Michael Anthony Shrapnel Biddulph

Birth: 1823


Michael Anthony Shrapnel Biddulph (1823-1904), general and colonel commandant royal artillery, born on 30 July 1823 at Cleeve Court, Somerset, was eldest surviving son of Thomas Shrapnel Biddulph of Amroth Castle, Pembrokeshire, prebendary of Brecon, by his wife Charlotte, daughter of James Stillingfleet, prebendary of Worcester and great-grandson of Edward Stillingfleet, bishop of Worcester. His paternal grandmother was Rachel, sister of Lieut.-general Henry Shrapnel, whose surname he added to his Christian names in 1843.

Destined for the church and with expectation of a considerable fortune, Biddulph was being educated under a private tutor, when speculations in South Wales coal mines brought about such serious reverses that the family seat was sold and his career was changed. He entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich on 19 Nov. 1840, and while a gentleman cadet was awarded the Royal Humane Society's silver medal for saving a comrade from drowning in the canal at the Royal Arsenal on 25 Aug. 1842. Becoming second lieutenant in the royal artillery on 17 June 1843, and first lieutenant on 26 April 1844, Biddulph served for three years in Bermuda, and then at various home stations until 1853, being promoted second captain on 4 Oct. 1850. When war was declared with Russia in the spring of 1854 he was ordered to Turkey with the British army as adjutant of the royal artillery.

From Varna, in September, Biddulph accompanied the army to the Crimea, where he took part in the battles of the Alma, Balaklava, Inkerman, and the Tchernaya. He served in the trenches during the siege of Qebastopol as assistant engineer, and was present at the repulse of the Russian sortie on 26 Oct. 1854, and in the three bombardments. After the final assault of the Malakoff by the French, he was sent by Lord Raglan to ascertain from the French commander whether he could retain the position, and received the laconic and well-known answer 'J'y suis, j'y reste.' Biddulph was afterwards attached to the quartermaster-general's staff, and became director of submarine telegraphs in the Black Sea. As a sportsman in the Crimea he won the grand point-to-point race of the allied army in front of Sebastopol. For his services Biddulph was mentioned in despatches, given a brevet majority on 12 Dec. 1854 and a brevet lieutenant-colonelcy on 6 June 1856, and received the British war medal with four clasps, the Turkish medal, the French legion of honour, and the Turkish medjidie, fifth class.

When the war was over he was employed on special telegraph construction service in Asia Minor until 1859, and on his return to England was on the committee of the first Atlantic cable. After serving in Corfu until 1861 he went to India on the amalgamation of the royal and Indian armies, was promoted brevet colonel on 14 Aug. 1863 and regimental lieutenant-colonel on 10 Aug. 1864. On 20 Feb. 1868 he was appointed deputy adjutant-general for royal artillery in India, on 30 March 1869 was promoted major-general, and on relinquishing his staff appointment at the end of five years was created a C.B., military division, on 24 May 1873. After a visit home on furlough, Biddulph returned to India in Sept. 1875 to take up the command of the Rohilkhand district.

Two years later he was given the command of the Quetta field force in the Afghan war, 1878-9, and he held successively the command of the second division of the Kandahar field force, and of the Thai Chotiali field force. He was present at the occupation of Kandahar and the action of Khusk-i-Nakhud. His march with the Thai Chotiali field force on his return to India in 1879 was made through a country which had never been visited by British troops, or even by any European traveller. In spite of preliminary negotiations the force was not allowed to make a peaceful progress, although Biddulph carefully observed his orders to avoid irritating the tribes on the route. Repeated acts of hostility were threatened by the natives, and at Baghao the first column was seriously assailed by 2000 Kakars under Shah Jehan of Zhob and other chiefs. But Biddulph surmounted all difficulties, and took farewell of the force in a general order dated Mian Mir, 16 May 1879. For his services in this war he was mentioned in despatches, received the thanks of both houses of parliament and the medal, and was promoted to be K.C.B. on 25 July 1879.

In 1880 Biddulph was given the command of the Rawal Pindi district in India, and during his command entertained the Amir of Afghanistan at the grand durbar of 1884 and the Duke of Connaught on his tour of inspection in 1885. Biddulph was promoted lieut.-general on 13 Feb. 1881, colonel commandant of royal artillery on 14 July 1885, and general on 1 Nov. 1886, when he left India for good. On his return to England he was for three years president of the ordnance committee.

Biddulph retired from the service under the age regulation on 30 July 1890. He was offered but refused a colonial governorship. From 1879 to 1895 he had been groom-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and from 1895 an extra groom-in-waiting successively to Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. From 1891 to 1896 he was keeper of the regalia at the Tower of London. On 25 May 1895 he was made G.C.B., and in the following year was appointed gentleman usher of the black rod. That office he held until his death. An all-round and enthusiastic sportsman, he was also an accomplished painter of landscape in water-colour.

Biddulph died at his residence, 2 Whitehall Court, on 23 July 1904, and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery. He married in 1857 Katherine Stepan, daughter and co-heiress of Captain Stepan Stamati of Karani, Balaklava, commandant of Balaklava, by Helen, daughter and heiress of Paul Mavromichalis of Greece. Lady Biddulph died on 27 Sept. 1908, and was buried beside her husband at Kensal Green. Biddulph's five sons, all of the military service, survived him, together with two of his five daughters.

An oil portrait by Sylvester was painted in 1887, and another by A. Fletcher, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1904, attracted the attention of King Edward VII, who caused a copy to be made for Buckingham Palace. Both originals are in possession of Sir Michael's daughter, Miss Biddulph, at 15 Hanover Square, London.

[The Times, 25 July 1904; Men and Women of the Time, 1891; Royal Artillery Record; Royal Artillery Institution leaflet, August 1904; H. B. Hanna, The Second Afghan War, 3 vols. 1899-1910; private information.]


Robert Hamilton Vetch, Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement. pgs. 159-161.

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