Strickland



by R.E.Harbord

This article was originally written for
Volume I of the ORG, published in 1961



[1961]

How far Kipling modelled his creations on real incidents cannot now be known; it was his secret. By those familiar with the Punjab of 1870-1880 the original of 'Strickland' was identified with at least two police officers.

The first, a pure-blooded Afghan, stepson of a British officer who had married the widow of a Sirdar in Kabul in the years 1839-41. Many curious tales are told of his detective exploits which may be true enough. Unfortunately, none of his achievements were recorded either by the officer himself or by others.

The other, whose exploits in disguise were almost as remarkable, although he had no such natural advantages, being a pure European, was Christie, and he did have one great advantage, he was born in India. Such men, being brought up amongst servants and in daily intercourse with all classes of Indians from a very early age, assimilate without effort a thorough knowledge of several languages and dialects with their correct pronunciations and a knowledge of manners, habits and customs of the various classes. Probably Kipling could never have written some of these early stories, such as "Little Tobrah" if he had not been born in the country and lived there until he was five years old. For an ordinary European the difficulties of disguise and detection are almost unsurmountable but Christie was also helped by the colour of his eyes, they being of the peculiar grey blue occasionally seen among Afghans.

Christie retired and for a time lived at Dharmsala in the Kangra valley, and his story was told by the Revd. George Davis, who went to India in 1857 as an officer in The Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He became a Public Works Department accountant and in 1880 a clergyman with a living in England. Here is a part of what he wrote about Christie:

The Government of India were sorely perplexed as to how large sums of money reached the tribes in the Khyber (the Wahabi fanatics) to enable them to carry on their raids. After every possible means had been tried to solve the mystery, a notice was issued that any officer who could do so, would receive promotion, and a reward of Rs. 5,000. Mr. Christie, a young police officer, who had been born in India, thought he had obtained a clue, and volunteered to take on the job if he were transferred to Amritsar. When lie arrived there he called all his native Inspectors to a conference and asked for their co-operation, telling them that if the mystery was solved they would receive the reward, he being content with the promotion.

They readily promised their help. A few days later, Mr. Christie called them to his house and informed them that he had discovered that the man who brought the money from lower India was a priest and that he was then at Lahore. He further informed them that he was himself going to Lahore to have the man arrested, but believed that, if the man evaded him he would come to Amritsar, and, if any such priest was seen by them they were to arrest him at once and hold him until his return. They all saw Christie off by the train to Lahore and then returned to their duty. But they did not know that Christie had arranged for the train to drop him about 5 miles from Amritsar, where he had an ekka and a disguise awaiting him, with a trusty servant.

After disguising himself, lie returned to Amritsar, where, outside the Hall Gate, he met his chief inspector. He inquired, Where is the Sahib?

`Gone to Lahore', answered the inspector. `We all saw him off and are quite sure of it. Where are we to meet you to-night ?'

`At Hussif Khan's house. Don't be seen talking to me, but see that all in the know are present at 8 o'clock.'

Christie then shut himself up in a room in the Serai until evening, when he went to the place appointed, where all his native inspectors were assembled. After looking round, he said:

I have a large sum of money this time. Who have you selected to take it to Peshawar, and who will take it across the border?' The chief inspector answered: `I will take it to Peshawar, and Mahomed Khan, the General Sahib's orderly, will take it on to Umbeyla.'

At this, Christie walked to the door and throwing it open, said:

`I am Christie Sahib. Anyone that moves is a dead man', and whilst he held them with his pistol, a large body of faithful policemen marched in and handcuffed the lot, who were all eventually sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. A code message dispatched to General Lumsden at Peshawar, assured the arrest of his orderly, who also was given a severe sentence.

I heard something about this exploit from Christie himself who added that the Mullah had already been arrested with the money in his possession, before he had taken the steps which resulted in his subordinate officers incriminating themselves.
The six 'Strickland' stories are as follows:-

[R.E.H.]

İR E Harbord 1961 All rights reserved