John Nicholson was wounded in the first hours of the Battle of Delhi. He was cut off from his men but discovering that the Corp of Guides, Henry’s Boys, were pinned down in the killing zone, tried to reach the Lahore Gate to blow it. To reach the Lahore Gate he had to pass through the Burn Bastion by way of a narrow street that lined one city wall. He commandeered a company of men, not Henry’s Boys, and tried to lead them into the blistering fire. They balked. For some obscure reason he spun around, either hearing a voice outside or inside his head, and thus a bullet shot from behind instead pierced him from the side, through his armpit. Doctors later said if he had not spun around he might have survived. The bullet tore though his lungs delivering a mortal wound. Freddy Roberts found Nicholson abandoned, bleeding, and slipping into shock.
Later, people asked Hay, who was there when Nicholson was shot, what happened. Hay was confused as to the details and said he did not know what Nicholson meant when Nicholson said : “I will make up my difference with you Hay. I will let you take me back.” There is no record of Nicholson having a run-in with Hay prior to this .
It took the John Nicholson nine days to die. He lingered in great pain, heavily sedated by morphine. He barely realized when his brother Charles Nicholson was carried in, his arm shot off. He did managed to show some of his badgering temper when told Wilson wanted to retreat. He swore he would shot Wilson if he did. Toward the end he said “Tell Edwardes that if at this moment a good fairy were to grant me a wish, my wish would be to be sleeping next to my love Edwardes.” When this was telegraphed to Mr and Mrs Edwardes then Edwardes hastily insisted Nicholson misspoke because of the morphine and meant “If at this moment a good fairy were to grant me a wish, my wish would be to have Edwardes here next to my mother.” Historians promptly corrected their accounts hastily.
In another rare moment of semi lucidness between shots of morphine Nicholson said “Tell my mother I do not think she will be too unhappy in the next world where she is going and tell her that she must not try to give way to too much grief when my will is read out.” Historians later edited this as well.
On September 20 Muhammad Hayat Khan held Nicholson in his arms and whispered to the dying man that the city was finally and at last taken. Nicholson nodded. “My desire was that Delhi should be taken before I die.”
Muhammad Hayat Khan then ordered everyone else out of the tent except the immediate family — which did not include the badly wounded Charles Nicholson. He held John Nicholson in his arms until he died early on September 23. John Nicholson was buried in September 24th at sunrise. He was 34 years old.
John Nicholson’s mother, discovering her son left her no funds, and unwilling to accept charity from her estranged kindred the Hoggs, petitioned the British Government for a pension of a mother of a war hero. She sued and got some of his papers and journals and spoke of a profitable book to inspire little boys to follow in the footsteps of her son — having sent her badly wounded last son Charles back to India to die of his wounds before he could score lootmaar — the dream of a great looting that would have restored the Nicholson Fortune to her at last.
But the editor assigned to study the pile of paperwork promptly had an ‘accidental’ fire and claimed everything John Nicholson ever wrote burned to ash and cinder. A century later some of the debris was found locked away in a forgotten vault and has now been posted for posterity to read at last. Other missing journals have yet to be located or decoded. None of his personal possessions, tunics, shoulder and waist belts with silver prick and boss and embroidered pouch, lieutenant or captain pins, few metals, expensive pin rifles and revolvers, ensigns, famous tiger or lion skin poshteens, famous swords, regency gear, or even his silver toiletry kit has ever surfaced. Nor has his art collection.
Today, Nicholson’s grave lays in a derelict graveyard littered with weeds, trash, used condoms, and drug paraphernalia. There has been some talk of restoring the defaced grave but that was met with great hostility by Indians who considered John Nicholson to be the ‘Butcher of Delhi’.
J E F Rose