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Sir Richmond Campbell Shakespear (1812-1861): His Life And Papers

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Note by Dr. Omar Shakespear Pound of Princeton University who during two visits to London (1988 and 1990) gave freely of his valuable time to the classification and filing of the Society's Shakespear papers.

SIR RICHMOND CAMPBELL SHAKESPEAR was born in India on 11 May, 1812. His father was John Talbot Shakespear (1783-1825) of the Bengal Civil Service; his mother, Emily Thackeray, eldest daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, also of the B.C.S. and father of the novelist. The Shakespears had a long tradition of military and civil service in India, Afghanistan, Burma, and later in Kuwait where Captain W.H.I. Shakespear was Political Agent until his death in 1915. originally they came from a family of ropemakers in Shadwell, east of the Tower of London, where until well into the 19th century there was still a ropewalk named after them - Shakespear's Walk. With the enormous growth of shipping and trade to and from India through the London docks at the end of the seventeenth century the Shakespears soon found their sons going out to India as " writers ", or through the military school at Addiscombe and into the Indian Army. Whole families of Shakespears were born and raised in India, their children being sent to England for school and then returning to India, either in the civil service or the army. There was much intermarrying among what were then called Anglo-Indians, creating close family ties with the Thackerays, Ricketts, Irvines, Grants, Crawfords and Lows.

Richmond's closest schoolboy friend was William Makepeace Thackeray the future novelist. They were sent to England together to go to school and Thackeray's later descriptions of his early boarding-school life with Richmond in Sussex aged about ten and then with him at Charterhouse are well known to readers of Thackeray. Richmond's brother, George Trant Shakespear, who committed suicide in Geneva in 1844, was also at Charterhouse, and was a friend of Thackeray's and the basis of one of his major characters, Joseph Sedley in Vanicy Fair, as documented by the late Thackeray scholar, Gordon N. Ray.

After Charterhouse Richmond went to Addiscombe, then entered the Bengal Artillery, and served under Sir Robert Sale, Lord Keane, D'Arcy Todd, and other distinguished officers of the period. He was also given political duties, including the task of convincing the Khan of Khiva to release 416 Russian prisoners whom Shakespear then led on a hazardous trip to St. Petersburg, an account of which is published in part in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine for June, 1842 [51: 691-720]. From St. Petersburg he went to England where he was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1841.

The Russians did not appreciate Richmond's success since it did away with any immediate excuse to follow up General Perovsky's disastrous march on the great slave centre at Khiva a year earlier. Some modern Russian historians charge that the motive for the rescue was essentially political and not humanitarian. This claim is substantiated in the wording of Palmerston's recommendation to Queen Victoria that Richmond Shakespear be knighted:

... as a Reward for the ability and success with which he performed the difficult and important duty with which he was charged in his mission to Khiva. The service which Captain Shakespear had to execute was laborious and dangerous; but by prevailing upon the Khan of Khiva to let free all the Russian Prisoners and by carrying those Prisoners back to Russia, Captain Shakespear deprived the Russian Government of all Pretence for the renewed attack upon Khiva, which that Government would otherwise have attempted, and thus Captain Shakespear has very especially promoted British interests in Asia...

I wish to thank Miss Allison Derrett, Assistant Archivist of the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle for the text of the original recommendation, dated 21 June 1841, quoted here by gracious permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Early in 1842 Shakespear, serving under General Sir George Pollock, went to the relief of Sir Robert Sale in Jalalabad, and a few months later escorted British women and children to safety from Bamian during the first Afghan war. He also served in the second Sikh War, and was at the battle of Chilianwala. Intermittently he was seconded as a political officer in various parts of India, ending his life as Agent to the Governor-General for Central India in Indore, where he died in 1861. His career is described in a five column entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.

A few years ago I learned that the Society had a substantial cache of papers relating to Sir Richmond Shakespear, inherited from the Palestine Exploration Fund some time in the past. The collection is a very mixed bag indeed, including personal letters, official documents, letter-books and journals. It includes original letters from General Pollock, Dalhousie and Elphinstone, with copies of Sir Richmond's replies, often in the typical 19th century letter-books; original documents in both English and Russian relating to the release of the Russian prisoners from Khiva; and an extensive diary by Emily (Thackeray) Shakespear, Richmond's mother, of a trip with Lord Moira "up-country" in India in 1814 (extracts were published in Bengal: Past and Present in 1910 [6: 133-145]). The mission to Khiva and thence to St. Petersburg is well documented with family letters and official lists of prisoners (in both Russian and English), giving the age of each, and where captured.

Sometime after the papers were received from the Palestine Exploration Fund Dr. Richard Bingle, now Director of the India office Library, made a careful inventory which is a valuable guide to the collection but the papers had to be sorted to be of use to a scholar.

When I first looked at these papers in 1986 many were still damp, and this past summer (1990) basic conservation was my primary concern. The manuscripts, documents and letters have now all been put in separate



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