John Nicholson (1822-1857) was the son of a Scotch-Irish Protestant doctor. He went to a boarding school whose motto was “Perseverando” (Persevere, Winners Never Quit and Quitters Never Win). Nicholson learned that part of the lesson, but he had an awful temper: he flipped-out when opposed by anyone and often became violent. Now, he would be on meds. Then, in 1839, his family got rid of the boy by getting him appointed as an officer in the “Indian Army”–a force defending the British East India Company’s possessions. Indian troops under British officers. He fought in the disastrous First Afghan War (1839-1842). Here he came to the attention of Henry Lawrence, who was building a British Empire in India, regardless of what the clowns in London wanted. Lawrence gave Nicholson command of a district in Afghanistan. First the local Afghans hated him: he was a foreigner, not a Muslim, he was brutal and oppressive, and violent when crossed. Then the Afghans loved him: although he was not a Muslim, he was brutal and oppressive, and violent when crossed. Just like them. He once chased a horse-thief for a week through hostile country while being shot at from hill-tops along the way, killed the thief and his companions, then stabled his horse in the dining room of a local inn that had earlier refused him a room, pulled the thatch off the roof to feed his horse, and then set fire to the place when he left. He kept this up for a while.
When the Indian Mutiny broke out he left Afghanistan. Many tribesmen followed him because they wanted to share in the plunder and, besides what would happen later if Nicholson decided you weren’t there because you didn’t like him? He was killed storming the rebel city of Delhi. For half a century afterward Afghan tribesmen built shrines to the local god “Nikal Seyn.”
William Stephen Raikes Hodson (1821-1858) was the son of an Anglican clergyman in Gloucestershire. He got a good education and decided not to put it to any use. All his life Hodson was aggressive and self-confident to an obnoxious degree. Modern human relations staff would probably fire him for being a disruptive presence in the organization. However, the British were building an empire, not holding a bake sale. He became an officer in the “Indian Army.”
Hodson fought—bravely, ruthlessly–in the First (1845-1846) and Second (1848-1849) Sikh Wars. Powerful men took a shine to Hodson, thinking “yeah, that’s the ticket.” However, peace did not agree with Hodson so well as did war. He was snotty to just about everyone above or below him, and he didn’t pay attention to his paperwork. Between wars he sat around drinking brandy and fuming under the tropical sun. This did nothing to improve his temperament. Many people couldn’t stand him. In 1854 and 1858 he was wrongfully accused of fraud.
“In case of emergency, break class and pull lever.” When the “Indian Mutiny” broke out in 1857 Hodson played an important role in its bloody suppression. In September 1857 he arrested the last of the Mogul emperors, Bahadur Shah II, the figurehead leader of the rebellion. The rebels had talked much of creating a united India under the Mughals. This was mostly talk, rather than reality. However, Hodson was a soldier, not a historian. The next day he arrested two of the emperor’s sons, then personally shot them, and a grandson as well. In March 1858 he was shot storming the rebel city of Lucknow. It was his thirty-seventh birthday. He died the next day.