Saturday 23 February 2013

A soldier who died for refusing rum

He could perhaps be the only British solider in India to have been court-martialed and shot dead for refusing to drink rum. He was then stationed in Bangalore as part of the British forces and he was not even in his thirtees when he met such a bizarre end.
His mode of death has made it to the Ripley’s Believe it or Not and his grave is in the Protestant cemetery at Agaram which is located between the ASC officers Mess and the KSRP Parade Grounds.
It was November 1815 and the British troops were already billeted in Cantonment which had come up a few years before in Bangalore. The British had turned to Bangalore after they defeated Tipu Sultan in 1799 as they found Bangalore to be a little of  England. The weather suited them and they could build their bungalows on sprawling estates.
The British Army too preferred Bangalore to Mysore and Srirangapatna. The 84th Regiment of the British Army was stationed in Bangalore and its regulars were being given their daily ration of  “grog”.
The word grog actually refers to a variety of  alcoholic beverages. Originally grog meant a drink made with water or small (weak) beer and rum, which British Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon, introduced into the Royal Navy on August 21, 1740. Vernon then had worn a coat of grogram cloth and was nicknamed Old Grogram or Old Grog.
The grog then became standard supply for the British Army too. The grog came to India with the British troops and stayed with them till they left India.
Coming back to the story, a private called John Williams was with the rest of his colleagues in Bangalore. He had been recently drafted into the 84th Regiment that had been asked to do duty in Bangalore.
All the officers of the regiment received their daily ration of “grog”. When Private Wilson’s turn came, he declined the offer and said he was a teetotaler. The Regiment stood astonished by this act of indiscipline. Since decades, the grog was part of the drilled discipline and none refused it.
But here was a private who dared to defy tradition. The angry Regiment charged Wilson with perhaps pone the strangest acts of mutiny.  His “act of rebellion” was considered serious enough to merit a court martial.
The court ruled that Wilson’s refusal to accept his daily ration of rum, customary in the British army as each soldier is allowed a "grog ration" daily, was nothing short of mutiny. The court martial took place ion November 1815 and it declined his plea that he had been a lifelong teetotaler. You see, tradition came first and all the rest next. Wilson was declared guilty and then shot.
He was later buried in the Agaram cemetery but there is no record to say whether he was or not given military honours. There is only a plaque to mark his grave. The unfortunate private, his grave and the manner of his death have made it to Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

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