Lady North

Lady Sale
Lady Sale
Lady Florentia Sale was in Kabul during October and November 1841, while her husband, Sir Robert, led his brigade towards Jellalabad. Sir Robert Sale was unaware of how dangerous the situation was in Kabul at the end of 1841. The garrison under his command in Jellalabad clung onto the hope that they would be relieved by the British/Indian force in Kabul. As it was, the British in Kabul thought themselves lucky to be allowed to leave and take their chances in the bitter cold of the Khoord Kabul Pass. The true horror of their situation became apparent almost immediately they left the city. With Lady Sale was her daughter Alexandrina Sturt, her son-in-law Captain John Sturt and their baby. Captain Sturt was attacked and stabbed as they watched. He did not die immediately; Lady Sale looked after him until the end and then insisted on him having a Christian burial, the only victim of the massacre to be so interred. The Afghans took captives from the retreating column, although to what purpose is unclear. It seems that Akbar Khan, who was holding the captives in Lughman Fort, not far away, intended to torture Lady Sale in full view of the fortress of Jellalabad to force Sale to surrender. But Sir Robert said privately that he would order his men to shoot his wife dead to spare her the pain, and that he would never surrender.

Akbar Khan had sent the prisoners to Bameean in late August, intending for them to carry on into Turkestan. They were guarded by Saleh Mahomed Khan who was willing to release the prisoners for a price. He even offered weapons to the few British soldiers among them but they were demoralised, and rejected the offer. Lady Sale, however, took hold of a musket and appointed herself leader of the group. Others followed her example and most were armed by the time they set off. Meanwhile, in Kabul, General Pollock sent his military secretary, Sir Richmond Shakespear with 600 cavalry, to Bameean to secure the release of the captives. He also asked General Nott, who was nearer to Bameean, to supply a brigade in support. Nott declined to obey the order, believing it to be too dangerous an undertaking. So Polloock turned to Sale who of course jumped at the chance to rescue his wife and daughter. Sale's brigade, including the 13th LI, set off on 18 Sep, but Sheakespear had already met up with the captives the day before at the Kaloo Pass. Sir Robert was anxious to see his family so he left the infantry at Kote Ashruffee and pushed on with the 3rd Light Dragoons. He finally met up with Florentia and Alexandrina on 20 Sep somewhere between Kote Ashruffee and Tarkhana, and the whole party returned to Kabul. Amongst the prisoners was an officer of the 13th, Captain Mein, who had been wounded in Oct 1841 and sent back to Kabul for treatment.

This portrait by Richard Thomas Bott was painted in 1844 when Lady Sale was a celebrity following her travels and captivity in Afghanistan, and the sensational Journal of her experiences that was published. Most of the contemporary prints of her are idealised but this portrait seems to be more lifelike and we can see from her face that she was a woman of great strength of character. She was born Florentia Wynch on 13 Aug 1790, in Madras, the daughter of George, a member of the Civil Service, and granddaughter of the Governor of Madras. She married Robert Sale in 1809 and accompanied him on his active service postings. They had nine children in all, the youngest being Alexandrina born on 2 Jan 1823. So in 1842 when they were prisoners of Akbar Khan, Florentia was 51 and her daughter was 21. At the time of her capture Florentia was wounded in the wrist by a bullet but this did not stop her writing her journal in captivity. She also wrote about her release and meeting up with her husband's regiment:

'On proceeding to where the infantry were posted, they cheered all the captives as they passed, and the men of the 13th pressed forward to welcome us individually, most of the men had a little word of hearty congratulation to offer, each in his own style, on the restoration of his Colonel's wife and daughter, and then my highly wrought feelings found the desired relief; I could scarcely speak to thank the soldiers for their sympathy, whilst the long-withheld tears now found their course. On arriving at the Camp, Captain Backhouse fired a royal salute from his mountain train guns; and not only our old friends, but all the officers in the party, came to offer congratulations, and welcome our return from captivity.'

13th Light Infantry

Major-General Robert Henry Sale GCB

Further Reading
Journal Of The Disasters In Afghanistan 1841-42
by Lady Florentia Sale

A Journal of the First Afghan War
by Lady Florentia Sale


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