The murder of Mayo: why Britain kept quiet about a Viceroy's assassination

Posted by mjs76 at Sep 07, 2011 05:50 PM |
Leicester historian on Radio 4 recalls a forgotten incident which could have rewritten the history of India.
The murder of Mayo: why Britain kept quiet about a Viceroy's assassination

Richard Bourke, 6th Earl of Mayo

Professor Clare Anderson from our School of Historical Studies was on Radio 4’s Making History yesterday, discussing an extraordinary forgotten incident in 19th century world history – no less than the murder of the Viceroy of India.

In 1872, the Viceroy was Richard Bourke, 6th Earl of Mayo, a massively important international diplomat and arguably the third most powerful person in the British Empire after Queen Victoria and the Prime Minister. On 8 February that year he stopped off in the Andaman Islands, a British penal colony inbetween India and Burma.

On the programme, Clare revealed that between the 1850s and 1930s(!) about 100,000 convicts – mostly Indian – were sentenced to transportation to the Andamans, which is about two-thirds of the number who were sent to Australia during that country’s penal colony period.

Though heavily protected, Lord Mayo made an impromptu stop to admire the view and was stabbed to death by a convict from the North West Frontier. This caused great disturbance in diplomatic circles but the decision was made to play down the incident: quietly hang the murderer, appoint a new Viceroy and get on with it. It was thought that a lot of fuss might have given the impression that there was widespread unrest in Asia against British rule, and could even have turned the assassin into a martyr.

Which is why the brutal death in service of an important Victorian statesman has been swept under the rug of history.

Professor Anderson specialises in the history of the Indian Ocean during the 19th and 20th centuries, especially prison, penal colonies and the like. Between 2002 and 2006 she held an ESRC Research Fellowship on 19th century British penal settlements. She edits the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History and has also held a fellowship with the National Maritime Museum.

You can listen to the programme on iPlayer – the Lord Mayo segment is the first feature. Clare’s most recent paper, ‘Colonization, kidnap and confinement in the Andamans penal colony, 1771–1864’ was published in the Journal of Historical Geography earlier this year.

Share this page: