David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre

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David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre (18 December 1808 – 1 July 1851),[1] also known as D. O. Dyce Sombre and David Dyce Sombre, was an Anglo-Indian held to be the first person of Asian descent to be elected to the British Parliament. He was elected to represent the Sudbury constituency in July 1841, but was removed in April 1842 due to bribery in the election process.[2] He was named after the British Resident at Delhi, David Ochterlony[3]


David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre was great-grandson of a mercenary soldier Walter Reinhardt Sombre (c. 1725 – 1778), whose second wife was the famous Begum Samru (c. 1753–1836), who made her step-grandson George Sombre, and then his son Dyce Sombre, her heirs. Walter Reinhard(t) Sombre had had a son, Zafar Yab Khan (born 1764, died of cholera in 1799[4]), by his first wife. She is known only as Badi Bibi ("senior wife"). The son's name was changed to "Walter Balthazzar Reinhardt" or (according to a biography of his grandson) "Aloysius Balthazzar Reinhardt" at the time of baptism in 1781.

The son married Julia Anne (or Juliana) Le Fevre (1770–1815), daughter of a captain in the Begum's service. She was also known as Mme Reybaud and Bhai Begam. The couple had one son, Aloysius Reinhardt, who died young and is buried in the Akbar Church of Agra, and one daughter, Julia Anne (Juliana) (1787 or [19 November 1789][4]-1820). The younger Juliana married in 1803 one George Alexander Dyce (died April 1838, buried at Fort William, Calcutta),[5] illegitimate half-caste (i.e. mixed-race, Anglo-Indian) son of a Major General Dyce. This couple had many children; four of them are mentioned in subsequent papers and histories.[6]

  1. Georgiana (b 2 September 1807; alternatively 1815–1867), who married an Italian mercenary soldier Paolo Solaroli (1796–1878), born into a humble family from Novara, Piedmont. He then joined the Sardinian army, was ennobled in the 1840s by Carlo Alberto of Sardinia, became Baron by 1864, and was elevated to the title of Marchese di Briona in 1867 by Vittorio Emmanuele II, and later became a diplomat. He left an enormous estate at his death, and had descendants. His castle was acquired in 1864.[7] In the 1840s, he was styled Baron Paolo Solaroli, but was referred to by his sister-in-law and her lawyers as Peter Solaroli.
  2. David Ochterlony (b 18 December 1808), the subject of this entry,
  3. George Archibald (b 1 August 1810,died within a year), and
  4. Anna Maria (b 24 December 1813) who married John Rose Troup, a former East India Company general.


Having become "family" by his marriage to the Begum's step-granddaughter, George Alexander Dyce was rapidly made commander of the Begam's army. He considered that he was entitled to the Begam's wealth through marriage to Reinhard(t)'s heir, and when Julia Anne died in 1820, began to help himself. George Alexander Dyce was an uncaring and unloving father. Therefore, he was removed but he continued to make a real nuisance of himself until his death. Among his other inequities, he instituted a civil suit against his own son and caused his arrest and subsequent release upon heavy bail.

When Julia Anne died in 1820, Begam Sumroo looked after the children as her own. Young David was taken over and brought up by her as her son and heir.

Religious position[edit]

Although educated by Protestant missionaries, David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre was brought up a Catholic. He added Sombre to his name on being formally nominated by the Begam as her sole heir and successor. She transferred to him her wealth, and the administration of her principality but her attempts to have him accepted by the British as ruler on her death were to no avail.

When the Begam died in 1836, the British took possession of Sardhana, all the arms which she had brought from them to equip her army, as well as the lands of Badshapur, which were her private property. They also failed to honour undertakings to continue the many pensions paid from the revenue. David's attempts to have these wrongs rectified were unsuccessful, although compensation for the arms was eventually granted long after his death. He was also embroiled in attempts by his father to grab his fortune. His personal life was also marked by extravagant spending – gambling, womanising, and even the occasional pimping – to please European friends and better-off Anglo-Indian friends such as Sir Charles Metcalfe Ochterlony.[8]


After a visit to China, David set out for England and the Grand Tour of Europe. He married on 26 September 1840 the Honourable Mary Anne Jervis, third daughter of the second Viscount St Vincent, his only daughter by his second wife,[9] described as "accomplished singer, dancer, and composer" and also as an associate of the Duke of Wellington; the marriage took place despite quarrels over his fiancee's social life and the religious affiliation of their future (and never born) children. He also got himself elected as MP for Sudbury in July 1841, and was then deposed in April 1842 after objections from the loser. He accused his wife of adultery with various men including her own father, and his life turned for the worse, when his wife had him certified insane and held under restraint, with the support and consent of his sisters Mrs Anna May Troup (1812–1867) and Baroness Georgiana Solaroli (1815–1867) and their husbands.

Escape, medical reports and death[edit]

In September that year, David escaped his guards and fled to France, where an attempt to have him extradited failed. Doctors all over Europe examined him and found he was perfectly sane, but his attempts to reverse the judgement were brushed aside. He managed to obtain part of his estate with an allowance of 4,000 pounds deducted for his wife. Meanwhile, he travelled from one end of Europe to the other. Finally, with a change of Government, there seemed a chance of success. He returned to England with indemnity from arrest, but a few days before the case was due to be heard he died suddenly in excruciating agony from a septic foot on 1 July 1851.[10][11]

He was buried at once in an unmarked grave, which has not been touched since – yet his body was also returned to India to be buried in Sardhana! His Will providing for the establishment of a school in Sardhana[12] was contested by his estranged wife, whom he had disinherited, on the grounds that he was still insane. She won the case sometime around 1856, and became the richest woman in England. Later on, she was also known as Lady Forester, through her marriage to George Weld-Forester, 3rd Baron Forester on 8 November 1862. The former Mrs Dyce Sombre died childless in 1893, and her fortune presumably passed to the Weld-Forester family.


Walter Sombre's bloodline is still surviving through his younger sister Georgiana (b. 1807, or 1815–1867) who married Baron Paolo Solaroli (1796–1878), an Italian who was also head of Begam Sumroo's Bodyguards. One of Solaroli's descendants, Capitano Giorgio Solaroli di Briona, an Italian, was one of the most famous fighter pilots in the second world war.[13]


  1. ^ List of Inscriptions on Christian Tombs and Tablets of Historical Interest in the United Provinces. BiblioBazaar, LLC. 2009. pp. 17–18. ISBN 1-115-90721-2. 
  2. ^ Fisher, Michael H. (2006). Counterflows to colonialism: Indian travellers and settlers in Britain, 1600–1857. Orient Blackswan. p. 318. ISBN 81-7824-154-4. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ a b [2]
  5. ^ "Mr. Dyce Sombre's refutation of the charge of lunacy brought against him in..", p. 159
  6. ^ Oxford DNB 18 December 2006 daily entry gives the daughters' names and dates as Anna May (1812–1867) and Georgiana (1815–1867) archived version on a mailing list
  7. ^ [3]
  8. ^ Fisher, Michael H. (15 May 2010). The Inordinately Strange Life of Dyce Sombre: Victorian Anglo Indian MP and Chancery "Lunatic" (Columbia/Hurst). Columbia University Press. p. 384. ISBN 0-231-70108-X. more details from Amazon CUP description: "The descendent of German and French Catholic mercenaries, a Scots Presbyterian subaltern, and their secluded Indian wives, David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre (1808–1851) defied all classification in the North Indian principality where he grew up. He also lived as the adopted child of a Muslim courtesan, a woman who would transform herself into the wildly successful, Catholic ruler of a small, cosmopolitan kingdom....Accusations of spousal mistreatment led to Sombre's arrest and confinement. Termed a "chancery lunatic," he fled to France and spent years reclaiming his sanity and fortune. Sombre's efforts set new precedents for international and medical law....
  9. ^ Christopher Howse. [4]. Mary Anne's status as daughter by a second wife is obtained from other sources. Howse describes her father as a Jamaican plantationer, not as a Protestant peer.
  10. ^ Howse
  11. ^ The mysterious illness of Dyce Sombre (abstract)
  12. ^ WILL OF MR. DYCE SOMBRE. HC Deb 14 March 1856 vol 141 cc177-9, Sir James Hogg speaking
  13. ^ Most of this information is directly copied from the Wikipedia entry on Begum Samru, Dyce Sombre's patron and step-great-grandmother

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Tomline
Joseph Bailey
Member of Parliament for Sudbury
With: Frederick Meynell Villiers
Constituency disfranchised for corruption