Saviour of the Colours - Portrait of Lieutenant Richard Tozer, 45th B.N.I., 1848
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Overall: 34.5cm (13.5in) x 29cm (11.5in)
Oil on canvas. Portrait of Lieutenant Richard Tozer in scarlet tunic with flank company wings, gold lace, shoulder belt plate and regimentally specific dark green facings of the 45th Bengal Native Infantry. The stretcher bearing the period ink inscription to the stretcher verso ‘For Miss Tozer, the Cottage, Teignmouth / Devonshire / Kussowlee 23 October 1848’. The canvas inscribed verso by the artist ‘W. Melville / Pinxit’.
The present portrait of a sun flushed officer of East India Company, was painted at the hill station of Kassauli for the sitter’s sister, Helen, in distant Devon. The sitter, Richard Tozer, who was already a veteran of the battles of Moodkee, Ferozeshuhur and Sobraon in the First Sikh War, was soon to distinguish himself in the Second Sikh War at the hard fought Battle of Chililanwala - a bloody encounter of which both sides held claimed victory. As dusk approached on on 13 January 1849, Tozer was part of the failed bayonet assault by Pennycuik’s brigade on the Sikh guns at the centre of their position. Grapeshot and Sikh tenacity accounted for fifty percent casualties in the 24th Foot, and drove back the 25th B.N.I. and 45th B.N.I. The Brigadier was killed and there was an imminent danger of the retreat becoming a rout, whereupon, Tozer rallied 130 men of the brigade and, according to his commanding officer’s subsequent report, ‘repulsed the Sikhs who were following the Brigade, thereby saving our Regimental Colour, and another, and the lives of a number of our wounded, who would otherwise have been cut up by the enemy’.
Richard Milford John Tozer (1823-1861) and Helen Rainforth Tozer (1824-1887) were born at Teignmouth, Devon, the eldest children of John Chapell Tozer, an attorney-at-law, and his wife Anne nee Rainforth. Richard was nominated for cadetship in the Honourable East India Company’s Bengal Army and sailed for India in the 1843 season whence he was commissioned Ensign in the 45th Native Infantry. Helen remained at home with her numerous siblings, but in 1850 she visited Germany as the inscription in a locally published a copy of the Bronte novel Jane Eyre in the British Library attests. She returned to England, and hopefully, like Jane, found a peaceful and fulfilling life.
Having been present as a recently promoted Lieutenant, at the passage of the Chenab, in December 1848 and having commanded a flank of his regiment in the action at Sadoolapore, and participated in the decisive victory of the Punjab campaign at Goojerat by which the Sikh Empire fell to the East India Company, Richard became Captain in August 1854, and married. Following the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny at Meerut in May 1857, his regiment mutinied at Ferozepore, after which he rallied with all other unattached British officers to the force that assembled on Ridge before rebel held Delhi, and was attached to the 2nd Bengal European Fusiliers. He subsequently served with the Delhi Field Force and in the column under General Showers, C.B., with whom he was present at the capture of several forts. Indeed the General placed him in command of Ranonde fortress. He died in 1861 while returning home from India on board the P&O steamer Malta, five days after the death of his infant son on board the same vessel.
The artist William Melville (d.1850) arrived in India at an early age and worked as a merchant for the Calcutta firm of Fairlie Fergusson & Co. between 1824 and 1832. The firm however failed in the mid 1830s causing Melville to make use of his artistic talents. Insolvency announcements in the London Gazette show that he was dogged by the financial fall out of the Fairlie Fergusson debacle for some years to come. He travelled up country and secured a commission to paint the portrait of Begam Samru (1753-1836), a former nautch girl who rose to become the formidable ruler of Sardhana, a small principality near Meerut. His portrait of the fabulously rich Begam was originally intended for her new palace built in 1834. It was later purchased for Government House, Allahabad. In 1836 Melville painted the portrait of one of the most colourful figures of pre-Raj India, Colonel James Skinner, C.B., of the 1st Regiment of Local Horse, for the vestry of church he founded at Delhi. Melville also painted landscapes. Other extant works include a portrait of an Officer of an East India Company Rifle Regiment, 1846 (Royal Armouries, Leeds); two scenes on the Ganges, probably Bihar, circa 1848 (British High Commission, New Delhi, India).
The Indian Mail: a monthly register for British and Foreign India, China, 1843
The East-India Register and Army List for 1845
London Gazette, 1835