John Pennycuick CB KH

Brigadier John Pennycuick led the 24th Regiment into battle at Chillianwallah on 13th Jan 1849 and was killed. He was the commander of a brigade that consisted of his own regiment, the 24th as well as two Indian regiments, the 25th and 45th Native Infantry. One of the officers of the 24th was his own son, Alexander, who had recently passed out of Sandhurst. Tragically, he also died, attempting to guard his father's body.

John Pennycuick (pronounced Pennycook) was born on 29th Oct 1789, at Soilzarie, Perthshire. He served in 4 different infantry regiments, the 78th Highlanders, 47th, 17th and 24th over a period of 42 years. He joined the 78th in 1807 and was stationed in Goa until 1811 in which year the regiment was sent to Java. He was in a rifle company and on 10th Aug his platoon managed to capture two guns from the enemy which consisted of French and Dutch troops. Two weeks later he was wounded in a battle at Fort Cornelis which put him out of action until June 1912 when, having been promoted to Lieutenant, he was involved in the storming of the Krattan at Djocjocarta which yielded immense booty. Pennycuick's share was 800 pounds sterling.

In May 1813 there was trouble at Probolingo and he was in a force of 100 mounted men who travelled 64 miles in 18 hours to confront 2,500 rebels. They formed up in a line and took aim but held their fire until the charging enemy were very close. Their volley killed 150 men and the rest dispersed. The 78th next went to Bali and Pennycuick was adjutant in a special rifle battalion made up of men from the 78th and 69th. The expedition under the command of Maj-Gen Nightingall defeated the Rajah of Boni un 7th June 1814.

The regiment returned to the UK in 1817 and were stationed in Ireland. At Lanesborough, County Roscommon, on 21st Mar 1820, John Pennycuick married Sarah Farrell the daughter of a vicar, and he purchased a captaincy the next year. Their first son was born in May 1824, and in 1825 the young family went out to India where Captain Pennycuick joined the 47th Regiment. They stayed at Fort William but John had to go to Burma with his regiment. He was in Rangoon first, then went up river to Tinoup Mew. There was little activity and the 47th returned to Calcutta. In 1829 they sailed to the UK and Sarah gave birth to a second son on the voyage home.

In 1835 he joined the 17th Regiment, and by Nov 1838 was in the Bombay Division which invaded Afghanistan. They stormed Ghuznee on 23rd July 1839 and Pennycuick's company had a hard fight at one house where 58 of the enemy were killed. He was awarded a brevet Lt-colonelcy for his efforts. They continued on to Kabul and returned via Khelat which was stormed, Pennycuick being the first man to enter the town. They stayed in Sukkar for a month and then sailed down the Indus. The regiment, however, lost all it's belongings when the ship from Karachi to Poona ran aground and was wrecked.

The next adventure was in Aden, by which time he was a full lieut-colonel. They arrived there on 2nd Oct 1841 and Pennycuick was elected to command a force of 500 men to destroy the Arab posts of Sheik Medi and Sheik Othman. They marched 40 miles in 22 hours and achieved their objective after a two hour battle in the hottest part of the day. The regiment remained in Aden until March 1845, during which time the last of their 11 children was born by Sarah. They returned to Poona and were placed in Sir Charles Napier's force to campaign in Scinde. But the 17th were retired to Sukkur and were not required to fight. They travelled to Karachi and sailed to the UK, arriving in Aug 1847.

Pennychuick bought promotion to be given command of the 17th but on 7th April 1848 he exchanged to the 24th Regiment. He and his newly commissioned 17 yr-old son Alexander sailed for India to join the 24th in Sept 1848. When the Second Sikh War broke out the regiment marched from Agra to Ferozepore, a distance of 350 miles, in 32 days. Although Pennychuick is on the list of commanding officers of the 24th it is not clear how long his command lasted before he was put in charge of a brigade. He is referred to as Brigadier but there is no mention of his reaching the rank of full colonel first. The previous CO of the 24th was Robert Brookes who was killed leading the regiment at Chillianwallah.

The portrait by Green, was painted in 1847 so the uniform he wears is that of the 17th Regiment whose facings were white, but the gold lace obscures the white collar. His impressive medals include Knight of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order awarded to him on New Year's Day 1837. Also a medal for the Doranee Empire (third class) given to him by Shah Shooja at his durbar in Kabul on 17th Sep 1839. There is also the CB for his actions at Khelat in Nov 1839. The lower, round medal is for Ghuznee.

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by Stephen Luscombe