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James Outram

PERTH NAMES. Outram of Outram Street. By Cygnet.

OUTRAM of Outram-street was that General Sir James Outram whose name before, during and after the Indian Mutiny was the synonym for deeds of outstanding valour, for stories of amazing adventures in disguise among savage tribes, for tales of mighty hunting among the wild animals of India. But although it took the Indian Mutiny to blazen his name throughout the Empire, more than a dozen years before that bloody episode such was his renown in India that on the occasion of a military dinner in 1842 the Commander-in-Chief had jumped to his feet and exclaimed amid a furore of feeling: "Gentlemen, I give you the toast of the Bayard of India, sans peur et sans reproche: Major James Outram of the Bombay Army!"

James Outram was a Scotsman. Born in 1803, he went to India in 1819 as an ensign and was posted to a native regiment. From that moment he was part and parcel of the fabric of India and at once began to make himself master of the languages and the mysteries of the myriads of peoples who compose that much be-peopled land. But side by side with this Indian interest his military knowledge and genius grew so that he was transferred from this regiment to that, and from region to region wherever there was trouble - and there was always trouble in one quarter or other in India in those days. But wherever he went or whatever the trouble, Outram succeeded in the task that had been set him; and savage tribes which for generations had fought for the mere love of fighting found themselves after being beaten by force of arms also beaten by the genius and resourcefulness of this remarkable white man who won them over to a peaceful acceptance of the British raj.

Insurrections, however, were not the only things he fought. Tigers were his especial delight, and he shot them much as people these days read detective stories. His bag between 1825 and 1834 included '191 tigers, 25 bears, 12 buffaloes and 15 leopards, to count only the "big stuff." And so keen was he on the chase that on one occasion when it was necessary to go right to the tiger's lair he and his servants stripped themselves of their clothes and made them into a rope by which Outram was suspended from a tree and from which position he shot the tiger as it leapt upwards at him!

But shooting a tiger even in such circumstances was as nothing compared to the feats of cold-blooded valour that he performed when disguised as an Afghan he would spend months living in the very homes of savages whose code saw nothing wrong but everything commendable in slitting the throat of a white man. It took not only courage of a superb order but a knowledge of the language and customs of these people which is almost beyond conception. His most desperate adventure in this respect was when he ventured out of Hyderabad, besieged and surrounded by the enemy, and placing himself at the mercy of a robber chief (who had already slit more throats than he could remember but now promised a safe conduct to Outram to the British lines) survived a most appalling fortnight of horrors in the shape of hourly escapes from other robbers, blinding storms and torrential rains, hunger and thirst fatigue and wounds and fever, only to reach safety - and then start back again after describing the hopelessness of his beleaguered companions. And when he rejoined them it was to endure with them another two years of captivity and slavery until at last they were rescued and returned to civilisation to the amazement of the whole nation, which had long considered them slaughtered.

For his services at this stage Outram received the C.B., was promoted Colonel, presented with a gold sword of honour, and awarded £3,000 as his share of the "loot," as was the custom in those days. But he declined the money and had it distributed among charities. Retiring to England for two years, he returned to hold various important positions, and in 1856 became General Sir James Outram, K.C.B.

Outram's part in the Mutiny must be here limited to that phase which tells of his magnificent gesture of selflessness which allowed Havelock to reap the full reward of his labours. Sent to supersede Havelock when that gallant officer was on the very point of achievlng the historic relief of Lucknow, Outram issued to the troops perhaps the most remarkable general order ever issued to any army: that, satisfied with Havelock's past achievements and present plans, he (Outram) would waive his rank and serve under Havelock in any capacity until Lucknow had been relieved, when he would assume command of the army in accordance with his instructions. The world rang with acclamation at such an action and Outram's name deservedly became the symbol for chivalry and gallantry. Outram's part in the Mutiny brought him a baronetcy, £10,000, a sword of honour from the City of London, a silver shield, and, at his death in 1863, burial in Westminster Abbey. The slab which covers his remains contains the most arresting inscription in the Abbey. Simply it reads: "The Bayard of India."

References and Links

Cygnet (Cyril Bryan), 'Perth Names. Outram of Outram Street.' West Australian 21 January 1939: 5.

Wikipedia page for James Outram, whence the photograph.

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