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 Continue reading