Statue for the butcher of Allahabad, Brig. Gen. James Neill ,Chennai (Madras)

Brig.Gen. James George Smith Neill, Butcher of Allahabad. Wikipedia

 While Brig.Gen. James George Neill  of ''Madras Fusiliers''during the great rebellion of 1857,  became a celebrated  martyr among the British; he earned the ire and notoriety among Indians as a brutal, unscrupulous   military officer.  His statue was removed 

Until 1962, there was a huge Bronze statue of Brig. Gen. James George Smith Neill (also spelled Neil)  of the ‘Madras Fusiliers’, a European unit, on Mount Road, Madras (Chennai), Tamil Nadu. It was installed by the British in  1860 in memory of his great services during the siege of Lucknow in 1857.  His patriotic services to Britain being so much  appreciated, he was held in great esteem by the British Army. Partly because  not only was he  instrumental in the massacre of 100000 plus  Indian natives (the figure is debatable; some historians say it is several  thousands) but also  in the process,   Neill saved the British community from total annihilation in the hands of  the rampaging Indians. 

A Scottish  by birth, he was assigned to put down the brewing rebellion in the northern states that became violent and hell-bent against the British regime that openly encouraged racial discrimination, blasphemy and filthy treatment of Indian soldiers in the army, not to mention illegal grabbing  of several rich  kingdoms and insulting Indian Maharajahs and Nawabs. In a nutshell, the rule under the British company was a repressive one and there was no let down in the use of brute forces against the Indians.

Brig Gen Neill,  at Benares and later  at Allahabad  and Lucknow  went berserk and resorted to committing massacres of mutineers to quell the rebellion.  Why did he go berserk? Because the  high-strung Indians, in a rage,  killed numerous whites, including women and children. What the Indians, who were known to have the highest tolerance,  did was not all right. But, what justification did Neil have whose action resulted in the death of thousands of Indians  to revenge the killing of roughly 50 English people?

Statue of Brig-Ge.  James Neill (1810-57), Chennai,  Royal Collection Trust

The statue of James Neill in Wellington Square, Ayr, Ayrshire, circa 1895

Since  1995  a particular section in the Government Museum, Chennai  that has the statue of Neill has not been open to public viewing. The statue of the much hated military officer' is clearly one of the biggest statues in the Museum,  measuring over 10 feet in height. Befitting the statue's height, the plaque gives details of his killing spree.

“He (Neill) killed one lakh Indians just for uttering the word ‘Independence’, and how can we forget that?” fumes Mr. Kalathi, Educational Officer at the Madras Museum. 

The statue of  the Army officer should be exhibited in the center of the museum so that the young people will understand how hard the Indians had fought to get the freedom from the British and what kind of repressive measures they took to put down the freedom movements.

Col. James Neil  with “ruthless and horrible” methods quelled the mutineers, ordering “entire villages to be burnt down and inhabitants  hanged” as he marched towards Cawnpore (Kanpur).  Neill was killed in combat at Lucknow in September 1857. The British rulers  honored him by erecting a statue of him near the Spenser building  on Mount Road in Madras in 1860; 10 foot bronze statue perched on a 12 foot pedestal, The statue was so tall and imposing, it dwarfed  every thing round it.  The inscriptions on the pedestal of Neil’s statue read: “Universally acknowledged as the first who stemmed the torrent of rebellion in Bengal.” Thus records the ‘Madras Hand Book 1871’, a rare testimony to the horrific side of India’s 1857 uprising that saw Hindus and Muslims united in their struggle against the colonial power.

In the early part of 1900s like-minded freedom fighters, belonging to  the ‘Tamil Nadu Volunteer Corps’ wanted the statue removed and held agitations. After Jallianwall Bagh massacre (April 1919), the freedom struggle was on a fast track. 

 The big statue of  Neill statue in the prime area of Madras city became an emblem of colonial oppression, and  an affront that had to be knocked off the pedestal.  Mahatma Gandhi on his visit to Chennai in September 1927 gave support to the agitation and wanted the people to follow the principles of ‘Satyagraha. MLC passed several resolutions in this regard, but they proved to be futile.  According to reports in  The Hindu, in the morning  on August 11 1927, two Congress volunteers from Madurai, Mohammed Saliah and Subbarayulu, scaled the fa├žade of the Neil statue with a chisel and hammer. Their intention was to damage the statue.  Addressing assembling crowds, these two men in rage spoke about  the atrocities committed by Colonel Neil and demanded that the statue be removed, In October 1927, though the city corporation passed a resolution on the removal of the statue, the Madras Legislate Council in a resolution rejected it by 67  to 27 votes

When  the  Rajaji (C. Rajagopala Chari) -led Congress Ministry came to power after the election in 1937 (as per newly-constituted Provincial Legislative Assemblies under the ‘Government of India Act, 1935.), the then  Madras Corporation through a resolution ordered the removal of Neill’s statue and shifted  it to the Madras Museum permanently in 1952 and before that, it was in the Ripon Building complex. 

Butcher of Allahabad. Brig.Gen.James George Smith Neill

To the Indians, Army officer, James Neill is a butcher in a mutton shop. As for the British, he is a hero who saved the honor and dignity of the British community during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 by committing massacre of Indian natives in large numbers. What a paradox?


 A committee in Calcutta  had been set  up by  Lord Canning, the Governor-General East India Company,  under the direction of  Lord Low,  the Commander-in-Chief.  The purpose of the committee was to raise public subscription/ funds to erect a statue of Neill.  By Nov.1858   Rs 18,953 was collected.  Mathew Noble, the well-known sculptor in England was  entrusted with the work on the statue.. Initially, they planned  an equestrian one, befitting his military  statue.  But, finally, they came up in  favor of a standing statue of Neill  with an expression of a commanding attitude.. In order to be respected and revered in his own birth  place  Ayr in Scotland, a fine and  identical bronze was also commissioned and unveiled  fin 1859, in a well-attended, public ceremony.