John Nicholson

Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2019), Letters, Volume 27

Sir,—I read with interest Stuart Flinder’s sanitised life of John Nicholson (HI 27.1, Jan./Feb. 2019). I had already bought and read Mr Flinder’s book, Cult of a dark hero: Nicholson of Delhi (2018). I came across John Nicholson in Empire and sexuality by Ronald Hyam, in which he paints a picture of the ‘softer side’ of Nicholson. At the time Nicholson was in India the Oxford movement and Victorian Anglo-Catholicism were being scrutinised for homoerotic undertones; the early Victorian Punjab administration had surprisingly escaped comparable scrutiny. Hyam refers to the triangular friendship of Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence KCB, Sir Herbert Edwards and John Nicholson, with their ‘communal households and young protégés’. These three men bound themselves in an extraordinarily close friendship. Nicholson never married. When Lawrence left the Punjab in 1852, Nicholson was deeply upset and talked of going with him. According to Hyam, ‘Outside this trio of friends, Nicholson found himself at ease only with small boys’. While these Punjab administrators led intense emotional lives, they were apt to quote biblical texts to one another. The picture of Nicholson as the ‘Lion of the Punjab’ is accurate but he also frequently burst into tears when he had to order executions, although he seemed rather to enjoy administering floggings. All three men had had a cordial dislike of John Lawrence, Henry’s brother, the Indian viceroy, who had little time ‘for these beautiful and perfervid relationships’—which, however, underpinned a comparatively effective administration.—Yours etc.,

HUGH DUFFY

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