Charles James Napier

General Sir Charles James Napier, GCB (/ˈnpɪər/;[1] 10 August 1782  29 August 1853), was an officer and veteran of the British Army's Peninsular and 1812 campaigns, and later a Major General of the Bombay Army, during which period he led the military conquest of Sindh, before serving as the Governor of Sindh, and Commander-in-Chief in India.

For the similarly named Admiral, his contemporary in the Peninsular Campaign, see Charles John Napier

Sir Charles Napier

Governor of Sindh
In office
Governor-GeneralThe Lord Ellenborough
Sir Henry Hardinge
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded byRichard Keith Pringle
As Chief Commissioner of Sindh
Personal details
Born(1782-08-10)10 August 1782
Whitehall Palace, London, England
Died29 August 1853(1853-08-29) (aged 71)
Portsmouth, England
Resting placeRoyal Garrison Church, Portsmouth
Awards Army Gold Medal
Military General Service Medal
Scinde Medal
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom / British Empire
East India Company
Branch/serviceBritish Army
Bombay Army
Years of service1794–1851
CommandsNorthern District (1839–1840)
Commander-in-Chief of India (1848–1849)
Battles/warsPeninsular War
War of 1812
Conquest of Scinde

Early life

Charles James Napier was the eldest son of Colonel (the Honourable) George Napier, and his second wife, Lady Sarah Lennox, with this being the second marriage for both parties. Lady Sarah was the great-granddaughter of King Charles II. Napier was born at the Whitehall Palace in London, When he was only three years old his father took up an administrative post in Dublin, moving his family to live in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, Ireland, within walking distance of Lady Sarah's sister, Lady Louisa Connolly. His early education was at the local school in Celbridge. At the age of twelve, he joined the 33rd Infantry Regiment of the British Army in January 1794, but quickly transferred to the 89th and did not immediately take up his commission, but returned to school in Ireland.[2] In 1799, aged 17, he took up active service in the army as aide-de-camp to Sir James Duff.[3]

Peninsular War

Napier commanded the 50th (Queen's Own) Regiment of Foot during the Peninsular War in Iberia against Napoleon Bonaparte. Napier's activities there ended during the Battle of Corunna, in which he was wounded and left for dead on the battlefield. Napier was rescued, barely alive, by a French Army drummer named Guibert, and taken as a prisoner-of-war. Nevertheless, Napier was awarded an Army Gold Medal after he was returned to British hands.[4]

Napier recuperated from his wounds while he was being held near the headquarters of the French Marshall Soult and afterwards Michel Ney. On 21 March 1809, a British sloop approached Corunna with a letter for the commandant of the city, requesting information about the fate of Napier on behalf of his family. After an agreement between Ney and Napier, the latter was released on a convalescence leave at home for three months, under parole to return to Ney's quarters wherever he was on the first of July 1809.[5]

Napier volunteered to return to the Iberian Peninsula in 1810 to fight again against Napoleon in Portugal, notably in the Battle of the Côa, where he had two horses shot out from under him, in the Battle of Bussaco, in the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro, and in the Battle of Badajoz (1812) (the second siege of Badajoz) in Extremadura, Spain, in which he was a lieutenant colonel in the 102nd regiment. For his deeds at Bussaco and at Fuentes de Oñoro, Napier won the silver medal with two clasps.[4]

Return to England

In 1835, Napier was designated Governor of the planned new colony of South Australia, but he resigned the position, recommending William Light for the post. However, John Hindmarsh had already been lobbying for the position and had gained influential support, and was appointed to it.[6]

Napier became the General Officer Commanding of the Northern District in England in April 1839.[4]

Service as General Officer Commanding of the Northern District

In April of 1839, Napier was put in command of 6,000 troops in the Northern District, with one of his designated tasks being to confront the many Chartist protests active in the area. As a leftist who in principle agreed with the Chartist demands for Democracy, Napier made efforts to keep violence to a minimum and calm tensions in the area as best he could whilst still obeying his orders. Napier privately blamed "Tory injustice and Whig imbecility" for the conflicts, and pitied the Chartists rather than feared them.[7]

Service in India

In 1842, at the age of 60, Napier was appointed Major General to the command of the Indian army within the Bombay Presidency. Here Lord Ellenborough's policy led Napier to Sindh Province (Scinde), for the purpose of quelling the insurrection of the Muslim rulers who had remained hostile to the British Empire following the First Anglo-Afghan War. Napier's campaign against these chieftains resulted in victories in the Battle of Miani (Meanee) against General Hoshu Sheedi and the Battle of Hyderabad, and then the subjugation of the Sindh, and its annexation by its eastern neighbours as the Sind Division.[4]

His orders had been only to put down the rebels: by conquering the whole Sindh Province, he greatly exceeded his mandate. Napier was supposed to have despatched to his superiors the short, notable message, "Peccavi", the Latin for "I have sinned" (which was a pun on I have Sindh). This pun appeared under the title 'Foreign Affairs' in Punch magazine on 18 May 1844. The true author of the pun was, however, Englishwoman Catherine Winkworth, who submitted it to Punch, which then printed it as a factual report.[8] Later, Napier made several comments on the Sindh adventure to the effect of: "If this was a piece of rascality, it was a noble piece of rascality!"[9]

On 4 July 1843, Napier was appointed Knight Grand Cross in the military division of the Order of the Bath, in recognition of his leading the victories at Miani and Hyderabad.[10] He was also in 1843 given the colonelcy of the 97th (The Earl of Ulster's) Regiment of Foot,[11] transferring later in the year to be colonel of the 22nd (The Cheshire) Regiment of Foot.[12]

Napier was appointed Governor of the Bombay Presidency by Lord Ellenborough. However, under his leadership the administration clashed with the policies of the directors of the British East India Company, and Napier was accordingly removed from office and returned home in disgust. Napier was again dispatched to India during the spring of 1849, in order to obtain the submission of the Sikhs. However upon arriving once again in India, Napier found that this had already been accomplished by Lord Gough and his army.[4]

Napier remained for a while as the Commander-in-Chief in India. He also quarrelled repeatedly with Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India. The source of the dispute was Dalhousie's behaviour on India's north-west frontier. Dalhousie had requested repeated punitive raids against villagers who had not paid taxes. Napier was opposed to these tactics but accompanied a column of East India Company troops under Sir Colin Campbell and Punjab troops under George Lawrence. The Punjab troops were not under Napier's command and began burning villages on Lawrence's orders. ‘This was as impolitic as it was dishonourable to the character of British soldiers,’ protested Napier, ‘yet no power was entrusted to me, and I had been sufficiently cautioned against interfering with the Punjaub civil authorities.’.[13]

Napier returned home to England for the last time. He was still suffering with physical infirmities which were results of his wounds during the Peninsular War, and he died about two years later at Oaklands, near Portsmouth, England, on 29 August 1853, at the age of 71. However his quarrel with Dalhousie was not over. In his posthumously published 'Defects, Civil and Military of the Indian Government' (Westerton, 1853) he detected and condemned the growing superciliousness of the English in India towards the Indians; 'The younger race of Europeans keep aloof from Native officers … How different this from the spirit which actuated the old men of Indian renown,' he wrote. He proposed that British officers should learn the language of the natives and that native officers be appointed as ADCs and Companions of the Bath. ‘The Eastern intellect is great, and supported by amiable feelings’, he wrote, ‘and the Native officers have a full share of Eastern daring, genius and ambition; but to nourish these qualities they must be placed on a par with European officers.’[14]

When revolt broke out in 1857, Napier's 'Defects' was hailed as a prophetic work which correctly identified many of the seething tensions in the sub-continent.[15] The problem was as one of his contemporaries observed ‘Had he made his representations with sober moderation, eschewing all offensive exaggeration, his warnings and suggestions would have commanded attention. Instead they were pooh-poohed as the emanations of a distempered mind.’[16]

Napier's former house is now part of Oaklands Catholic School of Waterlooville. Napier died on 29 August 1853 and his remains were buried in the Royal Garrison Church in Portsmouth.[4]


On sati

Napier opposed suttee, or sati. This was the custom of burning a widow alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. Sati was rare in Sindh during the time Napier stayed in this region.[17] Napier judged that the immolation was motivated by profits for the priests, and when told of an actual Sati about to take place, he informed those involved that he would stop the sacrifice. The priests complained to him that this was a customary religious rite, and that customs of a nation should be respected. As recounted by his brother William, he replied:

"Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs." [17]

On slavery and plunder

Napier opposed slavery. According to the memoir on Napier by William, the Sindh cultivator was bonded and oppressed, and the numerous Hindus were plundered people and their faith was condemned by Balochis and Sindhis alike. They were eager for peace and protection.[18] Napier removed the Amirs from power, dismantled their private assembly of armed men, proclaimed that taxes previously collected by the Amirs from the peasants be paid to the English instead, and that slavery was abolished throughout the land.[19] This was vehemently opposed by Balochi masters, but welcomed by slave-girls of the harems.[19]

Napier found that the Sindh was divided into land parcels called kardarats, under a headman called kardar, who were under an Arabian cadi.[20] The cadi had powers to summarily fine and imprison, and in practice exercised powers of life, death and torture. The kardar collected land taxes and customs, frequently fining and torturing the villagers to a level of fear that they were slaves of the chief to whose estate their village belonged. Napier continued the old system of kardars, but made them official collectors giving them government salaries, allowing villagers to file complaints against any kardar.[20]

While stationed at Karachi, Napier found that the land was owned by the state, Amirs were collecting land taxes with "shocking cruelty – mutilations and tortures", with land tax rates between half and two-thirds.[21] The due collectors enjoyed hereditary tenures in a feudal jagir system where the husbandman was a mere slave. These oppressive practices had led many Sindh farmers to abandon their farms and move to the desert. Napier challenged this oppression.[21]

Napier opposed the slavery custom where, according to William's memoir, young girls would be dragged from "their homes for the harems of the great". His efforts to respect the rights of women and children required him to battle numerous Amirs who previously exercised "unmitigated cruelty and debauchery".[22]

On subduing insurgencies

General Napier put down several insurgencies in India during his reign as Commander-in-Chief in India, and once said of his philosophy about how to do so effectively:

The best way to quiet a country is a good thrashing, followed by great kindness afterwards. Even the wildest chaps are thus tamed.[23]

That may help explain both why he felt rebellions should be suppressed with vigor, and the lack of reprisals after victory (contrary to local practice).

He also once said:

the human mind is never better disposed to gratitude and attachment than when softened by fear.[23]

An implementation of the theory would be after the Battle of Miani, where most of the Mirs surrendered. One leader held back and was told by Napier:

Come here instantly. Come here at once and make your submission, or I will in a week tear you from the midst of your village and hang you.[23]

He also mused:

so perverse is mankind that every nationality prefers to be misgoverned by its own people than to be well ruled by another.[23]

He regarded misgovernment as a lack of liberal attitudes. Contrary to the traditional Indian rulers' glorification of war, he wrote ‘War is detestable and not to be desired by a nation’, adding, 'It falls not so heavily upon soldiers – it is our calling; but its horrors alight upon the poor, upon the miserable, upon the unhappy, upon those who feel the expense and the suffering, but have not the glory.’[24]


In 1903, the 25th Bombay Rifles (which as the 25th Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry had formed part of Napier's force in the conquest of Sindh) was renamed the 125th Napier's Rifles. Since amalgamated, it is now the 5th Battalion (Napier's) of the Rajputana Rifles.[25][26]

A bronze in honour of Sir Charles Napier by George Gamon Adams (1821–1898) surveys from its plinth the southwest corner of Trafalgar Square, while a marble stands in the Crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral. In his bronze, he is shown bareheaded, in military uniform, with his cloak thrown back. His left hand is grasping his sword by the scabbard and raised above his waist, while his right, extended, holds a scroll symbolic of the government awarded to Scinde during his tenure of office. The monument was erected without ceremony on 26 November 1855 and paid for by means of public subscriptions, the most numerous contributors being private soldiers.[27][28]

His remains lie in the now-ruined Royal Garrison Church, Portsmouth. His tomb is immediately outside the west door to the church. A loose plaque in the church is thought to have indicated the burial place of Sir Charles, inside what is now the west wall.[29]

The city of Napier in the Hawke's Bay region of New Zealand is named after Sir Charles Napier.[30] The suburb of Meeanee commemorates his victory in the Battle of Miani.[31]

The city of Karachi in Sindh (Pakistan) earlier had a Napier Road (now Shahrah-e-Altaf Hussain), Napier Street (now Mir Karamali Talpur Road) and Napier Barracks (now Liaquat Barracks) on Shara-e-Faisal. In the port area, there is also a Napier Mole. In Manora, the St. Paul's Church, erected in 1864, is a memorial to Napier. There is also Residential area in Quetta named as Napier Lines after his name.

The Napier Gardens in Argostoli on the Greek island of Kefalonia are named after him.

Some ten pubs in England are named after him, either as the Sir Charles Napier, or the General Napier.[32]

Karachi Grammar School named its second-oldest house "Napier" after Sir Charles Napier (the oldest House is named Frere after Sir Henry Bartle Frere).

The city of Ambala in Haryana (India) has a road named after him in the cantonment area. 54, Napier Road, the official residence of the Commissioner Of Police of Ambala is on this road.

See also

and his brothers:


  1. "Napier". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. Napier, William Francis Patrick (1857). Life & Opinions of General Sir Charles James Napier Volume I. London: John Murray. p. 2.
  3. Napier, William Francis Patrick (1857). Life & Opinions of General Sir Charles James Napier, Vol I. London: John Murray. p. 18.
  4. Ainslie T. Embree, Napier, Sir Charles James (1782–1853), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  5. Bonnal, Henry (1910). La vie militaire du Maréchal Ney, duc d'Elchingen, prince de la Moskowa.
  6. "Hindmarsh, Sir John (1785–1860))". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 19 October 2019. This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966
  7. Beasley, Edward (3 November 2016). The Chartist General: Charles James Napier, The Conquest of Sind, and Imperial Liberalism. Routledge. ISBN 9781315517278.
  8. "Peccavi". Encyclopedia of Britain. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  9. Rice, Edward (19 April 2002). "General Charles Napier and the Conquest of Sind". The Victorian Web.
  10. "No. 20239". The London Gazette. 4 July 1843. p. 2246.
  11. "97th (The Earl of Ulster's) Regiment of Foot". Archived from the original on 12 July 2006. Retrieved 15 August 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  12. "The Cheshire Regiment". Archived from the original on 31 December 2006. Retrieved 11 July 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  13. Napier, C., Defects, p. 91.
  14. Napier, C., Defects, p. 255
  15. Napier, C., Defects, 250.
  16. Thorburn, S., The Punjab in Peace and War. Blackwood, 1904. p. 155
  17. Napier, William (1851). "History Of General Sir Charles Napier's Administration Of Scinde". London: Chapman and Hall. p. 35. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
  18. Napier, William (1851). "History Of General Sir Charles Napier's Administration Of Scinde". London: Chapman and Hall. p. 1.
  19. Napier, William (1851). "History Of General Sir Charles Napier's Administration Of Scinde". London: Chapman and Hall. pp. 10–12.
  20. Napier, William (1851). "History Of General Sir Charles Napier's Administration Of Scinde". London: Chapman and Hall. pp. 26–27.
  21. Napier, William (1851). "History Of General Sir Charles Napier's Administration Of Scinde". London: Chapman and Hall. pp. 45–49.
  22. Napier, William (1851). "History Of General Sir Charles Napier's Administration Of Scinde". London: Chapman and Hall. pp. 34–35.
  23. Farwell, Byron: Queen Victoria's Little Wars, p. 27-31
  24. Shadwell, The Life of Colin Campbell, Lord Clyde. Vol. I, 108.
  25. Sharma, Gautam, Valour and Sacrifice: Famous Regiments of the Indian Army (Allied Publishers, 1990, ISBN 978-81-7023-140-0) page 99 at Retrieved 4 August 2008
  26. 125th Napier's Rifles at Retrieved 3 August 2008
  27. Blackwood, John (1989). London's Immortals: The Complete Outdoor Commemorative Statues. Savoy Press. pp. 256–257. ISBN 0-9514296-0-4.
  28. "SIR CHARLES JAMES NAPIER (1782–1853)"
  29. Memorials and Monuments in Portsmouth: "Royal Garrison Church – General Sir Charles James Napier G.C.B." Archived 5 September 2004 at the Wayback Machine
  30. Reed 2010, p. 266.
  31. Reed 2010, p. 249.
  32. . Retrieved 3 August 2008

London's Immortals: The Complete Outdoor Commemorative Statues


  • Reed, A. W. (2010). Peter Dowling (ed.). Place Names of New Zealand. Rosedale, North Shore: Raupo. ISBN 9780143204107.

Further reading

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Richard Jackson
GOC Northern District
Succeeded by
Sir William Gomm
Government offices
Preceded by
New office
Governor of Bombay Presidency
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by
The Lord Gough
Commander-in-Chief, India
Succeeded by
Sir William Gomm
Preceded by
Hon Edward Finch
Colonel of the 22nd (The Cheshire) Regiment of Foot
Succeeded by
Sir William Francis Patrick Napier
Preceded by
Sir Henry Hardinge, 1st Viscount Hardinge
Colonel of the 97th (The Earl of Ulster's) Regiment of Foot
Succeeded by
Sir Henry Frederick Bouverie

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