What an incredible story we have unearthed today!
On 6 January 1842, 16,000 members of the British Kabul force, the `Army of the Indus’, fled from Kabul under a “shameful capitulation and the illusion of safe-conduct” promised by the eastern Afghan tribes. One week later, on 13 January, Surgeon William Brydon rode alone into Jellalabad, apparently the only British survivor. It has been described as the worst British military disaster until the fall of Singapore a century later and upto that time the greatest defeat ever inflicted on the British by an Asian enemy.
On 15th August 2017 Geoff Wood, a member of the Friends of Teignmouth Cemetery, discovered the overgrown grave of Georgiana Caroline Barbara Mainwaring. She was the wife of Major-General Edward Rowland Mainwaring of the Bengal Army. On her headstone she is decribed as “the last of the lady hostages …. Cabul disaster, Jan 1842”.
The Military Connection
Georgiana had a long association with the military.
She was the youngest daughter of colonel Johan Frederick Meiselbach, born in the Netherlands in 1775 but who subsequently moved to India as a colonel in the Bengal Horse Artillery in the service of the Rajah Mimamet Bahadur of Bundelkhand.
As noted in the Calcutta Magazine and monthly register of 1832 she married Lieut. George Byron of the 48th Regt N.I. (Native Infantry) in Calcutta on November 16th 1831. He died on 23rd May 1834, aged 28. They had one son, George Rochfort Byron, born 9th November 1832.
Georgiana remarried in 1838; as noted in the Calcutta Monthly Journal of September that year:
“At Saint John’s Church, Delhi, by the Reverend R Everest, M.A. Edward Rowland Mainwaring Esq., 16th regiment N.I. to Georgiana Caroline, widow, of the late Lieutenant George Byron”
When they married he was a captain but gained his next promotion four years later as announced in the London Gazette of Tuesday 4th October 1842:
“To be Majors in the Army in the East Indies only. Captain Edward Rowland Mainwaring, of the 16th Bengal Native Infantry”
He was eventually promoted to Major-General on 28th March 1865 but died in Madras three years later in 1868. As noted in the Times of Thursday May 14th 1868:
“On 9th April at the house of his younger brother, Madras, on his way to the Neilghberries for the benefit of his health, after 44yrs service during which he had received five medals, two clasps and a bronze star; Maj Gen Edward Rowland MAINWARING aged 60yrs of the Bengal Army, e/s of the late Thomas Mainwaring Esq, Bengal Civil Service.”
The following obituary appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1868:
“MAJOR-GENERAL E.R. MAINWARING Major-General Edward Rowland Mainwaring, who died at Madras, on April 8, was the eldest son of the late Thomas Mainwaring, Esq., of the Bengal Civil Service, by Sophia Walker, his wife, and was nephew of the late distinguished Admiral Rowland Mainwaring, of Whitmore Hall, in the county of Stafford, the representative of the very ancient and honourable family of Mainwaring, which traces back to the time of the Conquest. He was born Nov. 20, 1807, and entered the Bengal Army when only sixteen years of age. He served throughout the whole of the Affghan campaign from 1839 to 1842, including the assault and capture of Ghurnee. He was engaged at the night attack at Babookoorgch, and the destruction of Khoodawah. He was one of the garrison of Jellalabad; and, in the general action and defeat of Akbar Khan, and the subsequent operations leading to the reoccupation of Cabul, he was attached to the left wing of the army of Gwalior, and was present on the staff at the battle of Punniar. He was with the army on the Sutlej, including the battle of Sobraon, and was engaged with the army of the Punjaub and at the actions of Ramnugger, Sadoolpore, Chillianwallab, and Goojerat. His decorations were five medals, two clasps, and a bronze star. The General married Georgiana, widow of the late George Byron, Esq., and leaves two sons and a daughter. He was interred with military honours, at Madras, April 9, last.”
The military life continued through their children. Their elder son, Edward Philipson Mainwaring born 1841, appeared to have had a distinguished career in the Bengal Infantry, retiring as a colonel in 1893. Interestingly his medals were auctioned in 2004 as part of the Brian Ritchie collection.
His younger brother Francis George Lawrence Mainwaring, born in 1851, also joined the army, retiring as a Lieutenant-Colonel at the end of 1899.
Finally, Georgiana and Edward also had a daughter, Emily Sophia Isabella born in 1844, who in 1862 married Major Osmond Barnes of the Bombay Staff Corps. As the tallest man in the Indian Army at the time he was selected to proclaim Queen Victoria the Empress of India.
So we have a picture of Georgiana steeped in military tradition, but what of her involvement in the Kabul disaster?
The Kabul Debacle
So much has been written about the Afghan wars, the Kabul disaster and the subsequent recapture of Kabul that it’s impossible here to go into detail. Here’s an attempt at a summary and the link with Georgiana Mainwaring.
The 1842 Kabul Retreat took place during the First Anglo-Afghan War and was also known as the “Massacre of Elphinstone’s Army”. Following an uprising in Kabul, Major-General Sir William Elphinstone, apparently an ineffectual commander, negotiated an agreement with Wazir Akbar Khan, one of the sons of the Afghan Emir Dost Mohammad Barakzai
Under this agreement his army would be allowed safe passage to withdraw to the British garrison at Jalalabad, 90 miles away. However, as the army and its numerous dependents and camp-followers began its march, it suffered numerous attacks from Afghan tribesmen and the column made slow progress through the winter snows of the Hindu Kush.
Many of the column died of exposure, frostbite or were killed during the fighting. In total the British army lost 4,500 troops along with about 10,000 civilians – the families of Indian and British soldiers plus workmen, servants and other Indian camp-followers. The final stand was made just outside a village called Gandamak on 13 January where the last 200 frostbitten soldiers found themselves surrounded by several thousand Ghilzai tribesmen.
Out of more than 16,000 people from the column commanded by Elphinstone, only one European (Assistant Surgeon William Brydon) and a few Indian sepoys reached Jalalabad. Over one hundred British prisoners and civilian hostages were later released. Around 2,000 of the Indians, many of whom were maimed by frostbite, survived and returned to Kabul to exist by begging or to be sold into slavery. Some at least returned to India after another British invasion of Kabul several months later, but others remained behind in Afghanistan.
Lord Auckland, the Governor General of India, was said to have aged ten years overnight on hearing of the disaster. He nevertheless despatched Major General George Pollock with reinforcements to Peshawar. Major General William Nott, commanding at Kandahar also despatched a relief force.
Pollock’s army consisted of four brigades, one of which was made wholly of British troops. It numbered about 8,000 men in total. It was widely termed the “Army of Retribution” and its advance to Kabul from Jalalabad was marked with utmost savagery.
After a sharp engagement on 13 September, they defeated some 15,000 tribesmen deployed by Akbar Khan at the Tezin Pass and the way to Kabul was clear. Pollock’s troops came across many skeletons and unburied bodies from Elphinstone’s army and, in spite of orders to show restraint, whole populations were slaughtered and villages burnt. Pollock reached Kabul on 15 September, two days before Nott.
As the British advanced, the hostages in Akbar Khan’s hands were treated less severely than previously, although they were moved to Bamian to keep them out of reach of the British armies. Pollock despatched the Kuzzilbash Horse to Bamian under Sir Richmond Shakespeare (his Military Secretary). Brigadier Sale was also sent with a force of infantry to support Shakespear, appropriately as Lady Sale was one of the prisoners.
Shakespear arrived at Bamian on 17th September 1842 to find that, when news of the Afghan defeats reached their guards, the hostages, including Brigadier Sale’s own wife Florentia, had negotiated their own release in return for payments. In all, thirty-five British officers, fifty-one private soldiers, twelve officers’ wives and twenty-two children who had been taken hostage by Akbar Khan were released. Prisoners and escort arrived in Kabul on 21st September 1842 to a rapturous greeting.
Georgiana and Kabul
Georgiana Mainwaring and her infant son Edward were amongst those released from their ordeal.
The battle histories are well documented but what of the ordeals faced by the column during the flight from Kabul? References to this in the historical records seem to fall back on an amazing journal published by Lady Florentia Sale after her release – “A Journal of the Disasters in Affghanistan 1841-2 by Lady Sale”. This has been reprinted in a series called “Women and Conflict” under the title “Lady Sale’s Afghanistan An Indomitable Victorian Lady’s Account of the Retreat from Kabul During the First Afghan War”.
It is in this journal the we find references to Georgiana:
“The main attack of the enemy was on the column, baggage and rear-guard; and fortunate it was for Mrs Sturt and myself that we kept with the chiefs. Would to God that Sturt had done so likewise, and not gone back.
The ladies were mostly travelling in kajavas (camel panniers), and were mixed up with the baggage and column in the pass; here they were heavily fired on. Many camels were killed. On one camel were, in one kajava, Mrs Boyd and her youngest boy Hugh; and in the other Mrs Mainwaring and her infant, scarcely three months old, and Mrs Anderson’s eldest child. This camel was shot. Mrs Boyd got a horse to ride; and her child was put on another behind a man, who being shortly after unfortunately killed, the child was carried off by the Affghans. Mrs Mainwaring, less fortunate, took her own baby in her arms. Mary Anderson was carried off in the confusion. Meeting with a pony laden with treasure, Mrs M endeavoured to mount and sit on the boxes, but they were upset; and in the hurry pony and treasure were left behind; and the unfortunate lady pursued her way on foot, until after a time an Affghan asked her if she was wounded and told her to mount behind him. This apparently kind offer she declined, being fearful of treachery; alleging as an excuse that she could not sit behind him on account of the difficulty of holding her child when so mounted. This man shortly after snatched her shawl off her shoulders, and left her to her fate. Mrs. M.’s sufferings were very great; and she deserves much credit for having preserved her child through these dreadful scenes. She not only had to walk a considerable distance with her child in her arms through the deep snow, but had also to pick her way over the bodies of the dead, dying, and wounded, both men and cattle, and constantly to cross the streams of water, wet up to the knees, pushed and shoved about by men and animals, the enemy keeping up a sharp fire, and several persons being killed close to her. She, however, got safe to camp with her child, but had no opportunity to change her clothes; and I know from experience that it was many days ere my wet habit became thawed, and can fully appreciate her discomforts.
Later at the camp …..
….. so many inhabit the same apartment. Individually I have no right to complain on this subject; as Lady Macnaghten, Mrs Mainwaring, Mrs Boyd, Mrs Sturt, and I, occupy the same apartment. Capt. Boyd makes his bed on the landing-place of the stairs, or on the roof of the house; so that we have no man-kind amongst us except the Boyds’ two little boys, and Mrs. Mainwaring’s baby. This little fellow was born just before the insurrection broke out in Cabul (in October): his father had gone with Sale’s brigade; and we always call him Jung-i-Bahadur.
In a separate reference there is an interesting observation on the relative merits of Florentia Sale and Georgiana …… “Unlike Lady Sale, Mrs Mainwaring was generous with her parcel. Another prisoner Captain Colin McKenzie, who tried unsuccessfully to borrow a needle from Florentia Sale, recorded how she ‘distributed the contents among the other ladies, who were much in need’.”
After their release the hostages wrote a letter to Sir Richmond Shakespear:
Sir Richmond Shakespear, Military Secretary, &c.
Dear Sir, Rescued as we have so lately been from a state of prolonged and cheerless captivity, which threatened soon to terminate in hopeless slavery, in a land where the laws of humanity are unknown or unacknowledged; restored by a wonderful interposition of Providence to country, friends, through whose agency this happy change in our prospects has been effected.
To you we are bound to express our heartfelt thanks, for the promptitude with which you led a body of Kuzzilbash horsemen to our assistance at a most critical period, to whose timely arrival amongst us at Kaloo it may be chiefly attributed that our flight from Bameean was not intercepted.
To thank you adequately in words for so signal a service would be impossible, but we trust you will accept of this, as a token of the gratitude we feel, and, with every good wish for your happiness and prosperity, we subscribe ourselves,
Yours very faithfully
…. Followed by a list of signatures, including Florentia Sale and Georgiana Mainwaring. Written at Camp Cabul, Sept 24 1842
Sir Richmond Shakespear replied:
To Lady Macnaghten, Lady Sale, &c. General Shelton and Major Pottinger.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, I was this morning greatly gratified by receiving a very kind and flattering letter, signed by the ladies and officers, who were lately prisoners at Bameean, and I hasten to request that you will express to them my sincere thanks for the very handsome terms, in which they have spoken of my poor services.
I shall ever consider it one of the happiest events of my life, that I should have had the good fortune to have been in any way instrumental in effecting your escape from Affghanistan.
I remain, dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
Your most obedient servant
R. C. Shakespear
Camp Jellalabad, Oct 26. 1842
And that is the story of Georgiana Caroline Barbara Mainwaring. Her infant son survived to become, as we have seen, Colonel Edward Philipson Mainwaring. She had two more children and remained in India until her husband died in 1868. Then she returned to England ….. to Teignmouth, where she survived only two more years.
The intriguing question is what brought Georgiana Mainwaring to Teignmouth after the death of her husband. One possible theory is that she had become aware of Teignmouth through a naval connection. Her husband’s uncle was Admiral Rowland Mainwaring who commanded Sir Edward Pellew’s flagship, the Caledonia. He even named one of his son’s after Teignmouth’s famous hero – Edward Pellew Mainwaring.
When she came to Teignmouth she lived in Orpington Lodge, West Teignmouth. Where was that?
The son she had by her first marriage, George Rochfort Byron, would have been nine years old at the time of the Kabul disaster yet there is no mention of him. Where was he at that time? Boarding school in England?
Her third name is “Barbara” which seems slightly odd for a woman of her time. The only reference I have found to that name is on her headstone and in her probate record. What was the thinking behind that name? One idea is that Saint Barbara is patron saint of artillery and her father was in the Bengal Horse Artillery.
The grave next to hers in the cemetery is that of General Rowland Rees Mainwaring. He was her husband’s cousin. He didn’t retire until after she had died and then he too chose to come to Teignmouth (26 Northumberland Street). But is there any meaning to his being buried next to her?
The above has come from a wide range of sources:
A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan 1841-2, by Lady Sale, published by Harper & Brothers, New York 1842 –
Lady Sale’s Afghanistan, an Indomitable Victorian Lady’s Account of the Retreat from Kabul during the First Afghan War, Florentia Sale –
Campaign medals of Col E P Mainwaring –
The Afghan Wars 1839-42 and 1878-80, by Archibald Forbes, London, Seeley & Co, Limited, Essex Street, Strand, 1892
The London Gazette – various references, e.g.
Short History of the Mainwaring Family –
My Heritage – various references e.g.
Calcutta Monthly journal – various references e.g.
London Times – death of Edward Rowland Mainwaring
The Military Operations at Cabul which ended in the Retreat and Destruction of the British Army January 1842 with a Journal of Imprisonment in Afghanistan by Lieut. Vincent Eyre. London, John Murray, Albemarle Street MDCCCXLIII
The Peerage – Lieutenant George Byron
Census Records 1871 –
Service details of Col Edward Phillipson Mainwaring (b 1841), Bengal Army 1859-93.
The Colonies and India from London –
Illustrated London News (obituary) –