Camel Corps, 72nd Highlanders
Relatively little is known about Thomas Owens as compared to many of his fellow
soldiers of the day as there are no soldier’s papers (series WO 97) available for him
at the National Archives. As a result, information about Thomas and his military
service must be gleamed from various rolls which are available.
On the 8th of February, 1853, Thomas transferred to H.M. 98th Regiment with the
rank of private as a volunteer from the Royal North Lincoln Militia. He was assigned
Regimental Number 4083, with his name was recorded as Thomas Owen, not Owens.
Odds are that Thomas was illiterate and unable to notice the mistake made in
recording his name.
On the 26th of August, 1857, Thomas transfers to the 72nd Highlanders along with
numerous other men of the 98th Regiment. Still a private, he was assigned a new
regimental number of 52 and his name was recorded on this occasion in the regimental
records as Owens and not Owen. On the 4th of September, 1857, Thomas Owens sailed
for India with the 72nd Highlanders on board the S.S. Scotia, the regiment having been
ordered to India as reinforcements for the suppression of the Indian Mutiny which had
erupted in May of that year. The Highlanders arrived in India on the 10th of December,
During the Indian Mutiny, the 72nd Highlanders took part in the Central India
campaign in the force under the command of Major General Sir Hugh Rose, K.C.B.
However, Thomas Owens is shown on a roll of a small detachment under the command
of Lieutenant Vesey consisting of approximately 100 officers and men of the 72nd
Highlanders who were chosen to form a Camel Corps for detached duty from the
main forces of the regiment.
The Camel Corps detachment of the 72nd Highlanders was attached to the 2nd Brigade, Rajputana Field Force, a movable
column formed under the command of Brigadier Parke. The other units in Brigadier Parke’s column were the Aden Troop of
the Scinde Horse, the 2nd Southern Mahratta Horse, Gaekwar’s Horse, a detachment of two nine pound guns from the
Bombay Artillery and detachments from the 8th Hussars, the 2nd Bombay Light Cavalry, and the Gujrat Irregular Cavalry.
The composition of the column was such that it was highly mobile enabling it to intercept and engage the fast moving
retreating rebel forces.
A British victory in the Mutiny no longer in doubt, the mission of Brigadier Parke’s column was to pursue and engage the
forces under the notorious rebel leaders Rao Sahib and Tantia Topee with a view towards capturing these ring leaders of
the rebellion and to help pacify and secure large areas of Central India. The column spent 17 months in the field engaged
in physically demanding and dangerous campaigning in an extremely hostile climate. The column secured a major victory
over the rebels at Chota Udaipur (or Udepur) where the column surprised and defeated a large force of rebels.
The Revolt in Central India relates the story of this battle in which the Highlanders played a key role:
“After marching 240 miles in ten days, Brigadier Parke, … came up with Tantia Topa and Rao Sahib on the 1st December,
opposite Udepur on the River Or. The town is situated on the right bank of the river, surrounded by dense jungle and
mountains, with the exception of a small clear space, leading up to the town, on which the rebels had been encamped. Udepur
is on the direct road to Baroda from Kuksi and the east.
On the 30th November Brigadier Parke reached the village of Chandpur, 45 miles west of Kuksi, and learnt that the rebel
army had marched that morning to Udepur, en route to Baroda and Gujarat. The force marched that night through dense
jungle for 22 miles, at the end of which the narrow road debouched into a less thickly wooded plain, which gradually opened
out as they advanced. Shortly afterwards the advance guard of the Aden Troop sabred some of the men of the enemy’s
outlying picquets, which gave the alarm. Brigadier Parke moved rapidly forward, throwing out skirmishers of the 72nd
Highlanders. The cavalry was formed in two lines in rear of the artillery and infantry support; the Irregular Cavalry in the
first and the 8th Hussars and 2nd Bombay Cavalry in the second line.
The enemy, mostly well-mounted cavalry soon appeared in front and on both flanks, with the evident intention of opposing the
advance. To clear the right flank, the Southern Mahratta Horse under Lieutenant Kerr made a brilliant charge, and captures
a standard. The artillery now moved forward with the Highlanders skirmishing on both flanks; the enemy’s trumpets sounded
the “Advance, and they came on with a bold front, but were turned by the artillery and Enfield rifles; at the same time
another body threatened the British left. Front was changed, the Gujrat Horse at the same time charging to the original
front, led by Lieutenant Newton, driving the enemy before them through the town of Udepur, across the river and into the
mountains. The artillery was now brought up rapidly into new positions and opened fire with canister. The ground in the
immediate front was much broken; and several small huts on the right were held my matchlockmen. These were cleared by a
party of Highlanders under Lieutenant Champion, and the rebels fled past the right, giving the opportunity for a charge by
the 8th Hussars under Captain Clowes, 2nd Bombay Cavalry, under Captain Smith, and a Troop of Mahratta Horse under
Lieutenant Bannerman, who distinguished himself, and had his horse wounded.
The enemy were now driven across the river, which runs almost in a semicircle round the town, the opposite side and a small
island were held by their infantry, of whom a considerable number were killed, including many dressed in British uniforms
and accoutrements. The cavalry pursued, killing many, until the remainder were scattered in the jungles and mountains.
The loss of the enemy, who were three or four thousand strong, amounted to some 300 men; of the British forces 10 were
killed and 15 wounded. In his Despatch Brigadier Parke brought to notice the services of that portion of the 2nd Brigade
which was not present in the action, “but which has marched upwards of fifteen hundred miles during the hot, as also during
the rainy season in the pursuit of rebels throughout the greater part of Rajputana, through Malwa, and has crossed eight
principal rivers on this side of India, some at great risk and with much difficulty.” (Id. at pgs. 220-222.)
Thomas Owens’ entitlement to the Indian Mutiny medal with Central India clasp is verified by the medal roll for the 72nd
Highlanders. The men of the Camel Corps of the 72nd Highlanders, as did the men of Ross’ Camel Corps (comprised
primarily of men detached from the 3rd Battalion, Rifle Brigade) and probably the Camel Corps detachments from 71st
Regiment and the 80th Regiment, received the Indian Mutiny medal with clasp for Central India. The medals to the men
of these camel corps, like Thomas Owens’ medal, are all named to their parent regiment, in Thomas’ case, the 72nd
Highlanders, with no indication of their extraordinary and unusual service with a camel corps. There is ample precedence
for Mutiny medals issued to men on detached duty being named in this manner, as for example, the men of the 64th, 78th,
84th and 90th Regiments detached from their regiments to serve with Captain Barrow’s famed Volunteer Cavalry in the
relief of the besieged garrison at Lucknow, who received their Mutiny medals named to their parent regiment.
In December of 1860, Thomas Owens again transferred regiments, this time to the 4th Company, 2nd Battalion of the
Bombay Artillery where he was given the rank of gunner and the regimental number of 5263. His name was again
recorded in the regimental records as Thomas Owens, which can now be assumed to have been his actual name. Following
his transfer to the Bombay Artillery, Thomas Owens’ trail goes cold.