|MAJOR-GENERAL WILLIAM ASHBURNER
William Ashburner was born on the 10th of May 1818 at Byculla, India (now part of Mumbai). He was the son of William Page
Ashburner and Hester Maria, the daughter of George Elliot of Blackheath, Kent. William’s father, William Page Ashburner,
was then a merchant employed by the Bombay firm of Forbes & Co. but was to rise to become a partner in Forbes & Co. and in
1824 to be elected Mayor of Bombay. William received a classical and mathematical education, having studied in London with a
Mr. Findley, most probably a crammer for students aspiring to join the East India Company’s service.
Nominated a direct cadet for the Bombay Cavalry for the 1836-37 season by EIC Director John Forbes, William passed the
examination on the 4th of January 1837 and was commissioned a Cornet in the Bombay Army. Having arrived in India, William
was posted to the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry in December of 1837 and promoted to Lieutenant in March of 1840.
In 1842, William participated with his regiment in the First Afghan War. The 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry took part in the
advance on Candahar with the force under the command of Major-General Nott and in the operations leading` to the re-
occupations of Ghuznee and Cabul. William was severely wounded in the second action with the enemy near the village of
Hykulzie, in the Pisheen Valley, Scinde, on the 28th of April 1842 when the Scinde Field Force under the command of Major-
General England attacked a strong position of the enemy. Granted twelve months pay for his “dangerous and severe wounds”,
William also received the 1st Afghan War medal with the Ghuznee and Cabul reverse. William also seems to have obtained a
souvenir during this campaign of a Russian coin that he had mounted as a fob, as well as a custom scrolled silver riband bar
with the inscription “Ghuzni”.
William recovered enough from his wounds to serve as Adjutant of the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry when it formed part of the
Scinde Field Force in the campaign of 1843. Following the battle of Meeanee, General Napier’s force occupied the fort of
Hyderabad, six miles from Meeanee. After receiving reinforcements General Napier’s force totaled over 5,000 men including
a force of cavalry of over a 1,000 sabres. Notwithstanding the defeat and surrender of most of the Balooch Amirs at the
battle of Meeanee on the 17th of February, Sher Mahomed Khan Talpur, the Chief of Meerpoor, was still at large and was
threatening Hyderabad with his army which was estimated at being over 20,000 men strong, although that figure was probably
grossly exaggerated. Sher Mahomed sent General Napier a message giving Napier 24 hours to vacate the fort at Hyderabad.
Rather than vacate the fort, on the 24th of March General Napier force’s marched out of Hyderabad and after a march of
four miles, engaged Sher Mohomed’s army and defeated it at the village of Dubba. The 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry, along with
the Scinde Horse, made a brilliant charge against the enemy’s left flank and then rode several miles cutting down the
The 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry was awarded the battle honour “Hyderabad” for its part in the battle. For his part in the
campaign, William received the Scinde medal with Hyderabad reverse. Unfortunately, this medal is not with William’s
remaining medals and but is known to be extant and was sold at auction by DNW in September 1999.
Allen’s India Mail reported in 1847 that Willian was the subject of a charge of misconduct that was tried by a formal court-
Lieut. William Ashburner, 3rd L.C.
Head-quarters, Bombay, 7 December 1846. At a general Court-Martial assembled at Kurrachee, on Friday, April 30,
1846, and of which Lieut-Col. Reid, C.B., of 12th N. I. is president, Lieut. Wm. Ashburner, adj. 3rd Bombay L.C., was brought
to trial on the following charge, viz-
For conduct unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentlemen, when having in camp Shikarpoor, on or about the 39th
June, 1846, when attending a Court of Inquiry for the purpose of assisting Trooper Ram Lall, of the 5th troop, 3rd regt.
L.C., aspersed the character of Lieut. J. W. Younghusband, 8th N.I., lieut. Of police and magistrate at Shikarppor, by
submitting, on behalf of the said Trooper Ram Lall, the following unwarrantable question to Troopers Taxban, Hazaree Sing,
and Seetul Pursad, of the 3rd L.C., “When Lieut. Younghusband ran away, did you come up to where we were?” or words to
that effect, thereby, and by his general demeanour before the Court, casting reflections on the character of the said Lieut.
J. W. Younghusband, and tending to lower it in the estimation of all officers composing the Court of Inquiry, of which
Lieut.-Col. Stack (sic), C.B. was president, and of all who had heard the same.
Camp at Kurrachee, Oct. 15, 1846.
By order of his Exc. Major-General Sir. C.J. Napier, G.C.B.,
Commanding the Troops in Scinde.
(Signed) Edward Green, Major, Assist. Adj.-Gen.
Upon which charge the Court came to the following decision:-
Finding.- The Court having maturely weighted and considered the evidence before it, is of the opinion the prisoner, Lieut.
Ashburner, adjutant 3rd L.C., is not guilty of the charge preferred against his, and does not therefore most fully and most
honourably acquit him of all and every part of the same.
(Signed) A. T. Reid, Lieut.-Col. And President.
(Signed) R. M. Hughes, Capt. Judge Advocate.
Approved and confirmed,
(Signed) Thos. McMahon, Lieut.-Gen. and Commander-in-Chief.
Head-Quarters, Bombay, Dec. 7, 1846.
Lieut. Wm. Ashburner is to be released from arrest, and directed to return to his duty.
Returning to service with his regiment, in August of 1850 William received his own troop when he was promoted Captain in the
3rd Bombay Light Cavalry. He was again to see action with his regiment with the start of the Anglo-Persian War of 1856. The
regiment landed south of Bushire at the start of the Persian Campaign and subsequently took part with the advance guard in
the capture of the fort at Reshire. Thereafter the regiment participated in the march to and from Boorzgoon and was then to
distinguish itself by its famous charge at the battle of Khushab for which two officers of the regiment were awarded the
Victoria Cross. William participated in that celebrated charge by the regiment at Khushab that broke the square of Persian
infantry. It was conventional wisdom that is was impossible for cavalry to break a square of steady infantry, although it had
been achieved twice before, including the charge by the 16th Lancers at Aliwal during the First Sikh War. However, Khushab
was the only time that this feat was accomplished by Indian cavalry. While the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry suffered few
casualties, of the 500 Persian soldiers of the 1st Regular Regiment of Fars who composed the Persian square, only 20 escaped.
For his service during the Persian campaign, William received the India General Service Medal 1854-95 with the clasp for
Persia. The location of this medal is also unknown although it too is known to be extant, having been sold at auction by Christies
In May of 1857 the native regiments stationed at Meerut in the Bengal Presidency mutinied, starting what was to become the
Great Indian Mutiny. Arriving at Poona in November of 1857 upon returning from the campaign in Persia, the 1st Bombay Light
Cavalry soon received orders to join Sir Hugh Rose’s Central India Field Force, which was then just being formed.
Hart’s Army List states that William commanded a detached Field Force against the rebels in the Jhansi and Jalaun Districts
during the monsoon season of 1858 and at the capture of the rebel strongholds at Mow and Mahoni. These activities are more
fully set forth in The Revolt in Central India 1857-58 which describes William’s activities with the Field Force as follows:
In the middle of August a strong detachment of the three arms was sent under Captain Ashburner, 3rd Bombay Cavalry,
towards Mau Mahoni and Kunch to set against Barjur Singh and co-operate with the Kalpi force. Having effectively cleared
the rebels out of the Bhander and Moth Districts, Captain Ashburner marched from Daboh on the 4th September …to
attach the rebels under Thakurs Barjur Singh, Jowahir Signh, Debi Singh, and Medmi Mall who to the number of three or
four thousand had occupied Mau and Mahoni, on either side of the river Pahuj. Continuous and heavy rain since the 31st
August had prevented an earlier attack on the position which the insurgents had chosen on account of its great natural
strength, being intersected by ravines.
On arrival at Mahoni the rebels were found in possession of the nalas, from which they opened fire on the advance guard.
Skirmishers were thrown out with the usual supports, and the guns, opening with shrapnel, soon drove the enemy from their
position, and allowed the force to advance close up to Mahoni, which was cleared by a few shells. The troops then advanced
to the opposite side of the town, facing the fort of Mau, where the enemy had assembled and brought a gun to bear on the
approach by the road; this gun was soon silenced by the artillery, and seeing that the enemy had withdrawn it Captain
Ashburner advanced his whole line. No European cavalry being available at the moment, Veterinary Surgeon Lamb led 50 of
the 3rd Bombay Cavalry in the pursuit of the guns. This party soon overtook the enemy, captured two guns, which were at
once turned on their former owners, and cut up about thirty of them, Surgeon Lamb being wounded in the pursuit. Owing to
the difficulty nature of the ground, which gave secure cover to the enemy, their loss was not heavy, but from 80 to 100
were killed and they were completely dispersed.
On the 5th September Brigadier MacDuff defeated the rebels at Sarawan then miles north of Jalaun. Captain Ashburner
subsequently entered Kachwagarh and the combined operations of the two forces broke up the bands of insurgents in the
For his service during the Indian Mutiny William received the Indian Mutiny medal without clasp, named to him as a Captain in
the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry. This was his fourth campaign medal.
Following the transfer of the East India Company Army to the Crown, William was made a Brevet Major in February of 1861
and was appointed to command the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry when made a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in January of 1863. He
was promoted to substantive Major in May of 1866. In 1867 he was appointed Commandant of the 1st Bombay Light Cavalry
and promoted Colonel in January of 1868. William retired in January of 1875 and was given the honorary rank of Major-
General upon his retirement.
Following his retirement, William moved to Pretoria, Transvaal, South Africa, where he operated an ostrich farm until his
death on the 23rd of October 1888 at the age of 70.
Following in his father’s footsteps, one of William’s sons, Ernest Ashburner, was to raise the Ashburner Light Horse during
the Boer War.