP. 62  Ibid. 63  White continued to focus on the issue of short-service and how, he argued, it did not suit Eurasians. See White to Alfred Lyall, 5 February 1894, Mss Eur F108/17, GWP. 64  There had been recommendations in 1879, 1881, and 1888 to alter the existing system. The members of the Governor-General’s Council which produced the 1893 report advocat-



There had been calls to abolish the Presidency Armies for some time. In 1879, the Army Organization Commission (Eden Commission) recommended that it should be done in order to centralize control and eliminate unnecessary costs and inefficiencies. Although both the outgoing Viceroy, Lord Lytton, and his successor, Lord Ripon, showed support for the measure,65 the Commander-in-Chief, India, General Sir Frederick Haines, opposed it as did Lord Kimberley, the Secretary of State for India, and the Duke of Cambridge, who argued that centralized control would be routinely obstructed by powerful local interests, the Presidency Armies would lose their individual characters which could weaken morale, and there was an “absence of proof of financial saving.”66 Although much reform was conducted in the 1880s, successive viceroys, Dufferin and Lansdowne, continued to advocate for centralized command. Russia’s growing threat convinced many it was necessary, as did weaknesses in the current system, particularly the criticism lodged against the Madras Presidency Army for its poor performance in Upper Burma. In 1889, the Viceroy’s Council, which included Roberts and Lieutenant-General Sir George Chesney, Military Member, conveyed in the strongest terms that “A misfortune of the greatest moment if this amendment of the military administration which we consider to be essential to the efficiency of the Army in this country, should not be carried out.”67 Nevertheless, reform efforts continued to be derailed. In 1891, a motion was put forward by T.R. Buchanan, MP (Edinburgh West) to abolish the Presidency Armies. After a lengthy debate, Hon. Edward Stanhope, Secretary of State for War and MP (Horncastle), convinced Buchanan to withdraw his motion after he indicated that the government would take the necessary steps to carry out the wishes of the Government of India once they were clearly laid out. It was not the Conservative government of which Stanhope was a member that ing reform included Lansdowne, Roberts, Miller, Brackenbury, P.P. Hutchins, D. Barbour, and Charles Crosthwaite, White’s friends and Burma associate. 65   Brian Robson, “The Eden Commission and the Reform of the Indian Army  – 1879–1895,” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 60 241 (Spring 1982): 4. 66  Kimberley despatch of 26 July 1886, quoted by Sir J. Gorst, Under-Secretary of State for India and MP (Chatham), House of Commons Debates (17 February 1891) Third Series, vol. 350, cc. 884. Singh, Problems and Policies of the British in India 1885–1898, 143–150. 67  Governor-General’s Council despatch of 5 July 1889, quoted by Henry CampbellBannerman, former (and future) Secretary of State for War, MP (Stirling), House of Commons Debates (17 February 1891) Third Series, vol. 350, cc. 888–891.



eventually introduced the change, it was the Liberals. The Viceroy’s Council issued its first report in November 1892; the following spring, Kimberley introduced the successful bill68; and, in April 1895, the Presidency Armies were officially abolished.69 Whether the changes initiated by the Act brought about fiscal savings is uncertain as is also whether they rationalized organization. Even the question of whether the new system brought about increased centralization is debatable since the Council’s proposal advocated decentralization, while, at the same time, it rebalanced the command structure. So although each command answered to the Commander-in-Chief, it could retain a degree of independence and custom apart from the other commands. Certainly, the changes were significant. The abolition of the Presidency Armies meant the ending of local government control over the military in Madras and Bombay. Local Commanders-in-Chief were also done away with. Four Lieutenant-Generals now commanded four separate commands— the Punjab (including the North-West Frontier Province), Bombay (including Sindh and Baluchistan), Madras (including Burma), and Bengal, with the Commander-in-Chief, India, sitting atop the hierarchical structure.70 Further, each command was divided into two or three 1st Class Districts and a number of 2nd Class Districts.71 The Council’s recommendations were quite different from what was eventually introduced. The 1893 proposal included making Sindh and Baluchistan part of the Punjab Command and detaching Burma from the Madras command and creating a separate command under a Major-­ General. These ideas were ultimately rejected. It is clear from White’s letters to Cambridge and others that he did not invest much of his time in thinking about the abolition of the Presidency Armies. He knew that implementing the reorganization would be a terrible burden and it would fall mostly upon him. Nevertheless, he was optimistic that when the new system was fully up and running his workload 68  Kimberley, Secretary of State for India, rejected his earlier position and now supported the reform, but Cambridge remained opposed to it. 69  India (Army System), Further papers Respecting Proposed Changes in the Indian Army System, 1893, C. 6987, 7009, 7115. 70  General Order of the Government of India in the Army Department, No. 981, 26 October 1894; as cited in, E.H.H.  Collen, The Indian Army: A Sketch of Its History and Organization (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), 35. 71  The Army in India and Its Evolution (Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, 1924), 24.



would be reduced.72 White advocated for a three-command structure: Punjab (including the North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and Sind), Bengal (including Burma), and a combined Bombay and Madras command. White’s logic was based on three ideas. (1) Similar to the 1893 proposal, he believed that the Bengal command had become too large with the extension of the Raj into Punjab and beyond and needed to be cut up into 2 pieces. (2) Upper Burma was to have supplied opportunity for Madras officers and troops to prove themselves; it did not. Maintenance of order there still required an imported, large civil police force and that force could be more easily recruited in Bengal. (3) Because of the climate and topography, soldiers recruited in the Bombay Presidency were not fit for service in Sind and Baluchistan. Those territories would be better served, he argued, by a new command in Punjab and local recruitment. In addition, thinking in terms of divide and conquer, White believed that Pashtuns would be the greatest danger to order in India in the future and that they would be “over-awed by the British, supported by Sikh and Punjabi. If ever Sikh and Punjabis were to combine for mischief, they would be powerless before the British and Pathans.”73 Not only was it important to keep the Native army divided by race, White felt it was just as important to not play favorites. When a proposal came before him to organize a Gurkha rifle brigade, for example, he feared that other Native troops would “feel considerable jealousy” if they allowed it and resentment would grow in the ranks. “It is impolitic to let any class of Native soldier consider themselves of too great importance,” White wrote to the Duke of Connaught.74 Similarly, White rejected calls for creating a limited number of officers from high caste backgrounds. In this, he was supported by Roberts. White stressed the impact that it could have on British soldiers. He believed that they would resent Indian officers and that inevitability the change would bring more harm than good.75 But just as the 1893 proposals were rejected, so too were White’s recommendations. Instead, it seems, that in the end, the scheme put in place  White to Cambridge, 3 May 1893, Mss Eur F108/18, GWP.  Memorandum on the Abolition of Presidency Armies, 7 March 1893, Mss Eur F108/24, GWP. 74  White to Duke of Connaught, 7 July 1896, Letter-book entitled “Book No. 2, Miscellaneous Letters,” continuing No. 17, Also letters to the Viceroy, dated 28 Dec 1897 to 5 Mar 1898 in continuation of No. 20, Mss Eur F108/19 (1895–1898), GWP. 75  Elgin to Hamilton, 24 February 1897, No. 149; as cited in, Pande, The Viceroyalty of Lord Elgin II, 3. 72 73



stemmed from the proposals of the Eden Commission and were endorsed by former Commander-in-Chief, India, General Sir Donald Stewart, who had joined Kimberley’s Council of India in 1893.76 In time, White grew satisfied with the reorganization of the Indian armies. He later wrote to Wolseley telling him that the process had gone smoothly and that work had become decentralized while unity of control had been maintained. He did think that the Commander-in-Chief, India, should be responsible for finances in addition to his other responsibilities but he accepted that civilian authority would never give up the power of the purse. He felt that that all the commands were stronger as a result of the changes with the exception of Madras which he continued to worry about. Finally, he warned that the four commands were likely to drift apart from one another.77 Although the decision to abolish the Presidency Armies was made in Parliament, the plan to reorganize the commands was ultimately made by the Government of India, but that government in October 1894 was no longer led by Lansdowne. The new Viceroy, appointed by the Liberal government under Lord Rosebery, was Lord Elgin, and unlike Lansdowne, Elgin had no connections to Roberts and White. Despite his initial concerns, White had developed a good working relationship with Lansdowne. They never became close, however, and White continued to have his reservations. He often questioned Lansdowne’s motivations and, because of Lansdowne’s close relationship with Roberts, White struggled to carve out his own identity. Yet, he feared that a new Viceroy, particularly one with a strong voice, could impose a vision which he could not share. In September 1893, when Gladstone was still Prime Minister, rumors suggested that General Sir Henry Norman had been offered and accepted the post of Viceroy. Norman had recently been Governor of Jamaica (1883–1889) and was currently the Governor of Queensland. He had made his name in India, in the Company’s army, and after the Rebellion, continued to rise in rank and reputation. But Norman had left India in the late 1870s and retired from active service soon afterwards. White knew very well of his reputation and feared his arrival. “Seventeen years ago,” he 76  T.A. Heathcote, The Military in British India: The Development of British Land Forces in South Asia 1600–1947 (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1995), 152–6. Robson, “The Eden Commission,” 4–13. 77  White to Wolseley, 8 January 1898, Letter-book entitled “Book No. 3 Letters to (1) H.E. the Viceroy, (2) Lt. Genl. Sir H. Brackenbury (3) H.R.H. the Commander in Chief (4) Sir Reginald Gipps (5) Adjt. General Horse Guards & other Horse Guard officials,” continuing No. 18, Mss Eur F108/20 (1895–1897), GWP.



wrote Roberts, “he was behind the time as regards to frontier matters” and White feared that the policy of masterly inactivity would return and Russia would be allowed to act freely in Afghanistan and Central Asia.78 White was happy to write to Lieutenant-General Sir Reginald Gipps, Military Secretary, a few weeks later, of Norman’s “rapid resignation.” “We were afraid of his very pronounced support of a backward defensive policy, but all the able papers that have been written of late days have expressed the impossibility of waiting for Russia until one reaches the Indus. I have no hesitation in saying that the line Kandahar-Kabul is the position which offers us the best chances of beating Russia.”79 White learned of Elgin’s appointment at the same time. He did not know what to expect. He had heard talk that he was “able and strong” and, of course, he knew that his father had briefly held the position in the 1860s.80 But Elgin was an unknown to him, having had nothing to do with the army and little in his portfolio. Regardless, for the duration of White’s tenure as Commander-in-Chief, India, the two men worked well together. There were times White did not agree with Elgin’s judgment and felt that he too readily sought compromise, but he never questioned his motivation or his intelligence.81 Perhaps because he knew little of India, Elgin was forced to rely more on White for his expertise than Lansdowne had. Elgin supported White’s commitment to a forward policy and allowed him to carry out a number of expeditions to the North-­ West Frontier and Kashmir. He also approved of much of White’s vision of the military including his position on Indian officers. Since he had been given his first command, White saw himself as a bit of a social reformer or perhaps, better put, he promoted self-help schemes to improve the moral and physical character of his soldiers. He became involved in establishing a branch in India of the Men’s Help Society which worked with discharged and reserve solders to try to find them work and improve their lives.82 He also continued to support temperance. White was a firm believer that alcohol consumption adversely affected discipline and led to increased rates of crime. He also maintained that it was strongly linked to health issues. In letters to the Duke of Cambridge, he claimed  White to Roberts, 27 September 1893, Mss Eur F108/17, GWP.  White to R. Gipps, 18 October 1893, Mss Eur F108/17, GWP. 80  White to J.H. Dunne, 18 October 1893, Mss Eur F108/17, GWP. 81  See, for example, White to John White, 2 July 1895, 1 September 1897, and 4 November 1897, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 82  Men’s Help Society, Misc. Private Letters to White, Mss Eur F108/23 (1898), GWP. 78 79



that nearly one-third of British soldiers in India had joined the Army Temperance Association and of the 1450 district courts-martial and 1150 regimental courts-martial, fewer than 40 cases of each were members. In addition, soldiers who practiced temperance were half as likely to require medical treatment.83 If alcohol was one scourge of the British Army in India, another was sexually transmitted infections. During the mid-century, legislation had been passed in most British colonies regulating female prostitution for the purpose of reducing the spread of venereal disease. Registration was required and regular examinations were conducted; women who were suspected of carrying disease were confined to lock hospitals. The concern of the Contagious Disease laws, and cantonment acts overseas, focused on the well-being of British soldiers and paid little attention to the women they were regulating. A successful domestic campaign led to repeal of these laws in Great Britain in 1886, allowing the focus of reformers to pivot towards practices in the empire. Issues of gender were now mixed with those of race. As Philippa Levine has argued, “More than any other ailment, venereal diseases were seen as insidious check on the march of civilization.”84 Although a new Cantonment Act in India was passed in 1889 to reform examination and licensing, little changed. Technically, forced hospitalizing was no longer required, but women who did not agree to enter lock hospitals, rebranded as cantonment hospitals, were expelled from the cantonment.85 The visit of two American missionaries to India in 1891 and the publication of their report in Great Britain in early 1893, highlighting the morally harmful nature of the Act and how it subjected Indian women to shameful practices, led to a renewed and sustained attack on the existing system.86 Although the act was repealed in 1895, enforcement was limited and the system was essentially reinstated in 1897.87 Although there is little evidence to suggest he was ever interested in this topic prior to becoming Commander-in-Chief,  other than a few  White to Cambridge, 1 August 1893 and 17 July 1894, Mss Eur F108/18, GWP.  Philippa Levine, Prostitution, Race & Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (New York: Routledge, 2003), 5. 85  Philippa Levine, “Rereading the 1890s: Venereal Disease as ‘Constitutional Crisis’ in Britain and British India,” The Journal of Asian Studies 55 3 (August 1996): 592–3. 86  David J.  Pivar, “The Military, Prostitution, and Colonial Peoples: India and the Philippines, 1885–1917,” The Journal of Sex Research 17 3 (August 1981): 259–60. 87  Ibid., 260. 83 84



letters exchanged with William Lockhart, right from the start, White approached it with great fervor. It might be easy to argue that as an officer, the health of his troops was paramount, but his viewpoint should be read as gendered especially when taking into account his correspondence with Surgeon Major-General Alexander F. Bradshaw, Principal Medical Officer, India. In an August 1893 letter, White agreed with Bradshaw’s recommendation that “Lady nurses” should not take part in theatricals or attend balls.88 White was willing to regulate the harmless social practices of nurses, but when it came to the spread of disease which led to harm among his soldiers, he did not want to regulate the men’s actions—instead, only the actions of the women involved, he believed, warranted control. The issue of whether the new Cantonment Act ended compulsory examination and hospitalization was raised repeatedly by James Stanfeld, MP (Halifax) and James Stuart, MP (Shoreditch Hoxton) in the House of Commons and in a letter to Lord Cross, Secretary of State for India in early 1890.89 White fully understood that the new Cantonment Act did not effectively end compulsory examination. Writing to Brackenbury, he stated, “I am forced to the conclusion that the so-called voluntary examination has indirect local and professional compulsion behind it,” but warned, “if this examination falls, all prevention falls with it.” But the next day, relieved that Brackenbury was not going to force the issue in Council, he backed off what he had said and now claimed that the examination was voluntary, since authorities were not mandating it.90 White addressed the charge made by Stansfeld and Stuart as to whether examination was compulsory in a minute written in July 1893. Ignoring the indirect compulsion which he had mentioned, coercion of any kind, or the consequences for not getting an examination, he wrote, “The evidence given before Mr. Ibbetson’s Commission goes to prove that the examination is not compulsory.91 The women not only come voluntarily, but they appeal against a refusal by the medical officer to examine them. In one instance, after having been refused by the medical officer they returned with an interpreter, as they thought that is had not been made clear that they were anxious to  White to A. Bradshaw, 9 August 1893, Mss Eur F108/17, GWP.  Committee appointed by Secretary of State for India to inquire into Rules, Regulations and Practice in Indian Cantonments with regard to Prostitution and Treatment of Venereal Disease, Report, Minutes of Evidence, Appendices, (1893–4) C. 7148. 90  White to Brackenbury, 17 May 1893 and 18 May 1893, Mss Eur F108/18, GWP. 91  For a discussion of the Ibbetson Commission, see Levine, “Rereading the 1890s,” 593–4. 88 89



be found healthy by examination. In the face of such evidence of free will, it is impossible to maintain that the women are subjected to compulsion.”92 White also addressed the alleged compulsory detention of women in lock hospitals found or assumed to be contagious and capable of spreading sexually transmitted diseases. He claimed that Mrs. Elizabeth Andrew and Dr. Kate Bushnell, the two American missionaries who reported this information, did not understand India and were “naïve.” “The women and other natives with whom they conversed soon found out what they wished to establish and played up to them,” White wrote.93 The term lock hospital continued to be used by the “natives” because they “adhere to names first applied.” White attempted to assure the Council that even though the buildings were “naturally” still used and for basically the same purpose, they were no longer lock hospitals; women could come and go and there were no penalties “unless in the case of women still suffering from contagious disease.”94 A few years later, in a letter to Lord Wolseley, then Commander-in-Chief, he argued that “professional women – who in India are a regular hereditary class  – actually clamour to be inspected as, of course, the fact of the examination helps them professionally.”95 It is hard to make the case that White’s arguments in response to the charges made by Stansfeld and Stuart against the Indian Cantonment Act of 1889 are compelling. They did not need to be because he found a receptive audience in British officials. Neither Lansdowne nor Elgin was interested in giving up authority over Indian matters, and neither Cambridge nor Wolseley was interested in giving up authority over military matters. It is clear that White felt sexually transmitted diseases among British troops in India were a major problem, that women, who he referred to as the “source of dissemination,”96 and not men should be regulated, and that civil authorities should leave the issue to the military. He claimed in 1893 that over the course of the past four years in Bengal, there were on average over 421 reported cases of sexually transmitted disease for every 1000 soldiers, or nearly half of the entire army in Bengal. On average, each soldier remained in the hospital for 20 days, and therefore, at a 92  Minute by His Excellency General Sir George S. White, K.C.B., G.C.I.E., Commanderin-Chief, India, Mss Eur F108/24, GWP. 93  Ibid. 94  Ibid. 95  White to Wolseley, 28 April 1897, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP. 96  Ibid.



minimum 8420 days’ work was lost.97 He warned the Duke of Cambridge, “Even now the results of venereal disease in the Army in India has reached alarming proportions and it is only too certain that it will increase largely if we are forced to give up the control we can now exercise.”98 In 1894, the number increased to 511 per thousand.99 Only tight regulation of women, White believed, could solve the problem. With the repeal of the 1895 Act coming, White happily wrote Wolseley, “England appears to have quite woke up to the state of the British Army in India as regards to venereal disease. I hope the action of the Secretary of State for India may enable us to cope on better terms with the effects of this disease.”100 White’s conservative views on military reform in India and on gender and race are not too surprising for a 60-year-old Anglo-Irish officer who grew up in privilege and spent most of his life in the empire serving to sustain it. Another example of this outlook can be gleaned from his response to a report written by the press censor in Bombay in 1894 who was alarmed by what he saw as the growing radicalism of the free press, views which Pritchard, had shared (see above). It warned that the Native press, in its dangerous push for popular inclusion in the political structure through the creation of representative bodies, was “always distrustful of the fairness and uprightness” of the government.101 White fully concurred with the report. He believed that “the want of control” over the Indian press would lead to “grave political mischief.”102 Print journalism in India had displayed signs of nationalism as early as the 1830s under Company rule.103 Its growth led to the Viceroy’s Council to pass a law in 1878 in order to control “seditious writing.”104 Nevertheless, in terms of numbers of newspapers, many of which began publishing bilingually, and readership, the significance of the Indian press grew in the 1880s and 1890s alongside the nascent Indian National Congress. In  White to Cambridge, 13 June 1893, Mss Eur F108/18, GWP.  Ibid. 99  White to Buller, 23 July 1895, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP. 100  White to Wolseley, 28 April 1897, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP. 101  Extract from the “Report of the Bombay Press Censor, 2 July 1894;” as cited in, Draft of a minute by White on the Indian Press, Printed in No. 24, where it is headed “Control over the Press in India,” Mss Eur F108/28 (1894), GWP. 102  “Control over the Press in India,” Mss Eur F108/28, GWP. 103  Prasun Sonwalkar, “Indian Journalism in the Colonial Crucible: A nineteenth-century story of political protest,” Journalism Studies 16 5 (2015): 625. 104  Uma Das Gupta, “The Indian Press 1870–1880: A Small World of Journalism,” Modern Asian Studies 11 2 (1977): 213. 97 98



Bombay, the source of the warning to White, there were 51 newspapers by the early 1890s.105 In his report, White presented the case for a free press in England as an “adjunct to Constitutional freedom.” But, he warned, “to apply English ideas to the degree of control which it is necessary to exercise over the press in India is to apply the same regulations to two separate political conditions which are not only different but are even antagonistic.”106 India, he claimed, was only just “emerging from barbarism and still groping in the moral darkness of Islam and heathendom.” An unchecked press would lead the “superstitious and ignorant” younger generations to reject the rule “of a handful of Europeans over 290,000,000.” He concluded: Imperialism in India does not rest on the will of the people; the most that can be said of it is that it is accepted by the people as they have not yet been educated up to considering or desiring any other form of government, and they have grown up to consider their condition under us a happy one. The existence of our Government depends upon 1) Our military power, 2) the spirit of contentment and loyalty which it can maintain amongst the millions of people. The native press has already used the freedoms allowed to it to introduce opinions calculated to weaken the faith and confidence of our soldiers in the Government and to sow discontent and dangerous aspirations in the minds of the millions.107

White waded into the debate on the free press in India because, as the quote above makes clear, he feared that Native soldiers would be in some way corrupted by it and would become increasingly disloyal. As Commander-in-Chief, his purview included discipline, and as such it would not be a reach to argue that he was justified in joining this debate. It should be stated, however, that nowhere in the report did he express the idea of maintaining a free press in public spaces while limiting it in military society. Perhaps, he understood that kind of measure would be ineffective. White also got involved in debates over military technologies. On these, he was on much firmer ground. In 1888, the British Army began rolling 105  Government of Bombay, Confidential Report, Judicial, vol. 140, Compilation no. 32, 1893, pp.  1–3, Maharashtra State Archives, Bombay; as cited in, Prashant Kidambi, The Making of an Indian Metropolis: Colonial Governance and Public Culture in Bombay, 1890–1920 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007), 165. 106  “Control over the Press in India,” Mss Eur F108/28, GWP. 107  Ibid.



out the Lee-Metford as its regulation service rifle replacing the Martini-­ Henry. Ideally, it was to be used with a new cordite cartridge which was smokeless and had a range of 3000 yards.108 Problems with production, however, slowed the introduction of the new cartridge. As British regiments at home and then in the empire adopted their more rapid-firing new rifles, the Martini-Henry was handed over to the Indian regiments replacing their Snider-Enfield. From the beginning, White was disappointed in the new rifle.109 He had a number of objections. First of all, he believed the Martini-Henry was a superior “shooting rifle” with far better accuracy.110 Second, he believed the cost of the ammunition, which far exceeded that used by the Martin-Henry, would be an “obstacle” to military expeditions.111 White worried about the expense particularly since India was experiencing a depression in the 1890s caused in part by a fluctuation in silver prices,112 and later by a severe drought in the Madras Presidency which was followed by a crippling famine. In addition, Roberts’ overspending did not make it easier for him to balance the restricting military budget. And third, he objected to the slow rollout of the cordite cartridge and argued that all British regiments serving in India should be provided with it at the same time.113 His strongest objections were yet to come. As Brackenbury’s five-year stint as Military Member of Council came to an end in 1896, he gave a lengthy speech in Simla which was later reproduced in the Gazette of India. White, who was at the event, was dumbstruck by a number of Brackenbury’s claims as well as his egocentrism. Writing privately to his brother, he declared, “You will see that he takes 108  Kaushik Roy, The Army in British India: From Colonial Warfare to Total War 1857–1947 (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 88. 109  For more on the Lee-Metford/Martini-Henry debate, see Matthew Ford, “Towards a Revolution in Firepower? Logistics, Lethality, and the Lee-Metford,” War in History 20 3 (2013): 273–299. 110  White to John White, 24 December 1893, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 111  White to Cambridge, 17 May 1893, Mss Eur F108/18, GWP. White also argued that cost would lead to a decline in participation in rifle clubs. Drafts of official notes and minutes, prepared by Lt.-Col. Beauchamp Duff, Military Secretary to the C-in-C, Mss Eur F108/26 (1896), GWP. 112  D.K. Fieldhouse, “The Metropolitan Economics of Empire,” in The Oxford History of the British Empire, Volume IV: The Twentieth Century, edited by Judith Brown and Wm. Roger Louis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 93. 113  Note on Proposal to Issue Cordite to British Regiments in India, 22 August 1893, Mss Eur F108/17, GWP.



credit for the whole of the military work in India and appears purposely to efface the CinC.”114 One of the issues Brackenbury addressed was the suitability of the Lee-Metford rifle. To his credit, Brackenbury made mention of perhaps the gravest problems which became associated with the LeeMetford, its stopping power, but he glossed over the issue and instead stressed its overall satisfactory performance.115 White could not do the same. In 1895, despite much opposition in Council, White successfully convinced the Viceroy and the Home government to launch a military expedition to the North-West Frontier to relieve Chitral (see Chap. 7). Although the campaign was successful, the performance of the Lee-­ Metford came under close scrutiny and, according to White, was “discredited in the eyes of both the British and native soldiers because it did not disable but went through… and did not stop the enemy.”116 The problem was the 0.303 “small bore combined with the great initial velocity of the bullet and its perforating capacity leave little trace of it on men hit by it.”117 White had sent Ian Hamilton, his Military Secretary, to accompany the Chitral Field Force. Hamilton had reported that the men did not like the Lee-Metford because the locals did not fear it since “it does not break bones.” A Bengal Lancer had reported to Hamilton, “You must know sahib there are two prime qualities in a rifle – one is to shoot fast and the other is to break bones, they cannot however be combined, otherwise there would be no people left alive in this country where people are always fighting.”118 White grew frustrated, believing that military authorities back home did not care. But he soon grew excited when he learned in December 1896 that a successful experiment had been conducted at the Dum Dum Ordnance Factory near Calcutta and a soft-pointed bullet which  White to John White, 7 April 1896, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  4 April, 1896, Gazette of India, p.198  in “Newspaper cutting relating to White’s Services in the Afghan War (1881), Zhob Field Force (1890), appointment as Commanderin-Chief (1892), and retirement (1898),” Mss Eur F108/48 (1881–1898), GWP. 116  White to Lord Elgin, 5 March 1898, Mss Eur F108/19, GWP. For a discussion of how colonial culture interacted with operational practice, including military technologies, see Gavin Rand, “From the Black Mountain to Waziristan: Culture and Combat on the NorthWest Frontier,” in Culture, Conflict and the Military in Colonial South Asia, edited by Kaushik Roy and Gavin Rand (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2018), 131–56. 117  White to Buller, 23 July 1895, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP. 118  Ibid. 114 115



“mushrooms out so quickly that it makes a frightful wound where it goes out. This might drop a man in his tracks,” he told his brother.119 A few months later, he reported to Wolseley: We set to work to find a remedy. At first, we got a bullet that “set up” (mushroomed) with much less resistance, but we lost range and consequently accuracy. I would not accept this as I think the more superior range and accuracy of the arm of the British soldier over that of the sepoy is established on the rifle range in time of peace, the greater will be the appreciation of and respect for his prowess in war. We have now arrived at a bullet which while retaining all the accuracy and the longer ranges, mushrooms on impact with objects that present the smaller resistance. I had a “series” of experiments carried out at our central rifle meeting at Meerut and showed representatives from many British battalions that the “Dum-Dum” bullet as we have called it, would set up in passing through the neck of a skinned sheep struck through its shorter axis, inflicting a very severe wound at point of exit and breaking up all the bones it met in its course . . .. The regulation bullet will cut down brick walls and penetrate 11 planks whereas the Dum Dum bullet will lodge in the 3rd plank. The great desideratum however in a projectile on which the British soldier has to depend to stop a rush of Indian ghaznis or Arabs, is stopping power and I willingly sacrifice penetration to secure it. It is not the legitimate role of infantry to cut down brick walls.120

White became a major advocate of the dumdum bullet and it was used extensively in the Tirah Expedition in 1897–1898 (see Chap. 7).121 The dumdum bullet, although not the first expanding bullet soon became the most notorious, and would eventually be banned by the Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land established by The Hague Convention in 1899 despite the objections of Great Britain.122 White was well aware of how the international community viewed  White to John White, 12 December 1896, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  White to Wolseley, 28 April 1897, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP. 121  Roy, The Army in British India, 53. Major-General William Gatacre, who had commanded a brigade during the Chitral expedition, when posted to the Nile in 1898 during the reconquest of the Sudan, had his men file off the ends of their bullets in an attempt to get a similar effect as the dumdum and build his men’s confidence in their Lee-Metford rifles. White to Lord Elgin, 5 March 1898, Mss Eur F108/19, GWP. 122  Stephen M. Miller and Jessica Miller, “Moral and Legal Prohibitions Against Pillage in the Context of the 1899 Hague Convention and the South African War,” War in History 26 2 (2019): 186–7. Also see, Edward Spiers, “The Use of the Dum Dum Bullet in Colonial Warfare,” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 4 (1975): 3–14. 119 120



e­xpanding bullets and he specifically referred to the “Laws of War: Declaration of St. Petersburg, November 29 1868” in a letter to the Viceroy in March 1898 but somehow had come to the contrary conclusion that the dumdum bullet had not violated one of its basic principles that “the employment of arms which uselessly aggravate the sufferings of disabled men, or render their death inevitable… would, therefore, be contrary to the laws of humanity.”123 White served as Commander-in-Chief, India, at a time of great transition. Both successful and unsuccessful challenges were being made to reform the existing military structures. There were calls to reorganize the Native Infantry, to reduce the size of the Native army, to get rid of an Indian military code, and to create new Eurasian regiments. There was also a demand to dismantle the Presidency Armies. White had to deal with issues as far ranging as curtailing sexually transmitted disease and evaluating the risks of a free press. Although he made light of Indian soldiers clinging to the ritualized and the routine, dustoor, White more than most had become increasingly set in his ways and typically fought to retain the status quo. As an army administrator in India in the 1890s, White proved effective. He worked well with Lansdowne and Elgin and the Military Members of Council. He maintained the Army at a high level of effectiveness, and, as will be shown in the next chapter, used it to maintain and extend British influence in the region and, when required, met the demands for its use overseas.

123  White to Lord Elgin, 5 March 1898, Mss Eur F108/19, GWP; Laws of War: Declaration of St. Petersburg, November 29, 1868, Conventions and Declarations Between the Powers Concerning War, Arbitration and Neutrality (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1915); as cited, in “The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy,” Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library, accessed 20 February 2020, edu/19th_century/decpeter.asp


Commander-in-Chief, India: Campaigns (1893–1898)

During his tenure as Commander-in-Chief, India, Sir George White launched more than a dozen expeditions and dispatched more than 80,000 soldiers to the North-West Frontier in order to extend British control and secure the Indian Empire’s border with Afghanistan.1 Of course, the political decision to send troops was not his; that always required the support of the Viceroy and the Council, and typically, London, but he rarely turned from an aggressive forward policy which was driven by his belief that war with Russia was inevitable in central Asia and that a strategically strong British position was required to safeguard the frontier. Shortly after reaching Simla in 1893, White wrote to his brother John to explain the situation: In the seventies, when Lord Lytton was Viceroy of India, there was a Forward Policy with certain extensive and adventurous schemes in Central Asia. That policy was brought to an end by the Afghan War of 1878–80, at the close of which we retired from Afghanistan . . . . We recognised a new Amir, and helped him to set up his authority throughout Afghanistan, only stipulating that he should have no dealings with foreign powers except through us, and promising to support him contemplated against unprovoked aggression. After that, we demarcated, in conjunction with the 1  Imperial Gazetteer of India, vol. XIX (1908), 208–210; as cited in, Rashmi Pande, The Viceroyalty of Lord Elgin II (Patna: Janaki Prakashan, 1986), 53–4; T.R. Moreman, The Army in India and the Development of Frontier Warfare, 1849–1947 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988), 45.

© The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




Russians, the border between his territory and the Russian dominions. There was therefore in 1893 no longer any question of our going forward into Afghanistan except in support of the Afghans…. The so-called Forward Policy in 1893 consisted in this, that we should give up the old system by which we abstained from all interference with the tribes except when they raided us, and should endeavour, without necessarily annexing any part of their lands, to bring them under some measure of control, so that their raids should cease; and that if at any time we found it necessary to send troops through the passes in support of Afghanistan, the tribes should help and not oppose us. It was thought desirable, in fact, to establish on the northern half of the frontier belt a position somewhat similar to that which Sir Robert Sandeman had established on the southern half.2

The first hot spot to demand White’s attention, as mentioned in Chap. 6, was Chilas, located on the Indus River, north of Kashmir (Map 7.1). Other expeditions were launched against the Kairumas of the Lushai Hills in Mizoram at the end of the year and the Abors of northern Assam in early 1894.3 It was the Mahsuds of Waziristan, however, who posed the first major challenge to the British during White’s command.4 Waziristan is a large, rugged, mountainous area in the North-West Frontier, along the Afghanistan border, populated by a number of Pashtun tribes who spend most of their time in the valleys or near grazing grounds.5 During the 1890 Zhob Valley Expedition, White passed briefly through Wana in southern Waziristan. Traditionally, the Amir of Afghanistan had some degree of influence in the region, however, with the establishment of the Durand Line and the demarcation of the border, at least in theory, he had ceded that role to the British. Prior to 1894, Britain had virtually no presence in the area. From White’s perspective, it was a territory of lawless ruffians who had no respect for British rule and their actions were spilling into eastern Baluchistan where “anarchy and bloodshed” were on 2  White to John White, 15 May 1893; as cited in, Mortimer Durand, The Life of FieldMarshal Sir George White, vol. I (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1915), 415–7. 3  For more information, see Intelligence Branch, Division of the Chief of Staff, Army Headquarters, India, comp., Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. IV, North and North-Eastern Frontier Tribes (Simla: Government Monotype Press, 1907), 176–9, 243. 4  White would also be responsible for the Indian contingents sent as part of the 1897 Suakin, 1898 Mombassa, and 1898 Mekran expeditions. 5  Andrew M.  Roe, Waging War in Waziristan: The British Struggle in the Land of Bin Laden, 1849–1947 (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas, 2010), 15.


Map 7.1  North-West Frontier and Kashmir. (Source: Author)




the rise.6 It was hoped by the political agent Richard Isaac Bruce, a protégé of Robert Sandeman who took part in the Zhob valley expedition as well, that the system of indirect rule in Baluchistan could be replicated in Waziristan through the malik system whereby resources would be funneled to the local tribal leaders in return for their allegiance and support, peace would be maintained, and British interests would be safeguarded (see Chap. 5). White, however, had come to believe that the Sandeman system could not be applied to Waziristan “where amongst such conflicting and hostile sections it is impossible to enforce tribal responsibility.”7 He rejected the notion that influence alone could change its people. A clear sign that his attitudes on race were hardening and, White believed that only direct administration could “redeem these tribesmen from their barbarism” and therefore he advocated for a “strong demonstration” followed by a military occupation.8 Between January and June 1894, there were over thirty-one “outrages” which had resulted in the deaths of 27 people.9 White pushed Elgin for a free hand in Waziristan but the Viceroy refused. White was disappointed and privately complained that Elgin was “timid” and “parochial” and questioned his ability to run a “big empire.”10 He believed that an action against the Mahsuds would win over the support of the other major tribes in southern Waziristan including the Darwesh Khel and Dawaris. But it was not Elgin alone who opposed military action. Three of the members of Council were fearful that a punitive expedition would only lead to an escalation of violence in the region.11 Nevertheless, with White and Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Brackenbury continuously prodding him, Elgin slowly came to share their position that subsidies alone could not buy the Mahsuds’ loyalty; a military presence was also required. After getting approval from Lord Rosebery’s Secretary of State for India, Hon. 6  Memo on Waziristan, 29 May 1894, Printed minutes by White, Mss Eur F108/24 (1893–1896), GWP. 7  Ibid. 8  Ibid. 9  Letter from the Government of India to the Right Honourable H.H. Fowler, 10 July 1894, No. 1  in Military Operations on the North-West Frontier of India, Papers regarding British relations with the neighbouring tribes on the North-West Frontier of India, and the military operations undertaken against them during the year 1897–1898, Part I (Waziristan) (London: Mer Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1898), 2. 10  White to John White, 24 July 1894, White’s letters to his brother, John White, Mss Eur F108/98 (a)-(c) (1857–1910), GWP. 11  Minute of Dissent by Sir Charles Pritchard, Mr. J. Westland, and Sir Antony MacDonnell, 6 July 1894, Military Operations on the North-West Frontier of India, 25–30.



Henry Fowler, Elgin gave permission to White to send a small force of roughly 2500 men under Brigadier-General A.H. Turner to Waziristan to protect the British and Afghan commissioners surveying the border and to act as a deterrent to Mahsud activity. The situation, however, only got worse. In September, after the murder of three high profile Mahsud maliks who had agreed to surrender some men believed to have killed a British agent and a sepoy, the Lieutenant-­ Governor of the Punjab, Sir Dennis Fitzpatrick, urged Elgin to act decisively.12 Elgin was still reluctant to authorize a punitive expedition but did authorize Bruce to meet with the Mahsuds and see if they were willing to accept an arrangement which would guarantee British paramountcy and peace in return for the payment of service allowances and the raising of levies. Bruce met with a number of Mahsud leaders on 25 October and was optimistic about the chances of securing an arrangement. A few days later, however, some of the Mahsuds began to assemble in strength. Further attempts to negotiate failed and on 3 November, the British camp at Wana was attacked. White described the faction of Mahsuds led by Mullah Powindah to the Duke of Cambridge as fanatics who were “bent only on killing as many as they could before being themselves killed.”13 In a similar tone, he wrote to his wife, the “Waziri fought like demons. Luckily, I had selected real good regiments and an excellent general and staff, otherwise there would have been a strong chanced of a disaster.”14 Reinforcements were immediately dispatched and, when British demands went unheeded later in the month, Major-General Sir William Lockhart, who had served under White with great distinction in Upper Burma and who was currently commander of the Punjab Field Force, was called upon to conduct a punitive expedition to Waziristan.

12  Letter from the Government of India, Foreign Department, to the Right Honourable H.H.  Fowler, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for India, 11 September 1894, No. 3  in Military Operations on the North-West Frontier of India, 31–2. 13  White to Cambridge, 14 November 1894, Letter book entitled, “Book No. 3 Letters to H.E. the Viceroy, General Brackenbury & H.R.H. the Commander in Chief,” Mss Eur F108/18 (1893–1895), GWP; Intelligence Branch, Division of the Chief of Staff, Army Headquarters, India, comp., Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. II, NorthWest Frontier Tribes between the Kabul and Gumal Rivers (Simla: Government Monotype Press, 1907), 416–421. 14  White to Amy White, 14 November 1894, White’s letters to his wife Amy (nee Baly), Mss Eur F108/101(a)-(j) (1879–1909), GWP.



White had been certain for some time that a punitive expedition was required and he was very confident, once he got approval for one, that the campaign would go quickly and without incident. He expected one engagement with the Mahsuds; two, at the most.15 By mid-December, Lockhart’s force was in place and ready to go on the offensive. Turner, strengthened by reinforcements, was at Wana and would head north to Kaniguram; White’s protégé, Brigadier-General William Penn Symons, commanded the Jandola brigade which proceeded to Makin; and a third, smaller column under Lieutenant-Colonel C.C. Egerton, made its way from Bannu to Razmak. Although most of the Darwesh Khel and Dawaris refused to support Mullah Powindah, the Mahsuds did find some, albeit limited, support among the other local Pashtun tribes. The British destroyed a number of villages and confiscated cattle and forage. There was little armed resistance, however. White gloated, “My judgement on the situation in Waziristan has now been fully realized and I think the Viceroy and his council must own it.”16 To Lockhart he wrote, “I am sorry your enemy has faded away before you. He is bolder in word than deed.”17 By January 1895, Mullah Powindah had fled the area, and shortly afterwards, Lockhart felt comfortable enough to issue new government’s demands. The Mahsuds released their hostages, agreed to pay the imposed fines, and when the Boundary party finished its work in March, the Waziristan Field Force was broken up. For some time, White had considered the Gomal River, the southern boundary of Waziristan, as a safe staging point from which British troops could reach Afghanistan in the event of a Russian invasion. Now that the British had flexed their muscles in Waziristan and much of the countryside had remained quiet during the campaign, White turned his attention to the Tochi River as a more forward possibility. Lockhart had marched troops northward to Tochi and reported favorably about what he saw. White, who had been promoted to Lieutenant-General at the beginning of April, wrote, “It has long been thought that the Tochi would offer more strategical advantages than the Gomal or the Kurram but want of knowledge of it prevented us trying it, and fear of raising complications prevented us attempting to get better acquainted with it. Lockhart’s  White to Amy White, 19 December 1894, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.  White to Amy White, 26 December 1894, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 17  White to Lockhart, 3 January 1895, Letter-book entitled “No. 2 Book, Miscellaneous Letters,” Mss Eur F108/17 (1893–1895), GWP. 15 16



operations have raised the curtain and pricked the bubble of the dangerous operation that would be offered to us.”18 If the British could secure the Tochi and construct a railroad from it to Shirani, they would gain a new, direct route to Ghazni which would shore up the all-important Kandahar-Kabul line. “Now that the ground has been cleared for us in the Tochi it would be nothing short of culpable neglect of the interests of the Empire not to take advantage of it.”19 The Council agreed with his logic and Elgin, in a letter dated 15 May 1895, urged the Secretary of State for India to sanction a permanent garrison in the Tochi Valley. “With these two posts at Wano (sic) and Tochi, we believe that the Waziri tribes would be completely dominated, that our position on the frontier would be strengthened.”20 The initial response of Fowler was brief. “Tochi. Can you make a temporary settlement with tribes, leaving question of cantonment open until you can send home full estimate of both proposed cantonments? My advisers are opposed to additional cantonment.”21 However, when Elgin assured him, based on White’s claims, that the cost of maintaining both posts would be no greater than just holding Wana, Fowler approved the plan.22 The possession of Tochi would soon create new problems for the British. By recognizing the extension of the British Empire’s Indian borders all the way to the Afghan frontier, as set by the Durand Line, White’s strategic vision for central Asia had been satisfied in part. Recognition by itself, however, was not enough. Britain’s control of the North-West Frontier and Kashmir had to be guaranteed, he believed, by the presence of troops and infrastructure. If a Russian invasion of Afghanistan was to occur, British troops could quickly move up to the Kandahar-Kabul line and, if necessary, fall back to a line running from Quetta to Fort Attock. Securing Waziristan and the Tochi valley, from White’s perspective, strengthened Britain’s position. Still, there was more to do. He also supported an  White to W.J. Cunningham, 20 April 1895, Mss Eur F108/17, GWP.  Ibid. 20  Letter from the Government of India, Foreign Department, to the Right Hon’ble H.H. Fowler, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for India, 15 May 1895, No. 8 in Military Operations on the North-West Frontier of India, 45. 21  From Secretary of State to Viceroy, 24 July 1895, No. 9 in Military Operations on the North-West Frontier of India, 48. 22  From Secretary of State to Viceroy, 2 August 1895, No. 11 in Military Operations on the North-West Frontier of India, 49. 18 19



advanced defensive line running northwards from Peshawar through Swat and Dir, and up to the Afghan border. Chitral was extremely important to his plans since it guaranteed the Wakhan Corridor and lessened the risk of a Russian invasion of India through the Pamirs. White was unclear, at first, about whether it was essential to hold it with British troops or if the task could be left to the friendly and subordinate Princely state of Kashmir. Nevertheless, British influence in the region was of primary concern. When the security of Chilas and Chitral was threatened in early 1893, White pushed for an immediate response. In the end, he won over Brackenbury to his side and eventually Elgin and the Council as well. Roads were built, the garrison in Chilas was strengthened, and a British agent was placed in Chitral to keep a close watch on things. But Britain’s position was precarious at best. Russian penetration, at China’s expense, of Tajikistan and the Pamirs in 1894 directly threatened its role in the area.23 The terrain was rugged, the people were few; White was convinced that Russia’s only interest in the region was to threaten India’s borders. “There must be some reason for it,” he wrote to Elgin, warning that Russia was readying itself for further advances.24 To make things even worse, Chitral which had experienced great political turmoil in recent years caused by personal ambitions and competing claims to the throne, appeared to be heading towards anarchy. In January 1895, the Mehtar of Chitral, Nizam ul-Mulk, who had the support of the British, was assassinated by his younger half-brother, Amir.25 The British political agent in nearby Gilgit, Surgeon-Major Sir George Robertson, immediately proceeded to Chitral to assist Lieutenant Bertrand Gurdon, the local agent, and assess the situation.26 Upon his arrival, Robertson learned that Umra Khan of Jandul, an “adventurer,” seeing the instability

23  Christian Tripodi, Edge of Empire: The British Political Officer and Tribal Administration on the North-West Frontier 1877–1947 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011), 84–6. 24  Strategical Value of Chitral, 4 May 1895, Drafts of official notes and minutes, prepared by Lt.-Col. Beauchamp Duff, Military Secretary to the C-in-C., Mss Eur F108/25 (1893–1895), GWP; Memorandum by White, 6 May 1895, Printed and typescript minutes and drafts, together with some correspondence, dealing with the Chitral Expedition, Mss Eur F108/37 (1895), GWP. 25  Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (New York: Kodansha International, 1990), 484–5. 26  C.W.  Woodburn, “Forts of the Chitral Campaign of 1895,” Asian Affairs 30 2 (1999): 141.



and an opportunity, had invaded from the south.27 Rumors quickly spread that Umra Khan was behind the assassination. If things could not get more complicated, Sher Afzul, Nizam’s uncle, pushed his own claim to the throne and returned to Chitral from his exile in Afghanistan, leading Elgin and others to believe that the Afghan Amir, Abdur Rahman, might have been behind the whole scheme.28 In the official Indian government account of the conflict, the editors insisted that Sher Afzul had instigated the assassination.29 The Chitralis could not stop Umra Khan’s advance; nor could Robertson, even if he had wanted to intervene. He was greatly outnumbered, having just over 400 Sikhs and Kashmir Rifles, whereas Umra Khan could call on no fewer than 3000 and as many as 8000 supporters.30 Unwilling to recognize any of the three claimants, Robertson gathered his escort and fell back to the safety of the fort at Chitral. On 3 March, Sher Afzal arrived in Chitral, and joined by Umra Khan, they attempted to force their way into the fort. Twenty-five men, including General Baj Singh and Major Bhikam Singh, Imperial Service Troops, were killed and 30 wounded, but the British managed to hold their position. The siege of Fort Chitral began the next day. It would last until 19 April. Captain C.V.F. Townshend, who commanded Robertson’s escort and who was a veteran of the battles of Abu Klea and Abu Kru (Gubat), called the fighting “desperate” and wrote that he never saw action “hotter.”31 Other actions took place along the lines of communication between Chitral and Gilgat. In a letter to the Duke of Cambridge, White again reminded the Commander-in-Chief that the British had pledged their support to the Maharaja of Kashmir to safeguard Chitral and they were responsible to provide it. He also warned about the effect a withdrawal could have on 27  Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, I, 434; Francis Younghusband, The Relief of Chitral (London: Macmillan and Co., 1895; Reprint and Shilling edition, 1910), 25. 28  S. Gopal, British Policy in India 1858–1905 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 218. 29  Intelligence Branch, Division of the Chief of Staff, Army Headquarters, India, comp., Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, Vol. 1, Tribes North of the Kabul River (Simla: Government Monotype Press, 1907), 47. 30  Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, I, 50. 31  Captain C.V.F. Townshend to Lt. Col A. Durand, Military Secretary to Viceroy, 25 April 1895, Printed and typescript minutes and drafts, together with some correspondence, dealing with the Chitral Expedition, Mss Eur F108/37, GWP. Surgeon-Captain H.F. Whitchurch was awarded with the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the battle.



British prestige in the region, a notion he echoed in a letter to Sir Redvers Buller, the Adjutant-General, in May.32 In White’s mind, there was no question that British troops had to be sent to relieve the beleaguered troops. On 14 March, Elgin sent an ultimatum to Umra Khan demanding that he withdraw. On the same day, White was given permission to organize a force for the relief of Chitral.33 Lockhart had become White’s most trusted divisional commander, even if the two had their differences. Lockhart’s health, however, was often an issue. More than once he had to leave Upper Burma and just before the campaign against the Mahsuds, he had been recovering from another episode in Europe. Fresh off that campaign, White decided to let him rest and, instead, chose another of his trusted commanders from Upper Burma, Major-General Sir Robert Low, Commanding Oude District, to lead the expedition. Ominously, he wrote to Low, “The future of Chitral is now an anxious consideration.”34 Low’s Chitral Relief Force numbered almost 15,000, though nearly 80% of it was required to protect the lines of communication. Bridges had to be built, roads widened, and supplies moved up the lines on the backs of over 21,000 transport animals.35 This was necessary but so unusual that White was forced to write a note stipulating Low’s role and reminding Major-General Edward Stedman, the Quartermaster-General in India, who commanded the lines of communication, that Low was in supreme command.36 Low relieved Chitral. Umra Khan fled across the mountains to Asmar, and Amir-ul-Mulk and Sher Afzal were deported to India. In September, another royal brother, Shuja, was installed on the throne. For White, the real difficulties now began—convincing London that Chitral had to be permanently occupied. For some time, it looked like his efforts would fail. 32  White to Cambridge, 20 March 1895, Mss Eur F108/18, GWP; White to Buller, 28 May 1895, Letter-book entitled “Book No. 2, Miscellaneous Letters,” continuing No. 17 above, Also letters to the Viceroy, dated 28 Dec 1897 to 5 Mar 1898 in continuation of No. 20 below, Mss Eur F108/19 (18895–1898), GWP. 33  In the speech he gave at the end of his term as Military Member of Council, see above, Brackenbury took much of the credit for organizing the Chitral Field Force. The Gazette of India, 4 April 1896, p. 191. 34  White to Low, 19 March 1895, Mss Eur F108/17, GWP. 35  Report of Major-General Edwin H.H. Collen, 21 April 1895, Letters to White relating to Chitral Expedition (with one letter and map from General M.G.  Gerard of the Pamir Boundary Commission), Mss Eur F108/36 (1895), GWP. 36  Note by his Excellency the Commander-in-Chief, 19 May 1895, Mss Eur F108/37.



Roberts supported him in the House of Lords but many did not.37 Wolseley, who would soon succeed Cambridge as Commander-in-Chief, opposed the retention of Chitral. Lord Reay, the Undersecretary of State for India, told Elgin, Wolseley “considers the Chitral position strategically of no importance,” believing that India could only be invaded via the Herat route and therefore the western defenses of the frontier like Quetta had to be strengthened rather than the eastern. Reay conveyed to the Viceroy that Wolseley also believed the motivations of senior Indian officers were selfish. They sought recognition and honorifics which could only be gained in fighting numerous trivial wars on the frontier. “The C.B. hunter, as G. Duff used to call him, must be suppressed.”38 Wolseley thought it was best to wash their hands of Chitral and give it to the Afghan Amir. Buller, too, opposed holding onto Chitral. He feared the costs, believed that small garrison could not stop a Russian invasion, and thought that the Malakand-Peshawar line would be easier to hold than a Chitral-­ Dir-­Peshawar line.39 White’s position only seemed to harden in the face of opposition. He became more convinced than ever that the retention of Chitral was necessary to deter the Russians. He now referred to the Kandahar-Kabul line as the Kandahar-Ghazni-Kabul-Chitral line.40 He believed that the Russians had demonstrated that they understood the importance of strategic railway lines in central Asia and, if they built one to the Pamirs, they could move troops quickly and easily to the Indian border. Worse, he reiterated, if the British retired from Chitral, the locals would lose faith in them and would likely join the Russians if they invaded. “I wish I was Dictator,” he wrote to Lieutenant-General Sir Reginald Gipps. “I would have a firmer hold on our frontier within the next three months than we have ever had and I believe a better prospect of peaceful possession of it. I might have to strike a blow or two within the three months but they would be remembered and would not need repetition. If we go back now every frontier tribe will think that they can take liberties without lasting punishment and it is this idea that necessitates… constant and responsive punitive 37  George Forrest, The Life of Lord Roberts (New York: Frederick A.  Stokes Co., 1914), 180–3. 38  C.B. refers to Commander of the Order of the Bath. Mountstuart Grant Duff served as Undersecretary of State for India from 1868–1874. Reay to Elgin, 3 May 1895, Mss Eur F108/37, GWP. 39  Buller to White, 13 June 1895, Mss Eur F108/36, GWP. 40  Memorandum by White, 6 May 1895, Mss Eur F108/37, GWP.



expeditions.”41 As for Wolseley’s idea of handing Chitral over to the Afghans, White scoffed at it, believing Abdur Rahman was behind the assassination of the Chitrali mehtar and had aided Sher Afzal.42 In his eyes, Wolseley was suggesting that they do nothing short of rewarding the Amir for his devious scheming. Angered by the intransigence of both civilian officials, like Sir Donald Stewart and Sir Alfred Lyall, members of the Council of India, and military officials, like Wolseley and Buller, he wrote to Lockhart, “I am very anxious about the answer regarding the future of Chitral. The India Office is evidently bent on ordering us out of Chitral bag and baggage. I only hope the Cabinet will study this argument and opinions of the Government of India…. It is too bad that an Empire like ours here should be ruled by men who are too old to serve out here and who as a rule were Indian failures.” In the letter, White even went so far as to blame Lyall for the murder of Sir Louis Cavagnari which precipitated the second invasion of Afghanistan during the Second Anglo-Afghan War.43 In India, White had a great deal of support for his plan. Very importantly, Elgin agreed with his assessment. Ian Hamilton, who had served as White’s Military Secretary before he was allowed to accompany Low to Chitral, believed that within two years of establishing a military presence at Chitral, the British could raise enough local levies to care for its defense. “I am dead against permanently locking up any of our regular army in these regions,” he wrote to White, but “still more dead against leaving them swept and garnished for the Ruskies to enter.”44 Lieutenant-Colonel Beauchamp Duff, who replaced Hamilton, warned White that a withdrawal would lead to “chaos and civil war.”45 White had allowed Captain Francis Younghusband, who had recently explored Turkestan and the Pamirs, to accompany the Chitral Field Force. Younghusband recognized 41  White to Gipps, 21 May 1895, Letter-book entitled “Book No. 3 Letters to (1) H.E. the Viceroy, (2) Lt. Genl. Sir H.  Brackenbury (3) H.R.H. the Commander in Chief (4) Sir Reginald Gipps (5) Adjt. General Horse Guards & other Horse Guard officials,” continuing No. 18 above, Mss Eur F108/20 (1895–1897), GWP. 42  White to Cambridge, 15 May 1895, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP. 43  White to Lockhart, 27 May 1895, Mss Eur F108/19, GWP; White to Ripon, 8 May 1895, Mss Eur F108/19, GWP. 44  Hamilton to White, 3 June 1895, Mss Eur F108/36, GWP. 45  Beauchamp Duff to White, 15 June 1895, Drafts of official notes and minutes, prepared by Lt.-Col. Beauchamp Duff, Military Secretary to the C-in-C., Mss Eur F108/25 (1893–1895), GWP.



the importance of Chitral laying on the flank of the Attock-Peshawar-­ Kabul line and feared that, if left ungarrisoned, the Russians could easily swoop down to Nowshera, Peshawar, and Jalalabad endangering the entire frontier. He made it clear that he did not anticipate one major Russian assault, like the kind Wolseley described, but instead multiple and small, military operations and acts of political encroachment which would gradually extend the Russian presence.46 On 13 June 1895, the Secretary of State for India sent a telegram to the Viceroy. The government was not going to allow for the garrisoning of Chitral or for the presence of a European agent, nor could a road be constructed from Peshawar to Chitral.47 Eight days later, Lord Rosebery’s government fell over a no-confidence vote concerning a deficient supply of cordite. Lord Salisbury returned as Prime Minister, Lord George Hamilton took over the India Office, and the former Viceroy of India, Lord Lansdowne, entered the War Office. White was delighted with the change and bragged to his brother that his policy would now be adopted. “Lansdowne at the War Office knowing the situation thoroughly; His brother-in-law at the India Office who will undoubtedly refer to him. Lord Salisbury has Curzon who knows the geography and was all over Chitral last summer and is as big a Jingo as Roberts.”48 He would not have to wait long. Hamilton informed Elgin that he could maintain a presence, at least for the time being, in Chitral. Elgin forwarded White’s proposal to move one of the existing native infantry battalions from Gilgit up to Chitral, and, along with some guns and sappers, establish a second battalion there as well.49 Chitral and more of the passes through the Hindu Kush were now safe. 1896 was a relatively quiet year for White. He was happy in Simla with his wife and his growing family, although his son was soon to leave for Sandhurst. He enjoyed an excellent relationship with Lord Elgin and preferred the new Military Member of Council, Sir Edwin Collen, to Brackenbury. He was very fond of Elgin’s Military Secretary, Lieutenant-­ Colonel Algernon Durand and his own Military Secretary, Beauchamp Duff, was working out extremely well. Although, from time to time, 46  Note on the Dir route to Chitral, F.E.  Younghusband, 20 June 1895, Mss Eur F108/37, GWP. 47  Fowler to Elgin, 13 June 1895, Mss Eur F108/36, GWP. 48  White to John White, 9 July 1895, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 49  White to Elgin, 3 August 1895, Mss Eur F108/37, GWP.



White had to take on an officer who Wolseley sent him against his recommendation, many of the top jobs in India were now held by White’s men. He was close to both the Adjutant-General, Gerald de Courcy Morton, and the Quartermaster-General, Alexander R. Badcock. A number of veterans of Upper Burma commanded key districts including Lockhart in the Punjab, Sir George Wolseley in Lahore, and Penn Symons in Sirhind. There were no major disturbances on the frontier. Despite a nasty kick from his horse which left him a “little disfigured,” White was able to conduct an extensive tour, visiting cantonments throughout southern and central India.50 He planned to go home in September of the following year and to be replaced by Lockhart, although there was some talk that he would get an extension.51 By the summer of 1897, White was still in Simla and his future had yet to be decided. Lansdowne had offered him the job of Quartermaster-­ General at the Horse Guards and he was weighing his options. He was presented with both the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath and the Grand Cross Star of India. Things were good, but that would all soon change. Since the operations in Chitral, there had been no significant disturbance on the North-West Frontier but the area was always restive. Its potential to draw in thousands of troops at any moment was great. According to a report sent to White in the summer of 1897, there were 15,000 armed Mohmands, 5000 armed Utman Khels, 8000 armed Bunerwals, 26,000 armed Afridis, between 11,000 and 12,000 armed Shinwaris, mostly on the Afghan side of the border, and 600 more in the Khyber.52 The report did not include the Mahsuds, the Orakzais, who could field as many as 25,000 men, and other tribes.53 Since the middle of the century, the British had sent over 50 punitive expeditions to the region and still there was no peace.54 Employing regular army regiments, regular native regiments, and irregular frontier forces, the British met with success  White to John White, 7 October 1896, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  White to John White, 18 May 1897, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 52  Numbers of Fighting men from Paget and Mason, undated, Notebook, entitled “C in C India” containing extracts from official letters, etc. …, Mss Eur F108/46 (1896–1897), GWP. 53  Sameetah Agha, “The Tirah Campaign, 1897–1898,” in Queen Victoria’s Wars: British Military Campaigns, 1857–1902, edited by Stephen M.  Miller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), Chapter 12. 54  Kaushik Roy, The Army in British India: From Colonial Warfare to Total War 1857–1947 (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 45. 50 51



but they could not silence the tribes. Since Russian intrigue had yet to transform into direct interference, the real danger, therefore, lay not in the rising of any individual tribe but in a general uprising brought on by jihad or some other unifying factor. Just after lunch on 10 June 1897, a political officer, Mr. H.A. Gee, and his escort were attacked at Maizar in the Tochi Valley by a section of the Darwesh Khels. Twenty-seven officers, soldiers, and followers were killed and as many were wounded.55 Gee reported that he was trying to settle some fines and that the Darwesh Khels had acted treacherously. The details of the incident are now not so clear.56 Regardless, an expedition was readied at once. Major-General George Corrie Bird, Commanding Oude District, was given the command of two brigades numbering over 7000 men. Just over a month later, one of the brigades reached Shirani, on the Tochi River in northern Waziristan. On the evening of the 26th July, 250  miles away in the Swat River Valley, rumors reached the British political agent in Malakand that 2000 Swatis had rallied around a local mullah, known as the “Mad Fakir.”57 The garrison was attacked the next day as was an outpost at Chakdara which guarded the bridge spanning the river. Colonel William Hope Meiklejohn, who commanded the Malakand garrison, wired White with great urgency, “For God’s sake send as soon as possible, men getting worn out, supplies as you know, nearly done and ammunition.”58 Bunerwals and Mamunds would soon join in the rising. White requested Low’s former Chief of Staff, Brigadier-General Bindon Blood, Commanding Bundelcund District, and he was given command of the Malakand Field Force’s two brigades. Blood reached Malakand a week later. On the afternoon of the 7th August, roughly 5000 Mohmands attacked the British fort at Shabqadar, just under 20 miles from Peshawar. The 55  Special War Correspondent of the Pioneer, comp., The Risings on the North-West Frontier: being a complete narrative, with specially prepared maps of the various risings of the frontier tribes in the Tochi Valley, the Swat Valley, the country of the Mohmands and Mamunds, and the country of the Afridis and Orakzai... (Allahabad: Pioneer Press, 1898), 1. 56  Sameetah Agha, “Deciphering the Maizar Military Tribunal, 1897,” in Culture, Conflict and the Military in Colonial South Asia, edited by Kaushik Roy and Gavin Rand (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2018), 158–62. 57  Winston Churchill, The Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War (London: Longman, Green and Co., 1898; Retrieved from ebooks/9404), 53–4. 58  White to Elgin, 1 August 1897, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP.



action came suddenly and without warning. That same evening, BrigadierGeneral Edmond Roche Elles, Commanding the Peshawar District, who, like Blood, White had great confidence in, reinforced the fort. A month later, Elles would take two brigades into the field against the Mohmands. The situation, already dire, was about to get worse. In mid-August, rumors of Orakzai unrest began to grow near Kohat. There were fears that the Afridis, who Major Charles Callwell, author of Small Wars (1896) and Tirah, 1897 (1911) described as “one of the largest, most turbulent and most war-like tribes on the North-West Frontier of India,” might join them which meant the British could face an armed uprising of over 50,000 men.59 To shore up confidence among other local tribes like the Turi, Brigadier-General Arthur Godolphin Yeatman-Biggs, Commanding the Presidency District, was ordered to Kohat. If Kurram or Samana was threatened he was to act. White wrote the Duke of Cambridge, who he continued to correspond with after the latter’s retirement, “I hope the Afridis may not join in against us.”60 On the 23rd, the Afridis attacked Fort Maude, one of the Khyber Pass forts. The Orakzais were on the move as well. Two brigades were not going to be enough this time. In September, Lockhart was given command of the Tirah Field Force which numbered more than 34,000. For many British statesmen and officers, the activity of the Pashtun tribes on the North-West Frontier was linked together. If not directly caused by jihad then perhaps pan-Islamic sentiment was at play. T. Hungerford Holdich, in his 1901, The Indian Borderland 1880–1900, wrote, “There was undoubtedly a spirit of religious crusade in the air which unsettled the minds of men…. Turkish emissaries are said to have left Constantinople for India, and correspondence between the mullahs of the frontier and the mullahs of Delhi is known to have taken place.”61 Others claimed that the Afghan Amir was at the heart of the disturbances.62 White shared his personal fears with the Duke of Cambridge. “The fanaticism of the tribesmen has undoubtedly been stirred up by religious emissaries from Kabul and from India.” Furthermore, he worried that the  C.E. Callwell, Tirah, 1897 (London: Constable and Co, 1911), 2.  White to Cambridge, 11 August 1897, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP. 61  T.  Hungerford Holdich, The Indian Borderland 1880–1900 (London: Methuen and Co., 1901), 340. 62  Keith Surridge, “The Ambiguous Amir: Britain, Afghanistan and the 1897 North-West Frontier Uprising,” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 36 3 (September 2008): 422–3. 59 60



risings could continue to “cause us trouble with the Mussulmens of India.”63 Yet, despite these grave concerns, the operations, he believed, could still be localized and there was “little risk in bringing all the tribes in the surrounding areas in to it.”64 Islamic fundamentalism was certainly at play, he asserted, but simply as an expression of individual tribes and not as part of a larger pan-Islamic movement or conspiracy. In his 1938 history of the North-West Frontier, C. Collin Davies considered religion and the forward policy to be the main causes of the disturbances but also included other factors such as anti-British propaganda and economic and social disruption caused by the 1896–1897 famine which reached as far north as parts of the Punjab, flooding, the outbreaks of bubonic plague in Poona (Pune), and the 1897 earthquake which hit Assam.65 The Afridis, in particular, he noted revolted in “protest against British encroachments, interference with tribal customs, and the enhancement of the salt tax.”66 Regardless of the causation, the British were fortunate that the risings were not part of a concerted effort. As could be expected, White pushed for a forceful response to counter each of these disturbances.67 He advised the Viceroy: “Pathan pride and presumption will magnify the real cause of their immunity viz: – that we consider the advance… too great a risk. Having been taught to believe in the safety of their asylum, they will make it the base of further operations against us, as opportunity offers. We have now a strong force ready to act, we cannot expect always to maintain such a force. The provocation is undoubtful. All military operations involve risks. As Commander-in-Chief I am prepared to advise your excellency that the military risks in this case are not such as must be avoided.”68 As discussed above, White supported an extension of British military power in northern Waziristan. He believed it would strengthen the British defensive line against any Russian invasion, allow for more rapid  White to Cambridge, 11 August 1897, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP.  White to Elgin, 9 August 1897, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP. 65  C.  Collin Davies, The Problem of the North-West Frontier 1890–1908 (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1932), 94. 66  Ibid. 67  In December 1897, White recommended against sending a force to Darband, on the Indus River, northwest of Abbottabad. He warned that “Such a move will be commencing operations on an entirely new theater of war and… will have an irritating effect on the Indus tribes.” White to Elgin, 30 December 1897, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP. 68  White to Elgin, 9 August 1897, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP. 63 64



movement to Ghazni, if necessary, and it would give the British more leverage in the region. White guaranteed Elgin that it would require few troops, no more than what was already required to hold Wana in southern Waziristan, and, if the malik system could work, which White was not too optimistic about, local levies could be raised to help reduce the burden. The ensuing punitive expedition to the Tochi Valley is not often told in concert with those that followed in the Swat River Valley, north of the Kabul River, and near Tirah. At the time, the action of the Darwesh Khels was incorrectly seen as a simple act of deceit; not a political or religious act.69 Nevertheless, it was one of four major incidents along the NorthWest Frontier in the summer of 1897 which required White to make military decisions and send out punitive expeditions. In 1896, British authorities had imposed a fine on some of the Darwesh Khels, the Madda Khels, for the murder of a Hindu writer.70 In May 1897, the terms of the fine were renegotiated. A subsection of the tribe, the Ger Madda Khels, which had nothing to do with the incident objected to being forced to pay. Gee, along with an escort of 300 men traveled to Maizar to discuss the issue. Perhaps more importantly, Gee was also searching for a new site for a military outpost which would extend British power northward and strengthen their grasp over the people in the region.71 Gee and his men were invited to lunch and, soon afterwards, they were attacked by their hosts. Gee’s reports emphasized the “most cowardly and treacherous manner” of the attack.72 Others stressed the violation of Pashtun social practices. White put Major-General George Corrie Bird, a veteran of the Indian Rebellion, the Second Anglo-Afghan War, and the pacification of Burma in charge of the expedition. The 1st Brigade was given to Colonel Charles Comyn Egerton, who had experience in Waziristan, and the 2nd Brigade went to White’s protégé, Brigadier-General William Penn Symons. Each brigade consisted of one British infantry regiment, three native regiments, and a squadron of cavalry, guns, and sappers. The campaign was conducted without any major incident and only a few British casualties resulted. Bird asked White almost immediately for political control. He blamed Gee for the attack on 10 June. “I should  Holdich, The Indian Borderland, 341.  Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, II, 430. 71  The Risings on the North-West Frontier, 1. 72  Parliamentary Papers, Accounts and Papers, Volume 12, From Viceroy to Secretary of State for India, 17 July 1897, No. 24, 1898, p. 78. 69 70



never trust him or feel sure he was honestly working for me and not for himself.”73 This was granted and, soon afterwards, Younghusband was sent as Gee’s replacement.74 The roads were secured and the fortifications at the villages of Maizar, Shirani, and Drepilari were destroyed. Other punitive actions were carried out. Although the Ger Madda Khels tried to enlist support from the larger tribe and from the Mahsuds, they failed.75 Nevertheless, they refused to accept British terms keeping Bird’s men tied down until the end of October when one of their maliks, Sadda Khan, finally turned himself in. In late November, the Madda Khels accepted the British terms. Only in the new year, however, was the field force finally dismantled. White wanted to ensure the area was quiet because of the events in nearby Tirah. During the campaign, there had been rumors that Abdur Rahman was assisting the insurgent Madda Khels. The newspaper, Pioneer Mail, reported that he had helped Umra Khan escape and that the latter was heading to Waziristan. That report was untrue.76 In the end, the Government of India concluded that the deaths of the soldiers at Maizar were not caused by “deliberate treachery on the past of Sadda Khan,” but instead were the result of a tribal quarrel. It did not pass judgement on Gee’s role in the incident.77 Major Harold Deane served as the political officer in the Swat Valley.78 He had fought in the Second Anglo-Afghan War and, most recently, had been Low’s Chief Political Officer in the relief of Chitral. He had little respect for the locals, who he chastised for their “ignorant bigoty,” and he had an equally hard time working with the Indian government, claiming 73  Corrie Bird to White, 1 July 1897, Letters and telegrams to Sir George White, concerning the Tirah Expedition (led by General Sir William Lockhart) and the appointment of White as Quartermaster-General at the War Office, Mss Eur F108/38 (1897), GWP. 74  Parliamentary Papers, Accounts and Papers, Volume 12, Letter from the Secretary to the Government of India to the Chief Secretary to the Government of the Punjab, 25 June 1897, Enclosure No. 9, 1898, p. 87. 75  Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, II, 434. 76  Parliamentary Papers, Accounts and Papers, Volume 12, Letter from the British Agent at Kabul to the Government of India, Foreign Department, 28 July 1897, Enclosure No. 14, 1898, p. 110. 77  Parliamentary Papers, Accounts and Papers, Volume 12, Letter from Sir W.J. Cunningham, Secretary to the Government of India, Foreign Department, to the Chief Secretary to the Government of the Punjab, 23 October 1897, Enclosure No. 12, 1898, p. 145. 78  For more on political officers and the North-West Frontier, see W.M. Hogben, “British civil-military relations on the north-west frontier of India,” in Swords and Covenants, edited by Adrian Preston and Peter Dennis (London: Croon Helm, 1976).



that his position had been undermined and become intolerable.79 In June and July 1897, after working with local rival factions trying to sort some issues out, he reported that they had accepted British influence in the region “in a good spirit.”80 He was wrong. Unlike Gee, however, Deane would not get replaced. Blood later complained to White, “I see now so very clearly – with the light of actual experience – how disadvantageous it is as to public service that a G.O.C., in entering on operations should be kept studiously in the dark as to the (so-called) ‘political’ condition of the case, and as to the ‘political’ maneuvers going on which he is actually in the field.”81 Deane had dangerously overestimated Swati complacency. Fakirs or Muslim (and sometimes Hindu) ascetics were commonplace in village marketplaces throughout India. Many offered spiritual guidance and direction to those most in need. It is unsurprising that dissatisfaction with British influence in the North-West Frontier coupled with the social and economic disruptions caused by the events mentioned above led many to accept a fakir’s divine prophecies and his claims of making miracles. Winston Churchill saw the fakir in a much more sinister light, writing that they took advantage of suffering and were quick to understand that “contact with civilisation assails the superstition, and credulity, on which the wealth and influence of the Mullah depend.”82 David B.  Edwardes has argued that Churchill and British officials like Deane could only see the response of those that rose up in 1897 as fanatic, since they only saw the “rational disincentives to rebellion” and believed that the people were acting “against their own best interests.”83 That attitude, for many British military and civil officers, never changed. Bindon Blood who commanded the punitive expedition agreed with Churchill and Deane. “All the ­tribesmen of the district near the Malakand, except perhaps those of Dir,

79  Political Agent to Foreign Secretary, Simla, 7 August 1897, Private letters from Lord Elgin, some with enclosures, Mss Eur F108/21 (1894–1898), GWP. 80  Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, I, 365. 81  Blood to White, 4 November 1897, Mss Eur F108/38, GWP. 82  Winston S. Churchill, “The Story of the Malakand Field Force – An Episode of Frontier War,” in Frontiers and Wars (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1962), 28–9; as cited by, David B.  Edwards, “Mad Mullahs and Englishmen: Discourse in the Colonial Encounter,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 31 4 (October 1989): 653. 83  Edwards, “Mad Mullahs and Englishmen,” 654.



were very fanatical,” he wrote nearly 40 years later in his autobiography.84 As a result, when the rising took place it could only be seen as unexpected. Just as in the disturbances in the Tochi Valley, there were rumors that Abdur Rahman was somehow behind them. Umra Khan, stories suggested, was also riding to join the Mad Fakir. Deane certainly believed the tales and warned the Indian government.85 Sadullah, the Mad Fakir, had been speaking out for some time against the British and was purported to have produced a number of miracles. He offered a path to liberation and a better life to those who followed him. He had been unsuccessful in gaining any adherents until late July 1897, however. Late in the evening on the 26th, accompanied by a large following, he led an attack on the British camps outside the Malakand fort. Meiklejohn, who commanded the Malakand Brigade, had received word of the Mad Fakir’s movements only a few hours earlier but had already taken the necessary precautions. Nevertheless, the attack was substantial, leaving 23 men dead and 36 wounded.86 In the days which followed, more attacks were launched against British positions in Malakand and the garrison at Chakdara was besieged. White ordered Blood to proceed to Malakand at once. Meiklejohn commanded the 1st Brigade; Brigadier-General P.D. Jeffreys, the 2nd Brigade. The brigades were constructed similarly to those that were involved in the Tochi Field Force. The Reserve Brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General J. Wodehouse, was also readied for fear that some of the Bunerwals might join the rising. Blood arrived in Malakand on 1 August. Malakand and Dargai were secured and, the next day, he pushed off to Chakdara to lift the siege. His advanced guard arrived just in time to help push back an attack by as many as 8000 Swatis.87 The siege was lifted. White wrote a few days later congratulating Blood on his success “so far” and advising: “as a question of punishment, the more promptly it is administered, the greater will be the effect which it will produce. The whole Tribesmen around you have now been heavily hit, but the longer delay in following them up, the greater will be the opportunities afforded to them of recovering. This, and of organizing further assistance.”88 He warned him to keep a watch on the 84  Bindon Blood, Four Score Years and Ten: Sir Bindon Blood’s Reminiscences (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1933), 289. 85  Political Agent to Foreign Secretary, Simla, 7 August 1897, Mss Eur F108/21, GWP. 86  Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, I, 370. 87  Ibid., 380–1. 88  White to Blood, 8 August 1897, Mss Eur F108/19, GWP.



Bunerwals and to not enter Buner and also to be guided in his decisions by the “public purse.” Finally, White wrote, “The frontier is in a state of unrest, and signs are not wanting that widespread influences are at work, which may create recrudescence even amongst the tribes which had had such a heavy lesson on the front you’re looking after.”89 Things did not go as smoothly for the Malakand Field Force as they did for the Tochi Field Force. The British could not pin the Swatis down. Even though the Upper Swatis surrendered, much of the enemy remained at large. Jeffreys wrote White, “We can do a lot of damage and kill a few men but we cannot make a bag. They retire on our advance right up the hills, fire at long range 1800 to 2000 yards, and as soon as we commence to withdraw down they come from rock to rock.”90 However, a show of force in the area did make some reconsider their actions and gradually the situation quieted down. Since there were greater threats on the North-­ West Frontier, Blood and half of his force, were ordered to join the Mohmand Field Force in September. In late October, Blood returned to Swat and a new punitive expedition was carried out against the Utman Khels. In the new year, operations were conducted against the Bunerwals. A third punitive expedition during the summer of 1897 was sent to Shabqadar about 35  miles away from Malakand. The Mohmands were spread out across the hills on both sides of the Afghan border and down to Peshawar. They were identified by the British as a difficult, fanatical group opposed to British rule. Several expeditions had been carried out against them since the middle of the century. They had historically paid some allegiance to the Amir of Kabul and, during the Second Anglo-­ Afghan War, they cooperated with Afghan troops against the British. Inter-tribal conflict was endemic as well. As in the case of the Malakand uprising, a religious figure played a significant role in the events of 1897. The Mullah of Hadda had been gaining followers for some time. He had resided in Afghanistan but was seen as a destabilizing force and was expelled by the Amir in the 1880s.91 Living among the Mohmands of Jarobi on the Afghan border, unlike the Mad Fakir, he was not an ascetic but instead was well-connected and an important part of the community.92  Ibid.  Jeffreys to White, 21 September 1897, Mss Eur F108/38, GWP. 91  Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, I, 471. 92  David B. Edwardes, Heroes of the Age: Moral Fault Lines on the Afghan Frontier (Berkeley: University of Californian Press, 1996), Chapter 5. Available at ark:/13030/ft458006bg/ (Accessed 5 March 2020). 89 90



During the campaign to relieve Chitral, there was anxiety among the British that he might lead a force of Mohmands to oppose them. The British believed he was in league with the Mad Fakir, yet when Malakand and Chakdara were attacked, Hadda Mullah did not initially stir. A week later, he did. Whereas White had been concerned for some time about the military challenges the Mohmands posed on the North-West Frontier, Elgin had focused more on the political difficulties. He feared that a conflict with the Mohmands could create a rift with the Afghans.93 However, when the Mullah of Hadda led an attack on 7 August on Shankargarh, a Hindu village which served as the bazaar for the nearby Shabqadar fort, followed by an assault on the fort itself, he determined that an immediate response was required regardless of any likely diplomatic embroilment. The British feared the Mullah of Hadda’s potential to raise the neighboring tribes through Jihad much more than they did that of the Mad Fakir. They also worried that the security of the Khyber Pass could be threatened. Sir William Mackworth Young, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, after learning of the looting and burning of Shankargarh, wrote Elgin that the Mullah of Hadda could raise 5000 men and that he was calling for a “Jahad (sic) army among the Afridis and other tribes,” and warned that this “shows that we have not seen the end of our troubles.”94 He feared that the Mohmands could also be joined by Bunerwals, Upper Swatis, and Utman Khels. Elles, Commanding the Peshawar District, sent reinforcements to shore up the fort’s defenses. The Mohmands pulled back from the fort and gathered their numbers in the hills. They found support among the Mamunds and were energized by the rising of the Afridi and Orakzai, but the failure of the Upper Swatis to seize Malakand and Chakdara caused some concern. The Afridis would become the main concern of the British, and with the Mohmands in retreat and Shabqadar safe, there was talk of putting off any action until Tirah was quiet. However, when rumors in September circulated that the Mohmands were going to invade Dir, White approved a plan to have the Malakand Field Force join Elles and his Mohmand Field Force and take the war directly to the Mohmands.95 Elles, with the local rank of Major-­ General, brought with him two brigades under the command of  Elgin to White, 14 February 1897, Mss Eur F108/21, GWP.  Young to Elgin, 8 August 1897, Mss Eur F108/21, GWP. 95  The Risings on the North-West Frontier, 75. 93 94



Brigadier-­Generals Richard Westmacott and Charles R. MacGregor. Blood had supreme command. The punitive expedition was a quick affair. Blood felt confident enough to allow some of the force to be reassigned to Tirah before the month had ended. A number of villages were razed, including Jarobi, and various punishments, such as fines, were meted out to a number of Mohmand clans. The Mullah of Hadda fled into Afghanistan. In early October, the Mamunds were similarly dealt with. The Khyber was never seriously endangered and British casualties were light.96 Blood was back in Malakand by the end of October. The Tirah Campaign of 1897–1898 was one of Great Britain’s biggest and most difficult “small wars.” The mountainous and hilly terrain created terrible logistical problems. It was a demanding undertaking to move supplies and to protect them. Intelligence was extremely limited. Soldiers were typically forced to march in single file to reduce the risks of ambush. Rear guards and outposts were regularly harassed and pursuit of the enemy through chasms, rocks, and into hidden valleys was often pointless. Even the supply of water was inadequate.97 Nearly half of the Afridi and some of the Orakzai were armed with weapons far superior in range and accuracy than those with which many of their neighbors fought.98 The British believed that the Afridi were perhaps the toughest opponent in the region. Many of them had received training in native regiments. Lionel James, Reuter’s Special Correspondent, reported that they fought “by birth and instinct” until the very last.99 White would give Lockhart over 50,000 troops to defeat the 30,000 Afridis and 25,000 Orakzais (and some Chamkanis), secure the Khyber Pass, and, by calming the North-­West Frontier, ensure that the forward policy was firmly intact. Whereas the rising of the Mohmands came without warning, there were signs that the Afridi and Orakzai were stirring in early August. Callwell wrote that they were “meditating mischief.”100 As noted above, 96  Typescript copy of a report (unsigned, and undated, but possibly by White and dating from late 1897), dealing with operations in Aug 1897, and defending General Elles’s decision not to reinforce the Khyber Rifles stationed at the Khyber Pass, Related to events described in No. 39, Mss Eur F108/40 (1897), GWP. 97  Lockhart to White, 20 September 1897, Mss Eur F108/38, GWP. 98  Callwell, Tirah, 1897, 2. 99  Lionel James, The Indian Frontier War: Being an Account of the Mohmund and Tirah Expeditions 1897 (London: William Heinemann, 1898), 91. 100  Callwell, Tirah, 1897, 5.



Afridis and Orakzais had a number of grievances against British influence and taxation, and climatic incidents and the failure of the British to address them led to further social and economic disruption. Regardless, most British observers still emphasized religious fanaticism as the main cause of the rebellion.101 Had they joined the Mohmands after the attack on the fort at Shabqadar, few would have been surprised. Precautions were taken. The garrison at Peshawar was strengthened and two reserve brigades commanded by Westmacott and Yeatman-Biggs were hurried to Rawal Pindee (Rawalpindi). Elles also moved some of his force closer to the Afridi to guard the water supply obtained from the Bara River and additional troops were moved to Kohat, Fort Maude, and other outposts.102 On 23 August, the Afridi made their first move. Fort Maude, the nearest Khyber Pass outpost to British territory, was attacked. Although a swift and forceful reaction compelled the Afridi to withdraw, it was decided to abandon Fort Maude and a few other posts. Afridi attacks continued and the fort at Landi Kotal fell on the 25th. The next day, Orakzais struck, capturing Ublan Pass, just northwest of Kohat.103 White pushed for a decisive response and the Government of India sanctioned a punitive expedition against the Afridi and Orakzai in early September. Lockhart was given two divisions, each consisting of two infantry brigades and additional troops, along with three supporting columns, soldiers to guard the lines of communications, and a reserve brigade. White regularly made senior and staff appointments for all the expeditions, but in the Tirah expedition, Lockhart resisted. He wanted his own men. White approved his request to employ Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Power Palmer, Commanding Punjab Frontier Force, as his commander of the lines of communication. He also gave in to his wishes to use Brigadier-General William Nicholson, Deputy Adjutant General, Punjab, as his Chief of Staff, rather than Ian Hamilton.104 But he refused to sanction the appointment of either Major-General G.E.L.S.  Sanford, Commanding Meerut District, or Colonel St. John Michell, Assistant Quartermaster-General, Punjab, the latter of whom he considered “mischievous” and “disloyal.”105 He also denied Lockhart’s request to let  See, for example, Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, II, 63.  Ibid., 68, 70–1. 103  The Risings on the North-West Frontier, 117. 104  Ian Beckett, A British Profession of Arms: The Politics of Command in the Late Victorian Army (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018), 105. 105  White to Elgin, 13 September 1897, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP. 101 102



Major-General Lord Methuen, who had come to India in a non-official capacity to observe the activity on the North-West Frontier, to take on any serious role.106 In addition, White insisted that Lockhart use Symons as one of his brigadiers. White explained his decision to Elgin and asked for his support. He wrote, “With regard to Symons himself, I consider him the most competent man in India (British or Indian services) to command an Infantry division. … Half the force will be European. Symons is about the only general in the whole force who has ever commanded a British infantry regiment and he did it splendidly.”107 White and Lockhart did not always see eye on eye on strategy either. White encouraged Lockhart to make moves which would send messages to neighboring tribes, like the Masazi in the Upper Kurram, but the latter resisted. Lockhart was more concerned with defeating the enemy in the field rather than the risk of gaining new enemies. Lockhart was also slow to sketch out and submit a comprehensive plan of attack. Other than bringing the war to Tirah, which British soldiers had never entered before, Lockhart seems not to have planned strategically in advance.108 This may have been the result of how he viewed the enemy. He explained to White, “Pathans are a curious, impulsive people, and it is never safe to predict what they are likely to do under any given circumstances.”109 Nevertheless, White never lost confidence in Lockhart and he did what he could to encourage Elgin to get him most everything he needed.110 106  Methuen acted as Press Censor. Methuen got on quite well with Lockhart. He wrote, “He is very different to Sir George [White], being quite quiet, very determined and as simple minded as a child. There are a few men like Ben Stephenson and Buller who all men at once devote themselves to, and Sir William compares favorably with either, for he has Ben Stephenson’s charm and Buller’s firmness. Sir George is a handsome, cold, unsympathetic man, who is no doubt, an equally fine character, but not a man one would take to at once.” P.S. Methuen to M.E. Methuen, 17 September 1897, Methuen Papers, Wiltshire Records Office, Trowbridge (now Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, Chippenham). Also see Stephen M. Miller, Lord Methuen and the British Army: Failure and Redemption in South Africa (London: Frank Cass, 1999), 57. 107  White felt vindicated by the appointment of Symons when Lockhart wrote to him in November, saying he “is a different man from the Symons of 94–95. No one could have done better than he has done throughout this business and I am very sorry that I wrote as I did about him.” White to Elgin, 13 September and 16 November 1897, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP. 108  Agha, “The Tirah Campaign, 1897–1898.” 109  Lockhart to White 11 October 1897, Mss Eur F108/38, GWP. 110  White to Elgin, 10 November 1897, Mss Eur F108/20, GWP.



After making some gains, such as seizing one of the Samana forts, Seragheri, in mid-September, the Afridi retreated to their summer quarters at Tirah and the Orakzai to the Khanki Valley, opting to let the British come to them. Awaiting Lockhart’s arrival in Kohat, Yeatman-Biggs began to make logistical preparations for the advance of the field force. On 17 October, the Tirah Field Force was finally ready to move. The march along the Khanki River was extremely challenging. The few paths could not accommodate so many men and transport animals. Engineers and laborers were always kept busy. Enemy sniping continuously harassed foraging parties. On the 18th, the British drove Afridis from the heights of Chagru Kotal or Dargai. Afterwards, Lockhart made the questionable decision to evacuate the position. Afridis were quick to reoccupy it in force. Dargai could not be bypassed and so on the 20th, it had to be attacked again. This time there were no fewer than seven Afridi clans, perhaps as many as 10,000 men in total.111 In a desperate assault, and after several failed attempts by other troops, Gordon Highlanders and Sikhs drove the Afridis off the heights and captured Dargai for a second time in two days, albeit at a much higher cost this time. In many of the actions fought in 1897, British officers, adhering to their training, engaged the enemy in close order. Casualties, at times, were unnecessary high. At Dargai, however, the Gordons fought in extended order. Methuen wrote in his report on the attack, “The Gordons gave fresh proof that the only way to carry a position in these days of quick firing arms of precision, is to push forward at close intervals line after line of men in extended order and under perfect control. The enemy cannot shoot down more than a small fraction of the attacking force, and the moral effect of the onward rush of so large a number of men is certain to demoralize the defenders.”112 The Battle of Dargai Heights was the last major set-piece action of the campaign.113 On the last day of the month, the Field Force reached Maidan Valley. Through November, the British occupied Tirah and other villages in the valley. While the Orakzai made peace, perhaps as many as half of the Afridis refused and continued to engage British forces in guerilla  Yeatman-Biggs to White, 23 October 1897, Mss Eur F108/38, GWP.  “Report of the Dargai Attack,” 6 January 1898, Methuen Papers, Wiltshire Records Office, Trowbridge (Now Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, Chippenham). 113  For more on British tactics used on the North-West Frontier, see Moreman, The Army in India, 53–68. 111 112



operations. Lockhart wanted to remain in Tirah and “once and for all bring [the Afridi and Orakzai] tribes under permanent control.”114 He warned that they may never again get such a chance, at a low cost, to secure the Afghan border.115 Bad weather and politics, however, would get in the way. Lockhart began his withdrawal from Tirah in early December. Small groups of Afridis harassed their every movement. British columns continued to operate in the field and the Khyber forts were reoccupied. In April, Lockhart travelled back to Europe and Symons took over the command. A final settlement with the Afridi was not reached until September 1898.116 White agreed with Lockhart’s assessment that they had been offered a great opportunity to secure the frontier and that they should take it. He expressed this view to his old Burma colleague Sir Charles Crosthwaite, who now sat on the Council of India. Our position is now a false one and if my opinion is worth anything, I can assure you that the whole of our disposable force is tied up by its falseness and unable to take the field against Russia. In the Khyber, what is our future policy to be? If we make over again to the Afridis it seems to be absolutely necessary to avoid the repetition of what occurred a few days ago. We cannot let the forts fall a second time, and yet, without a change of policy there are but two ways of preventing it. 1) To occupy this deadly defile with our own troops and have the tribesmen from the vantage ground of the hills all round constantly fighting with us and killing our escorts etc. . . or 2) to hand them back to the tribes and at the same time to keep sufficient force at Peshawar, outside the garrison of Peshawar, mobilized and ready to march to the relief of the forts at, say, six hours notice…. Such an arrangement would cost much money and the troops would be in the demoralizing Peshawar Valley climate, and probably unfit for work when required to perform it.117

White’s solution was to occupy Tirah. “The plateau of Tirah is said to be an admirable position for a big cantonment and it would command the Afridi and the Khyber and the troops occupying it would be fit for any  Lockhart to White, 2 November 1897, Mss Eur F108/38, GWP.  Captain L.J. Shadwell, Special Correspondent of The Pioneer and Daily News (London), made similar arguments for annexation in the conclusion of his book, Lockhart’s Advance Through Tirah (New York: New Amsterdam Book Company, 1899), 306–10. 116  Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, II, 115. 117  White to Crosthwaite, 5 October 1897, Mss Eur F108/19, GWP. 114 115



work instead of being useless from sickness and the Afridis would in ten years’ time be conquered and assimilated into out Indian Empire. At present they are a great embarrassment to us.”118 White conveyed the same sentiment to Lockhart. “Influence has failed [and] will fail either to attract the tribesmen towards us or to deter them from active hostility to us,” he wrote. “If we conquer the Afridis and come away again our expenditure and efforts will leave as though water. The next attempt by the tribes will probably be a simultaneous one and much harder to cope with. The Amir is master of the situation.”119 The Afridi needed to be “domesticated and governed.” And to Blood, he was even more direct. “One thing I am convinced of, the tribes, if left alone to the influence of their Mullahs will never become reliable allies. If incorporated into our dominion we can muzzle the dangerous teaching of the Mullahs, we have our thumb on the homes and possessions of the Afridis and we can put down with a strong hand violence before it becomes a fresh danger. If you have a savage dog that has bitten you and your friends and has otherwise proved himself irreconcilable you don’t give him his full liberty to repeat his practice, you [put] him where he can do less harm and where you can catch him and punish him if he offends.”120 In early October, White gave an after-dinner speech to the United Service Club in Simla and repeated his support for conquering the Afridi and establishing a cantonment in Tirah.121 The speech was reported on back home by some of the British press and, in some quarters, there were attacks on his position. The 77-year-old veteran of the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the Indian Rebellion, and the Second Anglo-Afghan War, General Sir Neville Chamberlain, was particularly harsh in his comments in The Saturday Review. “Sir George White,” he wrote, “justifies the invasion… on the ground that ‘the history of all times has shown that civilization and barbarism cannot exist conterminously and at the same time peaceably with independent neighbours.’ That is no new proposition. Precisely the same argument was used by those who brought about the first invasion of Afghanistan; but does any English historian now uphold that act of  Ibid.  White to Lockhart 25 October 1897, Mss Eur F108/19, GWP. 120  White to Blood, 8 November 1897, Mss Eur F108/19, GWP. 121  “Sir George White’s Retirement,” The Pioneer, 3 October 1897, Newspaper cuttings relating to White’s Services in the Afghan War (1881), Zhob Field Force (1890), appointment as Commander-in-Chief (1892), and retirement (1898), Mss Eur F108/48 (1881–1898), GWP. 118 119



injustice and folly?” He continued, “The cure advocated by Sir George White ‘of pursuing a policy of closer control and disarmament’ implies nothing short of annexation. … [He] pins his faith on the sword as the only weapon that can suffice to overawe our mountain neighbours.”122 The criticisms were not unfair, although perhaps delivered without tact, especially when compared to the letter published just below it in The Saturday Review by General Sir Charles Gough.123 Gough never mentioned White and instead only discussed his reluctance to support the Forward Policy.124 White was unfazed and dismissed the letters as “illogical” and printed by the “Rad papers at home.”125 In a memorandum, dated 22 October 1897, White laid out his argument for the annexation of Tirah to Elgin.126 He could not get him, however, to support his position. He even tried to convince him that they could afford to give up Chitral if they held on to Tirah. Still, the Viceroy did not budge. White continued to harp on Elgin’s belief that somehow they could influence the Afridi and Orakzai without annexation, calling his plan “moonshine.” “With these hill-men,” he wrote to his brother, “there is no influence without direct government and the presence of force majeure. The hollowness of ‘influence’ may be judged from the fact that even in cases where we have garrisons in tribal country all disputes amongst the people are settled by their mullahs or priests. Fancy spreading our influence in Ireland ever by doubling the garrisons and removing civil government replacing it by councils presided over by the Roman Catholic priests. If you allow the Mullahs to have 3 times as deep fanaticism and the musselman tribesmen 10 times… and belief in the piety of killing a kaffir you may gauge the chances of spreading the authority of the [Christian] power by influence.”127 122  Neville Chamberlain, “Indian Frontier Policy: Letter to the Editor, 28 October 1897,” The Saturday Review, 30 October 1897, pp. 466–7. 123  Like Chamberlain, Gough was a veteran of the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the Indian Rebellion, and the Second Anglo-Afghan War. He was the brother of the former Commanderin-Chief, India, the 3rd Viscount, General Hugh Gough, and the father of Captain Hubert Gough who served in the Tirah Expeditionary Force and Lieutenant John Gough. 124  C.J.S. Gough, “Indian Frontier Policy: Letter to the Editor, 18 October 1897,” The Saturday Review, 30 October 1897, pp. 467–8. 125  White to Blood, 8 November 1897, Mss Eur F108/19, GWP. 126  Memorandum, 22 October 1897, Printed memorandum by White on Frontier policy, advocating the conquest of the Afridis, and occupation of the Tirah, Mss Eur F108/41 (22 Oct 1897), GWP. 127  White to John White, 4 November 1897, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.



Without a clear and decisive plan on dealing with the tribes of the North-West Frontier, British policy could only be reactive. Elgin made this clear in a 19-page detailed letter to Lord Hamilton. “We have endeavoured in this despatch,” he wrote, “to make it plain that the particular measures to be adopted at any one moment cannot be prescribed beforehand, but must largely depend on the circumstances of time.”128 A practical forward policy, however, required a deliberate plan to deal with this region. White signed off on this memorandum which also stipulated that the Indian government had “no desire for undue interference with the tribes or annexation of their territory.”129 His compliance must have been very difficult. Two months later, Beauchamp Duff wrote an equally lengthy response to the Government of India’s statement. To what extent the ideas were his, White’s, or a combination of both men is hard to decipher. The “Memorandum on the Future Relations with the Tribes on the N.W. Frontier of India,” however, sounds like it could have been written by White himself. It condemned the current policy dealing with the tribes, in particular, the peace settlement made with the Afridi which presented terms before a general policy was created “with the necessary result that our hands have been tied by the terms made.”130 It was extremely critical of Abdur Rahman. Beauchamp Duff did not come out and say that the Amir was behind the Malakand, Mohmand, and Tirah disturbances, (“the Maizar outbreak was due to purely local irritation”), but insisted that he played a role in fomenting the religious “fanaticism” and that the Afridi and Orakzai believed he would come to their aid if they rose up. He wrote, “I think that the Amir set himself to accentuate and strengthen his position as head of the Mahomedans in this position of Asia, that he assumed the title of King of Islam and wrote his book on jehad.” As much as he worried about the Amir’s meddling, he was even more concerned with what could happen when Abdur Rahaman died. Not only did he anticipate anarchy to follow north of the Durand Line, of which the Russians could take advantage, he was anxious about what effect it could 128  No. 3 of 1898, Government of India, Foreign Department, Frontier, to the Right Hon’ble Lord George F. Hamilton, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for India, 13 January 1898, p.  18, Drafts of official notes and minutes, prepared by Lt.-Col. Beauchamp Duff, Military Secretary to the C-in-C., Mss Eur F108/27B (1897–1898), GWP. 129  Ibid., pp. 18–9. 130  Memorandum on the Future Relations with the Tribes on the N.W. Frontier of India,” 7 March 1898, Mss Eur F108/27B, GWP.



have on the tribes of the North-West Frontier. Rejecting the government’s policy of wait and see, he offered two alternative courses. The first was a complete withdrawal from all forward posts, with the exception of the Khyber. He argued that this would result in constant punitive expeditions and allow the Amir or his successor to continue to influence the tribes south of the Durand Line. He also warned that this situation would make countering a Russian threat much harder to contain. The second course of action was in support of annexation and disarmament. Knowing that initially this course could be “expensive and troublesome,” in the long run it “will give protection to our subjects and enable us to exercise a predominating influence up to the Durand Line. Probably, it will eventually enable us to fulfil our pledge to Afghanistan.”131 These sentiments echoed White’s position. On 20 March, 1898, White set sail from Calcutta. After careful consideration, he had accepted Lansdowne’s offer and would soon become Quartermaster-General to the Forces at the War Office. The Times of India paid homage to White. No statement probably touched him more than how it described his treatment of and respect for both British and native soldiers.” It wrote, “We have searched in vain for any expression in any recorded speech or published minute which could give colour to this belief, but can find nothing but whole-hearted and generous acknowledgement of the achievements of both the officers and men of the Indian Service.”132 And yet, the newspaper was also critical of his handling of the Tirah Campaign and reported that he was unable to work well with Lockhart. It blamed White for the lack of a plan, for forcing upon Lockhart officers who were unqualified for their posts, and for interfering in his conduct of the campaign. Some of these claims were unfair and unwarranted. However, the Tirah campaign, in particular, showed weaknesses in British infantry training, intelligence gathering, and transport and supply.133 White, of course, was limited by his shrinking budgets, and lodged complaints to Elgin and the War Office about the suitability of training grounds and the problems associated with the Lee-Metford. But as Commander-in-Chief, India, some of the responsibility has to fall on his shoulders. He embraced an aggressive forward policy, for example,  Ibid.  “Sir George White,” Times of India, 18 March 1898, Mss Eur F108/48, GWP. 133  For more on Tirah and what the British military learned from the experience, see Moreman, The Army in India, 68–84. 131 132



but for that policy to work it required resources which he did not have. White failed to limit his own ambitions to fit the support he was given. Despite the newspaper’s criticism, it recognized that India was losing “an upright gentleman, a gallant soldier, and a consistent and successful administrator.”134 White returned to Great Britain after serving for five years in one of the army’s most influential and important commands. Although he may have been named Commander-in-Chief, India, as a default candidate, he made the job his own. He led the British Army in India through a turbulent period of reform, numerous wars on the frontier, and domestic turmoil. He was able to work relatively well with two Viceroys with very different personalities and leadership styles, as well as two Members of Council. However, because of his lack of political influence at home, he was ultimately dependent on the local civil authority and therefore could only pursue his ambitions limitedly. In the following decade, Lord Kitchener as Commander-in-Chief, India, was able to force a Viceroy’s resignation. White never accumulated that much power nor did he ever seem to want it either. He regularly complained but he always accepted that his role was to serve and not to govern.




The Outbreak of the South African War (1899)

George White returned home in April 1898. He was on crutches and still recovering from a serious fall from his horse. The metal screws in his leg were removed shortly afterwards, but he continued to walk with a severe limp for some time. His biographer, Mortimer Durand, wrote that he was depressed due to his expectation that the door had now closed on the active part of his career.1 Since Burma, White had regularly displayed anxiety about his future, writing to his wife on several occasions that he expected to be forced into retirement on half-pay. That was the inevitable position that most senior officers found themselves in as the clock ran down on their career unless they could find new work. But White had a new appointment. Lord Lansdowne, the Secretary of State for War, had served as Viceroy when White was appointed to the Indian command. The two worked well together. Lansdowne selected White to replace General Sir Evelyn Wood as Quartermaster-General in late 1897 but due to his injury, the disturbances in India, and General Sir William Lockhart’s health problems, White’s appointment was delayed. General Sir Richard Harrison stepped into the office in the meantime. When White was finally ready, he went to work but he never took to the job at the Horse Guards, and, probably as a result, he was only there a short time. Durand claims that he did not like London society and he

1  Mortimer Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, vol. II (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1915), 1–2.

© The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




found the work dull.2 Certainly the first claim was likely. He had not spent any prolonged time in Great Britain in many years. At the end of career, when he served as Governor of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, he would regularly complain about the events he had to attend and all the people he had to meet. As to the second claim, it is harder to be certain. There would have been a great deal of monotony in the life of the Quartermaster-­ General; meetings and paperwork were part of the routine. As former Commander-in-Chief, India, the work would not have been substantially different, however. Perhaps, as someone who had spent most of his career in India, his identity was with the army there rather than the British army at home and he lacked interest in the work. Unfortunately, White left behind little of his record at the Horse Guards to reveal much. He was living with his family and so there are no letters to his wife. There is also a gap in the correspondences with his brother for this period. Durand is probably correct. He was most likely unhappy. Ian Beckett has speculated that White never adjusted to the War Office.3 In part, that may have had something to do with the men whom he had to work most closely. Conspicuously, there is no mention anywhere in his letters about how he got on with Lansdowne, the Commander-in-Chief of the forces, Lord Wolseley, or the Adjutant-General, Wood during this time. This omission is most unusual for he freely discussed his opinions of the men he served with and under in his correspondences. With Lansdowne, he would have known what to expect. He had a good working relationship with him in India, and was particularly fond of Lady Lansdowne. There is no reason to think that the relationship had soured. Wolseley was another matter. White’s letters to Wolseley over the years were markedly different than those he sent to the Duke of Cambridge, Wolseley’s predecessor as Commander-in-Chief. Particularly, at the end of Cambridge’s tenure and into his retirement, White was quite open in sharing his thoughts and opinions. Writing to him in July 1895, just after Cambridge’s retirement, White was remarkably straightforward with the 76-year-old grandson of King George III, criticizing him for never coming to India. “My own career is drawing to a close,” White wrote, “and therefore I can write to you, Sir, with greater freedom and in closer sympathy. I regret very much that you have never made out a visit to India. Your position, as Head of the  Ibid., 5–6.  Ian Beckett, A British Profession of Arms: The Politics of Command in the Late Victorian Army (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018), 226. 2 3



Army for 40 years, and also as closely connected with the Queen Empress would have worked a feeling of enthusiasm amongst our Native Army that could not have faulted to have been as gratifying to yourself as it would have been politically useful.”4 White’s relationship with Wolseley was strictly professional. His letters were always brief. Out of respect, when he visited London, he usually found time to meet with him. He had never worked, at least in person, with him. Wolseley had requested White’s services as a staff officer in the Sudan in 1885, but that episode in White’s career was brief and disappointing. The easiest explanation is to assume that there existed a difficult relationship between the two men since White was an “Indian man” and perceived as part of Lord Roberts’ ring. But the rivalry between the Ashanti Ring and Roberts’ men has been overstated, as discussed earlier. White, to some extent, was able to navigate across its porous lines. He also did not like the idea that there could be this kind of personal conflict within the British Army.5 There is no reason to believe the two men could not work well together, so much as anyone could work well with Wolseley at this stage in his career.6 The Commander-in-Chief had once wielded great power over the British Army but civilian control had successfully reduced that authority. Although Edward Stanhope, the Secretary of State for War (1887–1892), had placed the four principal officers of the Military Department, the Adjutant-General, the Quartermaster-General, the Inspector-General of Fortifications, and the Director-General of Ordnance, hierarchically under the supervision of the Commander-in-Chief, he had also clearly defined civilian responsibilities in the War Office.7 In the middle of the decade 4  White to Cambridge, 16 July 1895, Letter-book entitled “Book No. 3 Letters to (1) H.E. the Viceroy, (2) Lt. Genl. Sir H. Brackenbury (3) H.R.H. the Commander in Chief (4) Sir Reginald Gipps (5) Adjt. General Horse Guards & other Horse Guard officials,” continuing No. 18, Mss Eur F108/20 (1895–1897), GWP. 5  Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War (New York: Random House, 1979), 97. 6  Wolseley’s relationships with most of the senior members of his ring like Wood, Lieutenant-General Henry Brackenbury, Director General of Ordnance, and General Redvers Buller, Aldershot District Command, was quite strained by this time. His relationship with Lansdowne was also challenging. Lansdowne would later place much of the blame for the initial failures during the South African War on Wolseley; Wolseley believed Lansdowne was “ignorant.” See Halik Kochanski, Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero (London: The Hambledon Press, 1999), Chapters 16 and 18; and Edward Spiers, The Late Victorian Army 1868–1902 (London: St. Martin, 1992), 52. 7  The position of Surveyor-General of Ordnance was eliminated at the same time. Daniel R. LeClair, “The Great Gun Question” and the Modernization of Ordnance and Administration



after Cambridge stepped down and Queen Victoria no longer needed to protect her cousin’s interests, many of the proposals of the 1890 Hartington Commission were implemented giving more power to the civilian authority. In theory, a newly created Army Board, made up of the Commander-in-Chief and the four officers noted above, was to advise the Secretary of State for War, but Lansdowne only met with it a half dozen times over a five-year period. Wolseley never accepted the position’s decreased role but was powerless to stop it.8 Albeit within limits, White was used to calling the shots whether it had been in Upper Burma, Quetta or Simla. Perhaps, he could not work with Wolseley, Wood, who he had limited contact with over the years, Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Brackenbury, Director General of Ordnance, who he had a difficult relationship with in India, and Harrison, who took over as Inspector-General of Fortifications or perhaps he could not work within this system. While in London, White was often asked to deliver talks to a variety of societies and groups and rarely refused their invitations. He considered it part of his responsibilities, particularly if the organization aligned with his interests like army temperance, Ulster, and soldiers’ aid. One speech given to an association of Irish doctors in the summer of 1899 is noteworthy in expressing his views on empire and the “White Man’s Burden,” the imperialist position which would soon be associated closely with the Anglo-­ Indian author, Rudyard Kipling. White had failed to convince the Indian government to annex Tirah in the aftermath of the 1897–1898 expedition against the Afridi and the Orakzai and he was still bitterly disappointed. The speech was certainly written with this in mind but it is likely he was projecting his views of the growing tensions with the Transvaal (South African Republic) and the need to safeguard the British colonies in South Africa, the Cape Colony and Natal, as well. He began by asserting, “We have been called a nation of shopkeepers, but there are strong military proclivities behind the counter.”9 He continued: The soldiers of England are helping to write the glorious history of Greater Britain. They are all over the world and the sun never sets on their scarlet coats. . . . These British Isles of ours are but the heart of a vast empire whose (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2019), 194. Also see Ian F.W. Beckett, “Edward Stanhope at the War Office 1887–92,” Journal of Strategic Studies 5 2 (1982): 278–301. 8  Spiers, The Late Victorian Army, Chapter 2. 9  1899 speech to Irish Doctors, Speeches delivered by White as Quarter-Master-General, Mss Eur F108/92 (1898–1899), GWP.



giant limbs reach to the utter most part of the earth; and it shows how brave and how strong the pulsation of that heart must be to circulate the life blood of England, as it does, to these far off extremities of England’s empire. I am not one of those political optimists that can find a high moral purpose in every annexation that may [sustain] our interests and our pockets. Nor . . . that our primary reason is to carry to the conquered the blessings of our civilization “to fill full the mouth of famine and bid the plague to cease.” But I do say it with the authority of experience that when we have annexed a country in our own interest we rule it with singular unselfishness in the interests of the indigenous population, and I can confidently affirm . . . when discussing new regulations or proposed legislation no member of that Government would think of advancing such an argument as  – “It may press heavily on its incidence on the natives but will be of great advantage to the ruling race.”10

White would not have to stay in London very long. In July 1899, Wolseley offered to send him to “The Rock” to replace General Sir Robert Biddulph as Governor of Gibraltar. White accepted.11 Events in South Africa, however, were soon to interrupt his plans. He would not go to Gibraltar for another year and it proved to be a very long and trying one. In January 1881, just after the First Anglo-Boer War erupted, White’s regiment, the Gordon Highlanders, set sail to South Africa. White was serving as Lord Ripon’s Military Secretary, and was not allowed to join it. The following month, at Majuba Hill, his Sandhurst classmate and colleague, Sir George Pomeroy Colley, and a number of Gordons were killed. White’s close friend and future godfather to his daughter Georgina, Ian Hamilton, was wounded and captured. When an armistice was agreed upon a few weeks later and peace followed in March, there were many British officers and soldiers very unhappy with the settlement. Prime Minister William Gladstone bore the brunt of their anger, and some, like Wolseley, felt H. Evelyn Wood shared some of the culpability for making peace before Colley and the others had been avenged. The war produced two settlements, the Pretoria Convention of 1881 and the London Convention of 1884. Neither was particularly satisfactory to either side

 Ibid.  Biddulph had also served as Quartermaster-General to the Forces briefly before going to Gibraltar. White to John White, 13 July 1899, White’s letters to his brother, John White, Mss Eur F108/98(a)-(c)(1857–1920), GWP. 10 11



nor did they lead to one common and clear interpretation of Great Britain and the Transvaal’s relationship. Britain’s interest in South Africa had always been in its strategic position on the Southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans.12 Even after the completion of the Suez Canal, much of the trade between Great Britain and Asia continued to circumnavigate the Cape. But after the discovery of diamonds and then, even more importantly, gold, the economic importance of South Africa increased dramatically. Whereas most of the diamond industry developed around Kimberley in British controlled territory, the gold mines and their supporting industries were situated in the Transvaal, near the new and rapidly growing city of Johannesburg. Attempts to find new goldfields and other minerals, as well as to keep the Transvaal dependent on British South Africa as an outlet for its capital and products, led to the further extension of British power in southern Africa and the de facto encirclement of the Transvaal. This put a great strain on Anglo-Boer relations. The arrival of the Germans in Southwest Africa in the 1880s increased British anxiety and only exacerbated the situation. In late 1895, the diamond and gold magnate, Cecil Rhodes, who was also the Cape’s Prime Minister and controlled most of the English language newspapers, made his move to secure British control over the Transvaal and guarantee the safety of his own economic interests by staging an armed insurrection in Johannesburg accompanied by a small invasion by police and irregular forces. The Jameson Raid, however, failed to stir the Uitlanders, the large immigrant, mostly Anglophone population of Johannesburg, and the city remained quiet.13 Most of Rhodes’ men who crossed the border were arrested; 18, killed. Not only did the Boers believe that the British were behind the scheme so did much of the international community including Germany. This was made clear by Kaiser Wilhelm II’s supportive January 1896 telegram to the President of the Transvaal, Paul Kruger. The relationship between the British and the Transvaal worsened in the Jameson Raid’s aftermath. Nascent Afrikaner nationalism had emerged as 12  For a discussion of the origins of the South African War, see Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher with Alice Denny, Africa and the Victorians (London: Macmillan, 1961); Andrew Porter, The Origins of the South African War: Joseph Chamberlain and the Diplomacy of Imperialism 1895–99 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980); and Iain R. Smith, The Origins of the South African War, 1899–1902 (New York: Longman, 1996). 13  For more on the Jameson Raid, see Elizabeth Pakenham, Jameson’s Raid (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1960).



a powerful cultural force and was starting to grow and unify the Boers of the Transvaal and Orange Free State as well as those who lived in the British colonies. At the same time, the English-speaking population also continued to grow. With the Conservative government’s support, Sir Alfred Milner, the new Governor of the Cape Colony and High Commissioner for Southern Africa, pushed Kruger to amend the franchise in the Transvaal, giving voting rights to the Uitlanders by reducing the residency requirements. Kruger, however, was only willing to make minor concessions, correctly concluding that the British had no real interests in the well-being of the Uitlanders but were simply manipulating their situation to gain political control over his republic. The failure of the Bloemfontein Conference (31 May–5 June 1899), convinced Kruger and other Boer officials that war with the British was inevitable. In the aftermath of the Jameson Raid, the Transvaal had started making necessary arrangements including securing a military alliance with the neighboring Boer republic of the Orange Free State, and purchasing weapons and stockpiling key resources. Now, it began working out an offensive military strategy which called for the invasion of Natal. Although these arrangements were not perfect, they certainly guaranteed that the Boer republics had attained a better level of preparedness at the start of a war than the British.14 British forces in South Africa at the beginning of 1899 numbered only 10,000. In August, some reinforcements arrived and 10,000 more were readied in mid-September. Still, the numbers were too few to stop a combined Transvaal-Orange Free State invasion. When war was eventually declared, the Boers managed to mobilize between 32,000 and 35,000 men.15 The military situation in the Cape Colony and Natal was desperate. Major-General Sir William Butler, another member of Wolseley’s Ashanti Ring, had been Commander-in-Chief in South Africa since 1898. Butler recognized the weaknesses of the British forces in South Africa and of the difficulties of securing a long frontier, much of which crossed through difficult terrain.16 When asked at the end of 1898 to formulate a military policy in the event of a war with the Boers, Butler advocated pulling back 14  Bill Nasson, The South African War, 1899–1902 (New York: Oxford, 1999), Chapter 2; and, Fransjohan Pretorius, Life on Commando During the Anglo-Boer War 1899–1902 (Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, 1999), Introduction and Chapter 1. 15  Pretorius, Life on Commando, 25. 16  Butler’s predecessor, Lieutenant-General William Goodenough had advocated a forward policy in 1897, calling for the defense of Newcastle and holding Van Rennen’s Pass. Frederick



from the vulnerable frontiers and conducting a defensive campaign.17 Butler, however, viewed as too sympathetic to the Boers, was no longer in command and his advice was ignored. His replacement, Lieutenant-­ General Sir Frederick W.E. Forestier-Walker, a “charming non-entity,”18 only arrived in August and with too few men, resources, and time, failed to make an impact. In mid-June 1899, White’s protégé, Major-General Sir William Penn Symons arrived in Durban to command the British forces in Natal. Butler asked him to travel extensively through northern Natal and prepare a scheme for its defense in the event the Transvaal was to invade. Symons wrote White in late July and warned him that war was coming and that they did not have the manpower to protect Natal from an invasion or even from small incursions. They could also not protect the rail lines which were crucial for moving people and resources through the colony. He felt they needed 5600 more men.19 Although he did not think it was necessary to pull as far back at the Tugela River, as Butler had warned might be necessary, he did advise withdrawing to the Biggarsberg mountains from which they could continue to hold the vital coal fields near Dundee.20 Symons also conveyed to White how deeply unpopular Butler was with Milner, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, the Governor of Natal, and the British settlers of Natal who considered him a pro-Boer. A follow-up letter, written at the beginning of September, was even more dire. Symons wrote, “We are on the tenterhooks. The situation is as critical as it can be, and I am ready to move troops into their positions, to do their best to protect Natal, in two hours.”21 He went on to complain about the appointment of Colonel W.G. Knox, an artillery officer, to command Ladysmith, his staff, his infantry battalions who were still not ready for combat, and the delays involved in organizing and deploying scouts through the colony. Symons would later be criticized for not understanding his enemy and for underestimating them. This was not the case. He wrote White, “I respect our may be enemy for his love of independence, Maurice and M. H. Grant, (Official) History of the War in South Africa, 1899–1902, Vol. I (London: Hurst and Blackwood, 1906–1910), 45. 17  W.F. Butler, An Autobiography (London: Constable and Co., 1911), 417, 420. 18  Beckett, A British Profession of Arms, 229. 19  Kenneth Griffith, Thank God We Kept the Flag Flying (New York: Viking Press, 1974), 2. 20  Symons to White, 29 July 1899, Three letters and a telegram from Maj.-Gen. Sir William Penn Symons to White describing the military situation in Natal, Mss Eur F108/52, GWP. 21  Symons to White, 2 September 1899, Mss Eur F108/52, GWP.



for his power of mobility, and for his marksmanship. I think also that he has generally behaved fairly well in previous wars. His rule, however, is abominably bad and corrupt.”22 Although the British had adopted an aggressive policy in South Africa, and the ending of the wars in the Sudan and the North-West Frontier enabled them to focus solely on the military preparations for a second Anglo-Boer conflict, at least before September, they failed to do much.23 This was primarily the result of political and economic miscalculations made by Lansdowne and Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister. However, plenty of blame can be passed onto Wolseley for not pressing Lansdowne, and on General Sir Redvers Buller, who was appointed in the summer to command the future expedition and failed to assert his leadership.24 As early as April 1899, Salisbury’s government had considered the possibility of going to war in South Africa. That same month, top officials including Lansdowne, Milner, and Wolseley had come together to discuss strategy. Buller, who commanded at Aldershot and, before it fell, had been the Liberal government’s choice to succeed the Duke of Cambridge as Commander-in-Chief,25 was also in attendance. After the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference, Buller was appointed to command what appeared to be an inevitable military expedition against the Boers. The selection of divisional and brigade commanders as well as senior staff appointments for any expedition was typically the result of negotiations between the Commander-in-Chief and the officer handed the responsibility of conducting the operations of war. In his younger days, Wolseley, as has been discussed, took with him on many of his campaigns his “ring,” a small group of officers who he trusted. But he also regularly had to take officers who Cambridge demanded he employ. Preparing for the Tirah expedition, Lockhart, similarly, had a list of officers who he wanted for key positions and White rejected some of the names and added others. What exactly happened during the summer of 1899 is unclear. Later, in January  Ibid.  See Stephen M. Miller, “The South African War, 1899–1902,” in Queen Victoria’s Wars: British Military Campaigns, 1857–1902, edited by Stephen M.  Miller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), Chapter 14. 24  For a discussion of civil-military relations leading up to the outbreak of war, see Keith Terrance Surridge, Managing the South African War, 1899–1902: Politicians v. Generals (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1998), Chapter 2. 25  Buller and Wolseley’s relationship became increasing problematic as a result. CampbellBannerman Papers, Add MSS 41212, British Library, London. 22 23



1900, when the war was not going well, Buller, unwilling to accept responsibility for the recent failures, wrote Lansdowne to complain. He claimed that much of the direction of the war had been taken away from him, and not because the Boers had taken the initiative in the war, but because the War Office had hamstrung him from the very start. He had no control over strategy, the composition of the expeditionary force, and senior appointments, he asserted.26 Lansdowne responded that Buller’s “memory was false.”27 White’s journey to Gibraltar was delayed and with war looming, and with Symons considered too junior to command in Natal, Wolseley asked White to put the governorship on hold and to go to South Africa to take the command. When asked how his leg was, White replied, “My leg is good enough for anything except running away.”28 Wolseley had written to Buller in early September suggesting White’s appointment. “You know how badly we are off for first-rate men,” Wolseley wrote, “and searching through our list of Generals I can see no one so likely to suit you as Sir G. White.”29 To what extent Buller was involved in selecting White for this appointment is unknown, but Buller did give his assent.30 Buller would claim in April 1900 that he wanted Lieutenant-General Sir Francis Grenfell, who he had served with in the Anglo-Zulu War, the Anglo-­ Egyptian War, and in the Adjutant-General’s office, but Lansdowne had demanded he take White or Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen, and he chose White.31 White was only offered the post in early September; ten days later, he set sail aboard the SS Tantallon Castle, accompanied by “all my favorite staff officers,”32 including Colonel Ian Hamilton, his Chief of Staff, (and later Commanding 7th Brigade), Colonel Beauchamp Duff, Assistant 26  See Stephen M. Miller, “Redvers Buller,” in Victoria’s Generals, edited by Steven Corvi and I.F.W. Beckett (London: Pen and Sword Books, 2009), Chapter 3. Buller to Lansdowne, 6 January 1900, CAB 37/52/37, The National Archives (TNA), Kew. 27  Lansdowne to Buller, 19 May 1900, WO 32/7903, TNA. 28  Griffith, Thank God We Kept the Flag Flying, 8. 29  Wolseley to Buller, 7 September 1899, 2065 M/SS4, Buller Papers, Devon Archives and Local Studies Service, Exeter. 30  Buller to Lansdowne, 17 April 1900, CAB 37/52/49, TNA. 31  Buller also stated that he had wanted Major-General Sir Henry Hildyard to serve as his Chief of Staff. Instead, Major-General Sir Archibald Hunter was given the job. Hunter would get stuck in Ladysmith and would serve as White’s Chief of Staff. Ibid. 32  White to Jane White, 15 September 1899, White’s letters to his sister Jane White, Mss Eur F108/97 (a)-(b) (c. 1845–1910), GWP.



Military Secretary, Colonel E.W.D.  Ward and Major W.E.  Fairholme, Assistant Adjutant-Generals, and Captains F. Lyon and Ronnie Brooke, Aide-de-Camps.33 On board, he read a life of Colley and T.F. Fortescue’s A Narrative of the Boer War.34 He had not stepped foot in South Africa since his disastrous voyage in 1854. He arrived in Cape Town on 3 October and Durban on 7 October. The Boers declared war four days later. The decision to send White to Natal was secret and he was told not to talk about it.35 Nevertheless, he shared the information with his family. Although he was comforted by the mobilization of the Army Corps which numbered some 48,000 men, he knew that it would take two to four months before the troops would arrive in South Africa and would be ready to go on the offensive. In the meantime, White was very concerned about the initial advantage the Boers enjoyed because of the disparity of numbers. Writing to his wife, Amy, he warned “the Boers are arming everywhere and they will have a long interval in which they will be in a better position to do us harm than we to strike them. The long line of frontier that runs conterminous with theirs gives them opportunities of raiding into British territory which we cannot guard against everywhere.”36 Still, he was glad to learn that troops being sent from India were to be limited and they would not include native soldiers. As much as we would have liked to have had them in South Africa to shore up the defenses of Natal, he feared that it was unsafe at the moment to “deplete” India, especially 33  Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Rawlinson was visiting Corsham Court, the home of Lord Methuen. Rawlinson and Methuen’s wives were sisters. He received a telegram from Ian Hamilton asking if he would come to South Africa as Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General. White and Rawlinson did not know each other, although Rawlinson had come to Burma in 1886 as Frederick Roberts’ aide-de-camp. White was reluctant to take him, having an aversion to guardsmen, but Hamilton convinced him. Frederick Maurice, ed., Soldier, Artist, Sportsman: The Life of General Lord Rawlinson of Trent (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928), 44. It was Rawlinson’s idea to bring naval guns to Ladysmith which proved critical in its defense. White to John White, 25 September 1900, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 34  White to Amy White, 1 October 1899, White’s letters to his wife Amy (nee Baly), Mss Eur F108/101(a)-(j) (1879–1909), GWP. 35  White to John White, 9 September 1899, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. For more on the decision to send White to South Africa, see Ian F. W. Beckett, “Buller and the Politics of Command,” in The Boer War: Direction, Experience and Image, edited by  John Gooch (London: Frank Cass, 2000), 48. 36  White to Amy White, 19 September 1899, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.



with the health of the Afghan Amir in jeopardy. As a result, even before landing, White believed the only proper response to the crisis was to act on the defensive.37 White was not given any instructions by Lansdowne, Wolseley, or Buller on what to do once he arrived in Natal.38 He planned to go to Pietermaritzburg, the capital of Natal, talk to Hely-Hutchinson and Symons, assess the colony’s defenses, and come up with the best strategy to delay the Boers’ anticipated advance for as long as he could until the Army Corps could arrive. On the steamship, he got a lot of unsolicited advice from civilians and soldiers alike. Many misunderstood his role, believing that he was in charge of the war effort and that he would be overseeing the invasion of the Transvaal. “I am not the Messiah,” he wrote to his brother. “Redvers Buller is the Messiah. I am merely John the Baptist to prepare the way before him.”39 Most of the plans put before him, he also felt, were misguided. At the start of the First Anglo-Boer War, both sides identified the strategic importance of Laing’s Nek, a pass through the Drakensberg Mountains on the Natal-Transvaal border, just south of Volksrust, which if held, controlled easy access into the Transvaal. In January 1881, Commandant-General Piet Joubert seized and then fortified the pass. The British effort to capture the position failed and a second attempt to outflank it led to the disaster at Majuba Hill a month later.40 White was told repeatedly that he needed to hold the pass. He rejected this plan. For one thing, the British and the Transvaal were not at war and strengthening the defenses at Laing’s Nek could be interpreted as an act of war. He explained to his brother, “It is our policy therefore do nothing to precipitate actual hostilities.”41 Second, unlike in the first war, White was certain the Orange Free State would join its neighbor and send  White to John White, 3 September 1899, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  Geoffrey Powell asserts that Buller told White repeatedly not to take action north of the Tugela River out of fear that he would get cut off and be unable to retreat. It is very likely that Buller made this claim only after he was superceded. There is no mention of this in any of White’s correspondences and no evidence that Buller’s statement is true. Geoffrey Powell, Buller: A Scapegoat? (London: Leo Cooper, 1994), 128. In his attempt to vindicate Buller, Thomas Pakenham naturally also attempted to fault White for his strategy, but went further and attacked his leadership, calling him “inexperienced,” and “weak,” and lacking “moral strength.” Pakenham, The Boer War, 155. These claims should be similarly dismissed. 39  White to John White, 1 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 40  See John Laband, “The First Anglo-Boer War, 1880–1881,” in Queen Victoria’s Wars: British Military Campaigns, 1857–1902, edited by Stephen M.  Miller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), Chapter 9. 41  White to John White, 1 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 37 38



troops to Natal. A strong position at Laing’s Nek could do nothing to stop Free State commandos. Third, holding Laing’s Nek would also stretch the lines of communication and supply and would further jeopardize a defensive stance. At least aboard the Tantallon Castle, White was inclined to lean on Symons’ advice from the summer and try to hold the more compact position in the Biggarsberg. He wanted to keep a “greater number of my command just in front of Ladysmith with eyes keeping watch on the Van Reenen’s Pass [along the Natal-Orange Free State border] and a hand stretched out to Dundee where the coal field from which the Natal Railway is supplied lie.”42 Upon docking in Cape Town, Forestier-Walker came aboard to greet White and escort him to Government House for a meeting with Milner. White was stunned by Milner’s appearance and temperament. He looked “worked and worried” and “nervous and overdone,” White told his wife and his brother.43 White had received no information about the crisis while at sea. From Milner, he now learned that the Boers were amassing in numbers greater than anticipated and it was clear that they would be directing much of their effort towards Natal. Despite the high level of threat to Natal, Milner seemed more concerned with the potential of a Boer rising within the Cape Colony and had already requested Forestier-Walker to move the 19th Royal Hussars out of Natal and to the Cape. White convinced them to rescind that order but other troops still at sea, like the 9th Lancers, would be redirected to the Cape to allay Milner’s fears.44 White was in a hurry to get to Natal but the Tantallon Castle was not ready to disembark, requiring time to unload its cargo. He arranged for the Scot to pick him up, and accompanied by 15 of his officers, he took a train eastward over 600 miles along Cape Colony’s southern coast to East London to reach his point of departure. “We passed train after train of fugitives from the Transvaal and the Free State,” and reported to his brother that many of the refugees had been badly treated by the Boers.45 On the Scot, he found Captain Lord Ava, the eldest son of the former Viceroy of India Lord Dufferin, who would serve on Hamilton’s brigade 42  Ibid. The idea of defending the Biggarsberg line was later abandoned due to its poor water supplies and the ease at which Transvaal commandos could out flank it. Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, II, 24. 43  White to Amy White, 6 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP; White to John White, 6 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 44  White to John White, 6 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 45  Ibid.



staff, as well as Colonel Frank Rhodes, brother of Cecil Rhodes, a veteran of the Sudan Campaign, and a war correspondent. After landing in Durban, White hurried via rail to Pietermaritzburg to sit down with the Governor and Symons and get an update on the colony’s preparedness and the movement of the Boers. It proved to be one of the most important meetings of his life. White was well aware of Butler’s report encouraging, in the event of a Boer invasion, a withdrawal of British forces from northern Natal, perhaps as far back as to the Tugela River. He also had received Symons’ letters from the summer which were not as cautious but still advocated a retreat to the Biggarsberg. The situation was still fluid, however. There was no guarantee the Transvaal would declare war immediately or the Free State would join it, or even, if those things happened, the Boers would take the offensive and invade Natal. White did know that every day of peace meant a day to prepare and a day closer to the arrival of reinforcements. Of course, the Boers knew this too and that is why an early declaration of war was essential to support their war strategy.46 White was inclined to pull back to Ladysmith and he had the support of Duff and Major-General Sir Archibald Hunter, who Buller had sent to South Africa to act as his Chief of Staff.47 Hely-Hutchinson, however, made it clear to White: northern Natal had to be held at all costs. His reasoning was logical and it was based on three political assumptions and one economic reality. If British forces withdrew from northern Natal, (1) colonial settlers would view it as an act of betrayal; (2) the potential for a Zulu uprising would grow; and (3) the rising of Boers in the colony would also become more likely. The economic argument was simple as well. The coal fields were needed for production and for transportation.48 46  General Jan Christiaan Smuts advocated a rapid invasion of Natal, including the seizure of Pietermaritzburg and Durban, to disrupt British political, economic, and military operations, as well as the Cape Colony, in order to incite rebellion among its Boer population. The strategy was endorsed by Kruger and M.T. Steyn, the President of the Orange Free State. Peter Warwick, “Introduction” to Part II, in The South African War: The Anglo-Boer War 1899–1902, edited by P. Warwick and S.B. Spies (Harlow, UK: Longman, 1980), 59. 47  Archie Hunter, Kitchener’s Sword-Arm (New York: Sarpedon, 1996), 120. 48  J.B. Atkins claimed that Hely-Hutchinson pushed for the defense of Dundee as a concession to the mining interest. John Black Atkins, The Relief of Ladysmith (London: Methuen & Co., 1900), 5. It should be noted that several senior British officers, including Butler, as well as leading critics of the government, like J.A. Hobson, blamed the mining industry for causing the war. These arguments were regularly mixed with antisemitic tropes. W.F. Butler, An Autobiography, 436; J.A. Hobson, The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Effects (London:



Hely-­Hutchinson did not try to convince White that he needed to safeguard the north for reasons related to military strategy, but he did insist that White subordinate the military needs to the political needs. White was under no obligation to do that but certainly was under tremendous political pressure. Lansdowne made that same point clear to White in a telegram sent a few weeks later. “Governor is within his rights in directing your attention to political consequences of your arrangements,” it read, “but responsibility for the arrangements rests entirely with you. You may find steps necessary which may run counter to public opinion here and in the Colony, but we shall unhesitatingly support you in adhering to arrangements which seem to you, from military point of view, sound.”49 Hely-Hutchinson’s position was even more compelling since he had Symons’ support. Symons insisted that his force of 4000 men was strong enough to hold Glencoe and Dundee, and, as Milner had as well, impressed upon White the need for an early victory to maintain morale. The influential journalist and military writer, H. Spenser Wilkinson, made the same point. “Sir George White’s object,” he wrote, “is not merely to make the time pass until Sir Redvers Buller’s force come upon the scene. He has also to prevent the Boers from gaining any great advantage, moral or material.”50 Symons’ role in convincing White to keep a presence north of Ladysmith should not be underestimated. Had it been another officer, White may have doubted his veracity, but he knew Symons for a long time, considered him one of the most able generals in the army, and trusted his judgement. He was conflicted but recognized that Hely-Hutchinson and Symons knew the political and military situation much better than he did. After the meeting, he wrote to his wife, “I would gladly have the force concentrated at Ladysmith under the circumstances, but I found a force at Glencoe junction and the Governor of Natal considers that to remove that force now and to concentrate all at Ladysmith would involve very grave risk of the natives rising and of the Dutchmen in our territory declaring for the enemy. Under the conditions I have considered myself bound to fight Nisbet, 1900). For a general discussion of the war and antisemitism, see Claire Hirschfield, “The Anglo-Boer War and the Issue of Jewish Culpability,” Journal of Contemporary History 15 4 (1980): 619–631. White’s correspondences reveal little about his own thoughts on why the war began. Also see Keith Surridge, “‘All you soldiers are what we call pro-Boer’: The Military Critique of the South African War, 1899–1902,” History 82 268 (1997): 582–600. 49  Gerald Sharp, The Siege of Ladysmith (London: Macdonald and Jane’s, 1976), 18. 50  Spenser Wilkinson, Lessons of the War: Being Comments from Week to Week to the Relief of Ladysmith (Philadelphia: Archibald Constable & Company, 1900), 15.



it out at Ladysmith and at Glencoe.”51 He continued, “I cannot hide from myself that we have to face greatly superior numbers in positions in which it is very difficult for us to know where the enemy may make an effort. They are all round us.”52 To his brother, he repeated the sentiment. He needed to defend the political and economic needs of the colony and rely on the advice of those who knew the situation best, but he was doing this knowing that there were great risks. He warned, “I think it possible that with their great numbers and mobility the Boers may isolate us even at Ladysmith.”53 In early September, Salisbury’s government had delivered a set of demands to Kruger’s government which included enfranchising more of the Uitlander population and recognizing British suzerainty. This so-­ called penultimatum stopped short of threatening war if the demands were not met. The Boers refused to comply and, recognizing the seriousness of the crisis, hurried their own war preparations. The British continued to dither and only slowly attended to their war readiness. As Salisbury prepared to issue a formal ultimatum, the Boers delivered one of their own on 9 October. In addition to rejecting British claims of suzerainty and insisting that future problems be resolved through arbitration, they demanded the withdrawal of all British troops which had arrived in the South African colonies since 1 June and that all troops in transit turn back. Failure to agree to these demands would lead to a declaration of war in 48 hours.54 The British did not wait for the clock to run out and refused to comply. On 11 October, the South African War began. The Boer invasion of Natal started at once and the colony was subjected to a multi-pronged attack from the north and west by Transvaal and Orange Free State commandos. White reached Ladysmith the same day the ultimatum expired. Ladysmith was an important garrison town and rail junction situated on the Klip River, about 20 miles north of where the Tugela River flows past Colenso. It was surrounded by hills. Not only did it house key armaments which the Boers would have prized, but large numbers of refugees from the northern Natal and from the neighboring Boer Republics had made  White to Amy White, 11 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP  Ibid. 53  White to John White, 11 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 54  Further Correspondences of the Affairs in the South African Republic, Ultimatum of 9 October, CO 879/59/600, TNA. 51 52



their way to Ladysmith to seek safety. White understood its significance from the start. After the war, some critics, including Wolseley suggested that Ladysmith should have been abandoned and that White should have retreated to the Tugela River.55 Although he had to be convinced to hold onto Glencoe and Dundee, White never considered abandoning Ladysmith as a serious option. With the Boers streaming through the Drakensberg passes and into Natal, rapid action was required (Map 8.1). It was believed that Boer numbers were greater than the original estimates and they were moving decisively. In fact, the numbers were high, but Joubert would later be criticized for not moving as quickly as he could have. Steps were already being taken to strengthen the defenses at Ladysmith but more needed to be done. White wrote candidly to Robert Haldane-Duncan, 3rd Earl of Camperdown, a family friend and patron and his brother’s former employer, “My one plan is to hold together a sufficient force to strike with if I get the chance. The Boers have positions of the greatest strength, and are closing in. I look at the map and long to strike out, but feel that, so far, it would be folly to do so. Van Reenen’s Pass is nearest to me, but the road is the only approach. They have numerous guns in position to command it, and all other approaches are precipitous. They are some 35 miles off, and I could not hope to withdraw rapidly with wounded. If Symons’ force, now at Dundee, was here, I could strike out.”56 55  Julian Symons, Buller’s Campaign (London: The Cresset Press, 1963), 119. Had Wolseley believed this at the time, he did not share his views with White. As late as 27 October, just a few days before the siege of Ladysmith began, Wolseley sent a message to White suggesting that he destroy all the ports, ferries, and bridges on the Tugela between Colenso and the Buffalo River. He ended the note with the words, “Your plans and movements are entirely unfettered.” Lord Wolseley to General, Ladysmith, 27 October 1899, (a) “Copies of Telegrams received from the Governor”; copies of telegrams received from military authorities, with duplicates of telegrams from Lord Wolseley; and “Copies of Telegrams and other Message sent” by White from Ladysmith, Oct-Dec 1899, (b) “Siege Correspondence”: telegrams sent and received by White during the Siege of Ladysmith, 26 Nov 1899–28 Feb 1900 (3 parts), Mss Eur F108/56 (1899–1900), GWP.  It should be noted that much of the Tugela can be forded on foot through November, but the river rises considerably in December. After the siege began, Wolseley was very harsh in his criticism of White, stating that he “played the Devil with all the schemes by his ignorance of strategy,” and should have pulled back over the Tugela after the Battle of Talana Hill. Wolseley to George Wolseley, 16 November 1899, Wolseley Papers W/W/4; as cited by, Kochanski, Sir Garnet Wolseley, 245. 56  White to Camperdown, 17 October 1899, in Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, II, 39–40.



Map 8.1  Northern Natal, 1899–1900. (Source: A Handbook of the Boer War, with general map of South Africa and 18 sketch maps and plans. London: Gale and Polden, 1910)



White no longer felt that he could allow Symons to stay out of touch with the main force at Ladysmith. He also needed those 4000 men. Hely-­ Hutchinson was also getting cold feet, fearing that if the Boers moved quickly and avoided Dundee and Ladysmith, they could cross the Tugela in little time.57 With few troops south of the river, Pietermaritzburg and even Durban could be targeted. On 18 October, White ordered Symons to retire to Ladysmith unless he could entrench and felt secure enough to withstand a Boer assault. Symons responded that due to a limited supply of water, he could not entrench and therefore he would have to fall back. In order to do so, however, he needed assistance. He telegraphed, “Please send trains to remove civilians that still remain in Dundee our stores and sick.”58 White was deeply troubled. Ladysmith was already overflowing with civilians and he did not want to take in more. He also could not guarantee the integrity of the rail line, and indeed, it and the telegraph line to Elandslaagte were cut the very next day.59 He messaged back to Symons inquiring as to how confident he felt that he could hold his position and protect the civilians and material. Symons’ answer was definitive: “We can and must stay here. I have no doubt whatever that this is the proper course. I have cancelled all orders for moving.”60 Before he had even received the first telegram, Symons had made up his mind that he was not going to retire. In a letter which came to White only in August 1900, Symons had explained, “I thoroughly understand that there must be no retirement from here; that if attacked we must fight it out on our own ground.”61 He felt secure in not entrenching despite being situated on open ground. He had sent patrols and picquets all around in order to prevent surprise. On 19 October, three Boer columns from Joubert’s invading force, under Generals Lukas Meyer, Daniël Erasmus, and J.H.M. Kock, converged upon Symons’ position. The Battle of Talana Hill was fought the next day. Eager for battle and confident in his men, Symons ordered a frontal assault on Meyer’s position just after daybreak when the first Boer shells  White to Symons, 18 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP.  Symons to White, 18 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/52, GWP. 59  Griffith, Thank God We Kept the Flag Flying, 29–30; Hugh Rethman, Friends and Enemies: The Natal Campaign in the South African War 1899–1902 (Ticehurst, UK: Tattered Flag, 2015), 78 60  Symons to White, 18 October 1899, in Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, II, 41–2. 61  Symons to White, 17 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/52, GWP. 57 58



had fallen on the British camp and the Boers came into the sight line of the British soldiers. Lieutenant-Colonel B.D.  Möller and his 18th Hussars were sent around Talana Hill to prevent a Boer retreat. Although British guns found success in targeting the Boer position, the advance of the 2nd Bn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the 1st Bn. King’s Royal Rifles, supported by the 1st Bn. Royal Rifle Corps, made little progress. Boer rifle fire was accurate and deadly. One veteran recounted his toil while trying to find cover, “Never shall I forget the dreadful storm of bullets that smote us those awful moments. Exposed to a crossfire from thousands of rifles, men commenced to fall rapidly, whilst the air and ground around us were torn by the fearful hail.”62 To raise the morale of the advancing troops, Symons rode onto the battlefield. He was later shot in the stomach, mortally wounded, and command devolved to Brigadier-General James H.  Yule. Yule ordered two companies of the 1st Bn. Royal Irish Fusiliers which had been held in reserve to join the attack. Just before noon, the Boer guns were silenced and, an hour later, the British infantry had taken the hill.63 Without good reason Erasmus had failed to support Meyer.64 Meanwhile, Möller had managed to take about 30 Boers prisoner. But as Meyer’s force began its descent from Talana Hill in retreat, it came into contact with Möller’s Hussars and Mounted Infantry. Möller rode north to escape, became disoriented, and got cut off at Adelaide Farm by some of Erasmus’ men. He was forced to surrender.65 On the day of the Battle of Talana, Major-General John French, commanding the cavalry of the Natal Force, rode into Ladysmith. Having received intelligence that a Boer force had moved to Elandslaagte, a railway station between Ladysmith and Glencoe, and had severed the transportation and communication lines, White ordered him to proceed there early the next morning to provide support for repair teams. French found the Boers in greater force than anticipated; Kock had arrived with his Johannesburg commando, strengthening the force of German volunteers under Commandant Adolf Schiel which had arrived earlier. He called back 62  “Talana,” Talana Museum, accessed 17 March 2020, https: // php/battles-of-the-area/talana. 63  White to the Secretary of State, War Office, 2 November 1899, London Gazette, 26 January 1900, p. 498. 64  Kock had continued down the line to Elandslaagte. 65  British casualties were heavy: 41 killed, 185 wounded, and 220 captured. Boer casualties numbered close to 135. Fransjohan Pretorius, “Talana, Battle of,” in Historical Dictionary of the Anglo-Boer War (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2009), 450–2.



for reinforcements. Although Ian Hamilton had come to Natal to serve as his Chief of Staff, White found Archibald Hunter, a more suitable candidate. White also had greater confidence in Hamilton as a brigadier and ordered him to lead a force to Elandslaagte to assist French. White accompanied Hamilton leaving Hunter in charge of Ladysmith. Just as the reinforcements began to arrive, French pushed forward some of his 5th Lancers and Imperial Light Horse to seize a position best suited for an infantry attack. The move was effective, and the enemy was driven back. As the British harassed Kock’s right flank, the artillery began to fire on the Boer position to prepare for the infantry assault. Employing the lessons he had learned during the Tirah Campaign on the North-West Frontier, Hamilton ordered his infantry to extend, and by late afternoon, the British lines gradually moved forward under heavy fire. The 2nd Bn. Gordon Highlanders, White’s former unit, bore the brunt of it. Under a heavy rainfall and just as darkness began to set in, the British infantry gained the ridge, captured the Boer guns, and captured those Boers who had not managed to flee. Both sides suffered heavy losses.66 Kock, in captivity, later died from his wounds; Schiel, wounded, was also taken prisoner.67 He was shipped to St. Helena as a prisoner of war.68 Despite his presence at the battle, White allowed French to run the operations at Elandslaagte.69 When French offered to hand command to White, the war correspondent Melton Prior overheard White say, “Oh 66  Boer casualties: 38 killed, 113 wounded (and taken prisoner), and 185 others taken prisoner. British casualties: 41 killed, 206 wounded, and 10 missing. Pretorius, “Elandslaagte, Battle of,” in Historical Dictionary of the Anglo-Boer War, 137–8; White to the Secretary of State, War Office, 2 November 1899, London Gazette, 26 January 1900, p. 500. 67  As to British allegations that the Boers were violating the conditions of the Geneva Convention, Schiel reported that the “Boers do not understand badges of Geneva Convention, and he regrets having heard that Boers have fired on our burial and other parties.” G.O.C. Communications to C.S.O., Ladysmith, 26 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 68  During the battle, the British alleged that the Boers raised a white flag, and when the British temporarily ceased their attack, the Boers counter-attacked. In the cavalry pursuit of the fleeing Boers, the Boers claimed that the British acted with brutality, cutting down many men from behind as they ran. Thomas Pakenham claims that because of the white flag violation, the British troops were ordered to take no prisoners. Pakenham, The Boer War, 142–5. 69  In his biography of Hamilton, John Lee claims that French followed Hamilton’s plan. I have seen no evidence for this assertion. More so, French laid the groundwork of the attack before Hamilton even arrived on the battlefield. John Lee, A Soldier’s Life: General Sir Ian Hamilton 1853–1947 (London: Pan Books, 2000), 49.



No! You commenced the show, you carry on.”70 He approved of French’s plans and he offered moral support to the troops, riding among them and pushing them forward. Twice, artillery shells landed near him, both miraculously failing to explode.71 He spoke highly of French’s leadership and was very proud of Hamilton, the Gordons, and all of his men in general. Lieutenant Walter Macgregor, 2nd Bn. Gordon Highlanders, wrote to the Tamworth Herald, a Staffordshire weekly, reporting that White was overheard saying, “Look at my boys; nothing will stop them.”72 After the battle, White wrote his wife telling her that the Battle of Elandslaagte was “the most bitterly contested action I was ever in.”73 He also wrote his brother, letting his guard down a bit, and revealing what a troubling few days it had been. His “dear old Gordons” had suffered the heaviest, losing 13 officers. It was at Elandslaagte that White also learned the news about Talana and Symons’ condition. “Many of my best friends have been killed or hit,” White wrote sadly to his brother.74 Twenty miles away, Yule was still near Dundee. Thomas Pakenham has written that Yule was elderly and inexperienced, but that was not the case.75 He was 52, four years younger than Symons, and was a veteran of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, Burma, and Tirah. He had been a favorite of Harry Prendergast’s, White’s commander at the start of the Upper Burma campaign.76 White certainly would have known with whom he was dealing. With enemy numbers growing and without rail access, Yule asked for reinforcements or assistance to get his men and the civilian refugees to safety. After the hard-fought victory at Elandslaagte, White saw an opportunity to strike again at the Boers. He was hoping to hit them before the Free Staters and Transvaalers had an opportunity to join forces near Ladysmith. However, Yule’s situation was desperate. General Marthinus Prinsloo was advancing with a number of Orange Free State commandos 70  Melton Prior, Campaigns of a War Correspondent (London: Edward Arnold, 1912), 285–6. 71  Rethman, Friends and Enemies, 95; Ibid., 286. 72  W.  MacGregor, “The Battle of Elandslaagte”, Tamworth Herald, 9 December 1899, p. 5; as cited by, Edward Spiers, ed., Letters from Ladysmith: Eyewitness Accounts from the South African War (Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball, 2010), 18. 73  White to Amy White, 23 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 74  White to John White, 23 October 1900, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 75  Pakenham, The Boer War, 145–7. 76  Henry Vibart, The Life of Sir Harry N.D.  Prendergast (London: Eveleigh Nash, 1914), 209.



and White feared that Yule’s retreat would be cut off. Reinforcements were not the answer; White needed to force the Boers to respond to a major threat and buy time to allow Yule to get his people to Ladysmith. On 24 October, White marched out of Ladysmith along the Newcastle Road towards Rietfontein with a large force of over 5000 infantry, mounted troops, and artillery. The mounted troops in advance were fired upon almost immediately. At 8:00, just as White arrived at Rietfontein, the Boer artillery fired from the highest ridges along Tintinyoni Hill. White ordered his two Royal Field Artillery batteries to unlimber and respond. The Boer guns were quickly silenced. In the face of heavy rifle fire, the British troops advanced up the ridge, although attempts by the 1st Bn. Gloucestershire and 1st Bn. Liverpool Regiments to drive the Boers from their entrenched position failed. But White had achieved what he had sought. He could now protect Yule’s retreat by preventing the Boers’ access to the east.77 “Contented” with the results, White returned to Ladysmith.78 Patrols sent out by White found Yule and brought him to safety on the morning of the 26th. Most of the wounded, including Symons, had been left behind in Dundee. Joubert later wired White with news of Symons’ death. “I must express my sympathy, and inform you that he was unfortunately badly wounded and died yesterday; and was buried. I trust the good God will speedily bring to a close this unfortunate state of affairs, brought about by unscrupulous speculators and capitalists, who went to the Transvaal to obtain wealth, and in order to further their own interests, misled others, and brought about this shameful state of warfare over all of South Africa, in which so many valuable lives have been, and are being sacrificed; as for instance that of Genl. Symons and others. I express my sympathy to Lady Symons in the loss of her husband.”79 G.W. Steevens, the well-known Daily Mail reported on the arrival of Yule’s men into Ladysmith: But what a sight! Their putties were not soaked and not caked; say, rather, that there may have been a core of puttie inside, but that the men’s legs were 77  White to the Secretary of State, War Office, 2 December 1899, London Gazette, reprinted in John Grehan and Martin Mace, comps., Despatches from the Front: The Boer War 1899–1902 (Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword, 2014), 48. 78  Boer casualties: 9 killed, 21 wounded. British casualties: 12 killed, 105 wounded, and 2 missing. Pretorius, “Rietfontein, Battle of,” in Historical Dictionary of the Anglo-Boer War, 384. 79  Joubert to White, 26 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP.



embedded in a serpentine cast of clay. As for their boots, you could only infer them from the huge balls of stratified mud men bore around their feet . . .. Eyelids hung fat and heavy over hollow cheeks and pointed cheek-­ bones. Only the eye remained – the sky-blue, steel-keen, hard, clear, unconquerable English eye – to tell that thirty-two miles without rest, four days without a square meal, six nights-for many-without a stretch of sleep, still found them soldiers at the end.80

Donald MacDonald focused on the 2nd Bn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers. I shall never forget the appearance of that column as it came into Ladysmith — the gallant Fusiliers, conspicuous by the square green badges on their helmets, having the place of honour as rear-guard. The khaki had changed in colour from a yellowish-brown to dirty red, and upon officers and men alike were brown blotches of mud, where they had thrown themselves upon the miry ground whenever the whistle sounded for the brief five minutes’ rest. “Good luck to you, boys. We’re glad to see you safe back,” shouted the crowds on the pathways, and at intervals cheers were given for the fighting Fusiliers. “I suppose you can do without work for a day or two,” I said to one stalwart, who, with a click of the brogue, answered, “Shoore, we’re as fit as fiddles, and whin we get about three pints o’ beer in us we’re ready to go out again to-morrow.” There was no difficulty about the first pint, and though, from the point of view of the moralist and teetotaller, it may be a saddening admission, yet the fact is borne in upon one every day, that next to the British flag and the honour of his corps, the thing that stands highest in the estimation of Tommy Atkins is beer. You may praise him, and cheer him, but if you wish to find your way straight into his good graces, make it beer.81

“The army of Natal had fought three successful actions, merely to secure the concentration for which Sir George White had pleaded before the war began. Its victories had been barren,” wrote J.B.  Atkins in his 1900, The Relief of Ladysmith.82 White had feared the possibility of becoming isolated at Ladysmith even before the war began. With Boer troops approaching Ladysmith from the northeast, north, and west, it now 80  G.W. Steevens, From Capetown to Ladysmith: An Unfinished Record of the South African War (Edinburgh and London: Wm. Blackwood and Sons, 1900), 71–2. 81  Donald Macdonald, How We Kept the Flag Flying: The Story of the Siege of Ladysmith (London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1900), 36–7. 82  Atkins, The Relief of Ladysmith, 14.



became a likelihood. A few days earlier, it would have been relatively easy to retire across the Tugela with his force. The consequences of that action however would have been dramatic. Firstly, it would have required abandoning the civilian population and the wounded. Second, it would have resulted in vital military stores and supplies falling into the hands of the enemy. And lastly, with Ladysmith out of the way, the Boers could have continued to press on toward Pietermaritzburg, threatening the entire colony. Writing to his brother on 27 October, one last time, before the postal and telegraph lines were cut, he chose his words carefully. “Natal’s fate hangs in the balance.”83 Still searching for a decisive victory before the Boer columns had all assembled, White proposed to his staff on 27 October an attack on the Boer force at Pepworth’s Hill. Both Hamilton and Hunter argued against the plan and White seemed convinced. Two days later, however, he proposed a similar action. This time, neither man tried to talk him out of it.84 White would accept full responsibility for the events dubbed “Mournful Monday.” He later  considered the defeat to be his greatest failure as a commander. The Battle of Lombard’s Kop, also known as the Battle of Ladysmith, took place on Monday, 30 October. As White explained in his official report, his goal was to disrupt the Boer artillery which had been placed the day before on Long Hill, just to the northeast of Ladysmith. From Long Hill, British forces would then proceed to Pepworth’s Hill. Simultaneously, a large mounted force would move around Nicholson’s Nek to prevent a Boer retreat and, if possible, capture the Boer laager. Much of the Ladysmith force would be engaged in the battle in one way or another.85  White to John White, 27 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  Biographies of both men, written by family members, assert that they still opposed the plan but they felt it would be impudent to speak out against it a second time. Ian B.M. Hamilton, The Happy Warrior: A Life of General Sir Ian Hamilton (London: Cassell, 1966), 136; and, Hunter, Kitchener’s Sword-Arm, 124. 85  British forces included: 1st and 2nd Bns. King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 1st Bn. Leicestershire Regiment, 1st Bn. Liverpool Regiment, 2nd Bn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 2nd Bn. Gordon Highlanders, 1st Bn. Manchester Regiment, 1st Bn. Devonshire Regiment, 2nd Bn. Rifle Brigade, 1st Bn. Royal Irish Fusiliers, 1st Bn. Gloucestershire Regiment, 5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, 5th Dragoon Guards, 18th Hussars, Imperial Light Horse, some Mounted Infantry, 13th, 21st, 42nd, 53rd, 67th and 69th Royal Field Artillery, No. 10 Mountain Battery, and a number of Natal volunteers including the Natal Mounted Rifles, Natal Carbineers, Border Mounted Rifles, Natal Police, Natal Naval Volunteers, and the Ladysmith Town Guard. Two 4.7-in Naval guns, four Naval 12-pdrs, and four machine guns arrived the day of the battle 83 84



Joubert had roughly 7500 men at his disposal, including Free State and Transvaal commandoes led by Meyer, Erasmus, and General Andries P. Cronjé, the Irish Brigade, and a number of artillery pieces including one “Long Tom,” a 155 mm Creusot gun which could fire a shell weighing just under 100 lbs. a distance of 11,000 yards.86 Little of the battle went as planned. At 23:15 on the 29th, Lieutenant-­ Colonel Frank Carleton led his column towards Nicholson’s Nek. His men moved quickly and they managed to allude the Boer picquets. However, the advance had been delayed and they were behind schedule. As Carleton pushed the men forward, a terrific roar was heard, “like that of an approaching train.”87 The night march had disturbed a group of animals who in fright ran past the column. The sudden disturbance led to panic among the transport mules carrying the mounted battery and the reserve ammunition. Father L. Matthews, the Chaplain of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, wrote to the Gloucestershire Chronicle that he was knocked down by the mules, in the pitched dark, and became disoriented.88 Not only were the Boers alerted to the British movement, but amidst the din, the mules broke loose and the six guns and ammunition were lost. Unwilling to turn back and unable to reach Nicholson’s Nek, Carleton managed to secure a position at the southern end of Cayingubo Hill. Although his men did their best to entrench by building breastworks made out of stones (sangars), Carleton’s intelligence office, Major Walter Adye, had chosen the site without knowing that the nearby ground favored a Boer advance. At daybreak, the Boers opened fire and pressed their attack after Commandant Christiaan de Wet led some men up the northern side of the hill. From Ladysmith, White signaled to Carleton to retire, but it was too late; the fire was too hot. Carleton, however, could not respond or ask for assistance because his heliograph had been lost with the guns and from the HMS Powerful and were deployed. White to the Secretary of State, War Office, 2 December 1899, (i) Printed despatches from White to the Secretary of State for War, London; (ii) List showing the Distribution of the Orange Free State Forces in Oct, Nov and Dec, 1899, over that country and the Cape Colony (Printed). Captured at Fouriesburg, Orange River Colony, and received in the War Office on 28 Sep 1901, MSS Eur F108/53, GWP. 86  Darrell Hall, The Hall Handbook of the Anglo-Boer War (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1999), 8; Pretorius, “Ladysmith, Battle of,” in Historical Dictionary of the Anglo-Boer War, 231–6. 87  Maurice and Grant, (Official) History of the War in South Africa, I, 187. 88   L.  Matthews, “Why the Gloucesters Surrendered,” Gloucestershire Chronicle 18 November 1899, p.7; as cited in Spiers, ed., Letters from Ladysmith, 31.



ammunition. As the fighting became desperate, some of the Gloucestershire Regiment incorrectly believed that their officer had ordered them to retire. A gap opened up between the companies, and a young Captain Duncan, thinking that his D Company had been abandoned, raised the white flag and surrendered. Carleton saw the white flag go up. Unable to push forward and just as incapable of retreating from the fire zone, he called his bugler to sound cease fire, and surrendered as well.89 Meanwhile, just after midnight, Colonel G.G. Grimwood led the 8th Infantry Brigade toward Long Hill. For unexplained reasons, the 2nd Brigade Division of Royal Field Artillery, became misdirected.90 It and some of the infantry proceeded to march away from the assembly point, dividing Grimwood’s force into two. Grimwood did not realize the mistake until several hours later. At 3:00, French rode out of Ladysmith and headed toward Lombard’s Kop. He was supposed to strike at the Boers and push them northward allowing for Grimwood to seize Long Hill. However, his force was stopped by heavy Mauser fire. Both Grimwood, with his depleted force, and French were prevented from moving forward. Acting in reserve, Hamilton was required to use most of his force to assist French and Grimwood and could not take the initiative. By 11:00, White had seen enough. The remaining infantry and mounted troops held in reserve were sent out to provide cover to support the general retirement. Mournful Monday was a disaster. In addition to the Boers capturing 37 officers and 917 men of Carleton’s force, another 66 were killed and 249 were wounded.91 After the battle, White was distraught. He sent telegrams to Lansdowne and Buller taking full responsibility for the disaster. As to Carleton’s surrender, he wrote Buller, “I framed the plan in carrying out which this disaster occurred, and am alone responsible for that plan. No blame attaches to the Troops.”92 The Queen was immediately informed and sent

89  A Court of Inquiry found Carleton’s surrender to be the result of the “chances of war.” However, Duncan was found guilty of misconduct and forced into retirement. He was later restored to the Active Duty list thanks to Lord Roberts’ intervention. Papers Relating to South African Surrenders, 11–14 December 1899, WO 108/372, TNA, 149–50. See Stephen M.  Miller, “British Surrenders and the South African War, 1899–1902,” War & Society 38 2(2019): 108. 90  Maurice and Grant, (Official) History of the War in South Africa, I, 193. 91  White to the Secretary of State, War Office, 2 December 1899, MSS Eur F108/53, GWP. 92  White to Buller, 30 October 1899, No. 126A, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP.



a consolatory telegram to Ladysmith. “Feel every confidence in Sir George White although he naturally takes all blame on himself.”93 White found time to write a long letter to his wife calling the defeat the “blow of my life.” He admitted to her that his staff opposed the plan, but he explained that he did not want to wait until the Boers had come to him and cut off Ladysmith or, potentially worse, passed Ladysmith and crossed the Tugela, threatening the government, the resources, and all the colonists. “I could have shut myself up or even dealt half-hearted blows with perfect safety but I played a bold game, too bold a game and I have lost.”94 He worried about his future. “I think after this venture the men will lose confidence in me and that I ought to be superceded. It is hard luck but I have no right to complain. I have had a very difficult time of it. I don’t think I can go on soldiering.”95 It is impossible to know if White believed being removed from his command was a serious possibility. In all likelihood, in his state of mind, he was expecting the worst or, perhaps, even secretly hoping for it. In actuality, Wolseley proposed White’s supercession to Lansdowne, and Lansdowne wired Buller asking for his opinion in handing command to “Hunter or anyone else whom you may select...”96 Buller resisted, desiring, at least for the time being, to leave things as they were.97 He had made his decision not out of loyalty to White but out of uncertainty. By December, however, he had decided that White needed to go home. In a telegram to Lansdowne discussing who should serve as his own second in command, Buller wrote, “White is unfit for the position; I propose, if I relieve Ladysmith, to invalid him home.”98 Buller went on to criticize several of his senior officers including Lord Methuen, Forestier-Walker, Lieutenant-General Sir Francis Clery, and Major-General Geoffrey Barton. What is most surprising in the exchange is not Buller’s displeasure with White and the others but his use

93  Queen Victoria to White, undated (November 1899), Letters to White chiefly during the South African war, arranged alphabetically, with a list of correspondents, Mss Eur F108/111 (1898–1908), GWP. 94  White to Amy White, 30 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 95  Ibid. 96  Secretary of State for War to General Sir Redvers Buller, 3 November 1899, No. 3c, WO 108/399, TNA, p. 9. 97  Sir R. Buller to Secretary of State for War, 4 November 1899, WO 32/7902, TNA, p. 6. 98  General Sir Redvers Buller to Secretary of State for War, 1 December 1899, No. 34c, WO 108/399, TNA.



of the word “if” when discussing the relief of Ladysmith. This uncertainty could not have gone unnoticed by Lansdowne. White did not have much time to feel sorry for himself in the aftermath of Mournful Monday. Despite the presence of the enemy to the north and west, the path south to the Tugela was still open to him. However, for the reasons presented above, he did not want to leave Ladysmith. He wired to both Buller and Hely-Hutchinson to inform them that he thought it would be best to remain.99 Buller agreed with the decision.100 On 2 November, at Buller’s request, White ordered French to take his cavalry and head to safety. They made it to Colenso. Their train was the last one to make it out of Ladysmith before the rail line was interrupted.101 Later that day the Boers completed their encirclement of the town and its roughly 13,000 soldiers and 8000 civilians. The siege of Ladysmith had begun. It made sense, upon leaving India in 1898, for White to take a staff position. After all, with just a few exceptions, like the Zhob Valley Expedition, White had not commanded troops in the field for almost 15 years. Staff work, however, at least at this point in his career, did not suit him. At 64, he simply was not ready to say goodbye to what he considered “active” service. With few other options opened to him, he agreed to go to Gibraltar instead of finishing up his time at the Horse Guards. However, in the midst of impending war in South Africa, not only did White not travel to Gibraltar, he never even undertook preparations to go. When he was offered the command in Natal, he accept without reservations. Although White had little knowledge of South African politics or of the country itself, in William Penn Symons, he had an officer who had been there since June and who he trusted and considered one of the best commanders army had to offer. Symons and the Governor of Natal urged White to pursue a course of action which they argued was vital to preserving the security of the colony. Without direction from Lansdowne, 99  White to Buller, 31 October 1899, No. 109A, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP; and, General, Ladysmith to The Governor, Maritzburg, 31 October 1899, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 100  Buller to White, 1 November 1899, No. 3z, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 101   From Lieut.-General Sir George White, V.C., G.C.B., G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., late Commanding the Ladysmith Garrison, to the Chief of Staff to the Field-Marshal Commanding in Chief in South Africa, 23 March 1900, White’s despatch after the relief of Ladysmith, giving an account of the siege. (4 copies, printed, the fourth including material contained in White’s despatch of 2 Dec 1899, No. 53 above), Mss Eur F108/58 (23 Mar 1900), GWP.



Wolseley, or Buller, White had little choice but to heed the advice of the soldiers and civilians who seemed to  know best. The decision to hold Ladysmith and, at the same time, attempt to hold points north proved fateful. Although the British achieved limited success in the early encounters with the Boers, White could not hold back the enemy’s overwhelming numbers. One last attempt at Pepworth’s Hill and Nicholson’s Nek ended in a disaster and White retired into Ladysmith and the siege began.


The Defender of Ladysmith (1899–1900)

Melton Prior, a well-known war correspondent, covered numerous small wars and expeditions for the Illustrated London News. Most recently, he had reported on the Jameson Raid, the Tirah Campaign, and the wars against the Ndebele. As he headed back to Ladysmith after observing White’s Mournful Monday defeat on 30 October 1899, he ran into his friend and Daily Telegraph correspondent, Bennet Burleigh, who was on his way to the telegraph office. “‘Prior, my boy,’ he said, ‘it is all over; we are beaten, and it means investment. We shall all be locked up in Ladysmith!’” A few moments later, Prior spied White in conversation with Captain Hedworth Lambton, who was commanding the Naval Brigade and whose heavy guns would prove vital to the defense of Ladysmith during the siege. Prior overheard White exclaim, “I tried to outflank the Boers, but as fast as I did so they outflanked me; in fact, they outwitted me.” Prior wrote in his Campaigns of a War Correspondent, “Who could help admiring a man who would speak as openly as that before his Staff, before every one?”1 Although he blamed himself and Lord Lansdowne, Secretary of State for War, Lord Wolseley, Commander-in-Chief of British Forces, and General Sir Redvers Buller, Commander-in-Chief, South Africa, all criticized his actions, neither correspondent blamed White for the day’s events. Burleigh called it “a day of misadventures” and Carleton’s


 Melton Prior, Campaigns of a War Correspondent (London: Edward Arnold, 1912), 291.

© The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




surrender at Nicholson’s Nek, an “unpreventable accident.”2 Most of the eye-witness accounts of the day’s events shared their views. Burleigh advised Prior to get out of Ladysmith before it was too late, and the former left immediately after their encounter. Prior, however, who had never “been in an investment,” chose to remain. He spoke to a number of his colleagues, many of whom also opted to stay, expecting the siege to last no longer than a fortnight. Frank Rhodes was the exception, warning him that it could last as long as six weeks or even two months.3 Prior later wrote, “I have been asked the question why, if General French, Burleigh, and others could get out, did not all the townspeople leave at the same time. The answer is very simple—there were not enough trains to take them, and on the third day in the battle the telegraph wires were cut, the railway was stopped, and then we realised that there was no more communication with the outer world.”4 The siege of Ladysmith began on 2 November 1899. It lasted until 28 February 1900. The reasons for White’s decision to remain in Ladysmith were stated in the previous chapter. However, it is perhaps best to reinforce those statements with White’s own words which he delivered in his 23 March 1900 report to Major-General Lord Kitchener, Chief of Staff to Lord Roberts, Commander-in-Chief, South Africa: Ladysmith is the most important town in Northern Natal, and there was reason to believe that the enemy attached very great and perhaps even undue importance to obtaining possession of it. It was suspected then, and the suspicion has since been confirmed, that the occupation of that town by the Boer forces had been decided on by the disloyal Dutch in both colonies as the signal for a general rising; as, in fact, a material guarantee that the power of the combined Republics was really capable of dealing with any force the British Empire was able to place in the field against them. Our withdrawal would therefore have brought about an insurrection so widespread as to have very materially increased our difficulties. Strategically the town was important as being the junction of the Railways which enter Natal from the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, and until the Republics could gain possession of that junction their necessarily divergent lines of supply and communication prevented their enjoying to the full the advantages of combined action. Tactically the place was already partially prepared for  Bennet Burleigh, The Natal Campaign (London: Chapman & Hall, 1900), 64.  Prior, Campaigns of a War Correspondent, 292. 4  Ibid., 293. 2 3



defence, and offered a natural position of some strength; and although the perimeter which must be occupied was very great for the number of troops available, yet it afforded the possibility of maintaining a protracted defence against superior numbers. On the other hand, the mere fact of a retirement behind the Tugela would have had a moral effect at least equal to a serious defeat, and would have involved the abandonment to the enemy of a large town full of an English population, men, women, and children; and of a mass of stores and munitions of war which had been already collected there before my arrival in South Africa, and had since been increased. The line of the Tugela from the Drakensberg to the Buffalo River is some 80 miles long, and in a dry season such as last November can be crossed on foot almost anywhere. Against an enemy with more than double my numbers, and three times my mobility, I could not hope to maintain such a line with my small force, and any attempt to prevent their turning my flanks could only have resulted in such a weakening of my centre as would have led to its being pierced. Once my flank was turned on the line of the river the enemy would have been nearer Maritzburg than I should have been, and a rapid withdrawal by rail for the defence of the capital would have been inevitable. Even there it would have been impossible to make a prolonged defence without leaving it open to the enemy to occupy the important port of Durban, through which alone supplies and reinforcements could arrive, and for the defence of which another retreat would have become eventually essential; thus abandoning to the enemy the whole Colony of Natal from Lang’s [sic] Nek to the sea. On the other hand, I was confident of holding out at Ladysmith as long as might be necessary, and I saw clearly that so long as I maintained myself there I could occupy the great mass of the Boer armies and prevent them sending more than small flying columns south of the Tugela, which the British and Colonial forces in my rear, aided by such reinforcements as might shortly be expected, could deal with without much difficulty. Accordingly I turned my whole attention to preparing Ladysmith to stand a prolonged siege.5

Allowing Major-General Sir William Penn Symons to stay at Dundee was not the right decision. White should not have risked losing 4000 men for the sake of holding onto the coalfields. The Natal Governor, Sir Walter 5  An earlier draft did not include White’s rationale for holding Ladysmith. From Lieut.General Sir George White, V.C., G.C.B., G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., late Commanding the Ladysmith Garrison, to the Chief of Staff to the Field-Marshal Commanding in Chief in South Africa, 23 March 1900, White’s despatch after the relief of Ladysmith, giving an account of the siege. (4 copies, printed, the fourth including material contained in White’s despatch of 2 Dec 1899, No. 53 above), Mss Eur F108/58 (23 Mar 1900), GWP.



Hely-Hutchinson, certainly overestimated the moral effect of pulling back; there was no Zulu uprising or general Boer insurrection in the colony. In planning for the Battle of Lombard’s Kop, mistakes were certainly made. White, unwisely, did not heed the earlier objections of his staff. Night attacks have great risks and White made the decision to employ them. Whereas both of these two strategic decisions merit criticism, under the circumstances, White had little choice but to hold on to Ladysmith. The political and military arguments for doing so were convincing. He had known that getting invested in Ladysmith was a possibility since the day he met with Hely-Hutchinson and Symons in Pietermaritzburg and decided to keep troops north of the Tugela anyway. In the literature of the history of the South African War, perhaps no author better understood White’s actions in Natal than Alfred Thayer Mahan. Mahan was a captain in the United States Navy and in the summer of 1899 had been one of his country’s delegates to The Hague Convention. It was his book, however, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783, published in 1890, that gained him recognition as one of the world’s leading military strategists. Mahan’s Story of the War in South Africa, 1899–1900 included a lengthy defense of White’s decision to hold onto Ladysmith, emphasizing its strategic location along the lines of communication and transportation, its advanced position capable of “detaining the enemy,” and its political and moral value.6 Mahan wrote White after the war applauding his decision-making. White was very appreciative, responding to Mahan, “I had grown mentally weary of criticisms written by correspondents who had no insight into the difficulties of the situation or of the best method of coping with them with the means available.”7 White went on to explain how he got into the situation in the first place, criticizing the British government’s lack of preparation for the war. “Political negotiations in the vigorous hands of Milner and Chamberlain ran completely away from the military preparations and landed me in Natal with a force inadequate to secure those early and complete successes which might have ended the war promptly…. Commencing with inadequate means must result in protected campaigning.”8 He discussed the 6  Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Story of the War in South Africa, 3rd ed. (London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1901), 178–95. 7  White to Mahan, 4 August 1902, Letter-book, entitled “Begins Aug 1902”, including newspaper cuttings, ending 27 Jun 1910, Mss Eur F108/79 (1902–1910), GWP. 8  Alfred Milner was Governor of the Cape Colony and High Commissioner for Southern Africa. Joseph Chamberlain was Secretary of State for the Colonies. Ibid.



pressure put on him by Hely-Hutchinson, and how he had to rely upon him for a political understanding of South Africa, having never served in the colonies there before (Map 9.1). Further, he explained why he was wary of allowing Symons to remain at Dundee, although he defended his general’s actions to the last. He also continued to accept responsibility for the failure of Nicholson’s Nek.9 Knowing the risks, White had been attending to the defenses of Ladysmith since he arrived. He had pushed out a perimeter of about 14 miles around the town enclosing an area of roughly 4 miles.10 For the purpose of organization, four separate commands were established and given to Colonel W.G.  Knox (“A”), Major-General F.  Howard (“B”), Colonel Ian Hamilton (“C”), and Colonel W.  Royston (“D”).11 The British force at Ladysmith numbered just under 13,500 men with 51 guns; there were approximately 7800 civilians, Black, White, and Indian. The Boers positioned themselves in a string of hills some 30 miles long. Umbulwana commanded the southeast; Pepworth’s, Long, and Surprise Hills, the north; Lombard’s Kop, the east; Star and Telegraph Hills and Thornhill’s Kopje and Rifleman’s Ridge, the west; and Lancer’s, Mounted Infantry, and Middle Hills, the south. Frederick Maurice in the (Official) History of the War in South Africa, 1899–1902, set the Boer numbers at close to 17,000 men; Fransjohan Pretorius has significantly reduced that calculation, putting the number to just under 10,000.12

9  On 1 November 1899, White received a telegram from the Union Club, Malta, signed by a British naval officer, telling him not to blame himself for the defeat. To blame himself, he said, was a “self-sacrificing moral act as that for which you got your V.C.” Officer of the Mediterranean Fleet to White, 1 November 1899, Letters to White chiefly during the South African war, arranged alphabetically, with a list of correspondents, Mss Eur F108/111 (1898–1908), GWP. 10  Kenneth Griffith, Thank God We Kept the Flag Flying (New York: Viking Press, 1974), 102. 11  “A” command included Devonshire Post to the Newcastle Road, where it passed between Junction and Gordon Hills; “B” command, from Gordon Hill to Flagstone Spruit; “C” command, from Flagstone Spruit to Caesar’s Camp; and, “D” from east of Caesar’s Camp through the Klip River flats up to the Devonshire Post. White to Kitchener, 23 March 1900, White’s despatch after the relief of Ladysmith, Mss Eur F108/58, GWP. 12  Frederick Maurice and M.  H. Grant, (Official) History of the War in South Africa, 1899–1902, vol. II (London: Hurst and Blackwood, 1906–1910), 539–40; Fransjohan Pretorius, “Ladysmith, Siege of,” in Historical Dictionary of the Anglo-Boer War (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2009), 236.



Map 9.1  Siege of Ladysmith. (Source: A Handbook of the Boer War, with general map of South Africa and 18 sketch maps and plans. London: Gale and Polden, 1910)

Continuous Boer artillery fire on British military positions as well as on Ladysmith itself, began shortly after the start of the siege. Civilians, who were as likely to be hit as soldiers, would make haste for the shelters they dug into the banks of the river. The fire from the long-range 155  mm Creusot, “Long Tom,” from atop Umbulwana would plague the town throughout. With permission from his adversary, Commandant-General Piet Joubert, White established a safe location for the wounded and sick at Intombi, about three miles to the southeast of Ladysmith, still within the British lines.13 Women and children were also given permission to go 13   Lieut-General Sir George White, Commanding the British Forces in Natal to Commandant General P.J.  Joubert, Commanding the Forces of the S.A.  Republic, 3 November 1899, and, P.J.  Joubert, Comdt-General, S.A.  Republic to the Commanding Officer of the British Troops at Ladysmith, 4 November 1899, Copies of correspondence



there, but many remained in the town for the duration of the siege. The hospital was up and running by 5 November. By the siege’s end, it had admitted more than 10,600 soldiers and civilians.14 Joubert has been criticized, and rightly so, for his lack of initiative during the Natal campaign.15 After Mournful Monday, he did not attempt to forcefully break the siege until January, nor did he leave behind a token defensive force and push on rapidly towards the Tugela. Instead, he approached the investment of Ladysmith as if he had plenty of time, refusing to take risks and confident that White would be forced to surrender once his supplies ran out. But the strategy the Boers embraced at the start of the war was based on the principle that they had to act quickly and decisively. They knew that Great Britain and its empire had the resources to overwhelm their war effort and, if given time, they could mobilize those resources and bring them to South Africa. Time was the one thing Joubert did not have. After the war, General Ben Viljoen would say Joubert “was too old and too humane for war.”16 In the summer of 1899, it was still unknown to the British government if the Orange Free State would join the Transvaal in the event of a war, even if was expected by the Intelligence division and most of the country’s leading military figures. If it did, Buller endorsed a plan to concentrate his forces in the Cape Colony and, from there, advance into the Orange Free State. However, his concerns about the Natal had grown considerably. Hely-Hutchinson was in a panic and prepared to evacuate Pietermaritzburg. He also warned the British government that if the Boers took Durban and gained access to the sea, they could receive foreign help.17 Buller opted to break up the Army Corps in order to relieve both Ladysmith and the northern Cape Colony town of Kimberley, the capital of the diamond industry, which the Boers had surrounded on 14 October. And, perhaps between General P.J. Joubert (Commander-in-Chief of the Boer forces) and White, during the Siege of Ladysmith (indexed), Mss Eur F108/57 (1899), GWP. 14  S.A.  Watt, “Intombi Military Hospital and Cemetery,” Military History Journal 5 6 (1982). 15  See, for example, Bill Nasson, The South African War, 1899–1902 (New York: Oxford, 1999), Chapter 3. 16  “General Ben Viljoen at Plymouth,” Unnamed Newspaper, Martin G. Endle to White, 1 June 1903, Letters to White from various correspondents, arranged alphabetically with a list of correspondents, Mss Eur F108/110 (1880–1910), GWP. 17  Mortimer Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, vol. II (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1915), 114–5.



even more surprisingly, rather than go to Cape Town to oversee British war operations, he decided to go to Natal, and personally conduct the relief of Ladysmith. He later wrote, “After perusal of [Sir George White’s] letter and several conversations with General [John] French I was more than ever satisfied that Sir George White’s force was powerless to protect Natal, and I began to think that it would be essential for me to go there myself.”18 Buller arrived in Natal on 25 November. Joubert had still failed to act decisively. The defeat at Lombard’s Kop had certainly shaken White’s confidence and ensured the investment of Ladysmith. White’s malaise, however, was short-lived. There was too much to do and Ladysmith needed a strong leader. Thomas Pakenham, in The Boer War, criticized White for his lack of initiative in the months which followed the defeat and claimed that his senior officers resented his inaction.19 There is very little evidence to substantiate this assertion. Pakenham drew from statements made by Major-­ General Sir Archibald Hunter, who served as White’s Chief of Staff, and Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Rawlinson, who served as one of White’s Deputy Assistant Adjutant Generals. Hunter’s comments will be addressed in Chap. 10. It is true that Rawlinson was quite unsatisfied with the level of activity and did not like that White rejected his plan for an 11 November attack on Umbulwana.20 But his displeasure stemmed from the situation of the siege and not White’s actions.21 White, in fact, was not just eager to take action but reached out to Buller as early as 10 November offering to assist the British relief effort, which he assumed would be arriving any day under Lieutenant-General Sir Francis Clery, who commanded the 2nd Division in the Natal Field 18  War Office, Papers of Sir Redvers H Buller, General Commanding, Natal Army, South African War and Commander in Chief, Aldershot Division, WO 132/24, p. 15, The National Archives (TNA), Kew. 19  Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War (New York: Random House, 1979), 279–81. 20  Frederick Maurice, ed., Soldier, Artist, Sportsman: The Life of General Lord Rawlinson of Trent (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928), 47–9. Also see, Lord Carver, The National Army Museum Book of the Boer War (London: Pan, 1999). 21  Rawlinson faulted White for not visiting the men enough in order to keep their morale high. Ibid., 56. Many, however, including soldiers themselves, praised White for his attentiveness to their needs. See, for example, Donald Macdonald, How We Kept the Flag Flying: The Story of the Siege of Ladysmith (London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1900), 280–3; and, H.H.S. Pearse, Four Months Besieged: The Story of Ladysmith being unpublished letters from H.H.S.  Pearse the ‘Daily News’ Special Correspondent (London: Macmillan and Co., 1900), 213.



Force.22 Similar offers, like this one, were regularly made by White through the new year, and only slowed when disease and food shortages began to gravely effect the garrison’s ability to take the offensive and aid any relief attempt. Responses from Buller, however, were limited and, as will be discussed later, at times, deeply problematic. White was often kept in the dark as to his commanding officer’s intentions. Throughout November, White did not take any serious direct action against the Boers, nor did Joubert aggressively attempt to force the siege. Casualties from Boer artillery fire continued to rise, and after the 27th, when the Boers received a second Long Tom, this one placed on Middle Hill, and large numbers of Boers were seen in the area, White began preparing for an assault. The movement, however, was not due to Boer offensive preparations, but the result of the Boers withdrawing from the Mooi River and then back across the Tugela River after a brief battle at Willow Grange with some of Major-General Sir Henry Hildyard’s 2nd Brigade on 23 November. On the next day, Joubert was seriously hurt when he was thrown from his horse and was forced for a time to return to Pretoria to recuperate. Louis Botha, who took over temporarily from Joubert, officially replaced Joubert as Commandant-General of the Transvaal after his death in March 1900, which was the result, most likely, of the internal injuries he had suffered from the fall. The failure of Joubert’s half-hearted invasion of Natal and the withdrawal back across the Tugela, coupled with Buller’s arrival and the amassing of British forces gave hope to White and his troops that the siege would come to an end shortly. With the telegraph lines cut and runners, often Africans, facing increasing danger trying to get messages in and out of Ladysmith, the heliograph became the most reliable source of communication. Weather, naturally, reduced its effectiveness; so did the fear that the Boers could intercept the messages. White warned Clery that using Hindustani to try to hide the meaning of the messages would not work since there was a large Indian population in Natal to which the Boers could turn.23 On 30 November, for example, White received a message 22  White to Buller, 10 November 1899, No. 7. P, (a) “Copies of Telegrams received from the Governor”; copies of telegrams received from military authorities, with duplicates of telegrams from Lord Wolseley; and “Copies of Telegrams and other Message sent” by White from Ladysmith, Oct–Dec 1899 (b) “Siege Correspondence”: telegrams sent and received by White during the Siege of Ladysmith, 26 Nov 1899–28 Feb 1900 (3 parts) Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 23  White to Clery, 7 December 1899, No. 21 P, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP.



from Buller which his signalers could only partially make out and had to ask him to repeat the information. White provided vital information at this time and articulated concerns about three key issues. First, he addressed rations and forage. “I have provisions for 70 days, and believe, I can defend Ladysmith while they last. Hay or grazing is a difficulty; I have 35 days’ supply of this at reduced ration.”24 Second, White was eager to cooperate with the relief force. He explained that he could assist with no more than two efforts, however, due to his manpower and supply limitations. And, third, the soldiers and civilians of Ladysmith were suffering. In addition to the growing wounded caused by limited engagements with the enemy and the shelling, disease was starting to hit the town hard. Already, the doctors at Intombi counted 71 cases of dysentery, 15 enteric, 12 other fevers, and 109 other diseases. These numbers would soon skyrocket. White had another problem on his hands: spies. Shortly after his arrival in Ladysmith, White learned that that town was “full of the enemy’s spies.” He complained to Hely-Hutchinson that “it is impossible to carry on operations on equal terms when every move is known to the enemy.”25 He asked if he could expel them. The Natal Governor responded, that despite the onset of the war, since Natal had responsible government, he had no power to throw Republican civilians out of the British colony.26 The next day, however, Albert Henry Hime, the Prime Minister of Natal, declared martial law, and White was empowered with the authority to uphold law and order throughout the colony. British subjects charged with espionage were to be handed over to civil authorities; all others, including Transvaalers and Free Staters were subject to court martial. Throughout the siege, even under martial law, White and his staff felt powerless to prevent intelligence from leaking out of Ladysmith and alerting the Boers to his activities. Frederick Maurice claimed that there were many occasions when White had to change or cancel his plans due to leaks, including proposed attacks on Rifleman’s Ridge on 29 November and on Thornhill’s Farm on 5 December.27 Henry Nevinson, a Daily Chronicle correspondent who remained in Ladysmith, wrote in early December, “Signalling from lighted windows has become so common among the 24  Sir G. White, Ladysmith, to Sir R. Buller, Repeat General Clery, 30 November 1899, No. 20 P, CAB 37/51/93, TNA, p. 6. 25  Chief, Natal, to Governor, Natal, 14 October 1899, No. 16, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 26  Governor to General, Ladysmith, 14 October 1899, No. 16, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 27  Maurice and Grant, (Official) History of the War in South Africa, 1899–1902, II, 546.



traitors that to-day a curfew was proclaimed  – all lights out at half-past eight. Rumors about the hanging and shooting of spies still go the round, but my own belief is the authorities would not hurt a fly, much less a spy, if they could possibly help it.”28 In early December, Archibald Hunter asked White if he could lead a sortie against Gun Hill to knock out one of the enemy’s Long Toms. White said yes, but fearful of the leaks, he insisted that men taking part in the operation had to assemble at night and in quiet. Late on the night of 7 December, Major D. Henderson and 18 Corps of Guides led Hunter’s column of 650 Natal Carbineers, Imperial Light Horse, and 5th Dragoons, along with some engineers and a mountain battery, out of Ladysmith and towards Helpmekaar Ridge and Gun Hill. They surprised the Boers, damaged the Long Tom and a howitzer,29 and returned by 07:00. The same night, two companies of the 1st Liverpool Regiment and a squadron of 19th Hussars made their way to Limit Hill and achieved some success as well. An attempt a few days later on Surprise Hill by Lieutenant-Colonel C.T.E. Metcalfe, however, despite succeeding in destroying a Boer howitzer, met with difficulties. The Boers had been alerted to night sorties. The day after the attacks on Gun Hill and Limit Hill, White sat down and wrote a long letter to his wife, unsure whether she would ever receive it. He was optimistic that he would be relieved soon. He was proud of his men and the fine work they had done in holding Ladysmith. He was concerned about the growing rate of enteric, which had risen to 80 cases, the sewage and garbage problems, and the destruction and harm caused by Boer artillery fire. “Thank goodness,” he told her, “none of the children have been hit and only one woman.” He also explained why he risked the night operations against the Boers. He wanted to make the enemy “uneasy about his communications” and “make them increase their force north of me and decrease their force which is between me and Sir Redvers.”30 White was eager to assist Buller’s advance in any way he could but he needed information. The Tugela River, as it regularly does, had risen by the end of November high enough that Buller’s options of where to cross it were limited. The most direct route was to advance along the rail line  H.W. Nevinson, Ladysmith: The Diary of a Siege (London: Methuen & Co., 1900), 133.  The guns were repaired in Pretoria. Thanks to Fransjohan Pretorius for this information. 30  White to Amy White, 9 December 1899, White’s letters to his wife Amy (nee Baly), Mss Eur F108/101(a)-(j) (1879–1909), GWP. On 12 November, the first baby was delivered during the siege. Pearse, Four Months Besieged, 66. 28 29



through Colenso, but there were also several drifts large enough to accommodate the British advance. Pontoons could also be placed to assist with the movement of men and supplies but more permanent bridges would be subject to heavy Boer fire. White suspected Buller would cross at Colenso. In late November, he had proposed to Clery that he create a diversion by attacking in the direction of Onderbroek Spruit on the same day Buller crossed the Tugela.31 But Buller and Clery would not commit to a date or the location of where they would strike. Finally, on 7 December, Buller was ready to reveal his plan. He signaled to White, “I have decided to advance by Potgieter’s Drift [some 30 miles west of Colenso]. Expect to start 12th December and take 5 days.”32 Two days later, he assured White that all was going to plan.33 But as Buller pushed his men and supplies forward towards Chieveley, about eight miles south of Colenso, his uncertainty about the operation began to grow. He told White he could no longer guarantee the date of attack and he “may be disappointed.”34 As mentioned above, Buller made a controversial choice in splitting up the Army Corps. Because both Kimberley and Ladysmith were besieged, he felt compelled to simultaneously relieve the two towns. Mafeking had also been invested but because of its more remote location and perhaps because it was not as important politically and economically as the others, it would have to wait. While Buller led the effort to break the Ladysmith siege, Major-General Sir William Gatacre led his small infantry division from Molteno to Stormberg in the central Cape. This was done to put pressure on the Orange Free State and quiet the Cape Afrikaner rebellion. Hoping to get an edge on the Boers, he ordered a night march on 9 December. The sunrise of 10 December revealed that his march had gone awry and he had inadvertently advanced directly into the line of Boer fire. Although he managed to get most of his men to safety, somehow he managed to retreat without knowing that he had left over 600 men behind. They surrendered to the Boers later that day. Meanwhile, 250 miles to the northwest, Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen ordered his troops to 31  General Sir Geo. S. White to General Clery, 26 November 1899, No. 18 P, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 32   Sir Redvers Buller to Sir George White, 7 December 1899, No. 65, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 33   Sir Redvers Buller to Sir George White, 9 December 1899, No. 69, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 34  General Commanding in Chief to Sir George White, 11 December 1899, No. 72 Cipher, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP.



proceed along the rail line from De Aar to Orange River Station in the northern Cape Colony in the attempt to relieve Kimberley. Between 23 and 28 November, he continued his movement north, and his 1st Division engaged the Boers at Belmont, Enslin/Graspan, and Modder River. Each time, Methuen secured a victory although the cost was high. After the Battle of Modder River, he stopped and rested his men, received reinforcements, and recovered from his wound. Finally, on 10 December, he was ready to advance again and, the next day, attacked the Boers at Magersfontein.35 The British were stopped in their tracks and suffered over 900 casualties, while Boer casualties numbered between 200 and 275.36 Perhaps it was the disaster at Stormberg which caused Buller to reveal some uncertainty in the 11 December message sent to White. Certainly, the defeat at Magersfontein shook him so much that he felt compelled to change his plan. On 13 December, White learned that Buller would not attempt to outflank the Boer position by attacking via Potgieter’s Drift but instead he would conduct a frontal assault on the Boer position at Colenso.37 White was unaware of the two British defeats, in fact, some in Ladysmith did not learn about them until January.38 Buller, however, later claimed that the news of Magersfontein and Stormberg definitely shaped his decision. “With an enemy disheartened by failure,” he wrote, “I thought myself justified, in the peculiar circumstance, in risking a flank march of fifty miles with an enormous wagon-train, even though it might involve the uncovering of my communications. With an enemy elated by success this was no longer justified. I therefore determined to try to force the direct road to Ladysmith.”39 The decision to attack the Boers at Colenso proved fatal. 35  For more on Methuen’s campaign, see Stephen M. Miller, Lord Methuen and the British Army: Failure and Redemption in South Africa (London: Frank Cass, 1999). 36  General Officer Commanding to Secretary of State for War, 14 December 1899, No. 1816, “List of Casualties at Magersfontein 10–12 December 1899,” WO 108, South Africa Telegrams, TNA.  Breytenbach pinpoints the number at 255. J.H.  Breytenbach, Die Geskiedenis van die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog in Suid-Afrika, 1899–1902, vol. 2. (Pretoria: Staatsdrukker, 1971), 174. 37  General Buller to General White, 13 December 1899, No. 78 Cipher, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 38  Grant Christison, ed., Ladysmith and Lydenburg: Anglo-Boer War Letters of Alfred Markham (Pietermaritzburg: Grant Christison, 1993), Letter dated 4 January 1900. 39  WO 132/24, p. 29, TNA.



The Battle of Colenso on 15 December resulted in a decisive victory for the Boers. Whereas Boer casualties numbered only 38, which included 7 killed, British casualties topped 1100.40 The British had faulty intelligence, poor maps, and were unaware that the Boer general, Louis Botha, had entrenched his men close to the bank of the river rather than in the hills where Buller had his artillery bombard before the start of the battle. There were individual mistakes made too, for example, Colonel C.J. Long’s decision to move his artillery into the Boer zone of fire. Ultimately, however, the British failed at Colenso because Buller’s plan of a frontal assault against the Boers in a strongly entrenched position was reckless. Colenso brought a conclusion to what the British press would dub “Black Week.” While the War Office began considering ways to turn things around, including the mobilization of the Sixth and Seventh Divisions, the recruitment of a volunteer force from Great Britain and Ireland, the acceptance of offers from Canada, New Zealand, and the Australian colonies to send troops, the raising of mounted infantry, and the selection of new leadership to command the war effort in South Africa, the fact remained that soldiers and civilians would continue to suffer in Kimberley, Mafeking, and Ladysmith. From Ladysmith, White could hear Buller’s guns firing into the hills which ran along the northern side of the Tugela River. No word had come from Buller when the attack was to begin and, as a result, White was powerless to do anything to assist. Now he and everyone else in Ladysmith waited to hear the outcome of the battle. Rumors abounded. William Watson had come to South Africa from Leeds in the 1850s to farm. He had joined the Natal Frontier Guards and when the war began he was living in Ladysmith. His diary reveals all sorts of gossip which circulated through the town during the siege. In mid-November, he had heard Buller had captured the capital of the Orange Free State, Bloemfontein. A few days later, it was reported that Buller was being held as a prisoner in the capital of the Transvaal, Pretoria. As he waited to be relieved, Watson wrote down that Buller was taking his time to reach Ladysmith because he had to show the British government what a challenge he had to overcome in order to secure a title. When he finally heard the news that Buller had been repulsed, he did not believe it, suspecting that it was a ploy to buy

40  One hundred and forty-three British officers and soldiers were killed. Pretorius, “Colenso, Battle of,” in Historical Dictionary of the Anglo-Boer War, 90–2.



time for Methuen’s advance to succeed.41 Henry Watkins-Pitchford, Natal Mounted Volunteers, who wrote his diary of the siege in the form of a long letter to his wife, excitedly wrote after hearing Buller’s guns on 13 December, “We all considered that the end of our long captivity was in sight.”42 Two days later, they still had heard nothing and everyone began to fear for the worst. Kate Boyd, nee Driver, was a local nurse who when the war began left Pietermaritzburg for Ladysmith when the doctor who she worked with became a Surgeon Captain with the Natal Carbineers. From Intombi Camp, she anxiously wrote in her diary, “The ten days had gone, but there was no sign of that great general and all his men and guns.”43 For most of the soldiers and the civilians, the wait came to an end on 17 December when Major Edward A.  Altham, White’s Assistant Adjutant-General for Intelligence, read a general order to a gathered crowd that Buller had failed.44 The next day White had a notice posted which read that “he regrets to inform the community that Genl. Buller has signalled to say that the Boers are so strongly entrenched he can do nothing until a siege train he has cabled for arrives, and that it will be some time before there is any chance of Ladysmith being relieved.”45 White had learned by heliograph on 16 December that Buller’s attempt had failed.46 In the first in a series of messages which caused great controversy after the war, and will be discussed in greater detail in Chap. 10,47 Buller had written: I tried Colenso yesterday but failed, the enemy is too strong for my force except with siege operations, and those will take one full month to prepare, can you last so long. If not how many days can you give me in which to take up defensive position, after which I suggest you firing away as much 41  William Watson, The Siege Diary of William Watson: Oct. 1899 – Feb. 1900. Ladysmith (South Africa: Ladysmith Historical Society, 1989), entries dated 17 November, 20 November, 5 December, and 18 December. 42  Henry Watkins-Pitchford, Besieged in Ladysmith: A Letter to his Wife, written in Ladysmith during the siege (Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter, 1964), 38. 43  Rita Snyman, “A Nurse Looks Back on the Siege of Ladysmith,” Africana Notes and News 22: 5 (1977): 186. 44  Nevinson, Ladysmith: The Diary of a Siege, 176–7. 45  Patricia Riley, ed., “The Ladysmith Siege Diary of Dr. James Alexander Kay,” Africana Notes and News 19: 8 (1971), entry dated 18 December 1899. 46  In his history of the war, Kenneth Griffith incorrectly wrote that the message was dated 14 December. Griffith, Thank God We Kept the Flag Flying 161. 47  Buller’s communications with Lansdowne will also be examined later.



a­ mmunition as you can and making best terms as you can. I can remain here if you have alternative suggestion, but unaided I cannot break in. I find my Infantry cannot fight more than ten miles from Camp, and then only if water can be got and it is scarce here.48

White and his staff read and re-read the message which seemed to suggest that they were on their own and if they could not hold out they were to surrender. Based on the 30 November heliograph, White had sent to Clery, Buller knew that the food supplies would run out on 8 February 1900. White signaled back asking if Buller’s message was correct. The next day, Buller signaled two changes. He asked to strike “If not how many days can you give me in which to take up defensive position, after which,” and substitute, “How many days can you hold out,” and to add at the end, “Whatever happens recollect to burn your Cipher, Decipher and Code books and all deciphered messages.”49 The message was even more demoralizing with the revisions. White was surprised but received the news “splendidly,” Rawlinson remembered.50 White showed no despair and instead rose to the occasion. He did his best to assuage Buller’s fears, reawaken his morale, and give him some direction. He tried to assure him that all was not lost and that he could turn things around. “My suggestion,” White wrote, “is that you take up strongest available position that will enable you to keep touch of the enemy, and harass him constantly with Artillery fire in other ways as much as possible. I can make food last for much longer than a month and will not think of making terms till I am forced to. You may have hit enemy harder than you think…. The loss of 12,000 men here would be a heavy blow to England. We must not yet think of it.”51 White’s 18 December message continued to push Buller to remain in force on the Tugela and warned him that if Ladysmith fell, not only would he not have the service of the Ladysmith troops but that the enemy’s position on the Tugela would become even stronger. He urged him to try to force the Tugela again once his reinforcements arrived.52 Buller regained his composure and, notifying White that the 6th division had arrived at the Cape and that he would be diverting it to Natal, he  General Buller to General White, 16 December 1899, No. 88, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP.  General Buller to General White, 17 December 1899, No. 92, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 50  Maurice, ed., Soldier, Artist, Sportsman, 50. 51  General White to General Buller, 16 December 1899, No. 32, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 52  General White to General Buller, 18 December 1899, No. 33 P, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 48 49



told him he would try again, this time at Potgieter’s Drift.53 White was “delighted” by the news and with the more upbeat tone. The defeatism was gone. He let Buller know that he had six weeks of rations, and even though the shelling was getting worse and enteric and dysentery were spreading, he could hold out at least that long. He did warn Buller, however, that if he waited longer than three weeks, he might not be able to cooperate because his horses might not be fit.54 A few days later, Buller informed White that bolstered by reinforcements, he would be ready to move again on 5 January.55 White offered to attack Lancer’s Hill when the time came.56 As it turned out, British troops, commanded by Lieutenant-­ General Sir Charles Warren, would not cross the Tugela until 17 January 1900. That event culminated in the Battle of Spion Kop (Spioenkop) on 24 January. There was nothing to do but wait or as Henry Nevinson reported White saying to his staff, “Gentlemen, we have two things to do – kill time and to kill Boers – both equally difficult.”57 Information was tightly controlled. Neither the soldiers nor the civilian population were told that Buller was not going to try to reach them until mid-January at the earliest. For the remainder of the month and the first few days of January, White’s forces in Ladysmith did little more than guard against Boer attacks which never came. As Bella Craw, a young woman besieged in Ladysmith wrote in her diary, the Boers sent “gentle reminders into the town” every day, except on Sundays, when for religious reasons the Boer guns remained quiet.58 Lieutenant Hugh Price Travers, 5th Dragoon Guards, claimed that while at Observation Hill, the Boers fired 200–300 shells a day at his camp.59 The town hall which served as a makeshift hospital and flew the Red Cross was hit more than once. R.J. McHugh, writing for the Daily Telegraph, reported, without any evidence, that the Boers specifically targeted it because they believed British soldiers congregated near it to seek shelter.  Sir R. Buller to Sir G. White, 17 December 1899, No. 97, CAB 37/51/93, TNA, p. 10.  General White to General Buller, 18 December 1899, No. 34 P, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 55  General Buller to General White, 21 December 1899, No. 112, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 56  General White to General Buller, 2 January 1900, No. 39 P, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 57  Nevinson, Ladysmith: The Diary of a Siege, 109. 58  Bella Craw, A Diary of the Siege of Ladysmith (Ladysmith: Ladysmith Historical Society, 1970), entry dated 24 November 1899. 59  Tim Travers, ed., “The Boer War Diary of Lieutenant Hugh Price Travers,” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 79 318 (2001): diary entry dated 19 November 1899. 53 54



McHugh wrote, “This is a very refreshing piece of argument from people who hoist a white flag over their heavy guns in order that they may be loaded in safety, and haul it down when ready to fire.”60 Even White was not immune from the destruction. One morning, just after the Battle of Colenso, the Boers struck Ladysmith with one of their heaviest bombardments of the siege. There was speculation that they were celebrating Dingaan’s Day or the Day of the Covenant which commemorated the Voortrekkers victory over the Zulu at the Battle of Blood River (Ncome) in 1838.61 White was lying in bed sick with fever when a shell launched from Umbulwana hit the room next to his. Henry Rawlinson “had a narrow escape.”62 “For a long time [White] refused to be moved, but at length, under pressure of the whole staff, gave way, and consented to change his quarters to a camp less exposed.”63 Every diary of the siege tells of at least one shelling event which stood out in the author’s mind. For Henry Nevinson and Henry Watkins-­ Pitchford that incident took place on 18 December, two days after White had to evacuate his residence. The Natal Carbineers had been called out at the end of September and by 1 October had mustered at Ladysmith. They served with French at Elandslaagte and with White at Rietfontein. While a group of the men were grooming their horses, a 100-pound shell fell among them. Four troopers were killed and seven were wounded. Eleven horses were also hit and either died immediately or had to put down. Both Nevinson and Watkins-Pitchford were horrified describing the sight of a trooper carrying a sack of human limbs.64 R.J. McHugh had seen many shells land and wrote in his account of the war that typically Boer artillery fire was ineffective. However, on 27 December, some of officers of the 1st Devonshire Regiment were sitting around eating breakfast when a shell struck from the Long Tom at Umbulwana struck their mess shelter. Nine 60  R.J. McHugh, The Siege of Ladysmith (London: Chapman & Hall, 1900), 77–8. Also see, Alan Chalmers, Bombardment of Ladysmith Anticipated: The Diary of a Siege (Weltevreden Park, South Africa: Covos-Day Books, 2000), 75. 61   Since 1995, 16 December has been celebrated in South Africa as the Day of Reconciliation. M. Jacson, The Record of a Regiment of the Line, being a regimental history of the 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment during the Boer War 1899–1902 (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1908), 48. 62  White to Amy White, 9 December 1899, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 63  Pearse, Four Months Besieged, 123. 64  Nevinson, Ladysmith: The Diary of a Siege, 180; Watkins-Pickford, Besieged in Ladysmith, 41. Also see, “Natal Carbineers,”, accessed 26 March 2020, https://www.



officers and a private were wounded and Lieutenant A.F.  Dalzel was killed.65 Christmas did not bring a respite from the shelling although no one died from it that day.66 Both George Charles Maidment, Royal Army Medical Corps, and Melton Prior reported that the Boers fired several shells which did not explode. On close inspection, the shells “were found to contain rough imitations of Plum pudding that had been partly cooked by the heat of explosion in the gun barrels.”67 Others dug up shells with season’s greetings written on them. There were festivities enjoyed on Christmas Day. The 1st Bn. Royal Irish Fusiliers engaged in Tug of War contests and other sports.68 White’s wife, Amy, had made an appeal in the Standard in November to send clothing, tobacco, pipes, and cigars to Ladysmith for Christmas.69 Although it is unlikely any of those items made their way to the men, the local community prepared mince pies, jelly cakes, bom-boms, plum puddings, and crystallized fruits. Toys were handed out to the children. White sent bottles of port, lime juice, currants, corn flour, and a tin of tongue to the nurses while the staff and the town’s dignitaries had a prepared meal which included appropriately themed courses like Cotelettes de Mouton Boeren, Mouton Roti aux Pom Pom bouillés, Jambon aux Bombes, and Plum Pudding au feu D’Enfer.70 In early December, White wrote his wife, “Ladysmith is a nasty place and I fear there will be a terrible plague of enteric if we are kept here much longer”71 By January 1900, he had come to identify his greatest struggle as “one against disease and starvation even more than against the enemy.”72 According to Lieutenant-Colonel R.J.S. Simpson’s The Medical History of  McHugh, The Siege of Ladysmith, 151; Jacson, The Record of a Regiment of the Line, 56.  MacDonald, How We Kept the Flag Flying, 155. 67  Chalmers, Bombardment of Ladysmith Anticipated, 109; and Prior, Campaigns of a War Correspondent, 300. 68  D.W. Churcher, From Alexandria to Ladysmith with the 87th (York: Boer War Books, 1984), entry dated 25 December 1899. 69  Letters and invoice relating to Lady White’s Fund for the Ladysmith Garrison, Mss Eur F108/70 (16 Nov 1899–9 Jan 1902), GWP. 70  Kate Driver, Experience of a Siege: A Nurse Looks Back on Ladysmith (Grahamstown, SA: Ladysmith Historical Society, 1978), 29–30; and, Menu, Souvenirs of the Siege of Ladysmith, including a message sent by carrier pigeon, and the menu of the garrison’s Christmas Dinner, Mss Eur F108/76 (1899–1900), GWP. 71  White to Amy White, 9 December 1899, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 72  White to Kitchener, 23 March 1900, White’s despatch after the relief of Ladysmith, Mss Eur F108/58, GWP. 65 66



the War in South Africa, British troops serving in Natal were much more likely to contract enteric (typhoid) fever than those in Cape Colony. This was true even before the war began. Rates of suffering increased during the summer rains, when water sources were more likely to become contaminated due to the overworked and clogged sterilizing filters.73 Nearly a tenth of the garrison had been inoculated against enteric fever before the war began, and others, like the 1st Bn. Liverpool Regiment, were inoculated in Ladysmith. Much of the remaining garrison were seasoned troops who had served in India and had been exposed to it in the past as had most of the colonists. Nevertheless, the incidence of enteric fever was unusually high during the siege.74 Ladysmith had been hit by enteric epidemics during the past two summers and some changes were made to improve the sanitary conditions of the town. Still, the water supply remained poor, a bad removal system was in place, and the soil was polluted—three factors which increased the danger of spreading enteric during the siege. Some new measures were taken in October, such as an additional rough filtration technique was introduced and a condensing plant was built, yet still the water remained polluted with Salmonella.75 The number of enteric cases continued to rise throughout the duration of the siege. Whereas during the week of 18–25 November, the daily increases of case was just 1, by late December, doctors were seeing more than 15 new cases each day.76 By mid-February, there were over 800 soldiers in hospital beds. This did not take in account sick officers who typically remained in their beds as White did when he got sick at least on three separate occasions. His last bout of “Ladysmith fever” hit him in March when he was sailing home.77 Other undiagnosed fevers, malaria, rheumatic diseases, and particularly dysentery led to great  sickness and sometimes death. In all, 12 officers and 529 non-commissioned officers and men died 73  R.J.S.  Simpson, The Medical History of the War in South Africa (London: HMSO, 1911), 10–11. 74  Ibid., 66–7. 75  Beginning in January 1900, the Boers began work on attempting to dam the Klip River, the town’s only water source, to flood Ladysmith. The British Consul in Delagoa Bay learned of the plan and informed Buller, who in turn told White. Although much energy was spent on the project, it was not completed by the time of Ladysmith’s relief. General Buller to General White, 31 January 1900, No. 191, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 76  Summary of Casualty returns for the Natal Field Force, and daily returns of sick and wounded troops during the siege of Ladysmith, Mss Eur F108/55 (Jan-Feb 1900), GWP. 77  White to Amy White, 21 March 1900, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.



from disease at Ladysmith. White calculated the death rate from disease to be 28 per 1000.78 There were of course civilian casualties as well, none with a higher profile than G.W. Steevens of the Daily Mail, perhaps Great Britain’s best-known war correspondent who died from enteric fever on 15 January. Each sick soldier meant an additional stress on supplies. It also meant fewer men could protect Ladysmith or participate in any offensive operation. Disease also hit the caregivers like Bella Craw who recounted that in January, all of the orderlies were sick. She lamented, “Oh Buller, Buller, when are you coming? When every hour makes a difference, strong men falling sick every day and nothing to give them. They are dying out at Indombi [sic] in hundreds.”79 Nurse Kate Driver complained about not having enough medical supplies, including milk, which was used to treat the enteric patients. Every day, she saw someone die.80 The psychological toll was heavy and many of the nurses broke down. Driver threw up her hands complaining that “The whole camp reeked of dysentery and enteric, our water supply was always erratic, and disinfectants were very scarce…. The flies were black on the canvas of the tents. Over our heads from daylight till dark the continual roar of the big guns exhausting to all.”81 The shortage of food was also a huge problem for those locked up in Ladysmith. It could have been worse if not for Colonel E.W.D.  Ward. Ward was one of White’s Assistant Adjutant-Generals, and White referred to him as the “best commissariat officer since Moses.”82 Once the siege began, Ward, aided by Lieutenant-Colonel James Stoneman, Army Service Corps, used his military authority to take control of two mills and, utilizing employees of the Natal Government Railway who volunteered their services, began churning out mealies and mealie flour which proved essential. Perhaps his best-known effort, later in the siege, was to have the dead and dying horses, which had become deprived due to the lack of forage and grazing, converted into food and food products. “Chevril,” horse soup, was served nightly to the soldiers.83 Extracts of the horse were  Summary of Casualty returns, Mss Eur F108/55, GWP.  Craw, A Diary of the Siege of Ladysmith, entries dated 12 and 26 January 1900. 80  Driver Experience of a Siege, 26 81  Ibid., 29. 82  Uncited quotation, Ladysmith Siege Museum, Ladysmith; Ian B.M.  Hamilton, The Happy Warrior: A Life of General Sir Ian Hamilton (London: Cassell, 1966), 149. 83  White to Kitchener, 23 March 1900, White’s despatch after the relief of Ladysmith, Mss Eur F108/58, GWP. 78 79



c­ ondensed and served in hospitals as a sort of “beef tea.”84 “Chevril paste” which combined horse meat with the jelly made from the bones was served as a type of potted meat. Finally, rendered fat was used to lubricate the heavy naval guns.85 Other measures Ward took included establishing a sausage factory and creating a reserve of biltong. A dairy farm was also set up to help produce more milk for the enteric patients.86 The Army Service Corps took over civil food distribution as well. By November, market prices on items like eggs and alcohol began going up. Vegetables were becoming scarce. In December, Henry Nevinson complained that the only drinks one could buy were lemonade and soda water both “made with enteric germs.”87 In the new year, conditions got even worse. Hettie Moore, who decided to stay in Ladysmith with her husband despite sending her children to Intombi, feared that in these conditions even her pet was not safe. “In town,” she wrote to her sister Emma, “they are eating dogs; and I fancy our dear old Bruno is one of them.”88 Many were repulsed by the addition of chevril to the ration. White, for one, would not eat it.89 Others like Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil William Park, Devonshire Regiment, Corporal Eli Symonds, Royal Engineers, and Dr. James Alexander Kay, Royal Army Medical Corps, were surprised to discover that they liked it.90 In February 1900, it became necessary for Ward to establish a new reduced daily ration rate, which White referred to as “starvation level” in a letter to his wife.91 This included ½ lb. of preserved meat or 1 lb. of fresh  Simpson, The Medical History of the War, 80.  White to Kitchener, 23 March 1900, White’s despatch after the relief of Ladysmith, Mss Eur F108/58, GWP. 86  Nevinson, Ladysmith: The Diary of a Siege, 302. 87  Ibid., 177. 88  [Hettie Moore], “Ladysmith during the Siege, 1899–1900,” Africana Notes and News/ Africana aantekeninge en nuus 19 1 (1970): 23. 89  After the war, White received an angry letter from the Managing Director of Bovril Limited who claimed that White had disparaged the company’s product by claiming that he would never touch it because it was “made from old horses.” He wondered if White had confused Bovril with Chevril. White to Amy White, 3 February 1900, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP; Andrew Walker to White, 25 March 1903, Mss Eur F108/110, GWP. 90  C.W.  Park, Letters from Ladysmith (Ladysmith: Ladysmith Historical Society, 1970), entry dated 5 February 1900; Edward Spiers, ed., Letters from Ladysmith: Eyewitness Accounts from the South African War (Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball, 2010), 113; and, Henry John May, Music of the Guns: Based on Two Journals of the Boer War (London: Jarrolds, 1970), entry dated 1 February 1900. 91  Ibid. 84 85



meat, ½ lb. of biscuits or bread, ½ lb. of cooked meat, sausage, and tea or coffee for officers and soldiers and White civilians. Rations for civilians were determined by race. Indians, most of whom did not eat meat, were living off a few ounces of atta, rice, and several ounces of mealie meal. Africans were given 1 lb. of fresh meat and ¾ lb. of mealie meal. There were also limited amounts of salt, sugar, mustard, vinegar, pepper, amchur (mango powder), and goor (jaggery or a kind of sugar cane).92 At this rate, it was determined that the garrison could hold out until 11 March.93 Reduced rations made it harder for men and women to resist and recover from disease. It also reduced White’s capability to carry out offensive operations and to assist Buller’s relief efforts. Nevertheless, strict control and creative innovation enabled most of the soldiers and civilians pent up in Ladysmith to survive the siege. Joubert, knowing that Ladysmith could not hold out indefinitely, had been content with sitting and waiting for British resources to dry up and for White to raise the white flag. Stopping the British at Colenso increased the likelihood that his passive strategy would work even if it had meant abandoning an invasion of southern Natal. But many of the Boers around him, particularly the younger leadership, were not satisfied and wanted to finish off White once and for all so that they could redeploy their men on the Tugela and perhaps retake the initiative. In early January, they convinced Joubert to storm Ladysmith. In the early morning of 6 January, a small force attacked Observation Hill while the main effort was launched against Platrand Hill which included the British positions on Wagon Hill and Caesar’s Camp just 3000 yards to the south of Ladysmith. This was part of Ian Hamilton’s “C” command. Hamilton had his detractors, particularly Buller who in a telegram to Lansdowne called him “a dangerous advisor.”94 White, however, never doubted in his protégé’s abilities. “Johnny Hamilton was in command where the principal attack was made and did invaluable service,” White wrote a few days later. “Everybody under him is full of his praises, and I

92  Memorandum of 9 February 1900, Miscellaneous papers, including authority to convene Courts Martial, plans of attack (25 Oct, 8 Dec 1899) and for the defence of Ladysmith, and returns of troops at Ladysmith, and rations, Mss Eur F108/54 (1899–1900), GWP. 93  Notes on Revised Ration, Mss Eur F108/54, GWP. 94  Buller to Lansdowne, 8 November 1899 CT, No. 15B; as cited in, Pakenham The Boer War, 165.



have reported on him in the highest terms.”95 Although, Hunter would later claim the accolades for his alleged role during the Battle of Platrand (see Chap. 10), White and most historians have recognized Hamilton’s achievements in holding Wagon Hill and Caesar’s Camp in what C.W. Park called “the most terrible experience of my life.”96 Platrand Hill commands Ladysmith and retaining it was essential to holding the town. It runs east-west with the larger hill, Caesar’s Camp, on the east, connected by a nek to Wagon Hill, on the west. In total, the perimeter of the plateau ran five miles. Most of the position was vulnerable to assault from the south and all of it was subject to enemy artillery fire.97 Both positions were adequately defended, when considering the available resources, and had been built up with gun emplacements and stone sangars. Some of these had only been completed ten minutes before the Boer attack.98 The 1st Manchester Regiment and some companies of the 2nd Gordon Highlanders held Caesar’s Camp; the 2nd King’s Royal Rifles, Wagon’s Hill. Other troops including some Imperial Light Horse, Natal Naval Volunteers, and the 42nd Battery, RFA, would also feature in its defense. To defeat the approximately 1000 defenders, Joubert directed General Schalk Burger to lead 1000 Transvaalers to attack Caesar’s Camp, Commandant C.J. de Villiers and his 400 Free Staters to attack Wagon Hill, and a third prong, including the Vryheid Commando and German volunteers, would assault the nek. Night marches were successful in getting some of the Boers into close proximity to British defenses without causing any alarms, although much of the attacking force, due to the terrain and darkness, had difficulty in gaining advanced positions before daylight. At 2:40, Imperial Light Horse on the nek were first alerted to Boer activity and the battle began. It lasted most of the day. The fire was very hot from both sides. A terrible afternoon thunderstorm did not deter the Boers. Finally, White responded to Hamilton’s call for reinforcements and the 1st Bn. Devonshire Regiment were sent into the fight at 17:00. The Boers had gained part of Wagon Hill and Hamilton commanded Park to disperse them. Bayonets were fixed. As the Devons charged across the 95  White to Amy White, 9 January 1900; as cited by, Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, II, 167. 96  Park, Letters from Ladysmith, entry dated 8 January 1900. 97  Maurice and Grant, (Official) History of the War in South Africa, 1899–1902, II, 556. 98  Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, II, 153.



400 feet of open ground, the Boer fire took a heavy toll. “I could see men falling like ninepins on both sides of me,” Park wrote.99 The Weekly Times described the attack for its readers: “Leaving the cover of the stones, the Boers stood upright and emptied their magazines into the advancing line. But it never wavered, never checked, though the ranks were sadly thinned. The Boers fled from the boulders which they had held with such tenacity throughout the day, and turned at bay upon the edge of the crest, hoping yet to stay the deadly rush of steel. They were augmented from below, but the stand was of no avail. Though charging, the Devons steadily changed front and bore down upon the hillside. The enemy broke and fled headlong down. The day was won. Such was their dread of the bayonet, they did not even attempt to rally in the spruits below, but, leaving prisoners and ammunition behind, without turning, made their way to their horses.”100 When night fell, the remaining Boers withdrew back down the hill. White’s men had held off the Boer attack. The casualties were heavy on both sides.101 Lord Ava was killed and White’s good friend, and fellow officer in the Gordons, Lieutenant-Colonel William Henry Dick-­ Cunyngham, who was “irreplaceable,” was mortally wounded at Wagon Hill.102 Although the heliograph continued to work most days and runners still occasionally got through the Boers lines, information sometimes was slow to make its way into Ladysmith. White did not learn about Methuen’s setback at Magersfontein for a few weeks and only then mourned over the death of one of the battle’s casualties, Major-General Andrew Wauchope. Even more upsetting was the news that he received that young Lieutenant Freddy Roberts, the only son of Lord Roberts, had been killed at Colenso while attempting to save some of the British field guns. One word which did travel quickly was that Roberts was coming out to South Africa to supercede Buller.103  Park, Letters from Ladysmith, entry dated 8 January 1900.  Weekly Times (London), 23 February 1900; as cited by, Mahan, The Story of the War in South Africa, 246–7. 101  British casualties: 149 dead, 275 wounded. Boer casualties: 62–68 killed, 119–135 wounded. Pretorius, “Platrand, Battle of,” 335. White reported a greater number of Boer casualties, claiming that they returned 79 bodies the next day for burial and that their African spies told them that there were no fewer than 700 casualties. White to Kitchener, 23 March 1900, White’s despatch after the relief of Ladysmith, Mss Eur F108/58, GWP. 102  White to Amy White, 19 January 1900, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 103  White to Amy White, 4 January 1900, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 99




In 1870, as a young captain, Redvers Buller had caught the eye of his commander, then Colonel Garnet Wolseley, during the Red River Expedition to Fort Garry in Manitoba, Canada. Wolseley later handpicked Buller to join him in campaigns in the Gold Coast (Ghana), Egypt and Sudan, and even served with him at the War Office in the late 1890s. Although their relationship had soured when rumors sprang up that Buller, and not Wolseley, was going to be picked by the Liberal government to succeed the Duke of Cambridge as Commander-in-Chief, Wolseley still turned to Buller in the summer of 1899 when the crisis with the Boers began to heat up. At the end of October, Wolseley proposed removing White after Mournful Monday and in December, in the wake of Black Week, he was not against doing the same to Gatacre and Methuen. The Battle of Colenso, however, did not shake his belief that Buller was still the best man to beat the Boers.104 Despite his good working relationship and friendship with Lord Lansdowne, Roberts was never in serious contention to command in South Africa. Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister, considered the sixty-­ seven-­year old field marshal to be too old for the job.105 Wolseley, of course, preferred one of his own to his “Indian” rival. Nevertheless, Roberts eagerly  sought  out the appointment. Having witnessed Buller conducting the troops at the Salisbury Plain maneuvers in 1898, he did not have a lot of faith in him.106 After Black Week, Roberts again offered his services to Lansdowne. With the help of Arthur Balfour, First Lord of the Treasury and nephew of Salisbury, Lansdowne convinced the Prime Minister to appoint Roberts. As a concession due to his age, the forty-­ nine-­year old, Herbert Kitchener, who had recently defeated the Khalifa Abdallahi’s armies in the Sudan, would serve as his Chief of Staff. Wolseley only learned of the appointment the day after, as did Queen Victoria. Both were upset.107 Upon his arrival in South Africa, Roberts headed to the Modder River. He would conduct operations as Buller had originally intended: he would advance from the northern Cape Colony into the Orange Free State and 104  Keith Terrance Surridge, Managing the South African War, 1899–1902: Politicians v. Generals (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1998), 67. 105  David James, Lord Roberts (London: Hollis & Carter, 1954), 262–5. 106  Ibid., 262. For more on the maneuvers, see D.M. Leeson, “Playing at War: The British Military Manoeuvres of 1898,” War in History 15 4 (2008): 432–461. 107  Halik Kochanski, Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero (London: The Hambledon Press, 1999), 245–6.



march towards Bloemfontein. Kimberley would be relieved in mid-­ February and General Piet Cronjé and over 4000 Boers would surrender at the Battle of Paardeberg which ended on 27 February. Roberts gave Buller a relatively free hand in Natal. Buller had originally told White that he would begin his second attempt to force the Boers from the banks of the Tugela on 5 January. That date was then pushed back to the 8th. White began to ready a flying column to help in the relief effort.108 No word, however, came and White was forced to sit and wait. Finally, on the 14th, Buller signaled that the Boer position covering Potgieter’s Drift was too strong and he would need “four or five days” to turn it.109 White responded, urging him to ask Roberts for more troops, and warning him what a second defeat could mean. He also could no longer offer much support since his “force is much played out. I have 2400 in hospital and many very weakly men at duty. Sickness increasing daily. I have lost services of 230 Officers in last three months.”110 He wanted to remind White how desperate things were and that he needed to act with resolve. He told him that he could probably not hold out past 15 February. On 17 January, White could hear British guns firing in the direction of Springfield. Buller confirmed that Warren had crossed the Tugela at Potgieter’s and he was somewhat optimistic about his chances. “I somehow think we are going to be successful this time,” he signaled.111 More messages followed on the 21st and the 23rd that Warren was making slow progress. Buller had identified Spion Kop, as the key to Boer defenses, and an attempt to take it would be made on the 23rd. At 22:00, a lamp signal indicated that the British had seized the position. According to R.J.  McHugh, soldiers stationed on Wagon Hill and Observation Hill could see Buller’s attack.112 The following morning, from Ladysmith, the Boers could be seen in retreat, but White could not get confirmation on the battle’s outcome due to the cloud cover. Finally, on the 27th the signal came through. Warren had indeed ordered an attack on the Boer position at Spion Kop. Major Alexander Thorneycroft had cleared the summit but could not hold it. Major-General Edward Woodgate had been mortally  Maurice and Grant, (Official) History of the War in South Africa, 1899–1902, II, 572.  General Buller to General White, 14 January 1900, No. 156, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 110  General White to General Buller, 16 January 1900, No. 48 P, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 111  General Buller to General White, 17 January 1900, No. 159, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 112  McHugh, The Siege of Ladysmith, entry dated 27 February 1900. 108 109



wounded. The attack had failed.113 The British loss at Spion Kop was their heaviest defeat of the war with casualties topping 1500. The news of the defeat was hard to accept. Henry Nevinson wrote, “It was the worst news we have yet received, all the harder to bear because our hopes had been raised to confidence.”114 White replied with one of his longest messages throughout the siege. He needed to reassure Buller that he could get the job done and convince him to try again, yet at the same, he had to remind him how desperate the situation was in Ladysmith. Anything short of a successful relief, which meant a timely relief, would be a failure. “We must expect to lose heavily in this campaign and be prepared to face it.”115 White offered to abandon Ladysmith, the sick and wounded, the naval guns and stores, and throw everything he had, “7000 men and 36 guns,” into one last fight. He must have known his offer would never be accepted and made it simply to convey to Buller that he would do anything he could to help. White wrote to his wife, “The fall of Ladysmith would be a terrible blow to England’s prestige. It would have even a worse effect in India…. The fact that I, a late Jangi Lord Sahib [Military Head], have had to haul down my flag to an unknown – so far as India at large is concerned – power would shake India’s belief in British power. Coupled to that it would be known that Lord Roberts Sahib, who is held throughout the length and breadth of India to represent England’s military power, was in command and could not save us.”116 Unexpectedly, Wolseley had already considered giving up Ladysmith as a viable option. He sent a telegram to Buller on 26 January, “Would it not be feasible, in case you should think it possible that your next endeavour to relieve Ladysmith may not be successful, for White to break out at night with all his mounted men and as many others as he could carry in carts, together with some of his guns at any rate, and cross the Tugela River?”117 However, as White expected, 113  Buller may have seemed to take responsibility for the defeat when he told Colonel Lord Douglas Dundonald that, “I blame myself for not controlling him (Sir Charles Warren), but he was sent out after Colenso under such auspices that I did not like to interfere with him,” but it is clear that he was actually shifting responsibility to Warren and Lansdowne. Dundonald agreed that Warren’s “procrastination and vacillation” were to blame. Douglas Dundonald, My Army Life (London: Edward Arnold, 1926), 133, 135. 114  Nevinson, Ladysmith: The Diary of a Siege, 262. 115  General White to General Buller, 27 January 1900 No. 55 P, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 116  Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, II, 179; Gerald Sharp, The Siege of Ladysmith (London: Macdonald and Jane’s, 1976), 76–7. 117  Commander-in-Chief to General Sir Redvers Buller, 26 January 1900, No. 97 cipher, WO 108/399, TNA, No. 117.



Roberts rejected the offer, and to his credit, Buller considered it only to be “a final desperate resort.”118 On 5 February, Buller launched his third attempt to break out across the Tugela, this time between Colenso and Spion Kop. To distract the Boers, the British sent some men using pontoon bridges across the river towards Brakfontein, while at the same time, the main thrust was directed towards Vaal Krantz (Vaalkrans). British artillery fire was heavy and they outnumbered the Boers in manpower by nearly 7:1. Nevertheless, Buller feared that he could only take the Boer position at the cost of losing 2000–3000 men. He sent a telegram to Roberts on 6 February asking for his advice. Roberts responded immediately stating that “Ladysmith must be relieved even at the loss you anticipate.”119 However, Buller got cold feet and called off the attack the next day. He informed White of his decision later that same day. “The enemy,” he wrote, “is too strong for me here.”120 He promised that he would try again on the 10th just east of Colenso at Hlangwane Hill. That attack, however, would be delayed. The course of the South African War was changing. The leadership and commandos of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State had thus far done a remarkable job keeping White penned in Ladysmith, Buller south of the Tugela, and Methuen near the Modder River, 20 miles short of Kimberley. However, as they understood even before the war began, their failure to make inroads into southern Natal and the Cape Colony would be consequential. With manpower stretched thin across their positions, and British reinforcements arriving in great numbers, their task to defeat the British, at least in set-piece battles, was becoming more insurmountable day by day. As the Boers continued to watch Methuen, Major-General John French, who had left Ladysmith on the last train before the siege began, led his cavalry in a wide flanking move east of General Piet Cronjé’s force at Magersfontein. He reached Kimberley on 15 February bringing the 124-day siege to an end. Roberts meanwhile had started his advance into the Orange Free State and the Battle of Paardeberg began shortly afterwards. The British invasion of the Orange Free State put increased manpower and material pressures on the Boers as well as strong moral pressure 118  Field-Marshal Lord Roberts to the Secretary of State for War, 28 January 1900, No. 58 cipher, WO 108/399, TNA, No. 131; and, General Buller to General White, 28 January 1899, No. 173, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 119  Field-Marshal Lord Roberts to the Secretary of State for War, No. 2, South Africa Despatches, C. 457 (London: H.M.S.O., 1901), 8. 120  General White to General Buller, 7 February 1900, No. 55 P, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP.



on Free State commandos in Natal who wanted to return home to defend their lands and families. White received the news of Roberts’ movements, via Buller, on 13 February.121 A few days later, he replied to Buller that they had seen large numbers of men, perhaps more than 2000, with their wagons heading northwards.122 Emboldened by Roberts’ advance, certain that the Boer positions were weakening due to the redistribution of Boer forces, and aware that White’s ability to hold onto Ladysmith was becoming more and more tenuous, Buller would try again, a fourth time, to force the Tugela, this time at Monte Cristo Farm, between Cingolo Mountain and Hlangwane Hill, east of Colenso. White offered to cooperate but needed to know his route. On the 21st, Buller told him that the relief would be coming via Pieter’s Hill and that he would be in Ladysmith the next evening.123 On the day the relief of Ladysmith was at last to take place, White ordered a “small operation” to assist the effort. His men returned later in the day, deeply fatigued and weakened by their reduced rations. He knew he could not try again. It was all for naught. Later that day, Buller signaled, “I was premature in fixing actual date of my entry into Ladysmith.”124 White displayed no anxiety and responded doing his best to keep Buller from losing faith. “I know you are beating the enemy, stick to them,” but at the same, he let Buller know that he no longer had a fit enough force to help him.125 But White was not convinced that relief was coming any time soon and, a few days later, rations were reduced again in the event that Buller would not break through until 1 April.126 Finally, on 27 February, Majuba Day, Major-General Geoffrey Barton with two battalions of the 6th Brigade and the 2nd Bn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers took Pieter’s Hill and turned the enemy’s flank. Warren was then able to drive them from their main position. Buller signaled the news to White, “Have thoroughly beaten enemy; believe them to be in full retreat.”127 He also let White know that Roberts had secured a victory at the Battle of Paardeberg.  General Buller to General White, 13 February 1900, No. 1780, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP.  General White to General Buller, 16 February 1900, No. 70 P, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 123  General Buller to General White, 21 February 1900, No. 207, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 124  General Buller to General White, 22 February 1900, No. 208, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 125  General White to General Buller, 22 February 1900, No. 76 P, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 126  General White to General Buller, 28 February 1900, No. 78 P, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 127  Buller to White, 27 February 1900; as cited by, Griffith, Thank God We Kept the Flag Flying, 299. 121 122



The next day, the Boers could be seen withdrawing in large numbers. Gun fire was periodically heard. As evening approached, a group of mounted men could be spotted riding towards Ladysmith. Dr. James Alexander Kay wrote in his diary that they thought they were Boers. “When they turned towards Caesar’s Camp it was evident it was the relief column and Ladysmith at last was relieved. Thank God our troubles are over, and the sick will get food.”128 Captain Hubert Gough, a veteran of the Malakand Field Force, had travelled to South Africa in late October on special service. He was later appointed to Colonel Lord Dundonald’s staff. Gough did not think much of Dundonald and referred to him as “Dundoodle,” “another of Buller’s weak subordinates” who was “hesitating, vacillating and vain.”129 More than most British soldiers, Gough wanted to relieve Ladysmith because his brother, Captain John Gough, Rifle Brigade, had been held up there throughout the siege. On 28 February, Dundonald was ordered to move his mounted troops forward toward Ladysmith. Gough led the advanced guard. As he approached Umbulwana, the Boer’s Long Tom fired on them. He asked Dundonald for his orders. What happened next is debatable. Gough claimed that Dundonald told him to retire, but having a clear sight of Ladysmith and seeing no Boers, he crumpled up the note, threw it on the ground, and pushed on. In his own biography, Dundonald claimed that he told Gough to “push towards Ladysmith.”130 Regardless, leading his squadrons of Imperial Light Horse and Natal Carbineers past Intombi, Gough sent word back to Dundonald that he was already within the perimeter and was going to continue his advance. As he and his men rode the last three miles across open group to the beleaguered town, no shots were fired and a British soldier rode out and welcomed them. They entered Ladysmith to cheers. White, well acquainted with Gough and much of his family who had served in India, approached him and quietly uttered, “Hallo, Hubert, how are you?”131 When Dundonald reached Intombi, it was getting late and it was already hard to see the trail to Ladysmith. He ordered his men to remain behind and, accompanied by three of his staff, Major William Birdwood, 128  Riley, ed., “The Ladysmith Siege Diary of Dr. James Alexander Kay,” entry dated 28 February 1900. 129  Hubert Gough, Soldiering On (London: Arthur Baker, 1954), 70. 130  Dundonald, My Army Life, 151. 131  Gough, Soldiering On, 78–9.



Lieutenant Winston Churchill, and Lieutenant G.V.W. Clowes, he continued onward.132 As the small party entered Ladysmith, they were met by a similar scene which had welcomed Gough. “The crowd of soldiers and civilians shouted itself hoarse in cheering Sir George White when he came with the object of meeting Lord Dundonald,” H.H.S. Pearse reported.133 As White uttered his famous words, “Thank God we have kept the flag flying,” one of Dundonald’s staff broke down in tears with emotion.134 After signaling Buller that Ladysmith had been relieved, Dundonald joined White, Gough, and the others in a celebratory dinner. Donald MacDonald, a correspondent for the Melbourne Argus, who remained in Ladysmith throughout the siege, chronicled the emotions of the event in lengthy detail: Cheers for the relief column, cheers for Buller, but loudest, longest, and most heartfelt, cheers for Sir George White. There was something of filial affection in the ovation that the garrison gave its General. Long before there had been impatience, sometimes irritation, born of the feeling that it was not right for ten thousand of the pick of Britain’s soldiers to sit down there and endure insult and aggression. All that had long since died away, and, repentant that they had, in their ignorance, wronged this grand old soldier, they made it up to him now in the fulness of their hearts, in their hour of succour and exultation. They gathered about him, caught his bridle-rein and stirrup-leathers, hung around his horse, and cheered until the flying rear-guard of the Boer army must have heard them over the ridges…. More than once he tried to speak and failed. Fifty years of soldiering and the subjugation of the weaker man were not equal to that great occasion. Finally he found his voice, and beginning almost inaudibly thanked them for the loyal way they had, civilian and soldier alike, co-operated with him in the defence of the town. Then he struck the keynote that went straight to the hearts of all his people, and roused them to an indescribable enthusiasm. “It cut me to the heart,” the General went on, “to reduce your rations as I did.” Then his voice faltered and failed him, and it seemed for a moment that he would break down altogether. The sympathetic crowd filled in the break, helped him over the crisis with another roar of delight long drawn out, and with the promptness of the soldier he pulled himself together, and mastered his deep 132  According to Ken Griffith, Churchill later claimed that he was the first to enter Ladysmith. Dundonald, however, backed up Gough’s claim. Griffith, Thank God We Kept the Flag Flying, 361. 133  Pearse, Four Months Besieged, 211. 134  Dundonald, My Army Life, 152.



feeling. A smile came over his face, and he saved the situation with a laughing, “I promise you, though, that I’ll never do it again.” The people laughed and cheered, and gradually melted away. Ladysmith was relieved…. There was a time when people in Ladysmith almost pitied Sir George White, and looked forward hopefully to the advent of a stronger man; but long ere the situation had reached its solution, that feeling had changed to one of unbounded admiration and trust. The things that had seemed so grossly and palpably wrong to the general of the street corners all turned out so right and well-considered. So it is that in spite of the rigour of the time, Sir George White is better loved and more admired by the people of Ladysmith to-day than at any period of the siege, and every taunt directed against him has recoiled upon those who made it. He has been cheered and feted outside, but none bade him good-bye with such genuine emotion as his besieged garrison, and not a man or woman there but will ever have a kind wish for the General, and an affectionate remembrance of the tall soldier who in plain khaki moved so quietly amongst us.135

Once the line was up and running, hundreds of telegrams began pouring in to congratulate White. They came from all parts of the empire. The Queen commended his “heroism” and showed her concern for his health.136 Sir Alfred Milner, Governor of Cape Colony and High Commissioner for Southern Africa, and Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, Governor of Natal, as well as Mayors and Provosts from Liverpool, Edinburgh, Belfast, and elsewhere sent their regards. Lord Curzon, the new Viceroy of India, messaged, “India congratulates its old commander.”137 Notes from notable families like the Rothschilds and from social clubs in Burma and New Zealand, and even a letter from Rio de Janiero were received. French and Douglas Haig, who had been with White right before the siege, and other army and naval officers sent notes. Roberts wrote, “It is impossible for me to express my delight on hearing that Dundonald had reached Ladysmith. The prayers that have been offered up throughout the Empire have been heard, and from one end of  MacDonald, How We Kept the Flag Flying, 280–3.  Her Majesty the Queen Empress to General White, 1 March 1900, Miscellaneous telegrams sent to Lady White during and after the Siege of Lady of Ladysmith, and some sent to White after the relief of Ladysmith; including copies of some telegrams in No. 62, and of White’s replies, Mss Eur F108/63 (1899–1900), GWP. 137  Curzon to White, 2 March 1900, Bound volume of telegrams to White congratulating him after the relief of Ladysmith, with notes of replies sent, initialed by Beauchamp Duff, White’s Military Secretary, Mss Eur F108/62 (Mar 1900), GWP. 135 136



it to the other there will be general rejoicing. I wish I could personally congratulate you and your gallant troops on the splendid defence that has been made. Please convey to one and all my high sense of their conduct as soldiers worthy of the best traditions of the British Army.”138 Lansdowne also sent his praise: “I cannot tell you what pleasure it gives me to know that your gallant defence which we have watched with so much admiration and sympathy has not been in vain. I know you have not suffered seriously in health from the prolonged hardships and anxiety which you and the force under your command have borne bravely.”139 Buller rode into Ladysmith the next morning and after a brief meeting with White returned to his force. Henry Watkins-Pitchford reported that unlike when Gough and Dundonald had entered, there were few cheers and little enthusiasm. Buller had not earned their respect and admiration.140 A week later, White made his way to the railway station where he was honored with a send off from his old regiment, the Gordons, and then entrained to Durban.141 On 13 March, Roberts’ forces entered Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State. Roberts needed a skilled administrator to serve as military governor who could maintain order and work with Milner and the civilian authorities. He also needed a senior officer who he could trust. He immediately thought of White. “White may have altered, but the manner in which Ladysmith was defended for four months shows, I think, he has some of the old grit left in him,” Roberts wired Lansdowne.142 According to Mortimer Durand, however, White’s health was very poor and after consulting with his doctor, Surgeon-Major F.H. Treherne, White chose to go home.143 More well-wishers greeted White when he arrived in Durban. White wrote to his brother, “The Natal people know who saved the colony and shouted with one voice.” He continued, “I have written to Wolseley at 138  Maurice and Grant, Maurice and Grant, (Official) History of the War in South Africa, 1899–1902, II, 183. 139  Lansdowne to White, 1 March 1900, Mss Eur F108/62, GWP. 140  Watkins-Pickford, Besieged in Ladysmith, 125. 141  Rawlinson Papers, Boer War Diary, Vol. II, 5201-33-7-2, National Army Museum, Chelsea. Thanks to Rodney Atwood. 142  Roberts telegram to Lansdowne, No. 277, 11 March 1900, WO 105/31; as cited in, S.B. Spies, Methods of Barbarism? Roberts and Kitchener and Civilians in the Boer Republics January 1900–May 1902 (Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, 1977), 55. 143  Durand, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, II, 214.



considerable length thanking God I did what I considered right and what events have proved was right. I broke the backs and the hearts of the armed forces of the republics by the blows I struck in front of Ladysmith.”144 In Cape Town, his shipped docked and, as he made his way to the Good Hope Hall, the town “never before witnessed such a scene.” “‘Hurrah!’ ‘Hurrah!’ ‘Hurrah!’ rose in tremendous waves of sound,” reported the Cape Times, to greet “the saviour of Natal” before he was honored by the Mayor, Thomas Ball, and Councilors of the City.145 White was also met by his son, Jack, who Roberts, in a very touching gesture, gave permission to leave his regiment, the 1st Bn. Gordon Highlanders, meet his father and sail home with him. As would become routine in the following months, White related his tale of the Natal campaign and the siege to the crowd, and took full responsibility for its mistakes. Of Nicholson’s Nek, he explained, “You all know how that turned out, and I have not scrupled to take the responsibility. But, gentlemen, war is a balancing of risks, sometimes grave risks, against the possibilities of big results, and the man who does that and fails, is responsible for the failure.”146 On 14 April 1900, White was greeted with cheers as he stepped off the Dunvegan Castle in Southampton. The first to step over the gangway and greet him was his wife.147 After a short stopover, he headed to Ulster to see his family and greet well-wishers at banquets in Belfast and throughout Antrim. He would be home for less than three months. White may have considered the Mournful Monday defeat as his greatest failure but he never considered holding out at Ladysmith his greatest success. He should have. Too often soldiers see victory in terms of defeating the enemy, in counting casualties, and in evaluating military strategy and tactics. White’s determination and administrative accomplishment in maintaining Ladysmith throughout the siege have to be considered significant political and logistical achievements. The Boers were prevented from flooding across the Tugela and bringing the war to the heart of the colony. Important manpower was kept in Natal when it could have been used in the western theatre. Access to Ladysmith’s stores and military

144  White to John White, 21 March 1900, White’s letters to his brother, John White, Mss Eur F108/98(a)-(c)(1857–1920), GWP. 145  “Ladysmith’s Defender,” 28 March 1900, Cape Times, unknown page. 146  Ibid. 147  “The Hero of Ladysmith,” 16 April 1900, Leeds Mercury, p. 6.



ordnance was prevented. And, perhaps, most importantly, the loss of Ladysmith would have had huge moral consequences. Administratively, White’s accomplishments should not be overlooked either. White and other staff members may have considered Ward to be the greatest commissariat officer since Moses, but it was White’s talent to assess staff officers that led him to bring Ward with him to South Africa. His faith in Ward, Duff, Hamilton, Treherne, and the others who helped maintain the defensive perimeter, hold the Boers at bay, feed the soldiers and civilians in the town, continue to produce as they best they could, care for the sick and wounded, and solve potable water shortages and other problems, has to be credited to him as well. In the midst of an epidemic, White was able to maintain an armed force which was ready to support Buller’s relief attempt for most of the duration of the siege. White’s correspondences with Buller reveal just what kind of officer he was. While Buller showed weakness, vacillation, and delayed promises, not to mention a poor grasp of strategy, White’s responses show strength, hopefulness, and an awareness of the real situation. White knew how to entreat Buller. He pushed him on, told him everything would be all right in the end, but also warned him of the risks of further delays. The records show that he offered help continuously, partly as a lever to convince him to act, and partly because it made good strategic sense. White may be faulted for relying on local agents at the start of the war to shape his strategy. He may also be criticized for his questionable strategy and his choice to employ a night march at Nicholson’s Nek. His defense of Ladysmith however was a remarkable achievement.


Ending a Career on the Rock (1900–1912)

White returned to a Great Britain and an Ireland which were appreciative of his determination and ability to hold Ladysmith. He was feted wherever he went. There were critics, but as was custom, especially during a time of war, they were mostly quiet. Right before the South African War had begun, Lord Wolseley, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, had offered White the governorship of Gibraltar, and he had accepted. After the many hardships he had suffered in Ladysmith, some may have expected that with his service in Natal finished, he would have eagerly taken up that quiet posting. White, however, was not ready to accept that his “fighting days were over,” but his doctor insisted that he not return to South Africa. “I suppose I must face Gib, worry and rock fever,” he told his brother.1 His expectations came true. A few months later, he was in Gibraltar, far from the action and bitterly complaining, “I hate this place… it has everything that I dislike and nothing that I like.”2 The British took possession of Gibraltar from Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession in the early eighteenth century. It proved to be a key base for the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and the Crimean War as it is situated at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea. Its importance grew in the late nineteenth century with the construction of the Suez Canal, which resulted in the increased flow of trade through the 1  White to John White, 21 March 1900, White’s letters to his brother, John White, Mss Eur F108/98(a)-(c)(1857–1920), GWP. 2  White to John White, 3 August 1900, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.

© The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




Mediterranean. Political and military control of the territory were combined in the hands of the Governor. Although not entirely a sinecure, it did not demand a lot from its Governor, who was typically a senior army officer in the twilight of his career. General Sir Robert Biddulph, a veteran of the Crimean War and the Indian Rebellion, who was appointed Governor in 1893, extended his term until White was able to replace him. The responsibilities of the Governor mixed the military with the political and the social. A good governor needed to remain on cordial terms with the Spanish authorities in Andalusia and Ceuta, as well as with Moroccan officials. He also had to govern both its 5000 military personnel as well the local civilian population which numbered between 20,000 and 25,000. Gibraltar was also a busy hub for royal visitors, British, as well as foreign, requiring much attention to ceremony and pageantry. Finally, due to advances in naval artillery at the turn of the century, White’s tenure also mandated the planning and overseeing of significant adjustments to the colony’s defenses. White, who would be promoted to General in October 1900, did not like the “troublesome detail” of the work. He was never a social animal and tired quickly of ceremonial visits. It seemed that for every visit from someone like Queen Alexandra, the wife of the new British monarch, Edward VII, or from Joseph Chamberlain, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who brought along his son Austen, there were numbers of stopovers by minor European nobles or German naval officers on their way back from Asia. Lady White, and his daughters, joined him in Gibraltar. When the war in South Africa came to an end, his son Jack also came and served as White’s aide-de-camp. Whereas the senior White found his stint in Gibraltar to be monotonous, his son would later describe it as the “great playtime of my life.”3 White, who had spent many hours walking the foothills of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush, felt confined in Gibraltar. “The worst feature in the place is the difficulty of getting away quietly to any place,” he wrote to his wife shortly after arriving. “You know I love to get out for a quiet stroll, this is impossible.”4 Diversions were few and work was not one of them. In India, he regularly complained that he was kept busy all day by his duties. In Gibraltar, he was out of his khaki uniform by 1:30 p.m. every  J.R. White, Misfit: An Autobiography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930), 31.  White to Amy White, 15 July 1899, White’s letters to his wife Amy (nee Baly), Mss Eur F108/101(a)-(j) (1879–1909), GWP. 3 4

10  ENDING A CAREER ON THE ROCK (1900–1912) 


day. Occasionally, he got away to shoot game outside of Algeciras or visit the bullfights in Ronda. But as he wrote his sister Jane, “Gib is too confined and too official to suit me.”5 White followed the events of the Boxer Rebellion with great interest, and, of course those of the South African War as well. Lord Roberts, armed with superior numbers, steamrolled through the Orange Free State and into the Transvaal. Bloemfontein, the capital of the former fell in mid-­ March, and Pretoria, that of the latter, was captured during the first week of June. General Sir Redvers Buller continued his slow advance through Natal and, at the end of August, defeated the Boers at Bergendal in the Transvaal in what was arguably the last set piece battle of the war. Well before that encounter, the Boers had already committed to fighting a guerilla war. The sixty-eight-year old Roberts was ill-suited to conduct a prolonged campaign of counter-insurgency against the Boer commandos still operating in the field. The steps he did take before he went home largely show a general unenthusiastic and unwilling to take the necessary draconian measures to finish the war. Roberts was always very keen in guarding his image and working with the press to cultivate it, and probably understood that there was little glory left for him in South Africa after the two Boer Republics had been annexed. Besides, Lord Wolseley was out of favor at the War Office and his tenure was coming to an end. In the autumn of 1900, Roberts returned to Great Britain. He would become Commander-­ in-­Chief in the new year. Roberts’ departure caused a bit of a problem for Lord Lansdowne, the soon to be departing Secretary of State for War. Roberts’ return meant that Buller would be left as the senior British officer in the field and that no one wanted. Buller was sent home as well, and Roberts’ Chief of Staff, Lord Kitchener, was promoted and given the South African command. The National Review, a conservative monthly publication, was edited by Leopold Maxse.6 Maxse had been very critical of Buller’s conduct of the Natal campaign almost from the start.7 However, he stepped up his 5  White to Jane White, undated letter sent in 1901, White’s letters to his sister Jane White, Mss Eur F108/97(a)-(b)(c. 1845–1910), GWP. 6  Maxse’s sister, Violet, was married to Lord Edward Cecil, the son of the Prime Minister, Salisbury. She later married Lord Alfred Milner. 7  See, for example, “General Buller’s Advance,” National Review, 34,204 (February 1900): 948–954; and, “The Quiescence of General Buller,” The National Review 35,210 (August 1900): 1047.



attacks on Buller after his return to Great Britain. In December 1900, in a piece entitled, “A Question for General Buller,” Maxse lamented that many in the army were turning a blind eye to its problems, none more so than Buller, who it alleged was making speeches “up and down the country” telling crowds, while referencing Voltaire’s Candide, that all was “the best in the best of all possible Services.”8 Maxse then mocked Buller exclaiming, “When other nations make themselves ridiculous by exalting Generals who have failed to command success, we are quick to note and laugh, but, so far, the hysterical ovation of General Buller in the West of England has failed to raise a smile on this side of the Channel, though it has afforded malicious merriment on the other.” But Maxse saved his most damning claim for last. “If the Battle of Colenso, so far from being a disaster, ‘tended towards the achievement of the operation in which the whole Army was concerned,’ i.e., the Relief of Ladysmith, to what do we owe the widespread belief that immediately after the Battle of Colenso General Buller himself advised that Ladysmith, containing 12,000 British troops, should surrender to the Boers? If this is a mere camp lie it is the most firmly rooted lie of the whole war, and General Buller owes it to himself to dispose of it.”9 Official telegrams dispatched during the war were routinely reproduced in the London Gazette and in periodicals. Publication, however, needed official approval. The messages sent between Buller and White and Buller and Lansdowne regarding the situation in Ladysmith in December 1899 were not made public. The National Review did not publish the official telegram but merely alluded to one. Nevertheless, the War Office wanted to know how the periodical even knew about the telegram. William St. John Brodrick replaced Lansdowne as Secretary of State for War in November 1900. A month later, he found himself involved in a potential scandal. He contacted White in December and asked to see copies of the messages which Maxse mentioned and wanted to know how the press could have found out about the details of Buller’s suggestion that he capitulate Ladysmith. White sent him copies of all the messages between Buller and himself and responded that he did not know how they had leaked. All he could offer was that “Many of the staff however knew of

8 9

 “A Question for General Buller,” National Review, 36, 214 (December 1900): 475–6.  Ibid.

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them and under orders from Lord Roberts I sent copies to his headquarters to make my despatches clearer.”10 In mid-January, the conservative daily, The Standard, published what it claimed were official documents. Other newspapers, like the Aberdeen Journal, reprinted them as well.11 The newspapers published messages which were detailed and specific and in temperament and tone were somewhat accurate although they were not duplicates of the actual telegrams and presented a more dire version than Buller had issued. Just as Brodrick had done, Major-General Sir Coleridge Grove, Military Secretary, wrote to White and wanted to know how The Standard got the telegrams. Again, White could offer no certain explanation, but echoed what he had revealed to Brodrick, telling his brother, “Between ourselves there were copies knocking about amongst Lord Roberts’s staff and the publication followed shortly after their arrival home and I think that the most probable explanation.”12 For the next eight months, things remained quiet. It was improper for an active British officer to discuss confidential telegrams with the media. White was busy in Gibraltar and Buller had returned to the Aldershot command that he had held before the war had erupted. Both remained silent. In late September 1901, however, the story got a new life. Leo Amery, a correspondent for The Times, had returned from South Africa and had begun working on his seven-volume edited project, The Times History of the South African War. Amery had become a strong advocate of Roberts and Kitchener and thought Buller displayed a “sheer lack of determination and even a disastrous loss of morale” at Colenso.13 Amery had read the stories regarding the “surrender telegrams” and had heard similar rumors when he was in South Africa. Under the pseudonym, “The Reformer,” he attacked Buller in The Times for his past deeds and opposed his appointment at Aldershot. Amery claimed Buller told White to surrender because “[he] was so utterly shaken and unnerved by the unexpected and terrible reverse of Colenso that for the moment he abandoned all hope.”14 Other newspapers and periodicals, including The Morning Post, The St. James’s Gazette, and The Spectator all joined The Times in 10  White to Brodrick, 27 December 1900, Letter-book, entitled “Begun Gibraltar [27 Dec] 1900 – ends Chelsea 6 May 1910,” Mss Eur F108/78 (1900–1910), GWP. 11  “Siege of Ladysmith,” Aberdeen Journal, 11 January 1901, p. 9. 12  White to John White, 21 January 1901, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 13  L.S. Amery, My Political Life, Vol. I (London: Hutchinson, 1953), 152. 14  Ibid., I, 156.



c­ alling for his removal. Buller, at first, refused to engage, and even went as far as writing the Yorkshire Evening Post telling them that “I never contradict any statement of an anonymous writer in any newspaper, and I hardly ever pay attention to any statement in a newspaper, anonymous or not.”15 Buller, however, could not contain himself for long. On 10 October, he defended his actions in a speech delivered at a luncheon to honor the Queen’s Westminster Volunteers. He not only attacked Amery and his other critics, but he specifically mentioned the telegram, and, in doing so, violated army regulations. The telegram at the center of the scandal was discussed above in Chap. 9. It was sent by Buller to White on 16 December after Buller had tried and failed to drive the Boers from the Tugela River at Colenso. In it, Buller warned that without additional help, he could not relieve Ladysmith. If the lack of food and supplies prevented White from holding out long enough for reinforcements to arrive, then Buller suggested “firing away as much ammunition as you can, and making best terms you can.”16 The version of the telegram which the National Review and other newspapers had published omitted much.17 It did not refer to Buller asking White how long he could hold out or bringing up the issue of reinforcements. Importantly, it also implied that Buller was directing White to surrender rather than advising him that surrender might be his only option. White respected Buller. They had worked together when White was in India and Buller was at the Horse Guards. They were never close but White trusted him. White never wrote to anyone to suggest that he believed Buller was telling him to surrender in December 1899. And in the months which followed the publication of The National Review’s version of the telegram, he did not change his position and continued to back Buller. He even continued to defend Buller’s right to hold the Aldershot command. Writing to his brother, he emphasized that “If the appointment was justifiable the dismissal was the cowardly attempt of a weak government to make a scapegoat of Buller to shield them from an attack by the Press for an act which they had weighed and considered right.”18 However, his personal view of Buller fundamentally changed in October 15  “General Buller and His Critics,” Yorkshire Evening Post, 27 September 1901, attached in letter from White to John White, 30 September 1901, MSS Eur F108/98, GWP. 16  General Buller to General White, 16 December 1899, No. 88, Mss Eur F108/56, GWP. 17  “National Review” version, CAB 37/51/93, p. 15, The National Archives, (TNA), Kew. 18  White to John White, 30 October 1901, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.

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1901. “His hypocrisy,” he told his wife, “had made me despise him more than ever.”19 Four days after Buller’s speech, White read its text in the newspapers. He was stunned and upset. In the speech, Buller praised White as a “gallant fellow” who would “sit still to the end.” He told the audience that he could not make another attempt to relieve Ladysmith for a month and during that time the garrison could have run out of supplies. By raising the issue of surrender, he was merely providing “assistance and some lead” and, if White had been forced to give up Ladysmith, he could say, “Well, after all, I have Sir Redvers Buller’s, as my commander, opinion in favour of this.”20 Writing to his wife from the Convent, the Governor’s residence in Gibraltar, White was not buying any of it. He described the speech as “illiterate, insincere and ill-judged.” “He knew I was the man to hold on to the end – did he? And so kind a soul he thought in case I had to surrender rather than that I should bear the responsibility he would share it with me. No more fake reason could have been put forward.” He continued, “What he aimed at was not to relieve me of responsibility but to make me accept the responsibility of surrender in order to free him from the responsibility of having to relieve me.”21 To his brother, he wrote that the speech was amazing, “especially to come from one who has often been called the cleverest man in the army. Evelyn Wood once so described him to me. But don’t you believe in his championship of me. His wish is to share responsibility with me is an afterthought and his generosity was to relieve himself of the responsibility of relieving Ladysmith.”22 The War Office was furious with Buller’s actions. Buller wrote to Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Kelly-Kenny, the Adjutant-General, apologizing that he had upset Roberts, but wanted to assure them that he did not speak directly about the actual telegram, only about The Times’ coverage of the telegram.23 Kelly-Kenny could see that Buller was splitting hairs and reminded him that if he did not violate paragraph 423 of the King’s regulations, then he had certainly broken with its spirit.24 Kelly-Kenny,  White to Amy White, 16 October 1901, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP.  “Sensational Speech by Buller,” Dundee Courier, 11 October 1901, p. 5; “The Defence of Ladysmith,” The Standard, 11 October 1901, in Newspaper cuttings relating to the War in South Africa, Mss Eur F108/72 (1899–1905), GWP. 21  White to Amy White, 15 October 1901, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 22  White to John White, 16 October 1901, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 23  Buller to T. Kelly-Kenny, 13 October 1901, WO 138/16, TNA. 24  Kelly-Kenny to Buller, 16 October 1901, WO 138/16, TNA. 19 20



however, wanted to show mercy and recommended to Roberts that Buller be allowed to serve out his term at Aldershot which would come to an end in 1903 because of Army Reforms. Roberts was not as generous and saw an opportunity to get rid of the troublesome general. Brodrick demanded Buller’s resignation. Buller refused and asked for a court-­martial which he believed would vindicate him.25 He was dismissed and put on half-pay and his appeal for a court-martial was denied.26 Buller’s career ended in ignominy.27 In a letter Lansdowne wrote to Arthur Balfour in 1902, a few months before the latter succeeded Salisbury as Prime Minister, the former Secretary of State for War wrote that when he read Buller’s telegram he believed that Buller “wished to let Ladysmith go.”28 He met with Roberts the very next day and appointed him to replace Buller as Commander-inChief, South Africa. The War Office had lost faith in Buller. The scandal involving Buller and White and the telegram persisted for some time. Maxse asked White to write a piece for The National Review justifying his actions in Natal and offering his view of Buller’s telegram. White was courteous in his response but told him that Brodrick had not given any one permission to discuss the subject.29 White was worried about how the increasingly public debate would reflect on him, especially if he remained quiet and unable to defend himself. He believed that the bias in the press was leaning toward Buller, and he did not like being “censored.” He asked Roberts more than once to intervene on his behalf, but his old boss refused and continued to counsel him to remain silent. White, of course, had proof that Buller was lying. Buller’s statement that he was simply offering cover to White in the event that he would be  Buller to Kelly-Kenny, 30 October 1901, WO 138/16, TNA.  See Major-General A.S.  Wynne, Deputy Assistant-General, to Buller, 16 November 1901, and Kelly-Kenny to Buller, 5 March 1902, WO 138/16, TNA. 27  In his biography of Buller, Geoffrey Powell argues that Roberts and his ring saw an opportunity to get rid of one of Wolseley’s men, and took it. Although it is true that Roberts could have taken a more lenient position, as Kelly-Kenny had advocated, his action seems fully consistent with his character and with the circumstances, politics aside. Geoffrey Powell, Buller: A Scapegoat? (London: Leo Cooper, 1994), 133–8. 28  Buller to Balfour, 7 April 1902; as cited in, T.W.L. Newton, Lord Lansdowne: A Biography (London: Macmillan and Co., 1929), 165–6. 29  White to John White, 21 October 1901, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP; Maxe to White, 16 October 1901, Letters from Col. Á Court, L.S.  Amery, C.F.  Moberly Bell (editor of The Times), and General Sir Ian Hamilton to White regarding The Times History of the War in South Africa (with drafts of White’s replies); and two letters from L.J. Maxse (editor of the National Review) to White, Mss Eur F108/66 (1901), GWP. 25 26

10  ENDING A CAREER ON THE ROCK (1900–1912) 


forced to surrender rang false. Buller knew very well how long White could hold out. He had been given that information in a message sent on 30 November.30 Buller had no reason to doubt that White could not hold out until February at a minimum. Buller also knew that reinforcements were on their way. Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Warren and the Sixth Division were one day out at sea from landing in Cape Town when he contacted White. Therefore, he knew another attempt could be made in January, and, if it failed, he would have time to make at least a second attempt to force the Tugela before a further delay could cripple White’s ability to hold out. As it turned out, Buller later denied ever receiving the message from White and, in the House of Commons, Sir Edward Grey defended him against Brodrick’s attacks. White, however, had a copy of the “receipt.” It read, “From Buller, Maritzburg, to General White, Ladysmith. Yours 20 P of 30 November received.”31 Buller wanted the telegrams to be revealed. He believed they would vindicate him. The War Office released some of the telegrams in 1902 but there was at least one glaring omission. Command paper 987 included both White’s telegram of 30 November telling Buller that he had provisions for 70 days and Buller’s response of 4 December acknowledging that he had received the message. It did not, however, include the “surrender telegram.”32 Buller pressed for the release of it and others. Colonel Beauchamp Duff, White’s former Military Secretary and current Deputy Adjutant-General, India, wrote White in amazement from Simla. “Buller himself must be insane. No man in his sense could be foolish enough to destroy his own reputation….”33 During the scandal, White did make one dreadful mistake and it eventually caught up with him. In arguing for the release of the telegrams, Buller claimed that releasing them was only fair because the information contained in them had already been divulged. As mentioned above, Maxse had first reported on them in December 1900, nearly ten months before Amery, as the “Reformer,” began to stir things up  again. At the time, White had concluded that any one of a number of staff officers, including his, Buller’s, and Roberts’, could have leaked the information. And they 30  Sir G. White, Ladysmith, to Sir R. Buller, Repeat General Clery, 30 November 1899, No. 20 P, CAB 37/51/93, TNA, p. 6. 31  White to Amy White, 23 July 1902, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 32  South Africa, Telegrams Concerning the Siege of Ladysmith, Cd. 987 (London: H.M.S.O., 1902). 33  Duff to White, 10 July 1902, Letters to White chiefly during the South African war, arranged alphabetically, with a list of correspondents, Mss Eur F108/111 (1899–1908), GWP.



may have. But there was someone else who knew the contents of the telegrams. Miss Margaret Warrender was a friend of both Buller and White. Although White denied ever showing her the telegrams, which he kept “under lock and key,” he did reveal to her that Buller had brought up the issue of surrender but never actually ordered him to give up Ladysmith. She shared the information with Buller and he went to Roberts with it.34 White continued to insist, however, that the information contained in the telegram was well known even before he had arrived in England.35 Amery was no friend to Buller and held him accountable for the failures of the Tugela campaign. His campaign to expose his errors seems to have been driven by something more than just seeking the truth. Thomas Pakenham has argued that Roberts, Kitchener, and Ian Hamilton were looking to pin blame for the failures of the Natal campaign on someone and Amery offered them Buller on a silver platter.36 Buller certainly deserved much of the criticism and there is no satisfactory defense of the speech he gave at the luncheon or, subsequently, his attempt to defend it. Similarly, Amery criticized White’s decision for remaining in Ladysmith, blamed him for the defeat of Mournful Monday, and held him accountable for Symons’ actions at Dundee. Amery, however, never went after White in public, as he did to Buller, albeit anonymously.37 Lieutenant-­ Colonel Charles á Court (Repington), who had served on Buller’s staff, was hired by Amery to provide feedback on his multi-volume The Times History of the War in South Africa. Á Court found the section in Volume II on the Natal Campaign to be unfairly critical of the British commanders like White, Buller, and Symons.38 At the end of January 1901, he wrote White asking to look over the draft and to make comments, and offered to send later proofs as well.39 White’s response depicts an officer who was most concerned in preserving the legacy of those who served under him.  White to John White, 4 January 1902, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  White to Brodrick, 12 January 1902, Mss Eur F108/78, GWP. 36  Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War (New York: Random House, 1979), 389–90. 37  White identified the “Reformer” as Amery in a letter to his wife in October 1901. At the time, he wrote that most people thought the Reformer was the pseudonym for Colonel Lonsdale Hale, a contemporary military writer and critic. White to Amy White, 16 October 1901, Mss Eur F108/101, GWP. 38  Ian Beckett, Victorians at War (London: Hambledon, 2003), 86. 39  Valentine Chirol, the foreign editor of The Times, thought reaching out to White was “a waste of time.” A.J.A. Morris, Reporting the First World War: Charles Repington, The Times and the Great War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 14–6. 34 35

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I have been indignant at the way the memory of poor Symons has been treated in the proofs you have sent to me. The descriptions are not only written in terms that… suggest a hostile animus but they display great ignorance of military principles and… views that really are compatible with the unbridled deprecations that is the leading factor in the criticisms. Did you know Symons? No doubt he erred in his too limited estimate of the enemy’s power as a fighting force. But he had before he went the great majority of local military and civil opinion at his back . . .. He was, however, a first class tactician and a most bold leader. He inspired courage and confidence in those under him and he hold up so grand a specimen of the British officer….”40

C.F. Moberley-Bell, the editor of The Times, followed up on White’s response to á Court. He asked White to supply detail, and perhaps underhandedly, asked for official information, even if he could not ultimately use it. Wisely, White refused to share the type of information which had proved to be Buller’s undoing. He did, however, write a lengthy response to Moberley-Bell, most of which again focused on Symons. I will be equally frank with you in saying that I do not consider that the accounts given are written with the professional knowledge or in the style and spirit which are expected from the position of The Times as first newspaper in the world. As I read the proofs I have been impressed by the severity of the ex-post facto criticisms on those upon whom chiefly fell the heavy responsibility of saving Natal from the invasion of the united armed strengths of the two South African Republics. . . . I cannot help feeling that the tendency in them is to ascribe success to accidents or to glaring failures on the part of the enemy rather than to allow any credit to those senior officers to whom blame is meted out with no grudging hand when opportunity offers.41

White went on to admit that Symons was wrong to stay at Dundee but, nevertheless, praised his actions at the Battle of Talana Hill and gave him some of the credit for the “subsequent coup” at Elandslaagte. As to his own portrayal, White was equally defensive. He felt The Times had ignored the planning he had done or acknowledged his foresight. “We now know that the Boers made… Ladysmith their most coveted objective and that their occupation of it was to be the material guarantee that it was safe for their countrymen, both in Natal and Cape Colony, to  White to á Court, 3 March 1901, Mss Eur F108/66, GWP.  White to Moberley-Bell, undated letter (probably March 1901), Mss Eur F108/66, GWP.

40 41



join the Boer standards. …Ladysmith was the rock on which the Boer cause was wrecked.” White emphasized the potential dangers a rebellion in Natal could have caused as well as a native rising. “At the time I had to consider what the consequences would be if the opinions of the highest and best informed officials came true. I should have treated this opinion with very limited mental range had I not thought out the degree of responsibility and blood guiltiness of the officer who, in the face of such opinions and warnings, brought about such dire effects. I knew by experience what a native rising meant. I had served through the Indian Mutiny.”42 White shared his respect for Amery but believed that the writers of the Natal chapters had done a very poor job. Neither á Court nor Moberley-Bell could get White to reveal any sensitive information and so Amery wrote him directly and asked to see the official telegrams.43 White was eager to get the truth out, knowing that any official history of the war would not be published for years and that The Times’ version of events which be accepted by many as the truth. He reached out to his old friend Ian Hamilton, who was currently Military Secretary, to get confirmation as to what he could share and what he could not. Hamilton reported back that Brodrick and Roberts agreed that he could correct any mistakes or misgivings in the text but he could not use any official messages he sent or received in his official capacity.44 He advised White not to cooperate.45 Amery tried again but failed to get what he wanted from White and eventually gave up. Volume II would be published just as the South African War was coming to its end. White’s review of it to his brother was that it was “most misleading and unfair” and he was concerned that it might help Buller’s case.46 He would not have to wait too long, however, for the truth to come out. At the end of 1902, the Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, or the Elgin Commission, was called to order. The Commission would sit for fifty-five days and examine 114 witnesses. White, along with his Intelligence Officer in Ladysmith, Colonel E.A. Altham, were called to testify on 16 February 1903. At that time, White shared the story of his command in South Africa from his instructions from the War Office, or  Ibid.  Amery to White, 4 March 1901, Mss Eur F108/66, GWP. 44  Hamilton to White, 26 March 1901, Mss Eur F108/66, GWP. 45  Ian Beckett argues that while Hamilton was urging White not to cooperate, Hamilton, himself, was helping Amery. Beckett, Victorians at War, 87. 46  White to John White, 17 June 1902, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 42 43

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lack thereof, to his preparations for the defense of Ladysmith, and from the actions his men engaged in to his communications with Buller. He also shared all of the telegrams which he exchanged with Buller, Clery, and Hely-Hutchinson.47 He felt he was clear and upfront with the commission and feared no ramifications from his testimony. A letter which he received from Lady Meux supported his belief that he did well. Meux, a well-known socialite who later named Hedworth Lambton, the commander of the Naval Brigade at Ladysmith her heir, shared with White a letter she received from Lord Esher, one of the members of the commission. Esher had written, “Yesterday… Sir George White was examined before the Commission. He, once more, by his reserve… proved himself the great gentleman which he undoubtedly is: and furthermore, he made a most excellent case for his actions from the commencement to the end of his Natal campaign. He did not say one angry or vindictive word of anyone in spite of the many…. things which have been said and written about his strategy and tactics.”48 Nevertheless, there was one bit of testimony which came out of the Royal Commission which made White furious. Three days before White testified, his former Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Sir Archibald Hunter, took the stand. As was discussed earlier, Hunter had not been White’s choice for Chief of Staff. White had specifically brought along Ian Hamilton to South Africa to fill that position. Hunter was to serve as Buller’s Chief of Staff, and the latter ordered him to proceed to Ladysmith and assist White until he had arrived. As a result of the siege, Hunter got locked into Ladysmith and needed to be employed. Despite his lack of staff experience, White made him his Chief of Staff and gave Hamilton a brigade to command. There was nothing to suggest at the time that White and Hunter could not have worked well together but over time they certainly had their differences, particularly regarding White’s decision to attack the Boers at Pepworth’s Hill and Nicholson’s Nek.49 When the siege was lifted, White went home and Hunter was promoted and given 47   Report of His Majesty’s Commissioners appointed to Inquire into the Military Preparations and Other military Matters connected with the War in South Africa, Minutes of Evidence, Volume II, Cd. 1791 (London: H.M.S.O., 1903), 143–169. 48  Esher to Lady Meux, 18 February 1903, Royal Commission on the War in South Africa. Correspondence with Lt.-Col. F.A. Altham and Lord Roberts; printed copy of White’s evidence (13 Feb 1903); letter from Lord Esher to Lady Meux, Mss Eur F108/68 (Nov 1902– Feb 1803), GWP. 49  See, for example, White to John White, 6 March 1901, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.



the command of the 10th Division. In November 1900, Hunter was given the command in Bloemfontein although he was invalided home shortly afterwards.50 Letters and pleasantries were periodically exchanged between the two men but they had no relationship. On 13 February, while testifying before the Royal Commission, Elgin asked Hunter if there was anything he wanted to share regarding the siege of Ladysmith. In Hunter’s opinion, it was a classic siege which offered nothing “that could not have been learnt out of a text-book.”51 He went on to describe and criticize the defenses around the perimeter of Ladysmith and argued that any attacker who was willing to incur “a certainty of loss in order to gain the position” could have taken it. He was then asked if the Boers ever made a serious attempt to break into the town, and Hunter proceeded to talk about the 6 January 1900 attack on Caesar’s Camp and Wagon Hill, which, he declared, “I was practically directing the operations, because, I think, on that day Sir George White was in bed.”52 When the report of the Royal Commission was eventually published, White read Hunter’s testimony with great dismay. As his biographer, Archie Hunter admitted, Hunter should have realized that his statement would not be well-received by White, who felt that his reputation was now at stake.53 In the Fall of 1903, White sent out a number of letters to friends and colleagues who had served with him in Ladysmith, including Altham, Lambton, Duff, and Hamilton. He also reached out to his former aide de Camp, Captain F.  Lyon, his Deputy Assistant Adjutant General for Intelligence, Captain David Henderson, his Assistant Adjutant-General, Colonel E.W.D. Ward, his cavalry commander, Major-General John Brocklehurst, Brocklehurst’s aide de camp, Captain Henry William, Viscount Crichton, and Captain Guy Wyndham. Other staff officers like Major C. de Coury Hamilton, Brigade Major Royal Artillery, wrote to him unsolicited. White even wrote directly to Hunter asking to clarify his account and giving him the opportunity to reconsider his testimony. With the exception of Hunter, every officer had the same recollection of the events of 6 January 1900.

50  L.S.  Amery, The Times History of the War in South Africa, 1899–1902, Volume V (London: S. Low, Marston, 1907), 110. 51  Report of His Majesty’s Commissioners, Minutes of Evidence, II, 136. 52  Ibid. 53  Archie Hunter, Kitchener’s Sword-Arm (New York: Sarpedon, 1996), 185.

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“Is General Hunter mad?” wrote Hedworth Lambton, calling Hunter’s testimony, “ungrateful and untruthful libel.” “He must assume the credit of directing some forces on the never to be forgotten Jan 6th and kindly puts you in bed! Why I talked to you for a very long time on the verandah myself and you certainly personally gave the orders as to the disposal of your few available troops. Don’t you remember at the most critical time giving me your hand to feel to show me how calm you were? I do distinctly.” Lambton continued, “Now I am beginning to understand how it was that after Kitchener’s celebrated River War it was put about that Hunter and not Kitchener was the man who ought to have the credit. I need scarcely say that I am not sitting still under his insult.”54 Hunter and Lambton got involved in their own controversy when Hunter criticized the naval crews which manned the heavy guns at Ladysmith.55 Crichton was astounded by what he read and detailed telephone conversations between White and Hunter and White and Brocklehurst.56 Lyon and Brocklehurst were both surprised having spoken to White several times that day.57 De Coury Hamilton confessed that he had “never been more astounded in my life than I was at Sir A. Hunter’s evidence.”58 Duff, who kept a careful diary of the day’s proceedings, responded as well. “Hunter must be mad, as mad as a march hare!” he exclaimed. “That Hunter disliked you I knew. He made no secret of that . . . but I could not have believed him capable of these deliberate misstatements. Perhaps the most charitable view is that his vanity – always his weak point – has really led him to believe what he says… .”59 Ian Hamilton’s reply did not reach White until the summer of 1905. Hamilton had left for Manchuria to serve as British military attaché to the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese War. During the Boer attack, he had been in the thick of things on Platrand Hill and so he did not know 54  Lambton to White, 22 September 1903, Letters collected by White, 1903–05, to refute Gen. Sir A.  Hunter’s evidence to the Royal Commission that he was in command at Ladysmith on 6 Jan 1900, Mss Eur F108/69 (1903–1905), GWP. 55  See, Spencer Jones, “The Influence of the Boer War (1899–1902) on the Tactical development of the Regular British Army 1902–1914” (PhD diss., University of Wolverhampton, 2009), 103. 56  Crichton to White, 22 September 1903, Mss Eur F108/69, GWP. 57  Lyon to White, 7 October 1903, Mss Eur F108/69, GWP; and, Brocklehurst to White, 20 October 1903, Mss Eur F108/69, GWP. 58  De Coury Hamilton to White, 5 November 1903, Mss Eur F108/69, GWP. 59  Duff to White, 1 November 1903, Mss Eur F108/69, GWP.



the comings and goings of White and his staff. What he did remember, however, was that he spoke by telephone to White at least a couple of times to receive orders and the only time he spoke to Hunter directly was when he called headquarters and Hunter picked up.60 Hunter did not take the opportunity given to him by White to make amends. Although he acknowledged that White played a role, albeit a limited one, he remembered visiting White twice at his bedside. He also remembered manning the telephone lines and giving orders in White’s absence. “I think I correctly stated to the Commission that I practically directed operations,” Hunter replied.61 The evidence for White’s important role during the battles of Caesar’s Camp and Wagon Hill is overwhelming and disproves Hunter’s claims. Surgeon-Major Francis H.  Treherne, Royal Army Medical Corps, was ready to testify that White was not in bed that day at all and directed the entire battle from Headquarters. White, coming off a fever in mid-­ December, probably did visit his room for a rest and Treherne, who had served with White in India, was just being loyal. Regardless, White probably had a good case to pursue against Hunter if he wanted justice. Ward, who was currently serving as Permanent Under Secretary of State for War, counseled him to be cautious and not to take any action unless he first discussed the situation with Roberts and Edward VII, telling him “H.M. [His Majesty] was much annoyed that a public discussion should have arisen on the Hunter-Lambton controversy” and feared that another public conflict between two general officers would not look good.62 White had no stomach for yet another public scandal and let the issue die down.63 In Gibraltar, White did his best to remain busy. He followed the news of the war carefully as well as the name-calling and incriminations which  Hamilton to White, 30 June 1905, Mss Eur F108/69, GWP.  Hunter to White, 29 September 1903, Mss Eur F108/69, GWP. 62  Ward to White, 8 October 1903, Mss Eur F108/69, GWP. 63  White also managed to distance himself from the scandal involving Major-General Sir Henry Colvile. In May 1900, while on their way to join Colvile’s Ninth Division, four companies of Imperial Yeomanry under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel B.E. Spragge were surrounded at the town of Lindley by Christiaan de Wet’s commando. Colvile failed to rescue the men and they were captured. Roberts sent Colvile home shortly afterwards. Afterwards, Colvile was assigned command of the infantry brigade at Gibraltar. The War Office, however, demanded his resignation at the end of 1900 because of the Lindley affair. Although he was asked by Brodrick to get involved, White successfully managed to stay out of it. See Stephen M. Miller, Lord Methuen and the British Army: Failure and Redemption in South Africa (London: Frank Cass, 1999), 188–9. 60 61

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emerged in the press as politicians and critics looked to shift blame for the failures of policy and planning which burdened the war effort in its first six months. Never a strong supporter of Wolseley, White felt it rather unfair nevertheless that Lansdowne attacked him in March 1901. “I thought Lansdowne’s attack on Wolseley the very worst of tactics,” he wrote to his brother, “and I can only account for it by supposing that Lansdowne knowing the concrete case Wolseley could bring forth in evidence against him for overriding the whole of the military side of the War Office (including C-in-C [Wolseley], AG [H.  Evelyn Wood], QMG [Sir Charles Mansfield Clarke], [Director-General of Ordnance] Brackenbury, [Inspector-General of Fortifications] Harrison, [Military Secretary] Coleridge Grove and DG of Intelligence [John Ardagh].)”64 This letter is not surprising because it continues to demonstrate White’s defense of military institutions against civilian interference. In India, White was regularly subjected to financial limitations placed on him by the civil authority. In his view, they made it more difficult to do his job and weakened the role of the army in India. Necessary reforms were delayed or scrapped all together, new equipment was slow to be delivered, and even tours and inspections had to be cancelled. In Gibraltar, Sir Michael Hicks Beach, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was regularly the subject of his scorn. White already blamed him for not releasing the necessary funds to prepare for the war in South Africa.65 Now he faulted Hicks Beach for reducing the budget and for cancelling important coal contracts.66 The coal trade brought important revenue into Gibraltar, revenue desperately needed to make updates to its defenses, but Hicks Beach 64  White was not as generous to Wolseley when the latter’s testimony to the Royal Commission was revealed to him in a letter from Elgin. Wolseley testified that he was against White’s decision to hold Ladysmith and that he should have attempted to hold the Biggarsberg. White responded to his brother, “This is absolute and childish nonsense. The whole of the Orange Free State army would have come in behind me, seized the railway and Ladysmith and I should have had to capitulate in 48 hours.” Elgin also shared Roberts’ evidence that he believed White should have gone on the offensive and attacked either the Transvaalers or the Orange Free Staters. White thought this “most unfair and even stupid.” Vastly outnumbered, “it would have been the act of a mad man to commit myself.” “God save the country from Bob’s strategy.” In all of White’s correspondences and diaries held in the India Office collection, this is perhaps the only occasion in which White directly criticizes Roberts. White to John White, 17 March 1901, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP; and, White to John White, 25 January 1903, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 65  White to John White, 6 October 1900, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 66  White to John White, undated 1901, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.



supported allowing British merchants to bypass the Rock and to trade with nearby Algiers instead. This decision came at a time when the Gibraltar trade was already in decline and the Algiers trade was gaining on it.67 White was certain that this would destroy Gibraltar in the long run. After all, “Gibraltar’s raison d’etre is a coaling station.”68 Queen Victoria’s death in January 1901 led White to write a rather emotive poem in her honor exalting her “perfect womanhood”.69 Two months later, her grandson and future King, Prince George, visited Gibraltar with his wife, Mary, Duchess of Cornwall. White was thoroughly unimpressed, writing to his brother, “He is the worst I think and is not big enough in any way to make a good king.”70 In March 1903, King Edward VII made a visit to the Rock and, in a special ceremony, personally awarded White with a field marshal’s baton.71 In June, White paid a visit to Great Britain where he received an Honorary Doctor of Law from Cambridge University, along with the Duke of Connaught, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Lieutenant-Generals Sir John French, Sir Francis Grenfell, and, ironically, Sir Archibald Hunter, and others. The same week Oxford University presented him with a Doctor of Civil Law. Although Edward VII’s visit was White’s most memorable one while stationed in Gibraltar, it was the Kaiser’s two stopovers which proved to be the most historically consequential. On 18 March 1904, aboard the liner, König Albert, the German Emperor entered Gibraltar’s protected harbor. White came aboard briefly to welcome him on his scheduled trip. The Kaiser then proceeded to board the HMS Caesar, a pre-dreadnought battleship, where he was greeted by Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, the Commander of the Channel Fleet, with whom White had a good working relationship. White gave the Kaiser an extended tour of the colony although he was careful to keep him from the armaments in fear of how  “Notes and Memoranda,” The Engineer, 7 October 1904, p. 345.  White to John White, 10 May 1901, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 69  “A Soldier’s Tribute,” 2 February 1901, Notebook entitled “Various Egypt Kamptee Quetta Gibraltar,” but containing note also from White’s period as Commander-in-Chief, Mss Eur F108/45 (1885–1905), GWP. 70  White to John White, 25 March 1901, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 71  Wood was promoted to Field Marshal at the same time, joining the Duke of Cambridge, Sir Frederick Haines, Wolseley, Roberts, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Sir Henry Norman, and the Duke of Connaught as Great Britain’s nine Field Marshals. The promotion of both Wood and White came as a bit of a surprise since a recent Army Order had fixed the number at eight. The German Emperor, however, as a foreign national, was not considered be one of the eight. “The New Field-Marshals,” The Graphic, 18 April 1903, p. 518. 67 68

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the press would respond.72 He enjoyed the company of the Kaiser. “He talked frankly and freely of current politics and made no secret of his want of sympathy with the Japanese in the present war and the danger he anticipated from their success,” he told Lord Knollys, Private Secretary to the British monarch. The Kaiser, too, seemed to appreciate White’s company, which the British military attaché, Count Gleichen, acknowledged.73 A year later, the Kaiser returned under entirely different circumstances. White already had a busy March planned. After Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught left, Alexandra, the new Queen, visited. Over dinner, she joked with White that she would have liked to have remained at the Rock longer, but she wanted to leave before her nephew, Wilhelm II arrived. She flippantly remarked that he was “an international danger.”74 The Kaiser had only recently alerted British authorities that he would be stopping at Gibraltar as part of a cruise he was enjoying aboard the Hamburg along the Portuguese, Spanish, and Moroccan coasts. On 31 March 1905, the Kaiser stopped in Tangier. He only stayed two hours, but as The Times correspondent wrote, “those two hours may prove to have marked an epoch in the history of Morocco.”75 The Kaiser proceeded to assert Moroccan sovereignty and the rights of German commercial interests in the country. Coming on the heels of the signing of the Anglo-French agreement of 8 April 1904, the Entente Cordiale, in which the British recognized French interests in Morocco, the Kaiser’s actions were seen in a light just as Queen Alexandra had predicted. As one British newspaper reported, and most agreed, the Kaiser was “stirring up hostility to France and indirectly towards England.”76 As the First Moroccan Crisis erupted, the Kaiser sailed into Gibraltar. The cruiser, Friedrich Karl, which accompanied the Kaiser’s liner, accidentally ran in to the battleship, HMS Prince George, and needed urgent repairs. White received the Kaiser and again entertained him. He found him fully cognizant of the diplomatic problems he just created. White wrote his brother, “He chuckled over the row he had made in France by his visit to Tangier and spoke in most often disparagement of ‘your allies  White to Lord Knollys, 26 March 1904, Mss Eur F108/78, GWP.  Gleichen to White, 4 April 1904, Mss Eur F108/78, GWP. 74  White to John White, 31 March 1905, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 75  “The German Emperor at Tangier,” The Times, 1 April 1900, in Newspaper cuttings relating to White’s period of office as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar, Mss Eur F108/84 (1900–1905), GWP. 76  “A Mischief Maker,” The Western Gazette, 7 April 1905, p. 10. 72 73



the French.’ I said that I liked them.”77 The Crisis would last more than a year and rather than shaking the foundation of the Anglo-French entente, it only strengthened it. White’s time in Gibraltar was coming to its end. He had done his best to govern Gibraltar and update its defenses but most of the plans he advocated, such as mounting 4.7 inch guns in the galleries facing the Spanish littoral, moving the batteries further up the Rock to increase range and give them more protection from enemy guns, increasing the size of the garrison, and addressing the sanitary problems, were rejected due to cost.78 He also ran afoul of the labor unions there for limiting free speech, and earned the wrath in Great Britain of James Keir Hardie, one of the founders of the Independent Labour Party.79 For a time, it looked like White would be sent home in October 1904 by the new Secretary of State for War, Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster. White had been appointed Governor of Gibraltar in 1899 but because of the impending war, he delayed his travel and never actually took up his post until after Ladysmith had relieved. However, there were bureaucrats in the War Office who counted his start date as October 1899 and felt, therefore, that his five-year term had to come to an end in October 1904. White was stunned. “To deduct my service in Natal before I assumed Governorship,” he wrote, “is most exceptional and penalizes me for what I submit was valuable service to the state.”80 Brodrick wrote White to say that one of the reasons Roberts had pushed for his promotion to Field-­ Marshal was so the rules of supernannuation which required a General to retire after five years if he could not secure a new position would not apply to White and therefore he could stay in Gibraltar longer.81 Not only did White enjoy the support of the Commander-in-Chief and the former Secretary of State for War, but the Admiralty wanted him to remain as  White to John White, 6 April 1905, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  White to Beresford, 29 June 1901, Mss Eur F108/78, GWP; White to Brodrick, 31 May 1903, Mss Eur F108/78, GWP; “Minute of 18 January 1904,” Mss Eur F108/78, GWP; and, Letter from White to the Secretary of the Army Council enclosing reports on the provision of shelters for the garrison artillery at Gibraltar, Mss Eur F108/82 (3 Mar 1904), GWP. 79  Two fragments of letters concerning the publication of a newspaper by a Trade Union in Gibraltar, Mss Eur F108/83 (c1902), GWP; and, White to John White, 12 June 1902, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 80  White to Arnold-Forster, undated [probably late September/early October] 1904, Mss Eur F108/78, GWP. 81  White to John White, 21 December 1904, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 77 78

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well. He explained to his brother that “The Navy are my warmest supporters.”82 White was able to remain in Gibraltar for another year until mid-June 1905. He expected to be replaced by Lieutenant-General Sir William Nicholson who, like Hamilton, was a military attaché observing the Russo-­ Japanese War. Nicholson, however, turned down the position very late in the process. As a result, White left before the new governor, General Sir Frederick Forestier-Walker, arrived.83 He headed directly for London to be installed as the Governor of the Royal Chelsea Hospital, a position which had opened up as a result of the death of Field-Marshal Sir Henry Norman in 1904. White’s last order of business in Gibraltar was, at the request of Brodrick, who had become Secretary of State for India, to share his opinion on a dispute between Lord Curzon, the Viceroy, and Lord Kitchener, the Commander-in-Chief, India. Brodrick did not tap White’s expertise on India often. After all, in Lord Roberts, he had someone with vast knowledge of the subject. He had reached out to White at the end of 1904 to get his opinion on a plan being floated by Curzon to create mixed brigades. Curzon wanted to eliminate some regiments, reduce others, and create some new ones by amalgamating troops across caste, class, and religious lines. It was thought that this would reduce the risk of disloyalty fomenting from within in the ranks. Some, like Major-General Sir Edmond Roche Elles, Military Member of Council, objected because the move, he believed, would hurt regimental prestige.84 Kitchener, although he had been in the role for two years by that point, still felt that he did not have the experience with Native regiments to make a determination and wanted to hear White’s views. As it turned out, White as well as Roberts shared Elles’ position and Brodrick elected to recommend that Curzon reconsider the proposal. Brodrick, foretelling events which were about to happen, asked White “to keep things as quiet as possible, as Lord Kitchener is inclined to be very sensitive….”85

 White to John White, 26 November 1904, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  When White sailed for home, he was still unaware of who would replace him. When Forestier-Walker’s five-year term ended, he was replaced by Hunter. 84  Brodrick to White, 12 November 1904, Correspondence on the Curzon–Kitchener dispute and the Committee on Indian Army Administration, Mss Eur F108/87 (1904–1906), GWP. 85  Brodrick to White, 20 December 1904, Mss Eur F108/87, GWP. 82 83



Kitchener was in the midst of reconsidering the principle of how the army in India should be administered. As White knew all too well, the power of the Commander-in-Chief, India, was limited. Of course, the Viceroy and the Government of India, and the British Government and Commander-in-Chief of Forces, all had roles to play. But Kitchener wanted to eliminate the position of Military Member of Council, who he felt was “omnipotent in military matters” and establish his own centralized control over the Indian Army.86 The Commander-in-Chief, India, he complained, could not even “issue orders for the movement of troops or introduce any but trifling improvements in any of these matters without the previous sanction of the Military Member.”87 In addition, to the elimination of the Military Department, he wanted to create a General Staff which would bring other departments, like those overseen by the Adjutant-­ General and the Quartermaster-General, into closer cooperation. Rightfully, Curzon saw Kitchener’s move as a power play which would “subvert the military authority of the Government of India.”88 Kitchener had already shared his views with Roberts and did not like his old boss’s answer and so he reached out to White. He wanted White to look over his proposal, agree with it, and then talk to Roberts and get him to agree to it as well.89 Brodrick also contacted White, explaining that Arthur Balfour, who had replaced Salisbury as Conservative Prime Minister shortly after the war in South Africa had ended, wanted to solicit his views on the relationship of the Commander-in-Chief and the Military Member of Council. He shared, privately, with White that Kitchener had already tendered his resignation over this issue. Although Brodrick himself had no position, he had consulted Roberts who opposed the change. But he found Roberts’ position troubling because he felt that when he was chief, he too had wanted to eliminate Military Member of Council. He asked White to come see him when he returned to London and also to sit on a committee which would take up the issue.90

86  Kitchener, Secret Memorandum, Administration of India, 1 January 1905, p. 1, Mss Eur F108/87, GWP. 87  Ibid., p. 2. 88  Minute of Lord Curzon, Gazette of India Extraordinary, 23 June, 1905; as cited in, Stephen P.  Cohen, “Issue, Role, and Personality: The Kitchener-Curzon Dispute,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 10 3 (1968): 343. 89  Kitchener to White, 5 January 1905, Mss Eur F108/87, GWP. 90  Brodrick to White, 18 April 1905, Mss Eur F108/87, GWP.

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White’s friend and protégé Beauchamp Duff, recently promoted to Major-General, was Adjutant-General in India and had served under Kitchener for a few years. He wrote to White to “alert” him that he was going to be pulled into the controversy, although by that time White possessed most of the details. “I know you will not yet have forgotten the constant struggle with the Military Dept. while you were Commander in Chief in India and particularly their obstruction and interference with your plans and intentions in regard to the suppression of the Frontier risings in 1897,” Duff wrote. He continued, Since then things have been going from bad to worse. Even you, hardly experienced the full tyranny of the Military Department as it has since developed. Under Lockhart and Palmer, owing to the ill health of the former and the weakness of the latter, the Military Dept. succeeded in becoming even more completely masters of the situation then they had previously been. With Palmer as Chief and Elles as Member of Council the latter became in practice the sole head of the army and he had held this position for two years before Lord Kitchener became C. It would not then have been possible for Elles to climb down from the position he had usurped without humiliation while, on the other hand, Lord Kitchener was not likely to be content with the inferior position into which Palmer had unwillingly fallen. A collision was therefore inevitable from the first.91

Duff complained that Curzon had been partisan in the dispute and “has reduced his Council to a position of complete subservience to his will.”92 He complained that Roberts had forgotten his own struggles when he was Commander-in-Chief, and Nicholson, who also supported the status quo, Duff believed, only did so because he was trying to replace Kitchener, and was playing up to Curzon. White had written a memorandum in 1896 to Wolseley on the issue of Army Administration  in India. At that time, he felt that the role of the Commander-in-Chief was being subordinated to the Military Member of Council. He complained that though the Chief sat on the Council, he regularly received orders from the Military Department which had never 91  Duff to White, 25 May 1905, Letter from General Sir Beauchamp Duff (AdjutantGeneral in India 1903–05) to White, dated 25 May 1905, enclosing copies (printed and typescript) of the main documents in the Curzon–Kitchener dispute, Mss Eur F108/88 (1905), GWP. 92  Ibid.



been discussed in Council. He was not as concerned as Kitchener that a military man sat in a civilian structure which acted akin to the War Office, and could second guess his judgment. He did however object to the fact that since the Commander-in-Chief had no control over finances, he had no independence.93 Unsure if he would be available to sit on an Indian Army administration committee, White drafted a document on the subject in May 1905. Despite his views when he held the job,  he sided with Curzon, as did Roberts, Elgin, and Brackenbury, against Kitchener.94 Ultimately, his rationale was that the Viceroy already had too much on his plate and he needed help. He could not be well-versed in all military matters and just as the Commander-in-Chief worked with the Secretary of State for War, the Viceroy needed a representative on the Council who could advise him. Kitchener had also objected that Elles too often stood in his way. However, White argued, if the position of the Military Member of Council was eliminated “in order to give the Commander-in-Chief greater scope and less friction, that object will scarcely be attained by bringing the Commander-­ in-­Chief face to face with a Viceroy” who holds views contrary to him.95 Nevertheless, major concessions were made to Kitchener, reforms followed, and Curzon resigned.96 White desired anonymity throughout the process and when his name appeared on an India Office committee report, he asked that it be removed.97 Henry Norman’s death in late 1904 left a vacancy in the Chelsea Hospital Governorship and a few months had passed and the position still had not been filled. White had heard rumors that he was being considered and he was somewhat interested. He also heard that Wood wanted the 93  White, “Administration of the Indian Army,” Extract from a Letter from General Sir George White, Commander-in-Chief in India, to Lord Wolseley, Commander-in-Chief, dated 8th January 1896, Terms of reference of the Committee on Indian Army Administration, and documents submitted to the Committee, Mss Eur F108/89 (1905), GWP. 94  Edwin Collen who succeeded Brackenbury as Military Member of Council when White was Commander-in-Chief wrote a public defense of the position as well. “The Higher Administration of the Army in India,” The Times, 17 May 1905, p. 4. 95  White, Secret, “Note on Indian Army Administration,” 17 May 1905, Mss Eur F108/89, GWP. 96  For a discussion of the Indian Army under Kitchener, see T.A. Heathcote, The Military in British India: The Development of British Land Forces in South Asia, 1600–1947 (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1995; Reprint edition, Barnsley, UK: Praetorian Press, 2013), Chapter 8. 97  White to Curzon, 7 February 1906, Mss Eur F108/78, GWP.

10  ENDING A CAREER ON THE ROCK (1900–1912) 


job. In early November, Arnold-Forster offered it to White.98 White never liked London nor did he imagine that the work would suit him. He accepted it, however, having no other prospects to consider. “I do not look forward to a winter residence in the slums of Chelsea,” he wrote his brother, “and I see the girls are all in dread of it but beggars cannot be choosers and it is an immediate refuge from the difficulty of selecting another residence and £500 [a year] and some allowances will be a help.”99 He began his new posting in June 1905 and he held it for the remainder of his life. He did not have a lot of duties but he did have to oversee the 500 aged and often disabled veterans who resided there and lobby for the interests of the thousands of pensioners who did not. He had two Lieutenant-Governors, Major Ronald B. Lane and Major-General Charles Crutchley, and a civil secretary, Walter Tatham Hughes, who did much of the work. His job was that of a functionary though Brodrick had warned him that it was no sinecure and preserving the pensions of the soldier was of paramount importance.100 Much of his time was spent giving speeches on subjects like war preparedness, conscription, and temperance, and attending dinners and other functions.101 And of course, he continued to celebrate the accomplishments of the defenders of Ladysmith. On the eighth anniversary of the end of the siege, he joined the “old garrison” in London. “It is not for us to question the policy of ruling statesmen,” he told his comrades, “but I say this and say it with all the confidence of conviction; that had we not, in the early stages of the invasion of the Natal, been enabled to stand the torrent of the Boer march towards Durban and the Sea, no government of today would probably have had a British South Africa to yield politically to those who had been

 White to John White, 26 November and 21 December 1904, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP.  White to John White, 12 November 1904, Mss Eur F108/98, GWP. 100  Brodrick to White, 20 December 1904, Mss Eur F108/87, GWP. 101  White’s son Jack shipped off to India after Gibraltar although he quit the service a few years later, much to his father’s disappointment. In the years which followed his father’s death, he became involved in trade unionism and later, turning even farther away from his father’s Orange nationalism, played a role in the creation of the Irish Volunteers. See, J.R. White, Misfit: An Autobiography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930); and, Leo Keohane, Captain Jack White: Imperialism, Anarchism & the Irish Citizen Army (Sallins, Ireland: Merrion Press, 2014). White’s daughter May married his other aide-de-camp from Gibraltar, Captain Ivor Currie, son of Major-General Fendall Currie, in 1906. White’s father-in-law, the Archdeacon, died in 1909. Lord and Lady Roberts attended the funeral. White to Jane White, 12 November 1911, Mss Eur F108/97(a)-(b) (c 1845–1910), GWP. 98 99



wrested in war.”102 In 1910, White began to experience heart trouble. He died on 24 June 1912. His coffin was conveyed in a procession through the streets of London from the Royal Hospital in Chelsea to Euston Station. Pipers from his old regiment, the Gordons, played, and Lord Roberts rode in the procession. His remains were brought to Broughshane where he was laid to rest.103 In the aftermath of the siege of Ladysmith, George White returned home and remained one of the British Army’s most celebrated officers. He was recognized for his long and distinguished service and was promoted to the rank of Field-Marshal. He served as Governor of Gibraltar and afterwards the Governor of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Neither job was particularly fulfilling but White knew that at that stage in his career he was not going to serve in any hot spot again nor did he want to return to the Horse Guards. He took both jobs seriously and did what he could to improve the situations around him. For some time after 1900, White remained a public figure much in demand by organizations, clubs, and veterans’ groups who wanted to hear tales of Afghanistan, Burma, India, and especially, Ladysmith. He never failed to please them. He was always very careful to protect his legacy and that of those that served under him. He found the scandals over the “surrender” telegram, Hunter’s role at Platrand, and the Times History of the War in South Africa particularly upsetting. Unable to speak out, he had to sit on the sidelines and read the false allegations and complain only to friends and family. He did not enjoy being censored but he never considered ignoring the directives set by the War Office. He remained a loyal servant of the empire until the end.

102  Speech of 28 February 1908, Speeches delivered by White at Gibraltar, and at a dinner commemorating the relief of Ladysmith, Mss Eur F108/94 (1901–1908), GWP. 103  White’s brother John died in January of the same year. His sister Francis died the following year. His remaining sister, Jane, continued to reside in Whitehall. Lady White took up residence in Hampton Court where she lived until her death which occurred on the 35th anniversary of the relief of Ladysmith. General Sir Hubert Gough learned the news of her death just as he was laying a wreath at White’s statue in Portland Place. He told a reporter that Lady White possessed “the same constancy and courage as had her husband—qualities which made Ladysmith hold out to the bitter end. “Lady White,” The Times, 1 March 1935; in Newspaper cuttings relating to White’s appointment as Quarter-Master-General in 1897, and his activities in England after his return from Ladysmith; obituaries of White (1912) and of Lady White (1935), Mss Eur F108/95 (1897–1935), GWP.



After her husband’s death in 1912, Lady Amy White received a number of inquiries from authors who were interested in writing the biography of the late Field-Marshal. Just as Sir George White had fought hard to preserve his legacy, his wife was as committed. She selected White’s friend and former India colleague, Sir Mortimer Durand, for the task. She gave Durand unlimited access to the letters White had written and kept copies of as well as those he received through the years. She also shared with him newspaper clippings, memoranda, maps, and the diaries he had saved. To further help Durand, she put advertisements in a few newspapers asking for anyone who had correspondences with her husband in their possession to share them. With this great wealth of primary source material, Durand crafted a two-volume biography of White. The work is wonderfully written, engaging, and does a great service in detailing White’s long career and in protecting White’s reputation. The Durand volumes proved to be essential for this project. However, they have their limitation due to the author’s desire to guard the White family from criticism. And although they clearly benefit from Durand’s intimate knowledge of India, Afghanistan, and the North-West Frontier, they do not make much use of other primary as well secondary sources. White’s papers, housed in the India Office in the British Library, are a tremendous resource to anyone interested in studying the many facets of his career and the issues which surround it. Unfortunately, some of his papers are not in that collection today. Durand refers to a few of them but © The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




what happened to the others is unknown. Perhaps they were never donated by the family, or Durand did not return them, or they were simply lost or destroyed. These missing documents, and a few of the India Office documents actually show that some information was deliberately omitted, tend to refer to sensitive information, particularly personal relationships. This is not surprising for White kept many things close to the chest and probably did not want to share all of his feelings with future generations. Durand’s biography, therefore, is sometimes the only source for some of this information. White’s papers and supporting documents, along with Durand’s biography and a growing military bibliography which covers the Victorian period, reveal an officer, propelled by his own talents and a little luck and assisted by key benefactors, who successfully navigated his way from Sandhurst to the very top of the army establishment. Investigating the career of White was only one task of this book. More important than simply capturing his personal journey was connecting White to the events which occurred around him and the institutions which shaped him and, in turn, those that he shaped. White’s experiences provide color to the Victorian army at home and abroad, the importance of personal networks in the pursuit of career advancement, and the difficulties of civil–military relationships, particularly in governing the empire. They offer insight into contemporary understandings of the “other,” views on gender and race, and how military and strategic needs regularly shaped moral assumptions about what was best for local, indirectly or directly, subjected peoples. White’s world came into contact with Afghans, Baluchis, Burmans, Boers, and so many other people and it left an indelible mark upon them and their history. Similarly, those interactions shaped White’s world view and gave him insight into their ways of war, political and social institutions, and culture. Why White followed his older brother into the army is not known. And although there were a few times he considered a life in the civilian world, particularly when his career stalled in the 1860s and 1870s, he came to identify his own life with the military. He certainly spent more time with fellow officers than his family, who regularly remained at home due to the risks posed by environmental, health, and other factors to living overseas. But the relationships he developed in the army always remained of secondary importance. It was the army and the state and the men who served under him to which he felt beholden. For over fifty years, he served them with devotion, his talent was recognized, and he was rewarded.



Too often, the history of the army and its principal actors goes ignored by historians of Great Britain and Empire. This should not be the case. The military was a microcosm of Victorian society. Soldiers shared similar views and attitudes as other Britons, even when thrust into wars in Africa and Asia, and issues like patronage and clientage existed in the military just as they did everywhere else.1 Officers, like White, carried with them the same social and cultural baggage gained in childhood from family, school, and religious relationships that influenced contemporary politicians and businessmen throughout their lives. And just as the latter did, military men also had to navigate their service through the constraints of financial and civil pressures. In many ways, White was an ordinary Victorian figure. He wore many hats and never reflected much on the tensions among the competing aspects of his identity. He identified as Irish and had strong attachments to the Loyal Orange Lodge. A lodge in Coburg, Victoria, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, was even christened the “White” lodge in 1900 to honor his defense of Ladysmith.2 And yet, expressions of the nationalist sentiment associated with that movement cannot be found in his papers. Indeed, he sometimes chided his siblings for employing them. He worried that political reforms could change his relationship to his tenants, yet by all accounts, he was a caring landlord. He never identified as English and yet held the institutions of England very dear and believed that his actions should further its interests. (White rarely used the terms Great Britain, United Kingdom, or British). He fundamentally believed in democratic institutions, yet he was not sure if everyone was ready for democracy. He served in the military but was often vested with civil authority. He struggled with inflexible definitions of martial race theory, yet believed in other deterministic factors such as how the environment could make huge differences in how effective and suitable soldiers were in different situations. He also challenged his own racial assumptions and, especially in his younger years, recognized his limitations to reflect on difference. On gender issues, however, White showed no change. 1  J.M. Bourne, Patronage and Society in Nineteenth-Century England (London: Edward Arnold, 1986), 38; as cited by, Ian Beckett, A British Profession of Arms: The Politics of Command in the Late Victorian Army (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018), 25–7. 2  Letters to White chiefly during the South African War, arranged alphabetically, with a list of correspondents, Mss Eur F108/111 (1899–1908), GWP.



White was an extraordinary figure, however. The Second AngloAfghan War gave him an opportunity to display his personal bravery, his leadership skills, and his keen awareness of how his men and his enemy would act in difficult circumstances. The war in Upper Burma, and particularly, the pacification of the country and the extension of British power on its frontier, showed his strategic vision, his administrative prowess, and his ability to recognize when military need had to be subordinated to civil need. When he selected the Quetta command over a few other choices in India, White went to an area in Baluchistan, close to the Afghan border, where he had not spent time. There, he was forced to consider the Great Game in an entirely new light. He also was introduced to Sir Robert Sandeman and his ideas of working with the local people in order to govern them without acutely upsetting their political and cultural institutions. His period as Commander-in-Chief, India, marked a critical time in the reform of the Presidency Armies and the expansion of British power in the North-­West Frontier. White had his critics, but he successfully dealt with the administrative and military challenges and developed good working relationships with successive Viceroys and Councils. Finally, during the siege of Ladysmith, White displayed talents which few possess. He was committed to holding the town and keeping the garrison and its civilian population as safe as possible. He worked with the enemy, when he could, to reduce suffering to the sick and wounded. He did not lose hope when he failed on Mournful Monday nor when Sir Redvers Buller sent him the “surrender” telegram and suffered three successive defeats while trying to lift the siege. He led by example and was able to sustain morale throughout. And he accepted responsibility when his plans went awry. Garnet Wolseley was an impersonal commander, cool and calculating, and a brilliant administrator.3 To Gilbert and Sullivan, he was the “Very Model of a Modern Major General.” Frederick Roberts, Britain’s “other general,” was an excellent tactician, always looked after the well-being of his troops, and proved to be an effective manipulator of the media.4 3  Halik Kochanski, Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero (London: The Hambledon Press, 1999), 177; Steven J.  Corvi, “Garnet Wolseley,” in Victoria’s Generals, edited by Steven J. Corvi and Ian F.W. Beckett (Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword, 2009), 9. 4  André Wessels, “Frederick Roberts,” in Victoria’s Generals, 165, 188–9.



William Ewart Gladstone, four-time Prime Minister of Great Britain, once compared the biblical figure Joshua to Redvers Buller, stating, “he couldn’t hold a candle to Redvers Buller as a leader of men.”5 Herbert Kitchener was the “personification of the ruthlessness needed to sustain the empire” at a time of crisis and decline.6 H. Evelyn Wood, Henry Brackenbury, Paul Methuen, and other senior Victorian officers all possessed qualities in their own right which led them to the top of their profession. As Kenneth Griffith wrote, George Stuart White was “quiet and unostentatious to the end.”7 He never courted the media’s attention nor sought recognition. He was deeply loyal to the state and the army and, even when he grew weary of an assignment, he remained at his post because he felt it was the right thing to do and he did not want to let anyone down. This was as true in Mandalay as it was, for entirely different reasons, in Ladysmith. As this book has demonstrated, despite his occasional strategic and administrative errors, he was a leading figure in the Victorian army because he proved himself a talented soldier, an effective administrator, an inspiring commander, and someone who understood and knew how to cultivate civil–military relations in the field. More than most, his life was devoted to serving the empire.

5  Edmund Gosse, “Sir Redvers Buller: A Character Study,” in Briton and Boer: Both Sides of the South African Question, edited by James Bryce et al. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1900), 305. 6  Keith Surridge, “Herbert Kitchener,” in Victoria’s Generals, 194. 7  Kenneth Griffith, Thank God We Kept the Flag Flying (New York: Viking Press, 1974), 367.


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© The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




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Cairnes, William Elliot. Earl Roberts as a Soldier in Peace and War: A Biography. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1901. Callwell, C.E. Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice. 3rd ed. London: H.M.S.O., 1906; Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 1996. Callwell, C.E. Tirah, 1897. London: Constable and Co, 1911. Churchill, Winston. The Story of the Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War. London: Longman, Green and Co., 1898. Cochran, F. The Hampshire Men (37th Regiment) in Upper Burmah, in 1889. London: Allen, Scott and Co., 1890. Collen, E.H.H. The Indian Army: A Sketch of Its History and Organization. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907. Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Great Boer War. 16th ed. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1903. Crosthwaite, Charles. The Pacification of Burma. London: Edward Arnold, 1912. Dean, Charles G.T. The Royal Hospital Chelsea. London: Hutchinson, 1950. Dixon, Clive MacDonnell. The Leaguer of Ladysmith. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1900; Rev. ed., The Siege of Ladysmith. Pietermaritzburg: Oribi Books, 1999. Dundonald, Douglas. My Army Life. London: Edward Arnold, 1926. Durand, Mortimer. The Life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, 2 volumes. Edinburgh and London: Wm. Blackwood and Sons, 1915. Elsmie, G.R. Field Marshal Sir Donald Stewart: An Account of His Life. London: John Murray, 1903. Forbes, Archibald. The Afghan Wars 1839–42 and 1878–80. London: Seeley and Co., LTD, 1896. Forrest, George. The Life of Lord Roberts. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1914. Forrest, George W. The Administration of the Marquis of Lansdowne as Viceroy and Governor-General of India, 1888–1894. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India, 1894. Fraser, Lovat. India Under Curzon & After. London: Heinemann, 1911. Gardyne, Charles Greenhill. The Life of a Regiment: The History of the Gordon Highlanders From 1816 to 1898. Edinburgh: D. Douglas, 1903. Geary, Grattan. Burma, After the Conquest. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1886. Gore, St. John, ed. The Green Horse in Ladysmith. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1901. Gough, Hubert. Soldiering On. London: Arthur Baker, 1954. Haldane, Aylmer. A Soldier’s Saga. Edinburgh and London: Wm. Blackwood & Sons, 1948. Hamilton, Ian S.M. Listening for the Drums. London: Faber and Faber, 1944. Hanna, H.B. The Second Afghan War 1878-79-80. Its Causes, its Conduct and its Consequences. Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1899.



Hittu Ram, Rai Bahuder. Sandeman in Baluchistan. Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, 1916. Hobson, J.A. The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Effects. London: Nisbet, 1900. Holdich, T. Hungerford. The Indian Borderland 1880–1900. London: Methuen and Co., 1901. Hutchinson, G.T. Frank Rhodes: A Memoir. London: William Clowes and Sons, 1908. Jacson, M. The Record of a Regiment of the Line, being a regimental history of the 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment during the Boer War 1899–1902. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1908. James, Lionel. The Indian Frontier War. London: William Heinemann, 1898. Khan, Sultan Mahomed, ed. The Life of Abdur Rahman, Amir of Afghanistan. London: John Murray, 1900. Lines, G.W. The Ladysmith Siege. 2nd Nov’r 1899–1st March 1900. Maritzburg, SA: P. Davis & Sons, 1900. Lyall, Alfred. The Life of the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava. London: John Murray, 1905. Macdonald, Donald. How We Kept the Flag Flying: The Story of the Siege of Ladysmith. London: Ward, Lock & Co., 1900. MacGregor, Charles M. The Second Afghan War 1878–80. Simla: Government Central Branch Press, 1885; rev. ed., F.G. Cardew. London: John Murray, 1908. ———. War in Afghanistan, 1879–80: The Personal Diary of Major General Sir Charles Metcalfe MacGregor. Edited by William Trousdale. Detroit: Wayne State University, 1985. Mahan, Alfred T. The Story of the War in South Africa. 3rd ed. London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1901. Malleson, G.B. The Russo-Afghan Question and the Invasion of India. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1885. Maurice, Frederick, ed. Soldier, Artist, Sportsman: The Life of General Lord Rawlinson of Trent. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928. Maurice, Frederick, and M. H. Grant. (Official) History of the War in South Africa, 1899–1902, 4 volumes. London: Hurst and Blackwood, 1906–1910. McFall, Crawford. With the Zhob Field Force. London: William Heinemann, 1895. McHugh, R.J. The Siege of Ladysmith. London: Chapman & Hall, 1900. Nevinson, H.W. Ladysmith: The Diary of a Siege. London: Methuen & Co., 1900. Newton, T.W.L. Lord Lansdowne: A Biography. London: Macmillan and Co., 1929. Pearse, H.H.S. Four Months Besieged: The Story of Ladysmith being unpublished letters from H.H.S.  Pearse the ‘Daily News’ Special Correspondent. London: Macmillan and Co., 1900. Prior, Melton. Campaigns of a War Correspondent. London: Edward Arnold, 1912. Roberts, Frederick Sleigh. Forty-One Years in India: From Subaltern to Commander-­ in-­Chief. London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1898.



Romer, C.F. and A.E. Mainwaring. The Second Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the South African War. London: A.L. Humphreys, 1908. Shadbolt, Sydney H. The Afghan Campaigns of 1878–1880, Compiled from Official and Private Sources. London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, 1882. Simpson, R.J.S. The Medical History of the War in South Africa. London: H.M.S.O., 1911. Special War Correspondent of the Pioneer, comp. The Risings on the North-West Frontier: being a complete narrative, with specially prepared maps of the various risings of the frontier tribes in the Tochi Valley, the Swat Valley, the country of the Mohmands and Mamunds, and the country of the Afridis and Orakzai... Allahabad: Pioneer Press, 1898. Spender, J.A. The Life of the Right Hon. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, G.C.B., 2 volumes. London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1924. Steevens, G.W. From Capetown to Ladysmith: An Unfinished Record of the South African War. Edinburgh and London: Wm. Blackwood and Sons, 1900. Stephenson, Frederick Charles Arthur. At Home and on the Battlefield. London: John Murray, 1915. Thornton, T.H. Colonel Sir Robert Sandeman: His Life and Work on our Indian Frontier. London: John Murray, 1895. Trimble, William Copeland. Historical Record of the 27th Inniskilling Regiment, from the period of its institution as a volunteer corps till the present time. London: Wm. Clowes and Sons, 1876. Vibart, Henry. The Life of Sir Harry N.D.  Prendergast. London: Eveleigh Nash, 1914. Walters, H.F., comp. The Operations of the Malakand Field Force and the Buner Field Force 1897–98. Simla: Government Central Printing Office, 1905. Wantage, Lady. Lord Wantage, V.C., K.C.B.: A Memoir. London: Elder & Co., 1907. White, J.R. Misfit: An Autobiography. London: Jonathan Cape, 1930. Wilkinson, Spenser. Lessons of the War: Being Comments from Week to Week to the Relief of Ladysmith. Philadelphia: Archibald Constable & Company, 1900. Younghusband, Francis. The Relief of Chitral. London: Macmillan and Co, 1895; Reprint and Shilling edition, 1910.

IV. Modern Books and Journals Adas, Michael. The Burma Delta. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1974. Agha, Sameetah. “Deciphering the Maizar Military Tribunal, 1897.” In Culture, Conflict and the Military in Colonial South Asia, edited by Kaushik Roy and Gavin Rand, 157–183. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2018.



Atwood, Rodney. General Lord Rawlinson: From Tragedy to Triumph. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018. Atwood, Rodney. The Life of Field Marshal Lord Roberts. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. Azmi, M. Raziullah. “Russian Expansion in Central Asia and the Afghan Question (1865–85).” Pakistan Horizon 37 3(1984): 106–135. Beckett, Ian F.W. “Edward Stanhope at the War Office 1887–92.” Journal of Strategic Studies 5 2(1982): 278–307. Beckett, Ian F.W. The Victorians at War. London: Hambledon and London, 2003. Beckett, Ian F.W. “Soldiers, the Frontier and the Politics of Command in British India.” Small Wars & Insurgencies 16 3(2005): 280–292. Beckett, Ian F.W. A British Profession of Arms: The Politics of Command in the Late Victorian Army. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018. Beckett, Ian F.W. “The Campaign of the Lost Footsteps: the Pacification of Burma, 1885–95.” Small Wars & Insurgencies 30 4–5(2019): 999–1014. The Boer War: Ladysmith and Mafeking, 1900. London: The Stationary Office, 1999. Bond, Brian. Victorian Military Campaigns. London: Hutchinson, 1967. Breytenbach, J.H. Die Geskiedenis van die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog in Suid-Afrika, 1899–1902, 6 volumes. Pretoria: Staatsdrukker, 1960–1996. Bruce, A.P.C. The Purchase System in the British Army, 1660–1871. London: Royal Historical Society, 1980. Bruce, George. The Burma Wars 1824–1886. London: Hart-Davis, McGibbon, 1973. Carver, Lord. The National Army Museum Book of the Boer War. London: Pan, 1999. Chalmers, Alan. Bombardment of Ladysmith Anticipated: The Diary of a Siege. Weltevreden Park, South Africa: Covos-Day Books, 2000. Chatterjee, Amal. Representations of India, 1740–1840: The Creation of India in the Colonial Imagination. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Christison, Grant, ed. Ladysmith and Lydenburg: Anglo-Boer War Letters of Alfred Markham. Pietermaritzburg: Grant Christison, 1993. Churcher, D.W. From Alexandria to Ladysmith with the 87th. York: Boer War Books, 1984. Clayton, Anthony. The British Officer: Leading the Army from 1660 to the Present. London: Pearson, 2006. Cohen, Stephen P. “Issue, Role, and Personality: The Kitchener-Curzon Dispute.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 10 3(1968): 337–355. Corvi, Steven and Ian F.W.  Beckett, eds. Victoria’s Generals. London: Pen and Sword Books, 2009. Craw, Bella. A Diary of the Siege of Ladysmith. Ladysmith: Ladysmith Historical Society, 1970.



Davies, C. Collin, The Problem of the North-West Frontier 1890–1908. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1932; Rev. ed. New  York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1975. Diver, Maud. Kabul to Kandahar. London: Peter Davies, 1935. Driver, Kate. Experience of a Siege: A Nurse Looks Back on Ladysmith. Grahamstown, SA: Ladysmith Historical Society, 1978. Edwards, David B. “Mad Mullahs and Englishmen: Discourse in the Colonial Encounter.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 31 4(1989): 649–670. Edwards, David B. Heroes of the Age: Moral Fault Lines on the Afghan Frontier. Berkeley: University of Californian Press, 1996. Fieldhouse, D.K. “The Metropolitan Economics of Empire.” In The Oxford History of the British Empire, Volume IV: The Twentieth Century, edited by Judith Brown and Wm. Roger Louis, 88–113. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Ford, Matthew. “Towards a Revolution in Firepower? Logistics, Lethality, and the Lee-Metford.” War in History 20 3(2013): 273–299. Gooch, John, ed. The Boer War: Direction, Experience and Image. London: Frank Cass, 2000. Gopal, S. British Policy in India 1858–1905. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965. Grehan, John and Martin Mace, comps. Despatches from the Front: The Boer War 1899–1902. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword, 2014. Griffith, Kenneth. Thank God We Kept the Flag Flying. New  York: Viking Press, 1974. Gupta, Uma Das. “The Indian Press 1870–1880: A Small World of Journalism.” Modern Asian Studies 11 2(1977): 213–235. Habib, Irfan. “The Coming of 1857,” Social Scientist 26 1(1988): 6–15. Hall, D.G.E. A History of South-East Asia. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1968. Hamilton, Ian B.M. The Happy Warrior: A Life of General Sir Ian Hamilton. London: Cassell, 1966. Heathcote, T.A. The Indian Army: The Garrison of British Imperial India, 1822–1922. London: David & Charles, 1974. Heathcote, T.A. The Military in British India: The Development of British Land Forces in South Asia 1600–1947. Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1995. Herbert, Christopher. War of No Pity: The Indian Mutiny and Victoria Trauma. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. Hirschfield, Claire. “The Anglo-Boer War and the Issue of Jewish Culpability.” Journal of Contemporary History 15 4(1980): 619–631. Hogben, W.M. “British civil-military relations on the north-west frontier of India.” In Swords and Covenants, edited by Adrian Preston and Peter Dennis. London: Croon Helm, 1976.



Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. New York: Kodansha International, 1990. Hunter, Archie. Kitchener’s Sword-Arm. New York: Sarpedon, 1996. James, David. Lord Roberts. London: Hollis & Carter, 1954. Johnson, Douglas H. “The Death of Gordon: A Victorian Myth.” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 10(1982): 285–310. Johnson, Rob. “General Roberts, the Occupation of Kabul, and the Problems of Transition, 1879–1880.” War in History 20 3(2013): 300–322. Keohane, Leo. Captain Jack White: Imperialism, Anarchism & the Irish Citizen Army. Sallins, Ireland: Merrion Press, 2014. Kidambi, Prashant. The Making of an Indian Metropolis: Colonial Governance and Public Culture in Bombay, 1890–1920. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007. Kochanski, Halik. Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero. London: The Hambledon Press, 1999. LeClair, Daniel R. “The Great Gun Question” and the Modernization of Ordnance and Administration. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2019. Lee, John. A Soldier’s Life: General Sir Ian Hamilton 1853–1947. London: Pan Books, 2000. Leeson, D.M. “Playing at War: The British Military Manoeuvres of 1898.” War in History 15 4(2008): 432–461. Levine, Philippa. “Rereading the 1890s: Venereal Disease as ‘Constitutional Crisis’ in Britain and British India.” The Journal of Asian Studies 55 3(1996): 585–612. Levine, Philippa. Prostitution, Race & Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire. New York: Routledge, 2003. Lorimer, Douglas A. Colour, Class and the Victorians: English Attitudes to the Negro in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1978. Lutyens, Mary. The Lyttons in India: An Account of Lord Lytton’s Viceroyalty 1876–1880. London: John Murray, 1979. Marsden, Magnus, and Benjamin D. Hopkins. Fragments of the Afghan Frontier. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. May, Henry John. Music of the Guns: Based on Two Journals of the Boer War. London: Jarrolds, 1970. Miller, Stephen M. Lord Methuen and the British Army: Failure and Redemption in South Africa. London: Frank Cass, 1999. Miller, Stephen M. “British Surrenders and the South African War, 1899–1902.” War & Society 38 2(2019): 98–114. Miller, Stephen M., ed. Queen Victoria’s Wars: British Military Campaigns, 1857–1902. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021. Miller, Stephen M. and Jessica Miller. “Moral and Legal Prohibitions Against Pillage in the Context of the 1899 Hague Convention and the South African War.” War in History 26 2(2019): 185–203.



Misra, J.P. The Administration of India Under Lord Lansdowne (1888–1894). New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1975. [Moore, Hettie.] “Ladysmith during the Siege, 1899–1900.” Africana Notes and News/Africana aantekeninge en nuus 19 1(1970): 18–25. Moreman, T.R. The Army in India and the Development of Frontier Warfare, 1849–1947. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Morris, A.J.A. Reporting the First World War: Charles Repington, The Times and the Great War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Nasson, Bill. The South African War, 1899–1902. New York: Oxford, 1999. Neillands, Robin. The Dervish Wars: Gordon and Kitchener in the Sudan 1880–1898. London: John Murray, 1996. Omissi, David. “‘Martial Races’: Ethnicity and Security in Colonial India 1858–1939.” War and Society 9 1(1991): 1–27. Omissi, David. The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army, 1860–1940. London: Macmillan, 1994. Omrani, Bijan. “The Durand Line: History and Problems of the Afghan-Pakistan Border.” Asian Affairs 40 2(2009): 177–195. Pakenham, Elizabeth. Jameson’s Raid. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1960. Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. New York: Random House, 1979. Pande, Rashmi. The Viceroyalty of Lord Elgin II. Patna: Janaki Prakashan, 1986. Park, C.W. Letters from Ladysmith. Ladysmith: Ladysmith Historical Society, 1970. Pivar, David J. “The Military, Prostitution, and Colonial Peoples: India and the Philippines, 1885–1917.” The Journal of Sex Research 17 3(1981): 256–269. Porter, Andrew. The Origins of the South African War: Joseph Chamberlain and the Diplomacy of Imperialism 1895–99. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980. Powell, Geoffrey. Buller: A Scapegoat? London: Leo Cooper, 1994. Preston, Adrian, ed. In Relief of Gordon: Lord Wolseley’s Campaign Journal of the Khartoum Relief Expedition 1884–1885. London: Hutchinson, 1967. Pretorius, Fransjohan. Life on Commando During the Anglo-Boer War, 1899–1902. Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, 1999. Pretorius, Fransjohan. Historical Dictionary of the Anglo-Boer War. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2009. Rand, Gavin. “From the Black Mountain to Waziristan: Culture and Combat on the North-West Frontier.” In Culture, Conflict and the Military in Colonial South Asia, edited by Kaushik Roy and Gavin Rand, 131–56. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2018. Rethman, Hugh. Friends and Enemies: The Natal Campaign in the South African War 1899–1902. Ticehurst, UK: Tattered Flag, 2015. Riley, Patricia, ed. “The Ladysmith Siege Diary of Dr. James Alexander Kay.” Africana Notes and News, 19 8(1971): 311–337.



Robinson, Ronald and John Gallagher with Alice Denny. Africa and the Victorians. London: Macmillan, 1961. Robson, Brian. “The Eden Commission and the Reform of the Indian Army  – 1879–1895.” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 60 241(1982): 4–13. Robson, Brian. The Road to Kabul: The Second Afghan War 1878–1881. New York: Arms and Armour Press, 1986. Roe, Andrew M. Waging War in Waziristan: The British Struggle in the Land of Bin Laden, 1849–1947. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2010. Roy, Kaushik. “The Construction of Regiments in the Indian Army.” War in History 8 2(2001): 127–148. Roy, Kaushik. The Army in British India: From Colonial Warfare to Total War 1857–1947. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Roy, Kaushik. “Race and Recruitment in the Indian Army: 1880–1918.” Modern Asian Studies 47 4(2013): 1310–1327. Shadwell, L.J. Lockhart’s Advance Through Tirah. New  York: New Amsterdam Book Company, 1899. Sharp, Gerald. The Siege of Ladysmith. London: Macdonald and Jane’s, 1976. Singh, Hira Lal. Problems and Policies of the British in India 1885–1898. New York: Asia Publishing House, 1963. Singha, Radhika. “The ‘Rare Infliction’: the Abolition of Flogging in the Indian Army, circa 1835–1920.” Law and History Review 34 3(2016): 783–818. Singhal, D.P. The Annexation of Upper Burma. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1960. Singh, Yumkhaibam Shyam. “Political Economy of the British and the Manipuri Responses to it in 1891 War.” International Journal of Social Science and Economic Research 4 1(2019): 550–563. Smith, Iain R. The Origins of the South African War, 1899–1902. New  York: Longman, 1996. Snook, Mike. Beyond the Reach of Empire: Wolseley’s Failed Campaign to Save Gordon and Khartoum. London: Frontline Books, 2013. Snyman, Rita. “A Nurse Looks Back on the Siege of Ladysmith.” Africana Notes and News, 22 5(1977): 180–194. Sonwalkar, Prasun. “Indian Journalism in the Colonial Crucible: A nineteenth-­ century story of political protest.” Journalism Studies 16 5(2015): 624–636. Spiers, Edward M. “The Use of the Dum Dum Bullet in Colonial Warfare.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 4 (1975): 3–14. Spiers, Edward M. The Late Victorian Army 1868–1902. London: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Spiers, Edward M. The Scottish Soldier and Empire, 1854–1902. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.



Spiers, Edward M., ed. Letters from Ladysmith: Eyewitness Accounts from the South African War. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball, 2010. Spiers, Edward M. Engines for Empire: The Victorian Army and its Use of Railways. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015. Spies, S.B. Methods of Barbarism? Roberts and Kitchener and Civilians in the Boer Republics January 1900–May 1902. Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, 1977. Stewart, A.T.Q. The Pagoda War: Lord Dufferin and the Fall of the Kingdom of Ava. Newton Abbot, UK: Victorian (& Modern History) Book Club, 1974. Streets, Heather. Martial Races: The Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857–1914. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004. Surridge, Keith Terrance. “‘All you soldiers are what we call pro-Boer’: The Military Critique of the South African War, 1899–1902.” History 82 268(1997): 582–600. Surridge, Keith Terrance. Managing the South African War, 1899–1902: Politicians v. Generals. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1998. Surridge, Keith Terrance. “The Ambiguous Amir: Britain, Afghanistan and the 1897 North-West Frontier Uprising.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 36 3(2008): 417–434. Symons, Julian. Buller’s Campaign. London: The Cresset Press, 1963. Symons, Julian. England’s Pride: The Story of the Gordon Relief Expedition. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1965. Tatham, G.F. Diary of the Siege of Ladysmith. Ladysmith: Ladysmith Historical Society, 1970. Travers, Tim, ed. “The Boer War Diary of Lieutenant Hugh Price Travers.” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, 79 318(2001): 130–44. Tripodi, Christian T. “‘Good for one but not the other’; The ‘Sandeman System’ of Pacification as Applied to Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier, 1877–1947.” The Journal of Military History 73 3(2009): 767–802. Tripodi, Christian. Edge of Empire: The British Political Officer and Tribal Administration on the North-West Frontier 1877–1947. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011. Tucker, A.L.P. Sir Robert G. Sandeman. Lahore: Tariq Publishing House, 1979. Warwick, Peter, and S.B. Spies, eds. The South African War: The Anglo-Boer War 1899–1902. Harlow: Longman, 1980. Watkins-Pitchford, Henry. Besieged in Ladysmith: A Letter to his Wife, written in Ladysmith during the siege. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter, 1964. Watson, William. The Siege Diary of William Watson: Oct. 1899  – Feb. 1900. Ladysmith, South Africa: Ladysmith Historical Society, 1989. Watt, S.A. “Intombi Military Hospital and Cemetery.” Military History Journal 5 6(1982), Watt, Steve. The Siege of Ladysmith: 2 November 1899  - 28 February 1900. Randburg, SA: Ravan Press, 1999.



Whittingham, Daniel. Charles E.  Callwell and the British Way in Warfare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. Woodburn, C.W. “Forts of the Chitral Campaign of 1895.” Asian Affairs 30 2(1999): 141–153.

V. Dissertations Anderson, Valerie E.R. “The Eurasian problem in nineteenth century India.” PhD diss., School of Oriental and African Studies, 2011. Gilbert, Marc J. “Lord Lansdowne in India: At the Climax of an Empire, 1888–1894.” PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1978. Jones, Spencer. “The Influence of the Boer War (1899–1902) on the Tactical development of the Regular British Army 1902–1914.” PhD diss., University of Wolverhampton, 2009.


A Abdullah Jan, 43n8 Abdur Rahman, 53, 62, 64, 132, 133, 167, 170, 177, 179, 189 á Court, Charles, 268–270 Adye, Walter, 218 Afghanistan, 4–6, 9–11, 30, 32, 37, 38, 41–69, 71, 80, 81, 88, 102–104, 110–113, 116, 132–134, 149, 159, 160, 164, 165, 167, 170, 180, 182, 187, 190 Amir of, 113, 117, 132, 160, 166, 167, 169, 170, 174, 180, 187, 189, 190 border demarcation, 134 civil war, 42 Afridi, 172, 174, 175, 181–183, 185–189, 188n126, 196 Afrikaner nationalism, 198 Afzal Khan, Mohammad, 32 Afzul, Sher, 167 Alcohol, 100, 149, 150

Alexandra, Queen, 277 Alexandria, 30, 73 Algiers, 276 Ali Khayl, 46–50, 52, 53 Allahabad command, 28, 99 Altham, Edward A., 237, 270, 272 Amery, Leo, 263, 264, 267, 268, 268n37, 270, 270n45 Amir-ul-Mulk, 168 Anderson, Charles, 97 Andrew, Elizabeth, 152 Anglo-Zulu War, 50 Antrim, 10, 13, 15, 27n50, 257 Apozai, 110–112, 115, 117 Arbuthnot, George, 89, 95, 96, 101 Army Act, 141–143, 143n56 Army administration, 281, 282 Army Board, 196 Army Corps, 203, 204, 229, 234 Army Enlistment Act, 34 Army Organization Commission, 145 Arnold-Forster, Hugh Oakeley, 278, 283

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.


© The Author(s) 2020 S. M. Miller, George White and the Victorian Army in India and Africa,




Arthur, Prince, 124 Asaj Jah VI, 140 Ascetics, 178 Ashanti Ring, 5, 131, 195, 199 Assam, 160, 175 Auckland, 41 Ava, Lord, 205, 247 Ayub Khan, 64–66, 65n97 B Badcock, A.R., 129n3 Baden-Powell, Robert, 5 Baj Singh, 167 Baker, T. D., 55, 56, 57n66, 58–60, 66, 67n111, 125 Bala Hissar, 56, 58, 61 Balfour, Arthur, 248, 266, 280 Balkans, 38 Baluchistan, 5, 11, 77, 103–128, 133, 136, 146, 147, 160, 162, 288 Baly, Amelia, see White, Amy Baly, Joseph, 35 Bangal, 115–117, 117n45 Barton, Geoffrey, 220, 252 Battle of Blood River, 240 Battle of Colenso, 236, 240, 248 Battle of Elandslaagte, 214 Battle of Gujrat, 103 Battle of Kandahar, 66 Battle of Kirbekan, 76 Battle of Ladysmith, 217 Battle of Lombard’s Kop, 217–219, 226, 227 Battle of Obeid, 73 Battle of Paardeberg, 249, 251, 252 Battle of Platrand, 246 Battle of Spion Kop, 239 Battle of Talana Hill, 209n55, 211, 212, 269 Battye, A., 66 Bengal, 137, 146, 147, 152

Bengal Native Infantry, 24 Bengal Presidency Army, 23, 78, 136 Beresford, Charles, 13, 276 Bernard, Charles, 11, 90, 91, 93n81, 94, 95, 102 Bhamo, 85, 90 Bhutan, 103 Biddulph, Robert, 197, 197n11, 260 Biggarsberg, 200, 205, 205n42, 206 Birdwood, William, 253 Black Mountain expedition, 120 Black Week, 236, 248 Bloemfontein, 236, 249, 256, 272 Bloemfontein Conference, 199, 201 Blood, Bindon, 173, 178 Boers, 1–4, 1n1, 6, 9, 198–209, 211–215, 213n67, 213n68, 217–223, 227, 229, 231–237, 239–241, 242n75, 245–249, 251, 253, 257, 258 Bohs, 87 Bolan Pass, 45, 104, 110 Bombay-Burmah Trading Company, 81 Bombay Presidency Army, 78, 111, 124, 137, 146, 147, 153, 154 Botha, Louis, 231, 236 Bovril, 244n89 Boxer Rebellion, 261 Boyd, Kate, 237 Brackenbury, Henry, 76, 121, 126, 130–132, 135, 136, 140, 143, 144, 151, 155, 156, 162, 166, 168n33, 171, 195n6, 196, 275, 282, 282n94, 289 Bradshaw, Alexander F., 151 Brahui, 104, 105 Brakfontein, 251 British forces, 108, 121, 141, 199, 200, 206, 217, 217n85 British military reforms, 121, 122 Britishness, 9


British Residents in Burma, 80, 81 British rule, 90 Brocklehurst, John, 272, 273 Brodrick, William John St., 262, 263, 266, 267, 270, 274n63, 278–280, 283 Brooke, Ronnie, 203 Broughshane, 4, 10, 13, 27n50, 35, 71, 72, 284 Browne, Edmond Charles, 86 Browne, Sam, 45, 53 Brownlow, Charles H., 99n102 Bruce, Richard Isaac, 107n12, 115, 117, 162, 163 Buchanan, T.R., 145 Buller, Redvers, 1n1, 4, 8, 12, 13, 76, 112, 122, 123, 125, 126, 126n89, 168–170, 184n106, 195n6, 201, 201n25, 202, 202n31, 203n35, 204, 204n38, 206, 207, 219–223, 229–239, 243, 245, 247–254, 256, 258, 261–271, 288, 289 Bullets, 156–158 Bunerwals, 172, 173, 179–181 Burger, Schalk, 246 Burleigh, Bennet, 223, 224 Burlton, H.M.B., 137 Burma, 3, 5, 7, 11, 71–103, 109, 112, 120, 125n83, 193, 196, 203n33, 214 Burmans, 98, 99, 102 Burrows, George, 64, 64n96, 65 Bushnell, Kate, 152 Butler, William, 199, 199n16, 200, 206, 206n48 C Caesar’s Camp, 272, 274 Cairo, 72–74 Calcutta, 129, 130, 144, 156


Callwell, C.E., 7, 92n78, 93, 93n81, 118, 174, 182 Cambridge, Duke of, 28, 33, 51, 63, 68, 72, 98, 99, 112, 122, 126, 130, 163, 167, 174, 194, 201, 248 Cameron, Arthur Wellington, 36, 36n82 Canning, Lord, 27, 137 Cantonment Act, 100, 150–152 Cape Afrikaner rebellion, 234 Cape Colony, 196, 199, 205, 206n46, 218n85, 226n8, 229, 235, 242, 248, 251 Cape Times, 257 Cape Town, 3, 18, 230, 257 Cardwell, Edward, 33, 34, 50, 68n116, 121, 122, 130 Carleton, Frank, 218, 219, 219n89, 223 Casualties, 65, 67, 212n65, 213n66, 215n78, 231, 235, 236, 236n40, 243, 247, 247n101, 250 Cavagnari, Pierre Louis, 44, 45, 49, 50, 52, 56, 57, 170 Cayingubo Hill, 218 Censorship rules, 88 Chakdara, 173, 179, 181 Chakrata, 34 Chamberlain, Neville, 44, 187, 188n123 Chapman, E. F., 65 Charasiab, 53–55, 57, 57n66, 63, 67n111, 74, 79, 125 Charlotte, 17, 18 Chelmsford, Lord, 50 Chelsea Hospital, 72 Chesney, George, 96, 112, 145 Chevril, 243 Chilas, 130–132, 160, 166 China, 78, 81, 94, 95 Chins, 97, 99–102



Chitral, 130–133, 140, 156, 157n121, 166–172, 168n33, 177, 181, 188 Chitral Field Force, 156, 168, 168n33, 170 Chittagong, 101 Cholera, 50, 99, 120 Churchill, Randolph, 81 Churchill, Winston, 178 Church of Ireland, 31 Clarendon, Earl of, 47 Clarke, W. H. J., 57, 57n66 Clery, Francis, 220, 230, 231, 234, 238, 271 Clowes, G.V.W., 254 Coalfields, 225 Colenso, 2, 234–237, 240, 245, 247, 248, 250n113, 251, 252, 262–264 Collen, E.H.H., 131, 134 Collett, Henry, 97 Colley, George Pomeroy, 44, 44n14, 68, 197, 203 Colvile, Henry, 274n63 Commander-in-Chief, India, 103, 109, 124, 126, 129–158, 194–196, 199, 201, 279, 280 Conscription, 33 Conservative government, 145, 199 Conservative party, 62, 81 Conservatives, 43, 51, 58 Contagious Disease laws, 100, 150 Corporal punishment, 141 Corrie Bird, G., 173, 176 Council of India, 159, 162, 164–166, 170, 171, 186 Courcy Morton, Gerald de, 172 Court-martial, 266 Cox, A. T., 97 Craw, Bella, 239, 243 Creagh, G. O’Moore, 111 Crichton, 272, 273 Crimean War, 16, 30, 38

Cronjé, Andries P., 218 Cronjé, Piet, 249, 251 Crosthwaite, Charles, 11, 95, 102, 186 Crutchley, Charles, 283 Currie, A. A., 54, 54n55 Curzon, Lord, 106, 255, 279–282 D Dacoits, 85–87, 86n52, 88n61, 89, 93, 98 Daily Mail, 215 Daily Telegraph, 239 Dalhousie, 20, 32 Dalzel, A.F., 241 Darband, 175n67 Dargai, 179, 185 Darwesh Khel, 162, 164, 173 Davies, C. Collin, 175 Dawaris, 162, 164 De Aar, 235 De Coury Hamilton, C., 272, 273 de Villiers, C.J., 246 Deane, Harold, 177–179 Debbeh, 77 Defenses of Ladysmith, 223, 227, 268, 271, 272, 275 Delhi, 24, 37 Dick-Cunyngham, William Henry, 59, 59n78, 247 Digna, Osman, 73 Dillon, Martin, 72, 98 Dingaan’s Day, 240 Disarmament, 188, 190 Discipline, 123, 124 Disease, 91, 231, 232, 241–243 Disraeli, Benjamin, 37, 43, 44, 73 Dongola, 74 Dormer, J. C., 76, 76n15, 77, 125, 125n83 Dost Mohammed, 23, 32, 41 Drakensberg Mountains, 204


Drepilari, 177 Duar War, 103 Duff, Beauchamp, 129n3, 170, 171, 189, 202, 206, 267, 267n33, 272, 273, 281, 281n91 Dufferin, Lord, 11, 81, 88–90, 96, 99n103, 102, 140, 145, 205 Dumdum bullet, 157, 158 Dundee, 200, 205, 206n48, 207, 209, 211, 214, 215, 225, 227 Dundonald, Douglas, 1, 1n1, 121, 250n113, 253–256, 254n132 Dundonald, Earl of, 76 Durand, Algernon, 131, 133, 134, 171 Durand Line, 133, 134n21, 160, 165, 189, 190 Durand, Mortimer, 4, 6, 9, 53n51, 64, 121, 133, 134, 193, 194, 205n42, 256, 285, 286 Durban, 6, 225, 229, 256 Dyas, J. R., 87 Dysentery, 232, 239, 242, 243 E Earle, William, 76 East, C. T., 97 East India Company, 23, 24, 27, 42, 78–80, 103, 124 Eden Commission, 145, 148 Edward VII, 13, 260, 274, 276 Edwardes, David B., 178 Egerton, Charles Comyn, 164, 176 Egypt, 72–74 1893 proposals, 146, 147 Elandslaagte, 211–214, 269 Elgin Commission, 270 Elgin, Earl of, 5 Elgin, Lord, 11, 148, 149, 152, 156n116, 157n121, 158, 162, 163, 165–171, 176, 178n79, 181, 184, 188–190


Elles, E. R., 174, 181, 183 Elles, Edmond, 279, 281, 282 Elles, William, 92, 112, 120 Entente Cordiale, 277 Enteric, 232, 233, 239, 241–243 Environmental determinism, 136 Erasmus, Daniël, 211, 212, 218 Esher, Lord, 271 Eurasian corps, 143 Eurasians, 143, 144, 144n60, 158 White’s attitudes toward, 144n63 Executions, 58, 61, 65, 88, 88n62 Expanding bullets, 158 F Fairholme, W.E., 203 Fakirs, 178 Famine, 175 Faunce, Edmund, 97, 101 Fenian Rebellion, 30 Fevers, 232, 240, 242, 243 Field marshals, 276, 276n71 First Anglo-Afghan War, 41 First Anglo-Boer War, 12, 67, 197, 198, 204 First Moroccan Crisis, 277 Fitzpatrick, Dennis, 163 Flogging, 142, 143, 143n56 Forbes, John, 59 Forestier-Walker, Frederick, 12, 200, 205, 220, 279, 279n83 Forrest, George, 124n79 Fort Attock, 24–26 Fort Chitral, 167 Fort Maude, 174, 183 Fort Sandeman cantonment, 111 Forward policy, 41, 43, 51, 110, 112, 112n29, 126n89, 128, 131, 132, 149, 159, 175, 182, 188–190, 199n16 Fowler, Henry, 141, 142, 143n56, 163, 165



France, 73, 80, 81, 139 Franco-Prussian War, 33 Free press, 153, 154, 158 French, John, 2, 81, 212, 224, 230, 240, 251, 255 G Galbraith, William, 129n3, 142 Gandamak, 49, 62 Garrett, Robert, 28 Gatacre, William, 234, 248 Geary, Grattan, 85 Gee, H.A., 173, 176–178 Geneva Convention, 213n67 George Charles Maidment, 241 George, Prince, 276 Ger Madda Khels, 177 Germany, 198 Gibraltar, 3, 6, 12, 13, 13n24, 197, 197n11, 202, 221, 259, 263, 265, 274–279, 278n78, 284, 284n102 British control of, 259 civilian poplation, 260 defenses, 260 governorship of, 260 Henry Colvile at, 274n63 Jack White in, 283n101 military personnel at, 260 royal visits to, 260 Gilgit, 131 Gipps, Reginald, 149 Gladstone, William Ewart, 31, 33, 47, 50, 51, 61, 62, 73, 74, 81, 88, 92, 134, 148, 197, 289 Glencoe, 207–209, 212 Gobernor-General’s Council, 141 Gold, 198 Gomal Pass, 110, 115, 117, 121, 126, 133, 164 Goodenough, William, 199n16 Gordon, B. L., 102

Gordon, Charles, 63, 64, 73, 77, 134 Gordon, D. F., 56 Gordon Highlanders, 30, 45, 185, 197, 213, 214 Gough, C.J.S., 188, 188n123 Gough, Charles, 60 Gough, Hubert, 1, 1n1, 2, 2n3, 103, 253, 284n103 Gough, John, 1, 253, 254, 254n132, 256 Government of India, 129, 142, 144, 145, 148 Government of India Act, 27 Governor of Natal, 200, 207, 221 Grand Cross Star of India, 172 Grange, Willow, 231 Grant, Patrick, 72 Granville, Lord, 134 Great Britain, 41, 69, 73, 88, 100, 103, 106, 113, 128, 132, 139, 150, 157, 276, 278 Great Game, 11, 33, 113, 288 Greaves, George, 124 Grenfell, Francis, 202 Grey, Edward, 267 Griffith, Richard, 97 Grimwood, G.G., 219 Grove, Coleridge, 263 Guerrilla warfare, 93, 185, 261 Gundi Mulla Sahibdad, 66 Gun Hill, 233 Gurdon, Bertrand, 166 Gurkha regiments, 78 Gurkhas, 79, 94, 110, 136, 138, 147 H The Hague Convention, 157, 226 Haig, Douglas, 2, 255 Haines, Frederick, 38, 44, 63, 65, 65n97, 145 Haldane-Duncan, Robert, 209 Hale, Lonsdale, 268n37


Haliburton, Arthur, 122 Hamilton, George, 171, 189 Hamilton, Ian, 67, 109, 129n3, 156, 170, 183, 197, 202, 203n33, 205, 213, 213n69, 214, 217, 217n84, 219, 227, 245, 246, 258, 268, 270–273, 279 Hanbury, Robert W., 141–142, 143n56 Hardie, James Keir, 278 Harrison, Richard, 193, 196 Hartington Commission, 196 Hartington, Lord, 92 Hay, J. C., 68, 68n114 Headmen, 115, 117, 119 Heliograph, 231, 237, 238 Helpmakaar Ridge, 233 Hely-Hutchinson, Walter, 200, 204, 206–207, 206n48, 211, 221, 225–227, 229, 232, 255, 271 Henderson, David, 233, 272 Hicks Beach, Michael, 275 Hildyard, Henry, 202n31, 231 Wagon Hill, 272, 274 Himachal Pradesh, 129 Hime, Albert Henry, 232 Hindu Bagh, 112, 116 Hindustani, 137, 231 The History of the Third Burmese War, 99 Hlangwane Hill, 251, 252 Hluttaw, 89, 90 HMS Prince George, 277 Hobson, J.A., 206n48 Home Rule, 92 Hooper, W. W., 88, 88n61, 88n62 Horse Guards, 99, 126, 127, 172, 193, 194, 221 Horses, 239, 240 Hospital, 229, 239, 242 Howard, F., 227 Hughes, Walter Tatham, 283


Hunter, Archibald, 13, 202n31, 206, 213, 217, 220, 230, 233, 271–274, 276, 279n83, 284 Hunza, 131 I Imperial Light Horse, 233 Imperial Service Troops, 140, 141 Independent Labour Party, 278 India, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 34, 37, 41–44, 50–53, 58, 63, 64, 71, 72, 77–79, 81, 81n33, 85n47, 88–90, 99n102, 99n103, 100, 101, 103, 104, 109, 112–114, 123–127, 129–158, 171, 193, 194, 196, 203, 221, 264, 267, 274, 275, 279–282, 284, 288 Duke of Cambridge’s lack of visits, 194 Indian Arms Act, 138 Indian Army, 6, 8, 13, 137, 138 Eurasians in, 143n57 Native forces in, 140n43 Presidency Armies, 140n43 Indian Article of War, 141 Indian Contagious Disease Act, 100 Indian Rebellion of 1857, 23–27, 30, 31, 37, 78, 82, 176, 187 Indo-Eurasian Regiment, 143 Indus River, 160 Inniskillings, 16, 17n10 Inspector-General of Ordnance, 130 Institute system, 109 Intelligence Branch, 100 Intombi, 228, 232, 237, 244 Ireland, 15n2, 31 Irrawaddy, 79, 85, 102 Isandlwana, 42, 50 Islamabad, 50 Islamic fundamentalism, 175 Ismail, Khedive, 73



J Jagi, 48 Jalalabad, 45 Jan, Mahomed, 58, 59 Jandola brigade, 164 Jeffreys, P.D., 116n42, 179, 180 Jenkyns, F. H., 63 Jihad, 173, 174, 181 Johannesburg, 198, 212 Joubert, Piet, 204, 209, 211, 215, 218, 228–231, 245, 246 Jullundhur, 30, 32 K Kabul, 41–45, 49, 52–54, 56–63, 65 Kachins, 96, 97, 99, 102 Kairumas, 160 Kakars, 115 Kalat, 104, 105 Kalemyo, 97 Kalewa, 97 Kamptee, 78, 79 Kandahar, 10, 44, 45, 57, 62, 64–66, 64n96, 65n97, 68n114, 103, 104, 106, 114, 115 Kandahar Field Force, 44, 53, 106 Kandahar-Kabul line, 165, 169 Kanpur, 26 Kashmir, 19, 131–134, 149, 160, 161, 165–167 Kay, James Alexander, 244, 253 Kelly-Kenny, Thomas, 265, 266n27 Khaisor valley, 116 Khan, Daoud Shah, 53 Khan, Dera Ismail, 115 Khan, Mahomed, 53 Khan, Mehrab, 104 Khan, Murtaza, 117–119, 119n58 Khan of Kalat, 105, 121 Khan, Sher Ali, 32, 42, 43, 45, 46, 62, 64 Khan, Umra, 166–168, 177, 179

Khan, Yakub, 45, 49, 53, 57, 58, 62, 64 Khanki Valley, 185 Khartoum, 72, 73 Khels, Ahmad, 49n32 Khels, Madda, 176, 177 Khels, Mundo, 115 Khels, Utman, 172, 180, 181 Khidderzai, 115, 117, 118 Khojak Tunnel, 109 Khost, 45 Khyber Pass, 44, 45, 110, 174, 181–183 Kimberley, Lord, 126n89, 198, 229, 234–236, 249, 251 Kitchener, Lord, 248, 261, 289 Klip River, 242n75 Knollys, Lord, 277 Knox, W.G., 200, 227 Kock, J.H.M., 211–213, 212n64 Kohat, 39, 45, 46, 48 Kohistanis, 131, 132 Kruger, Paul, 198, 199, 206n46, 208 Kurram, 10 Kurram Field Force, 45 Kushi, 53 Kyle, H. D., 19, 26, 27 L Labor unions, 278 Ladysmith, siege of, 1, 1n1, 2, 3n5, 4, 6, 12, 13, 76, 76n15, 200, 205–209, 209n55, 211–243, 249–253, 255–257, 259, 262, 264, 265, 267–273, 273n54, 275n64, 278, 283, 284, 284n103, 288, 289 abandonment considerations, 250 Africans at, 245 beginning of, 221, 222 Buller’s entry into, 256 Buller’s relief efforts, 249, 251, 252


Burger’s attack, 246 Caesar’s Camp, 245, 246 Christmas Day, 241 civilians, 244, 245 commemorations of, 284n102, 287 defending forces, 246 desperation of, 250 diaries from, 236, 240, 253 disease, 245 eigth anniversary of, 283 food rations, 244, 245, 252, 254 food supplies, 243, 244 gossip during, 236 Hamilton’s command, 245 Hubert Gough and, 253 Indians at, 245 information getting into, 247 Joubert’s storming of, 245 Joubert’s strategy, 245 Lord Dundonald and, 253 market prices, 244 newspaper correspondents, 254 night marches, 246 Observation Hill, 249 perimeter, 246, 253 Platrand Hill, 246 relief of, 253–255 rumors, 236 shellings, 240 Spion Kop, 249, 250 strategic importance of, 257, 258 Wagon Hill, 246, 247, 249 water supply, 242, 243 White’s defenses of his actions, 275n64 Laing’s Nek, 204, 205 Lambton, Hedworth, 223, 271–273 Landi Kotal, 183 Lane, Ronald B., 283 Lansdowne, Lord, 3, 3n5, 11, 12, 99n103, 109, 110, 112, 112n29, 115, 124n79, 126, 126n89,


131–134, 144, 145, 145n64, 148, 149, 152, 158, 171, 172, 190, 193, 194, 195n6, 196, 201, 202, 204, 207, 219–221, 223, 245, 248, 250n113, 256, 261, 262, 266, 275 Lanyon, Owen, 73, 74 Lascelles, Walter R., 72, 76 Lawrence, John, 42 Lee-Metford, 155, 156, 157n121 Leg, 193, 202, 215 Liberal government, 134, 148, 201 Liberal Party, 58, 61, 62, 146 Liberal Unionist government, 88 Limit Hill, 233 Linked battalion system, 72 Localization scheme, 68n116 Local levies, 176 Local politics, 132 Lockhart, William, 93, 97, 100, 163, 164, 168, 170, 172, 174, 182–187, 184n106, 184n107, 190, 193, 201 Lock hospitals, 100, 150, 152 Lombard’s Kop, 230 London, 193, 195–197, 205, 279, 280, 283, 284 London Convention of 1884, 197 Long, C.J., 236 Long Hill, 217, 219 Loralai, 111, 112 Low, R.C., 97, 168, 170, 173, 177 Lower Burma, 80, 82 Loyal Orange Lodge, 287 Lucknow, 37, 38, 88, 99 Lugard, Frederick, 107 Lyall, Alfred, 52, 170 Lynch, W. W., 99 Lyon, F., 203, 272, 273 Lytton, Lord, 37, 37n87, 42–45, 47, 52, 58, 62, 63, 80, 81, 105, 132, 134, 145



M MacDonald, Donald, 216, 254 MacDonald, Hector, 74 MacGregor, Charles, 54, 54n52, 58 MacGregor, Walter, 214 Macpherson, Herbert, 88, 89, 91–93 Mad Fakir, 173, 179, 181 Madras Army, 135–137 Madras government, 136 Madras Presidency Army, 78, 79 Madras Sepoys, 135 Madrassi troops, 94 Mafeking, 234, 236 Magersfontein, 235, 247, 251 Mahan, Alfred Thayer, 226 Maharaja of Kashmir, 132, 167 Maharashtra, 78 Mahdi, 73 Mahdist revolt, 73, 77 Mahsuds, 160, 162–164, 168, 172, 177 Maiwand, 65 Maizar, 173, 176, 177, 189 Majuba disaster, 68 Majuba Hill, 197, 204 Malakand Field Force, 173, 180, 181 Malakand fort, 179 Malaria, 242 Maliks, 162, 163, 177 Mamunds, 173, 181, 182 Mandalay, 10, 79, 80, 82, 83, 85, 87–90, 92, 95, 97, 100–103, 126, 289 Maramazh, 118 Marquis of Ripon, 62 Martial law, 57, 61, 232 Martial race theory, 6, 20, 21, 31, 78, 79, 94, 136, 138, 287 Martini-Henry, 155 Masterly inactivity, 42, 51, 52, 149 Matthews, L., 218 Maurice, Frederick, 227, 232

Maxse, Leopold, 261, 261n6, 266, 266n29, 267 and official telegrams, 262 Maxse, Violet, 261n6 Mayo, 42, 62 McBean, Forbes, 36 McHugh, R.J., 239, 240, 249 McIvor, Ivar, 117n45, 120, 120n62 McMahon, A.H., 119 McMullen, W.H.F., 142 Meerut, 24, 27 Mehtar of Chitral, 166 Meiklejohn, W.H., 173, 179 Men’s Help Society, 149 Metcalfe, C.T.E., 233 Methuen, Lord, 184, 184n106, 185, 202, 203n33, 220, 234, 235, 237, 247, 248, 251, 289 Meyer, Lukas, 211, 212, 218 Michell, St. John, 183 Middle Hill, 227, 231 Military Member of Council, 130, 131, 145, 155, 158, 279–282 Miller, A.E., 141, 145n64 Milner, Alfred, 3, 199–201, 205, 207, 226, 226n8, 255, 256 Min, Mindon, 80 Minhla, 87 Mining industry, 206n48 Mixed brigades, 279 Mizoram, 160 Moberley-Bell, C. F., 269, 270 Modder River, 235, 248, 251 Mogaung, 96, 97 Mohammed, Dost, 115 Mohmand Field Force, 180, 181 Mohmands, 172–174, 180–183 Möller, B.D., 212 Monte Cristo Farm, 252 Montgomery, Robert, 29 Mooltan, 36 Moore, Hettie, 244


Moorhead, James, 29 Morocco, 277 Morton, Gerald de Courcy, 129n3 Mount Sikaram, 48, 49 Mournful Monday, 217, 219, 221, 223, 229, 248, 257, 268, 288 Moylan, Edward, 88 Mullah of Hadda, 180–182 Mullah Powindah, 163, 164 Murree, 50, 52 Muslim, 178 Mussulmens, 175 Myinmu, 91 N Napier, Charles, 103, 135 Napier of Magdala, 32 Natal, 1, 3, 4, 116, 196, 199, 200, 200n20, 202–210, 206n46, 212, 213, 216, 217, 217n85, 221, 224–226, 228n13, 229–232, 238, 242, 243, 245, 249, 251, 252, 256, 257, 259, 261, 266, 268–271, 283 Natal Carbineers, 233, 237, 240 The National Review, 264, 266, 266n29 National Service League, 124 Native associations, 139 Native force, 137, 138, 141 Native troops, 111, 112, 137–141, 147 Naval artillery, 13 The Naval Military Gazette, 125 Neville, J. P. C., 54 Nevinson, Henry, 232, 239, 240, 244, 250 New Chaman, 109, 133 Newspapers, 56, 57, 263–265, 269, 277, 284n103 Nicholson, John, 26n47


Nicholson’s Nek, 217, 218, 222, 224, 227, 271 Nicholson, W.G., 183, 279, 281 Night sorties, 226, 233 Nizam ul-Mulk, 166 Nmar Kalan, 118 Norman, Henry, 13, 148, 149, 276n71, 279, 282 Northbrook, Lord, 37, 42, 43, 51, 80 North-West Frontier, 4, 5, 11, 12, 104, 110, 114, 121, 133, 134, 146, 147, 149, 156, 159–161, 165, 172, 174–176, 178, 180–182, 184, 189, 190, 201, 213, 288 Nowshera, 21, 26 Nurses, 151, 241, 243 O Orakzai, 172, 174, 181–183, 185, 186, 188, 189, 196 Orange Free State, 199, 204, 205, 206n46, 208, 214, 218n85, 224, 229, 234, 236, 248, 251, 256, 261 Orange River Station, 235 Ottoman Empire, 38 P Palmer, A. Power, 183 Palmerston, Lord, 41 Pamirs, 133, 169, 170 Pan-Islamic movement, 175 Park, Cecil William, 244, 246, 247 Parker, George H., 36, 47, 48, 53, 58, 61, 66, 67 Parry, S., 55 Pashtun tribes, 104, 105, 106n8, 111, 115, 121, 133, 147, 160, 164, 174, 176



Peel Commission, 137–139 Peiwar Kotal, 46, 51 Penn Symons, William, 164, 172, 176 Pensions, 283 Pepworth’s Hill, 217, 222, 227, 271 Peshawar, 166, 171, 173, 174, 180, 183 Peshawar Valley, 26 Peshawar Valley Field Force, 44–45, 50 Pietermaritzburg, 6, 204, 206, 206n46, 211, 217, 226, 229, 237 Pir Paimal, 66 Pishin, 106 Platrand Hill, 273 Potgieter’s Drift, 234, 235, 239 Prendergast, Emilie, 107 Prendergast, Harry, 5, 79–80, 82, 83, 85, 85n46, 87–89, 88n62, 107, 109, 115, 136 Presidency Armies, 78, 135–137, 140, 143–146, 148, 158 Pretoria Convention of 1881, 197 Princely states, 140, 143 Prinsloo, Marthinus, 214 Prior, Melton, 223, 241 Pritchard, Bradley, 139, 140, 153 Prostitution, 150 Punitive expeditions, 115–118, 159, 160, 162–164, 169–170, 172, 173, 176, 178, 180, 182, 183, 190, 196, 201 Punjab, 19, 23, 24, 29, 30, 36, 103, 104, 110, 113, 116, 118 Purchase, 16, 17, 20, 34, 39, 115, 121 Pyinulwin, 97 Q Quartermaster-General, 195 Queen’s Westminster Volunteers, 264 Quetta, 5, 11, 77, 99, 101–128, 132, 136, 165, 169, 288

R Racial attitudes, 86, 104, 144 See also Martial race theory Rahman, Abdur, 113 Raid, Jameson, 198, 199 Rail lines, 108, 113, 114, 116, 119, 131, 138, 165, 169, 200, 206, 208, 211, 214, 221, 233, 235 Rawlinson, Henry, 203n33, 230, 230n21, 238, 240 Reay, Lord, 169 Recruitment, 111, 121, 122 Reforms, 33, 34, 121–123, 130, 135, 136, 145, 150, 153, 158 Army, 266 Army Act, 143n56 support for, 145n64, 146n68 Refugees, 205, 208, 214 Religious fanaticism, 183 Rhodes, Cecil, 198, 206 Rhodes, Frank, 76n15, 206, 224 Rietfontein, 215 Ripon, 62–65, 65n97, 67, 68, 77, 81, 96n94, 131, 132, 145, 197 Roberts, Freddy, 247 Roberts, Lord Frederick, 2–5, 10–13, 45–49, 52–54, 56, 58–67, 69, 77–79, 82, 88, 89, 91, 93–102, 93n80, 93n81, 96n94, 99n101, 99n102, 109–114, 116–119, 121, 123–131, 129n1, 134, 136, 138, 144, 145, 145n64, 147–149, 155, 195, 247, 251, 252, 255, 261, 288 Robertson, George, 166, 167 Rock Castle, 15 Rosebery, Lord, 141, 148, 162, 171 Royal Commission on the War in South Africa, 270 Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 216 Royal Hospital Chelsea, 6, 13, 194, 279 Royal Irish Fusiliers, 212, 241


Royal Military College, Sandhurst, 16 Royal Titles Act, 37 Royston, W., 227 Russell, Lord, 47 Russia, 38, 43, 52, 104, 110–114, 128, 132, 134, 139, 145, 149, 159, 166, 173 Russo-Japanese, 273, 279 Russo-Turkish War, 10 S Sadullah, 179 Sagaing, 83 St. John, O., 64n96 Salisbury, Lord, 43, 44, 81, 92, 171, 201, 208, 248 Salmonella, 242 Sandeman, Robert, 5, 11, 11n22, 104–128, 132, 160, 162, 288 Sanford, G.E.L.S., 183 Scandals, 262, 266, 267, 274, 274n63, 284 Schiel, Adolf, 212, 213, 213n67 Sealkote, 19–21, 26 Second Anglo-Afghan War, 46, 68, 88, 106, 111, 124, 131, 170, 176, 177, 180, 288 Secretary of State for India, 81, 96, 141, 145, 151, 153, 165 Secretary of State for War, 193, 195, 196, 218n85, 223 Sepoys, 23–25 Seragheri, 185 Sexually transmitted diseases, 100, 150, 153 Shabqadar, 173, 180, 181, 183 Shah Shujah, 41 Shankargarh, 181 Shan States, 94, 96, 97 Sherpur, 58, 60, 63 Shinwaris, 172 Shirani, 115, 165, 173, 177


Short service, 34, 50, 51, 121, 123 Shutargardan, 53 Sibi, 105, 106, 108, 109 Sikhs, 24, 31, 36, 78, 79, 94, 103, 110, 136, 140n43, 147, 167, 185 Simla, 34, 52, 53, 53n49, 63, 65, 67, 69, 109, 110, 124, 129, 130, 155, 159, 171, 172, 187 Simla Conference, 42 Simpson, R.J.S., 241 Singh, Bhikam, 167 Singleton, L. C., 68, 68n114 Sitapur, 10, 37, 38, 42, 45 Skene, C. McDowal, 120 Sladen, E. B., 85, 89 Small wars, 182, 223 Small Wars, 118 Smith, Manners, 54 Smuts, Jan Christiaan, 206n46 Snowdon, 11, 129 South Africa, 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 12, 196–199, 201–203, 203n33, 203n35, 206, 215, 221, 221n101, 223–225, 225n5, 227–229, 236, 248, 253, 258 South African War, 4–6, 9, 12, 193–222, 226, 251, 259, 261, 267n33, 270 Speeches, 187, 196, 264, 265, 268, 278 Spiers, Edward, 8 Spion Kop, 2 Staff College in Camberley, 16 Stanfeld, James, 151 Stanhope, Edward, 122, 145, 195 Stanley, Frederick, 61 Stansfeld, James, 151, 152 Stedman, Edward, 97, 129n3, 168 Steevens, G.W., 215, 243 Stephenson, Frederick, 74 Stewart, Donald, 13, 44, 53, 62–65, 65n97, 77, 106, 148, 170 Stewart, Herbert, 74, 76



Stewart, R. C., 97 Stoneman, James, 243 Stormberg, 234, 235 Stuart, James, 151, 152 Suakin, 73 Sudan, 72–74, 77, 195, 201, 206 Suez Canal, 73, 138, 198, 259 Surprise Hill, 227, 233 Surrender, Carleton, 219, 219n89, 224, 238 Swati, 173, 178–181 Swat River Valley, 173, 176, 177 Symonds, Eli, 244 Symons, William Penn, 97, 164, 172, 176, 184, 184n107, 186, 200, 200n20, 202, 204–207, 211, 212, 214, 215, 221, 225–227, 268, 269

Tochi Field Force, 179, 180 Townshend, C.V.F., 167 Transvaal, 196, 198–200, 204–206, 205n42, 208, 215, 218, 224, 229, 231, 236, 251, 261 Travers, Hugh Price, 239 Treaty of Gandamak, 62, 106 Treaty of Kalat, 105 Treherne, F.H., 256, 258, 274 Trimble, William Copeland, 17n10 Tugela campaign, 225, 226, 229, 231, 233, 234, 236, 238, 239, 245, 249, 251, 252, 257, 268 Tugela River, 2, 6, 12, 200, 204n38, 206, 208, 209, 231, 233, 236, 250, 264 Turner, A.H., 163, 164 Typhoid, 242

T Tajikistan, 166 Takht-e-Sulaiman, 115, 120, 120n62 Takt-i-Shah, 59 Tangier, 277 Tanner, O.V., 115 Telegram scandal, 262, 284 Temperance, 149, 150, 196, 283 Templer, Harold, 107n12 10th Madras Infantry, 101 Thabyedan, 83 Thibaw, 80–83, 85, 85n47, 86, 89 Third Anglo-Burma War, 10, 96 Thorneycroft, Alexander, 249 Thornton, T.H., 105 Thul, 53 The Times History of the War in South Africa, 263, 266n29, 268, 284 Tintinyoni Hill, 215 Tirah, 176, 177, 181–189, 188n126, 196, 201, 213, 214 Tirah Field Force, 174, 185 Tochi, 164, 165, 173, 176, 179, 180

U Ublan Pass, 183 Uitlanders, 198, 199 Ulster, 196 Umballa, 27, 28 Umbulwana, 227, 228, 230, 240, 253 Upper Burma, 4, 5, 71–103, 108, 126, 128, 136, 137, 140, 145, 147, 163, 168, 172, 288 V Vall Krantz (Vaalkrans), 2, 251 Viceroy, 42–44, 63, 65, 67, 80, 81, 159, 162, 164, 169, 175, 280, 282 Viceroy’s Council, 129–132, 139, 144–146, 148, 151–153, 155, 156, 158 Victoria Cross, 4, 10, 57, 59n78, 67–69, 67n111, 82, 111 Victoria, Queen, 2, 31, 33, 37, 196, 248, 255, 276


Viljoen, Ben, 229 Villiers, George, 47, 48 Volksrust, 204 W Wadi Halfa, 74, 76 Wagon Hill, 272, 274 Wali of Kandahar, 64 Wantage committee, 122 Wantage, Lord, 122 Wantage Report, 124 Ward, E.W.D., 203, 243, 244, 258, 272, 274 War Office, 33, 121, 127, 130, 141, 171, 190, 194, 195, 202, 218n85, 236, 262, 265–267, 270, 274n63, 275, 278, 282, 284 Warren, Charles, 239, 249, 250n113, 252, 267 Warrender, Margaret, 268 War scares, 140 Watkins-Pitchford, Henry, 237, 240, 256 Watson, William, 236 Wauchope, Andrew, 247 Waziristan, 160, 162–165, 173, 175–177 Waziristan Field Force, 164 Wazirs, Mahsud, 115 Wet, Christiaan de, 218 White, Amy, 36, 42, 105, 109, 110, 241, 257, 260, 284n103, 285 White, Elizabeth, 35n77 White family, 15, 15n2, 207n48, 209n55, 218n85 White, Francis, 35, 284n103 administrative command attitudes, 120 administrative prowess, 288 administrative skill, 102, 126, 128, 158, 257 advancement interest, 20, 29, 39, 61


in Afghanistan, 10, 20, 32, 47–50, 58, 63, 65, 69 Allahabad command, 99 annexation views, 90 anxieties about the future, 193 arrival in Durban, 256 in Baluchistan, 11, 107; Baluchi troop recruitment, 111; communication infrastructure, 112; defensive improvement advocacy, 114; district tours, 120; Khojak tunnel visit, 109; Kundar valley, 117; move to Quetta, 109; projects undertaken, 109; and Robert Sandeman, 121; Takht-e-­ Sulaiman ascent, 119; Zhob Field Force command, 115; Zhob Valley expedition, 118, 120; Zhob Valley visits, 110 at Battle of Kandahar, 66, 67 biographies of, 4, 285, 286 birth of, 15 birth of daughter Gladys, 92 British regiment quality assessments, 50 capabilities as an instructor, 27 in Cape Town, 18, 20 capture of the Takt-i-Shah, 59 and Cavagnari’s death, 57 character of, 191, 194, 223, 257, 258, 287–289; ambition, 128 and Charles Gordon, 64 Chinese envoy encounter, 78 Church of England membership, 31 commemorations of, 4 concerned with Russia, 52, 94, 113, 114 concerned with the French, 101 and conscription, 33 as conservative, 135, 153 criticisms of, 5, 188, 204n38, 258 death of, 285



White, Francis (cont.) decides to enter the military, 15 desires recognition from War Office, 61 desires to go to Russia, 33 desire to leave Burma, 11 dismissal from Indian government, 77 doemstic policy interest, 31 and Dormer, 76 and Duke of Cambridge, 98, 174, 194 early career, 68 in Egypt, 72, 74, 76 on the elimination of purchase, 34 on E.W.D. Ward, 243 first commission, 16, 17 forced retirement fears, 193 on Forward Policy, 159 on Frederick Roberts, 65 and George Villiers, 47 in Gibraltar; aide-de-camp, 283n101; ceremonial visits, 260; delays in position start, 202; departure from, 279; diversions, 260; family accompanying, 260; hatred for, 259, 260; and the Kaiser, 13n24; last order of business, 279; position acceptance, 197, 221 in the Gordon Highlanders, 30 and Gough family, 2n3 and Herbert Stewart’s death, 74 Honorary Doctorate, 276 on Hooper, 88 and Hubert Gough, 1n1 and Ian Hamilton, 197, 245 impatience for a commission, 16n6 in India, 67n112; Allahabad, 28; Amritsar, 30; approach to Native armies, 147; army organization satisfaction, 148; army reforms, 6, 134, 137,

139, 144, 146; army troop proportions, 138; bridgade commanded by, 79; on British control of Native troops, 138; and the Cantonment Act, 151, 152; career overview, 9, 191; Chakrata, 34; Charasiab assault, 55, 56; and Chilas, 160, 166; Chitral, 156, 166–168, 170, 171; as Commander-in-Chief, 5, 126–129, 158, 159, 288; command offers, 78; complaints about, 260; concerns about Russia, 166; concern with promotions, 27; congratulates Blood, 179; criticisms of, 190, 191; Dalhousie, 32; Delhi visit, 26n47; desire to leave, 29; dines with Lord Napier of Magdala, 32; and dumdum bullets, 7n14; during the 1857 rebellion, 24–27, 39; and Elgin’s appointment, 149; evaluation of the Indo-Eurasian regiment proposal, 143; first journey to, 17–19; and the free press debate, 154; frustration with relocations, 27; illnesses, 26; impact on his racial attitudes, 20, 21; Jullundhur, 30, 32; Kabul Field Force, 53, 54; Kamptee, 78; Knight Grand Commander, 129n1; Kohat, 39; language studies, 27; and lock hospitals, 152; and the Madras Presidency Army, 135, 136; on the Mahsuds, 163; and the Maizar expedition, 176, 177; and the Malakand Field Force, 181; and the Malakand garrison, 173; martial race theory, 79; and military


technology debates, 154, 156, 157; Mooltan, 36–38; musketry training, 27; Naini-­ Tal, 38; Native forces, 141; Nowshera, 21; officers supporting, 126, 172; orders Blood to Malakand, 179; promotion concerns, 28; promotion hopes, 125; promotions, 29, 36; promotions received, 28; Quetta, 103; recreation, 20; as reformer, 149, 151; reports on tribes, 172; returns with the Gordon Highlanders, 30; return to, 34, 42; Sealkote, 19, 21, 23; and the Sikh, 31; Simla, 35, 52, 171, 172; Sitapur, 37; takes leave to visit home, 29; temperance societies, 17; thoughts on the rebellion, 24; the Tirah Campaign, 182; Tirah expedition, 183, 184; tours made, 172; on the tribes, 175; on the tribesmen, 174; Umballa, 27; views on sexually transmitted diseases, 152; views on the Amir, 133; views on Tirah, 187, 188; visits home, 34, 38; and Waziristan, 160; and William Lockhart, 184; Waziristan, 162–165, 175, 176; Zhob Valley Expedition, 160 inherits Whitehall, 35 interest in China, 94 interest in the Franco-­ Prussian War, 33 interpersonal conflict avoidance, 195 in Kandahar, 5 at Ladysmith; administrative accomplishments, 258; arrival, 208; assault defense, 246; and Buller’s relief efforts, 249, 251,


252; concerned by civilians, 211; congratulations, 255, 257; congratulatory correspondence, 2; criticisms of, 4, 209, 209n55; decision to hold, 221; defensive strategy, 211; departure from, 256; desire to remain at, 221; fears becoming isolated, 216; food rationing, 244, 245; health, 256; as his greatest success, 257; knowledge of British losses, 247; letters to Buller, 250; letters to his wife, 250; letters written during, 233; Nicholson’s Nek, 218, 257, 258; orders French to leave, 221; Pepworth’s Hill attack proposal, 217; refusal to eat chevril, 244; relief of, 253–255; rescue, 2, 3; return to Great Britain, 3; strike force strategy, 209; success of, 288; sucess celebrations, 259; understanding of importance of, 209 leaves Egypt, 77 and Lee-Metford rifles, 155 legacy preservation, 285 leg injury, 193, 202 on liberal party victories, 62 and London society, 196 in Loralai, 111 Lord Esher on, 271 and Lord Ripon, 65 and Lord Roberts, 124, 128 and Lord Wolseley, 77; correspondence, 194; relationship between, 195 on Louis Cavagnari’s murder, 170 loyalties, 15 loyalty to the Gordons, 67 Madrassi troops, 83 on the Majuba disaster, 68



White, Francis (cont.) and the Mandalay conquest, 82, 83, 85, 87, 89–91, 93–96 meets Amy, 35 meets daughter Gladys, 98 as Military Secretary, 63, 64, 67, 197 Mournful Monday, 219 papers of, 285, 286 place in military history, 4 positions declined, 72 praise of, 127 press coverage, 56 promotion concerns, 10, 13 promotions, 36n82, 68, 76, 77n18, 96, 97 as public figure, 284 as Quartermaster-General, 190, 193, 194 Queen’s confidence in, 220 Quetta command offer, 77 and race, 20 racial attitudes of, 10, 196, 287 and Rawlinson, 203n33 reactions to criticism, 188 reasons for entering the military, 286 and Redvers Buller, 76 rejoins the Gordons, 68, 72 reputation of, 5 restlessness of, 72 rests at home after India, 71 return home from Ladysmith, 284 returns home from Afghanistan, 71 and Robert Low, 168 Roberts’ support for, 98 and Royal Commission report, 272 on the Sandeman system, 119 at Sandhurst Royal Military College, 16 second Crimean War anticipation, 38 on sexually transmitted diseases, 100

short service objections, 123 short service views, 51 silence on Afghanistan, 38 in South Africa; accompanies Hamilton to Elandslaagte, 213; assessment plans, 204; Battle of Lombard’s Kop, 217, 219, 220; Buller’s approval of, 202; and Butler’s report, 206; Cape Town, 3; command assumption, 202; concerns about the Boers, 203; decision to send him, 203; desire to pull back to Ladysmith, 206; at Elandslaagte, 213; and Frederick Foestier-Walker, 205; ignorance of the country, 221; and James Yule, 214; learns of Symons’s death, 215; meeting with Alfred Milner, 205; military presence north of Ladysmith, 207; need for an early victory, 207; need to delay hostilities, 206; need to hold Laing’s Nek, 204; need to hold Natal, 206; objectives, 207; and the Orange Free State, 204; orders French to Elandslaagte, 212; orders Hunter to Elandslaagte, 213; in Pietermaritzburg, 206; plan to hold Biggarsberg, 205; political considerations, 207; posting offer, 202; pride in his men, 214; at Rietfontein, 215; role of, 204; strategic assessment, 204; support for Yule, 214, 215; travel to Natal, 205; and William Penn Symons, 207 staff positions, 221 and staff work, 221 strategic vision for central Asia, 165 in the Sudan, 195


and T.D. Baker, 58 on the 3 September massacre, 52 talent at assessing officers, 258 and telegram leaks, 262 telegram scandal, 4 temperance socities, 17 tenants of, 35 and Tirah expedition, 201 training mounted infantry, 63 tributes to, 190 in Upper Burma, 10, 11, 82, 92, 93, 95–99, 101, 102 as used to command, 196 Victoria Cross, 67, 68 view of the Burmese people, 86 views on alcohol, 100 views on short service, 34 views on the Sandeman system, 162 visits home, 126 wife of, 4 and William Lockhart, 168 and William Penn Symons, 176, 200, 211 White, George S., VC, 3–14, 3n6, 3n7, 5n12, 13n26, 164, 169, 183, 184, 184n107, 186, 187, 189, 191, 223–243, 248, 252, 255–258, 272 White, Gladys, 92, 98 White, Jack, 49, 171, 257, 283n101 White, James Robert, 15–18, 20, 27n50 White, Jane, 35, 284n103 White, John, 15, 27n50, 35, 38, 284n103 White, May, 283n101 White, Rose Frances, 37 Whitehall, 10, 27n50, 31, 35, 35n77, 71, 284n103 White’s Hill, 56 Wilhelm II, Kaiser, 6, 198, 276, 277 Wilkinson, H. Spenser, 207


William, Henry, 272 Williamson, Usher, 27 Wodehouse, J., 179 Wolseley, George, 74, 76, 77, 97, 99, 172 Wolseley, Lord, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, 33, 72–74, 112, 122, 123, 125, 125n83, 127, 128, 130, 131, 148, 152, 153, 157, 169–172, 194–197, 195n6, 199, 201, 201n25, 202, 204, 209, 209n55, 220, 222, 223, 248, 250, 259, 261, 288 Royal Commission testimony, 275n64 and White, 194 Wood, H. Evelyn, 77, 77n18, 122, 125, 127, 193, 194, 195n6, 197, 289 Woodgate, Edward, 249 Wyndham, Guy, 272 X Xhosa, 18, 19n17 Y Yeatman-Biggs, A.G., 174, 183, 185 Young, W. Mackworth, 181 Younghusband, Francis, 170, 177 Yule, James H., 212, 214, 215 Z Zargun Shahr, 53 Zhob, 110, 113, 115, 120, 121 Zhob Field Force, 115, 119n59, 120n62, 127n99 Zhob Valley Expedition, 11, 118, 120, 160, 162