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Charles Forjett and the Martyrs of Bombay

As you pass along the meandering pathway from the Dissenters Chapel and round the corner walking towards the wall of remembrance in Ladywell cemetery, you could so easily walk past without noticing the drab headstone which denotes that a former Commissioner of Police from 1855-1864 for India's most populous city Bombay (known as Mumbai since 1995, a city that was acquired by the English from the Portuguese in 1661), lies interred in this grave.

Charles Forjett headstone in Ladywell cemetery -Source: Billion Graves.
(Also buried here is his son Ernest Houston Forjett d.1906 -Another son Major Frederick Hutchison Forjett d.1919)

Charles Forjett was born in Madras of Anglo -Indian parentage. His father was wounded at the battle of Seringapatam in 1799, which event became symbolic of East India Company's domination in the Indian subcontinent. Charles Forjett's reputation grew out of reforms in setting up a professionalised police force and fighting corruption. Reforms that he initiated whilst working towards becoming first deputy, then as Commissioner (Superintendent) of police in Bombay in 1855, where his 'capacity to disguise himself as a native' and his proficiency in languages greatly assisted him in seeking out grass roots intelligence enabling him to suppress crime and illegality. In his own colourful description 'every scoundrel in the town was closely watched and kept in a state of terror'!

More significantly he acted upon seditious rumours of the spreading of the Indian Mutiny (also known as the Sepoy Rebellion or the Great Uprising) which had started in Meirut in Northern India in May 1857 and became a widespread uprising against British rule in India. Having flushed out a plot to stage an uprising at a Diwali festival (the Hindu festival of Lights) he arrested and had court-martialled two alleged ringleaders, Drill Havaldar Sayed Hussein, and Sepoy Mangal Guddrea for mutiny. They were then executed in exemplary fashion in public on the city's central esplanade on the aforementioned festival day of Diwali in the fashion of earlier Mughal Indian tradition having been trussed to cannons and blown to pieces. A form of punishment known by Indians as' the devil's wind’ (a cruel punishment intended to blow the body to pieces thus depriving the victim of any hope of entering paradise)  A memorial to the two soldiers was later erected on the site. The uprising was finally suppressed in 1858 when mainly British troops under Generals Campbell and Havelock recaptured the city of Lucknow (General Havelock died of dysentery shortly after the relief of Lucknow). Although in the fighting that ensued after the outbreak of the Mutiny brutality and massacre was sadly commonplace on both sides.

 This painting dated 1884 by the famous Russian War Artist Vasily Vereschchagin (1842-1904) is entitled - Suppression of the Indian Revolt by the English.

Charles Forjett's career peaked in the 1860's when he was made Municipal Commissioner and created the Elphinstone circle (named after a former Governor) in one of Bombay's oldest open spaces. It is now known as Horniman Circle. Although he was praised and eulogised for his achievements at the time, he appears to have long ruminated on what he perceived to be lack of proper recognition and honours for his public services (Knighthood?) that eluded him. He married Lydia Caroline Hughes in 1852*. Charles wrote a vivid account of the Indian Mutiny and the threat posed to India he believed by aggressive Russian foreign policy in a 1877 book entitled 'Our Real Danger in India'

Actual antique print from The Illustrated London News 1857 of the 'Execution at Bombay of a Mutinous Havildar and Sepoy, by Blowing from Guns

His failure to secure greater honours may well have been influenced by his Anglo-Indian origins. When he left India following his retirement, he was ' greatly missed' by those who knew him and honoured by the 'native cotton merchants' with a purse of fifteen hundred pounds and shares in a cotton mill worth thirteen thousand more.  Forjett Street, Mumbai is named in his memory.

Forjett Street, Mumbai c2018 (Source: The Indian Express)

Having settled in England and purchased land to build a huge house at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire, he named it after a well-known Parsi philanthropist whose wealth was largely spent on educational purposes and which became a school (one of whose alumni was the actress Julie Christie). This happened after his death on January 27th 1890 whilst living at his son's address in Sydenham.

It is believed that the picaresque character of the Police Officer Strickland in writer and novelist Rudyard Kipling's classic 'Kim' and some of his other short stories is partly based on the Charles Forjett legend as a 'maverick and a master of disguise'. Kipling had been born in the city of Bombay in 1865.

Charles Forjett's former house called ' Cowasjee Jehangir Hall' and photograph of Charles Forjett. Source: Website of Lane End Conference Centre, which now occupies the original site.

Amar Jawan Jyoti Memorial at Azad Maidan, Mumbai: The memorial, which was unveiled in 2009, was erected in memory of two sepoys - Sayyed Hussein and Mangal Cadiya - who were martyred during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.To Syed Hussain and Mangal Gadia - To commemorate the valour of these two soldiers, the Indian government (Source: Himalaya Times)