India: Statue of the butcher of Allahabad, Brig. Gen. James Neill, Chennai (Madras)

While Brig.Gen. James George Neill of ‘’Madras Fusiliers’’during the great rebellion of 1857, became a celebrated martyr among the British; he earned the ire and notoriety among Indians as a brutal, unscrupulous military officer. His huge statue in Madras (Chennai) was removed in 1937 after prolonged protests by the patriots.

Brig.Gen.James neill27 May 1810–25 September 1857

ntil 1937, there was a huge Bronze statue of Brig. Gen. James also spelled Neil) of the ‘Madras Fusiliers’, a European unit, on Mount Road, Madras (Chennai), Tamil Nadu. It was installed by the British in memory of his great services during the siege of Lucknow in 1857. His patriotic services to Britain being so much appreciated, he was held in great as a hero by the British India Army. Partly because not only was he instrumental in the massacre of 100000 plus Indian natives (the figure is debatable; some historians say it is several thousands) but also in the process, Neill saved the British community from total annihilation in the hands of the rampaging Indians.

Mount road, Chennai in 1908.

A Scottish by birth, James Neill with the ‘’Madras Fusiliers’’was assigned to put down the brewing rebellion in the northern states of India that became violent and hell-bent against the British regime that openly encouraged racial discrimination, blasphemy and filthy treatment of Indian soldiers in the army, not to mention illegal grabbing of several rich kingdoms and insulting Indian Maharajahs and Nawabs. In a nutshell, the rule under the British company was a repressive one and there was no let down in the use of brute forces against the Indians.

Brig Gen Neill, at Benares and later at Allahabad and Lucknow, while on duty, went berserk and resorted to committing massacres of rebels/freedom fighters to quell the rebellion. Why did he go mad and indulge in killing spree? Because the high-strung Indians, in a rage, killed numerous whites, including women and children. What the Indians, who were known to have the highest tolerance, did was not all right. But, what justification did Neil have whose action resulted in the death of thousands of Indians to revenge the killing of roughly 50 English people?

Since 1995 the statue has been in the Government Museum, Chennai and is not open to public viewing. This statue, one of the biggest ones in the Museum, measuring over 10 feet in height is not cared for . Befitting the statue’s height, the plaque gives details of his killing spree. “He (Neill) killed one lakh Indians just for uttering the word ‘Independence’, and how can we forget that?” fumes Mr. Kalathi, Educational Officer at the Madras Museum. (vide

Statue of Brigadier-General James Neill (1810–57), Chennai, Royal Collection Trust

Above image: The 10 ft tall (the pedestal is 12 ft tall from the ground, total height 22 feet) statue of the Army officer James Neil near Spenser building, Mount Road, Madras. The inscription on the pedestal of the statue read: “Universally acknowledged as the first who stemmed the torrent of rebellion in Bengal’’’ (vide: ‘Madras Hand Book 1871). ……………………..

The state of James Neil should be exhibited in the center of the museum so that the young people will understand how hard the Indians had fought to get the freedom from the British and what kind of repressive measures they took to put down the freedom movements.

Following the foot steps of Hodson and Nicholson, other British India army men who terrorized the Indians, Col. James Neil with “ruthless and horrible” methods quelled the rebels by ordering “entire villages to be burnt down and inhabitants hanged” as he marched towards Cawnpore (Kanpur). Neill was killed in combat at Lucknow on September 25, 1857 (47). The British rulers honored him by erecting a statue of him near the Spenser building on Mount Road in Madras in 1860. The statue was so tall and imposing, it dwarfed every thing round it. The e ‘Madras Hand Book 1871 is a rare testimony to the horrific side of India’s 1857 uprising that saw Hindus and Muslims united in their struggle against the colonial power.

Butcher of Allahabad. Brig.Gen.James George Smith Neill,

In the early part of 1900s like-minded freedom fighters, belonging to the ‘Tamil Nadu Volunteer Corps’ wanted the statue removed and held agitations. After Jallianwall Bagh massacre (April 1919), the freedom struggle was on a fast track. The big statue of Neill statue in the prime area of Madras city became an emblem of colonial oppression, and an affront that had to be knocked off the pedestal.

Mahatma Gandhi, writing on Neill in Young India

Mahatma Gandhi, on his visit to Chennai in September 1927. gave support to the agitation and wanted the people to follow the principles of ‘Satyagraha. MLC passed several resolutions in this regard, but they proved to be futile. According to reports in The Hindu, in the morning on August 11 1927, two Congress volunteers from Madurai, Mohammed Saliah and Subbarayulu, scaled the façade of the Neil statue with a chisel and hammer. Their intention was to damage the statue. Addressing assembling crowds, these two men in rage spoke about the atrocities committed by Colonel Neil and demanded that the statue be removed, In October 1927, though the city corporation passed a resolution on the removal of the statue, the Madras Legislate Council in a resolution rejected it by 67 to 27 votes

When the Rajaji ( Sri C. Rajagopala Chari) -led Congress Ministry came to power after the election in 1937 (as per newly-constituted Provincial Legislative Assemblies under the ‘Government of India Act, 1935.), the then Madras Corporation through a resolution ordered the removal of Neill’s statue. At last in 1953 the statue was shifted it to the Madras Museum permanently and before that, it was in the Ripon Building complex.

To the Indians, Army officer, James Neill is a butcher in a mutton shop. As for the British, he is a hero who saved the honor and dignity of the British community during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 by committing massacre of Indian natives in large numbers. What a paradox?


A committee in Calcutta had been set up by Lord Canning (14 December 1812–17 June 1862), the Governor-General East India Company, under the direction of Lord Low, the Commander-in-Chief. The purpose of the committee was to raise public subscription/ funds to erect a statue of Neill. By Nov.1858 Rs 18,953 was collected. Mathew Noble, the well-known sculptor in England was entrusted with the work on the statue. Initially, they planned an equestrian one, befitting his military statue. But, finally, they came up in favor of a standing statue of Neill with an expression of a commanding attitude. In order to be respected and revered in his own birth place — Ayr in Scotland, a fine and identical bronze was also commissioned and unveiled in 1859, in a well-attended, public ceremony. Till his death there was no humanism in whatever deeds he executed. He remained a symbol of terror and violence till his death as he followed ghostly and gruesome methods to deal with Indian natives, particularly the freedom fighters who demanded freedom from Britain.

Originally published at (modified22 Jun4 2020

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