Kidnapped by the Afghans! December 11 2013, 0 Comments

Contributed by Jack Kopstein

Bandmaster Murdock, 72nd Highlander, 1874/75 - From Victorian Forum

London Illustrated News; "Band Master Murdock on the March from Peshawar to the Khyber Pass".Garen, a writer in this forum said” During some Afghan War research in 2005, I happened upon an unrelated story about a Bandsman of the 72nd Highlanders in The Scotsman. It was just two short snippets - but I was intrigued”!

The Scotsman, 4 January 1875 "The bandmaster of the 72nd Highlanders has been carried off to the Khyber Pass by the Afridis."

The Scotsman, 12 January 1875 "We lately mentioned that the bandmaster of the 72nd Highlanders had been carried off by the Afreedee tribes. The Times' Calcutta correspondent now says:- The regiment is stationed at Peshawur, and it was while returning from the sergeant's mess at that station that the unfortunate man was seized. According to the latest news he was still alive, but the captors had refused to give him up until a ransom of £700 has been paid."

One of the forum members did a bit of digging around and came up with a possible name for the bandmaster based on the dates - one Charles Frederick Murdock. My next find was almost a year later, this time from The Times:

The Times, 18 Jan 1875 "I mentioned last week that a bandmaster of the 72d Highlanders had been carried away from Peshawur by some of the mountain tribes. Since then I have been able to inform you by telegram that he has been restored alive and well. It appears that he was returning from mess at night and fell asleep by the roadside at some distance from the station, but within the cantonment boundary. He was then siezed and carried off by a party of Afridis who were prowling about. They demanded a ransom of £700. This, I believe, has not been paid, and I have not heard how they were induced to release their captive."

Hmmm... "fell asleep by the roadside..." - perhaps our luckless bandmaster was not quite so blameless in the incident, after all! The Times yielded more results, and confirmed the correct name to be Murdoch (Murdock).

The Times, 19 Jan 1875 "The Afreedis have sent in the bandmaster whom they held captive for a period. It is understood, though not explicitly stated, that the ransom they demanded for their captive has been paid. Opinions differ as to the course that should have been pursued for the recovery of Mr. Murdoch. Some people think we should have undertaken a small frontier war, leaving the unlucky musician in momentary danger of having his throat cut, before consenting to pay over any number of rupees the tribe cared to demand. Perhaps, after all, we have adopted the better plan. Having paid the money, we are now free to send an expedition for its recovery, or to take its equivalent out of the astute mountaineers."

The Times, 25 Jan 1875 "In telling you the story of the bandmaster's capture I think I gave you the version generally adopted by the Indian press - that he had fallen asleep by the roadside while returning from dinner at the mess. He has, I see, written to The Pioneer indignantly repudiating this. The facts are, he says, that he dined in the middle of the day, conducted his band from 5 to 6, and then went to see the bandmaster of the 17th, and while walking home again he was seized by a party of mountaineers."

Now he's protesting at insinuations about 'falling asleep'. A month later I found the following in Paget's 'A Record of the Expeditions Against the North West Frontier Tribes' (p.293)... "On the night of 4th December 1874, the bandmaster of the 72nd Highlanders, stationed at Peshawar, was carried off by a party of raiders belonging to the Zakha Khel clan, and taken to the Khaiber pass, when he was released uninjured, after a short detention, through the instrumentality of Arbab Abdul Majid Khan. Subsequently the representatives of the tribe repudiated the acts of the robbers, and in token thereof burnt the house of the leader of the gang, and returned a small amount of property taken from the bandmaster."

This seemed to flesh out the story quite a bit, but another two years after finding that (last month, in fact) I found one more piece of the puzzle, which really gave enough to pretty much complete the picture. The following passage is from Sir Robert Warburton's 'Eighteen Years in the Khyber' (1900, p.42-44), which I recently added to my collection...

"One morning in the seventies it was whispered about Peshawar Cantonments that the bandmaster of a distinguished regiment had disappeared. The secret of his whereabouts was well kept for two or three days, and it then leaked out that he had been carried off, and was a prisoner amongst the Zakha Khel Afridis of the Khyber Pass, by whom he was well fed and kindly treated. The civil authorities called upon Arbab Majid Khan, Khalil of Taikal Bala, to recover the bandmaster, and within a week or ten days he was brought back safe and sound to his regiment at Peshawar. Some years afterwards, when I had been for a long period in charge of the Khyber Pass and had become well acquainted with the Zakha Khel, I remembered the anecdote of the bandmaster, and asked his captors to tell me what had occurred on that occasion. They said that a band of Nikki Khel Zakha Khels of the Khyber started on an expedition towards Peshawar, and passing the cemetery on the Jamrud road, they descended into the ravine, which commences at the Brigade parade ground and goes round the whole of the Cantonments on that side, past the second cemetery by the road that leads from Peshawar to Michni, where it joins the Sheikh-ka-Katha and the Budni stream, through the Military Works Department brickfields. On the night in question they had not gone far, had not even reached the lower cemetery, when they noticed a lighted lantern in the ravine and a European lying on the ground close to it. They scattered at once, thinking it was some trap laid by Mr. Nyx, at that period the Inspector of Cantonment Police; but, crawling round and round the light, they gradually approached it until they came upon the figure of a European fast asleep. Extinguishing the lantern, they raised the sleeper on their shoulders, and carried him for a distance of four miles, until they had passed the police station of Burj-Harri Singh, where they placed him on his feet and, supporting him, made him walk towards Jamrud Fort and the Khyber. It must have been a powerful narcotic that had been administered to him that evening, for he walked eight miles and had reached the entrance to the pass before dawn began to appear and cool morning breeze brought him to his senses. Making use of a friendly expression he attempted to break away from his captors, but they immediately drew their long Afridi knives, called charas, and gave him to understand by visible signs that they had no intention of being trifled with. After this he went quietly with them to their Zakha Khel settlements, and remained there until brought back to Peshawar. The Zakha Khel spoke well of the behaviour of the bandmaster, to the effect that during the week or ten days he was under their charge he displayed no fear."

A 'powerful narcotic' indeed! Finally, is it conceivable that the band members may have had a hand in this KIDNAPPING ?

- Jack Kopstein