James George Smith Neill

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James George Smith Neill
General Neill.jpg
Born(1810-05-27)27 May 1810
Swindridgemuir, Scotland, United Kingdom
Died25 September 1857(1857-09-25) (aged 47)
Lucknow, British India
AllegianceFlag of the British East India Company (1801).svg East India Company
Service/branchMadras Army
Years of service1827–1857
Battles/warsSecond Burmese War
Crimean War
Indian Rebellion of 1857

James George Smith Neill (27 May 1810 – 25 September 1857)[1] was a British military officer of the East India Company, who served during the Indian rebellion of 1857.

Early career[edit]

Neill was born at Swindridgemuir, near Dalry, Scotland. His father was Colonel Neill.[1] He was 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.

The burial plot of the Smith Neills of Swindrigemuir and Barnweill at Ayr Auld Kirk

Indian Rebellion of 1857[edit]

Early in 1857, Neill returned to the Indian subcontinent. 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 on 3 June, he preemptively disbanded the local sepoy regiment. A regiment of Sikhs stationed at Varanasi, normally considered 'loyal', revolted. They fled after Neill's commanders shot at them, but returned to duty later.[2]

On 9 June, Neill set out for Allahabad, where a handful of Europeans still held out in the fort against the rebels. Neill ordered hanging of those suspected of being the mutineers.[3] According to one of his officers, he also allowed troops under his command to summarily execute non-combatants without due process and burn their houses.[4] His Sikh forces stationed at Jaunpur revolted upon seeing these atrocities.[2] From 6 to 15 June his men forced their way under conditions of heat and of opposition.[5]

Allahabad was soon made the concentration of Henry Havelock's column. Neill then turned to the besieged city of Cawnpore. In retaliation for the Bibighar massacre of European civilians at Cawnpore, Neill and his troops indulged in indiscriminate atrocities. He personally executed many prisoners of war. In one episode, he compelled randomly rounded up Brahmins from Cawnpore, who had nothing to do with the massacre, to wash up the blood of the Bibighar victims from the floor, an act that presumably degraded them with loss of caste, while they were whipped till they collapsed with cat-o-nine-tails by young ensigns. They were then summarily executed by hanging.[6]

Meanwhile, Havelock, in spite of a succession of victories, had been compelled to fall back for lack of men; Neill criticized his superior's action. 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.[citation needed]

In spite of his 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, exposing himself. The next day he was again heavily engaged, and on the 25th he led the attack on Lucknow itself. His men were entering the city when their commander was suddenly killed in action at Lucknow, shot in the head at Khas Bazaar.


Inscription on the memorial in Wellington Square, Ayr.

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 Lieut F. Dobbs 352 non-commissioned officers, drummers and rank and file of the First Madras Fusiliers who fell during the suppression of the rebellion in Bengal 1857-58."[citation needed]

Neill was commemorated by having a cantonment in Lucknow named after him, "Neill Lines" (now known as Neil Lines). An island in the Andamans was named after him, as a mark of honour and now Neill Island (or Neil Island).[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dictionary of Indian Biography p314
  2. ^ a b George Bruce Malleson (1891). The Indian Mutiny of 1857. Seely and Company, Limited. pp. 181–184. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  3. ^ Pramod K. Nayar (2007). The Penguin 1857 Reader. Penguin Books India. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-14-310199-4.
  4. ^ Heather Streets (2004). Martial Races: The Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture. Manchester University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-7190-6962-8.
  5. ^ Pramod K. Nayar (2007). The Penguin 1857 Reader. Penguin Books India. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-14-310199-4.
  6. ^ Illustrated London News, 26 September 1857. See C. Hibbert, The Great Mutiny: India 1857(London 1978) for further discussion,