On BBC Radio 4's Making History, broadcast on 26 October 2004, a listener wrote in with an interesting story concerning his grandfather who, while working in the Salvation Army in 1903, met and aided a down-and-out gentleman who claimed that he had once been 'Surgeon General to Lord Roberts on his famous march to Kandahar'. Garen Ewing was invited on to the programme to talk to Sue Cook about the march and speculate on who this person could be...

Army Surgeons in the Afghan War and on the March to Kandahar
by Garen Ewing

| Introduction | The Hindu Doctor | James Hanbury | Surgeons in Afghanistan |
| Surgeons on the march to Kandahar | "Our medical man..." |

If you have any further information concerning staff of the Army Medical Department who served in Afghanistan 1878-1880, then please get in touch.

Above: A camel ambulance at Kurrum. Initially only six camels were taken on the march to Kandahar as part of the field hospital (for carrying equipment), but a further 171 were purchased along the way. Casualties would either sit or lie on a 'kajawa', not the most comfortable form of transport at the best of times.

Introduction

If the above story is taken at face value, then it is easy to identify the Principle Medical Officer (PMO) on the march from Kabul to Kandahar in August of 1880, one James Arthur Hanbury. As to whether he found himself the victim of a personal tragedy and walking the streets of Hackney, it seems unlikely, but there is as yet no proof to positively identify the unfortunate.

The march involved at least 30 Surgeon-officers, and there are a few, with further research, who could be candidates. Some can be ruled out because they died before the turn of the century, or because they were still serving beyond that date. By this time, most of the events of the Second Anglo-Afghan War had faded from public consciousness, and Roberts' march became an heroic tale of Empire. Some soldiers who served in Afghanistan, an inglorious war, felt passed over by the only opportunity for acclaim (not to mention a special medal) that went to the participants of the 'heroic' forced march. Their sore feet too could attest to the amount of marching they had done all over the stony plains of Afghanistan, and so veterans did sometimes claim to be part of that event, or in later years, as the forgotten war became synonymous with the folklore of the relieving army, family stories were innocently transmuted from service in Afghanistan to participation in the march to Kandahar.

The Hindu Doctor

A few days after I'd done the piece on Making History, I did find an interesting newspaper item with echoes of the mystery tale. In August 1898, The Times reported on an elderly Hindu gentleman who found himself up for trial at the Old Bailey for two cases of felony and obtaining money by fraudulent misrepresentation. He had somehow obtained a certificate from the Medical Council and for two years had posed as an Indian doctor under the name of Masha Allah Khan, though his true name was thought to be Nawab Akbar Khan. While being held he maintained that he was the grandson of an Indian Prince and had been Principle Medical Officer to Lord Roberts on his march to Kandahar.

James Arthur Hanbury

James A. Hanbury
The true PMO, James Hanbury, was born in Ireland in 1832 and served in China, India and America. During the Afghan campaigns of 1878-1880 he served as PMO to the 2nd Division of the Peshawar Valley Field Force, helping to deal with a particularly bad outbreak of cholera on a return march through the Khyber Pass. He later served as PMO of General Bright's Division and was chosen for the same task as medical head of the Kabul to Kandahar Field Force in August 1880, for which he was made a C.B. In 1882 he accompanied General Wolsey in the Egyptian expedition and by 1887 was serving in Gibraltar. By the time he retired in 1892 he was Surgeon General of the forces in the Madras Presidency. The 1901 census reveals him living in the comfortable surroundings of Marlborough Buildings in Bath, with his wife Hannah, and his grown-up step-daughter, Dorothy. He died in Bournemouth in June 1908.

Surgeons in Afghanistan

The priority of the British Army surgeon was, of course, to treat the wounds and illness of the British and Indian serviceman, but 'the struggle for hearts and minds' is not just a modern phenomenon. In the aftermath of battle, medical staff would see if anything could be done for survivors of both sides, though this could be dangerous as some ghazis would feign death and shoot at their enemy, or draw a knife and swipe out in a last effort to do their duty under the jihad.

In more peacable moments, hospitals and dispensaries would be set up for the Afghan population. In October 1879 Dr. Charles Owen was ordered to set up a charitable dispensary in Kabul and, as the population gradually became more trusting, received upto 200 patients a day.

"Almost every variety of disease is to be met with here. Syphilia in a virulent form is very prevalent. Leprosy exists to a large extent among the Hazar-as, and among the Cabulees it is very frequent to find a small sore break out on the toes, which is rapidly followed by a kind of melting away of the whole toe. Eye diseases, rheumatism, and asthma are very prevalent."

Mohammad Jan's occupation of the city and the seige of the British in Sherpur saw the hosipital ransacked and destroyed, but by January 1880 the place was once again up and running. The chief ailment of the indigenous population was ophthalmia, caused by dirt and exposure, though the staff also treated Afghans who had been wounded in the December attack against the occupying force. A Kabuli 'matron' was hired to assist with female patients, a separate room being made available for them, and Dr. Owen often undertook house visits into the city. Another example was Surgeon Joshua Duke who opened a dispensary at Ali Khel in May 1879 and for several months attended the inhabitants of the Hariab Valley in their own homes:

"Several officers accompanied me in these expeditions, as the General insisted that no officer must leave camp alone. My most desperately wounded patient resided in the village of Rokian. He had received terrible gashes in the back, one of which divided his ribs; yet he eventually recovered. A land quarrel was the cause. One rising Q.M.G officer gave me much assistance, not only by his knowledge of Persian, but by help in sewing wounds and applying splints."

Perhaps the most famous surgeon involved in the Second Afghan war was fictitious - Dr. John H. Watson, later an assistant to a certain Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle's 'A Study in Scarlet' (1887) details his involvement in the Battle at Maiwand on July 27 1880 while attached to the 66th Foot, and of his wounding by a bullet fired from a jezail.

Above: A European Field Hospital at Ali Khel, c.1879.

Surgeons on the march to Kandahar

Listed below are the surgeon-officers I have been able to identify who marched with the Kabul-Kandahar Field Force in August 1880 (plus some other medical staff). As well as the Principle Medical Officer, each brigade had a surgeon in charge, as too did the various regiments. Names that are hyperlinked will lead to that man's database card with further information.

Name Office on march Notes and other services
James Arthur HANBURY Principle Medical Officer
1832-1908. Served in China, America and India, PMO in Afghanistan and Egypt, Surgeon-General to forces in Madras before retirement.
James EKIN Deputy Surgeon-General to the Infantry Division c.1829-1896. Sevastapol 1855, Egypt 1882.
Robert LEWER Brigade Surgeon to the Cavalry Brigade 1835-1914. In medical charge of the 9th Lancers. Volunteered for Royal Navy and served Baltic in 1855. Later PMO Hong Kong.
Edward HOPKINS Surgeon Major 1st Infantry Brigade Staff 1835-1914. Served Indian Mutiny (Doadpore, Fort Mudjedea), Umbeyla 1863, Egypt 1884-6.
George Cochet CHESNAYE Brigade Surgeon to the 3rd Brigade 1837-1904. Attached to 4th Gurkhas through much of the war. PMO on various expeditions. Also Hazara (1868), Looshai (1872).
Thomas Wilson JACKSON Attached to the 3rd Brigade Field Hospital 1845-1896.
Edward Corrigan MARKEY Surgeon Major 1837-1896. Served under General Stewart in the first campaign in medical charge of A/B RHA, Ahmed Khel. Nile Expedition 1884-85. PMO Chin-Lushai 1889-90.
John BRODIE In charge of a section of the Field Hospital 1849-1887. In medical charge of 67th Rifles through most of the campaign, aided 92nd Highlanders under fire at Battle of Kandahar. Later African Medical Service.
William Fuller BENNETT Surgeon Major 1843-1915. Ashanti war 1873-74, also served in the Far East and Egypt.
Regimental Surgeon Officers
92nd Highlanders
Samuel Black ROE Surgeon Major 1830-1912. Crimea. Indian Mutiny. South Africa 1881.
John Francis WILLIAMSON Surgeon 1851-1930. Egypt 1882, Burma 1887-88, N.W. Frontier India 1897-98, South Africa 1899-1902, Somaliland 1903.
Joseph HOLMES Apothecary 1st Class Bengal Subordinate Medical Establishment.
R. MARRIOTT Apothecary 1st Class
23rd Pioneers
Henry HAMILTON Surgeon 1851-1932. Senior medical officer Chitral Relief Expedition 1895, Tirah and Punjab 1897-98, PMO Boxer Expedition to China 1900.
24th Punjab Infantry
Henry James LINTON Surgeon 1844-1892. Hazara Black Mountain expedition 1888.
2nd Gurkhas
Woodforde FINDEN Surgeon Major 1844-1916. Afghan war as part of General Stewart's staff in first campaign. Burma 1887-88. Second Miranzai campaign 1891.
72nd Highlanders
Charles Alfred ATKINS Surgeon Major 1839-1930. Gold Coast 1873, Ashanti Campaign 1873-4.
George William McNALTY Surgeon Major 1837-1912. Ashanti War 1873-74. Russo-Turk War 1876-77. Peshawar Valley Field Force in first campaign.
Herbert COTTON Surgeon 1847-1919.
J. E. O'DONAGHUE Apothecary 1st Class
George Oliver FORREST Apothecary 2nd Class Later Assistant Surgeon at Fort Allahabad. d.1916, India.
2nd Sikh Infantry
James Alexander NELIS Surgeon 1854-1917. Atchakzai and Wazari Expedition 1881. Hazara 1888. Miranzai 1891. Isaza 1892. Tirah 1897-98.
3rd Sikh Infantry
Frederick William WRIGHT Surgeon 1850-1927. In Afghan War attached to 19th Bengal Lancers and 45th Sikhs before 3rd Sikhs. Also served in Burma 1887-88, Boxer Rebellion in China 1900, Waziristan 1901-02.
5th Gurkhas
William COATES Surgeon 1851-1930. Peshawar Valley Field Force in first campaign. Mashud-Waziri campaign 1881, transferred to Civil Surgeoncy stationed at Lahore.
60th Rifles
Francis Wollaston TREVOR Surgeon 1851-1922. Sudan 1884-5, Divisonal P.M.O Boer War 1901-02. P.M.O Scottish District 1903. PMO India 1908-11.
15th Sikh Infantry
Robert Wiseman CUNNINGHAM Surgeon Major 1838-1881. Umbeyla 1863. Mashud Waziri 1881.
25th Punjab Infantry
Jeremiah MULLANE Surgeon 1850-1897. Previosuly attached to 19th Punjab Infantry, and Quetta Base Hospital. Later service in Assam.
4th Gurkhas
George Cochet CHESNAYE Brigade Surgeon See details above (staff).
9th Queen's Lancers
Robert LEWER Brigade Surgeon See details above (staff).
Walter BROWN Hospital Sergeant b.1852, Later transferred to Corps of Military Staff Clerks.
Sheik-Kuber-oo-deen Hospital Assistant
James Augustus WOODS Vetinary Surgeon 1850-1931. Bechuanaland Expedition 1884-85 under Sir Charles Warren.
3rd Bengal Cavalry
Edward PALMER Surgeon 1846-1906. Hazara 1891. Chitral 1895.
3rd Punjab Cavalry
Joshua DUKE Surgeon 1847-1920. Served as ship surgeon to Melbourne. Afghan campaign previously attached to 5th Gurkhas and Derajat Mountain Battery. Residency surgeon in Kashmir. Served in UK during WWI.
Central India Horse
Denis Francis KEEGAN Surgeon Major 1840-1920. Charitable Hospital at Indore saw his pioneering work in litholopaxy and rhinoplasty.
6/8 Royal Artllery
Ernest Harold FENN Surgeon 1850-1916. Later Grenadier Guards and Surgeon on the Staff to two Viceroys, returned to Kabul with Durand in 1893.
11/9 Royal Artllery
Tyler OUGHTON Surgeon Major 1836-1886. Ashanti war 1873-74.
No. 2 Mountain Battery
Alexander William MacKENZIE Surgeon 1853-1913. Previously served at Base Hospital, Peshawar and in medical charge of 3rd Punjab Cavalry. Afterwards 5th Punjab Infantry. Northwest Frontier expeditions 1881-1895.

"Our medical man..."
Strolling idly along, pipe in mouth and following clouds of dust, the caption humorously says 'our medical man, a sketch in the rear of the column'. From the 3rd Ghurkas en route to Quetta, whose 'medical man' was Surgeon Major J. W. Johnston. A few months later he performed a successful operation on the favourite wife of the Amir-to-be, Abdul Rahman. Note his 'poshteen', or sheepskin coat.


All original content on this site is © Garen Ewing 2017, unless otherwise stated.
Original images from my own collection and data on this site should not be used without prior permission - thank you.
See about this site for more details.