1902 Encyclopedia > Sir Herbert Benjamin Edwardes

Sir Herbert Benjamin Edwardes
(Major-General Sir Herbert Benjamin Edwardes)
English administrator, soldier, and statesman active in the Punjab


SIR HERBERT BENJAMIN EDWARDES, (1819-1868), major-general in the East Indian army, one of the noblest names on the roll of the soldier-statesmen of the British Indian empire, was born at Frodesley, in Shropshire, November 12, 1819. The family was of high standing. Sir Herbert's father was Benjamin Edwardes, rector of Frodesley, and his grandfather Sir John Edwardes, baronet, eighth holder of the title, which was conferred on one of his ancestors by Charles I. in 1644. After receiving his early education at a private school, he was sent to King's College, London, to complete his studies. Through the influence of his uncle, Sir Henry Edwardes, he was nominated in 1840 to a cadetship in the East India Company ; and on his arrival in India, at the beginning of 1841, he was posted as ensign in the First Bengal Fusileers. He remained with this regiment about five years, and during this period gave proof of that " great capacity for taking pains " which is the characteristic of genius. He mastered the lessons of his profession, obtained a good knowledge of Hindustani, Hindi, and Fersian, and attracted attention by the political and literary ability displayed in a series of letters which appeared in the Delhi Gazette. In November 1845, on the breaking out of the first Sikh war, Edwardes was appointed aide-de-camp to Sir Hugh (afterwards Viscount) Gough, then commander-in-chief in India. On the 18th of the following month he served at the battle of Moodkee, and was severely wounded. He soon recovered sufficiently to resume his duties, and fought by the side of his chief at the decisive battle of Sobraon (February 10, 1846), which closed the war. He was soon afterwards appointed third assistant to the com-missioners of the Trans-Sutlej Territory; and in January 1847 was named first assistant to Sir Henry Lawrence, the resident at Lahore. Lawrence became the great exemplar of the young hero, who looked up to him with the affectionate reverence of a disciple and a son, and in later years was accustomed to attribute to the influence of this " father of his public life " whatever of great or good he had himself achieved. He took part with Lawrence in the suppression of a religious disturbance at Lahore in the spring of 1846, and soon afterwards assisted him in reduc-ing, by a rapid movement to Jummoo, the conspirator Imaum-ud-din. In the following year a more difficult task was assigned him,—the conduct of an expedition to Bunnoo, a tributary Afghan district, in which the people would not tolerate the presence of a collector, and the revenue had consequently fallen into arrear. By his rare tact and fertility of resource, Edwardes succeeding in completely conquering the wild tribes of the valley without firing a shot, a victory which he afterwards looked back upon with more satisfaction than upon other victories which brought him more renown. His fiscal arrangements were such as to obviate all difficulty of collection for the future. In the spring of 1848, in consequence of the murder of Mr Vans Agnew and Lieutenant Anderson at Mooltan, by order of the Dewan Moolraj, and of the raising of the standard of revolt by the latter, Lieutenant Edwardes was authorized to march against him. He set out immediately with a small force, occupied Leia on the left bank of the Indus, was joined by Colonel Cortlandt, and, although he could not attack Mooltan, held the enemy at bay and gave a check at the critical moment to their projects. He won a great victory over a greatly superior Sikh force at Kineyree (June 18), and received in acknowledgment of his services the local rank of major. In the course of the operations which followed near Mooltan, Edwardes lost his right hand, by the explosion of a pistol in his belt. On the arrival of a large force under General Whish the siege of Mooltan was formed, but was suspended for several months in conse-quence of the desertion of Shere Singh with his army and artillery. Edwardes distinguished himself by the part he took in the final operations, begun in December, which ended with the capture of the city, January 4, 1849 For his services he received the thanks of both houses of parliament, was promoted major by brevet, and created C.B. by special statute of the order. The directors of the East India Company conferred on him a gold medal and a good service pension of ¿£100 per annum. After the con-clusion of peace Major Edwardes came to England for the benefit of his health, married during his stay there, and wrote and published his fascinating account of the scenes in which he had been engaged, under the title of A Year on, the Punjab Frontier in 1848-1849. His countrymen gave him fitting welcome, and the university of Oxford con-ferred on him the degree of D.C.L. In 1851 he returned to India and resumed his civil duties in the Punjab under Sir Henry Lawrence. In November 1853, he was entrusted with the responsible post of commissioner of the Peshawur frontier, and this he held when the Mutiny or Sepoy War of 1857 broke out. It was a position of enormous difficulty, and momentous consequences were involved in the way the crisis might be met. Edwardes rose to the height of the occasion. He saw as if by inspiration the facts and the need, and by the prompt measures which he adopted he rendered a service of incalculable importance, by effecting a reconciliation with Afghanistan, and securing the neutrality of the Amir and the tribes during the war. So effective was his procedure for the safety of the frontier that he was able to raise a large force in the Punjab and send it to co-operate in the siege and capture of Delhi. In 1859 Edwardes once more came to England, his health so greatly impaired by the continual strain of arduous work that it was doubtful whether he could ever return to India. During his stay he was created K.C.B., with the rank of brevet colonel; and the degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by the university of Cambridge. Early in 1862 he again sailed for India, and was appointed commissioner of Ambala and agent for the Cis-Sutlej states. He had been offered the governorship of the Punjab, but on the ground of failing health had declined it. In February 1865, he was compelled finally to resign his post and return to England. A second good service pension was at once conferred on him; in May 1866, he was created K.C. of the Star of India, and early in 1868 was promoted major-general in the East Indian army. It was known that he had been for some time engaged on a life of Sir Henry Lawrence, and high expectations were formed of the work; but he did not live to complete it. He died in London, December 23, 1868. Sir Herbert Edwardes, great in council and great in war, was singularly beloved by personal friends, and was generous and unselfish to a high degree. He was also a man of deep religious convictions and naturally desired and hoped for the evangelization of India. But his zeal was under the restraint of knowledge, and he knew how to reconcile private aspiration with public duty. Like Sir John Lawrence, he advocated toleration for the native religious systems, and at the same time deprecated Government support of them in any way. " India," says a writer in the Pall Mall Gazette, " has produced many great men, some of whom have done more for their country, but there were few upon whom the stamp of genius was more visibly impressed than upon Herbert Edwardes." The life of Sir Henry Lawrence was completed by Mr Herman Merivale, and was published in 1873.

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