Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Two Interesting Books

I have been reading two books of interest on India.

The first is French Military Influence In India by Lt Gen Gurbir Mansingh, published in 2006 by United Service Institution of India.

There are 8 pages of colour, all of which have three pictures per page. There are some nice plates, but others are too small to appreciate the detail. There are 21 black & white plates and 4 maps. As usual with books published in India I find the b&w plates are a little dark and grainy.
Contents Page

The author, as with most Indian authors, has a great respect for Dupleix. Lally is only mentioned in one sentence in the entire book, as Governor of Pondicherry when it fell to the British. Five pages are devoted to De Bussy. It then deals with French mercenaries and influence up until 1839, ending with the Sikhs.

I enjoyed this book which had a nice list of senior French officers in the service of different Indian Princely States. There was also a picture of the flags of the six French trained brigades in the army of the Nizam c.1790. I hadn't seen these before.

There are five pages devoted to the Portuguese and four to the Dutch. These two chapters contain very basic information.

It would have been nice for the book to be longer and for more colour illustrations.

The second, India's Free Lances by H.G Keene is an interesting book. It was first published in 1897 under the title Hindustan Under Free Lances 1770 to 1820. There are no illustrations in the reprint I have, published by Leonaur books in 2008.

It covers a lot of the same ground as the above book, but in greater depth. The first chapter is titled European & Asians and reflects the views of a European bought up with a Victorian view of the world. Some may find the opening chapter not to their liking considering some of the comments made, such as:

The rule that oriental multitudes cannot contend against the white man is one that may be taken to be universal... Whether due to climate, or to institutions, the ultimate victory always falls to the men of the West; and amongst immediate causes must be reckoned the inability of Oriental officers to lead.

Having said that, the author also expresses his high opinion of the "Oriental" as an individual warrior.

The first chapter dealing with the Free Lances is on Law & Sombre. Law was a French officer of Franco-Scot heritage who first distinguished himself in 1748 when the British fleet attacked Pondicherry. He fought on until 1761 when captured by the British. Sombre, whose real name was Walter Rheinhardt, was possibly born in Prussia and served under Law.Sombre described his countenance.He started his own mercenary army and was responsible for a massacre of 150 British prisoners in 1760.  He was never brought to justice by the British.

The book then details the careers of  11 other Free Lances whose careers had commenced by 1817, including Skinner of Skinner's Horse fame.


The book would have benefited from illustrations, at least in my opinion!

I would recommend both of these books.

1 comment:

  1. I have Keene and of course S Bidwells Swords for Hire as well as Youngs Foutain of the Elephants. I've studied the Free Lances off and on for years so will need to get Mansing .
    I have a copy of Baillie Fraser Biog of Skinner and a bad copy of the memoirs of George Thomas- one of my favourite nutters!!as well as sundry other Indian imprints of Victorian and ealier work Grey ,Todd ,etc etc. What I need to do of course is ressurect my modells for this periond- Ah well oneday...