The Murder of Lord Mayo 1872
The Andaman islands throughout their history were a relatively obscure backwater. They only time they made "headline news" twice (as we would say today). We are here concerned with the first time this happened. For the second time see Appendix M.
The following description of the murder is from F.A.M. Dass "The Andaman Islands," published in 1937 at Bangalore and dedicated to the murdered Earl. The event sent shockwaves through British India and the entire Empire. Dass' very emotional account 65 years after the event shows that the passions surrounding that day had not yet died down.
On 8th February 1872, the British Vice-Roy of India, Lord Mayo, was murdered by a convict at Port Blair.
Richard Southwell Bourke, 6th earl of Mayo, also called Lord Nash, was born 21st February 1822 at Dublin as the eldest son of the 5th earl, into family of the British-Irish nobility. He was a member of the Westminster plarliament for 20 years, representing a number of Irish constituencies. In 1868 he was appointed Vice-Roy of India. His interest in penal discipline went back to he Irish days and he had beeninvolved in the drafting of the regulations for Port Blair in 1871.. He had come to Port Blair as part of a tour of inspection to the Andaman penal colony and to Burma.
The murderer was a Pathan from Afghanistan, Shere Ali. He had served in the Punjab Mounted Police and had been condemned to death for the murder of an old enemy in the course of a blood feud. As Prof. Sen (in his "Disciplining Punishment: Colonialism and Convict Society in the Andaman Islands", Oxford University Press, p. 68) says:
"A sympathetic judge had spared his life and sent him to the Andamans instead. In a sense, until his attack on the Vice-Roy, Shere Ali was a typical 'decent killer': a man who had killed under peculiar circumstances that were both recognizable to colonial judges and deserving of sympathy.
In this case, however, the penal system had misjudged its criminal. Shere Ali apparently felt that killing a feuding enemy was no crime at all, and in his dying confession he asserted that he had resented his transportation sufficiently to want to kill 'some European of high rank.'
Hunter wrote: "He therefore established his character as a silent, well-behaved man; and in due time he was set at large as a barber among the Ticket-of-Leave convicts at Hopetown. During three years he waited for some worthy prey. On the morning of the 8th February, when he heard the royal salute, he felt his time had come, and sharpened a knife. He resolved to kill both the Superintendent and the Vice-Roy."
Shere Ali, as such, was very much a man in the mould of the more dangerous prisoners from the Mutiny: he masqueraded as a 'decent killer, and used the machinery of rehabilitation to position himself for a strike against the political leadership of the colonial regime.
Interpretations of the assassination varied. While Napier rejected any rational motive on Shere Ali's part, and implicitly denied that the attack had political significance, Hunter portrayed it as a premeditated act of political violence. In his description of the final days of the assassin's life, Hunter noted that Shere Ali was violent and defiant as he awaited execution, 'made no pretence of penitence, and was childishly vain of being photographed as the murderer of the Vice-Roy.' ... Hunter saw the assassination, the subsequent behaviour of the assassin, the the state's treatment of him as a series of political contests between the colonial regime and its opponents in the prison colony and in India. Consequently. he refused to give in to what he saw as Shere Ali's poltical demand for publicity and glory, writing: "Neither his name, nor that of his village or tribe, will find record in this book."
Richard Southwell Bourke, 6th Earl of Mayo (1822-1872)
Governor-General and Viceroy of India 1869-1872
(drawing from Illustrated London News of 24 February 1872,
acknowledged to Judy and Geoffrey Kingscott and members of their family)
The murderer: Shere Ali in shackles after his attack on Lord Mayo
(photograph reproduced from Satadru Sen, Disciplining Punishment - Colonialism and Convict Society in the Andaman Islands, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2000; original in the India Office Library, British Library, London, no. 125/5-46)
The scene of the crime:
Hope Town with Mount Harriet, showing the pier weher Lord Mayo was killed
(drawing from Illustrated London News of 24 February 1872,
acknowledged to Judy and Geoffrey Kingscott and members of their family)
The following text "The Tragic End of Lord Mayo",
is reprinted from F.A.M. Dass, The Andaman Islands, 1937,
Chapter 21, pp. 116-129, self-published by the author,
printed by the Good Shepherd Convent Press, Bangalore, the "press copy" dedicated by the author
An oiriginal of the book is in the library of the Andaman Association
The Tragic End of Lord Mayo
It might seem at first sight that this chapter is out of place in this book. But, in the writer's humble opinion, any book on the Andamans would be incomplete without some reference to Lord Mayo who left no stone unturned to improve the conditions of the place and the life of the convicts and other settlers on the Islands, and who ultimately sacrificed his precious life in the cause of the Islands. His nobility of purpose and sincere desire for the uplift of India can very well be seen from the following lines, written to a friend, which undoubtedly came straight from his heart: "I have only one object in all I do. I believe we have not done our duty to the people of this land. Millions have been spent on the conquering race, which might have been spent in enriching and in elevating the children of the soil. We have done much. We can do a great deal more. It is however impossible, unless we spend less on the 'interests' and more on the 'people' in the consideration of all these matters." On another occasion he said, "We must first take into account the inhabitants of this country. The welfare of the people of India is our primary object."
Lord Mayo was a great administrator; among the many reforms that he introduced in India "prison discipline" was one in which he took a deep interest. About eighty years ago, the mortality in the penal settlement, chiefly owing to Malaria, was very great. But as a result of the measures taken by Lord Lawrence and Lord Mayo, the death rate fell from 101 per thousand to only 10 per thousand. Lord Mayo was very seriously concerned about the future of the Andamans. He was anxious to have the settlement made a self-supporting colony which would ultimately shelter about 20,000 or more life prisoners. This ambition led the Viceroy to reconsider the constitution of the settlement.
In the first place, he wanted to frame a constitution which would so regulate the treatment given the convicts that extremes of neither severity nor leniency would be used, and at the same time safeguard the lives of the isolated handful of Englishmen who were placed in charge. Secondly, his intention was to establish a new citizenship for the poor unfortunate convicts and give them good facilities for settling down there. Thus he wished to raise the moral tone and the material prospects of the convicts.
In order to make the criminals self-supporting Lord Mayo wanted to introduce agriculture, cattle breeding, growing of cotton and flax for the manufacture of cloth, which industry was to be taught in the jails, and he greatly stressed the idea of using local rather than imported timber. He wanted to have the "native" troops substituted for the free police and to improve rapid communication with the mainland. By these changes he hoped to have the settlement placed on a sound financial basis.
He framed a code of laws which was written under his guidance and revised by himself. Not being satisfied with the mere codification of regulations, he selected one of his best men to put these laws into practice. This official was no other than General Stewart who afterwards rose to the rank of Field Marshal.
The new Superintendent arrived in the Islands and set to work with great vigour and after about six months he requested Lord Mayo to visit the settlement himself in order that he might realise the "magnitude and difficulty of the task" to be accomplished in the carrying out of his regulations. After some time the Superintendent sent another request to the Viceroy's Private Secretary, stating that "progress has been made, but I am anxious that Lord Mayo should himself see what has been done, before we can commence clearing. No one can thoroughly understand this place until he has seen it."Further he wrote "I look forward to the Governor General's visit to set all matters straight."Now the reader will understand what prompted the Viceroy to go to these Islands and sacrifice his life.
On the morning of the 24th January 1872 a large gathering, which included the Lt. Governor of Bengal, many officials, friends and well-wishers of the Viceroy, assembled at the harbour at Calcutta to wish him and his party bon-voyage. The two steamships, H.M.S Frigate "Glasgow" and S.S. "Dacca" which belonged to the British Indian Navigation Company were gaily decorated. The Viceroy went on board the S.S. "Glasgow." But in the midst of cheers and joy Lord Mayo looked somewhat anxious that morning. The Khilat affair worried him very much, and he was very anxious about the safe arrival of the British representative who was now on his way back to the capital. He had left explicit orders behind to have important news communicated to him without delay, and if bad news reached him at Burma, he had arranged to return to Calcutta immediately.
While the Viceroy was in Burma he received a number of telegrams assuring him that everything was going smoothly, and that affairs on the North Western Frontier had not taken a serious turn. Encouraged by this he left Moulmein on the 5th February and on the 8th at 8 am the boat cast anchor off Hope Town on the Andamans. The Viceroy was anxious to finish his inspection and return to the capital as early as possible. He insisted that there should be no change of any kind in the routine of the usual daily work. He wanted the convicts kept at their regular work so that he might see the settlement as it really was. In obedience to the expressed desire of His Excellency, all the prisoners were duly kept at their regular tasks. At the same time adequate provision had been made for the Viceroy's protection. Groups of armed police were moving with the Viceroy in front, flank and rear. The authorities had made special arrangements for his safety in quarters like Viper and Ross where the worst criminals were working. Many of the prisoners were anxious to prostrate before the Viceroy and crave his pardon and thus obtain their release in honour of his visit to the Andamans. Though the convicts were prevented from approaching him, yet one or two prisoners handed their petitions to an officer in attendance in the hope of having them submitted to the Viceroy. His Excellency, it is said, looked at them with kindness and promised to consider their grievances. He walked about in the hot sun for hours and noted carefully the various things that needed improvement. Once or twice, when he saw that
he could not walk freely about and view things as he liked, on account of the police surrounding him so closely, he was somewhat annoyed.
Only a few days previously in connection with the murder of the Chief Justice of Bengal, he said, "These things when done at all, are done in a moment and no number of guards would stop one resolute man's blow." His brother, Major the Hon: Edward, then Military Secretary to the Viceroy, and his Private Secretary, both requested him to be more careful while walking about in the midst of the convicts6 To please these two and other anxious persons he accepted a weighted stick which he kept swinging in his hand as he walked down to the beach after he had finished his inspection.
It was five in the evening. There was still daylight. He had yet two tasks to perform before his departure: one personal, the other official. The official work was to ascertain the possibility of building a sanitarium for the convicts who were suffering from that worst of diseases, Malaria, and endeavour, if possible, to put a stop to its ravages, as the death rate was very high in the settlement.
The other task was to climb the summit and enjoy the glorious sunset. "We have still an hour of daylight," said the Viceroy "Let us do Mount Harriet." The Superintendent of the settlement at once sent a boat with a number of guards from Chatham Island to the Hope Town Jetty. Soon the launch crossed Chatham with the Viceroy and his party. On landing he observed a group of his guests refreshing themselves there. The good Viceroy, &emdash; about whom Sir Fitz James Stephen said that, he had never met one to whom he felt so disposed to give such heart-felt affection and honour &emdash; approached the party and smiled and spoke very kindly to all, for the last time in his life. Meeting a lady he said, "Do come up, you will have such a sunset." They were all very much moved by his kindness and eagerly followed him. He realised that as they had been on their feet in the blazing sun for six long hours they were undoubtedly very much fatigued and badly in need of rest. Lord Mayo, who still looked fresh even after his strenuous day, walked vigorously and reached the foot of Mount Harriett along with the party who had followed him. Then he noticed that his Aide-de-camp, too, was looking quite tired. He pitied him arid gently bade him sit down and rest and enjoy the cool evening breeze.
The Superintendent had sent a pony for the Viceroy to use in going up the hill. He objected to this at first since the rest of the party had to follow on foot, but after repeated requests he mounted. He rode a short distance and then jumped down saying, "It is my turn to walk now; one of you get on." They all reached the top.
Not-withstanding the fatigue of long tiring day, Lord Mayo walked about briskly and carefully surveyed the possibilities of erecting a large sanitarium. "Plenty of room here," he cried looking about on all sides, "to settle two million men." Having completed his official programme he sat down facing the west and looked across the sea at the setting sun. As he gazed ardently for some time at the beautiful picture before him, perhaps his thoughts carried him back in spirit beyond the sunset to his dear home, Ireland. He seemed fascinated by the beauties of nature and finally said quietly "How beautiful!"Again he said, "Ah, how beautiful!" After a few moments he turned around to take a drink of water and again his eyes eagerly sought the sun which was now sinking down rapidly in the west. Lord Mayo, not satisfied with enjoying the glorious sight himself summoned his Private Secretary and said, "It is the loveliest thing I think I ever saw."
The sun had set and the party came down. The eyes of the Viceroy had beheld their last sunset.
Some torch-bearers who had been sent from Hope Town Jetty met the party a short distance from the foot of the hill. They walked quickly and came to the jetty. The "Glasgow" was moving gently to and fro, a little away from the jetty, in the midwater, with her long line of lights. Lady Mayo had been standing on the deck for some time watching for her beloved husband. As darkness set in, her anxiety increased. At a short distance from the "Glasgow" the other two steamers "Dacca" and "Scotia" were anchored and the guests on board were also eagerly awaiting the Viceroy's return. It was now quite dark, the clock had just struck seven. Lady Mayo was feeling terribly anxious for the safety of her husband: peering intently through the darkness she saw the party nearing the shore. Now! only a minute's walk to the jetty &emdash; he will get into the boat that will take him to his beloved wife and the guests waiting on board the steamer. Lo! her keen eyes perceived him through the dim torch-lights walking briskly ahead. She ran in and asked the bandsmen to strike up "Rule Brittannia" . The launch was gently whizzing on the shore and the sweet music was humming in his ears. Lord Mayo stepped quickly forward to descend the jetty stairs and board the launch. The next moment a noise as of the rush of an animal was heard behind the loose stones. He turned round, and lo! a man was seen "fastened like a tiger" on the back of the Viceroy.
In a second, twelve men were on the assailant: an English officer was pulling them off, and with his sword hilt kept back the guards, who would have killed the ma on the spot. The torches had gone out, but the Viceroy, who had staggered over the pier side, could be dimly seen rising up in the knee-deep water, and clearing the hair off his brow with his hand as if to recover himself. His Private Secretary was instantly at his side helping him up the bank. "Byrne ", he said quietly, "they've hit me." Then in a louder voice, which was heard on the pier, "It's all right, I don't think I am much hurt." In another minute he was sitting under the smoky glare of the re-lit torches, in a rude native cart at the side of the jetty, his legs hanging loosely down. As they-lifted him bodily on to the cart they saw a great dark patch on the back of his coat. The blood came streaming out, and men tried to staunch it with their handkerchiefs. For a moment or two he sat up in the cart, then fell heavily backwards. "Lift up my head," he said finally. Those were his last words.
They carried him down into the steam launch, some silently believing him dead. Others, angry with themselves for the surmise, cut open his coat, and stopped the wound with hastily torn strips of cloth and the palms of their hands. Others kept rubbing his feet and legs. Three supported his head. The assassin lay tied and stunned a few yards from him. As the launch shot on in the darkness, eight bells rang across the water from the ships. When it came near the frigate, where the guests stood waiting for dinner, and jesting about some fish which they had caught for the meal, the lights in the launch were suddenly extinguished to hide what was going on inside. They lifted Lord Mayo gently into his cabin; when he was laid down on the cot, every one saw that he was dead.
To all on board, that night stands out as the most memorable in their lives. A silence, which seemed as though it would never again be broken, suddenly fell on the holiday ship with its 600 souls. The doctors held their interview over the dead Viceroy &emdash; two stabs from the same knife on the shoulder had penetrated the cavity of the chest, either of them sufficient to cause death. On the guests' steamer loud cries could be heard, but in the ship where the Viceroy lay, the grief was too deep for expression. Men moved about solitarily through the night, each saying bitterly to himself "would that it had been any one of us" . The anguish and sorrow of her who received back her Lord dead was too sacred for words, and for the same reason the writer now refrains from further comment.
At dawn the sight of the frigate with her flag at half mast, the broad white strips leaden grey, all the ropes slack, and the yards hanging topped in the dismal order, announced the terrible truth to those on the other steamer who had hoped against hope all through the night.
After a while the assassin was brought on board where the poor victim was lying. The Foreign Secretary asked him why he had committed such a murder. Without flinching he replied, "Khuda' ne kukm diy ." "By order of God." Then he was asked who his accomplice was, and he answered, "Mera sharik koi admi nain; mera sharih khuda hai." "Among men I have no accomplice; God is my partner." Next morning when he was called to plead, he said, "Han main ne kiya." Yes, I did it.
The assassin was a pathan named Sher Ali, from the North Western Frontier. He was in the Punjab mounted police ; he had been condemned to death for slaying a man. But the evidence in his case was not quite clear, so the sentence had been commuted to life on the Andamans. As he had behaved well he had been placed among the ticket-of-leave convicts at Hope Town. He confessed that he had waited long and patiently to kill a white man of high rank On the morning of the 8th February, when the Viceroy arrived, this convict heard the firing of the guns, and picking up his knife he began to sharpen it, at the same time whispering to it, "You will have two victims today." He meant to kill both the Viceroy and the Superintendent. He said he had no personal motive for wanting to wreak vengeance on any one, but simply thirsted for noble blood! He further stated that although he had tried his utmost he could not cross the water that day and get access to the Viceroy. But the evening was very propitious for it had brought his victim into his very hands. He said he had followed the Viceroy without being detected or suspected by anybody. He went up but had to come down again without having had an opportunity of attacking his victim. He had almost given up hope for that day but determined to try his luck the next day. "But as the Viceroy stepped quickly forward on the jetty, his grey-suited shoulders towered conspicuously in the torch light, and the thirst for blood thrilled the assassin. He gave up all idea of life, rushed round the guards, and in a moment was on his victim's back."
This fiendish pathan did not confess his wretched deed to the authorities directly but they had arranged matters secretly with native officer who went to him in disguise and pretended he was a man from his native place, that he honoured him as a hero and praised his noble action, that he would be known to the world as a great and brave hero, that his noble deed should be sung in his own country and elsewhere; and that for this reason he wanted details in order to compose an ode to his memory When the authorities asked him to pose for a photograph to be published in the papers he readily consented and blithely stood up before the camera. A trial was held: he was condemned to death and was hanged on Viper Islands.
The last message he received was one from Lady Mayo and the members of the family which stated, "God forgive you, as we do."
We now come to the saddest and most solemn moment of the terrible tragedy &emdash; the lifeless body of the beloved Viceroy was brought back to the capital after an unfinished task, midst the outbursts of grief and uncontrollable weeping of the thousands who had loved him dearly.
Some days later, Ireland received back her son, the "warrior dead." The English and the Indian Press paid glowing tributes to this noble son of Erin who had endeared himself to the people of India by his kind and sympathetic interest in their welfare.
This great hero now lies buried in a shady spot in a quiet little churchyard on his Kildare Estate, wither he had gone just a day before his departure for India and expressed the desire, rather begged the favour of being laid to rest in that shady spot.
Last changed 5 December 2006