Posted on: 2 March 2013

Colonel James Skinner CB, 1st Regiment of Local Horse, 1836 (c).

Oil on canvas by an unknown artist, a copy of the portrait by William Melville, 1836 (c) (in the vestry of St James's Church, Delhi).

The Anglo-Indian soldier James Skinner (1778-1841) was the son of a Scottish officer in the East India Company's service and a Rajput lady. Formerly an officer in the Maratha Army, Skinner raised two cavalry units for the British, later known as 1st and 2nd Skinner's Horse. Nicknamed 'The Yellow Boys' for their flamboyant saffron-coloured uniforms, they were famous for their horsemanship and skill at arms.

Skinner was well rewarded, enabling him to acquire a town house in Delhi and a large estate at Hansi, Haryana. He maintained a close interest in Indian culture and was an important patron of the arts, commissioning a number of paintings recording his life and exploits.

Skinner lived in princely style and liked to be addressed by his Moghul title, 'Nasir-ud-Daula, Colonel James Skinner Bahadur Ghalib Jang - Most Exalted, Victorious in War'. Although he was brought up as a Christian, his household included a number of Hindu and Muslim wives and mistresses. He built a church in Delhi, but also a mosque and a Hindu temple.

Such a cross-cultural lifestyle had few admirers among the following generations of soldiers and politicians in India. Towards the end of his life, although promoted to colonel and created a CB by the British, Skinner was conscious that his mixed race status had denied him the highest rewards for his military skills and leadership.

Source: National Army Museum, London

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We like those who raised regiments of cavalry!!!

Skinner has been the hero of Anglo-Indians for two centuries, particularly since the time their influence in the EIC began to wane from the early nineteenth century. He began as a mercenary serving Indian rulers (the Marathas) and later left to raise an irregular native cavalry regiment (Skinner's Horse/Yellow Boys) for the EIC. He was reputed to have 14 wives and 80 children, and along with his friend William Frazer - holding the rank of Major in Skinner's Horse - "helped to populate half the villages of his district". Both of them lie buried in St. James' Church. Had he been born a few years later, this gallant solider might have been denied a British commission.

Strange, for a Christ-ian, to "'ve non Christian, wive's" ('n' esp. -"Mistresses"??_Perhaps). I don't think 'we A.I.s'; should -"fight for "STATES/Militaries"!!"; T.B.H.

Also too: 'the Christ-ian Faith'; is "about -"Up-Lifting the Poor""; not 'Achieving -titles'; perhaps??_Just a "Perspective"; (t.b.h.).

Didn't the King have to intervene before he was given his commission?

Hello Ms. Hadley. He was commissioned in the EIC army (which, apart from being subjected to a review every 20 years, was run by its directors and not the government) to raise a native regiment and was thus not in a part of HM's armies.

Although both Skinner and Gardner became legendary names in the annals of British Cavalry history in Colonial India there is a huge chasm that divides them as individuals. Gardner was a King's Commissioned officer...entered India at the age of 17 as an ensign in a foot regiment. Left the British soon after and freelanced with Holkar during his heydays. Married into the Cambay family and had her as his wife to the very end. He was recalled by Lord Lake during the amnesty and asked to raise a Police force which then went onto become Gardner's Horse. Strange but true although Gardner was a true soldier he was also a pacifist. If Skinner complained discrimination because of his mixed birth then Gardner had every reason to complain when he was disallowed from working with any other ruler or even from business due to him being British. I have letters and all kinds of correspondence from Gardner, the Resident of Awadh and from the office of the Governor General (Calcutta) where his case was discussed and reasons given for disallowing him!! Gardner lived out his life in a small nondescript village in the Doab amongst his children, grandchildren and his beloved begum. He may have hobnobbed with all the high and mighty of the British establishment and Indian ruling class but humble as he was...he was most comfortable with his books, writing and farming...he died away from all the fame and the limelight and was buried by his son James my Great great grandfather in the family cemetary of his village Chhaoni...

They did meet though, didn't they? I wonder what they thought of each other ... do we know?

Oh yes they did on quite a few occasions...when Col. Gardner was in Delhi in connection with his son James' marriage to Begum Sumroo's daughter (which much to Col. Gardner's relief never did happen). This visit to Delhi is well recorded in his numerous letters to Edward his cousin the Resident in Kathmandu. I recall posting a page of one such letter...most interesting. One has to look into what is written to try and find what he thought of Skinner but funnily I think they both felt they were discriminated some way or the other by the British. Can't speak for Skinner but my personal assessment says that yes my ancestor was not given his due.

He's getting it now - with your book about him, and the ongoing projects.

Yes..Philippa...and with you as our guiding force Col. Gardner, his little village and it's wonderful; present day inhabitants (some who's ancestors themselves have been with the family through thick and thin for the past 200 years) will get their due.

ended his days on the Unattached List. Of the first generation of Eurasians denied military careers, among other restrictions.

Thanks for those rare private insights Frank Gardner! They are interesting and informative as ever. You should be proud to have written such a wonderful book on Col.William Linnaeus Gardner and presented him to the world once again. I am sure yours and Philippa Waterfield's dedicated efforts will by bring Chhaoni up on the travel map of heritage tourists soon.

Do let us know when your book is completed and what the title is. Would be a very interesting read.

Echo Vinita Ullal please let us know:)