James George Smith Neill
May 26, 1810|
|Died||September 25, 1857
Lucknow, British India
|Years of service||1827-1857|
|Battles/wars||Second Burmese War
Indian Rebellion of 1857
Neill was born at Swindridgemuir, near Dalry, Scotland and educated at the University of Glasgow. Entering the service of the British 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-de-camp. In 1850 he received his majority, and two years later set out for the Second 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 (see the Indian rebellion of 1857). Neill acted promptly; he left Madras with his regiment at a moment's notice, and proceeded to Benares. As soon as he arrived, he preemptively disbanded the local native regiment, lined up the sepoys, and shot them. Upon seeing this, a regiment of Sikhs stationed at Varanasi, normally considered 'loyal', revolted and were also shot. General Neill then embarked upon a general campaign of terror, hanging every able-bodied man he could lay his hands on who aroused the least suspicion. News of these atrocities caused two native regiments at Kanpur, hitherto loyal, to revolt, and march to Bithur, where they met up with Nana Saheb, the deposed Maratha Peshwa, whom they persuaded to lead them to Delhi.. He next turned his attention to Allahabad, where a handful of Europeans still held out in the fort against the rebels. From 6 to 15 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 colonel and appointment and aide-de-camp to the queen.
Allahabad was soon made the concentration of Henry 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 rigor. "General Neill was compelling all the high-caste Brahmins whom he could capture . . . to collect the bloody clothes of the victims, and wash up the blood from the floor, a European soldier standing over each with a ‘cat’, and administering it with vigour . . .The wretches, having been subjected to this degradation, which includes loss of caste, are then hanged, one after another. The punishment is said to be General Neill’s own invention, and its infliction has gained him great credit". Meanwhile, Havelock, in spite of a succession of victories had been compelled to fall back for lack of men; and Neil 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 (16 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 his 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 18 September; 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 their commander was suddenly killed in action at Lucknow - 25 September 1857. Shot in the head at Khas Bazaar. The rank and precedence of the wife of a K.C.B. was given to his widow, and memorials have been erected in Lucknow and at Ayr. Memorial at the Residency, Lucknow reads - "Sacred to the memory of Brigadier General J.G.S. Neill A.D.C. to the Queen. Col J.L. Stephenson c.o. Major S.G.C. Renaud Lieut. W.G. Groom. Lieut N.H. Arnold. Lieut A.A. Richardson. Lieut J.A. Chisholm Liuet F. Dobbs 352 non-commissioned officers, drummers and rank and file of the First Madras Fusiliers who fell during the supression of the rebellion in Bengal 1857-58." An island in the Andamans was named after him, as a mark of honour and now Neill Island (or Neil Island), with its pristine beaches, is a popular tourist destination in India.
See also 
- Illustrated London News, 26 September 1857. See C. Hibbert, The Great Mutiny: India 1857(London 1978) for further discussion,
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.