Captain John Fisher

Commandant of the Sirmoor Battalion and member of a dynastic Regimental family,
killed at the battle of Sobraon in 1846.

Portrait of Captain John Fisher by Jivan Ram, who was active as a painter c.1820 to c.1850.
This picture is now held in the Gurkha Museum, Winchester.

Captain John Fisher was born on 12 July 1802 at Kirk Hammerton, near Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. He was the son of the Reverend Henry Fisher, Senior Chaplain Bengal Establishment, who died at Mussoorie on 16 March 1805 aged 72 and was buried in the Chandranagar Cemetery in Dehra Dun.

John Fisher was part of a Sirmoor Battalion dynasty.  He was the elder brother of Major Andrew Fisher, who served with the Regiment from 1826-8, father of Major General JFL Fisher (1852-60) and grandfather of Brigadier General John Fisher (1884-1919).  John Fisher’s daughter Lucy married General Sir Charles Reid who famously commanded the Sirmoor Battalion at the Siege of Delhi in 1857.

He arrived in India in March 1816.  On 1 March 1817 he was appointed Cornet in the 24th Light Dragoons. The London Gazette announcing this appointment has not been found but should indicate whether or not he got it by purchase.  The date he surrendered the Cometcy has not come to light either, but the London Gazette of 24 July 1819 announced that Ensign Charles M. Dighton was to be Cornet in the 24 Light Dragoons ‘from half-pay of the 84 Foot vice John Fisher who exchanges.  Dated 1 December 1818’.  There is no known record of whether John Fisher exchanged directly into the 84th Foot.

He was nominated as a Cadet on 12 July 1818 on attaining the age of 16 years (his application papers for an Honourable East India Company Cadetship are in the British Library, India Section).  As an Ensign he did duty with the 1/7th Native Infantry (NI), the 1/25th NI and 1/27th NI before being posted to the 1/4th NI in March 1820.  The Indian Army Lists show him for many years as being on the strength of the 23rd NI which, prior to 1824 was a battalion of the 14th NI.

He was posted to the Sirmoor Battalion on 31 January 1824 and was Adjutant from April 1824 to April 1827.  He commanded the battalion’s detachment of two companies at the siege and capture of Bhurtpore in December 1825 and was mentioned in Divisional Orders of 19 January 1826 by General Nicholls.  He was Second in Command of the Sirmoor Battalion from May 1827 to 1 January 1843 and was appointed to command from 2 January 1843.  He was one of the officers of the Regiment given a grant of land in the Doon and was for a time Assistant Political Officer in Dehra in addition to his military duties.

The Sirmoor Battalion under his command served in the Army of Reserve at Ferozepore from December 1843 to April 1844 and fought at the Battles of Aliwal on 28 January 1826 and Sobraon.  In a letter to Frederick Young after Aliwal he gave a first-hand account of the battle:

‘On the morning of the 28th I arose at 3 o’clock, wrote my will, and some farewell letters. At gunfire we all took our places in the Brigades, and our little army marched towards the enemy’s position across the open plain in separate columns of Brigades. We knew that many a gallant spirit would be laid low ere many hours passed away, but we all chatted and joked as we moved along, confident of victory at any rate, though we only numbered 5,000 Infantry, 3,000 Cavalry and 34 guns, principally 6 pounders! The enemy had 32,000 men and 67 guns in position almost all of larger calibre than ours. Fearful odds!  About half past nine we came to the old bed of the Sutlej and saw the Sikh army drawn up in battle array glistening in the morning sun: their heavy bodies of cavalry masking their guns, and quietly awaiting our attack, whilst a conspicuous chief, on a white charger, now and then dashed along their front. We descended the bank to the level flat below which, up to the enemy’s position was a hard plain on which one might have played cricket—without a bush or a tree between the armies. The morning beautifully clear, and not a particle of dust as we drew up in line, the Infantry in Echelon of Brigades the Cavalry on the Flank under Cureton. The Artillery in the intervals of Brigades and with the Cavalry. This was all done as if on the Meerut parade and when all was ready about half past 10 the whole line advanced steadily towards the Front.  The enemy’s cavalry slowly drew off to the rear to unmask their guns, and when our line had got within about 800 yards, the ball opened with a discharge of all their heavy guns; the round shot came leaping across the flat like huge cricket balls distinctly visible to the eye as they bounded towards us but dashing to atoms, nevertheless, every man and horse they hit. They went steadily on — heads and legs and arms flying — till within about 500 yards when our Artillery opened: but at first had only the effect of making the enemy redouble their fire and it became so tremendous on our Brigades, that Wheeler promptly ordered his whole line of three Regiments to lie fiat on their faces. Here we lay for 10 minutes, the Sikh guns thundering away, answered merrily by ours, and our two big Howitzers playing over our heads from the rear with shells. The balls actually hailed upon us in all shapes, round shot, shells, canister and grape, and the din was infernal! Wheeler at last found that the enemy began to hit our range so exactly that he ordered us to rise, and advance, and when we had got about 150 yards nearer to their guns he again made us lie flat. Just as I rose when we were ordered to advance, one of my poor fellows was hit by a round shot, which sent his head and shoulders close past me to the rear 10 or 12 yards, his cap flying some feet into the air and whirling round and round. We laid on our second hard couch for about 10 minutes more, when the fire of the Sikhs began to slacken and the word was passed. Up and at them. We gave our old Deyvah Hurra which was taken up by the rest of the Brigade and went pell-mell at the entrenchment at the double. Within about 80 yards the Sikh Infantry hidden behind the entrenchment gave a tremendous volley and then—turned tail! The wild Hurra appeared to terrify them, and we rushed at the guns on the left flank of my Regiment which we spiked (six being taken by my little fellows and seven by the rest of the Brigade) and we kept continually pitching into the mass of broken Infantry flying sulkily to the river. The Lancers and Cavalry charged—the Infantry pushed on, the guns galloped to the Front, and poured in grape and shrapnel. Guns were spiking in all directions as the enemy relinquished them in their flight, and with shout and halloo we drove them bang into the Sutlej, their Cavalry treading down their own infantry in the river in the wildest confusion!  Our guns drew up on the river side and blazed away into their panic-struck masses on the opposite bank, the Sikhs hurried away in utter dismay until not one was visible across the Sutlej as far as the eye could reach over the plain. The victory was most complete. We took every gun they had – 69 – brass of large calibre and most beautiful pieces – all their immense magazines of powder and ball – all their large commissariat stores – the whole of their camp and camp equipage as it stood.  Hundreds of camels, horses, and gun bullocks. The whole material of their army.  In fact they took nothing with them except the wet clothes on their backs well ducked in the Sutlej.  The whole thing was right well managed and though of course we have suffered still our loss is small compared to the brilliant result. It is I believe about 200 killed and 500 wounded, only five officers killed. My little fellows behaved beautifully; we were first into the entrenchment and spiked the first gun.  We have been so much praised and buttered from the General commanding down to the private soldier that we hardly know whether we stand on our heads or our heels! The Lancers passed us on the field after the battle – drew up and gave the Gurkhas three hearty cheers — the 50th and the 53rd did the same at different times.  I had some wonderful escapes and am grateful to a gracious God for preserving me. I had a grape shot through my coat, and a musket ball ditto, and a ball through my holsters, and the round shot knocked over men a foot of me. Liptrot, my second in command, had his horse shot under him by a cannon ball, and the heel of his boot carried off by another. Reid, my Adjutant, had his horse hit by a round shot in his nose carrying away the check of his bit but in person we are all untouched. The loss of our Brigade is double that of the whole of the Infantry combined. The Sikhs will never meet us on an open field again, depend upon it.

My little fellows have had hard work since the battle. We picked up all the guns from the river on the evening of the 28th, and have been daily at work ever since. We are now guarding the Fords with a Squadron of the 1st Cavalry (commanded by George Sandhorn), but Sir Harry told us yesterday : I work you hard just now because I have dependence on you and you are the only light Bobs in camp, but you shall have a holiday by and bye. After that we cannot grumble. We all slept on the field of battle wrapped in our cloaks and although hungry and cold we were as you may suppose as happy as Princes!  Such a regular thrashing the Sikhs have not had as yet’.

John Fisher was killed at Sobraon on 10 February 1846 and posthumously mentioned in despatches for his gallantry.

He held the Sutlej Campaign Medal (Sikh War) (1845-46) inscribed ALIWAL with clasp SOBRAON. This is framed and in the possession of The Cavalry and Guards Club, Piccadilly, London. Had he survived, Fisher would have been entitled to the First India Medal (1799-1826) with clasp BHURTPORE, but it was not produced until 1851 when it was issued only to those then surviving.

John Fisher married Lucy, third daughter of the Reverend John Vincent, also a Chaplain of the Bengal Establishment, at Saharanpur on 2 June 1825.

In 1993 Mrs E.M. Dixon presented to The Gurkha Museum, Winchester, a silver plate and silver bowl said to have been captured at Bhurtpore by Lieutenant John Fisher, together with a portrait of him (shown above). They are currently on show there.


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