Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Fascinating facts of Col.Skinner and his horse cavalry regiment (1803)

Col James Skinner ((
James Skinner's tomb,  St. James church, Delhi.

The East India company  gained  unexpected success on the financial and military fronts because of good administration backed by efficient army. This helped E. I. C gain a lot of territories in the Indian subcontinent in the 18th and 19th centuries. This  paved the path for the British Crown(after 1859) to expand their imperialistic ambition later in other countries as well. Among the English officers, Col. James Skinner's contribution to the Colonial Army has made a niche for him in the annals of British India's colonial military history. This amazing, hard working military officer's name will last as long as the stars twinkle.

01. Skinner was a mercenary soldier, irregular cavalryman and then founder of Skinner's Horse Regiment.
Skinner's Horse -Bengal Lancers 
Skinner's horse, British India army.

02. Col. James Skinner (1778 to 1841), an officer with the  East India Company, was  of mixed blood- half Scottish and half Indian. His father, Lieutenant-Colonel Hercules Skinner, a Scottish man was with the E. I. C. and his mother was the princess of a Royal Rajput family.

03. Born among 14 children fathered by  Hercules Skinner, he  was educated at Calcutta. He never had his education in England. 

04. Because of his mixed parentage, he neither joined the British company's army nor any army of the  of Indian rulers. 

05. Eventually  Skinner  in 1795 joined the Martha army of Daulat Rao Scindia under the command of Gen. Du Boigne, a French man. His 8 year stint with the Maratha army made him an expert in martial arts and Maratha warfare. At the age of 22 he led three battalions.

06. In 1800 in a battle in Uniara (now in Rajasthan) he was seriously wounded and vowed to build a church if he remained alive. He did build a church St. James Church in Delhi at his expenses.

07. In 1803, he was dismissed from the Maratha army that was defeated by the British forces led by Lord Lake. Delhi and other areas were captured by the British. Lord Lake invited him and his regiment to join the E. S. I. Being a perfect gentleman, that he was, he joined the English company on condition that he won't fight against Scindia. His trained soldiers remained loyal to him under his command.

08. He raised a  powerful irregular regiment of about 1000 soldiers  and he himself led a regiment  called Cap. Skinner's Corps of Irregular Cavalry, well-known for the yellow uniform, a rare thing in those days. Nicknamed Yellow boys, it was formed on February 23, 1803.

09.The bright yellow uniform (yellow tunics or  the 'Clothes of the Dead') implies "as  sworn warriors, if  they could not win, they would do battle and die heroically".In Hinduism yellow signifies purity and holiness and it reflects on Skinner's mixed culture and his closeness to his mother. 

10. Also called Skinners Horse Regiment, their motto was "God helps the brave". His regiment over the years got the name and accomplished many victories. It was considered the most powerful regiment under the E. I. C. Most of  his men were from the places that  now constitute Haryana state.

11.This Regiment successfully fought the Angelo-Afghan wars (1839 - 1842)  and also the Angelo-Sikh wars.

12. A second regiment of Indian Cavalry was raised by Colonel James Skinner in 1814, which became the 3rd Skinner's Horse. In the wake of reduction of the Indian Army in 1922, 1st and 3rd were merged to form what was called Skinner's Horse(1st Duke of York's own Cavalry) and the 1st Duke of York's Own Lancers (Skinner's Horse) until Indian independence.

13. It was later renamed the 1st Bengal Lancers. The regiment became (and remains) one of the senior most cavalry James Skinner. regiments of the Armoured Corps of the Indian Army 

14. During the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 - the worst rebellion against the English company under the Crown, Skinner's Horse remained loyal to the English Company.

15. It took the honor of being  the first regiment  sent overseas to fight wars. Participated in WWI and reported for duty in October 1914 in Meerut. In 1916  the regiment fought in many parts of France and won laurels for their bravery and sacrifices.  Later it saw action in  Mesopotamia. In the same year the regiment 
returned to India. Earlier this regiment fought along with the US
 forces against the Tatar's Cavalry. In the beginning of World 
War II the regiment was still regiment was still
mounted. Later became mechanized reconnaissance regiment  and was attached to the 5th Indian Division. It was sent to East Africa, North Africa and Italybecame mechanized reconnaissance regiment  and was attached to the 5th Indian Division. It was sent to East Africa, North Africa and Italy. 

16. As for his personal life, he lived like a Mogul and preferred to be addressed as  Nasi-ud Daulah  James Skinner  Bahadur Galib Jung.

17. Befitting to style of living like an Indian Maharajah,  he still managed to keep a harem of 14  Hindu and Muslim wives and kept them happy and in harmony.

18.To those  closer to him, he was Skindar Sahib. Further he knew Persian, the language used in courts, etc  very well and had a good knowledge of the Indian natives and maintained good relationship withe the natives and his men.

19. Because of his closeness with his Rajput mom, he preferred Indian way of life  over the British. However, he stuck to his Christian upbringing and abiding faith in the Gospel. 

20. Though details are sketchy, he built a  mosque and a temple and remained secular inhis dealings.  he still managed to keep a harem of Hindu and Muslim wives, and to keep the peace built them in church, a mosque and temple too. He raised Skinner's Horse on February 23, 1803, choosing for them the bright yellow tunics or the 'Clothes of the Dead' as warriors who had sworn that if they could not win, they would do battle and die."

21. In 1818, he was given  Jagir of Hansi (Haryana state) for his meritorious services to the E. I. C and elevated to the status of Colonel in 1828 and was conferred CB (Companion of the Order of Bath)
Col. James Skinner holding regimental darbar, 1827..Watercolour on European paper, by Ghulam Ali Khan, Delhi, 1827.
22. William Fraser was his close friend and business partner. Later Fraser became the Commissioner of Delhi territories.

23. Even to day, Skinner's regiment  is part of the Indian Army and is called Skinner's horse, though horses have been replaced by tanks.

24. Having put in long tears of sevices, Col Skinner retired to the mountain resort  of Mussoorie, a quiet and serene place where he acquired many large properties.

25. Skinner spent much was his time at Hansi in his estate and his parties were famous for drinks and hookah.

26. Skinner died at Hansi (in Hisar district, Haryana), on 4 December 1841, at the age of 64. His mortal remains were later transferred to Delhi  with full military honors accompanied by his regiment. A marble  tomb was built in the graveyard of St. James Church.

Indeed an amazing personality who was torn between two cultures and in spite of many impediments, trials and tribulation, he stuck to his passion and achieved something great singularly on his own merit. His name still remains part and parcel of an Indian regiment.