Lieutenant Clifford Henry Mecham

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Lieut Clifford Mecham


W20IndiaBeato1.jpg

Lt Mecham is kneeling on the right of this 1858 photograph by one of the first war photographers, Felice Beato


This page is based on an article [1] by Gareth Syvret and Neil Molyneux in the 2007 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise


Lt Mecham's drawing of the beseiged British Residency in Lucknow from his 1858 book Sketches and incidents of the Siege of Lucknow

Lieutenant Clifford Henry Mecham, who was educated in Jersey after his family settled in the island, is a central figure in what is possibly the most famous and widely reproduced group portrait photograph relating to the Indian Mutiny. The photograph is one of a pair taken by Felice Beato, shortly after his arrival in India in March 1858, showing British and Indian Officers of Hodson’s Horse.

Jersey Collegiate School

The Mechams were very much settled in Jersey, although they did not buy property. Captain George Mecham, born in 1786 and late of the Dragoon Guards came to the island with his growing family between 1833 and 1836 and rented Bagot Manor (demolished in 1935) from May 1837, or earlier, until his death in 1866. His widow Harriet Catherine, nee Hardy, soon after, moved to Sunnyside, Grouville, which she rented until her death in 1877. George and Harriet had twelve children, seven of whom were born in Jersey. [2] Clifford, the third son, was born in Loughborough in 1831. He attended the Jersey Collegiate School, where he was friendly with another boy, Sidney Henry Jones-Parry.

He later attended Cheltenham College for a short time, though his younger brothers did not follow, they being among the first pupils at Victoria College.

Clifford entered the Army in 1848. He arrived in India in April 1849 and was appointed to the 52nd Madras Native infantry at Vellore. At the end of the year he was transferred to the 27th Madras Native Infantry at Trichinopoly. He stayed with that regiment until February 1856 when he was appointed Adjutant of the 7th Oude Irregular Infantry at Lucknow.

Mutiny

In June 1857 his regiment mutinied and Mecham wrote a detailed and vivid account of this in a letter to his mother dated 18 December 1857. In it he expressed in particular, his distress at the destruction of all his hard work with the regiment, and his dismay at seeing all its proud symbols, its drums and colours, being locked away after its disbandment. He also stressed his disgust at the attempts of his superiors to put the blame on the officers of the regiment, when only days later their own regiments were mutinying as well.

During the early days of the siege Mecham was stationed in the Muchee Bawan Fort, a satellite of the main Residency stronghold which was soon abandoned. Lieutenant Samuel Hill Lawrence VC was also in the fort and arranged the retreat to the Residency compound. It is surely inconceivable that the two did not meet and discover their Jersey connections, but Mecham does not mention Lawrence in his letter.

When both men were defending the Residency they were stationed in different parts of the compound and may have had little opportunity to meet. However Mecham found time to make a sketch of the Redan Battery showing Lawrence, which strongly suggests that they knew each other.

Mecham's sketch of the Redan Battery is believed to show Lt Samuel Lawrence VC, whose family also lived in Jersey

Mine explosion

During the siege Mecham survived a particularly nasty incident when a mine was blown beneath his post. He was hurled into the air and descended among the rubble of his post without great injury. Most of his colleagues in the post were killed.

Food was not in short supply until the later part of the siege but Mecham seems to have survived on a healthy, or rather heavy, supplement of spirits. His alcohol intake and his artistic output no doubt helped him to distance himself from the horrors of his surroundings. A description of Mecham has been left by Lieutenant Sydney Jones-Parry, who was one of the relieving forces: ‘The first man of the garrison I met was my old schoolfellow and chum Mecham. He was an excellent specimen of the condition of the defenders for he looked more like a greyhound than a man, he was as thin as a lath and his eyes looked sunken into his head’.

This was after the privations of the later part of the siege when the garrison was greatly augmented by Havelock's men and food was far more tightly rationed. After the end of the siege in November 1857, Mecham, unlike Lawrence, stayed on in Oude serving first with the 1st Madras Fusiliers and then transferring, in March 1858, to Hodson’s Horse. This famous corps of irregular cavalry, mostly composed of Sikhs, had been raised in May 1857 by Lieutenant Willlam Hodson.

Guernsey Militiaman

Much has been written about Hodson. a brave and brilliant soldier according to Lord Roberts; he was also reckless and ruthless, with a reputation for looting and taking no prisoners. His most notorious act was the summary execution of the King of Delhi’s sons. Curiously, Hodson began his military career in the Guernsey Militia. It would be interesting to know what skills he learnt there.

It was while serving in Hodson’s Horse that Mecham posed for Beato's famous group portrait. This image illustrates well the reputation of the corps, however another photograph almost certainly taken on the same occasion shows how much a successful image may lend to a reputation.

Sketches

During 1858 Mecham prepared his book Sketches and incidents of the Siege of Lucknow for publication. This was primarily as a way to use the sketches that he had made during the siege, the accompanying text being written by George Couper.

Mecham continued in service until June 1859 when he came home on furlough. In March 1861 he returned to India and served in a variety of capacities. On 20 September 1864 he was removed from his command of the 9th Bengal Cavalry, for unknown reasons, and was unemployed until April 1865. He spent from then until September 1865 on duty at the large military station at Ambala, between Delhi and Simla. He died suddenly of hepatitis on 15 September 1865 at Kalka, near Ambala, and was buried in Ambala.

Lt Mecham is the officer standing to the right of centre in this photograph

Notes and references

  1. The idea for this article arose when a copy of a portrait of an unidentified soldier was sent by a correspondent to the Lord Coutanche Library, Société Jersiaise. All that was known about the portrait was that it was of carte-de-visite format and carried, on the reverse, the studio mark of the jersey photographer Henry Mullins. The subject was eventually identified as Lieut Alfred Gibaut and it was found that he had been killed during the Indian Mutiny 1857-58. Research in local newspapers to establish the circumstances of his death brought to light the names of three other soldiers with Jersey connections who had also served during the Mutiny. One of these men, Lieutenant Clifford Mecham, it transpired, was the central figure in a famous photograph reproduced in numerous books about the Mutiny, India and related subjects. The authors felt that the story of these men and their photographs was worth telling for their own sakes, but also to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Indian Mutiny. Jersey in the 1850s was home to a comparatively large number of retired Army officers, wives and children of serving officers, and widows of officers. There was often more than one generation of the same family serving in the Army. News of the Mutiny was slow to arrive and the main events were not described until months afterthey had occurred. First reports were sketchy and often quite inaccurate. Further detail followed slowly until the final official military report appeared. Even then the fate of some British casualties remained undiscovered for years.
  2. Birth or baptism records have been found for Arthur Reginald (1837- ), Walter Alexander (1839- ), George Bridgeham Septimus (1841- ), Augustus (1842- ), John Russell (1844- ) and Francis Graham (1848- ). Two daughters born before the family moved to Jersey, married in the island. Louisa Harriet (1829- ) married Graham Le Feuvre at St Luke in 1855, and then married for a second time in 1875 at Grouville to Albert Eschelbach. Mary (1836- ) married Archibald Iver at St Luke in 1861
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