Skinner's Horse at Exercise, 1840 (c).
Oil on canvas by John Reynolds Gwatkin (1807-1877), 1840 (c).
Men of the 1st Bengal Irregular Cavalry (Skinner's Horse) or 4th Bengal Irregular Cavalry (Baddley's Horse) display mounted combat skills, including tent-pegging.
Skinner's Horse was the first regiment to combine oriental horsemanship with western cavalry drill. It was trained according to a manual of English cavalry manoeuvres, translated into Persian, with Colonel Skinner's own additions on musketry drill. This manuscript is preserved in the National Army Museum collections.
Tent-pegging involves spearing a wooden tent-peg stuck in the ground with a long lance while riding past it at a gallop. This difficult exercise is still practised by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment of today's British Army to demonstrate skilled horsemanship. In the background three sowars (privates) display other skills, such as standing upright on the saddle of a galloping horse or mounting one as it gallops by.
These amazing feats are recorded by earlier Indian watercolours depicting Skinner's irregulars at exercise. However, they did not impress Isabella Fane, daughter of General Sir Henry Fane, Commander-in-Chief in India, who saw a performance at Hansi, the regimental headquarters, in 1836, and wrote; 'We were all much disappointed, as at Astley's [the London theatre and circus] we had seen much better'. She was much more fascinated by Skinner's wife and daughter-in-law, whom she visited in purdah (segregation of the sexes), both of whom were covered in jewels. Skinner died in 1841 and was buried at the church he had built, St James's, Delhi. His regiment still lives on today in the Army of India as Skinner's Horse.
Copyright: National Army Museum, London