''Indian Phantom” Sleeman and Gov. Gen. Bentinck - thug hunters

Gov. Gen. of India Lord William Bentinck  and Col.William Sleeman -www.boloji.com

Above image: Both Governor General of  India Lord William Bentinck (1774 - 1839) (left)  and Col.William Sleeman - (1788 - 1856) were responsible for completely eradicating the problem of thugs who acted using secret codes........

Thug, (Hindi ṭhag; Sanskrit sthaga -“thief,” “rogue”), a member of a well-organized confederacy of professional assassins who existed across N. India for several hundred years.  The thugs initially would  get friendly with the travelers and, when a favorable opportunity presented itself while traveling over a short period, strangled the unsuspecting strangers with  their ''Pugree'' or handkerchief or noose around their necks. Then, they plundered and buried them. All this was done under the pretext of performing certain ancient  religious rites. The thugs mainly Hindus  traced their origin to seven Muslim tribes and appeared  to have been associated with them at an early period.  They followed  their religious creed and practices as worshipers of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. Therefore, it is believed,  there is no  influence of Islām. The fraternity successfully operated their robbery and murder through use of signs, codes, etc., in cent percent co-ordination.
Thugs killing an innocent man, Colonial India. 2ndlook.wordpress.com

In 1800s,  thus in certain parts of North India, thuggee was a menace to the society. They were responsible for killing a million plus people for centuries. 1830  saw the suppression of Thugee  with the back up of wholesale military operation led by William Sleeman. Scores of innocent travelers were murdered for centuries without any trace of clues and the British rulers were at their wit's end to solve this mystery.  The arrival of Lord William Bentinck under the Raj was a blessing in disguise.

Thugs killing  a victim. en. wikipedia.org.

Above image: In colonial India, thugs killing  a victim (mainly travelers) by strangling  after becoming friendly with him........
Though sporadic efforts were made previously toward the elimination of the gangs, it was not until Governor-general of India Lord William Bentinck , (1833–35) took firm  steps that the thug confederacy system was seriously attacked. His chief agent, Captain William Sleeman, with the cooperation of the authorities in a number of princely states, succeeded so well in eliminating the evil that from 1831 to 1837. No fewer than 3,266 thugs had been rounded up, of whom 412 were hanged to death. The prosecution was dependent on  483 convicts who gave evidence for the state after some plea-bargaining and the remainder were transported or imprisoned for life. The fraternity presumably thereafter became extinct.

The hero of the entire operation was one William Henry Sleeman (August 1788 – February 1856), who was initially a soldier and later became the administrator. In 1835, the ‘Thuggee and Dacoity Department  was created by William Bentinck and William Henry Sleeman was made its superintendent. He was later promoted as its Commissioner in 1839. Thanks to the prompt and  rigorous operations under Sleeman,  1400 thugs who had individually killed numerous people  were captured and sent to the gallows. Some got life term. A special prison complex was  exclusively established  at Jabalpur for Thugs.  Sleeman got the break through when  some police stations  received numerous complaints about the presence huge burial grounds with  heaps of human bones and skeletons in   the middle of some farm lands and in dry wells. Sleeman, in coordination with every police stations or Thana, tightened the hold on the robbers. Prospective travelers were warned of the thugs and of their modus operandi and  at public places notices were displayed about the gangs of thug. Evidences were recorded under the ''Kings Evidence Program''. Thugs or people giving evidences were given rewards and full protection. Thus Sleeman was responsible for the complete eradication of thuggee problem that had continuously haunted India for several centuries without any solution in sight. The various rulers were groping in the dark  as far as thug menace was concerned.
William Bentinck and William Henry Sleeman became saviors and drew the curtain on the worst, notorious fraternity of Indian thugs. Later Sleeman was a Resident at Gwalior from 1843 to 1849 and at Lucknow from 1849 to 1856. There is a village in Madhya Pradesh called Sleemanabad  named in his honor.

Sleeman is known as the “Indian Phantom” for his actions against the Thuggies.

 Bentinck left India in March 1835 and returned to England, where he refused a peerage and was again elected to the House of Commons. He died in Paris in 1839.


 01. Sleeman  was born in Stratton, Cornwall, the son of Philip Sleeman, a yeoman and supervisor of excise of St.Tudy.

 02. In 1809, Sleeman joined the Bengal Army and later served in the Nepal War between 1814–1816. Later he was gazetted to the rank of Captain in 1825, and in 1828 assumed charge of Jubbulpore (Jabalpur) District.

 03. Surprisingly, Sleeman became the earliest discoverer of dinosaur fossils in Asia when in 1828, serving as a Captain in the Narmada valley region. From the Lameta formation near Jabalpur, he recovered several petrified trees, as well as some fragmentary dinosaur fossil specimens. In 1877 the genus was named Titanosaurus Indicus by Richard Lydekker, but the taxonomic position is unclear.

 04. Sleeman from his notes on some cases wrote about wild children who had been raised by wolves  This was first published in the first volume of his Journey through the kingdom of Ouadh in 1848-1850 (1858) and reprinted in 1852 as An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children in Their Dens, by an Indian Official and in The Zoologist (1888 12(135):87-98). This caught the imagination of many and ultimately inspired Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli character.

 05. Sleeman wrote three books about the Thugs: 01.Ramaseeana, or a Vocabulary of the peculiar language used by Thugs; 02. Report on the Depredations Committed by the Thug Gangs of Upper and Central India; and 03. The Thugs or Phansigars of India.

06. Unfortunately, he died and was buried at sea near Ceylon, Sri Lanka  on a recovery trip to Britain in 1856, just six days after being awarded the Order of the Bath