Turtle Bunbury

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HISTORY

HEROES AND VILLAINS

GENERAL FREDERICK YOUNG (1786 – 1874) – FOUNDER OF THE GURKHAS

Lieutenant Frederick Young raised himself off the wet green grass, drew his sword and prepared to die. The leather-clad Nepalese herdsmen slowly closed in, their curved kukri knives raised high. Behind them, the Donegal man could still make out the fleeing uniforms of the Irregulars, Indian soldiers who – like him – were employed to fight for the British East India Company. The difference was that the Irregulars had run away when the Nepalese attacked. Not all of them had escaped. Red blood gushed through the marshlands and flowed towards the Gorkha fort towering above.[i] As Young awaited the flashing steel, one of the Nepalese soldiers stopped abruptly and spoke in English.

‘Why did you not run away too?’ he asked.

‘I have not come so far in order to run away’, replied Young with ‘fearless Irish eyes’.

Lt Young was not killed. Greatly impressed by his fighting zeal, the hillmen took him prisoner. And over his next year in captivity, he learned an incredible amount about Nepalese society and the Gorkhas in particular. He mastered their language, their customs and their military techniques. In 1815, this indomitable Irishman used this knowledge to become the founding father of the fearsome ‘Gurkha’ Brigade.[ii]

At least, that’s how the story goes. Indeed, the tale of Frederick Young’s capture by the Gorkhas is a deeply entrenched part of British military folklore. Depending on which history you read, you might find a Gorkha telling Young that the British are ‘almost as brave as the Gorkhas themselves’. Another version claims that, as they led Young off to captivity, ‘the merry men of the Nepalese hills’ remarked ‘Ah you are a brave man. We could serve under a brave man like you’. All this sets the plot up nicely for the Nepalese soldiers to be flattered beyond belief when Young duly suggests that they form a regiment and join the good old British East India Company.

The truth is rather more shady.

Most of what we know of Frederick Young comes from his biography, written by his daughter, Louise Hadow Jenkins, and published over a century after his capture.[iii] He was born on the Inishowen peninsula in the far north of Co Donegal in 1786.[iv] His Presbyterian ancestors arrived from Devonshire in the 1630s as tenants of the Marquis of Donegal and settled at Culdaff, near Malin Head, where members of the family still live today. By 1679, the Rev Robert Young was Rector of the adjoining parishes of Culdaff and Cloncha. His great grandson George succeeded as family head in 1747 and built Culdaff House in 1779.[v] George’s brother the Rev. Gardiner Young (1745-1822) served variously as Rector of Moville, Ballynascreen and Coleraine. By his 1770 marriage to Elizabeth Richardson, the Rev. Gardiner Young was Lt Frederick Young’s father.[vi]

Frederick Young went to India at the age of 14 to take up a career in the British Army. His first years were spent serving under General Lake, the man who destroyed the Irish rebels at Ballinamuck at the close of the 1798 Rebellion.[vii] After seeing action in the Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-05), Young rose up the hierarchy to become ADC to a colourful Ulsterman, Major-General Sir Rollo Gillespie. Born in Comber, Co Down, Sir Rollo had survived shipwrecks, yellow fever, frauds, court martial’s, murder trials, mutinies, allegations of bigamy and a raid on his home in which he killed six of his eight assailants with a sword. Frederick Young became his ADC in 1811. Over the next three years, Sir Rollo conquered the Dutch Javanese city of Batavia, deposed the Sultan of Sumatra and killed a tiger in the open on Bangalore racecourse.

In 1814, Sir Rollo and Lt Young were sent to defeat the Gorkhas. A war between the British East India Company and the fledgling Kingdom of Nepal had been inevitable ever since the Gorkhas conquered the Kathmandu Valley in 1769 and began threatening British interests in India.

Seeking a quick and decisive campaign, the British committed 22,000 troops to the campaign.[viii] Sir Rollo was assigned the task of dislodging the enemy from a strategic fort at Khalunga. This was to be Sir Rollo’s last hurrah. As he led his men in a head-on charge at the fort, a Gorkha sniper shot Sir Rollo through the heart. He died in Lt Young’s arms just 27 metres from the palisade.[ix]

Over the next six weeks, Young watched with mounting admiration as the 600 Gorkhas within the fortress steadfastly refused to submit. The British gradually managed to cut off their freshwater supply and killed 520 of the defenders but the Nepalese never surrendered and ultimately the survivors slipped out of Khalunga under the cover of darkness. [x]

In February 1815, the British forces attacked another prominent Nepalese fort at Jaithak. When they learned that a force of Gorkha soldiers was on their way to relieve the besieged fort, Lt Young was dispatched at the head of a column of 2,000 native Indian troops to intercept. However, this was the moment when Young’s Irregulars were surprise-attacked in the Sirmur Hills by a band of three hundred Gorkhas and, as one contemporary put it, the British column ‘incontinently fled’, leaving Lt Young to face the music.[xi]

According to Mrs Jenkin’s account, when Lt Young was released, he was summoned to explain his experiences to his superior officers. He described the Gorkha’s immense soldiering qualities and vouched for the hillmen as a hardy, brave, humourous and likeable people. His opinion, she said, proved instrumental in persuading the British to enlist the demobilized Gorkhas to serve under the Crown.[xii]

However, it is here that we must question the legend. Early histories of the Nepalese War refer to the defeat of Young’s Irregulars at Jaithak but there is no mention of his capture in any of the key sources. Even if he had been briefly imprisoned and escaped, there would have been some record of the event - either in official dispatches or in letters written by his friends. Presumably Mrs Jenkins heard the story directly from her father when he was a whiskery old General living back in Ballybrack, Co Donegal. Like any good soldier, he might have been inclined to embellish the tale. As India historian Charles Allen, author of Soldier Sahibs, puts it: ‘At the end of the day history is what survives for the record and, on that basis, the story of Young’s capture is only legend’.

John Pemble, author of The Invasion of Nepal: John Company at War, agrees. He believes that Mrs Jenkin’s romantic account of her father’s captivity, published in 1923, is pure mythology. ‘But it is no less interesting for that’, he reasons. ‘It demonstrates just how powerfully the Gurkhas appealed to the Western imagination in the 1920s’. The Gurkhas extraordinary heroics during the First World War certainly elevated these tough, wiry men to the status of mystical super-warriors. Of the more than 200,000 Gurkhas who served, approximately 20,000 died and 2,000 received awards for courage. So perhaps Mrs Jenkins simply felt a post-war urge to spice up the story of these Himalayan gallants with the ‘memoirs’ of a boy from the Hills of Donegal. She clearly knew that her imperial readers would adore a good paternal yarn where her dashing hero would master the language of the enemy and create an unimpeachable bond of devotion between officer and soldier. It’s hard not to think of Tom Cruise galloping about with the Samurais.

That said, Young is known to have frequently quoted the opinion of the Gorkhas in his conversation. In 1829, for instance, he declared ‘the superiority of the Gorkha army over any other with which the British power has come into contact’. And he also admired their famous credo, ‘Kafar hunu bhanda marnu niko’ – ‘It is better to be dead than live as a coward’.

The Gurkha regiment was not Young’s idea. That ingenuity belongs to his friend William Fraser, a Scottish cavalry officer and political agent. During the latter stages of the Nepalese War, Fraser proposed that the British East Indian Company assemble several thousand Gorkha prisoners and deserters into an Irregular outfit that served for the company.[xiii] Most of those recruited were not ‘real’ Gorkhas as such but Kumaonis, Garhwalis and other Himalayan hill men. At this time the British forces were slowly pushing the Gorkha army higher and higher into the mountain. In April 1816, the Gorkha general Amar Singh was obliged to sue for peace. In recognition of the Gorkha’s heroic defences of their various forts, Amar Singh was permitted to march out with honours, men and arms, and return home.

After the defeat of Amar Singh, Fraser’s Irregulars became an official regiment, the Nasiri Pulteen.[xiv] These groups were eventually grouped together under the term ‘Gurkha’ and became the backbone of British Indian forces.

In 1816, Lt Young became the first British officer to command a regiment of Gurkhas when he was sent to raise a regiment at Sirmoor in Northern India, some 150 miles beyond Nepal's western border. That much is fact. ‘I came there one man’, he later said. ‘And I came back three thousand’. These 3,000 soldiers formed the Sirmoor battalion, later to become the 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles.[xv] The hierarchy was assumed from the outset - with the British to lead and the Gurkhas to be led. Young would serve as their commander for the next 28 years.[xvi] The Sirmoor Rifles were the first Gurkha unit in the service of the East India Company to see action, during the Third Mahratta War of 1817.

Lieutenant Young was promoted Captain in 1816 and Major in 1824. The following year he married Jeanette Bird, mother of his eight children.[xvii] By June 1833 he was a Lt Col and serving as Agent in the Himalayan city of Dehradun, near Sirmoor. He built a shooting lodge nearby and so inadvertently founded the famous tourist city of Mussoorie. He also apparently planted the first tea and potato ever grown in the Himalayas. In 1854, he concluded over fifty years of military service in Southern India and retired to his Irish homeland where he lived at Fairy Hill, Bray, Co Wicklow. However, the old warhorse lost all his money when his bank folded in 1854. Shortly afterward he relocated to Ballybrack near his birthplace in Co Donegal.[xviii] General Frederick Young died at his Dublin townhouse, The Albany, Dublin, on 22nd May 1874 aged 88.[xix]

At the partition of India into the two new countries of Pakistan and India in 1947, the Gurkhas were divided between India and Britain. Young’s regiment was among those retained by the British and, in 1994, became part of the Royal Gurkha Rifles. On 21 May 2009, following a high-profile campaign fronted by Joanna Lumley, Britain’s Home Secretary Jacqui Smith declared that ‘All Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years service will be allowed to settle in the UK’. This policy gave 36,000 veterans and their families permission to settle in the United Kingdom.

FOOTNOTES

[i] Khaluga was, a typical Gurkha garrison, built on a hill 500 feet high and surrounded by dense undergrowth and palisade of rough-hewn logs and rocks piled 12 feet high.

[ii] As a prisoner, Young would have learned how the King of Gorkha had conquered the three ancient kingdoms of the Kathmandu valley. For many long centuries, the three kingdoms were stagnated by constant warring between them. In 1769, Prithvi Narayan Shah, the king of Gorkha, seized the opportunity to invade the valley, conquering all three kingdoms and effectively laying the foundations for the present-day Kingdom of Nepal. Young would also be reminded how the British attempt to check that Gorkha advance had been ruthlessly crushed. In 1767, Captain Kinloch marched 2,500 men from Patna on behalf of the valley kings but ran into a ferocious attack from the Gorkhas that left him with 800 men dead before he sounded the retreat. The battle may have led the mountain warriors to think the British were not up to much as soldiers. It also may have sowed some distrust in the Gorkha minds as to whose side the British East India Company were on. Young would marvel at how, by the time of his birth in north Donegal in 1784, the Gorkha armies were rapidly overrunning much of modern-day Nepal. In 1792, the Gorkhas met their match when a vast Chinese army checked their advances in Tibet and forced them into a humiliating treaty. Further wars against the Sikhs put the Nepalese on the back-foot in the Punjab. And he would also hear blood-curdling tales from the Gorkha wars with the Chinese and the Sikhs

[iii] In his book ‘Warrior gentlemen - 'Gurkhas' in the Western imagination’, historian Lionel Caplan has comprehensively tracks the origin of the tale to Young’s biography, written by his daughter Louise Hadow Jenkins (nee Young) and published in 1923.

[iv] Frederick Young’s older sister Hatton Elizabeth Young (1781-1855) married her first cousin Rev Thomas Richardson (1780-1837), Rector of Camus-juxta-Bann and Killelagh and sister (but incorrectly described in Burke as daughter) of Henry Richardson of Somerset, co Derry. Entered TCD 1796, BA 1800, MA 1816. He was Rector of Camus-juxta-Bann and Killelagh, and died 15 Dec 1837, in his 58th year. His tombstone at Macosquin church, described for me by Kath Stewart-Moore, is in a railed and walled enclosure, with that of his son Henry Richardson but not that of his unmarried daughter Mary Frederica Richardson or any other family members. It reads "Sacred to the Memory of The Rev Thomas Rumbold Richardson of Somerset. Born 6th February 1780, Died 15th December 1837 and his wife Hatton Elizabeth Born 16th April 1781, Died 25th March 1855". (see: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ricksmith61/richardson/ps21/ps21_092.html)

[v] In 1816, Culdaff was recorded as a tiny village on the river Culdaff comprising of a church, a school-house, a mill and nineteen cottages. Culdaff House was ‘a furlong’ out the rickety Derry road from the church.

[vi] The Rev Robert Young became Rector of the Parish of Culdaff in 1661, and of the adjoining parish of Cloncah subsequently. Both parishes belonged to the Chichesters and Robert is said to have come to Ireland from Devonshire under the auspices of the Donegal family. In 1667, he married Anna Cary and had two sons and five daughters. By his second wife Elizabeth Hart of Kilderry, whom he married in 1679, he had a son George (b. 1680) and four daughters. The Rev Young died in 1705. His youngest son George was married in 1702 to Elizabeth, sister of the Rev George Me Laugh (rector of the parish of Clonmanny) and a near relative of Sir Caher O Doherty, proprietor of the barony of Ennishowen. George died in 1730 leaving, with three younger sons and three daughters, a son Robert Young (1703-1747) who was married in 1731 Hatton, dau of Thomas Hart, a Londonderry alderman. He died aged 43, leaving four sons and two daus. He was succeeded by his eldest son, George Young, who married Rebecca Lany in 1763 and died in Dec 1789. . Culdaff house was built in 1779 for George Young (and burnt in 1922, same week as their Randalstown house). George and Rebecca had a son Robert (1764-1823) who married in 1820 Marcia (d. 1839(, daughter of the late George Nesbitt Esq of Woodhill, Co Donegal. Their eldest son George succeeded to Culdaff House. A memorial to the Young family can be seen in the village of Culdaff opposite the village church where members of the Young family are interred.

[vii] He became an ensign in 1802 and was promoted Lieutenant in 1805.

[viii] As the BEIC were also fighting wars in the Punjab and other areas, they were eager for a quick conquest of the Gorkhas. With an army of 22,000 men, they had numerical superiority, serious weaponry and some useful allies in the form of hill chiefs who had been dispossessed by the Gorkhas. Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa and General Amar Singh Thapa showed no fear, reasoning that the Gorkhas keen understanding of the terrain and experience of fighting against the Chinese and Sikhs would serve them well.

[ix] The Battle of Khalunga began the day before the official declaration of war on 1 November 1814 when Sir Rollo was killed. Colonel Sebright Mawby assumed command and managed to take Kalanga by cutting off its freshwater supplies. However, when Gillespie’s successor Major-General Gabriel Martindell took command, the BEIC suffered further setbacks at the hands of Ranjur Singh Thapa (Amar Singh Thapa’s son), at the Battle of Jaithak. Martindell eventually reduced Jaithak to rubble with his guns but, even with vastly superior numbers, he failed to occupy it for fear of counter-attack.

[x] The 4,000 strong British force lost 31 officers and 732 other ranks in the same time-frame. A measure of British respect for the Gorkha’s resolve came after the war when they erected two obelisks by the battle-site – one for Sir Rollo and the other for his opposing commander, General Bal Bhadra Thapa.

[xi] Taking a prisoner like Young would have been something of a novelty for the Nepalese warriors. In their recent wars against the Chinese in Tibet and the Sikhs in the Punjab, the military protocol allowed for no prisoners. All those left behind on the field were simply massacred after the battle. But fighting against the British was different. Not only did the British accept prisoners but they also looked after their wounded enemies. This, according to contemporary accounts, greatly impressed the Gorkhas.

[xii] The Anglo-Gorkha War was formerly concluded with the Treaty of Friendship signed at Segauli in March 1816. Under the terms of this treaty, Nepal retained its independence but the British East India Company secured considerable territory (for which they would pay 200,000 rupees annually in compensation) and Kathmandu was forced to accept a British Resident. But arguably the greatest legacy of the treaty was the provision allowing the East India Company to recruit Gorkhas into its service. This condition was strongly opposed by many senior figures in Nepal’s political and military elite. The logistics of recruiting was to prove extremely difficult for the British, not least as the Gorkhas had to literally walk out of Nepal into British India to be recruited. During the ‘Indian Mutiny’ or ‘War of Indian Independence’ of 1857, Nepal sided with the East India Company. Henceforth the Gurkhas became an integral part of the British India Army.

[xiii] The idea of assembling the Gorkha force of prisoners and deserters is attributed to the swashbuckling Indian officer Hyder Jung Hearsey. It greatly appealed to the Boston-born General Ochterlony and the political agent William Fraser.

[xiv] Later in 1815, the Gorkhas rejected the terms offered by the British leading to a second campaign. General Ochterlony invaded Nepal with 20,000 men and gradually surrounded Kathmandu. This Nasiri Pulteen regiment saw action at the Malaun fort under the leadership of Lieutenant Lawtie, who reported to Ochterlony that he "had the greatest reason to be satisfied with their exertions". The Nasiri Pulteen later became the 1st King George’s Own Gurkha Rifles.

[xv] Under Colonel Young, the regiment was also known as the 65th Bengal (Goorka) Light Infantry Regiment.

[xvi] An additional battalion, the Kumaon battalion was also raised eventually becoming the 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles.

[xvii] At Cannanore, in the Presidency of Madras, 26 Sept 1843, it was noted that the wife of Lt Col Young of HM’s 25th Regt had a stillborn daughter. (Births: The Times, Thursday, Dec 07, 1843; pg. 7; Issue 18473; col B).

[xviii] (This bank could have been R Guinness & Co which went bankrupt in 1849 or else John Sadlier’s Tipperary Joint Stock Bank which collapsed in 1856.

[xix] He became an ensign in 1802 and was promoted Lieutenant in 1805, captain 1816, major 1826, lt-col 1830, col 1842, maj-gen 1854. In 1856 he was promoted to Lieutenant General and further elevated to full General in 1865. One of his sons was Lt Col Charles Frederick Young. Educated at Cheltenham, he joined the Royal Artillery in May 1847. He became a Lieutenant in June 1848 and a Captain in Sept 1854. On 15 Jan 1855 he was married at Kilkenny West to Georgina–Maria, daughter of Lt James Edward Ferguson Murray of Killinure House, Co Westmeath, by his wife, Katherine Jane Slaughter. (Both of Georgina’s parents seem to have died young, before 1839).[xix] Charles served during Indian Mutiny and was present at siege and capture of Lucknow, relief of Azingaur, operations in the Jungle and capture of Jugdespore. He was awarded a medal and the brevet of Major (July 1858), and mentioned in despatches. In March 1869 he was promoted to Lt Col. He rose to become Superintendent of the Royal Gunpowder Factory. He died at Waltham Abbey, a major centre for gunpowder and explosives, in Essex, on 25 May 1875. (The Irish Times, 31 May 1875).

Another son may have been Frank Young, a 23-year-old Indian officer, who drowned in the River Avon, near Bath, in July 1874, when he was ‘seized with cramp while bathing at a point where a swift brook joined the river’. (DROWNED.-On Saturday morning a painful (News) - The Times Monday, Jul 27, 1874; pg. 11; Issue 28065; col B)

With thanks to Winnie Healy, Charles Allen, Mike Allen, Tom Sykes and John Pemble.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Allen, Charles, Soldier Sahibs: The Men Who Made the North-west Frontier (Abacus, 2001)

Bonner, Brian, Our Inishowen Heritage (Dublin, 1972).

Caplan, Lionel, Warrior gentlemen. 'Gurkhas' in the Western imagination.

Coleman, AP, A Special Corps: The Beginnings of Gurkha Service with the British (1999).

Gould, Tony, Imperial Warriors – Britain and the Gurkhas (Granta Books, 2000)

Harkin, Michael, Inishowen its History, Tradition and Antiquities, Carndonagh, 1935.

Jenkins, Louisa Hadow Young, General Frederick Young; first commandant of Sirmur battalion (Second Gurka rifles) the life-story of one of the old brigade in India : 1786-1874, including reminiscences of Ireland and India in the 'fifties (G. Routledge & sons, ltd., 1923).

Pemble, John, The Invasion of Nepal: John Company at War (Clarendon, 1971)

Young, Amy, Three Hundred Years in Inishowen (Belfast, 1924).

A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland (p 1724) by Bernard Burke (Heraldry, 1863).

A Statistical Account, Or, Parochial Survey of Ireland (p. 154), William Shaw Mason (1816)

Naval And Military Intelligence: Official Appointments and Notices, The Times, Friday, May 29, 1874; pg. 5; Issue 28015; col C


WEBSITES

http://www.britishempire.co.uk/forces/armyunits/gurkha/2ndgurkhas.htm

http://listsearches.rootsweb.com/th/read/YOUNG/2002-07/1027381047

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