Friday, November 16, 2012

A Bad Case of Mistaken Identity?

Residing in the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art in Athens, Greece is the Gold Seal of British Colonel D’Arcy Todd, 1840-1841.  You can see what is listed as the seal here.  The museum also provides a guidebook online here with a description of the piece.  The guidebook says the rare Persian agate seal dated AH 1256 (1840/41) was given to British Colonel D’Arcy Todd for playing a decisive role in aiding Iran with its only victory over the Russians in 1812 (during the Russo-Persian War of 1804-1813).  The Colonel was honored by Qajar Shah, Fath ‘Ali. 

Qajar Shah, Fath 'Ali
{{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the US.

The guidebook goes on to explain the seal was actually awarded to Todd in a later period, between 1839-1841, when D’Arcy Todd was British political officer resident at Herat.  Todd, the guidebook says, was appointed by the British Governor of India immediately after the unsuccessful siege of  Herat by the Persian army backed by the Russians.  The seal has the name of D’Arcy Todd inscribed on it and refers to him as “envoy of the mighty government of England from the governor of the lands of India.”  Oddly, the seal pictured in the guidebook is not the same item presented in Google Art Project.  The guidebook seal seems to be the correct item.  However, the problem does not end there.

Not knowing who this gentleman was, I naturally looked him up.  My how small the world is I thought once I read his biography taken from the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 56 by Robert Hamilton Vetch, entry for Elliot D’Arcy Todd.  Service in Afghanistan appears to span across the ages, but no surprise there really.     

Our man D’Arcy Todd of the seal, may actually be one Elliott D’Arcy Todd.  Elliott Todd lived from 1808-1845 which already begins to put into doubt my man Elliott as man of the seal.  Or perhaps the museum’s man Colonel Todd is the fraud?  If I may continue...

Elliott, since I have not quite established him yet to be our D’Arcy Todd of the seal, was born in London in 1808 but soon was consigned to the care of his maternal uncle, William Evans of the East India Company.  Elliott eventually entered Addiscombe in 1822 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Bengal artillery on December 18, 1823.  He arrived in Calcutta in May 1824 and did service in Dum Dum and Cawnpore.  Opportunity for him came when he participated in Lord Combermere’s army for the second siege of Bhartpur in January 1826 where he earned a share of the prize money.  After various appointments, Elliott was transferred to the 1st troop 1st brigade horse artillery in 1831 where he began studying Persian so devotedly and well that in 1833 the Indian government sent him to Tehran (along with other British officers) to assist in training the Persian Army in drill and discipline.  The government in India hoped these efforts would help enable the shah of Persia to maintain his country’s independence.  The work started slowly but in a short time, Elliott was placed in charge of all matters dealing with artillery training for the Persians.       

Persian Guard Artillery - 1830
{{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the US.
Elliott applied himself so well to his task, the shah awarded him the decoration of the second class of the order of the Lion and Sun.  Sir Henry Ellis, British minister at Tehran, was also impressed by a paper Elliott had written on the areas between the Caspian and Indus that Ellis recommended to Lord Auckland, the governor-general, that a political agent be placed in Kabul and that this agent should be Elliot D’Arcy Todd.   

Elliott made his way to Tehran and in 1837 also received the local rank of major while employed in Persia.  In March 1838, Elliott arrived at the Persian camp before Herat and caused a stir when a crowd came to gaze at him.  Apparently the locals of Herat had not before seen a British officer in full uniform and it caused a local sensation.  Afterwards, Elliot traveled back to India in Afghan dress bearing messages relaying British failure in negotiating with the Heratees.

In October 1838, Elliott was made political assistant and military secretary to the British envoy and minister to Shah Shuja, emir of Afghanistan.  In December 1838, Elliott was promoted to brevet captain and arrived in Kandahar in April 1839.  However, Elliott was then sent on a special mission to negotiate a treaty with Shah Kamran, governor of Herat.  Kamran incidentally allowed his Persian and Shia Muslim subjects to be regularly rounded up and sold into slavery to Turkomen and others.  Elliott succeeded in establishing a treaty between Kamran and the British government whereby Kamran would let the British know of any dealings he had with Persia.

Shah Shuja
{{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the US.

Elliott then involved himself in working to stop the traffic of slaves between Herat and the Central Asian tribes and also to mediate between the Russians and the khan of Khiva (who also happened to be Kamran’s minister) for the release of Russian troops being held as slaves by the khan.  However, in April 1840 Elliott received/intercepted a letter between the khan and the Persian Shah saying that Kamran was a faithful servant to Persia and merely tolerated the British presence.  Ah, the double-dealing.  However, the British forgave Kamran’s statements presumably for the bigger picture. 

January 1841 was the beginning of the end of Elliott’s wonderful upward progression.  Elliott had been formally made political agent at Herat.  Elliott had, since 1839, wanted to bring a contingent of Indian troops under British officers into Herat.  Kamran and the khan had agreed to this on payment of a large sum of money followed by a monthly stipend.  Kamran agreed to this but his actions indicated he would take the money but not allow in the troops.  Elliott refused to pay the money where upon the khan of Khiva said the money must be paid or the British mission must leave Herat.  Elliott was treated harshly and in response withdrew the mission from Herat in February 1841 without having received formal instructions from higher ups to do so.  

Lord Auckland was exasperated by Elliott’s actions and so removed Elliott from the political department.   Elliott was instructed to rejoin his regiment as subaltern of artillery.  Elliott was officially removed as political agent on 24 March 1841 and on 24 April was posted to the 2nd company of the 2nd battalion of the Bengal artillery.  Ellliott did receive from Shah Shuja, emir of Afghanistan, the second class of the order of the Durani Empire for his services to Afghanistan.  Elliott received permission to accept and wear the insignia both of the second class order and the Royal Persian order received about 1834 or 1835.

Elliott joined his regiment at Dum Dum in March 1842.  He was promoted to captain in May 1842.  In August 1843, Elliott married Marian Sandham, daughter of Surgoon Sandham of the 16th lancers.  September 1845 he was given command of the 2nd troop of the 1st brigade of the horse artillery.  The joy of this promotion was short lived for his wife died December 9th, 1845.  Elliott hurried from her grave to join his troop at Ambala to take part in the first Sikh War.  He fought gallantly at Mudki, Punjab on December 18  (a battle known to the troops as “Midnight Mudki” since it was fought at night).  On December 21st, British troops faced the Sikhs at Firozshah, Punjab.

Battle of Mudki
{{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the US.
The Battle of Firozshah (also Feroz Shah), Punjab was a battle between about 30,000 sikhs including 8 to 10,000 cavalry and 80 guns against 16,000 British troops.  The Sikhs had not had time to set up proper defenses after the defeat at Mudki but their heavy artillery guns were more affective than the English guns.  Shortly before nightfall of December 21, 1845, an artillery duel initiated battle.  The Sikh guns were more successful but the British troops pushed forward after nightfall.  The British took heavy casualties and retreated back to defensive positions.  The British had no reserves remaining but the Sikhs had 11,000 fresh reserve troops to use.  The English camp was in disorder.  

Despite Sikh success the night before, that camp was divided on what to do next.  The next day the English renewed the attack.  The Sikh response was half-hearted.  The Sikh main force, cavalry and reserve attacked the British but the various Sikh commanders appeared unwilling to overly risk their individual troop contingents and eventually the whole Sikh force withdrew behind the Sutlej River.  The British had won the battle but at high cost.  Our hero Elliot D’Arcy Todd fought bravely, leading at the head of his troops the night of 21 December, but while shouting orders to his men, he was shot through the head with round shot and died.  His family received a medal for Elliott’s part in the campaign.
So what are we left with?  The seal was likely awarded to our man Elliott D’Arcy Todd for his work in Persia rather than the Colonel Todd of 1812 fame.  I find no mention of a Colonel Todd working in Persia in 1840/1841 though my research continues.  Elliott Todd does not seem to have ever reached the rank of Colonel.  The description provided by the Benaki Museum thus appears incorrect in some way.  Perhaps the mistake is in the date of the seal, the rank of the recipient, or the overall history the Museum provides which makes the lives of two D’Arcy Todd’s one.  But mysteries and investigation are just the thing that makes history fun.    

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