Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tombs, Henry
TOMBS, Sir HENRY (1824–1874), major-general, son of Major-general Tombs, Bengal cavalry, came of an old family settled since the fifteenth century at Long Marston, Gloucestershire, and was born at sea on 10 Nov. 1824. His mother's name was Remington. He entered the military college of the East India Company at Addiscombe in 1839, and received a commission as second lieutenant in the Bengal artillery on 11 June 1841. He arrived at Calcutta on 18 Nov. the same year, and was posted to the foot artillery at Dum Dum. In August 1842 he proceeded with a detachment to the upper provinces. On 1 March 1843 he was posted to the 3rd company 5th battalion of artillery at Saugor; on 23 Nov. he went to do duty with the 6th company 6th battalion at Jansi, and took part in the Gwalior campaign [see Gough, Sir Hugh]. He arrived with the force called ‘the left wing’ under Major-general Sir John Grey (1780?–1856) [q. v.] at Bar-ke-Serai on 28 Dec. 1843, and next morning marched to Paniar, where a general action ensued and the Marathas were defeated. Tombs was mentioned in despatches by Sir John Grey (London Gazette, 8 March 1844), and he received the bronze star for the Gwalior campaign.
On 15 Jan. 1844 Tombs was promoted to be first lieutenant, and on 1 March was appointed to the horse artillery at Ludiana. He served in the first Sikh war (1845–6) in the 1st troop of the 1st brigade of the horse artillery. This troop had suffered so severely from fever, prevalent at Ludiana, that it was at first contemplated leaving the whole troop behind, but on the evening of 13 Dec. 1845 Tombs brought the good news to the barracks that four guns were to march at daybreak next day, leaving the other two and the sick troopers behind. They first marched to Bassian (twenty-eight miles), then to Wadni on the 16th, where the governor shut the gates and refused supplies until the British forces were got into position, when he submitted. After a short march on the 17th, and a long and tedious one of twenty-one miles on the 18th, Mudki was reached, and, while the camp was being formed, the alarm was given and the battle commenced. Tombs's troop was hotly engaged, and its captain—Dashwood—died of his wounds. At the battle of Firozshah, on the 21st, Tombs was with his troop at headquarters, and engaged in the attack on the southern face of the Sikh entrenchment.
In the operations of January 1846, including the action of Badhowal (21 Jan.), and culminating in the battle of Aliwal on 28 Jan., Tombs was acting aide-de-camp to Sir Harry George Wakelyn Smith [q. v.], and was mentioned in his despatch of 30 Jan. (London Gazette, 27 March 1846). He received the medal and two clasps for the Satlaj campaign. He served in the second Sikh or Punjab campaign as deputy assistant quartermaster-general of the artillery division, and was present at the action of Ramnagar on 22 Nov. 1848, at the battle of Chilianwala on 13 Jan. 1849, and at the crowning victory of Gujerat on 21 Feb. He was mentioned in despatches (ib. 3 March and 19 April 1849), received the medal and two clasps, and was recommended for a brevet majority so soon as he should attain the rank of captain.
Tombs was employed on special duty in 1849, and again the following year. On 12 March 1850 he was appointed a member of the special committee of artillery officers at Ambala. On 30 Oct. of this year he was appointed adjutant and quartermaster of the second brigade, horse artillery, and on 13 Nov. adjutant of the Ambala division of artillery. On 30 Nov. 1853 he was removed to the foot artillery. He was promoted to be captain in the Bengal artillery on 25 July 1854, and to be brevet major for his services in the field on 1 Aug. On 27 Nov. 1855 he returned to the horse artillery.
On the outbreak of the mutiny, in 1857, Tombs was at Mirat, commanding the 2nd troop of the 1st brigade of the horse artillery, and on 27 May moved with the column of Brigadier-general (afterwards Sir) Archdale Wilson [q. v.] to co-operate with a force which the commander-in-chief was bringing down from Ambala. On approaching Ghazi-ud-din-Nagar, on the left of the river Hindun, on the afternoon of 30 May, the heat being very great, the column was attacked by the rebels. The iron bridge spanning the river Hindun was held, and Tombs dashed across it with his guns and successfully turned the right flank of the enemy, who were repulsed. Tombs's horse was shot under him during this action, and again in that of the following day, when the village of Ghazi was cleared (ib. 3 Oct. 1857). He marched with Brigadier-general Archdale Wilson on 5 June to Baghpat, crossed the Jamna, and joined the Ambala force under Sir H. Bernard at Paniput on 7 June.
The combined forces marched from Alipur on 8 June, and Tombs, with his troop, was detached to the right with a force under Brigadier-general (afterwards Sir) Hope Grant to cross the Jamna canal, and so get in rear of the enemy at Badli-ke-Serai. The rebels fought with desperation, but the British bayonet carried the day, and the cavalry and horse artillery converted the enemy's retreat into a rout. Tombs had two horses shot under him (ib. 3 Oct. 1857).
Tombs served all through the siege of Delhi. On 17 June he commanded a column which captured the Id-gah battery of the rebels and took a 9-pounder gun. This battery was on the south west of Paharipur, opposite the curtain between the Lahore gate and Garstin bastion; it was enclosed in a fort, and threatened to enfilade the British position. Tombs had two horses shot under him, and was slightly wounded. Sir Henry Bernard, the same evening at the staff mess, personally thanked Tombs for the gallantry which he had displayed, and proposed his health. ‘The hero of the day was Harry Tombs … an unusually handsome man and a thorough soldier’ (Lord Roberts, Forty-one Years in India, 1898, i. 175). Tombs also commanded a column in the action of 19 June under Hope Grant.
On 9 July 1857 Tombs went to the aid of Lieutenant James Hills (now Sir J. Hills-Johnes) of Tombs's troop, who was attacked by some rebel horse while he was posted with two guns on picquet duty at ‘the mound’ to the right of the camp. Tombs ran through the body with his sword a sowar who was on the point of killing Hills. Both Tombs and his subaltern received the Victoria Cross for their gallantry on this occasion.
Tombs commanded the artillery of the force under Brigadier-general John Nicholson [q. v.] at the battle of Najafgarh on 25 Aug. 1857, when the enemy endeavoured to intercept the siege-train coming from Firozpur, and were signally defeated. He commanded No. 4 (mortar) battery during the Delhi siege operations in September, and he commanded the horse artillery at the assault of that city on 14 Sept., when he was wounded (London Gazette, 13 Oct., 14 and 24 Nov., 15 Dec. 1857, and 16 Jan. 1858). He was promoted to be brevet lieutenant-colonel on 19 Jan., and was made a companion of the Bath, military division, on 22 Jan. 1858 for his services at the siege of Delhi.
In March 1858 Tombs, in command of the 2nd troop of the 1st brigade of Bengal horse artillery, joined the artillery division, under Sir Archdale Wilson, of Sir Colin Campbell's army assembled at the Alam-Bagh for the attack on Lucknow. He took part in the siege and capture of the city, and was honourably mentioned in general orders for his services. Tombs commanded his troop in the operations for the subjugation of Rohilkhand with the force under Brigadier-general Walpole. He left Lucknow on 7 April for Malaon, and, after the unsuccessful attack on Ruilja, took part on the 22nd in the action at Alaganj, when the enemy were driven across the river and four guns were captured. On the 27th Tombs, with this force, joined that of the commander-in-chief and marched on Shahjahanpur, which was found evacuated; on 3 May united with the troops commanded by Major-general R. Penny at Miranpur Katra; on the 4th arrived at Faridpur, a day's march from Bareli, and on the 5th took part in the battle of Bareli.
On 15 May Tombs and his troop marched with the commander-in-chief's force to the relief of Shahjahanpur, and took part in the action of 18 May. On 24 May he commanded the artillery in a force under Brigadier-general Jones against Mohamdi, out of which the rebels were driven, and the force returned to Shahjahanpur on the 29th. He took part also in an expedition against Shakabad on the night of 31 May, returning to Shahjahanpur on 4 June, when, the rebels having been driven out of Rohilkhand, the field force to which Tombs was attached was broken up. Tombs was promoted on 20 July 1858 to be brevet colonel for his services, received the Indian mutiny medal with two clasps, and was referred to by name and in terms of great eulogy by Lord Panmure, the secretary of state for war, in the House of Lords in proposing a vote of thanks to the army.
Tombs was promoted to be lieutenant-colonel in the royal artillery on 29 April 1861, and was appointed to the 2nd brigade. From 16 May 1863 he was appointed a brigadier-general to command the artillery brigade at Gwalior. In 1865 he received a good-service pension. In 1864 he commanded the force which recaptured Dewangiri in Bhutan, for which campaign he received the medal and clasp and the thanks of government, and was on 14 March 1868 made a knight commander of the Bath. After the Bhutan expedition he returned to his duties as brigadier-general commanding the artillery at Gwalior. He was promoted to be major-general on 11 March 1867. On 30 Aug. 1871 he was appointed to the command of the Allahabad division of the army, and was transferred to the Oude division on 24 Oct. of the same year. He became a regimental colonel of artillery on 1 Aug. 1872. He was obliged to resign his command on account of ill health, and returned to England on sick leave. He died at Newport, Isle of Wight, on 2 Aug. 1874. Tombs married, in 1869, Georgina Janet, the youngest daughter of Admiral Sir James Stirling [q. v.]; she married (19 Dec. 1877), as her second husband, Captain (afterwards Sir) Herbert Stewart [q. v.]
On the news of Tombs's death reaching India, Lord Napier of Magdala, commander-in-chief in India, issued a general order expressing the regret of the army of India at the loss of so distinguished an officer, identified for thirty years with the military history of the country.
A portrait is reproduced in the third volume of Stubbs's ‘History of the Bengal Artillery;’ another, reproduced from a photograph, is given in Lord Roberts's ‘Forty-one Years in India.’[India Office Records; War Office Records; Despatches; London Gazettes; Vibart's Addiscombe, its Heroes and Men of Note; Stubbs's History of the Bengal Artillery; Malleson's History of the Indian Mutiny; Hayes's History of the Sepoy War; Thornton's History of India; Calcutta Review, vol. vi., ‘Sikh Invasion of India;’ Thackwell's Second Sikh War; Sandford's Journal of a Subaltern; Lawrence Archer's Commentaries on the Punjab Campaign; Times, 6, 7, and 12 Aug. 1874; Rotton's Narrative of the Siege of Delhi; Shadwell's Life of Lord Clyde; Bosworth Smith's Life of Lord Lawrence; Cane Brown's Punjaub and Delhi; Grant's History of the Sepoy War; Dewé White's History of the Indian Mutiny; Russell's My Diary in India; Lord Roberts's Forty-one Years in India, 1898, vol. i. passim; United Service Journal, September 1874.]