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Hodson, William Stephen Raikes

HODSON, WILLIAM STEPHEN RAIKES (1821-1858), known as " Hodson of Hodson's Horse," British leader of light cavalry during the Indian Mutiny, third son of the Rev. George Hodson, afterwards archdeacon of Stafford and canon of Lichfield, was born on the 19th of March 1821 at Maisemore Court, near Gloucester. He was educated at Rugby and Cambridge, and accepted a cadetship in the Indian army at the advanced age for those days of twenty-three. Joining the 2nd Bengal Grenadiers he went through the first Sikh War, and was present at the battles of Moodkee, Ferozeshah and Sobraon. In one of his letters home at this period he calls the campaign a " tissue of mismanagement, blunders, errors, ignorance and arrogance "; and outspoken criticism such as this brought him many bitter enemies throughout his career, who made the most of undeniable faults of character. In 1847, through the influence of Sir Henry Lawrence, he was appointed adjutant of the corps of Guides, and in 1852 was promoted to the command of the Guides with the civil charge of Yusafzai. But his brusque and haughty demeanour to his equals made him many enemies. In 1855 two separate charges were brought against him. The first was that he had arbitrarily imprisoned a Pathan chief named Khadar Khan, on suspicion of being concerned in the murder of Colonel Mackeson. The man was acquitted, and Lord Dalhousie removed Hodson from his civil functions and remanded him to his regiment on account of his lack of judgment. The second charge was more serious, amounting to an accusation of malversation in the funds of his regiment. He was tried by a court of inquiry, who found that his conduct to natives had been " unjustifiable and oppressive," that he had used abusive language to his native officers and personal violence to his men, and that his system of accounts was " calculated to screen peculation and fraud." Subsequently another inquiry was carried out by Major Reynell Taylor, which dealt simply with Hodson's accounts and found them to be " an honest and correct record . . . irregularly kept." At this time the Guides were split up into numerous detachments, and there was a system of advances which made the accounts very complicated. The verdicts of the two inquiries may be set against each other, and this particular charge declared " not proven." It is possible that Hodson was careless and extravagant in money matters rather than actually dishonest; but there were several similar charges against him. During a tour through Kashmir with Sir Henry Lawrence he kept the purse and Sir Henry could never obtain an account from him; subsequently Sir George Lawrence accused him of embezzling the funds of the Lawrence Asylum at Kasauli; while Sir Neville Chamberlain in a published letter says of the third brother, Lord Lawrence, " I am bound to say that Lord Lawrence had no opinion of Hodson's integrity in money matters. He has often discussed Hodson's character in talking to me, and it was to him a regret that a man possessing so many fine gifts should have been wanting in a moral quality which made him untrustworthy." Finally, on one occasion Hodson spent 500 of the pay due to Lieutenant Gcdby, and under threat of exposure was obliged to borrow the money from a native banker through one of his officers named Bisbarat Ah'.

It was just at the time when Hodson's career seemed ruined that the Indian Mutiny broke out, and he obtained the opportunity of rehabilitating himself. At the very outset of the campaign he made his name by riding with despatches from General Anson at Karnal to Meerut and back again, a distance of 1 52 m. in all, in seventy-two hours, through a country swarming with the rebel cavalry. This feat so pleased the commanderin-chief that he empowered him to raise a regiment of 2000 irregular horse, which became known to fame as Hodson's Horse, and placed him at the head of the Intelligence Department. In his double role of cavalry leader and intelligence officer, Hodson played a large part in the reduction of Delhi and consequently in saving India for the British empire. He was the finest swordsman in the army, and possessed that daring recklessness which is the most useful quality of leadership against Asiatics. In explanation of the fact that he never received the Victoria Cross it was said of him that it was because he earned it every day of his life. But he also had the defects of his qualities, and could display on occasion a certain cruelty and callousness of disposition. Reference has already been made to Bisharat AH, who had lent Hodson money. During the siege of Delhi another native, said to be an enemy of Bisharat Ali's, informed Hodson .that he had turned rebel and had just reached Khurkhouda, a village near Delhi. Hodson thereupon took out a body of his sowars, attacked the village, and shot Bisharat Ali and several of his relatives. General Crawford Chamberlain states that this was Hodson's way of wiping out the debt. Again, after the fall of Delhi, Hodson obtained from General Wilson permission to ride out with fifty horsemen to Humayun's tomb, 6 m. out of Delhi, and bring in Bahadur Shah, the last of the Moguls. This he did with safety in the face of a large and threatening crowd, and thus dealt the mutineers a heavy blow. On the following day with 100 horsemen he went out to the same tomb and obtained the unconditional surrender of the three princes, who had been left behind on the previous occasion. A crowd of 6000 persons gathered, and Hodson with marvellous coolness ordered them to disarm, which they proceeded to do. He sent the princes on with an escort of ten men, while with the remaining ninety he collected the arms of the crowd. On galloping after the princes he found the crowd once more pressing on the escort and threatening an attack; and fearing that he would be unable to bring his prisoners into Delhi he shot them with his own hand. This is the most bitterly criticized action in his career, but no one but the man on the spot can judge how it is necessary to handle a crowd; and in addition one of the princes, Abu Bukt, heir-apparent to the throne, had made himself notorious for cutting off the arms and legs of English children and pouring the blood into their mothers' mouths. Considering the circumstances of the moment, Hodson's act at the worst was one of irregular justice. A more unpleasant side to the question is that he gave the king a safe conduct, which was afterwards seen by Sir Donald Stewart, before he left the palace, and presumably for a bribe; and he took an armlet and rings from the bodies of the princes. He was freely accused of looting at the time, and though this charge, like that of peculation, is matter for controversy, it is very strongly supported. General Pelham Burn said that he saw loot in Hodson's boxes when he accompanied him from Fatehgarh to take part in the siege of Lucknow, and Sir Henry Daly said that he found " loads of loot " in Hodson's boxes after his death, and also a file of documents relating to the Guides case, which had been stolen from him and of which Hodson denied all knowledge. On the other hand the Rev. G. Hodson states in his book that he obtained the inventory of his brother's possessions made by the Committee of Adjustment and it contained no articles of loot, and Sir Charles Gough, president of the committee, confirmed this evidence. This statement is totally incompatible with Sir Henry Daly's and is only one of many contradictions in the case. Sir Henry Norman stated that to his personal knowledge Hodson remitted several thousand pounds to Calcutta which could only have been obtained by looting. On the other hand, again, Hodson died a poor man, his effects were sold for 170, his widow was dependent on charity for her passage home, was given apartments by the queen at Hampton Court, and left only 400 at her death.

Hodson was killed on the nth of March 1858 in the attack on the Begum Kotee at Lucknow. He had just arrived on the spot and met a man going to fetch powder to blow in a door; instead Hodson, with his usual recklessness, rushed into the doorway and was shot. On the whole, it can hardly be doubted that he was somewhat unscrupulous in his private character, but he was a splendid soldier, and rendered inestimable services to the empire.

The controversy relating to Hodson's moral character is very complicated and unpleasant. Upon Hodson's side see Rev. G. Hodson, Hodson of Hodson's Horse (1883), and L. J. Trotter, A Leader of Light Horse (1901); against him, R. Bosworth Smith, Life of Lord Lawrence, appendix to the 6th edition of 1885; T. R. E. Holmes, History of the Indian Mutiny, appendix N to the 5th edition of 1898, and Four Famous Soldiers by the same author, 1889; and General Sir Crawford Chamberlain, Remarks on Captain Trotter's Biography of Major W. S. R. Hodson (1901).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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