After SIR VINCENT EYRE CB KCSI (1811-1881)
LOWES CATO DICKINSON (1819-1908)
Portraits of the Cabul Prisoners (Afghanistan, 1843)
Not for Sale
Lithograph on paper
Inscribed with the name of the sitter; various sizes
Description / Expertise
Coloured lithographs after sketches made in captivity in Afganistan 1842-3 by Lieutenant Vincent Eyre, re-drawn by Lowes Cato Dickinson, Bengal Artillery, 1842 (c).
As the British advanced into Afghanistan they came across many ancient ruins and monuments, evidence of the country's rich and varied heritage. Individuals like Eyre painted, sketched, classified and recorded these sites, doing much to increase our understanding. Their work was part of the imperial scheme. The development of archaeology, linguistics, anthropology and the birth of the museum were all based on an impulse to collect, classify and control information about diverse cultures. It was no coincidence that many of the pioneers in the ancient history of the subcontinent, its religions and languages were often the very same soldiers and civil servants who conquered, surveyed and administered India and its associated regions.
From 'Portraits of the Kabul Prisoners', a set of coloured lithographs published by John Murray in 1843.
The artist's original drawings were made during his captivity (1842-3) in Afghanistan after the Retreat from Kabul during the 1st Afghan War (1838-1842).
He was born at Portsdown, near Portsmouth, on 22 Jan. 1811, was the third son of Captain Henry Eyre, of an old stock of Derbyshire cavaliers, by Mary, daughter of J. Concannon, esq., of Loughrea, co. Galway, Ireland. He was educated at the Norwich grammar school under the Rev. E. Valpy, who was also the teacher of Sir Archdale Wilson of Delhi, Colonel Stoddart, the Bokhara victim, and Sir James Brooke [q. v.]
Eyre entered the Military Academy at Addiscombe when about fifteen, and passed out into the artillery of the company on 12 Dec. 1828. He was gazetted to the Bengal establishment, and landed in Calcutta 21 May 1829. After eight years he was promoted to be first lieutenant, and appointed to the horse artillery. In 1833 Eyre married the daughter of Colonel Sir James Mouat, bart. She died in 1851.
In 1839 Eyre was appointed commissary of ordnance to the Cabul field force. He proceeded to Cabul through the Punjab, taking with him an immense train of ordnance stores, and reached Cabul in April 1840. The arsenal was got in order, and provision made for the supply of shot, shell, and other war materials to the garrisons in Afghanistan. On 2 Nov. 1841 the rising took place in which Sir Alexander Burnes [q. v.] was killed. The British force was soon blockaded in the cantonments by the Afghans. They made desperate sallies, in one of which, on 13 Nov., Eyre was in command of two guns sent out with a force to act against the walled village of Beymaroo. Early in the day he was severely wounded. When in December Major E. Pottinger was constrained to negotiate for the withdrawal of the army, four married officers with their families were demanded by Akbar as hostages. Eyre volunteered to go, but the negotiation fell through. A treaty for evacuation was, however, ratified on 1 Jan. 1842. Eyre, still suffering from his wound, and hampered by the presence of his wife and child, started with the column (6 Jan. 1842).
On the 9th Akbar demanded that the married officers with their families should be surrendered as hostages. The Eyres were among the families so surrendered. They heard soon afterwards of the complete destruction of the column. They passed nearly nine months in captivity, moved to different forts, and suffering many privations. The climate, however, was healthy; public worship was observed, and a school was established for the children. Eyre kept a diary and took portraits of the officers and ladies. The manuscript was transmitted to a friend in India with great difficulty. It was immediately published in England as ‘Military Operations at Cabul … with a Journal of Imprisonment in Afghanistan’ (February 1843, followed by a conclusion of the journal in April 1843), and excited universal interest. A new edition revised and enlarged by him appeared in 1878. In August the captives were suddenly hurried off towards Bamian in the Hindu Khush, under a threat of being sold as slaves to the Uzbegs of Turkestan. From this fate they were saved by the energy of Pottinger, who succeeded on 11 Sept. in buying over the Afghan officer commanding the escort.
Sir George Pollock was now advancing for their rescue. On the 17th they met Sir R. Shakespear at the head of a friendly party of Kizilbash horse, and on the 21st they marched into Pollock's camp at Cabul. They numbered thirty-five officers, fifty-one soldiers, twelve women, and twenty-two children. Returning to India with Pollock's army, Eyre was posted once more to the horse artillery. While quartered at Meerut he originated a club for the European soldiery, probably the first of the kind. In December 1844 he was appointed to command the artillery of the newly formed ‘Gwalior contingent.’ He raised this force to a high pitch of efficiency, as was proved by its actions in the mutiny. His period of service at Gwalior was marked by an attempt to found a colony for the families of Portuguese natives left destitute by the disbandment of the Mahratta force. He obtained land for their settlement, which, by his desire, was called Esapore, i.e. the abode of christians. After prospering for a time it was broken up by the unhealthiness of the situation. He also undertook the duties of executive engineer, architect, road-maker, &c., to the station, and erected a very handsome little church. In 1854 he became major, and in May 1855 visited England on furlough.
In February 1857 he returned to India, and was posted to a horse-artillery battery at Thayat Myo in Burma, but was recalled to India on the breaking out of the mutiny. In July he was sent up the Ganges for Allahabad. On the 28th he reached Buxar, where he learned that a force of mutineers under Koor Singh, the rajah of Jagdespur, was besieging a small body of government servants in a fortified house at Arrah, forty miles from Buxar. Eyre took the responsibility of dis- embarking 160 men of the 5th foot, who were under orders for Allahabad, and with them and his own force marched to the relief of Arrah. Starting on 30 July he learned on his road that the enemy had repulsed a detachment of four hundred British troops. On 2 Aug. he met a force of the enemy five times as numerous as his own. He defeated them after desperate fighting, ended by a decisive bayonet-charge. He was just in time to save the house, which had already been mined. Eyre disarmed the townspeople of Arrah, and, being reinforced by two companies of the 10th foot and one of Rattray's Sikhs, set out on the 11th to drive Koor Singh out of his fortified residence at Jagdespur. Once more victorious with small loss, he drove the enemy before him, capturing two field-guns and completely destroying Koor Singh's stronghold with all its munitions of war. This brief campaign, undertaken on his own responsibility, restored order in the district where it occurred, secured the communications by the Grand Trunk Road, revived British prestige, and drew from Outram the highest praise and an earnest recommendation of its leader for the Victoria Cross, an honour which was never bestowed.
Eyre now joined at Cawnpore the force advancing under Outram and Sir H. Havelock to the relief of Lucknow. The column reached Lucknow after four days' fighting. Eyre succeeded to the command of the artillery on the death of Brigadier Cooper. He commanded at the important outpost of the Alumbagh till the capture of the rebel city by Lord Clyde in March 1858. For his services here he was frequently named in Outram's despatches. In December 1857 he was made lieutenant-colonel and C.B. He became brevet colonel in December 1858.
After the suppression of the mutiny Eyre was appointed to superintend the powder works at Ishapore, near Calcutta. Here, in 1860, he married his cousin, Catherine Mary, daughter of Captain T. Eyre, R.N. In 1861 Eyre was selected by Lord Canning to be a member of the commission on the amalgamation of the company's army with that of the queen, and in 1862 was appointed inspector-general of ordnance in the Bengal army. In April 1863 he was ordered home on sick leave, and retired with the rank of major-general in October 1863. In 1867 he received the second-class decoration of the Star of India. Happening to be in France on the breaking out of the war with Prussia, Eyre undertook to organise an ambulance service under the rules of the English National Red Cross Society. He formed a local committee in August at Boulogne, and for the next eight months he and Lady Eyre continued to be the presiding and most active members of a very beneficent organisation. These services were most handsomely acknowledged by the various authorities of the two belligerent nations. He passed his winters at Rome during his later years, and was everywhere a favourite in society. In the summer of 1880 he was attacked by a spinal disease, and died at Aix-les-Bains on 22 Sept. 1881. His remains were brought to England and interred at Kensal Green.
Eyre was a man of noble and beautiful nature. Handsome, courteous, accomplished, he was at the same time daring and full of resource. High literary and artistic talent were combined with his military qualities. He left four children, all by his first wife. Three sons adopted the career of arms, and his daughter married a military officer.