Queer Places:
Royal School Dungannon, 2 Northland Pl, Dungannon BT71 6EG, Regno Unito
Nicholson Cemetery, Club Road, Ludlow Castle, Civil Lines, New Delhi, Delhi 110054, India

Brigadier-General John Nicholson CB (11 December 1821 – 23 September 1857) was a Victorian era military officer known for his role in British India. A charismatic and authoritarian figure, Nicholson created a legend for himself as a political officer under Henry Lawrence in the frontier provinces of the British Empire in India. He was instrumental in the settlement of the North-West Frontier[1] and played a noted part in the Indian Mutiny.

Nicholson was born in Armagh, Northern Ireland, the eldest son of Dr Alexander Jaffray Nicholson and Clara Hogg.[2] Dr. Nicholson died when J.N. was nine, after which the family moved to Lisburn.[3] Nicholson was privately educated in Delgany and later attended the Royal School Dungannon, through the patronage of his maternal uncle, Sir James Weir Hogg, a successful East India Company lawyer and for some time Registrar of the Calcutta Supreme Court, and later a Member of Parliament;[4] and soon after his sixteenth birthday, it was also through the good offices of this uncle, that J.N. was able to secure a cadetship in the East India Company's Bengal Infantry.[5] He then set out for a military career in India in 1839.

On reaching India, he was ordered to join the 41st Native Infantry at Benares on temporary attachment, being transferred some months later in December, as a regular Ensign, to the 27th Native Infantry at Ferozepore.[6] He served in the First Anglo-Afghan War when his regiment was ordered up to relieve one of the infantry units already in Afghanistan, in November 1840, and during this time he saw early and fierce military action.

Nicholson was present at the British garrison at Ghazni when it was besieged by Afghan tribesmen during a freezing winter between 20 November 1841 and 10 March 1842. After Colonel Palmer, the garrison commander capitulated, Nicholson — together with 10 other British officers — was held captive at Ghazni in a filthy, ordure-ridden, lice-infested cell between 10 March and 19 August 1842. They were taken to join other British prisoners in Kabul on 24 August.[7]

Later on, upon his release and the consequent return of the British forces to India, he was stationed at Peshawar, and later for two years at Moradabad and in November 1845, on passing his Urdu vernacular examination, was posted to the Delhi Field Force which was being organised at that time, as the threat of a war with the Sikh Kingdom of the Punjab loomed near.[8]

Involved in the First Anglo-Sikh War as a junior officer, he was taken under the wing of Henry Montgomery Lawrence along with several other similarly-aged officers such as Herbert Edwardes, James Abbott, Neville Chamberlain, Frederick Mackeson, Patrick Alexander Vans Agnew, William Hodson, Reynell Taylor, Harry Burnett Lumsden, Henry Daly, John Coke, which group was known as Henry Lawrence's "Young Men", and was given much power as a political officer, and later a District Commissioner. He was feared for his foul temper and authoritarian manner, but also gained the respect of the Afghan and North Punjabi tribes in the area for his fairhandedness and sense of honour. He inspired the Nikal Seyn, or Nikal Seyni cult, which had a short and popular hey-day but survived in surprising forms and ways in some remoter parts of North-West Pakistan, well into the 1980s.[9]

Nicholson was best known for his role in the Indian Mutiny, planning and leading the Storming of Delhi. Famously dismissive of the competence of his superiors, he said, upon hearing of Colonel (later General Sir) Archdale Wilson's hesitancy while on his deathbed, "Thank God I have yet the strength to shoot him, if necessary". One famous story recounted by Charles Allen in Soldier Sahibs is of a night during the Rebellion when Nicholson strode into the British mess tent at Jullunder, coughed to attract the attention of the officers, then said, "I am sorry, gentlemen, to have kept you waiting for your dinner, but I have been hanging your cooks." He had been told that the regimental chefs had poisoned the soup with aconite. When they refused to taste it for him, he force fed it to a monkey - and when it expired on the spot, he proceeded to hang the cooks from a nearby tree without a trial.[10]

Nicholson also called for the Mutiny to be punished with greater severity. He proposed an Act endorsing a 'new kind of death for the murderers and dishonourers of our women', suggesting, 'flaying alive, impalement or burning,' and commenting further, 'I would inflict the most excruciating tortures I could think of on them with a perfectly easy conscience.' [11]

Nicholson never married, the most significant people in his life being his fellow Punjab administrators Sir Henry Lawrence and Herbert Edwardes. At Bannu, Nicholson used to ride one hundred and twenty miles every weekend to spend a few hours with Edwardes, and lived in his beloved friend's house for some time when Edwardes' wife Emma was in England. At his deathbed he dictated a message to Edwardes saying, "Tell him that, if at this moment a good fairy were to grant me a wish, my wish would be to have him here next to my mother."[12] The love between him and Edwardes made them, as Edwardes' wife later described it "more than brothers in the tenderness of their whole lives".[13]

He died on 23 September 1857, in a small bungalow in the cantonments of Delhi, as a result of wounds received in the taking of the city nine days previously. He was 35.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/queerplaces/images/John_Nicholson_(East_India_Company_officer)