The Skull of Alum Bheg

by Kim A Wag­ner Hurst, 256 pages, £25

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A skull that used to be on dis­play in a Kent pub is the start­ing point for this book that traces the story of the dead man, who took part in the In­dian Mutiny of 1857 and suf­fered a ter­ri­ble punishment for his al­leged crimes.

A note with the skull said that it was owned by a Cap­tain Costello, who had been present when Bheg was “blown away from a gun” or shot out of a can­non. Au­thor Dr Kim A Wag­ner used a reg­i­men­tal mu­seum to find a diary of a man who had served with Costello in Sialkot, mod­ern Pak­istan, and let­ters from those who were killed by Bheg and those they knew. He has cre­ated a his­tor­i­cal de­tec­tive story all the more in­trigu­ing be­cause of the “archival ab­sence” of Bheg him­self.

Wag­ner is able to demon­strate from of­fi­cial sources that the crimes Bheg was ac­cused of – killing a Bri­tish doc­tor and a vicar and his fam­ily – were not car­ried out in the way it was claimed, and he was not even present. He was cer­tainly a mu­ti­neer, but was no leader. This is a fas­ci­nat­ing study of life and death in Bri­tish In­dia.

The ac­cusatory note that con­demned Alum Bheg for pos­ter­ity

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