General Lord Mark Ralph George Kerr GCB


Mark Ralph George Kerr was born on 15 Dec 1817 the younger son of William Kerr the 6th Marquess of Lothian. He was commissioned into the army in 1835 and reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the 20th Regiment by 1853. In 1854 he repeatedly asked for a command in the Crimea and was on the point of proceeding to the Black Sea on his own account when he was given command of the 13th Light Infantry at Gibraltar. An ancestor and namesake, Lord Mark Kerr had been Colonel of the regiment from 1725 to 1732. The new commanding officer's journal for Jan 1855 recounts a favourable opinion of the regiment's discipline, although their drill did not please him. He recorded 'The band and bugles very good, and the adjutant and Quarter-Master very good at blundering.' His ambition, however, remained a posting to the Crimea, and after making a direct appeal to Lord Raglan he enlisted the support of a journalist at the Times who published an article favouring Lord Mark's ambitions. Their combined efforts succeeded and he subsequently commanded the 13th in the Crimea, being present at the battle of Tchernaya and the siege and fall of Sevastopol. During this period he quarrelled incessantly with the AQMG of the 1st Division, 'a mixture of red tape and obstruction'.

In June 1856 he took the 13th to the Cape of Good Hope, and from there they were ordered on to Calcutta in August 1857. There he came up against Sir Colin Campbell whose intention it was to give Kerr command of a column of all arms for the purpose of disarming the 32nd Native Infantry in the Raneegunge district. But at a meeting to discuss the expedition he apparently irritated the Commander-in-Chief so much by complaining about a late issue of footwear that he was superseded by Colonel Barker RA. Two days later Barker's force was boarding the train and Lord Canning and Sir Colin came to the station to see them off. Sir Colin greeted Lord Mark with a smile but Lord Mark passed Sir Colin without looking at him, and later on when Sir Colin engaged him in conversation the only replies he made were yes and no. During the march up country Lord Mark further annoyed Sir Colin by saying that Barker had been a mere captain in the Crimea while he himself had commanded a regiment, and also that Sir Colin had broken his promise. Lord Mark expressed regret for his 'imprudence' in later years when he wrote his journal. The regiment felt aggrieved that they missed out on the final relief of Lucknow as a result of Lord Mark's petulant behaviour. They were left at Allahabad when the column proceeded to Lucknow, and Lord Mark could only sit and fume. Sir Colin returned on a short visit and there was another outburst from Lord Mark: "I have claims for my service and family! I have the blood of Wellington, Napier, Marlborough and Schomberg!"

Kerr's chance finally came in late March 1858 when a British column ran into trouble at Azimghur and faced annihilation at the hands of a large rebel force under Koer Singh. Sir Edward Lugard, with a relief force was despatched from Lucknow while Kerr led a smaller force of 500 from Allahabad. On 5 April the British commander of the entrenchments at Azimghur requested the immediate assistance of Lord Mark's force. The next day the rebel army of 10,000 were attacked by Kerr's men and successfully dispersed with the loss of 8 killed and 32 wounded. This restored Lord Mark's reputation and he was given a leading part in hunting down the mutineer bands in Oudh. But he was subordinate to Brigadier-General Rowcroft with whom he was at loggerheads. This time it appear that Lord Mark had good reason to be bad-tempered. The brigadier was incompetent and there were numerous instances of misunderstanding between the two men. At one point Lord Mark telegraphed to know if he might put the brigadier under arrest. At Toolespore there was a complete failure to defeat the rebels and the brigadier blamed Lord Mark for not giving him any support.

Lord Wolseley in his The Story of a Soldier's Life describes Lord Mark when he met him for the first time in India, having been sent out by Sir Hope Grant to meet the Brigadier's column:

'When I saw the dust of its column in the distance I halted to let the advance guard come up. The first figure I made out was a man on horseback without a hat but with a white umbrella over his head. He carried in his hand a Light Infantry shako, and he rode without stirrups. His horse was a good one, and he sat it like one who was no stranger to the saddle. I had often seen him during our stay in the Crimea, and had there heard amusing stories about him. He was eccentric by nature, and wished the world to remark upon his eccentricites. He was a well-read man, full of talent, and had his regiment in first-rate order, though he ruled it as an absolute monarch, and was often in hot water with the military authorities.'

Lord Mark wrote of his experiences in 'Journals of Lord Mark Kerr 1841-1889'. He also wrote 'Paris in 1871 - Not Much of a Story After All' This was an anecdotal account of Kerr's adventures as a prisoner of the Paris Commune.

1817 Born on 15 Dec.
1854 Commanding Officer of 13th Light Infantry, 22 Dec
1854 Commanded 13th in the Crimea
1857 Commanded 13th in the Indian Mutiny
1858 Appointed CB, 28 Sep
1862 Promoted to Brigadier-General, Sep
1865 Left the regiment
1868 Promoted to Major-General
1874 Commanded Poona Division of the Bombay Army
1878 Promoted to General
1893 Advanced to GCB
1880 Appointed Colonel of 13th Light Infantry
1900 Died, 17 May

Recommended Reading

Journals of Lord Mark Kerr, 1841-1889 by Mark Ralph George Kerr


Regimental Details | Colonels




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by Stephen Luscombe