An Officer and a Gentleman – The Life of A.A. Spottiswoode. (originally published in 'Medal News' in 2000.)
Some years ago, whilst putting together a collection of late Victorian era campaign medals, I purchased a Khedive’s Star 1882 in
Salisbury. The medal came as a single without the accompanying British Egypt medal, however it proved to be anything but the
rather plain specimen I was seeking. Unlike the majority of these pieces the medal was named, by engraving, to Lt. A.A.
Spottiswoode 1st Bn. Seaforth Highlanders.
Having checked the Army Lists to confirm his entitlement and indeed his existence, it soon became clear to me that this Officer had
lead something of an interesting life. As Army Lists tend to be rather short on life history, I turned to genealogical sources to help
me. Over a period of time I pieced together the epic life and tragic death of A.A. Spottiswoode. How I did it I will describe later, for
now this is his story.
Arthur Andrew Spottiswoode was never going to be anything other than an officer and a gentleman. When he was born on the 6th
of December 1861 at what is now Vizianagaram on the East Coast of India, the name of Spottiswoode was already well known in
the military world. Colonel Henry Spottiswoode had shot himself on hearing of the mutiny of his troops (55th Bengal Native
Infantry) at Nowshera on the 25th of May 1857 and Captain Hugh Spottiswoode was killed in action at Nusseerab with the 1st
Bombay Light Cavalry on the 23rd of May 1858. Andrew Spottiswoode had fought in Gwailor and commanded the 1st Dragoons in
the Crimea. The father of Arthur Andrew was Molyneaux Capel Spottiswoode, then a Captain with the 24th Madras Native Infantry
but later to rise to Major General in the Madras Staff Corps. Baptised on the 30th of March 1862 at Vizianagaram, the blood of the
military breed was already flowing in his veins.
On Molyneaux’s retirement from the Army (if Generals ever retire) the family moved back to England and took up residence at
Portsea in Hampshire. Arthur Andrew followed his brother, Charles John, into that military edifice known as the Royal Military
Academy Sandhurst and became a ‘Gentleman Cadet’, it was here that the census taker of 1881 found him in training. Duly
commissioned on the 22nd October 1881 as a Lieutenant into the 72nd Foot (who became the 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders
under the Cardwell Reforms of that same year), he began his career in true officer style by going on extended leave.
The 1st Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders were in Lucknow, India in 1881. Their time in India was however to be short as they
departed the sub-continent in February 1882 and landed at Aden in March of that same year. Here they were joined by a 20 year
old ‘wet behind the ears’ officer who must have had little idea of the momentous events that were to befall him in the next few
Arabi, a Colonel in the Egyptian Army had, by a series of military demonstrations, gained almost total power in Egypt. The
European choice, the Khedive Thewfik, had little more than the title. In order to boost the Khedive’s and the European position a
join Royal Navy & French fleet sailed into Alexandria harbour on the 20th of May 1882, however serious religious riots were started
there by the Mohametans in June and the majority of Europeans fled the country.
In late June, in order to maintain the security of the Suez Canal and restore order to Egypt the decision was made to send a force
of around 24,000 men to the area to join the 7,600 men of the Mediterranean Garrison. The first of these men landed at
Alexandria on the 12th of August 1882, following on from the naval bombardment of the forts on the 11th of July and the landing
of Marines. Lieutenant General Wolseley had decided to first secure the canal, and it was to Suez at the southern end of the canal
that the Seaforths deployed. It was there that Arthur Andrew was to see his first action at the seizing of Shaluf on the 20th of
August, during which 2 Highlanders were drowned and his fellow officer Lt. Lang was to distinguish himself.
The Highlanders seized Serapium on the 21st of August before moving on to Ismailia on the 29th of August where they formed
part of the Indian Contingent of the 2nd Division. By the 13th of September the Egyptian army had fallen back to set defences at
Tel-El-Kebir after being ejected from Kassassin on the 9th, it was here that the main battle of the campaign was fought. How lucky
or unlucky the Seaforths considered themselves on that day is arguable. Whilst the Highland Brigade of the Highland Light
Infantry, Camerons, Gordon Highlanders & Black Watch covered themselves in glory, the Seaforths were consigned to a minor roll
on the south side of the canal. They routed the enemy at their objective and captured his guns with the loss of only one man
(1881 Pte. Charles Higgs), but little is ever heard of their part in the great battle.
The pursuit was then on, the Seaforths dashing to Zagazig and on to Cairo where Arabi surrendered the following day. The war
over, it was ‘time for tea and medals’, Lieutenant A.A. Spottiswoode, the junior officer in his Battalion, gaining the Egypt Medal
with bar for Tel-El-Kebir and Khedive’s Star. The Battalion was soon to embark at Alexandria on the 15th of October and
disembark at Portsmouth, where they moved to their new station at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight.
A long period of Home service was to follow during which Spottiswoode took the opportunity to get in long periods of leave, 3
months or more at a time. The Battalion moved to Windsor in May 1884, Aldershot in October 1885, Edinburgh Castle in early
1886, Glasgow in early 1888 and deployed to Dublin in January 1889, whilst there Spottiswoode gained his captaincy on the 26th
of October 1889.
The service in Ireland continued at Fermoy and Tipperary before the Battalion returned to England and Aldershot in March 1895. In
1897 the Battalion took part in the occupation of Crete. A picture of the SNCO’s and officers of the Battalion who took part in this
operation is featured in the April 1898 issue of ‘The Navy & Army Illustrated’. The white foreheads where they had worn sun
helmets contrasting comically with the sunburned faces, Spottiswoode sits second from the right on the front row. A short spell in
Malta left the Battalion ideally placed for it’s next adventure, The Sudan.
In January 1898 the Seaforths were rushed to Egypt, where along with the 1st Warwicks, 1st Lincolnshire, Northumberland
Fusiliers and Cameron Highlanders they formed a British Brigade. The tension between Egypt (backed by Britain) and the Sudan
which was ruled by the religiously fanatical Khalifa had grown over the previous years and it had been decided to act. The Emir
Mahmoud had been given permission to attack the Anglo-Egyptian advance around Berber, however before he could he was
attacked himself at the Atbara (8th April 1898), the Seaforths were in the centre of the infantry that swept the Dervish away. The
British loss at the Atbara totalled 5 officers & 21 men killed, the Sudanese losses were estimated at 3000. The British went into
summer quarters on the Nile whilst a second Brigade was formed and the advance was begun again in late August.
By the 31st of August the Anglo-British army had reached a point just north of Omdurman on the banks of the Nile, here they
entrenched in a zareba to await the Khalifa’s army. The Dervish army, following a withdrawl of Egyptian troops, Camel Corps and
some RHA to the zareba, attacked with an army of 40,000 men on the morning of the 2nd of September. The Dervish were duly
repulsed with a loss of 2,000 men, no attacker having got within 300m of the zareba. The British followed up the Dervish retreat,
routing the Green & Black Flag armies and entering Omdurman that afternoon. The Dervish losses were around 11,000 men on
that day, huge when compared to that of the British 48 dead, a large proportion being due to the ‘ambush’ of the 21st Lancers. In
the dispatches for the campaign, written in the London Gazette of the 30th of September, Captain Spottiswoode is mentioned as
having performed ‘excellent service’. The Queens Sudan, 2 bar Khedive’s Sudan and an Order of the Medjidie (4th Class) were to
follow for this campaign.
The Seaforth’s stayed in Egypt until late 1902 before sailing to India where they were garrisoned at Nasirabad, Spottiswood having
been promoted to Major on the 7th of December 1901. He became the Regimental 2 i/c on the 6th of June 1903 before assuming
command of the Battalion on the 22nd of December 1905 having been with the same unit for 24 years. Whilst in India (including
Nowshera) he commanded his Battalion in operations on the North West Frontier in the Mohmand country and was in the
engagement at Matta. For this he received the I.G.S.M. with bar for North West Frontier 1908. Retirement from the army must
have been a shock for a man who had been so linked with it for all his life, however it became inevitable and Colonel Spottiswoode
retired on his date of promotion, 26 January 1910, on full pay. He returned to England and took up residence in Southsea where
he joined the Royal Albert Yacht Club and helped to recruit officers in the Portsmouth area during the First World War and serve
on the Local Tribunal.
Having no family of his own, he moved in with his brother’s family at 5 Alhambra Road, Southsea and this was to be his final place
of residence. In failing health, he became greatly depressed when his brother, Charles John, died suddenly at Clonkilty, Cork on the
8th of September 1919. On the morning of the 27th of November 1919, aged 57, he emulated his ancestor Henry and committed
suicide. Cutting his throat with a straight edged razor, he was found by his niece in his bedroom. The coroner concluded that
Arthur Andrew Spottiswoode had considered that life was no longer worth living, the report in the Portsmouth ‘Evening News’ the
next day was headed by the title ‘Tragic Death at Southsea’. Only 2 columns away is the report of the Plymouth bye-election which
was declared that day, Lady Astor becoming the first woman M.P. in England.
Having told the story of the man I will now describe how I pieced it together. Army lists are basic things, a font of knowledge they
are not, but they give basic information of when an Officer started and finished his career, his awards and campaigns and if the
Officer was pensioned, his death. It sounds strange, but the death is sometimes the best place to start. Any Officer of this
standing is bound to have a will, indexes of which are usually to be found in the Genealogy sections of major libraries. In the 1920
edition I found the entry of Spottiswoode, this gave me his death date and place of death, it also alerted me as to what was in
store when I noticed that the next entry (Charles John Spottiswoode) had a lot of similar detail.
The place and date of death known, I then ordered the death certificate. Four days later it duly arrived in the post and gave me
something of a shock, with Spanish ‘Flu sweeping the globe and all the other hardships of life at that time, I had not contemplated
suicide. A trip to Portsmouth and a check of the local papers of November 1919 produced the article mentioned in the text, it also
helped establish a link to that area which I was able to use further. I knew that Spottiswoode was in training in 1881 when the
census was taken, as this census is freely searchable and indexed it is an ideal tool for finding people. Finding the cadet in
Sandhurst was easy, when I checked the Portsmouth area however I found a whole family of Spottiswoode’s including a retired
Major General from the Madras Staff Corps, all I needed was a link.
The birthplace for Spottiswoode was approximated by the census taker, and again by the indexer as ‘Viziagaram’. I suppose
Vizianagaram does not spill off the tounge as readily as say ‘Guilford’. The Oriental & India Office (now at the British Library)
houses all the birth, death and marriage records for India in this era of the Raj, this was my next port of call. A search of the
equivalent Army Lists for 1861 produced a Captain Spottiswoode in a place called Vizianagaram, and a search of baptisms
produced the records I was looking for.
Normally when tracing individuals, the Musters and Pay Books of the Regiment are very useful for providing details; I had used
these extensively in tracing soldiers of the Crimea and Mutiny periods.
These Musters proved ideal for the period up to 1888 when they changed to a company Roll without any real biographical detail. I
had contacted the Regimental museum of the Seaforth’s (now the Queen’s Own Highlanders) at Fort George in Inverness-shire
including all the detail I possessed. After a month they sent me a nice note with their opening times, it is a short hike from
Hampshire to Inverness-shire and I am still looking forward to making it and finding out yet more of this man’s life.
After surviving battles, hostile environments and the other rigours of Army life, becoming old and a civilian proved too much for
this brave man. How the Khedive’s Star came to be separated and the whereabouts of the other medals I do not know, attempts
to trace using this magazine’s Medal tracker failed, but maybe this article will shed some light. Spottiswoode’s effects were split
between a retired Colonel and a solicitor and they may have become broken up at this point. It may even have been the case that
he swapped the Star with another when it did not look quite as pristine as it had originally, in the end, his medals are his legacy but
the story of them is his story.
|Arthur Andrew Spottiswoode - Seaforth Higlanders - 1881 to 1910