Edwardes, Sir Herbert Benjamin

EDWARDES, SIR HERBERT BENJAMIN (1819-1868), English soldier-statesman in India, was born at Frodesley in Shropshire on the 12th of November 1819. His father was Benjamin Edwardes, rector of Frodesley, and his grandfather Sir John Edwardes, baronet, eighth holder of a title conferred on one of his ancestors by Charles I. in 1644. He was educated at a private school and at King's College, London. Through the influence of his uncle, Sir Henry Edwardes, he was nominated in 1840 to a cadetship in the East India Company; and on his arrival in India, at the beginning of 1841, he was posted as ensign in the 1st Bengal Fusiliers. He remained with this regiment about five years, during which time he mastered the lessons of his profession, obtained a good knowledge of Hindustani, Hindi and Persian, and attracted attention by the political and literary ability displayed in a series of letters which appeared in the Delhi Gazette.

In November 1845, on the breaking out of the first Sikh War, Edwardes was appointed aide-de-camp to Sir Hugh (afterwards Viscount) Gough, then commander-in-chief in India. On the 18th of December he was severely wounded at the battle of Mudki. He soon recovered, however, and fought by the side of his chief at the decisive battle of Sobraon (February 10, 1846). He was soon afterwards appointed third assistant to the commissioners of the trans-Sutlej territory; and in January 1847 was named first assistant to Sir Henry Lawrence, the resident at Lahore. Lawrence became his great exemplar and in later years he was accustomed to attribute to the influence of this "father of his public life" whatever of great or good he had himself achieved. He took part with Lawrence in the suppression of a religious disturbance at Lahore in the spring of 1846, and soon afterwards assisted him in reducing, by a rapid movement to Jammu, the conspirator Imam-ud-din. In the following year a more difficult task was assigned him - the conduct of an expedition to Bannu, a district on the Waziri frontier, in which the people would not tolerate the presence of a collector, and the revenue had consequently fallen into arrear. By his rare tact and fertility of resource, Edwardes succeeded in completely conquering the wild tribes of the valley without firing a shot, a victory which he afterwards looked back upon with more satisfaction than upon others which brought him more renown. His fiscal arrangements were such as to obviate all difficulty of collection for the future. In the spring of 1848, in consequence of the murder of Mr vans Agnew and Lieutenant Anderson at Multan, by order of the diwan Mulraj, and of the raising of the standard of revolt by the latter, Lieutenant Edwardes was authorized to march against him. He set out immediately with a small force, occupied Leiah on the left bank of the Indus, was joined by Colonel van Cortlandt, and, although he could not attack Multan, held the enemy at bay and gave a check at the critical moment to their projects. He won a great victory over a greatly superior Sikh force at Kinyeri (June 18), and received in acknowledgment of his services the local rank of major. In the course of the operations which followed near Multan, Edwardes lost his right hand by the explosion of a pistol in his belt. On the arrival of a large force under General Whish the siege of Multan was begun, but was suspended for several months in consequence of the desertion of Shere Singh with his army and artillery. Edwardes distinguished himself by the part he took in the final operations, begun in December, which ended with the capture of the city on the 4th of January 1849. For his services he received the thanks of both houses of parliament, was promoted major by brevet, and created C.B. by special statute of the order. The directors of the East India Company conferred on him a gold medal and a good service pension of £100 per annum.

After the conclusion of peace Major Edwardes returned to England for the benefit of his health, married during his stay there, and wrote and published his fascinating account of the scenes in which he had been engaged, under the title of A Year on the Punjab Frontier in 1848-1849. His countrymen gave him fitting welcome, and the university of Oxford conferred on him the degree of D.C.L. In 1851 he returned to India and resumed his civil duties in the Punjab under Sir Henry Lawrence. In November 1853 he was entrusted with the responsible post of commissioner of the Peshawar frontier, and this he held when the Mutiny of 1857 broke out. It was a position of enormous difficulty, and momentous consequences were involved in the way the crisis might be met. Edwardes rose to the height of the occasion. He saw as if by inspiration the facts and the needs, and by the prompt measures which he adopted he rendered a service of incalculable importance, by effecting a reconciliation with Afghanistan, and securing the neutrality of the amir and the frontier tribes during the war. So effective was his procedure for the safety of the border that he was able to raise a large force in the Punjab and send it to co-operate in the siege and capture of Delhi. In 1859 Edwardes once more went to England, his health so greatly impaired by the continual strain of arduous work that it was doubtful whether he could ever return to India. During his stay he was created K.C.B., with the rank of brevet colonel; and the degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by the university of Cambridge. Early in 1862 he again sailed for India, and was appointed commissioner of Umballa and agent for the Cis-Sutlej states. He had been offered the governorship of the Punjab, but on the ground of failing health had declined it. In February 1865 he was compelled to finally resign his post and return to England. A second good service pension was at once conferred on him; in May 1866 he was created K.C. of the Star of India; and early in 1868 was promoted major-general in the East Indian Army. He had been for some time engaged on a life of Sir Henry Lawrence, and high expectations were formed of the work; but he did not live to complete it, and after his death it was put into the hands of Mr Herman Merivale. He died in London on the 23rd of December 1868. Great in council and great in war, he was singularly beloved by his friends, generous and unselfish to a high degree, and a man of deep religious convictions.

See Memorials of the Life and Letters of Sir Herbert Benjamin Edwardes, by his wife (2 vols., London, 1886); T. R. E. Holmes, Four Soldiers (London, 1889); J. Ruskin, Bibl. pastorum, iv. "A Knight's Faith" (1885), passages from the life of Edwardes.

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

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