|MAJOR -GENERAL SIR HENRY TOMBS,
Henry Tombs was born in Calcutta, India on the 10th of November, 1825.
He was one of six sons of John Tombs, an officer in the Bengal Cavalry who
saw service at the siege and capture of Bhurtpore and who was promoted
Major-General in the Army of the East India Company in 1838. Like all of
his brothers, Henry’s father sent Henry to England to Abingdon School
where his father had been educated. At age 14 Henry entered the East
India Company’s Military Seminary at Addiscombe, passing out in June of
1841, receiving a commissioned in the Bengal Artillery.
Henry first saw service in the Gwalior campaign at the Battle of Punniar.
He was mentioned in Major-General Gray’s dispatch who reported that, “Lt.
Tombs, attached to the rearguard of the left wing of the army of
Gwallior (sic), with 2 guns of No. 16 Light Field Battery, fired several
shots with great precision and effect on the enemy’s left in action near
Punniar.” For his services during the campaign he received the Bronze Star
During the Sutlej campaign of 1845-46, Henry served as Aide-de-Camp to
Sir Harry Smith and was present at the battles of Moodkee and
Ferozeshah, the affair of Budiwal and the battle of Aliwal. He was
mentioned in Despatches and received the Sutlej medal with two clasps.
In the Punjab campaign of 1847-49, Henry served as Deputy Assistant
Quartermaster General of Artillery and was present at Ramnuggur, the
passage of the Chenab and the battles of Chillianwallah and Goojerat. He
received the Punjab medal with two clasps and a Brevet Majority.
Having already seen service during three campaigns, it was during the Indian Mutiny that Henry Tombs was to receive lasting
fame. He commanded a troop of Horse Artillery in the affairs of the Hindun on the 30th and 31st of May, 1857 where he his
horse was shot from beneath him, and also engaged at the battle of Budleekeserai where two horses were shot from under him.
Tombs was subsequently present at the siege of Delhi and on the 9th of July, 1857, in coming to the aid of Second-Lieutenant
James Hill (later Lieutenant-General Sir James Hill-Johnes, V.C., G.C.B.) performed the act of gallantry for which he was to be
awarded the Victoria Cross. The official citation reads as follows:
“For very gallant conduct on the part of Lieutenant Hills before Delhi, in defending the position assigned to him in case of
alarm, and for noble behaviour on the part of Lieutenant-Colonel Tombs in twice coming to his subaltern's rescue, and on each
occasion killing his man.”
(See despatch of Lieutenant-Colonel Mackenzie, Commanding 1st Brigade Horse Artillery, dated Camp, near Delhi,. 10th July,
1857, published in the Supplement to the London Gazette of the 16th January, 1858.)
The referenced Despatch by Lieutenant-Colonel M. Mackenzie’s states as follows:
Despatch No. 40, Lieut.-Colonel M. Mackenzie, commanding 1st Brigade Horse Artillery, to Brigadier A. Wilson, Commandant
CAMP NEAR DELHI,
July 10, 1857.
"It is with great pleasure I submit, for the information of the Brigadier Commandant, the following account of the very gallant
conduct of Second Lieut. James Hills, of the 2nd Troop, 1st Brigade Horse Artillery, and the noble behaviour of his commanding
officer, Major H. Tombs, in twice coming to his subaltern's rescue and on each occasion killing his man.
"Yesterday, the 9th inst., Second-Lieut. J. Hills was on picket-duty, with two guns, at the mound to the right of the camp. About
eleven o'clock a.m. there was a rumour that the enemy's cavalry were coming down on this post. Lieut. Hills proceeded to take up
the position assigned in case of alarm, but before he reached the spot he saw the enemy close upon his guns, before he had time
to form up. To enable him to do this, Lieut. Hills boldly charged, singlehanded, the head of the enemy's column, cut down the
first man, struck the second and was then ridden down, horse and all. On getting up and searching for his sword, three more men
came at him (two mounted). The first man he wounded with his pistol, he caught the lance of the second with his left hand, and
wounded him with his sword. The first man then came on again and was cut down; the third man (on foot) then came up and
wrenched the sword from the hand of Lieut. Hills (who fell in the struggle), and the enemy was about to cut him down when
Major Tombs (who had gone up to visit his two guns) saw what was going on, rushed in and shot the man and saved Lieut. Hills. By
this time the enemy's cavalry had passed by, and Major Tombs and Lieut. Hills went to look after the wounded men, when Lieut.
Hills observed one of the enemy passing with his (Lieut. Hills') pistol. They walked towards him. The man began flourishing his
sword and dancing about. He first cut at Lieut. Hills, who parried the blow, and he then turned on Major Tombs, who received
the blow in the same manner. His second attack on Lieut. Hills was, I regret to say, more successful, as he was cut down with a
bad sword-cut on the head, and would have been no doubt killed had not Major Tombs rushed in and put his sword through the
man. I feel convinced that such gallant conduct on the part of these two officers has only to be brought properly forward to
meet with an appropriate reward. Major Tombs was saved from a severe sword cut on the head by the wadded head-dress he
“(Signed) M. MACKENZIE,
Tombs subsequently commanded the Artillery at the battle of Nujjufghur and then commanded the Horse Artillery at the
assault on Delhi where he was wounded. Lord Roberts first met Henry Tombs during the siege of Delhi and in his autobiography,
Forty-one Years in India, twice mentions Tomb’s conduct during the assault of the city:
"It was impossible for me to describe my pleasure at finding myself a member of a force which had already gained
imperishable fame. I longed to meet and know the men who names were in everyone’s mouth. The hero of the day was Henry
Tombs, of the Bengal Horse Artillery, an unusually handsome man and a thorough soldier. His gallantry in the attack on the
Idgah (a Mahomedan place of worship and sacrifice) and wherever he had been engaged was the general talk of the camp. I
had always heard of Tombs as one of the best officers in the regiment, and it was with feelings of respectful admiration
that I made his acquaintance a few days later.
Jemmy Hills, one of the subalterns in Tomb’s troop, was an old Addiscombe friend of mine; he delighted in talking of his
Commander, in dilating on his merits as a soldier and his skill in handling each arm of the service. As a cool, bold leader of
men, Tombs was unsurpassed ; no fire, however hot, and no crisis, however unexpected, could take him by surprise ; he
grasped the situation in a moment and issued his orders without hesitation, inspiring all ranks with confidence in his power
and capacity. He was somewhat of a martinet, and was more feared than liked by his men until they realized what a grand
leader he was, when they gave him their entire confidence and were ready to follow him anywhere and everywhere." Page 175.
On the 17th (September, 1857) we were attacked from almost every direction— a manoeuvre intended to prevent our
observing a battery which was being constructed close to an Idgah situated on a hill to our right, from which to enfilade our
position on the Ridge. As it was very important to prevent the completion of this battery, Barnard ordered it to be attacked
by two small columns, one commanded by Tombs, of the Bengal Horse Artillery, the other by Reid. Tombs, with 400 of the
6oth Rifles and 1st Bengal Fusiliers, thirty of the Guides Cavalry, twenty Sappers and Miners and his own troop of Horse
Artillery, moved towards the enemy's left. . . . Tombs drove the rebels through a succession of gardens, till they reached
the Idgah, where they made an obstinate but unavailing resistance. The gates of the mosque were blown open and thirty-nine
of its defenders were killed. Tombs himself was slightly wounded and had two horses killed, making five which had been shot
under this gallant soldier since the commencement of the campaign." Page 169.
For his services during the Indian Mutiny, in addition to the award of the Victoria Cross and the Indian Mutiny medal with two
clasps, Henry Tombs was made a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel and a Commander of the Order of the Bath. He was also mentioned
numerous times in despatches and mentioned by name in the House of Lords by Lord Panmure, the Secretary of State for War.
In 1865 Tombs commanded a field force that recaptured Dewangiri in Bhootan. For this campaign he received the India
General Service medal with clasp for Bhootan, was nominated a Knight Commander of the Bath and received the thanks of the
Having been promoted to Major-General in 1867, in March of 1874 Major-General Tombs returned to England on sick
furlough. On the 2nd of August, 1874, Major-General Sir Henry Tombs, V.C., K.C.B., age 49, died at Newport, Isle of Wight.
On receipt of the news of his death, Lord Napier of Magdala, then Commander-in-Chief, issued the following General Order:
"The army of India will share with the Right Honourable the Commander-in-Chief the deep regret with which he has
received the intelligence of the death in England of Major-General Sir Henry Tombs, K.C.B., V.C., of the Royal (late Bengal)
Artillery. The career of this distinguished officer is identified with the history of this country for the last thirty years.
The decorations which he bore on his breast for Gwalior, the Sutlej Campaign, the Campaign of the Punjab, the siege of Delhi
and capture of Lucknow, and for the recapture of Dewangiri, in Bhootan, under his independent command, bore testimony to
the conspicuous part he took in nearly all the more important military events that have taken place during that period.
Appointed to the command of a division in 1871, Sir Henry Tombs displayed all those attributes of a general of which his
early career had given promise, and fully justified his selection for the high trust which had been confided to him. Firm in the
maintenance of discipline, courteous in his demeanour, strict and impartial in the exercise of his command, he acquired in a
remarkable degree the respect, confidence and affection of all with whom he was associated. His premature death, which
Lord Napier of Magdala so greatly deplores, has deprived the Government and country of an accomplished and devoted
servant, the Commander-in-Chief of a valued friend and trusted lieutenant and the Army of a gallant comrade and one of its
most brilliant ornaments."
Major-General Tombs is buried at Mount Joy Cemetery, Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight. His Victoria Cross and medals are on
display at the Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich.