Mike Guilfoyle, a member of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, on the life of a Bengal Lancer who died aged 29 after playing polo
Whilst appreciating that Imperial yarns might well be considered out of fashion these days , the story of one such Bengal Lancer buried locally has a tragic romantic resonance that readers might find of interest.
Nestled amid a cluster of headstones close to the outer pathway of Ladywell cemetery is the final resting place of John Digby Marsh Swinburne, d.1890 once of the famous Imperial regiment the Bengal Lancers.
A surgeon with the Bengal Lancers, his life was cut short not on the battlefield but as a result of an accident whilst playing polo.
His engagement to the daughter of Sir William Muir added to the poignancy of his early death aged 29 years. Born in 1861 he trained to become a surgeon qualifying in 1886.
Above: The poster for the 1935 film ‘ The lives of a Bengal Lancer’ featured the Hollywood actor Gary Cooper.For a fuller sourced background to this Imperial adventure story see https://christinawehner.wordpress.com/2015/07/27/the-lives-of-a-bengal-lancer-1935/
This brief insert from my earlier research outlines his caree :
Mr Digby Swinburne, of the Indian Medical Service, permanent appointed to the 18th Bengal Lancers, son of Major-General Swinburne, died on the 14th September having been granted 120 days leave of absence from duty.
Mr Swinburne was to have been married to Miss Muir, Daughter of Sir W.Muir K.C.S.T,., Principal of the Edinburgh University.
Mr Swinburne met with an accident at polo shortly before leaving India, and to this with the heat in the Red Sea, the seizure which added to his melancholia his ending was attributed.
He was a very popular officer and greatly esteemed by all who knew him.Mr Swinburne was one of the medical officers on the Lushai Campaign (punitive action launced against rebellious tribes in Burma/India), for which he gained his medal.
Sir William Muir( 1819-1905) was a Scottish Orientalist, scholar of Islam and colonial administrator.
His Life of Mohamet (1858) traces in a passage ‘Satanic verses’. More than a century before Salman Rusdie’s controversial use of the phrase.
For a fuller account of this remarkable Glasgow born scholar’s life and work this link might assist :