Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Remarkable military officer Col. James skinner - East India company


Col. James Skinner. indpaedia.com
During the colonial days under the E.I. company, many army men rose to the position of prominence through hard work and dedication, in spite of their difficult  family and other situations. Such people leave a mark after them and do something that bears testimony to their amazing contribution to their chosen field. James Skinner of E. I.  company was such an accomplished military officer who is remembered  even today.



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
His father put him initially as an apprentice to a printer in Calcutta. As he did not like the job, he left it after just three days.  His Indian heritage - because of mixed parentage  put him at disadvantage and at sixteen he could not get a job as an officer with  the East India Company army. He eventually found a job with  the Mahratta army as an ensign under Benoît de Boigne, the French commander of Maharaja Scindia's forces of Gwalior State. Boigne was not only impressed by his talents but also that of his  family ancestry. On his fraternal side, the Skinners  had served William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Once taken in, Skinner soon showed military talent. Through hard work, he became commander-in-chief of Sindhia's army after Boigne's retirement, until 1803. Soon he lost the job after the  second Anglo-Maratha War as all  Angelo Indian officers were dismissed from the military services.

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 became a lieutenant-colonel  in 1828 in the British service and later  a colonel after  getting the  Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB)on 26 December 1826.

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.

Tit-Bits:
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 
02. He had also lived at Jahaj kothi in Hisar after the defeat of Irish mercenary adventurer George Thomas (c. 1756 to August 22, 1802 CE). Skinner died at Hansi (in Hisar district, Haryana), on 4 December 1841, at the age of 64. He was initially buried in the Cantonment Burial Ground at Hansi. Later after a lapse of 40 days he was disinterred, and his coffin brought to Delhi, escorted by 200 men of Skinner's Horse.  He was buried in Skinner's Church on 19 January 1842 in a vault of white marble immediately below the Communion table. Here  his soul is at rest in peace in the grave yard of the church that he had founded.
Col. Skinner's tomb, James Church, Delhi.en.wikipedia.org
03. His mother, a Rajput princess, was taken prisoner at the age of fourteen, Later  Hercules Skinner married her and she bore him 14 children - seven children, two girls and five boys, Joseph, James, Hercules, Alexander, Thomas, Louisa and Elizabeth. 

04. His brother Robert Skinner also served as a Major in the army of the E. I. company. 
Ref:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Skinner_(East_India_Company_officer)