of the British Period to 1947
James Pattison Walker (1823-1906)
J. P. Walker was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, the son of not very well-off parents. He studied medicine at Aberdeen and became assistant surgeon in the Bengal Medical Service in 1845 with which he stayed for 32 years until his retirement, rising steadily through the ranks to Deputy Inspector General in 1872.
After serving in various units of the British Army in India and seeing active duty in the second Sikh War 1845-1846, he was appointed Superintendent of Agra jail in 1851. He was involved in the defence of Agra during the Indian Mutiny 1857-1858.
In 1858 Walker was appointed first Superintendent of the new penal colony at Port Blair. His first official act was to move the British administration from Chatham to Ross island but without abandoning Chatham altogether.
Despite his experience in prison keeping, it was clear from the beginning that the task in the Andamans was too much for him. It may have been too much for anybody. When Walker arrived he had eight British officers, one Indian overseer, two native doctors and fifty Indian guards to control 733 violent convicts, many, like Walker himself, fresh from the horrors of the Great Mutiny or else hardened criminals of the most dangerous kind. The discrepancy between the numbers of guards and convicts immediately caused problems. Discipline frequently broke down and there were large numbers of escapes. Walker's reaction was brutal: during the first two months of his regime 228 convicts escaped and only 88 were recaptured. Of those recaptured 87 were hanged, all on one day, the remaining one committed suicide. The 140 that were never recaptured are thought to have perished of exhaustion, starvation or at the hands of the Andamanese. Walker was under intense pressure and lashed out wildly in all directions. Disease also led to an alarming death rate among prisoners, guards and officers.
Walker did not receive the support, understanding and approval from higher authority in Calcutta that he had expected. Instead, he was severely censured for his savage treatment of escapees, the shortcomings of his medical measures and his harsh treatment of the Andamanese natives who had raided the settlement.
That the dangers Walker faced were not imaginary became clear in April 1859: 100 Punjabi criminal convicts planned to murder Walker, his overseers and guards. Walker received advance warning from a convict but could not prevent the revolt from breaking out. Fierce fighting followed, in the course of which Walker escaped only with the help of convicts coming to his aid. It is noteworthy that only convicted criminals participated in the plot and that those who had been jailed for their participation in the Great Mutiny seem to have been on Walker's side.
Superintendent Walker must have been a happy man when he was relieved of his post in October 1859. He returned to his medical career on mainland India. He retired in 1877, returned to Englandand died at Clacton-on-Sea in England on 11th February 1906.
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Last changed 14 January 2001