Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines
Period/ Conflict: Indian Mutiny
Date/s: 31st October 1857
After their arrival at Hong Kong, in the summer of 1857, the Sanspareil, Shannon, and Pearl were hastily despatched. to Calcutta in order that they might assist in quelling the Mutiny in India.
The Shannon, 51, screw, had been launched at Portsmouth in November 1855 she was for a time the largest steam frigate afloat. Her tonnage (B.M.) was 2667, or about one-fourth more than that of the Victory; and her nominal complement was 560 officers and men, though, on her arrival in India, she had more than that number on board.
The frigate had been commissioned at Portsmouth on September 13th, 1856, by Captain William Peel, C.B., V.C. On August 6th, 1857, she arrived in the mouth of the Ganges, and Peel at once offered the services of himself and his people to proceed to the front, and co-operate with the army.
On the 14th, the Captain, several officers, and about 390 seamen and Marines, embarked in a flat, and were towed up the Hoogly to join the Lucknow relief force; and on the 18th they were followed by another party of 5 officers and 120 men (some of these were recruited from merchant vessels at Calcutta).
Royal Marines Officers were Captain Thomas Carstairs Grey, R.M.; Second Lieutenant William Stirling, R.M
As the Brigade took with it both guns and howitzers, as the towing vessels were of but small power and shallow draught, and as the current was strong, progress was slow; and Peel did not reach Allahabad, near the junction of the Jumna with the Ganges, until the second half of October. By the 20th the strength of the brigade assembled there was 516 of all ranks. Of these about 240, under Lieutenants Wilson, Wratislaw, and af Hazeby, were left in garrison at Allahabad.
On October 23rd 100 more, under Lieutenants Vaughan and Salmon, with four siege-train 24-prs., went to Cawnpur, and thence joined the army before Lucknow; and on the 27th and 28th the rest of the brigade, with four 24-prs. and two 8-in. howitzers, followed, and was presently amalgamated with a small force which, under Lieutenant-Colonel Powell, of the 53rd regiment, was marching in the same direction.
Late on October 31st the column camped near Fatehpur, and, on the following day, marched twenty-four miles and defeated 4,000 of the enemy at Kudjwa, capturing two guns.
Powell fell, and Peel took command, and completed the rout of the mutineers, ultimately securing a third gun.
The British lost 95 in killed and wounded, among the latter being Lieutenants Hay, R.N., and Stirling, R.M.; but the rebels lost 300 in killed alone. Peel then pressed on for Cawnpur.
Writing to Sir Michael Seymour on November 6th, from a camp between Cawnpur and Lucknow, he said: -
"Since that battle was fought, with the exception of one day's rest for the footsore men who had marched seventy-two miles in three days, besides fighting a severe engagement, we have made daily marches.... At Cawnpur I was obliged to leave Lieutenant Hay with fifty men to serve as artillerymen for that important position.... I am much gratified with the conduct of all the Brigade; and there is no departure whatever from the ordinary rules and customs of the service."
Portrait of Captain William Peel (1824–1858) by John Lucas (1807–1874) National Maritime Museum
A posthumous full-length portrait of Peel, wearing a captain’s frock coat, and with a rose in his buttonhole. In his right hand he holds a fighting sword and he waves a solar topee with his left. The action leading up to the relief of Lucknow is taking place behind him. Close behind Peel on the left is a soldier of the 53rd Foot and on the right a crew loads a gun. In the distance a bridge is lined with soldiers advancing on the city of Lucknow, implied in the distance on the left.
As with other nineteenth-century naval officers, Peel’s distinction rests on the fighting he did on land. He repeatedly distinguished himself fighting the Russians in the Crimea in 1854 to 1855. At Inkerman he fought with the Grenadier Guards. At the assault on Redan he was severely wounded and became one of the first officers to receive the newly created Victoria Cross. In 1856 he commissioned the ‘Shannon’ to go to the Far East, but was diverted to India after the outbreak of the Mutiny.
Landing at Calcutta, he formed such an effective Naval Brigade of 450 sailors, marines and soldiers, that in January 1858 he was made a KCB. In March he was severely wounded at the second relief of Lucknow, and on his way home to England he died of smallpox contracted at Cawnpore.
This highly dramatised portrait commemorating the last act of bravery in his distinguished career was painted between 1859 and 1860. It was commissioned by subscription and was ordered to be placed in the Painted Hall at Greenwich by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty in 1860.
Read More/ Web Link: The Naval Brigades in the Indian Mutiny