Friday, August 29, 2014

The Legend of Highland Jessie Brown

by John Adcock

R.J.O. — The story of Jessie Brown, of Lucknow, was a fiction, and no doubt was concocted by some hard-up but clever penny-a-liner. – Notices to Correspondents, in The London Journal, No. 785, 1860

THE TRICK for the enterprising penny-a-liner was to sell his fabulous paragraphs to as many newspapers as possible. If the story was picked up by a reputable newspaper it took on a life of its own. One of those reputable newspapers was The Illustrated London News which published a long letter on December 19, 1857, supposed to have been written “by a lady, one of the rescued party.”

[2] Letter “by a lady,” Illustrated London News, 1860

Frederick Goodall A.R.A. (1822-1904) painted a stirring picture of Jessie Brown titled ‘The Campbell’s are Coming’ in September 1857 (Listen HERE). Same year, in October, Henry Lea published The Indian War Chronicle “The Sepoy Mutiny” in penny illustrated numbers. Dion Boucicault wrote and staged Jessie Brown; or, the Relief of Lucknow which was opened at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth in November 1858 for a long run. Boucicault’s play acknowledged the infamous letter by a lady as his source for the stirring melodrama.

[3] Reynolds's Miscellany, February 15, 1858

BEST USE. The best use of the invented character was in James Malcolm Rymer’s fine serial romance, The Sepoys; Or, Highland Jessie, a Tale of the Present Indian Revolt, from Reynolds’s Miscellany, February 15, 1858. Sometime in the 1870s John Dicks reprinted the tale (with lovely Frederick Gilbert cuts taken from the original blocks) in Every Week, retitled Highland Jessie; or, the Cawnpore Massacre. Rymer’s Jessie Brown was no shrinking violet; she defended the besieged British men, women and children with rifle, bayonet and cutlass.


Another legend of the Indian Mutiny involved another woman, Ulrica Wheeler. Wheeler’s fantastic and fraudulent exploits included the murder of a sowar and his entire family:
…when he came home drunk and fell asleep, she took a sword and cut off his head, his mother’s head, two children’s heads, and his wife’s, and then walked out in the night air; and when she saw other sowars, she said, “Go inside and see how nicely I have rubbed the rissaldar’s feet.”… The History of the Indian Mutiny by Charles Ball
[5] ‘A Scene of the Mutiny’
LEA. Henry Lea published another penny partswork, The Sepoy’s Daughter, a True Tale of the Indian War by an Eywitness, in 870 pages. This anonymous work was probably the last work of Thomas Peckett Prest, who died in 1859, although it has also been attributed to John Bridge.

[6] ‘Astonishing the Natives’
[7] ‘Perilous Position of the Fugitives’
[8] ‘The Thug Exercises his Vocation’
[9] ‘The Sergeant in the Folds of the Serpent’
[10] ‘The Attack’
[11] ‘Jeffur Ahib Attacking the Serpent’
[12] ‘The Shazadaii Beheads the Courtier’
[13] ‘The Entrance Into Lucknow’

See also ‘Ulrica Wheeler’ HERE.

‘Hard-Boiled Heroines’ HERE.

‘The Boys From Clerkenwell’ HERE.


  1. Thanks for great blog and posts ... :)

  2. Thanks for this helpful post. I found a very fragile handwritten copy of the 'speech' by Sgt Frossett from 'Jessie Brown; or the relief of Lucknow' in a relative's box I am sorting out.