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Cult of a Dark Hero: Nicholson of Delhi
Published by I.B.Tauris
Ground-breaking new biography of Nicholson of Delhi
In September 1857, a member of a religious sect killed himself on hearing the news that the object of his devout observance, Nikal Seyn, had died. Nikal Seyn was, in fact, John Nicholson, the leader of the British assault that recovered Delhi at the turning-point of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. What was it about Nicholson that prompted such devotion, not just from his religious followers, but from the general public? And why is he no longer considered a hero? The man called 'The Lion of the Punjab' by his contemporaries and compared to Wolfe of Quebec and even to Napoleon has in recent times been dubbed 'an imperial psychopath' and 'a homosexual bully'. Yet his was a remarkable tale of a life of adventure lived on the very edge of the British Empire; of a man who was as courageous as he was ruthless, as loyal to his friends as he was merciless to those who crossed him. But it is also the story of how our own attitudes to race and Empire have changed in the years since he died. Previously unpublished material, including the diaries of contemporaries and personal letters, helps build a new perspective on Nicholson's personality. The book considers his sexuality and ambivalent attitude towards religion. It traces his murderous thoughts towards the Chief Commissioner of the Punjab, John Lawrence, and reveals that, remarkably, the Nikal Seyni cult continued into the 21st century. This is the first book-length biography of Nicholson since World War II. A new account of the Irish soldier who became an Indian God, an examination of the cult of a dark hero, is long overdue.
Introduction: 'Hero of Delhi' or 'Great imperial psychopath'? Nicholson's changing reputation considered. 1: 'Trying to hit the Devil', Ireland and India, 1822-1840...early life and first experience of India. 2: 'A bloodthirsty and treacherous Race', Afghanistan 1840-1842...Nicholson taken prisoner in Afghanistan. 3: 'I dislike India and its inhabitants', India and Kashmir, 1843-1846...homesickness and the First Sikh War. 4: 'A fearless, self-reliant, fierce and masterful man', the Sikh Rebellion, 1848...Nicholson's energetic response to the breakdown of the alliance between Britain and the Sikhs. 5: 'A skirmish in the hills', The Second Sikh War, 1848-49... Nicholson's growing reputation. 6: 'What corner of the Punjab is not witness to your gallantry?', Going Home, 1849-1851...origins of Nikal Seyni cult and Nicholson's adventures as he returns home. 7: ' There is not one in the hills who does not shiver in his pyjamas when he hears his name mentioned', Bannu, 1852...Nicholson returns to India to become the strongman of Bannu. 8: 'The evil spirit within me', Bannu, 1853-56...Nicholson's ambivalence on religion and his growing hatred of John Lawrence. 9: 'A good Mahomedan of the kind told of in old books', Kashmir and Peshawar, 1856-57...Nicholson as moral policeman in Kashmir. 10: 'The word is said and death surely follows', Peshawar, 1857...Nicholson responds to the outbreak of the Indian Uprising. 11: 'I have been hanging your cooks', the Movable Column, 1857...Nicholson chases down the Sepoy rebels. 12: 'Not a bad sliver, that!', Chasing the Sialkote Mutineers, July 1857...the Battle of Trimmu Ghat. 13: 'When an Empire is at stake, women and children cease to be of any consideration whatever,' Delhi, August 1857...Nicholson arrives at Delhi Ridge. 14: 'I wish I had the power of knighting you on the spot', Najafgarh and the Siege of Delhi, 1857...preparing for the assault on Delhi. 15: 'Woe to the bloody city!', The Assault on Delhi, 1857...Nicholson fatally shot during the assault on Delhi. 16: 'Is Nicholson any better?', Death, 1857...Nicholson's decline and death. 17: 'His loss is a national misfortune', Aftershock, 1857...responses to the death of Nicholson. 18: 'The mother of heroes', Nicholson's legacy protected, 1857-1897...Nicholson's family and friends try to manage his reputation after death. 19: 'I'm a little baffled about why they are valourising Nicholson now', Nicholson's Afterlife, 1857-2015...Nicholson's loss of hero-status.
Stuart Flinders is a BBC journalist, reporter and presenter. He is currently a Manchester-based reporter for North West Tonight and occasional presenter of You and Yours on BBC Radio 4.
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