‘… some damned odd fellows in the earlies.’: Three examples V

In the last post in this series, I had let you know that archetype Pathan encountered by Flashman, on his arrival at Lahore and found to be known as Gurdana Khan was actually Alexander Campbell Gardner from the territory of Wisconsin, and serving in the court of the Punjab, as “formerly artillery instructor to the Khalsa, presently guard commanmder to the Maharaja…” but that is not all about him. One last word from Flashman, when he learns the truth and the tangles prevailing in the court…

~~ this incredible tartan Nemesis with his Khyber knife and Yankee twang, eyeing me bleakly as I punished his malt? Belatedly, I muttered my thanks, adding that Broadfoot was lucky to have such an agent in Lahore. He snapped my head off.

“I’m not his confounded agent! I’m his friend – and so far as my duty to the Maharaja allows I’m sympathetic to British interest. Broadfoot knows I’ll help, which is why he gave you my watchword.” He restrained himself with difficulty. “Inadvertently, by jiminy! But that’s all, Mr Flashman. You and I will now go our separate ways, you won’t address or even recognise me as Gurdana Khan -“

And now having taken a good measure of Colonel Gardner, we must move away from Flashman’s account to a more general account  – by Flashman’s biographer…..

Alexander Haughton Campbell Gardner, “Gurdana  Khan” (1785-1877), is an extraordinary figure ever for an age and region which saw such adventurers as “Sekundar” Burnes, Count Ignatieff, Yakub Beg, Pottinger, Connolly, Avitabile, and John Nicholson. He was born on the shore of Lake Superior, in what is now Wisconsin, the son of a Scottish surgeon and his Anglo-Spanish wife; Dr Gardner had served on the American side in the War of Independence, and knew both Washington and Lafayette. Young Alexander spent some years in Ireland, where he seems to have learned military gunnery, probably in the British Army, went to Egypt, and travelled by caravan from Jericho to Russia, where his brother was a government engineer. Thence, he went to Central Asia, where for several years his life was of continual warfare, raid, ambush, escape and exploration among the wild tribes; he fought as a mercenary and for some time appears to have been little more than a wandering bandit – “Food we obtained by levying contributions from everyone we could master,” he writes in his Memoirs, “but we did not slaughter except in self-defence.” He seems to have had to defend himself with fatal frequency, both as soldier and freebooter, as well as escaping from slave-traders, being attacked by a wolf-pack, leading an expedition against Peshawar under the sacred banner of the Khalifa (“all burning with religious zeal and the desire to work their will in the rich city”) and spending nine months in an underground dungeon. He rose to command a hill region with his own private fort under the rebel Habibullah Khan, who was opposing the Afghan monarch, Dost Mohammad, and it was on a foray to kidnap a princess from Dost Mohammad’s harem (with her treasure) that he met his first wife – an incident described in his best laconic style.

….In the course of the running fight to our stronghold I was enabled to see the beautiful face of a young girl who accompanied the princess. I rode for a considerable time beside her, pretending that my respect for the elder lady made me choose that side of her camel…. On the following morning Habibulla Khan richly rewarded his followers, but I refused my share of the gold and begged for the girl to be given to me in marriage….

She was, and for two years they lived happily, until Gardner returned from an action in which he had lost 51 men out of 90, to find that his force had been attacked, and his wife had stabbed herself rather than be taken prisoner; their baby son had also been murdered. Although he continued in Afghanistan for some years, and was reconciled with Dost Mohammad, he eventually took service in the Punjab with Runjeet Singh, training the Khalsa in gunnery, fought in various actions, and was in Lahore in the six years of bloodshed and intrigue following Runjeet’s death.

To be continued…..


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