|Inspector General of Police, North-West Provinces of India and
Bengal Staff Corps,
late Agra Volunteer Cavalry and 35th B.N.I.
Alfred Ollivant was the second son of the Right Reverend Alfred Ollivant, Bishop of
LLandaff. He was born at Lampeter, Wales on the 2nd of August, 1836, and
baptized there on the 28th of that month.
Alfred received a fine education, attending Rugby School and then graduating from
Trinity College at Cambridge at age 19 on the 3rd of May, 1855. He was nominated
a direct cadet for the Bengal Infantry by HEIC Director Henry Prinsep and passed
the examination on the 18th of February, 1857. Alfred embarked for India by the
overland route on the 4th of March, 1857, and as was customary, was commissioned
an Ensign in the Bengal Infantry with seniority calculated from that date.
Alfred Ollivant arrived at Fort William on the 20th of April, 1857. A newly
commissioned Ensign, a “Griff” in the slang of British India, Alfred was posted to
the 35th Bengal Native Infantry.
On May 10th of 1857, the Indian Mutiny began when the 3rd Light Cavalry rose
against their officers at the military cantonment at Meerut in Northern India. The
uprising quickly spread to most of the Bengal native regiments and soon most of the
Bengal Presidency was engaged in a brutal civil war in which no quarter was asked or
given by either side.
It is hard to trace Ensign Ollivant’s movements during the early stages of the Mutiny. His Regiment, the 35th B.N.I., was
disarmed without incident at Phillour on the 25th of June, 1857, while on the march with Nickolson’s column to the join the
British siege forces on the Ridge at Delhi. It appears, however, that Ensign Ollivant was not present with his regiment when
it was disarmed and appears to actually have been traveling to join up with it when the outbreak of the Mutiny occurred,
stranding him in what had overnight become hostile territory.
Henry Keene in “Fifty-Seven”- Some Account of the Administration of Indian Districts During the Revolt of the Bengal Army
“…The district of Aligarh is named after an old fort about two miles north of the city of Koil…
The force present in May consisted of 300 men of the 9th Native Infantry, commanded by Major Eld; reinforced on the news
of the Meerut outbreak by the right wing of the 1st Regiment of Cavalry of the Gwalior Contingent, under Captain Alexander.
On the evening of the 20th the Infantry broke into mutiny, burned the office, and carried off about thirty thousand pounds
in specie, with which they march off to the insurgent head-quarters in Dehli. The officers, civil and military, were allowed to
depart to Hathras, a town south of Aligarh, on the road to Agra, which they reach in safety. Here they were joined by a
planter named Nichterlein, and other refugees, Mr. Nichterlein’s son having been killed on the way. On the 26th they were
reinforced by a body of mounted Volunteers raised by Mr. Saunders, and commanded by Mr. Wilberforce Greathed, of the
Bengal Engineers, one of three brothers who took very distinguished parts in the events that were going on in the
neighborhood. Other members of this little force were Messrs. Arthur Cocks, C.S., J. O’B. Tandy, Harington, and Castle;
Ensign Ollivant (since a prominent officer of the Provincial Police), and Ensign Marsh. These gallant fellows, having
performed the main object of their expedition- which was the relief of a factory- proceeded to Abigarh, where they
reinstated Mr. William Watson, the then magistrate (who afterwards died of cholera in Agra Fort), and remained there
till the 2nd of July, when they were driven out by overwhelming invasions, and retired to Agra.
To return to Aligarh. It has been said that the Volunteers remained there till the 2nd of July. That is, however, not strictly
true, though so stated by Mr. Bramly. The fact is, that only eleven so remained, the majority having been recalled to Agra
on the 21st of June. On the 30th of that month, these eleven gentlemen performed a noble exploit. Receiving intimation that
the rabble of Koil were on the way to attack them in a factory where they were temporarily quartered, flying the green flag
of Islam, and sworn to have their heads posted over the city-gates by nightfall, they mounted their horses to receive the
visit. Presently the advance guard, a body of more than 500 men, were perceived marching up the road. Watson’s party
immediately charged. Fourteen of the assailants were slain; the rest fled in every direction, and their stragglers fell into
the hands of the villagers by the wayside, who stripped them to the skin. The names of Watson’s intrepid comrades are
A. Cocks, C.S., Outram, C.S., Ensign Ollivant, Ensign Marsh, Messrs. Saunders, Tandy, Harington, Hind, Castle, and
Burkinyoung, Stewart Clark, M.D., for such a deed ought to be fully recorded…”
Ensign Ollivant’s service records reflect that he also served in the Agra Volunteer Cavalry, being present at the skirmish at
Madrook, near Agra, with the Neemuch mutineers on the 1st of July, 1857, and at the battles fought in and around Agra on
the 5th of July and the 10th of October of 1857.
For his services on in assisting Mr. Watson, the Magistrate of Aligarh in holding that District for approximately six weeks
following the outbreak of the Mutiny, Lord Canning placed Ensign Ollivant’s services at the disposal of the Government of
the North-Western Provinces and, although Ensign Ollivant had only been in India just a little over two months, appointed him
Adjutant of the Military Police at Jhansi. On the 1st of March, 1858, Alfred was promoted a Lieutenant in the 9th Bengal
Native Infantry, but continued to do duty with the Military Police at Jhansi. In that capacity he was engaged in several
actions during the Bundelkhand campaign in 1858 and 1859, including the attack on Serowlie and the affair with Burgem Singh.
For his services during the Indian Mutiny, Lieutenant Ollivant received the Indian Mutiny medal without clasp. This was the
only campaign medal he received during his career. Interestingly, since Lieutenant Ollivant qualified for the Indian Mutiny
medal as a military officer serving in a civil capacity (i.e., in the Agra Volunteer Cavalry and the Jhansi Police), his medal is
named in the customary style for Indian Mutiny medals issued to civilians, that is, officially impressed naming with no rank or
Lieutenant Ollivant was admitted to the Bengal Staff Corps on the 18th of February, 1861. He was promoted Captain on the
20th of February, 1869, Major on the 4th of March, 1877, and Lieutenant-Colonel on the 20th of February, 1883. While still
an officer in the Bengal Army, Alfred Ollivant continued to be employed in the Indian Police for the remainder of his career
in India, never returning to active service with his regiment. While it is hard to envision this type of arraignment today, due
to the critical need for good men to help administer a colony the size of India, it was not unusual for British military officers
during the Raj to serve much of their career in a wide variety of civil employment and indeed, the lack of officers actually
serving with their regiment is one of the factors often cited by historians as helping to create the conditions which gave rise
to the Indian Mutiny.
Alfred Ollivant’s career in the Police included entering the Military Police upon it organization at the close of the Indian
Mutiny in 1858. He was engaged with this unit in many small, but sharp actions in Bundelkhand in helping to pacify the region
for several years following the official conclusion of the Mutiny. When the Civil Police was raised in Bundelkhand in 1862
to succeed the Military Police, Alfred Ollivant was appointed to do duty with that organization.
Alfred was promoted to Colonel in the Bengal Army on the 20th of May, 1887 (The Times, May 21, 1887, p.15). Colonel
Ollivant was made District Superintendent of Police at Jhansi and Inspector General in 1890. He was appointed the
District Superintendent of Police at Meerut in 1891.
Colonel Ollivant retired from the Bengal Army in 1895 and returned to England. He is shown in the 1901 Census enumeration
as a guest at the Great Central Hotel (now the Landmark London Hotel) in the Marylebone section of London. With him was
his wife, Mary Clementine (nee Davis), age 48, who is stated to have been born in Meerut, India.
Sadly, Colonel Ollivant’s son, William Spencer Ollivant, died at Candia, Crete on 21 August 1897. At the time of his death, he
was a 24 year old Lieutenant on active service with his regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders, which was serving as part of an
international peacekeeping force between the Greek majority who wanted the island to be part of the Greek empire and the
Muslim minority who wanted the island to stay a Turkish territory. His death is commemorated on a plaque in St. Giles
Cathedral in Edinburgh of the names of officers and men of the Seaforth Highlanders who died during the International
Occupation of Crete in 1897 and the Sudan Campaign in 1898.
Colonel Alfred Ollivant died on the 6th of June, 1901
at Folkestone, England. He was 64 years old. His
obituary appeared in The Times on June 10th, 1901.
Various Hart’s Army Lists and published Indian Army Lists.
Alfred Ollivant Cadet Papers- IOR/L/Mil/9/240/729-35
1851, 1881 & 1901 Census Enumeration for the United Kingdom.
Military Men in Civil Employ-
Ubique, War Services of All Officers of H.M.’s Bengal Army.
Henry Keene, “Fifty-Seven”- Some Account of the
Administration of Indian Districts During the Revolt of the
The Times, August 25, 1897, pg. 1.
The Times, June 10, 1901, pg. 6.