|COLONEL RUSSELL MORLAND SKINNER
Russell Morland Skinner's family can be traced from Sir Robert Skynner, or Skinner, a Norman
knight who served under William the Conqueror in his expedition to England, and received from his
royal master in recompense for his valiant services the lands of Bolinbroke, in Lincolnshire,
accompanied with the hand in marriage of the daughter of their former owner, Robert Bolinbroke, a
Saxon of the conquered side.
Russell’s father, also Russell Morland Skinner, was an old India hand. Born in 1809, he was educated
at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge, joining the Bengal Civil Service in 1829, later
serving as a Judge at Kishnaghur. He married Lousia, the daughter of another member of the of
the Bengal Civil Service, Charles Becher of Chancellor House, Turnbridge Wells, Kent. Our Russell
Morland Skinner was one of nine children of the union of Russell Senior and Lousia, being born at
Beerbhoom, India on the 11th of October 1837 and baptized at Calcutta on the 27th of December.
Like his father before him, Russell decided to seek fortune and glory in the service of the East
India Company. Nominated a cadet for the Bengal Infantry by HEIC Director Sir Robert Campbell
in December of 1853, Russell passed his examination at East India House on the 1st of June 1855
and attended the East India Company Military Seminary at Addiscombe during the 1854 and 1855
Russell was commissioned an Ensign on the 7th of December 1855, embarking for India via the overland route on the 20th of that
month and arriving at Fort William, Calcutta on the 2nd of February, 1856. Russell was initially ordered to do duty with the 11th
Native Infantry until the 29th of March when he was permanently gazetted to the 29th Bengal Native Infantry.
On May 10th, 1857, the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry and the 11th Bengal Native Infantry mutinied at the large military cantonment
at Meerut, the spark that was soon to set ablaze most of the Bengal Presidency in what was to become known as the Great Indian
Mutiny. Within weeks virtually all of the Bengal native cavalry regiments and most of the Bengal native infantry regiments had
either mutinied or been disarmed. Soon tens of thousands of well-armed rebels were involved in a war of no quarter with their
numerically inferior former masters and the civilian European community.
At the time of the rising at Meerut, Russell’s regiment, the 29th N.I. under the command of Lieutenant Colonel J. Graham, was
stationed at Moradabad, approximately 100 miles east of Delhi on the banks of the Ramganga River. The sepoys of the 29th
N.I. gave every appearance of remaining loyal and even participated in actions in defense of the town against mutineers from
other stations. However, on the 2nd of June, 1857, the sepoys showed their true colors by seizing and looting the Treasury.
Their lust for plunder not satiated by the small amount of currency and other valuables actually in the safe, the disappointed
sepoys soon turned on their European officers and the civilian authorities, threatening to murder them and their families.
However, unlike the horrific massacres of Europeans which occurred in many of the other stations, the mutinous sepoys of the
29th N.I. finally allowed the officers and their families to leave Moradabad unharmed, bound for the hill station Naini Tal in the
foothills of the outer Himalayas.
On 15th June 1857, just two weeks after the mutiny of the sepoys of his regiment, Russell was promoted Lieutenant. Following
Russell’s presumed safe arrival in Naini Tal with the other European fugitives from Moradabad, Russell’s whereabouts are
unknown until December of 1857 when he received orders to do duty with the Nepal Contingent.
The Nepal Contingent, under the command of Captain H.W. Baugh, was part of a field force under the command of Colonel J. K.
McCausland who had been charged with protecting the Kamon Hills. Russell was to serve in several sharp actions while serving
with the Nepal Contingent in the Teraie (the area of forest and jungle lands lying at the foot of the lower range of the
Himalaya mountains), including the actions at Hundwanee on the 17th September, 1857 and the 1st of January 1858, and the
battle of Churpoorah on the 10th of February 1858. According to several sources, during the battle of Churpoorah, at the risk
of his own life Russell saved the life of his Commanding Officer, Captain Baugh.
Russell describes the battle at Churpoorah in the following account:
“The enemy have (sic) threatened us on two sides for a long time, so we started off at 10 o'clock p.m. of the 9th instant, to
meet them, and marched to a place 17 miles off, where they were entrenched; we arrived here at about 6 o'clock in the
morning. They were expecting some of the party that were encamped on the left side of us, to pay them a visit that very
morning, and when their cavalry regiment saw us coming, who were dressed the same as theirs, they fancied we were their
friends, and came forward to meet us, but directly they came closer, and found out their mistake, they bolted off to their
camp, and gave the alarm; but we had time to fall in and fire a couple of rounds of Shrapnel into them before they had
turned out; but when they did begin firing, they did it in earnest. They opened five guns on us, and as we had only two, they
got the best of it for sometime (sic), until we disabled their 9-pounders, which were playing on us beautifully, as you may
imagine, when I tell you Capt. M (Captain William Maxwell) , who commanded one gun, had his hat knocked off his head by one
round shot, another grazed his foot and lamed the gunner standing next him, and a third, hit one of the wheels of the gun.
A man was bowled over on my left, and another shot went so close over my head, that if I had not stooped down it would have
done for me. They fired 80 rounds at us with their guns; we fired about 50 rounds, and then we got the order to charge.
The jungle was frightfully thick, and yet so low that they could see us going along the whole way, and kept turning the guns
on our left, and firing the grape at us until we got at their flank, while about 500 of the 66th Goorkhas charged them in front.
They did not run away as usual, but fought it out at their guns. They came rushing out of their huts, and cut at us with their
tulwars. Baugh (Captain Baugh, commanding the Nepal Contingent) was nearly polished off. He and I were about the first into
the camp. A man had got hold of his horse's reins, and was just potting him with his blunderbuss, when I rushed up and seized
hold of his gun with my left hand, and cut him down with my sword in the other hand. They fought like demons; just as bad as
the street fighting at Delhi or Lucknow. There were officers who were there, who had seen lots of service; and they said
they were never in such a smart engagement before.”
Following the attack at Churpoorah, Colonel J. Graham, the Commanding Officer of the 29th Bengal Native Regiment, is reported
to have sent correspondence to the Commander-in-Chief recommending Russell be awarded the Victoria Cross for putting his
own life at great risk in order to save the life of Captain Baugh. Russell was not destined to receive the Victoria Cross; he did,
however, receive the Indian Mutiny medal, named to him as a Lieutenant in the Nepal Contingent.
The nominal medal roll for medal for the Indian Mutiny awarded to the men of the Nepal Contingent, (British Library ref.
L/MIL/5/96) consists of five entries, all European Officers. All medals to the Contingent were issued without clasps and the
qualifying service for all recipients was the same: the defense of Kumon and the action of Churpoorah. Those named officers
Captain F. W. Baugh, Late 26th N.I.
Captain J. P. Clarkson, late 44th N.I.
Lieutenant and Brevet Captain F.G. Thellusson, late 29th N.I.
Lieutenant R. M. Skinner, late 56th N.I.
Lieutenant R. B. Graham, late 13th N.I.
Subsequent to his service with the Nepal Contingent, Russell was posted to serve with the Ramghur Irregular Cavalry, a native
cavalry regiment, and appointed Adjutant and Acting Second-in-Command. Following the disbanding of the Ramghur Irregular
Cavalry in April of 1862, Russell found himself in the Dorunda cantonment at Chota Nagpore without an active posting to a
regiment. Several senior officers wrote letters recommending Russell to the Commander in Chief and he soon received a posting
to the Military Police, a paramilitary force under the control of the civilian authorities but commanded by serving Bengal Army
For the remainder of his military career Russell served with the Military Police. Russell appears to have been well suited for
service as an officer with the Military Police as he received several favorable mentions in Commissioners Reports for among
other activities his work in cutting crime, in inspiring his men to make more arrests, and for his development of a controversial
plan to cut crime by dealing with the root causes of crime. His controversial proposal involved providing individual plots of land
at no cost to members of a migrant group long suspected of being responsible for a large percentage of reported crimes.
Russell was appointed Assistant Superintendent First Grade in 1862, District Superintendent in August of 1863, assigned to do
unspecified “Special Duty” in June of 1873, and promoted to 1st Grade District Superintendent in August of 1876. Russell also
continued to receive promotions in rank in the Bengal Staff Corps, being promoted Captain in 1868, Major in 1876, Lieutenant-
Colonel in 1881, and Colonel in 1885. Russell retired from the Army as a Colonel in 1888.
At some point following his retirement, the exact date of which is lost to history, Russell somewhat surprisingly left India, the
country in which he was born and where he had resided for the greater part of his life. Russell is next found in the 1891 Census
of England living with his wife and two of their children in Ealing, Middlesex.
On the 21st of January, 1908, Colonel Russell Morland Skinner, age 60, late Bengal Staff Corps and the Bengal Military Police,
of 27 Ventnor Villas, Hove, Sussex, died in London. Maria Josephine, his wife of 41 years, survived him. He left a probate
estate of over £6,000, a not insubstantial sum at the time.
In August of 1859 Russell wed Maria Josephine Dumargus, the daughter of John Shore Dumargus, a Judge of the Bengal Civil
Service. Russell and Maria were to have eight children together. Interestingly, their children included Russell Morland Skinner
III, a rubber planter who in turn was the father of two of Russell’s grandsons, Alexander Bowie Skinner, a career Indian Army
officer, and Bernard Skinner, a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy and the Captain of HMS Amethyst. Sadly, Lieutenant
Commander Bernard Skinner would become a household name in England when he died of the wounds he received on the 22nd of
April, 1949 on the Yangtze River in China at the start of what would become known as the “Yangtze Incident”.