Sir Charles James Napier

Sir Charles James Napier

[ney-pee-er or, for 1–3, nuh-peer]
Napier, Sir Charles James, 1782-1853, British general; brother of Sir William Napier. He served with distinction in the Napoleonic Wars. Stationed (1822-30) on the Greek island of Cephalonia, he became acquainted with Lord Byron and was asked, although he declined, to command the Greek independence forces. As commander (1839-40) of the troops in N England, he exercised moderation in dealing with Chartist unrest. In 1841 Napier went to India, where he undertook the conquest (1843) of Sind. He served as governor of Sind until 1847.

See biography by R. N. Lawrence (1952); H. T. Lambrick, Sir Charles Napier and Sind (1952).

For the naval officer of the same name see Charles Napier

General Sir Charles James Napier GCB (August 10, 1782August 29, 1853) was a British general and Commander-in-Chief in India, famous for conquering Sindh province in present-day Pakistan.

Early life

He was the eldest son of Colonel the Honourable George Napier and his second wife, Lady Sarah Lennox. Born at Whitehall and educated at Celbridge, Co Kildare, Ireland, he entered the 33rd Regiment in 1794. Subsequently became a career soldier. He married in 1827. He was posted to India in 1841.

Peninsular War

Napier commanded the 50th (Queen's Own) Regiment of Foot during Napoleon's Campaign in the Peninsular War, terminating in the Battle of Corunna, an action for which he won an Army Gold Medal. He had been left for dead on the fields at the battle of Corunna, where he was saved by a French drummer named Guibert, and taken prisoner. He recovered from wounds received at Corunna while being held at the headquarters of Marshall Soult, but volunteered to return to the Peninsula in 1810 to fight in Portugal, notably at the Battle of the Côa, where he had two horses shot out from under him, and at Bussaco, Fuentes de Oñoro, and the Second Siege of Badajoz in Castile, where he was lieutenant-colonel of the 102nd regiment. For his actions at Bussaco and Fuentes de Oñoro he received the silver medal with two clasps.


In 1842, at the age of 60, he was appointed as Major-General to the command of the Indian army within the Bombay Presidency. Here Lord Ellenborough's policy led Napier to Sindh, for the purpose of quelling the Muslim rulers of the region, who had made various hostile demonstrations against the British government after the termination of the First Anglo-Afghan War. His campaign against these chieftains resulted, after the victories of Meanee (Miani) and Hyderabad, in the complete subjugation of the province of Sindh, and its annexation to eastern dominions. Napier despatched to headquarters a short, famous message, "Peccavi"Latin for "I have sinned" - a pun on Sindh. The pun later appeared in a cartoon in Punch magazine in 1844 under a caricature of Sir Charles. Later proponents of British rule over the East Indians justified the conquest thus: "If this was a piece of rascality, it was a noble piece of rascality!

On 4 July 1843 he was appointed a Knight Grand Commander of the military division of the Order of the Bath in recognition of the victories at Miani and Hyderabad .

He was appointed governor of the Bombay Presidency by Lord Ellenborough. His administration did not please the directors of the British East India Company, and he accordingly returned home in disgust, but was sent out again by the acclamatory voice of the nation, in the spring of 1849, to reduce the Sikhs to submission. On arriving once more in India, he found that the object of his mission had already been accomplished by Lord Gough.

A story for which Napier is famous involves a delegation of Hindu locals approaching him and complaining about prohibition of Sati, often referred to at the time as suttee, by British authorities. This was the custom of burning widows alive on the funeral pyres of their husbands. The exact wording of his response varies somewhat in different reports, but the following version captures its essence:

"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

He remained for a time as commander-in-chief (C-in-C); quarrelled with Lord Dalhousie, the governor-general; then, throwing up his post, he returned home for the last time. Broken down with infirmities, the result of his former wounds in the Peninsular campaign, he died about two years later at his seat of Oaklands, near Portsmouth, in August 1853, at the age of 71. His house is now part of Oaklands Catholic School, Waterlooville. He is buried in the Royal Garrison Church in Portsmouth.

Views on subduing insurgencies

General Napier put down several insurgencies in India during his reign as Commander-in-Chief in India, and once said of his philosophy about how to do so effectively:

"The best way to quiet a country is a good thrashing, followed by great kindness afterwards. Even the wildest chaps are thus tamed"

He also once said that "the human mind is never better disposed to gratitude and attachment than when softened by fear"

An implementation of this theory would be after the Battle of Miani, where most of the Mirs surrendered. One leader held back and was told by Napier:

"Come here instantly. Come here at once and make your submission, or I will in a week tear you from the midst of your village and hang you""

The reason he felt brutality was necessary for the proper conquest of rebellions may have been his opinion that "so perverse is mankind that every nationality prefers to misgoverned by its own people than to be well ruled by another" Whatever the reason for his views on fighting insurgencies, the fact remains that he was one of Great Britain's most effective generals at doing this in India, often facing well-armed fighters.


In 1903, the 25th Bombay Rifles (which as the 25th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry had formed part of Napier's force in the conquest of Sindh) was renamed the 125th Napier's Rifles. Since amalgamated, it is now the 5th Battalion (Napier's) of the Rajputana Rifles.

A statue in honour of Sir Charles Napier by George Cannon Adams is on a pedestal in Trafalgar Square, London.

The city of Napier in the Hawke's Bay region of New Zealand is named after Sir Charles Napier. The suburb of Meannee commemorates his victory in the Battle of Miani.

The city of Karachi in Sindh (Pakistan) earlier had a Napier Road (now Shahrah-e-Altaf Hussain), Napier Street (now Mir Karamali Talpur Road) and Napier Barracks (now Liaquat Barracks) on Sharah-e-Faisal. In the port area, there is also a Napier Mole.

The Napier Gardens in Argostoli on the Greek island of Kefalonia are named after him.

The Sir Charles Napier pubs in Warrington and Blackburn are named after him. Also a pub and restaurant in Spriggs Alley near Chinnor, Bucks, England, is also named after him - the Sir Charles Napier Inn

See also

Further reading


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