Peccavi and the Legend of Sindh. General Sir Charles Napier 1842, India. A Fun Slice of History and its recording.

I have often been asked why I call various things (user names for example), ‘Peccavi’.

The reason is down to a piece of British history from the 19th Century which appeals to my sense of humour. I love the use and manipulation of words, homophones being a favourite (words which sound the same but have different meanings such as ‘gate’ as in entrance to a field and ‘gait’ as in how one walks).


From a Portrait of Sir Charles James Napier by William Edward Kilburn, 1849 

In 1842, General Sir Charles Napier was appointed Major General to the command of the Indian Army within the Bombay (now Mumbai) Presidency. One of his tasks was to suppress an uprising of Muslims who were reported to be hostile to the British Empire, as it then was.

Napier was a man of swift and decisive measures, believing in the short, sharp shock way of disciplining:

The best way to quiet a country is a good thrashing, followed by great kindness afterwards. Even the wildest chaps are thus tamed.

He was, though, equally appalled at the maltreatment meted out by the Amirs who were responsible for rape, torture, mutilation, extortion and ‘unmitigated cruelty and debauchery’, as he put it himself.

His efforts to respect the rights of women and children required him to battle numerous Amirs.

So, Napier set off to Sindh (or Scinde), the source of this uprising. He was simply asked to quell the uprising, no more. In the event, he did a lot more, winning two battles at Miani and Hyderabad and conquering the whole Sindh Province, thereby greatly exceeding his mandate.

The story goes that Napier despatched this witty note of brevity:


In Latin, ‘peccavi’ translates as ‘I have sinned”.


The cutting from Punch Magazine

The true author of the pun was, however, an Englishwoman named Catherine Winkworth, who submitted it to Punch Magazine, which then printed it as a factual report. Later proponents of British rule over the East Indians justified the conquest thus:

“If this was a piece of rascality, it was a noble piece of rascality”.

News and justifications of means were being manipulated even then!

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