Major William Fraser, 1784-1835

He is the bearded figure riding the grey horse. He arrived in India in 1799 and was appointed as secretary to Sir David Ochterloony in 1805. Later he was secretary to Mountstuart Elphinstone on his mission to Kabul. In 1815 he was the political agent to Major-General Martindale, accompanying a small detachment led by James Skinner to the Himalayas to settle areas affected by the Gurkha invasion. He settled in Garhwal in 1819 and joined the Board of Revenue in 1826. He was a complex character who gave the impression of being a man of peace but he loved danger and took every opportunity of going to war and rushing into the fight. Although he was a civilian, his passion was soldiering and he managed to persuade the Governer-General to invest him with military rank to help him deal with native leaders. He was given the option of Lieutenant-Colonel unattached to any corps, or Major in Skinner's Horse. He chose the latter. He and Skinner were great friends; they used to go lion hunting together near Hansi. It is said that Fraser killed 84 lions thus contributing to the extinction of the species in India. He was assassinated in Delhi on 22nd March 1835 by Kareem Khan on the orders of Shams-ud-din, Nawab of Ferozepore. This was scandalous and shocking news amongst the Delhi community because Fraser was a friend of the Nawab's father. But Fraser had taken sides with the Nawab's brothers in an argument over their father's inheritence. Things reached such a pitch that Fraser openly stated that he was disgusted with the young Nawab. Shams-ud-din felt outraged and sent his servant and boon companion, Kareem Khan to kill him. At the trial of Kareem Khan and his accomplice, it transpired that the assassins waited six months for an opportunity to shoot him. Shams-ud-din was implicated largely because of coded letters that he received from Kareem referring to the act of killing Fraser as 'the purchase of dogs'. Skinner was determined to find the killers which he did and they were hanged. When the Nawab was tried and sentenced to hang as well, there was an outcry amongst the Indian population. But it went ahead anyway, the Nawab appearing calm as he ascended the scaffold. He approached the hangman and then stepped back in shock as he realised that the man was untouchable. "Are you a mehter (sweeper) ?" he asked. Instead of replying the hangman pulled the bag over his head, then the noose and opened the trap-door. We see Fraser and Skinner here riding together in an engraving made c1860 based on the Indian painting of the 1st Regiment of Skinner's Horse returning from a review in 1828.

Soldiers | Regimental details

Armed Forces | Home | Articles | Introduction | Biography | Discussion | Map Room | Timeline | Art and Culture | Science and Technology | Resources | Index | Glossary | Links | Library | Search |

by Stephen Luscombe