Mackeson, Frederick (DNB00)

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MACKESON, FREDERICK (1807–1863), lieutenant-colonel, H.E.I.C. service, commissioner at Peshawur, son of William and Harriett Mackeson, was born at Hythe, Kent, 28 Sept. 1807, was educated at the King's School, Canterbury, and in France, and in 1825 received a Bengal cadetship. On 4 Dec. 1825 he was appointed ensign in the (late) 14th Bengal native infantry, in which corps he became lieutenant in 1828, and captain in 1843. In 1831, and for several years afterwards, his regiment was stationed at Loodiana. The foreign officers in the pay of the Sikh ruler, Runjeet Singh, used frequently to visit the British political agent, Sir Claude Martin Wade; on which occasions young Mackeson's proficiency in French was turned to account. He was thus brought into notice, despite the modest retiring disposition for which he was remarkable to the last. In 1837 he accompanied Sir Alexander Burnes [q. v.] to Cabul. He was afterwards sent to Bahawulpore as agent for the navigation of the Indus, in which capacity he was employed in surveying the river and keeping note of the tortuous politics of the Punjab. In 1838–9 he rendered valuable services in connection with the lines of communication of the army of the Indus. These services were recognised in 1840, when he was still a subaltern, by a brevet majority to qualify him for the reward of C.B., which was conferred on him, 24 Dec. 1842. After the final withdrawal of the British troops from Afghanistan, he was appointed acting superintendent of Buttee, and assistant to the political agents in Rajpootana and at Delhi. During the first Sikh war he was with Sir Harry Smith's division in the field, and was present at Aliwal. On 16 March 1846 he was appointed superintendent of the Cis-Sutlej territory. As governor-general's agent he was with Hugh Gough, first viscount Gough [q. v.], in the Punjab campaign of 1848–9, and received the approval of Lords Dalhousie and Gough. After the battle of Chillianwallah, Brigadier Burn's brigade, on this side the Jhelum, was in danger of being turned by a Sikh force, and Mackeson offered to notify the Sikh approach. He found the Jhelum—the worst and most dangerous river in the Punjab, wide as the Hooghly at Calcutta—in full flood, and no boat at hand. Dismounting, Mackeson swam the river with difficulty, delivered his message, and saved the brigade. He became local lieutenant-colonel in 1849, and in 1851, being then senior captain of his regiment and a brevet lieutenant-colonel, was appointed commissioner at Peshawur, in succession to George St. Patrick Lawrence [q. v.] For the next two years Mackeson was employed in efforts to bring the frontier tribes into order. He was assassinated when sitting in his verandah, 10 Sept. 1853, by a fanatic from Koner, who had just handed a petition to him, and then attacked him with a large knife. It was generally understood that a price had been set on Mackeson's head, although the government denied that it was the case. His assassin was tried, and on 1 Oct. 1853 was hanged. By the advice of John (afterwards Lord) Lawrence [q. v.] the murderer's body was burned after it was cut down, and the ashes thrown into a running stream, so that there might be no opportunity of making the burying-place a shrine.

An unprejudiced as well as competent observer, Sir Sydney Cotton [q. v.], described Mackeson as 'a bold and efficient officer, who well knew the character of the people with whom he had to deal, and that pusillanimous measures were not measures of humanity, tending always in the end to disaster and destruction. His was the best policy that had been adopted on the frontier, although by no means in common with the views and wishes of distant Indian governments.'

[Information obtained from the India Office; Indian Army Lists; Sir Sydney Cotton's Nine Years on the N.-W. Frontier, ch. i.; R. Bosworth Smith's Life of Lord Lawrence, i. 412-13; Trotter's India under Victoria, ii. 139, 255; Gent. Mag. 1854, pt. i. pp. 200-1.]

H. M. C.