Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Warburtons; An Anglo-Afghan-Indian Dynasty

From Dr Hamid Hussain (received as PDF and converted, kindly excuse any formatting issues)



Hamid Hussain

The story of the Warburtons began with a love affair in the middle of a war, that spanned two cultures and led  to the  founding   of  a distinguished and flamboyant dynasty spanning several generations.

Robert  Warburton,  the  founder  of  this extraordinary  family,  was  born  8 March in  Garryhinch , Ireland .  He  joined  the  Bengal  Artillery  in  1831 ,  was  commissioned   in the 6th Regiment of that distinguished formation, later moving to the 5th Regiment. The Warburton's story begins with the First Afghan War of  1839-42.  When the deposed Afghan  ruler Shah Shuja recovered  his  throne with  British  and  Indian  bayonets,  Warburton  raised and  commanded  the ' King's  Own Artillery '  in the shah's army.
Once the British were  ensconced  in  Kabul,  Warburton  met  and  fell  in  love  with  Shah Jahan Begum. Shah Jahan Begum,  who  was  born  in  1813,  was  the  daughter  of  Adul  Rahim Khan, a Popalzai Durrani noble. She was  married  to  Sardar  Faiz  Talab  Khan. Who served at the court of Amir Dost Muhammad Khan, and they had a  son  in  1840.  Later  that  year, she fell in love with Warburton, and after securing  divorce, she  married  the  English officer in November 1840  .  The couple was married  according to  Muslim  law; the ceremony was conducted by Qazi Fatehullah. The Mahar, a dowry promise d by the groom, was the astounding  sum  of  600,000  Rupees.  Guests  at  the  marriage  included  Sir  Alexander  Burnes, Lt. John Leigh Stuart  and  Lt.  Charles  Howard  Jenkins.  Three  Muslim  officers,  Subedars Abdullah  Khan,  Mir  Haji  and Sirdar   Khan,  signed  as  witnesses  to the union.

The young couple  had  little time to  enjoy  their  new  happiness.  The  British  position in Afghanistan  began  to deteriorate, and the army was driven  from  Kabul  and  destroyed as it struggled southwards. Warburton was handed over as hostage to one of the Afghan insurgent leaders, Mohammad Akbar Khan, in December 1841 along with five other officers: Capts. Airey, Conolly, Drummond, Walsh and Webb.

Warburton along with a number of other English hostages was sent north to Bamian when an East India Company relief force retook Kabul. Saleh Muhammad Khan commanded the force detailed to escort the prisoners to Bamian.  Saleh had an exciting career. He was Subedar of the 6th Regiment of Shah Shuja's infantry, which had been commanded by Captain Perin Hopkins, who was killed in Jalalabad in January 1842. When the  British were driven from Kabul, Saleh Muhammad deserted with  his  company  to  Dost  Muhammad. A short time  later an  English  prisoner, George  Lawrence (brother of Henry and  John), called Muhammad by his name and old rank. Saleh Muhammad replied: "Lawrence Sahib, I am a general now, so you must now style me "General'".

As the returning EIC forces drove back the Afghans, Saleh Muhammad again switched sides when his English prisoners made an offer he could not refuse. He was guarantee a pension for life of a thousand rupees a month with an additional 20,000 rupees to be paid as soon as the prisoners reached Kabul. The next morning, Saleh Muhammad raised a 'flag of defiance' above the fort announcing his revolt against Akbar Khan. It was perfectly in line with Afghan tradition. The freed English officers promptly set up a new governor of Bamian district, and two Hazara chiefs tendered their allegiance to the new administration. But the British withdrew from Afghanistan shortly thereafter and Dost Muhammad Khan returned to power'.

Robert Warburton returned to India after his release. He was commanding the 19th brigade of the Royal Artillery at Peshawar where he died in November 1863 at the age of 51. He is buried at the Christian cemetery  near Tehkal Bala in Peshawar.

Saleh Muhammad followed the British to India, and settled in Ludhiana. a city that had become a favoured refuge for Afghans lucky enough to keep their heads after losing in one or other of the bloody power games on the chessboard of Afghan politics. In 1857, he raised and commanded a mounted contingent to aid the British when their rule was challenged by the revolt of the Bengal   army.  The force consisted of some 130 Afghans, Punjabi Muslim  and Sikhs. It was later incorporated into Skinner's Horse, and his brother Fateh Muhammad was appointed Risaldar.

Warburton and his Afghan bride had a son who  was also named Robert. He was born in a Ghilzai fort between Jagdullak and Gandamak when his mother was on the run from Afghan insurgents after the British retreated from Kabul. A number of Afghan women had married British officers. and they were a special target for the insurgents. In one case, an eighteen year old Afghan girl who  had married a British officer was burned alive and the throats of all her servants were slit.  Shah Jahan Begum was sheltered by relatives and well-wishers in  various  towns, villages and hamlets. Finally, she escaped in disguise and reached Peshawar in 1843, where she was joined by her two sons. 

Robert's early education was at a school in Mussoorrie before he was sent to England and entered Kensington Grammar school. He attended Woolwich and was commissioned in the Royal Artillery in December 1861. He served with F Battery of the 19th Artillery Brigade, which his father had commanded. He also served with the 21st  Punjab Infantry in the Abyssinia campaign in 1868 and the 15 Ludhiana Sikhs before transferring to the Political Department. 

He was Assistant Commissioner of Peshawar and Mardan before being appointed Political Officer of the Khyber in 1879. During the Second Afghan War, Warburton serve as political officer of the Jalalabad Valley Field Force. He was fluent in Pushtu and Persian and his linguistic skills and Afghan heritage gave him a special status when dealing with tribesmen.

The Khyber Jazailchis were raised byCapt. Gilbert Gaisford in 1878 as a paramilitary force to police the famous pass. Warburton later took over the force. His right hand  man  was  the  legendary
Honorary Colonel Muhammad Aslam Khan. Aslam was from the royal Saddozai family of Afghanistan. He started his career as risaldar with the 5th Bengal Cavalry in the I857 mutiny.

The two men transformed the force into the famous Khyber Rifles. Regular troops were withdrawn, and the Khyber Rifles became the guardians of the pass. Under its watchful eye, law and order in large swathes around the Khyber was far superior to that in many settled areas. When Warburton left his post on May I0, 1897 due to ill-health, hundreds of Afridis crowded the platform of Peshawar railway station to say goodbye to a man they regarded as a friend. In the autumn of 1897, there was a general uprising among the Khyber tribes, and  Warburton  was  recalled.  He had complete faith in the Afridis and traveled around the Khyber accompanied by just four orderlies of the Khyber Rifles.

When British forces entered the Afridi heartland in the Tirah, and burned the tribesmen's homes as retribution, Warburton told a group of old Afridis that it was beyond his power to prevent the destruction. With tears in their eyes, the grey beards of the Afridi jirga or council replied. "Never mind, Sahib, whatever happens we are earnestly praying that you may not be injured in this campaign Warburton died in England and is buried in Brompton Cemetery in London.

Robert Warburton 's daughter, Marie, married Lt. Col. James Richard Birch of the Cheshire Regiment. Their son, Lt. Col. James Robert Birch joined his father's regiment. In 1933, thirty-five years after Warburton's retirement, a huge crowd of Afridis showed up at Landi Kotal railway station just before the arrival of a troop train carrying the Ist Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. The tribesmen had heard that Warburton's grandson was an officer in the battalion and had come to see him.

The famous exploits of Robert Warburton on the North West Frontier were matched by the career of his Afghan step-brother. Shah Jahan Begum's son by her first marriage, Jahan Dad Khan, was adopted by the first Robert Warburton. The boy was baptized John Paul Warburton, and educated  at the Roman Catholic school at Agra. He joined the Punjab Police in 1864, and during a long career served at Kamal, Ludhiana, Muzzaffargarh and  Ambala, eventually  retiring as Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Railway Police. After leaving British service, he served as Inspector General of Patiala State Police.

John Warburton became a legend for his remarkable detective work and relentless pursuit of robbers. Locals, struggling with pronouncing his name, called him "Button Sahib'. He was given many difficult cases because he spoke Pushtu and Persian and possessed an innate understanding of local attitudes and customs. In one case, a band of Pathan thieves repeatedly evaded capture. The case was assigned to 'Button Sahib' and he arrested most the gang members  and broke up the ring.

Like his step-father, John Warburton was smitten by love in unusual circumstances. ln 1863, while out exercising one morning, he saw a young woman being attacked by a mad dog. He intervened and rescued her. The woman was Mary Meakins. a beautiful 21-year-old widow with three children She had married Ensign William Philip Meakins at the age of fourteen. Meakins had died of cholera, and Mary was Iiving with her parents. John married Mary at Ludhiana, where he lived with his mother, who was attended by her own retinue of Afghan servants. The Afghan widow was proud of her royal lineage, and made sure that everybody understood her station.

In later years, John was allotted land near Lahore for his services, and the town that grew up in the area was named Warburton.   He  built a  house  and a garden  there. Later, a railway station was constructed for the town bearing the name Warburton. After retirement,  he lived at Gilbert House in the hill station of Kasauli. He was out riding in October 1919 when he fell from his horse; a broken rib punctured his lung and he later died. Edmund Candler wrote an obituary hailing the former police man, saying: ·'he went through life with  a  brave heart and clean hands".

John  had  two  sons  (Robert and Arthur, and four daughters (Durani, Lizzie, Minna and Muriel). His son Arthur served with the  Burma Police. His grandson Julian Durani  Warbrton ( 1894-1936) a!so joined the Punjab PoIice, where he had a distinguished career, winning  the King's Police medal and the OBE. He died at the young age of 41 . His wife Lucy Farrant joined the Intelligence Bureau as a cipher officer.

The Warburtons, with their Anglo-Indian   heritage.  illustrate   how  the  barriers of race could  sometimes  be  overcome  in British India. Few Anglo-Indian families achieved  so much.

*  * *
Further reading:
Colonel Sir Robert Warburton. Eighteen years in Khyber 1879-1898 (Lahore: Sang-e- meel Publications 2007, Reprint of 1900 Edition)
G. D. Martineau. Controller of Devils: A Life of John Paul Warburton. C.J.E. of The Punjab Police  (Privately  Published)
Hamid  Hussain. The  Romance  of Soldiering -  Experience  of  Colonial  India.  Defence
Journal, October 2002
Wing Commander® Sardar Ahmad Shah Jan Saddozai. Saddozai: Saddozai Kings & Vaziers
of Afghanistan (Peshawar: Public Arts Press), 2007

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