William Tayler

Birth: 1808


William Tayler (1808-1892), Indian civilian, born on 8 April 1808, was son of Archdale Wilson Tayler of Boreham Wood, Elstree, Hertfordshire, his mother being the sister of Charles Henry Hall (afterwards dean of Durham). Frederick Tayler was his elder brother. William was educated at the Charterhouse, and spent a term at Christ Church, Oxford, matriculating on 16 Dec. 1828. On 30 April 1829 he was given a writership in the East India Company's service. Arrived in India in October 1829, he was appointed in June 1830 assistant to the commissioner of Cuttack, after which he held various posts in Bengal, including that of postmaster-general for the province, and in 1855 was appointed commissioner of Patna.

His official career had been uneventful, though he made friends in high quarters by his skill as a portrait-painter, and some enemies by a turn for caricature. His conduct immediately before and during the earlier stage of the mutiny occasioned controversy. He foresaw the outbreak, and his warnings were neglected at headquarters. Nor were the precautionary measures which he adopted unwise. According to Kaye and Malleson's 'History of the Mutiny,' Tayler did as much as any man 'to save the North of India.' But when the crisis came his actions were condemned at the time by his superiors and that condemnation was never officially recalled.

'I believe,' Lord Canning wrote, 'that in the course of Mr. Tayler's proceedings men were condemned and executed on insufficient evidence.' Of his action in arresting suspected persons, after inviting them to a friendly conference at his house, Kaye wrote that 'it was not only very like treachery, but treachery itself.' Tayler's whole policy of defence was questioned. He ordered the officials in his division to abandon their posts and fall back on Dinapore. Two of them, Wake at Arrah and Alonzo Money, collector of Behar, disobeyed the order and held their posts successfully; though the hostility they had to face was largely increased by the abandonment of other stations in accordance with the commissioner's instructions.

'Had it not been,' the lieutenant-governor (Halliday) wrote at the time, 'for the spirited and judicious conduct of Mr. A. Money at Gya, this act of Mr. Tayler's would have entailed the certain loss of eight lakhs of rupees in the treasury besides other public and private property, the release of many hundred determined convicts, and the risk of the whole town and district being thrown into confusion.' To Vincent Eyre, who was starting to relieve Arrah, where Wake was defending himself against heavy odds, Tayler wrote officially, ordering him not to advance. Eyre either never received the order or disregarded it. Had it been obeyed, Eyre and the relief force, as well as the garrison of Arrah, would most likely have perished to a man.

In August 1857 the lieutenant-governor, with Canning's approval, transferred Tayler to a less responsible and less lucrative post, on the ground that his conduct had been injudicious, insubordinate, and at a critical time detrimental to the public safety. Believing that his removal from Patna was due to 'a contemptible cabal,' to 'covert machinations,' and to 'the intense political, perhaps personal, dislike' with which the lieutenant-governor regarded him, Tayler printed and published at Calcutta a pamphlet in which, besides expounding his own views concerning the mutiny, he virulently attacked the lieutenant-governor. This Lord Canning considered 'insufferably offensive,' and on 26 Jan. 1859 Tayler was suspended. At the governor-general's suggestion he was given the option of a public inquiry, before a judicial court, into the charge that he had executed men on insufficient evidence; but this he declined, and on 29 March 1859 he resigned the service, after a fruitless appeal to Lord Derby, then secretary of state for India, retiring with the customary pension of 1,000l. a year.

For the remainder of his life he regarded himself as the victim of official vindictiveness, and frequent attempts were made to convince the authorities that his services before and after the mutiny entitled him to public honors. His case was warmly championed by Colonel Malleson and other writers, by Sir R. Lethbridge and Sir Henry Havelock in the House of Commons, and by the 'Times.' Nevertheless the Duke of Argyll refused to reopen the case on appeal being made to him after his appointment as Indian secretary at the close of 1868. After his retirement Tayler started a legal agency, and practiced as an advocate in the law courts in Bengal, until 1867, when he returned to England. He died at St. Leonards on 8 March 1892.

Tayler married, at Calcutta on 17 July 1830, Charlotte, daughter of John Palmer (d. 1836), merchant. Their eldest son, Skipwith Henry Churchill, entered the Bengal civil service, retiring with a pension in 1887. Another son, William Vansittart Tayler, also entered the Bengal civil service, retiring in 1890.

Tayler published: 1. 'Brief Narrative of Events connected with the Removal of William Tayler from the Commissionership of Patna,' Calcutta, 1857. 2. 'Our Crisis, or Three Months of Patna during the Insurrection of 1857,' Calcutta, 1858. 3. 'Justice in Excelsis,' London, 1870. 4. 'Indian Reform,' London, 1871. 5. 'Thirty-eight Years in India,' 2 vols. London, 1878-81. 6. 'Justice in the Nineteenth Century,' 1885.

[Kaye and Malleson's Hist. of Indian Mutiny; Correspondence relating to the Patna riots and the case of Mr. Tayler, official papers, 1858-9; Memorandum by Sir F. Halliday, Parliamentary Paper, June 1879; Memorial by Mr. Tayler and Despatch from the Government of India, Parliamentary Paper, July 1879; Reply by Mr. Tayler, Parliamentary Paper, 1880; Pioneer (Allahabad), 4 Aug. 1879; Times, 12 March 1892.]


Stephen Edward Wheeler, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55. pgs. 400-402.

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