When the Jaw-Jaw Failed

Miles Taylor

  • The Tears of the Rajas: Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905 by Ferdinand Mount
    Simon & Schuster, 784 pp, £12.99, January 2016, ISBN 978 1 4711 2946 9

Sir John Low finally hung up his helmet seventy years after joining the Madras army in 1804, having served the East India Company as soldier, jailer, agent and councillor. As a rookie lieutenant, his regiment mopped up in Mysore when the British took over the old kingdom of Tipu Sultan. He helped see off the Marathas at the battle of Mahidpur in 1817, and kept their chief minister, Baji Rao, under house arrest on the banks of the Ganges. For decades Low minded maharajas, as the company’s man on the spot in Rajasthan, Gwalior, Lucknow and Hyderabad. His methods varied. Usually quiet diplomacy sufficed, but he didn’t flinch at clinching a deal with cannon fire, as the royal family of Awadh found out in 1837. Low capped his career with a spell on the governor-general’s Council in Calcutta in the 1850s, before company and country went up in the smoke of the great rebellion of 1857-58. When the dust settled, Low was soon forgotten. He moved back to Britain, to suburban Norwood, and out of history. John Kaye, his friend and neighbour, did give him an honourable mention – ‘the Nestor of the political service’ – in his famous chronicle of the mutiny. That aside, he disappeared from view.

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