Birch, Richard James Holwell (DNB00)

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BIRCH, Sir RICHARD JAMES HOLWELL (1803–1875), general, came of a well-known Anglo–Indian family, and was the son of Richard Comyns Birch, of the Bengal civil service, and afterwards of Writtle, Essex, who was a grandson of John Zephaniah Holwell, of the Bengal civil service, author of the famous account of his sufferings in the Black Hole of Calcutta. Birch was born in 1803, and received a commission as an ensign in the Bengal infantry in 1821. His numerous circle of relations in India insured his rapid promotion and almost continuous service on the staff, and after acting as deputy-judge advocate-general at Meerut, and as assistant secretary in the military department at Calcutta, he was appointed judge-advocate-general to the forces in Bengal in 1841. In the same capacity he accompanied the army in the first Sikh war (1845–6), was mentioned in despatches, and was promoted lieutenant-colonel for his services. In the second Sikh war (1849) he was appointed to the temporary command of a brigade after the battle of Chillianwallah. He distinguished himself at the battle of Goojerat, and was made a C.B. in 1849, and continued to serve as brigadier-general in Sir Colin Campbell's campaign in the Kohat pass in 1850. He then reverted to his appointment at headquarters, and in 1852 received the still more important post of secretary to the Indian government in the military department. He was promoted colonel in 1854, major-general in 1858, and still held the secretaryship when the Indian mutiny broke out in 1857. His services at this time were most valuable, though he never left Calcutta, for his thorough knowledge of the routine duties of his office and his long official experience enabled him to give valuable advice to Lord Canning, the governor-general, and to Sir Colin Campbell when he arrived to take up the command in chief. These services were recognised by his being made a K.C.B. in 1860, and in 1861 he left India. In the following year he was promoted lieutenant-general and retired on full pay and on 25 Feb. 1875 he died at Venice, aged 72.

[Hart's Army List; Times. 10 March 1875; East India Register and Army List]

H. M. S.