of the British Period to 1947
John Colpoys Haughton (1817-1887)
John Colpoys Haughton was born 1817 at Dublin into the highly respected Anglo-Irish branch of a family known in Lancashire from the days of William the Conqueror. John Colpoys' father and an older brother were both distinguished orientalists, foreshadowing the young Haughton's career.
Haughton had had enough of school at the age of 13 and decided to go to sea. He served at the Jamaica station under his uncle, Admiral Colpoys, and rose quickly to midshipman. With such family connections his rapid preferment might have been thought natural but it cannot have been the whole explanation. Haughton was later described as tall, wiry and capable of great physical endurance. In view of his later feats of physical stamina, it is certainly surprising to find him invalided out of the navy in 1835. Whatever the background to his departure, young John soon found alternative employment in the army. In 1837 he obtained a Bengal cadetship and was appointed ensign (standard bearer) of the 31st Bengal Native Infantry.
In his long and distinguished career the sailor turned soldier saw a great deal of violent action of a sort to tax even his remarkable powers of physical endurance. In the first Anglo-Afghan War 1839-1842 the town of Charikar 40 miles (65 km) north of Kabul was besieged by Afghan tribesmen and saw much savage fighting. When the British commander of the garrison fell in 1841, Haughton found himself commanding officer in a difficult situation. Mutiny broke out among some of his native troops when preparations for a break-out and withdrawal to Kabul were made. In the chaos, Haughton himself was badly wounded and then cut off from the retreat. With his head hanging on his breast because of severed neck muscles, a freshly amputated right hand and held upright on his horse only by a faithful Gurkha orderly, he reached Kabul. Shortly thereafter the British had to evacuate their positions there, too, and since Haughton could not be moved he was brought into hiding with a friendly local chief. There he survived the icy Afghan winter. Although his gallantry was recognized by his superiors, he received no reward apart from steady promotion within the Bengal Native Infantry: lieutenant in 1842, captain in 1852 and major in 1861.
The year 1844 found Haughton second in command of the Bundelkhand Police battalion, 1847 first-class assistant to the governor general's agent on the Southwest frontier, 1853 Magistrate at Mulmein and Superintendent of Jails, besides many additional titles, ranks and functions.
In October 1859 Haughton took up his appointment as the second Superintendent of Port Blair. After the tense situation left behind by Walker, one of Haughton's principal tasks was to re-establish order. He instituted a policy towards the convicts that was reformative rather than repressive and laid down clear rules for dealing with the Andamanese: they were not to be molested, the places known to be frequented by them were not to be visited by convicts exploratory parties into their territories were to be discontinued. Haughton seems to have understood how the Andamanese felt about the indiscriminate looting of their villages by "friendly" contact parties. On the other hand, those Andamanese groups who attacked the settlements around Port Blair were dealt with swiftly and ruthlessly to discourage the others.
Haughton could relinquish his post in 1862 in the knowledge that he had laid the foundation for future friendly relations with the Andamanese. His importance to the Andamanese was in his realization that the aborigines had to be treated fairly. Haughton did not have an Officer in Charge of the Andamanese and had to deal with the difficult aborigines himself on a daily basis. Despite the pressure of work, during his last year in the Andamans he managed to publish on the Andamanese and their languages, publications which have not, however, stood the test of time.
After his departure from the Andamans, he participated in a number of military expeditions, one of which led him to the reclusive Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan in 1864-1865. As Commissioner of Cooch Behar he managed the estates of the infant Maharaja who had been made his ward. In 1867, just before his promotion to colonel, Haughton published his account of the siege of Charikar which enjoyed some success and made him more widely known.
Haughton retired in 1873 and died at Ramsgate, England, on 17th September 1887.
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Last changed 14 January 2001