Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Durand, Henry Marion

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DURAND, Sir HENRY MARION (1812–1871), major-general royal engineers, K.C.S.I., C.B., born on 6 Nov. 1812, was the son of a cavalry officer who had served in the Peninsula and at Waterloo. At an early age he was left an orphan. He was educated at Leicester school and the East India Company's military college at Addiscombe. He received a commission as second lieutenant in the Bengal engineers in June 1828, and after spending the usual year at Chatham to complete his training as an engineer officer, sailed for India in October 1829 in company with Alexander Duff [q. v.], the missionary, was shipwrecked off the Cape of Good Hope, but eventually landed at Calcutta in May 1830. Attached to the public works department shortly after his arrival in India, he was, in 1832, sent to the north-west provinces to the irrigation branch. In 1837, while employed near Delhi, he made the acquaintance of Lord Auckland, the governor-general, who, impressed with his detailed knowledge of the people and their land tenures, proposed to appoint him secretary of the Sudder board of revenue, but the projected invasion of Afghanistan in 1838 led to his rejoining the army and proceeding with his own corps, the royal engineers, through the Bolan Pass to Quetta and Candahar. He accompanied the column under Sir John Keane in the advance northward to Cabul, and took a very prominent part in the capture of Ghazni.

Captain Thomson, the chief engineer, had advised the assault of Ghazni by the Cabul gate, and Durand was selected to place the powder bags and to fire the train. The operation was a very hazardous one. The little party had to advance without any cover and exposed to fire from the outworks, and to approach the gate by a narrow, winding roadway, lined on each side by a loopholed wall, while the enemy were known to be on the alert. The powder, three hundred pounds, was carried in bags by native sappers, a sergeant carried the hose, and Durand headed the party. On arriving within 150 yards of the gate they were discovered and fire opened on them, but pushing rapidly on they reached the gate without the loss of a man. The powder bags were quickly laid against the gate, and Durand, with the assistance of the sergeant, laid the hose to an adjacent sally-port, where they took refuge while firing the train. The explosion was successful, the Cabul gate of Ghazni was blown in, the storming party entered, and Ghazni fell on 23 July 1839. Shortly after the occupation of Cabul, Durand returned to India with Sir John Keane.

The greater part of 1840 was passed at the hill station of Mussuri in preparing maps, plans, and reports in connection with the recent campaign, and in the spring of 1841 Durand obtained leave and visited England. While at home he made the acquaintance of Lord Ellenborough, who, on his appointment shortly afterwards as governor-general of India, took Durand out with him as his private secretary.

In April 1843 Durand married Mary, daughter of Major-general Sir John McCaskill, K.C.B., one of the divisional commanders in the Afghan campaign of 1842, and in June 1843 he received his promotion to the rank of captain. Durand accompanied the governor-general throughout the Gwalior campaign, and was present with him at the battle of Maharajpore, for which he received the decoration. On the recall of Ellenborough in 1844 Durand accepted the post of commissioner of the Tenasserim provinces, offered him by Lord Hardinge, the new governor-general. In this appointment his energy and hatred of corruption brought him into collision with influences which led in 1846 to his removal by Sir Herbert Maddock, who was then acting as president of the council. Lord Hardinge, on his return to Calcutta, endeavoured to make amends to Durand by at once offering him the post of chief engineer at Lahore, the advanced post of the army, but Durand, indignant at his removal from Tenasserim, resolved to proceed to England in order to lay his grievances in person before the court of directors. He obtained little satisfaction from the court. The fact of his having been secretary to Lord Ellenborough had created prejudices against him. He, however, obtained counsel's opinion in favour of his decisions in the Tenasserim court, and the president of the board of control promised that when he returned to India he should not be a loser on account of his removal from the commissionership of Tenasserim. During this visit to England he began to write a history of the Afghan war, a work which remained in manuscript for more than thirty years, and was published in 1879, when public attention was engaged with another campaign in that country.

Durand returned to India again towards the end of 1848, and, arriving in Calcutta shortly after the outbreak of the Sikh war, found orders awaiting him to join the commander-in-chief, Lord Gough, at Ramnuggur. Durand was present at the engagements of Chilianwallah and Gujerat, serving on the staff of Brigadier-general Colin Campbell (Lord Clyde), who expressed in his despatch his warmest acknowledgments of Durand's valuable assistance. For his services in this campaign Durand was made a brevet major, and received the war medal with two clasps. On the termination of the campaign he was disappointed at not receiving a civil appointment equal to the commissionership of Tenasserim. After refusing several minor appointments he was induced to accept the post of assistant political agent at Gwalior, from which he was soon after transferred to a similar appointment at Bhopal. Here he remained till the end of 1853, inspiring the ruler of this native state, the Secunder Begum, with very friendly feelings towards the government, a work which bore good results throughout the mutiny. At this time he contributed many articles to the ‘Calcutta Review,’ some of which have been separately published.

Durand, indignant at continued neglect, resigned his post at Bhopal, and took his young family to England. His early appointment to so important a post as that of private secretary to the governor-general, while fully justified by his abilities, had given him an exaggerated sense of his own importance, and engendered expectations of rapid advancement which were not realised. As the dispenser of Lord Ellenborough's patronage he shared his unpopularity, while his own straightforward character, combined with strong partialities, brought him into opposition and differences with many, which retarded his advancement. After two years at home Durand returned to India, leaving his children in Switzerland, and seeing no chance of political employment, accepted in April 1856 the appointment in the public works department of inspecting engineer of the presidency circle. He at this time obtained his brevet lieutenant-colonelcy. His appointment took him to Calcutta, where he made the acquaintance of the governor-general, Lord Canning. Canning was so much impressed with his abilities and with a memorandum by him on the relations of India with Persia and with Afghanistan, that he selected him in the spring of 1857 to succeed Sir R. Hamilton in one of the most important political posts in India, the Central India agency. This was the turning-point in Durand's career.

It was well that so strong a man was at the court of Holkar at Indore when the Indian mutiny broke out. Without the aid of European soldiers he contrived, by isolating the contingent troops and playing them off against the native regulars, to maintain himself at Indore for many weeks after the outbreak at Delhi; but when, in spite of his efforts, these forces came into contact, then the fidelity of the contingents gave way, and the circle of insurrection closed around Indore. At length, driven out of the residency by a combination of treachery and cowardice, he made good his retreat in the face of overwhelming numbers. Hiding his weakness by a show of force, he marched without loss to Sehore, and thence to Hoshungabad, resolutely held the great natural barrier of the Nerbudda, forced up Woodburn's hesitating column to Mhow, and with it took a strong fort, gained three actions, captured more than forty guns, and dispersed or disarmed forces far exceeding his own in numbers, thus by the reconquest of Western Malwa clearing the way for Sir Hugh Rose's campaign in Central India. During the forced marches, in a burning sun, his brave wife, who shared all his anxieties, fell ill and died shortly after her arrival at Mhow. For his services during the mutiny Durand received a C.B., and was promoted to a brevet colonelcy, while Lord Canning wrote a minute in which he observed that Durand's conduct was marked by great foresight ‘and the soundest judgment as well in military as in civil matters. He had many points to guard, and the trustworthy force at his disposal was almost hopelessly small; but by a judicious use of it and by the closest personal supervision of its movements Colonel Durand saved our interests in Central India until support could arrive.’

In 1858 Durand was selected by the governor-general to collect information as to the reorganisation of the Indian armies, and then to proceed to England to lay before the royal commission the views of the Indian government on the subject, and as soon as he arrived in England he was examined at length before the commission. Early in 1859 he was appointed a member of the council of India, and for the next two years he remained in England fighting a losing battle on behalf of a local European army in India, and against the newly devised staff corps.

In the autumn of 1859 he married the widow of the Rev. Henry Polehampton, known for her devotion during the siege of Lucknow. In 1861 he accepted an offer from Lord Canning of the foreign secretaryship in India. He held this post for the remainder of Lord Canning's governorship, during the governor-generalship of Lord Elgin and Sir W. Denison, and for two years under Sir John Lawrence. In May 1865 he was appointed a member of the governor-general's council in charge of the military department, a post he held for five years. In 1867 he was promoted major-general and awarded the well-earned distinction of K.C.S.I.

Lord Mayo arrived to relieve Sir John Lawrence as viceroy in 1869, and in May 1870 he appointed Durand, with general approbation, lieutenant-governor of the Punjab. In making a tour of the frontier of his province he arrived on the last day of 1870 in the neighbourhood of Tank, and having inspected the outpost on foot he mounted an elephant and proceeded with the Tank chief beside him to visit the town. His howdah was crushed against the roof of the gateway and he was thrown to the ground, his head striking a wall. He was picked up insensible, and though he recovered consciousness, he died peacefully on 1 Jan. 1871.

Durand was a man of warm affection and great ability, gentle and courteous in manner, and deeply religious without cant or bigotry. By nature he was reserved, proud, and sensitive, frequently taking needless offence, while his strongly formed opinions, expressed in language equally strong, were apt sometimes to give offence. Lord Mayo in publicly announcing his death observed that ‘her majesty has lost a true and faithful servant, the viceroy an able and experienced comrade, the Punjab a just and energetic ruler, and the Indian service one of its brightest ornaments.’

His brother officers of the royal engineers have founded a medal in commemoration of him, which is annually bestowed by the commander-in-chief in India upon the most deserving native officer or non-commissioned officer of the Indian sappers and miners.

[Life, by H. M. Durand, 2 vols. 1883; Official and Corps Papers.]

R. H. V.