James George Smith Neill - Encyclopedia

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JAMES GEORGE SMITH NEILL (1810-1857), British soldier, was born near Ayr, Scotland, on the 26th of May 1810, and educated at Glasgow University. Entering the service of the East India Company in 1827, he received his lieutenant's commission a year later. From 1828 to 1852 he was mainly employed in duty with his regiment, the 1st Madras Europeans (of which he wrote a Historical Record), but gained some experience on the general and the personal staffs as D.A.A.G. and as aide-decamp. In 1850 he received his majority, and two years later set out for the Burmese War with the regiment. He served throughout the war with distinction, became second-in-command to Cheape, and took part in the minor operations which followed, receiving the brevet of lieutenant-colonel. In June 1854 he was appointed second-in-command to Sir Robert Vivian to organize the Turkish contingent for the Crimean War. Early in 1857 he returned to India. Six weeks after his arrival came the news that all northern India was aflame with revolt. Neill acted promptly; he left Madras with his regiment at a moment's notice, and proceeded to Benares. The day after his arrival he completely and ruthlessly crushed the mutineers (4th June 1857). He next turned his attention to Allahabad, where a handful of Europeans still held out in the fort against the rebels. From the 6th to the 15th of June his men forced their way under conditions of heat and of opposition that would have appalled any but a real leader of men, and the place, "the most precious in India at that moment," as Lord Canning wrote, was saved. Neill received his reward in an army colonelcy and appointment of aide-de-camp to the queen. Allahabad was soon made the concentration of Havelock's column. The two officers, through a misunderstanding in their respective instructions, disagreed, and when Havelock went on from Cawnpore (which Neill had reoccupied shortly before) he left his subordinate there to command the lines of communication. At Cawnpore, while the traces of the massacre were yet fresh, Neill inflicted the death penalty on all his prisoners with the most merciless rigour. Meanwhile, Havelock, in spite of a succession of victories, had been compelled to fall back for lack of men; and Neill criticized his superior's action with a total want of restraint. A second expedition had the same fate, and Neill himself was now attacked, though by his own exertions and Havelock's victory at Bithor (16th August) the tension on the communications was ended. Havelock's men returned to Cawnpore, and cholera broke out there, whereupon Neill again committed himself to criticisms, this time addressed to the commander-in-chief and to Outram, who was on the way with reinforcements. In spite of these very grave acts of insubordination, Havelock gave his rival a brigade command in the final advance. The famous march from Cawnpore to Lucknow began on September 19th; on the 21st there was a sharp fight, on the 22nd incessant rain, on the 23rd intense heat. On the 23rd the fighting opened with the assault on the Alum Bagh, Neill at the head of the leading brigade recklessly exposing himself. Next day he was again heavily engaged, and on the 25th he led the great attack on Lucknow itself. The fury of his assault carried everything before it, and his men were entering the city when a bullet killed their commander. Strict as he was, he was loved not less than feared, and throughout the British dominions he had established a name as a skilful and extraordinarily energetic commander. The rank and precedence of the wife of a K.C.B. was given to his widow, and memorials have been erected in India and at Ayr. See J. W. Kaye, Lives of Indian Officers (1889); and J. C. Marshman, Life of Havelock (1867).

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