This is an article, written for an American horse magazine, by

Andrew K Steen.

The contents are copywrite protected.

The Life, Times and Legacy of
Major-General William Tweedie
By Andrew K. Steen

Little did Cadet William Tweedie imagine as he walked down the gangplank and set foot on Indian soil, that 92 days later, he would nearly die from a bullet wound and be thrust headlong into the hellfire of the bloodiest insurrection the British Empire ever endured. Had Tweedie died like thousands of other Englishmen that perished in the Sepoy Munity of 1857-1859, his passing would have deprived us of arguably the finest book ever written about the Arabian horse.


For well over a hundred years, Major-General William Tweedie’s The Arabian Horse, His Country and His People has been an unassailable source of information, that many considered the definitive work on the Bedouins and their desertbred horses. Countless students, scholars and aficionados have consulted and studied his book to augment their knowledge about the breed. Many consider his work to be the most erudite, best-researched and thought-provoking book ever written of its special genre.

In his introduction, Tweedie explained why he tackled the daunting task of writing his extraordinary book. “The Author of this volume, when still very young, found himself in the thick of a campaign, which lasted two years. In the harder half of that period, while the first shock of the Sepoy Mutiny and War was being confronted, he was not a mounted officer, but an ensign with a marching regiment. In India this makes little difference, as there, even in British regiments, the infantry subaltern, scarcely less than the cavalry and the staff officer, has a faithful horse as his partner in every duty, except on parade and when the battalion is formed for action. During the mid-day halt, the shadow of the noble animal protected him from the sun’s rays; and cold wet night, when riding round the pickets; and on cold, wet nights he is often fain to thrust his feet into his horse’s armpits for warmth. Impressions stamped upon the mind in this way have all the elements of permanence and the Author, when the episode of the Mutiny was over, found himself an Arab as regards his love of horses.”

For a treatise of such substantial size (412 pages) and unprecedented detail, it is strange that he disclosed so little information about his own life and his personal involvement with the Arabian horse. Although most serious breeders are familiar with his Obra Magna until now, next to nothing has ever been disclosed about Tweedie’s highly-adventurous life or military exploits in India, Abyssinia, Afghanistan and Arabia.

Almost everyone who has had the privilege and pleasure of reading the book will likely affirm that it is a remarkable―if not a unique work. With the singular exception of Lady Wentworth who declared that, “Tweedie was essentially gullible…his ignorance on the subject was profound,” but let’s face it, the envious matron of Crabbet Park habitually disparaged everyone whose opinions differed in the slightest degree with her own. Rather than debate which authority was right or wrong, in this article we will succinctly explore Tweedie’s extraordinary personal saga.


Tweedie is the name of one of the ancient Scottish clans. Their motto is ‘Thole and Think’ (‘Thole’ being an old Scottish word for ‘suffer’ or ‘endure’). According to Scottish tradition the origin of the name came about when a certain husband who marched away to fight in the Holy Crusades, returned years later to discover that his wife was expecting a child. He was understandably perplexed, until his wife explained that she had been accosted by a fairy near the banks of the river Tweed. The gullible husband, who couldn’t have been the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, chose to believe her story, on the condition that her son was christened with the surname of Tweedie.


William Tweedie’s grandparents were John (1775-1862) and Janet (née King) Tweedie. For generations the family had been gardeners at Eglinton Castle. In 1825, they emigrated (probably for religious motives), along with some 200 other residents of Edinburgh, to Buenos Aires where they established the Scottish colony of Monte Grande. John Tweedie was a botanist who discovered a number of indigenous Argentine medicinal plants that he sent back to England that are classified as tweedienas or tweediáceas.

Their first born son William King Tweedie (1803-1864), remained in Scotland and never saw his parents again. He became the Minister of the Tolbooth Kirk (Church) in Edinburgh and in 1843 led the disruptions, which culminated with the Free Church’s separation from the established Church in Scotland. Reverend Tweedie was a very prolific author and pamphleteer, whose numerous books include: Ruined Cities of the East (1858), History of a Beggar Boy, Rivers and Lakes of the Scriptures (1857), and Eastern Manners and Customs (1870).

William King Tweedie married Margaret Bell (1803-1885), the daughter of Hugh Bell of Old Garphar, Straiton and Ayrshire. The couple had five children. The eldest and the protagonist of our story, William was born on October 31, 1836. His younger brother John (1838-1897) also ended-up to India, where he worked in the Bengal Civil Service, became Postmaster-General and later joined the Bengal Judicial Department. Their sisters were Maria Meredith, Margaret Bell and Jessie Anne. Little is known about their childhood.

subaltern OF the 37th Bengal Infantry

In those days, one the most promising careers for a young man of modest means was in the East Indian Company’s Army. Consequently, following his graduation from St. Andrews College of Edinburgh, 21 year-old William enlisted as a Cadet in the 37th Bengal Infantry on January 20, 1857. After a two month steamship voyage around the Cape of Good Hope he arrived in India (probably Calcutta), on March 4, 1857 and was promptly promoted to Ensign, the lowest officers rank in the British Army.

Tweedie arrived to the sub-continent at a most inopportune time. India, which had been ruled since 1757 by East Indian Company, was on the verge of a major and extremely violent insurrection, which for years had been smoldering just below the surface.

At the time, in all of India there were only 41,160 British troops and 5,362 officers. Whereas the native conscripts, which were collectively known as ‘Sepoys’ of the armies of Madras, Bengal and Bombay exceeded 311,000 and outnumbered the British more than seven-to-one.

THE Sepoy Munity

The complex circumstances and events that provoked the Sepoy Munity and the simultaneous civilian uprising were many. The foremost objection amidst Sepoys was that they felt their prerogatives and rights had been infringed upon. Promotions were based on seniority, which due to the influx of European officers entering the army made rising through the ranks a very slow process that impeded Indian soldiers from advancing into better paying commissions. Additionally, as the East India Company annexed and overthrew new regions such as Burma during the Anglo-Burmese War, Sepoy units had been obliged to serve and fight in foreign regions in such places as Persia, Arabia, Crimean and China, which were far-removed from their families and cultures. The civilian rebellion was caused by widespread discontent amidst the disgruntle, disenfranchised landed gentry, many of whom had lost their properties and titles due to land reforms imposed by The Company, following the annexation of the Oudh region. However, feudal loyalties, taxation, religious motives and a justice system that was regarded as inherently unfair were among the important grievances that triggered the hostilities.


The first tremors of the bloody mutiny occurred at the Dum-Dum Arsenal near Calcutta, in the spring of 1857, when rumors concerning the cartridges used in the newly-issued Pattern 1853 Enfield rifles began to circulate amidst the troops. To load the rifles’ firing mechanism, the Sepoys had to bite a paper gun-power cartridge. These were greased with tallow (beef fat) which was anathema to Hindus or lard (pork fat) which was regarded as ‘haram’ (unclean) by Muslims. Consequently, both of India’s two principal religious groups were gravely offended.

Following the initial revolts on April 24, 1857at Meerut and Delhi, violence quickly spread into the Indian society, which had long shared many of the same feelings of hatred and resentment for the Company’s iniquitous rule. The rebellion involved both Moslems and Hindus and spread into to all classes of the civilian society. However, the insurrection was localized, most of Southern India was not involved in the killing spree and a number of groups within the war-torn area, including the Gurkhas of Nepal, the Pakhtuns and the Sikh religious sects remained loyal to the British and continued to serve them. Indeed, those military units were primarily responsible for the suppression of the civil disobedience.


A typical incident of the Sepoy Munity occurred at Benares on June 4, 1857, when four British soldiers of the 37th Regiment were killed and 12 seriously injured by rebel fire, including Ensign William Tweedie who was “severely wounded in the right shoulder.” The following extract from a detailed report written by his commander Lieutenant-Colonel (later General) James G. Neill was published in the October 16, 1857 edition of the Edinburgh Gazette, which frequently printed official military dispatches from India. Neill related how after having ordered the Madras Fusiliers Regiment to the parade grounds to disarm the sepoys, his British officers were attacked.

“I had arranged to start with a detachment of the regiment for Cawnpore on the afternoon of the 4th, but that afternoon intelligence was received…that the 17th Regiment had broken out into open munity and joined by the city people and jail prisoners…On this intelligence reaching Benares, Brigadier Posonby consulted with me about taking the muskets from the 37th, leaving them with side-arms…We moved up the Europeans [civilian militia] and guns towards the 37th, the Seikhs advanced upon the other flank of that corps, followed by Irregular cavalry. On Approaching the bells of arms of the 37th, the sepoys of that corps seized their arms, loaded them, and opened fire upon us, which was immediately returned with considerable execution by the Artillery and Europeans, the Seikh regiment not having yet come up. At this, several of our men fell wounded. The Brigadier (Ponsonby) was on his back on the ground, seemingly struck by a stroke of the sun and declared himself quite unfit for anything and begged that being the next senior officer, I would at once assume command, which I accordingly did. I directed a dash on the lines with the Europeans and Seikhs in the line on each flank of the Artillery. I was on the right of our men in the line when an alarm was given. I found the Seikhs had suddenly halted, wavered, and eventually gone about dispersed, having first, however, fired at and tried to shoot their Commanding Officer and Adjutant, and fired upon and wounded several other officers, and fired upon the squadron of Irregular Cavalry drawn up in the rear of them.”

Cownpore AND THE BibigHar MASSACRE As the violence spread like wildfire, the Sepoy rebels and civilian Badmashes (villains) committed atrocities upon British civilians irrespective of their age or sex. Hundreds of men, women and even young children were slaughtered.

During a lull in the fighting, the remnants of the Cownpore (present day Kanpur) garrison were promised ‘safe conduct’ to evacuate on the Ganges River, but in the early morning of June 27, their 40 boats were fired upon from both banks of the river. Only four men in one of the boats escaped alive, two of whom later died from the wounds they had received. The 206 women and children that survived were held hostage, then later hacked to pieces. Their bodies were thrown into a well until it filled to the brim and the rest of the victims were tossed into the Ganges at the infamous Bibighar Massacre.

The acts of revenge committed by British civilian irregulars were no less horrendous. At first, the British appeared powerless to defend themselves against the uprising, but as they recovered their nerve and rallied, Lt.-Colonel Neill and others officers in Calcutta commence a counter-campaign of terror, by lynching every Indian that they could lay their hands on. When they reached Cownpore and saw the extent of the atrocities, they embarked upon an orgy of bloodshed. Lt.-Col. Neill contrived special methods of killing which, depending on whether he was a Hindu or Moslem would condemn their victims eternally. In the house where the British women and children had been slain, he forced his rebel prisoners to lick-up the blood from the walls and floor, before they were hanged. Others were tied in front of loaded cannons and blown to smithereens.Most of these British atrocities were committed during the heat of the moment without deliberation.


Upon recovering from his wounds, Ensign Tweedie volunteered for service with Her Majesty’s 78th Highlanders under the overall command of Major-Gen. Sir Henry Havelock and took part in the Battle of Bithur on August 16, 1857. His Regiment then advanced towards Lucknow where they fought in the first relief and subsequent defense of the besieged Residency (the seat of government). Throughout their long march, they were frequently attacked by rebel forces. Nine-out-of-ten British troops that were involved in the assault of the Charbagh Canal perished.

The Siege of Lucknow had begun on May 30, 1857. Some 850 British officers and soldiers, 153 civilian volunteers, 712 loyal sepoys and 1,280 women and children took refuge in the East India Company’s Government Residency. Under the command of Sir Henry Lawrence they fortified several adjacent palaces, mosques and administration buildings, comprising an area of roughly 60 acres within which they would defend themselves against approximately 5,000 Indians rebels for the next 87 days. By the time the first relief column arrived on November 27, the original defenders of the Residency had been reduced to only 982 fighting personnel. Following the arrival of Sir James Outram (who in theory was the ranking officer) and Sir Henry Havelock’s relief column, in which Ensign Tweedie was involved, British forces had increased to around 8,000 against approximately 30,000 native combatants. However, the first relief column was not strong enough to end the siege and evacuate the surrounded enclave and was forced remain and fight the insurgents. It was not until a further 61 days on November 18, that a larger army under Commander-in-Chief, Sir Colin Campbell (latter Lord Clyde), finally managed to break through enemy lines to evacuate the entrapped soldiers and non-combatants and then abandon Lucknow.

British casualties of the two reliefs columns of Lucknow numbered 2,500 killed, wounded or missing, including Sir Henry Lawrence who was fatally wounded by a cannon shell, General James G. Neill who died from musket fire and Sir Henry Havelock who succumbed from a sudden attack of dysentery. Of the 2,000 men in Tweedie’s 78th Regiment, 535 were killed, most during the final rush to relieve the beleaguered garrison.

Tweedie service record indicates that in November of 1857, he received the Indian Mutiny Medal with Clasps (clasps designate a particular battle) and was granted one year’s extra service pay for having taken part in the defense of the Residency at Lucknow.


Following the relief of Lucknow, from September 19 until November 23, 1857, Tweedie served under General Sir James Outram whose army advanced through Oudh and attacked the Bailie Guards who were defending their entrenched positions at Alamgagh. Later Tweedie’s division commanded by Sir Colin Campbell, advanced through Rohilpunud and following a three week engagement recaptured Barrilly on May 7, 1858. In the mean time, Ensign Tweedie had been ‘gazetted’ (promoted) to Lieutenant on April 30, 1858.

From January to March 1859, Tweedie’s unit under the command of Gen. Michael, participated in the pursuit of the two most famous rebel leaders, Tantia Topi (1814-1859) and Firoze Shahas they launched a successful guerilla campaign which lasted over a year throughout the Narmada, Rajasthan and Khandesi regions of Central India. Tantya Topi was finally captured on April 7, 1859 and executed eleven days later. The last rebels were defeated at Gwalior on June 20, 1858 and shortly afterwards the rebellion was at last extinguished.

The Sepoy Munity forced the British to reorganize the army and the financial system and administration system of India were likewise restructured. The dissolution of the East India Company occurred in 1858. India was thereafter governed directly by the British government under the new Raj system, which administered the numerous Princely States.


On July 21, 1858, Tweedie transferred from the 4th Bengal Infantry to Beatson’s Horse Regiment. Eleven months later, he was named Adjutant of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Hyderabad. The following month he passed the difficult mandatory examinations in Hindustani and became Regiment Interpreter. Within a year was promoted to 2nd Assistant Commissioner of the Hyderabad regional government.

Twenty-four months later, Tweedie was appointed Assistant Commander at Mooltan in Punjab. On May 20, 1862, he became Adjutant Commander 1st Cavalry Hyderabad Contingent where he stayed for only eleven months until he was appointed 2nd Assistant Resident of Hyderabad and 1st Assistant General Superintendant of Thagi and Darcy. Three years later, he obtained a ‘High Proficiency’ certificate in Persian and shortly thereafter he was named Magistrate and Judge at Secunderbad.


Before continuing William Tweedie’s saga, we must pause and set the stage for his next great adventure. The complicated series of events that precipitated Britain’s invasion of Abyssinia (as Ethiopia had been call since Biblical times) were so bizarre that they often seem more surrealistic than real.

In 1853, there arose a fearless Abyssinian tribal chieftain named Theodore (or Theodoreus), who by the age of 35 had defeated all the rival chiefs around Lake Tana (the source of the Blue Nile), and overran the vast and untamed Amhara district of Ethiopia. At the head of his small army, within the next two years he conquered the neighboring provinces of Tigré, Gojam and Shoa, where he either killed or imprisoned the ruling families of those regions. He then proclaimed himself Emperor Theodore II and by 1861, nobody could dispute his preeminence as the ruler of all Abyssinia.

Like many megalomaniacs, Theodore untruthfully claimed to descend from a long line of royal blood, including King Solomon and Alexander the Great. Incredibly, the British government regarded Theodore as an enlightened African ruler!

However, in retrospect, Alan Moorehead succinctly described his complex personality in his amazing book The Blue Nile in these words. “It has always been accepted that the Emperor Theodore was a mad dog let loose, a sort of black reincarnation of Ivan the Terrible and the Russian tyrants, and so he was in many ways, even by the savage standards of Ethiopia itself. Yet Theodore’s appalling reputation does not fit him absolutely…He was far too emotional to be a calculating villain, and there was no real method in his madness…His wrath was indeed, terrible, and all terrible…He had the sort of unthinking courage that comes to some people as naturally as the air they breathe.”


In its insatiable lust to exploit new commercial markets, White Hall (the British Foreign Office), thought it worthwhile to establish diplomatic relations and appoint a British Consul to Theodore’s Court.

Walter G. Plowden who had lived in Etheopia for several years seemed the ideal man to represent Queen Victoria’s interests and oversee the handful of missionaries (who although of German extraction were sponsored by English religious societies), that had boldly ventured into the vast, dangerous, extremely primitive and virtually unexplored kingdom.

Although the ancient city of Gondar and the great mountain fortress of Magdala had fallen into his control, Theodore preferred to move about the countryside with his sizable camp, court and army. Courageous John Bell, one of the interpreters on Colonel Chesney’s ill-fated 1836 Euphrates Expedition (featured in the December 2009, issue of the AHT), had joined a British expedition to Abyssinia in 1843 and married a native woman. He became the trusted advisor and Grand Chamberlain to Emperor Teodore and normally traveled by his side.

British Consul Plowden became caught-up in tribal rivalries and as might have been anticipated, was killed near Gondar. As a gesture of retribution to avenge Plowden’s murder, Theodore launched a punitive expedition and slaughtered around 2,000 members of the guilty tribe. During the battle, which was excessive even by Ethiopian standards, John Bell rushed to save Teodore’s life by shooting a rival chieftain, but within seconds, he was slain by another warrior who in turn was killed by Emperor Theodore.

In its infinite wisdom, White Hall, appointed a new representative named Captain Charles Duncan Cameron a veteran of the East Indian Company’s Diplomatic Service. He arrived at Gondar in 1862 and to the delight of Theodore presented him with a brace of pistols with silver plate stocks that were inscribed with the words, “Presented to Theodore, Emperor of Abyssinia, by Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, for his kindness to her servant Plowden, 1861.”

It is not known whether Theodore took Queen Victoria’s gift as a gracious acknowledgement of the massacre he has just committed or not, but instead of following Cameron suggestion of writing to the Queen and making a formal exchange civilities, Theodore drafted a polite communiqué offering to send one of his tribesmen as Ambassador to the Court of St. James.

Unfortunately, someone at White Hall dropped the ball and failed to answer his letter, which clearly called for a response. “I wish to have an answer to this letter (which has been drafted) by Consul Cameron.” After waiting two years for an answer, Theodore grew increasingly offended and mistrustful. To make matters worse, White Hall dispatched Cameron on a routine, but surreptitious mission to Ottoman-controlled Kassala in the Sudan to ascertain the possibilities of growing cotton (due to the American Civil War cotton prices had quadrupled), and investigate the slave trade in the Eastern Sudan.

Theodore a Christian was justifiably leery of the Moslem Sudanese and regarded them as his bitter enemies. When he discovered that Cameron had ventured into their territory, he concluded that England and their allies who ruled the Sudan whom he called Turks were plotting to overthrow him.

Enraged, Theodore ordered that all of the European missionaries (of British, French, Swiss and German extraction along with their Ethiopian wives and 23 children), be put in chains and held hostage at Gondar. Upon Cameron’s return in January 1864, he and his Irish assistant were likewise imprisoned and tortured, but he managed to smuggled a letter out from his cell that was published in The London Times, which stated, “There is no hope of my release unless a letter is sent as an answer to His Majesty.”

Later around 30 of the hostages were moved to Theodor’s inaccessible mountain stronghold at Magdala, 620 miles inland. When the news of these events reached London, the British Political Agent in Aden was ordered to send a special envoy with a personal letter from Queen Victoria apologizing to Emperor Theodor and to attempt to liberate the hostages through diplomatic means.


The intimidating task fell on Hormuz Rassam (1826-1910), an Iraqi of Chaldean Catholic parents who had been born and raised in Mosul and was the younger brother of Christian Rassam, the interpreter on Col. Chesney’s 1836 Euphrates Expedition.

Hormuz Rassam was a talented and resourceful man of great tact, who was not lacking in bravery. His incredible exploits and rather tragic destiny are beyond the scope of this article, it is sufficient to say that when only nineteen-years-old, he had served as Sir Henry Austen Layard’s assistant at the excavations of the ancient Assyrian cities of Nimrod and Nineveh (described in the August 2008 issue of the AHT). In 1847, Layard had taken Rassam to London to attend Cambridge and later he had supervised the Assyrian excavations in Iraq on behalf of the British Museum. In the ensuing years, Rassam achieved renown as an Archeologist in his own right, for discovering the Bronze Gates of Balawat and some 70,000 cuneiform tablets from the Babylonian city of Sippar, which are safeguarded in the British Museum’s collections. Later Layard had helped Rassam secure the post of Assistant Resident in Aden, Yemen.

In July 1864, Rassam took a British gunboat to the plague-ridden port of Massawa, the gateway to Ethiopia and managed to get a series of polite messages to Theodore, asking his permission to meet with him. After waiting patiently for well over a year without an answer, Rassam sailed to Cairo to obtain updated instructions from London and to purchase expensive gifts (including several chandeliers, mirrors and masses of provisions), to try to appease and placate the insane Emperor.

At Cairo, Rassam was informed that he was being replaced by William Gifford Palgrave (portrayed in the April 2011 edition of the AHT), who had already arrived to Egypt. However, once the charlatan desert explorer was assessed of the extremely dangerous mission he abruptly turned-tail and sailed back to England.

Rassam returned to the Red Sea port of Massawa and despite warnings made his way overland through uncharted territories from Kassala to Metemma and eventually reached the shores of Lake Tana where a hoard of 1,400 warriors waited to escorted him to Theodore―who put him in chains with the other Europeans.

LORD NAPIER’S Abyssinian Expedition

Rassam’s imprisonment and the plight of the 30 other hostages provoked one the most elaborate and costly invasions of the 19th century. Nearly four years after Cameron had been imprisoned, following heated debates in Parliament the great English rescue mission finally got underway.

Apart from the 13,000 soldiers (4,000 British and 9,000 Sepoys), more than 19,000 auxiliary laborers from Egypt, India, Persia and Ethiopia were involved in the punitive military campaign. The logistics were staggering, a fleet of 280 ships, both sail and steam, were needed to launch and disembark the troops, livestock and supplies. Forty-four trained elephants were shipped from India to transport the heavy guns on the 620 mile march inland. From all over Europe and Asia, 55,000 animals (including 20,000 mules and several thousand horses, camels and oxen), were purchased to transport the lighter military equipment and supplies then dispatched to beach at Zula 30 miles south of Massawa on the coast of Abyssinia. At the point of disembarkation, large piers, lighthouses and warehouses were built along with two condensers to convert seawater into fresh drinking water. A twenty miles railway was laid across the desert plains and a telegraph line several hundred miles long was erected in stages to maintain communications between the front and the base at Zula. Since the work force would accept only Austrian Marie Teresa silver-dollars and not enough could be found in European banks, 500,000 coins were especially minted in Vienna. Dozens of military officials from France, Prussia, Italy, Holland and Spain tagged along to observe the British troops. Regular press dispatches of the campaign were sent back to the world’s major newspapers including the New York Herald, which sent Henry Morton Stanley to record the war. (Evidently, he enjoyed his experience in the jungles. His subsequent exploits in darkest Africa and his encounter with Dr. Livingston would later thrust him into world celebrity.)

Alan Moorehead’s The Blue Nile related how, “Terrible dangers faced the soldiers; they would be exposed to unknown tropical diseases, adders would get into their blankets at night and fierce wild animals would attack them by day, they would die of thirst, they would die of frost-bite, all their mules would succumb to the tsetse fly…a wilder and more barbaric place than Ethiopia in the nineteenth century cannot be imagined.”

Amongst the thousands of men that participated in the rescue mission was Lt. William Tweedie who was appointed to the Intelligence Department of the Abyssinian Expedition in November 1867 and served throughout the war as Political Secretary to Commander-in-Chief Lt.-General Sir Robert Napier (1810-1890), who had fought and was badly wounded at Locknow and later led the British expeditionary army in China during the Second Anglo-Chinese War of 1860.

For over 1,200 miles, Tweedie rode at Napier’s side as the army marched across the desolate plains and through the uncharted jungles of east-central Abyssinia towards their fateful rendezvous with the enraged Emperor at his well fortified mountaintop bastion Magdala. With the aid some of his German workers, Theodore had cast an enormous seventy-ton iron mortar that resembles an upturned church bell, which he believed would render him invincible.


The first major battle occurred on April 10, 1868, at Arogie which, “became filled with rushing men heading for the plateau, the chiefs, about five hundred of them, dressed in scarlet and riding horses, and the spearmen running in between…some five thousand warriors…all of them singing their war song as the came on, and when they reached the plain.” Stanley wrote that “they inundated it with their dusky bodies.” When they came within range, Napier’sartillery and riflemen mowed them down and by nightfall 700 Ethiopians warriors lay dead on the grassy plain. “The following morning vultures attracted by the sight of blood, began to circle down on to the heaped bodies on the battlefield. Hyenas and jackals had already been at work there during the night.”

On April 12, Theodore released Rassam and the hostages and sent down 1,000 cattle and 500 sheep as a peace offering, but Napier refused them and the herds were turned back by their pickets. After the 3,000 elite troops and cavalry had scaled the 1,000 foot basalt escarpment and taken position few thousand yards from Theodore’s fortified bastion at Magdala, the Elephants with the heavy guns were brought up into position and the siege began on April 13.

The first salvos of rockets were directed at the gate then assault parties with ladders stormed the wall. It was not very heavy fire, only a few of the enemy were shooting from above, but nine British went down before they hacked their way through, forcing Theodor and his remaining followers to take refuge in a smaller fort within the walls. When the second gate was breached, the British troops rushed though it only to discover that all resistance had collapsed. In desperation Theodor had taken one of the pistols that Queen Victoria had given him and lodged a bullet in his brain. Within minutes some 3,000 Ethiopians appeared from hiding to surrender.

Stanley observed that it took 15 elephants to carry away Theodore’s spectacular treasure. It included, gold crowns, jeweled encrusted goblets, 900 ancient Coptic manuscripts, hundreds of religious icons as well as Staffordshire and Sèvres porcelain that he had been given by various European monarchs. To this day all of the Ethiopian government’s efforts to recover the treasure have been in vain.

The British casualties numbered 20 wounded of which two later died. Napier returned to England as a conquering hero. He was Knighted by Queen Victoria with the title of 1st Barron Napier of Magdala


Tweedie was twice ‘mentioned’ in Napier’s official dispatches. He also was promoted Brevet of Major and decorated with the Abyssinian Campaign Medal with 2 Clasps for his exemplary service in the war. The London Gazette of June 30, 1868, published Napier’s detailed report, which stated, “I have received the most valuable assistance from the Officers of my Personal Staff… Lieutenant Tweedie, Political Secretary, has performed his special duties with great ability and to my entire satisfaction. Lieutenant Tweedie attended me in the action of Arogie and at Magdala.”…The campaign has been one of severe military labor from the first landing to the re-embarkation.”


Seventy-six pages of original correspondence addressed to the man who would later publish his book recently discovered in the archives of the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, reveal that Tweedie first wrote William Blackwood from Aden, Yemen, on December 30, 1867, while serving as Napier’s Political Secretary. “Should you wish it, I shall try to send you a monthly letter… I propose writing, if my duties leave me leisure, not about our operations political or military, but of the natural features and object of interests of the new country.” Their relationship endured for more than thirty years. Tweedie’s articles were occasionally published in Blackwood’s Magazine for which he received from £10 to £35, which was a fair amount of change in those days­­­­­―Joseph Conrad earned only £20 for his first novel Almayer’s Folly in 1895.


Following the Abyssinian Expedition on July 23, 1868, Tweedie resumed his duties as 2nd Assistant Commissioner of Hyderabad then was upgraded to 1st Assistant Commissioner. Later he was appointed as Sessions Judge and Local Secretary at Hyderabad in the Nizam’s territory (except at Berar). Four years thereafter he became Political Agent and Commissioner (Governor) of Hyderabad where he remained until February 1, 1876.

On Sept. 15, 1876, Tweedie took an 18 month furlough to Europe, which was extended by one month and 10 days for special leave from field service. His delayed return was probably for personal reasons. On October 24, 1877, at age 41, Tweedie married Emily Harriet Whitmore, the daughter of Thomas Charlton and Lady Louisa Anne (née Douglas) Whitmore, of Apley Park, Salop, England. Emily was the third child of ten. Her mother Lady Louisa was the daughter of the 6th Marquess of Queensberry, whose grandson the 8th Marquess wrote the famous rules for the sport of boxing.

Tweedie’s service records indicate, “while in England he was appointed Resident at Mandalay, however that promotion was afterwards cancelled on urgent domestic circumstances which compelled him, when on his way to Mandalay, Burma, to turn back from Rangoon and obtained an extension in India of his unexpired furlong.” Whatever the reasons may have been for changing his plans, Tweedie reinitiated his diplomatic career in earnest upon his return to India.


Like all powerful nations Great Britain had a long tradition of declaring war whenever it could not achieve its political and economic objective through diplomacy. Such was the case of the Second Afghan War, which was fought essentially to prevent the Russia Empire from encroaching into and annexing Afghanistan, thus threatening English interests in India. The geopolitical maneuvers set in motion an intense confrontation between the British and Russian empires that lasted from 1878 until 1880 and became known as ‘The Great Game’.

The conflict arose when Russia sent an uninvited diplomatic mission to Kabul. The British demanded that Sher Ali Khan the Amir of Afghanistan also accept a British diplomatic representatives. When the Amir not only refused to receive the British envoy Neville Bowles Chamberlain, but also threatened to stop it if it were dispatched. Lord Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton (the future father-in-law Lady Wentworth), who was then Viceroy of India from 1876 to 1880, nevertheless sent the mission, which was turned back at the Khyber Pass. That diplomatic rebuff triggered the Second Afghan War. The British army of nearly 40,000 soldiers penetrated Afghanistan via three different mountain passes.

The Arabian horses of the Indian Army’s Cavalry performed with distinction throughout the entire campaign. Major-General (later Sir) Frederick Robert led the Kabul Field Force over the Shutargardan Pass into central Afghanistan and on October 6, 1879, where they soundly defeated the Afghan Army at Char Asiab then occupied Kabul. In September 1880, Lord Roberts led the main British force from Kabul and vanquished the Afghan army again at Kandahar, which insured control of that nation’s foreign policy in exchange for ‘British protection’ and a large monetary subsidy. England then abruptly abandoned its provocative policy of maintaining a Resident in Kabul and having achieved all of their major objectives withdrew its army in 1881.

At the beginning of the Second Afghan War, Major Tweedie was appointed for special political duty to the Staff of Major-Gen R. D. Bright. During the advance through Khaibar and Gandamak to Kabul, he commanded the Jalalabad Division. Following the campaign, he was appointed Political Agent 1st Class Eastern States (Rajputana) on Sept. 22, 1880. For his gallant service in Afghanistan, Tweedie was decorated with the Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India on Dec. 23, 1881. Throughout the war Tweedie had been correspondent for Blackwood’s Magazine.

Resident of Turkish Arabia

On March 20, 1881, Tweedie was appointed as Resident of Turkish Arabia in Baghdad where he remained until April 28, 1882, only three days before his departure he was promoted Colonel. Following another six month furlough on private affairs, which he spent in India, Tweedie became the Political Agent 1st Class of Ajmer, on March 4, 1885. However, he returned to his old post at Baghdad on July 24, 1885 and less than a month later he was promoted Consul-General. He obtained his certificate for ‘Higher Standard in Arabic’ six months later. His daily routine as Resident, involved writing frequent diplomatic reports and dispatches describing all manner of proceedings in Arabia, including the lucrative Arabian horse trade. As part of his official duties, Tweedie rode over a thousand miles to inspect the various horse-breeding Bedouin tribes of Mesopotamia, then drafted a lengthy report titled, Turkish Arabia being an account of an official tour of Babylonia, Assyria and Mesopotamia 1886-1887.


Throughout the many years that he served in Baghdad, Tweedie not only observed Arabian horses in their native habitat, but also bred them. During his extensive travels, he had the opportunity to study many different factions of the Bedouin tribes and their desertbred horses. A gifted linguist fluent in Arabic, he buttressed his forcefully written texts with a bibliography of 39 classic works and hundreds of interesting footnotes, which always contain a source. To corroborate his assertions, Tweedie ransacked virtually every known work that mentioned the breed and even had the original Italian texts of explorer Carlo Guarmani translated into English.

On February 1, 1883, Tweedie’s sister had written to Blackwood and mentioned that he was suffering from some grave ailment (perhaps Malaria), and alluded to the state of his health on two subsequent occasions. Nevertheless, eleven months later he had resumed his investigation of the Arabian horse. His letter of December 18, 1884, from Poona, India, disclosed that, “I have not begun my book about Arabian horses yet, being deep in the study of the Arabic language which is a tremendous undertaking. However, material for the book is being collected; and if I live; you shall have it one day, even if I have again to visit Arabia for more materials.”

From India and Baghdad, Tweedie continued sending articles and segments of his manuscript via his family, which forwarded them to William Blackwood. On June 25, 1888, Tweedie was granted another furlough of 10 months and 10 days and returned to England via the Suez Canal.

A rare glimpse into Tweedie’s character was provided by his sister Margaret Bell who wrote Blackwood on June 27, 1888 while her brother was on the high seas. She reflected how, “Few sisters having such a kind and good brother as he has always been. I am very much pleased that you think the opening chapters of his book promise well and I sincerely hope the whole work will meet with your approbation, if the dear old man is spared to complete it.” When the University of Pennsylvania’s 1888-1890 Archeological Expedition to Babylonia arrived to Baghdad its director John P. Punnett lamented that Major Talbot was acting Resident and that he was deprived of Tweedie’s vast knowledge of the nearby ruins.Upon his return Baghdad on May 5, 1889, Tweedie resumed his diplomatic duties as Resident of Turkish Arabia where he apparently remained until October of 1891 when he “reverted to military duty.” Unfortunately,no further information about his activities in India were disclosed in his service records or discovered at either British or Scottish National Archives, but obviously at some point prior to his return to Europe he was promoted to the rank of Major-General.


It is not known when Tweedie imported his desertbred stallion Rashid to England, but it was probably sometime around 1891, because on September 28, 1892, James Clark a well known artist of the era who had previously painted two of Major Elliott’s stallions (including Euclid, the stallion Count Jozef Potocki had bought in India whom Lady Wentworth criticized so intensely), wrote to Tweedie. He agreed to travel to Ascot and do an oil painting of his imported grey Arabian stallion Rashid. Tweedie disclosed that he had, “personally bought (Rashid) about this time last year from the Aeniza Bedouins and whom I regard as a typical specimen of the actual (as different from picture book) Arabian horse of our day. But he has never illustrated his pedigree by turf performance.”

One deduces that Tweedie’s passion for the Arabian horse continued unabated for the rest of his life. In his letter to Blackwood of June 4, 1893, he mentioned that he had offered his stallion Rashid as a model for Lord Robert’s 30 foot high equestrian statue which was cast in England and later erected in Calcutta. Unfortunately, it is not known if sculptor Harry Bates (1850-1899), took him up on his offer. (Smaller copies of Bates’ statue of Lord Robert were also erected in Glasgow, Scotland and at Queen’s Gate in London.)

In 1894, William Blackwood published Major-General William Tweedie’s book on the Arabian horse in a limited edition of only 100 copies. For some years thereafter, Tweedie continued to send letters and submit articles to Blackwood’s Magazine, making observations about various politicians and events. Looking back many years he described Emperor Teodoreus as “that drunkard monster.”


Sometime after Tweedie’s return to Scotland, in 1902 he purchased a property at Lettrick, Dunscore, Scotland, where he built a manor home that reportedly cost the hefty sum of £23,000. Recognized as an authority of Oriental languages and Indian and Arab customs, scholars, authors and the British government frequently sought him out to benefit from his profound knowledge of those topics.

Tweedie’s wife Emily died on October 12, 1912 and the great Arabian horse authority passed away two years later on September 18, 1914. Having no heirs he willed everything to the University of Edinburgh. However their records indicate that his bequest amounted to only £3,000. The peculiar detailed arrangements that Tweedie drafted for his own burial (among other things that requested to be dressed in Arab garb), easily ranks as amongst the most bizarre funerals in Scottish history. (Complete details can be found on the Internet at:


Nowadays when rare 1st editions of The Arabian Horse, His Country and His People occasionally come on the market, theycommand from $2,500 to $4,000. Among the many authorities that have praised Tweedie’s engrossing and magnificent tome was Carl Raswan who summed it up nicely as, “a timeless book and always new and refreshing.” All those fortunate enough to read and study the later Borden edition of Major-General William Tweedie’s masterpiece are likely to draw the same conclusion.

Author’s Note: Spelling of Indian and Afghan proper nouns is almost as diverse as Arabic and varies at the whim of a given author. Readers wishing to learn more about the Napier’s Abyssinian Expedition and Emperor Theodor are encouraged to consult Alan Moorehead’s 1962 book ‘The Blue Nile’. The engrossing text also contain a wealth of information on John Lewis Burckhardt’s Egyptian journeys, Napoleon’s Campaigns in Egypt, James Bruce’s (1780-1844) amazing exploration of Ethiopia and an excellent account of Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Baker’s 1861 expedition to those unexplored regions. Several extracts of Tweedie’s dispatches regarding the Arabian horse trade can be found in Hala Fattah’s 1979 book, The Politics of Regional Trade in Iraq, Arabia and the Gulf 1745-1900.


Time Line of William Tweedie’s Life 
Oct. 31, 1836 William Tweedie was born probably at Edinburgh, Scotland
Jan. 20, 1857 Entered the Honorable East Indian Company’s Army as a Cadet in the Infantry
March 4, 1857 Promoted to Ensign of 37th Bengal Infantry
April 30, 1858 Promoted Lieutenant
July 21, 1858 Attached to the 4th Beatson’s Horse Regiment
Oct. 22, 1858 Transferred to 4th Bengal Infantry
Dec. 3, 1858 Retuned to Beatson’s Horse Regiment
May 18, 1859 3rd Adjutant Calvary Regiment at Hyderabad
April 1859 Passed Hindustani examinations
May 29, 1860 2nd Assistant Commander at Hyderabad
June 20, 1862 Returned as Adjutant 3rd Calvary Regiment at Hyderabad
May 20, 1862 Assistant Commander at Mooltan, Punjab
Oct. 18, 1862 Adjutant Commander 1st Cavalry Hyderabad
March 7, 1863 2nd Assistant Resident of Hyderabad & 1st Assistant General Superintendent of Thagi and Darcy
March 1865 2nd Assistant Commissioner of Hyderabad & obtained ‘High Proficiency’ rating in Persian
April 18 1865 Appointed Magistrate and Judge at Secunderbad
July 1, 1867 2nd Assistant Commissioner of Hyderabad
Nov. 1867 Political Secretary to Sir Robert Napier in Abyssinia,
April 1868 Fought at the battles of Arogi and Magdala
Nov. 1867 Promoted Major & decorated with Star of Abyssinia ‘with two clasps’
July 23, 1868 Resumed duties as 2nd Assistant Commissioner of Hyderabad
Sept. 14, 1886 1st Assistant Commissioner of Hyderabad
Sept. 26, 1870 Sessions Judge & Local Secretary of Nizzam’s Territory
Jan. 17, 1874 Political Agent (Governor) of Hyderabad
March 28, 1876 Governor-General of Moorshedabad
Sept. 15, 1876 Furlough to Europe
Oct. 23,1877 Marriage to Emily H. Whitmore
Sept. 26, 1879 Political Staff Officer for Major-Gen. R. D. Bright during Second Afghan War, Commander of the Jalalabad Division
Sept. 22, 1880 Political Agent of Eastern States (Rajputana)
Feb. 22, 1881 Decorated with Most Exalted Order of the Star of India
Dec. 23, 1881 Resident at Gwalior
March 20, 1881 Resident of Turkish Arabia at Baghdad
April 25, 1882 Promoted Colonel
Aug. 18, 1884 Six month furlough spent in India
March 4,1885 Political Agent Ajmere
July 24, 1885 Returned as Resident to Baghdad
Feb. 26, 1885 Obtained his ‘Higher Standard in Arabic Certificate’
1886-1887 Extensive official tour of Babylonia, Assyria and Mesopotamia
June 25, 1888 10 month & 10 day furlough
May 5, 1889 Resident at Baghdad until October 1891
1894  Tweedie’s book The Arabian Horse, His Country and His People is published
1902 Acquired property at Lettrick, Dunscore, Scotland where he built his manor home
Oct. 12, 1912 Death of Tweedie’s wife Emily Harriet
Sept. 18, 1914 Died at Dunbar Terrace, Dumfries, Scotland