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The Naval Brigades of the Indian Mutiny, 1857-1858

Vol 87 (1947), Cdr. W.B. Rowbotham

This volume contains letters and official despatches that mainly relate to the operations ashore by the ship’s companies of Shannon and Pearl during the Indian Mutiny of 1857-8. Both were engaged in numerous actions against the rebel forces and most notably in the campaign that led to the relief of Lucknow. To support these operations, Shannon landed a considerable force of mobile guns and rifle companies, while Pearl deployed mostly rifle companies. There is an additional account of the activities of Pelorus’ naval brigade, which, although it did not see action, ensured that there were no disturbances in Burma.

The documents reveal the challenges of sustaining large naval parties ashore, the unfamiliar spectacle of naval officers commanding operations on land and the considerable resourcefulness, spirit and initiative of the officers and men, several of whom won Victoria Crosses. Shannon was commanded by the brilliant William Peel, the third son of Sir Robert Peel and who had won a VC in the Crimea. Knighted for his exploits ashore during the Mutiny, he met an untimely death from smallpox while recovering from wounds at the age of thirty four.

The distinctive naval contribution to the suppression of the Indian Mutiny is an under-studied and poorly remembered episode of British maritime history, mainly, no doubt, because of difficulties associated with gaps in original manuscript sources and the subsequent ‘weeding’ of official correspondence. However, the excellent introduction, based not only on the documents contained in this volume, but also other surviving narratives and private letters, provides a lively, comprehensive account of both the situation in India and the activities of the Naval Brigades.

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