The Skull of Alum Bheg
by Kim A Wagner Hurst, 256 pages, £25
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