Colonel James Skinner CB (1778 – 4 December 1841), often referred to as Sikandar Sahib later in life was a maverick and a well-known Anglo-Indian military adventurer in India. He was mainly instrumental in grooming two cavalry regiments for the British, later known as 1st Skinner's Horse and 3rd Skinner's Horse (formerly 2nd Skinner's Horse) at Hansi in 1803. His regiment is still part of the Indian Army. Born in 1778 in Calcutta (Kolkata) India, his father was Lieutenant-Colonel Hercules Skinner, an officer in the East India Company Army of Scottish origin, and his mother was a Rajput princess, daughter of a zamindar. James Skinner was one among 14 children and his mother, as ill-luck would have it, committed suicide when he was barely 12 years old. He had his early education in an English school in Calcutta and later in a boarding school.
|A folio of Tazkirat al-umara by James Skinner, 1830, depicting Portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Punjab. .en.wikipedia.org|
|James Skinner CB (1778–1841), 19th century. Probably from Thomas Metcalfe's book dated 1843..en.wikipedia.org|
His military experience stood him in good stead and later he got a job with the Bengal Army of the East India Company under Lord Lake, Commander-in-Chief of British India in 1801. While with the army, Skinner took interest to develop a regiment under his care and later on 23 February 1803, he raised a regiment of irregular cavalry called "Skinner's Horse" or the "Yellow Boys" because of the color of their uniform. This regiment earned a good name because of well-planed training under Skinner. Later it was considered as the most famous regiment of light cavalry in the British Indian Army. This regiment still exists today as part of the Indian Army. After the siege of Bharatpur, in 1818 Skinner was granted a jagir of Hansi (Hisar district, Haryana), that fetched him a revenue of Rs 20,000.00 a year, a whooping amount in those days.
Skinner was quite fluent in Persian and could communicate with the natives . Being shrewd, he could read the psychology of other people and had gained a good knowledge of the characters of the people of India from various regions. His knowledge of the Indian people was considered as an asset by successive governor-generals and commanders-in-chief. He commissioned paintings in the Company style on a large scale. Taking advantage of his skill in Persian, Skinner wrote a volume of memoirs in Persian of his military expeditions. Skinner died in December 1841 at the age of 64.
St. James' Church
St. James' Church or Skinner's Church in Kashmiri Gate, Delhi is a famous landmark and majestically stands as a testimony to Skinner's contribution in the subcontinent. This church is going to be repaired and restored pretty soon because it is the oldest surviving church in Delhi. This church was commissioned by Skinner in fulfillment of his vow to build a church if survived, when facing near - death in the battlefield of Uniara in 1800. It was built at his own expense and its main architect was Major Robert Smith . It was built between 1826-36 to a cruciform plan, with three porticoed porches and a central octagonal dome. It was consecrated on 21 November 1836 by the Right Reverend Daniel Wilson D.D, the Bishop of Calcutta, Skinner is also believed to have built a temple and a mosque, though details of them are quite vague.
01. Skinner was a fluent writer in Persian, the court and intellectual language of India in his day, and wrote several books in Persian, including "Kitab-i tasrih al-aqvam" (History of the Origin and Distinguishing Marks of the Different Castes of India), now with the Library of Congress. Other works included 'A folio of Tazkirat al-umara by James Skinner, 1830, depicting Portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Punjab. This included family biographies, of princely families in the Sikh and Rajput territories and 37 portraits of their current representatives. First translated from the original Persian by James Fraser and Skinner's Horse party Folio from 'Reminiscences of Imperial Delhi’, an album by Sir Thomas Metcalfe, 1843.
|St. James' Church or Skinner's Church, Kashmiri Gate, Delhi.en.wikipedia.org Colonel|
|Col. Skinner's tomb, James Church, Delhi.en.wikipedia.org|
04. His brother Robert Skinner also served as a Major in the army of the E. I. company.