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Sir Richmond Campbell Shakespear

1812 -1861

Soldier and administrator, youngest son of John Talbot Shakespear, of the Bengal civil service, by Emily (eldest daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray of the Bengal civil service and his wife, Amelia Richmond Webb), was born in India on 11 May 1812. He came to England with his first cousin, William Makepeace Thackeray [q.v]  and was with him at the preparatory school, "Governed" says Thackeray, " By a  horrible little tyrant." Both boys afterwards passed to the Charterhouse School. In Colonel Newcome, Thackeray embodied some traits in the character of Richmond's eldest brother, colonel John Dowdeswell Shakespear. Shakespear entered the military college of the East India company at Addiscombe in 1827, obtaining a commission as second Lieutenant  in the Bengal Artillery  on the12 June1828. He arrived in India on 10 Feb 1829, and served at various stations in Bengal until 19 Jan. 1837, when he was appointed assistant at Gorakhpur.

On 25 Sept. 1838, having returned to military duty, he joined at Delhi the 6th light field ( camel)  battery of nine-pounders under the command of Captain Augustus Abbott, and, leaving Delhi on 4 Nov., marched in the army of the Indus under Major-general Sir Willoughby Cotton and lieutenant-general Sir John (afterwards Lords) Keane, to the Indus, and on through the Bolan  pass to Kandahar, where he arrived in April 1839. He took part in the Exhibition to Girishk under Sir Robert Henry Sale [q.v] against the Kandahar chiefs, returning to Kandahar on 29 May.

On 21 June he was appointed political assistant in thr mission to Herat of Major  d'Arcy Todd [q.v], the newly appointed envoy to Shah Kamran. Shakespear's special duty was to instruct the soldiery of Herat in the gunnery and drill. On the advance of the Russian on Khiva, Todd sent Shakespear to the khan  of Khiva to aid in the negotiation for the surrender of the Russian captives, whose detention had led to the Russian advance. Shakespear left Herat with an escort on 14 May 1840, reached Merv (265 miles) on 23 May, and Khiva, 433 miles further, on 12 June. He induced the Kahn to make a treaty with the Russian Genial, who  was within three days' march of his capital. The prominent conditions of the treaty were that the  Russian force should withdraw within Russian Territory, and that the Khivans  should restore all Russian captives who had who had been taken into slavery by them. Shakespeare  undertook to collect all Russian captives within the Khivan dominions, and  march them in safety to Russia. By 14 Aug. he succeeded in  in collecting 416 captive, believed  to be all that was there. He carried  them successfully across the Turkestan desert by defiance of the wild tribes of the wild tribes by which it was infested, and on 1 Oct. delivered the grateful captives to the  Russian authorities of Orenburg. From Orenburg he posted to Moscow by way of Lansbeersk and continued his journey to St. Petersburg, where he arrived on 3 Nov. He was much feted and was cordially received by the czar. From St. Petersburg Shakespear carried  despatches to London. On 31 Aug. 1841 he was knighted by the Queen. He contributed  to 'Blackwood's magazine,' June 1842, a paper entitled, ' A journey from Herat to Orenburg,' which was republished by Blackwood in the series of 'Travel, Adventure, and Sport.

Shakespear returned to India the same year. On 3 Jan. 1842 he was appointed military sectary to Major-General  ( afterwards Field-marshal Sir) George Pollock [q.v], commanding the force assembled at the Peshawar for the relief of Sir Robert Sale at jalalabad. he reached Peshawar on 5 Feb.., and remained there for two months while the column was organised and reinforcements  were brought up. on 31 mar. he accompanied Pollock to Jamrud, and on 5 April entered the Khaibar pass. He volunteered to accompany Lieutenant-colonel Taylor as his aide-de-camp in his attack on the heights on the right, and took command of the men lately comprising the garrison of Ali-Masjid. In his despatch Pollock mentioned that Shakespear's exertions throughout the day were conspicuous  and unceasing (London Gazette 7 June 1842). He again distinguished himself at Mamu Kehl on 24 Aug., at Jagdalak on 8 Sept. and at Tezin on 12 and 13 Sept. On each occasion he was mentioned by Pollock in despatches. On arrival at Kabul on 15 Sept. he volunteered to accompany six hundred Kazlbach horseman  to rescue the British Kazlbach detained by the Afghans at Baiman. The captives by the exertions of Eldred Pottinger [q.v.] and by the liberal bribery, had already effected their own release, but Shakespear, meeting them on 17th at the foot of the Kalu pass, was of assistance in escorting them through the disturbed country until, on the 20th, they met Sir Robert Sale coming up in support with a brigade. Shakespear arrived at Kabu with the captives on 22 Sept. (ib.6 Dec. 1842). On 12 Oct. he accompanied Pollock on his return march to India. Meeting with little opposition, he retched Peshawar on 12 Nov. and crossed the Satlaj by the bridge boats at Firozpur on 19 Dec., hen the army was received by the viceroy and commander-in-chief with every demonstration of honour. Shakespear received the war medal with clasp for kabul.

On 28 March 1843 Shakespear was appointed deputy commissioner of Sagar. he was promoted to brevet captain on 12 June  of the same year. In October he was transferred to Gwalior as assistant to Lieutenant-Colonel Sleeman, political agent for affairs in Scindia's dominions, and took part in the war against Maharatta forces, which was needed to establish the government at Gwalior on a firm foundation. He was aide-de-camp to Sir Hugh (afterwards Lord) Gough at the battle of Maharajpur on 29 Dec. 1843, and received the best thanks of the commander-in-chief of the army in his despatch of 4 Jan. 1844 (ib. 8 March 1845), as well as the war medal. After this he was employed in getting possession of Gwalior fort and in disbanding the Darbar troops. On return to civil duties he remained in political charge of Gwalior until June 1848. During this time it was not found necessary to employ the contingent on active service. On 1 May 1846 he was promoted to be regimental captain.

In 1848 sickness compelled Shakespear to go to the hills on leave; but, on the outbreak of the second Sikh war, he returned to military duty on 20 Oct. Joining at Firozpur the army of the Panjab, under Sir Hugh Gough, he was present at the action of Ramnagar on 22 Nov. On 1 Dec. he received promotion tp a brevet majority for his previous services. On 3 Dec. he was in the action of Sadulapur or passage of the Chenab, and on 13 Jan. 1849 he commanded his battery of six heavy guns at the battle of Chillianwalla, and was mentioned in despatches (ib. 3 and 7 March 1849). At the battle of Gujerat on 21 Feb. 1849, Shakespear again commanded his heavy-gun battery. The battle opened with a three hours' artillery cannonade by the British at a range of 1,500 yards and at the rate of forty rounds per gun per hour. Lord Gough pronounced this cannonade to be the most magnificent he had ever witnessed and terrible in its effects. After the cannonade the artillery advanced with extraordinary celerity, taking up successive forward positions and steadily driving the enemy back. Shakespear was wounded, and was obliged to return to the hills upon sick certificate. He was thanked in despatches for his exertions (ib. 19 April 1849). He received the war medal with two clasps, one for Chillianwalla and the other for Gujerat, and on 7 June he was promoted to be brevet lieutenant-colonel for his services.

Shakespear returned to civil employment at Gwalior towards the end of 1849. In 1851 he was transferred to the political agency at Jodpur. He was gazetted to be resident at Nipal in 1853, but did not take up the appointment, as it did not actually become vacant. He was promoted to be brevet Colonel in the army on 28 Nov. 1854. In 1857 he was appointed resident at Baroda, and, in February 1858, political commissioner of the district, and received acting command of the northern division of the Bombay army, in addition to his political duties, with the rank of brigadier-general. He was promoted to be regimental lieutenant-colonel on 27 Aug. 1858.

In July 1859 Shakespear became agent to the governor-general for Central India, residing at Indur. He conducted that year the negotiations with the Begums of Bhopal and installed Sikander Begum as rani of Bhopal. For his tact in extricating the government from an embarrassing position, he was highly commended by the governor-general in a despatch dated 31 Dec. He was made a companion of the Bath, civil division, in 1860, and later in the same year (30 Dec.) Lord Canning, in a despatch to the home government, expressed his high appreciation of Shakespear's conduct of the negotiations with Scindia. Scindia had been induced to concede territory to the maharaja of Gwalior in acknowledgement of the latter's services to the government during the mutiny. Scindia also consented to receive a subsidiary force composed of troops of the line in lieu of the contingent. Shakespear had accepted the post of chief commisioner of Maisur and Kurg, and was preparing to take up the appointment, when he died of bronchitis at Indur on 29 Oct. 1861.

In 1841, when Shakespear was knighted, the only occasion during his whole service on which he visited England, he met his cousin, William Makepeace Thackeray, who, on the announcement of Shakespear's death, paid, in 'Roundabout Papers' ('Lett's Duary'), a tribute to his memory and referred to this meeting. 'His kind hand,' wrote Thackeray, 'was always open. It was a gracious fate which sent him to rescue widows and captives. Where could they have had a champion more chivalrous, a protector more loving and tender?'

Shakespear married at Agra, India, on 5 March 1844, Marian Sophia, third daughter of George Powney Thompson, of the Bengal civil service, by Harriet, second daughter of John Fendall, governor of Java at the time of its restoration to the Dutch. Lady Shakespear and a family of three sons and six daughters survived him.

A sketch of Shakespear made by Prince Soltykoff when on a visit to the Gwalior residency was afterwards lithographed. There is in Lady Shakespear's possession a fine crayon portrait in colour of her husband, by Henry Fanner.

[Despatches; India Office Records; Vibart's Addiscombe; its Heroes and Men of Note, 1894; Lady Sale's Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan, 1843; Kaye's Lives of Indian Officers, 1867, vol. ii.; Stocqueler's Memorials of Afghanistan, 1843; Eyre's Military Operations at Cabul, with a Journal of Imprisonment in Afghanistan, 1843; Thackeray's Roundabout Papers; Sir William Hunter Thackerays in India, 1897, pp. 147 sq.; Low's Life of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock, 1873; Kaye's History of the War in Afghanistan; Low's Journal and Correspondence of the late Major-General Augustus Abbott, 1879; Abbott's Khiva, 1856; Ann. Register, 1861; Times, 6 and 12 Dec. 1861; private sources.]   R.H.V.

  Typing by Emma Pearson

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