David Ochterlony

Major-general Sir David Ochterlony, 1st Baronet of Pitforthy, 1st Baronet of Ochterlony GCB (12 February 1758  15 July 1825) was a Massachusetts-born general of the East India Company in British India. He held the powerful post of British Resident to the Mughal court at Delhi.

Sir David Ochterlony, Bt
A c. 1816 painting of Ochterlony by Arthur Devis
Born(1758-02-12)12 February 1758
Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay, British America
Died15 July 1825(1825-07-15) (aged 67)
Meerut, Bengal Presidency
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branchEast India Company
UnitBengal Artillery
Battles/warsSecond Anglo-Maratha War
Anglo-Nepalese War
Third Anglo-Maratha War
Other workColonial administrator



David Ochterlony was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the eldest son of Captain David Ochterlony (also Ochterloney) and his wife, Katherine Tyler[1]. His father was born into an ancient family in Forfarshire, Scotland, and his mother was born in Boston to settlers of English and Welsh descent. His mother was the niece of Sir William Pepperrell. He had two younger brothers, Gilbert and Alexander, and a sister, Catherine. Captain Ochterlony died in the Saint Vincent, West Indies, in 1765,[2] after which his widow moved back to England and his mother remarried to Sir Isaac Heard, Garter King-of-Arms.[3] He attended the Boston Latin School[2] and Dummer Charity School (now known as The Governor's Academy) in nearby Byfield, Massachusetts.

Career in India

In 1777, at age 18, Ochterlony went as a cadet to India. In February 1778 he was commissioned into the Bengal Native Infantry as an ensign and that same September was advanced to lieutenant.[4] In June 1782 whilst serving in the Second Anglo-Mysore War he was wounded and taken prisoner. He remained in captivity for the duration of the war, and was only released when peace resumed in 1784.[5] He thereafter returned to Calcutta and in recognition of his eminent service during the war was conferred with the appointment of Judge Advocate-General for one of the divisions in the army.[6] In 1796 he was promoted to Captain and in 1800 to Major.

In early 1803 he was appointed Lieutenant General and accompanied Lord Lake throughout the Second Anglo-Maratha War. He was present at the battles of Koil, Aligarh and Delhi. Following the battle of Delhi he was appointed Resident at Delhi. In 1804, he defended the city with a very inadequate force against an attack by Yashwantrao Holkar which earned him the highest approbation from the Commander-in-Chief. He was thereafter given the command at Allahabad and then commanded a force on the banks of the Sutlej to check the expansion of the Sikhs. He was promoted to Major-general in 1814.

On the outbreak of the Anglo-Nepalese War in 1814 he was given the command of one of four converging columns. His was regarded as the only truly successful column throughout the war.[7] He was subsequently promoted to the command of the main force in its advance on Kathmandu, and outmanoeuvring the Gurkhas by a flank march at the Kourea Ghat Pass, brought the war to a successful conclusion and obtained the signature of the Treaty of Sugauli, which dictated the subsequent relations of the British with Nepal. In return for his services during the war, he became a Knight Commander of the Bath, the first time the honour had been conferred on an officer of the British military in India and was granted a baronetcy in November 1815.[8] The following month he was given a pension of £1,000 per annum. In December 1816 he was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.

In 1818 he was appointed Resident in Rajpootana, with which the Residency at Delhi was subsequently combined.[8] In the Pindari War between 1818-19 he commanded the Rajputana column and made a separate agreement with Amir Khan. He detached him from the Pindaris, and then, interposing his own force between the two main divisions of the enemy, brought the war to an end without an engagement. He was afterwards made Resident and Political Agent of Malwa, thus having the entire superintendency of the affairs of central India.[9] During this period he encountered and engaged in an ongoing personal feud with James Tod, which was based most likely on the power politics within the hierarchy of the East India Company.[10]


When Durjan Sal revolted in 1825 against Balwant Singh, the infant Raja of the Princely state of Bharatpur, Ochterlony acting on his own accord supported the young Raja by proclamation and ordered out a force to support him. However, the Governor-General of India, Lord Amherst, repudiated these proceedings and ordered the army to return. Ochterlony, who was bitterly chagrined by this rebuff, resigned his office, and retired to Delhi. He was to be replaced by his good friend Sir Charles Metcalfe. The feeling that the confidence which his length of service merited had not been given him by the governor-general is said to have accelerated his death, and he died at Meerut in July 1825. He is interred in St. John's Church in Meerut.[11] The Ochterlony column at Calcutta commemorated his name, though it has since been rededicated.[8]

Private life

As the official British Resident at Delhi, David Ochterlony adopted and thoroughly embraced Persian Mughal culture. He was reputed to have thirteen Indian concubines (as seen by the British) or wives (as seen by others). Every evening, he used to take all thirteen of his wives on a promenade around the walls of the Red Fort, each on the back of her own elephant.[12]

Mubarak Begum

The most prominent among Ochterlony's women was Bebee Mahruttun Mubarak ul Nissa Begum, Nicknamed "Generallee Begum", she was Ochterlony's favorite and the mother of his youngest children.[13] As such, she took clear precedence over the rest of the household. She was considered to be a devout Muslim, having once applied for leave to make the hajj to Mecca.[14]

Although much younger than Ochterlony, Mubarak was seen as the dominant personality in the relationship. This led one observer to remark that "making Sir David the Commissioner of Delhi was the same as making Generallee Begum". Another observer remarked that "Ochterlony's mistress is the mistress now of everyone within the walls. As a result of her influence, Ochterlony considered raising his children as Muslims, and when his two daughters by Mubarak Begum had grown up, he adopted a child from the family of the Nawabs of Loharu, one of the leading Muslim families of Delhi. Raised by Mubarak, the girl went on to marry her cousin, a nephew of the famous Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib.[14]

Mubarak even seems to have set herself up as a power in her own right and to have formed her own independent foreign policy. At one point, it was reported that "Mubarak Begum, alias Generalee Begum, fills the [Delhi] papers with accounts of the Nizars and Khiluts [gifts and dresses of honour] given and taken by her in her transactions with the Vacquils [ambassadors of the different Indian powers] - an extraordinary liberty, if true."[15]

However, in spite of all her power and high status, Mubarak Begum was widely unpopular among the British and the Mughals alike. She offended the British by calling herself "Lady Ochterlony" and on the other hand, also offended the Mughals by awarding herself the title "Qudsia Begum", a title previously reserved for the Emperor's mother. After Ochterlony's death, she inherited Mubarak Bagh, an Anglo-Mughal garden tomb Ochterlony had built in the north of Old Delhi, but her intense unpopularity combined with her background as a dancing girl ensured that no Mughal gentleman would use her structure. To this date, the tomb is still referred to by the local inhabitants of the old city as the "Rundi ki Masjid" (the Whore's Mosque).[16]


Ochterlony had at least six natural (illegitimate) children, by two or more of his concubines:

  1. Roderick Peregrine Ochterlony, of Delhi (1785-d by 1823), his only son; he married 1808 Sarah Nelly, the daughter of Lt. Col. John Nelly of the Bengal Engineers, at Allahabad, India.[17] Roderick and Sarah Ochterlony had three children. A daughter, Charlotte Ochterlony, died in 1835 (death mentioned in The Gentleman's Magazine).
    1. Sir Charles Metcalfe Ochterlony, 2nd Baronet (1817–1891), who succeeded his grandfather by special remainder in 1825. He married in 1844 a Miss Sarah Tribe of Liverpool, and had as descendants three sons and two daughters. This creation became extinct on the death of the fifth Baronet in 1964.
      1. Charlotte Ochterlony (d. 1835)
    2. [by Mubarak Begum] a daughter
    3. [by Mubarak Begum] a daughter


    1. Major & Murden. A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs
    2. Stark, James Henry (1907). The Loyalists of Massachusetts and the Other Side of the American Revolution. J.H. Stark. p. 299-300. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
    3. "MHS Collections Online: Major General Sir David Ochterlony, Bt. K.C.B." Massachusetts Historical Society. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
    4. J. J. Higginbotham, Men Whom India Has Known: Biographies of Eminent Indian Characters, Higginbotham and Company, 1874, p.338
    5. J. J. Higginbotham, Men Whom India Has Known: Biographies of Eminent Indian Characters, Higginbotham and Company, 1874, p.338
    6. J. J. Higginbotham, Men Whom India Has Known: Biographies of Eminent Indian Characters, Higginbotham and Company, 1874, p.338
    7. J. J. Higginbotham, Men Whom India Has Known: Biographies of Eminent Indian Characters, Higginbotham and Company, 1874, p.338
    8.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ochterlony, Sir David". Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 990. Endnote: See Major Ross of Bladensburg, The Marquess of Hastings ("Rulers of India" series) (1893).
    9. J. J. Higginbotham, Men Whom India Has Known: Biographies of Eminent Indian Characters, Higginbotham and Company, 1874, p.338
    10. Freitag, Jason (2009). Serving empire, serving nation: James Tod and the Rajputs of Rajasthan. BRILL. p. 38. ISBN 978-90-04-17594-5.
    11. Blunt, Edward Arthur Henry (1911). List of Inscriptions on Christian Tombs and Tablets of Historical Interest in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. p. 6.
    12. William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 49
    13. R. V. Smith (8 May 2011). "Ochterlony and his bibis". The Hindu. Chennai, India.
    14. William Dalrymple, The Last Mughal, p. 66
    15. Gardner papers, National Army Museum, Letter 87, p. 226, 10 August 1821
    16. William Dalrymple, White Mughals, pp. 183-184
    17. Rakashi Chand. "Meet the Ochterlonys". The Massachusetts Historical Society. Online: Object of the Month. Retrieved 18 June 2010. Portrait of Mr and Mrs Roderick Peregrine Ochterlony, dated 1810-1820
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