In 1843, Sir Charles Napier conquered Sind and a year later Punch carried a cartoon of the victorious general with the caption “Peccavi,” that is, “I have sinned.” The Latin pun is often attributed to Napier and could have been his, given his wit and dash. And perhaps he did feel a bit sinful. Two years earlier, while at Poona, he had remarked, “Our object in conquering India, the object of all our cruelties, was money. Every shilling of this has been picked out of blood, wiped and put into the murderer’s pocket.”

Still, Napier was a savage and ruthless commander and it would be anachronistic, as well as plain wrong, to read simmering anti-colonialist sentiments into these words. Napier felt contempt for British administration and colonial hierarchy not for their mercenary motives, which he bluntly acknowledged, but for their hypocrisy and sheer incompetence. As the new Oxford...


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