Pelly, Lewis (DNB00)

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PELLY, Sir LEWIS (1825–1892), Indian official, born at Hyde House, Minchinhampton, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 14 Nov. 1825, was son of John Hinde Pelly, esq., by his wife, of the same county, whose maiden name was Lewis. Sir John Henry Pelly [q. v.] of Upton, Essex, was his uncle. Pelly was educated at Rugby, and appointed to the Bombay army of the East India Company as ensign in 1841. He became lieutenant in 1843, captain in 1856, major in 1861, lieutenant-colonel in 1863, colonel in 1871, major-general in 1882, and lieutenant-general in 1887.

In 1851–2 Pelly served as assistant to the resident at the court of Baroda, and in that capacity prosecuted the Khutput inquiries before the commission under Sir James Outram [q. v.] in 1851. From 1852 to 1856 he was employed in a civil capacity in Sind, and in 1857 acted as aide-de-camp to General John Jacob [q. v.], commanding the cavalry division of the army in Persia. He remained with Jacob until the conclusion of the war, receiving the medal and clasp, and next year joined him in Sind as brigade-major of the irregular horse Sind frontier force. Pelly collected Jacob's opinions on the reorganisation of the Indian army, and published them in a volume entitled ‘Views and Opinions of General Jacob,’ which passed through two editions in 1858. He subsequently returned to Persia as secretary of legation at Teheran, and on the retirement of his cousin, Sir Henry Rawlinson, became chargé d'affaires. In 1860 he was sent on a special mission through the countries of Afghánistán and Balúchistán. His love of travel and adventure was strong, and was first displayed to conspicuous advantage in a journey from Persia to India by way of Herát and Kandahár. On this occasion he rode eight hundred miles through lawless lands inhabited by fanatical Moslems, without escort and without disguise, exposed at times to imminent danger.

On his return to India in 1861 Pelly spent a few months at Calcutta with Lord Canning, and afterwards went on a mission to the Comoro Islands. At the close of the year he became political agent and consul at Zanzibar, where he confirmed earlier treaties with the Sultan. In 1862 he was transferred to the post of political resident on the Persian Gulf, and took part in a long series of difficult negotiations with the Arabs near the coast. His journey in 1865 to Riyádh, the Wahábí capital of the highlands of Central Arabia, known as Nejd, was one of his most notable exploits. It was undertaken partly to fix the position of Riyádh on the map, and partly to arrange for restraining the Wahábís, whose increase of power and interference with smaller states were held to involve political danger. The Wahábís are the puritans of Islam. They laboured at first to restore and preserve the original spirit of their religion; but in course of time the attractions of temporal power obscured their spiritual aspirations, and the sect became as aggressive as it was fanatical. Their chief at the time of Pelly's visit was named Faizul, and entitled indifferently amír or imám. He bitterly resented the action of British naval officers in endeavouring to suppress the slave trade, and his feelings towards the British government and their representative were avowedly hostile. Consequently, when Pelly proposed to visit him and commence friendly relations, the overture was declined with scant courtesy. But Pelly, determined to succeed, crossed the Persian Gulf and established himself with some of the local shaikhs (chiefs), from whose quarters he wrote to inform the amír that he was on his way to Riyádh. Permission to advance was granted, but without the usual courtesies; nevertheless, the journey was performed without the assistance of a guide. An interview with the amír followed. He was an old man, blind, but of striking appearance—resigned, dignified, stern, and remorseless. He was favourably impressed with Pelly's address, but told him ‘Riyádh was a curious place for a European to come to; that none had ever before been allowed to enter; but that he trusted all would go well.’ Pelly had difficulty in getting safely away, and only succeeded by a judicious mixture of tact and boldness. In 1866 the journals of his recent travels both in Afghánistán and Arabia were printed by the government at Bombay.

Between 1865 and 1871 Pelly paid other visits to the Chaab Arabs and Arab tribes of the littoral of the Gulfs of Persia and Oman, and he negotiated conventions with the chiefs and with the Sultan of Muscat with a view to suppressing slavery and facilitating the progress of the telegraph. In 1868 his services were rewarded by the honour of C.S.I. In 1872 and 1873 he accompanied Sir Bartle Frere on an anti-slavery mission to the east coast of Africa and Arabia, and, resettling in India in the latter year, was made governor-general's agent and chief commissioner to the States of Rajputana. In May 1874 Pelly was made K.C.S.I. Later in the year he was sent as special commissioner to Baroda to investigate the disordered condition of that feudatory state. Baroda was ruled by a gaekwár named Mulhar Ráo, and the government of India had hitherto been represented by the resident, Col. R. Phayre, C.B. Misgovernment had led Phayre to remonstrate with the gaekwár, and in 1874 Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji, a Parsee gentleman, was, in spite of Col. Phayre's disapproval, appointed sole minister. Their antagonism was disclosed early in November, and on the 9th of that month an attempt was made to poison the resident. The gaekwár himself was suspected of complicity. Pelly arrived on 30 Nov. as special commissioner, and in January 1875 arrested the gaekwár under orders from the government of India. He was tried by a commission consisting of Maharaja Sindhia, Maharaja of Jaipúr, Sir Dinkar Ráo, Sir Richard Couch, Sir Richard Meade, and Mr. P. S. Melvill, the defence being conducted by Serjeant Ballantine. The guilt of the gaekwár was not proved; but the supreme government, considering that his incapacity was established, deposed him and appointed a successor. Pelly's conduct throughout was approved by both sides, and Ballantine has recorded that his ‘demeanour to the prince was characterised by all the courtesy and consideration that his duty would permit.’

In 1876 Pelly was again in attendance on the government of India, but was soon sent to Pesháwar as envoy-extraordinary and plenipotentiary for Afghan affairs. His mission was one of many steps which preceded the outbreak of war in 1878. The amír, Sher Ali, owing to the assiduous attentions he had received from British India on one side and from Russia on the other, formed an altogether exaggerated notion of his own importance. He harboured many grievances against the government of India, and took no pains to disguise his resentment, which he gratified by civility to Russia and discourtesy to England. To remove, if possible, the doubts excited by his conduct, a conference at Pesháwar between Sir Lewis Pelly and an Afghan representative, Saiyid Núr Muhammad Sháh, was arranged. They met on 23 Jan. 1877, but after some unprofitable discussions the Afghan envoy died on 2 March, and Pelly was immediately recalled. In August of that year he retired from the service, and was created K.C.B.

Returning to England, he married Miss Amy Lowder in 1878, and in 1883 he was offered charge of the Congo Free State by the king of the Belgians. But he declined the post, and found his chief employment in assisting the Geographical and Asiatic Societies until 1885, when he was elected M.P. for North Hackney in the conservative interest. Next year he was re-elected, and he continued to represent the constituency till his death. In the House of Commons he confined his speeches to subjects which he understood, and earned the respect of the house. He died at Falmouth on 22 April 1892, leaving no issue. Though short in stature, he was well and strongly built, and his appearance was distinguished. There is an excellent portrait of him by Madame Canziani in Lady Pelly's possession.

Pelly had considerable literary aptitude. Besides ‘The Views and Opinions of Brigadier-general John Jacob, C.B.,’ London, 1858, he published: ‘The Miracle Play of Hasan and Husain: collected from Oral Tradition,’ 2 vols. London, 1879; a pamphlet on the ‘North-west Frontier of India,’ 1858; several papers in the ‘Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society;’ and occasional articles and letters in periodicals and newspapers.

Sir Lewis's elder brother, Surgeon-general Saville Marriott Pelly (1819–1895), after education at Winchester and Guy's Hospital, joined the Indian medical service. He joined the Sind irregular horse during Sir Charles Napier's campaigns (1844–7), and subsequently on the Sind frontier under General John Jacob [q. v.] He served with the second regiment light cavalry in Rajputana during the mutiny campaign, and joined in the pursuit of Tantia Topee with the column under Brigadier Parke. He was present as principal medical officer of the Indian medical department throughout the Abyssinian campaign of 1867–8 under Lord Napier of Magdala, obtained the companionship of the Bath, and retired as inspector-general of hospitals in the Bombay presidency in 1870. He died at Woodstock House, Lee, on 3 April 1895, leaving a widow with two sons and two daughters.

[Documents kindly lent by Lady Pelly; Journal of a Journey from Persia to India, through Herat and Candahar; Report of a Journey to the Wahabee Capital of Riyadh, in Central Arabia (Bombay, 1866); Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society (1865, and obituary notice by Major-general Sir Frederic John Goldsmid, K.C.S.I., June 1892); The Trial and Deposition of Mulhar Ráo, Gaekwár of Baroda (Bombay, 1875); Ballantine's Experiences of a Barrister's Life, 1882; further papers relating to the Affairs of Afghanistan, No. 2, 1878; Forbes's Afghan Wars (London, 1892), pp. 163–7.]

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