James Scurry

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James Scurry

James Scurry (1766–1822) was a British soldier and memoirist. He was held captive by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan for 10 years (1780–1790) at Seringapatam.[1] He had been kept as a guest at the fort. After his release from Seringapatam he reached an English camp. He prepared a narrative of his captivity in 1794, but it was not published until 1824, after his death.[1]

He is well known for his memoir The captivity, sufferings, and escape of James Scurry, who was detained a prisoner during ten years, in the dominions of Hyder Ali and Tippoo Saib (1824), which relates the sufferings and treatment of the captured English soldiers, Mangalorean Catholics, and other prisoners of war by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, the rulers of the Kingdom of Mysore in India.

Early life and family[edit]

James Scurry was born in Devonshire, England. His father served in the British Army and was present at the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill early in the American Revolutionary War, where he was promoted to the post of paymaster-sergeant for his bravery. Later, he became the inmate of a Greenwich mental asylum where he died, leaving his widow with James and his sister.[2] James Scurry went to sea at a very early age. He went on his first voyage when he was nearly seven years old. He spent a considerable time on the American coast and the West Indies and was employed to carry gunpowder. He was also very good in playing the fife.[2]

Capture by Hyder[edit]

In 1780, when Scurry was 14 years old, he set on a voyage from Plymouth Sound on the Hannibal.[3][4] However, he, along with his crew, were captured by the French at Saint Helena. They were handed over to Hyder Ali by the French admiral Suffren. Hyder deported Scurry and the 15 young men to Seringapatam. The 15 men were all circumcised, converted to Islam and forcibly conscripted to Tipu's army.[1][5] James Scurry was given the Islamic name, Shamsher Khan.[5]


As soon as Scurry was captured, he was put in heavy leg-irons and marched into a strong prison.[6] Later, Hyder ordered him and his crew to march to Bangalore.[7] Scurry was then sent to Burrampour, a three-day march from Bangalore. The food offered was rice for the first eight to ten days, which was then changed to Ragi flour.[8] Scurry had the misfortune of being overlooked, along with 100 other English prisoners in the prisoner release incorporated in the treaty of 1784.[5]

Escape from captivity[edit]

Scurry did not escape from the fort of Hutridurg. He was released in 1792 under an agreement between Tipu Sultan and the British East India Company following Tipu's defeat in the Third Anglo-Mysore War. He was greeted by an old Scottish colleague, Mr. Little, who was startled to find Scurry and his companions in the ragged uniform of Tippu's army.[5]

Scurry left behind his wife and child, a girl. He had grown to love her, and in his memoir describes the immense pain he felt in having to part from them in the night as his battalion was being mustered and his decision of escaping being made.[5] After the 10-year captivity ended, James Scurry recounted that he had forgotten how to sit in a chair and use a knife and fork. His English was broken and stilted, having lost all his vernacular idiom. His skin had darkened to the 'swarthy complexion of negroes', and moreover, he had developed an aversion to wearing European clothes.[9] Scurry later reverted to Christianity, upon his return to England.[5]

Account of the Captivity[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bowring 1893 (1993 Ed.), p. 109: "There is a curious little book, published in 1824, which relates the captivity of one James Scurry, who, having been taken prisoner by the French, was, with several others, handed over by the French admiral Suffrein at Gúdalúr to Haidar, by whose orders the party, which comprised fifteen youths, was sent to Seringapatam..... This individual after an imprisonment of nearly ten years, escaped from the hill fort of Hutridrag...."
  2. ^ a b Scurry & Whiteway 1824, p. 10
  3. ^ Scurry & Whiteway 1824, p. 13
  4. ^ Scurry & Whiteway 1824, p. 14
  5. ^ a b c d e f Machado 1999, p. 196
  6. ^ Scurry & Whiteway 1824, p. 49
  7. ^ Scurry & Whiteway 1824, p. 50
  8. ^ Scurry & Whiteway 1824, p. 55
  9. ^ Scurry & Whiteway 1824, p. 253
  10. ^ Scurry & Whiteway 1824, p. 102
  11. ^ Scurry & Whiteway 1824, p. 103
  12. ^ Scurry & Whiteway 1824, p. 104
  13. ^ a b Scurry & Whiteway 1824, p. 105
  14. ^ Scurry & Whiteway 1824, p. 106