b. 21/01/1833 Marylebone, London. d. 20/06/1924 Sandringham House, Norfolk.
Sir Dighton MacNaghten Probyn (1833-1924), the first recipient of the Victoria Cross for the Indian Mutiny (by date of action), was born in Marylebone, London on 21st January 1833, the son of Captain George Probyn and Alicia, daughter of Sir F.Workman MacNaghten, 1st Baronet. He joined the Bengal Cavalry of the Indian Army as a Cornet in 1849. From 1852-1857 he served in the 2nd Punjab Cavalry under the command of Captain Sam Browne on the Trans-Indus Frontier and was engaged in the operations in the Bozdar Hills and other engagements on that frontier, earning the Campaign Medal with clasp.
When the Indian Mutiny broke out in Meerut on 10th May 1857, Dighton Probyn was at Jullundur, the station of his parent Regiment, the 6th Bengal Light Cavalry. For the next 12 months, Probyn’s squadron was at the thick of the actions, including the Siege of Delhi, the Battles of Bolundshuhar, Allighur and Agra, the Battle of Kanuje and the Relief of Lucknow, under Sir Colin Campbell, and the Battle of Cawnpore in December 1857 and the storming of Lucknow in March 1858. He was mentioned in despatches seven times for his gallant actions.
By the end of 1857, the squadron of the 2nd Punjab Cavalry which Probyn commanded was frequently referred to as “Probyn’s Horse”, as Lieutenant E.H. Verney of the Royal Navy commented on in his book “The Shannon’s Brigade in India”:
“Two bodies of irregular Sikh cavalry are attached to the main army; one is distinguished by wearing red turbans, is commanded by Captain Hodson of the Indian Army, and is known as Hodson’s Horse; the other wears blue turbans, is commanded by Lieutenant Probyn of the Indian Army, and is known as Probyn’s Horse. Their dress consists of the whitey-brown ‘kharki’, each man is armed with a tulwa and brace of pistols, and one or two troops with lances. To command a regiment of these semi-barborous troopers requires no small ability, tact, and personal courage, as well as knowledge of the native character, and both Probyn and Hodson are beloved by their wild horsemen. They are generally splendidly mounted, and each horse is the private property of his rider.”
Probyn had been promoted to Captain in 1857 and Major in 1858, and had received the thanks of Lord Canning, the Governor-General of India. During the final days of the fall of Lucknow in early 1858, the 2nd Punjab Cavalry was constantly engaged in patrolling and was frequently sent short distances in persuit of fleeing mutineers and rebels. By this time, Probyn, worn down by the rigours of continual campaigning, was a shadow of his former self and, on the advice of the surgeons, started down country on 18th March 1858 for embarkation to England. Three days after his departure the last of the rebel forces were dislodged from Lucknow and on 24th March 1858 Probyn was promoted Brevet Major.
He was created a Companion of Bath and awarded the Indian Mutiny Medal with three clasps. On the 18th June 1858, he was gazetted for the award of the Victoria Cross which followed a despatch from Major General Sir James Hope Grant KCB, dated 10th January 1858. At the Battle of Agra, when his squadron charged the enemy, he was found himself separated from his men and was surrounded by 5 or 6 Sepoys. He defended himself, and before his own men reached him, he had killed two of the enemy. Later, he was involved in a single combat with a Sepoy, who despite being wounded by a bayonet to the wrist, he managed to cut down. He later in the day captured the standard, by singling out and killing the enemy standard bearer.
Probyn was awarded his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria at an investiture held in Portsmouth on 2nd August 1858. After returning to India, Probyn’s parent regiment, the 6th Bengal Light Cavalry disappeared, and his name was transferred to the rolls of the 3rd European Light Cavalry. As a further special award for his services during the Mutiny, he was appointed to the command of Wale’s Horse – the 1st Sikh Irregular Cavalry – Captain Wale having been shot dead by a solitary Sepoy at Lucknow. Probyn joined his new regiment in January 1860, which soon became known in India as Probyn’s Horse.
He then served in the China Campaign of 1860 (awarded the China Medal with two clasps). In 1861, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and served in the Umbeleya Campaign, in which he was mentioned in despatches and received the campaign medal and clasp. In 1866, he became Colonel, and in 1870, Major General. He was then appointed Aide de Camp to the Viceroy of India, Lord Mayo. In 1872, he married Letitia, daughter of Thomas Roberts Thelluson.
Later that year, Probyn returned to England to become Equerry to the Prince of Wales and in March 1875 accompanied the Prince on his tour of India which was designed to show that the rule of the Honourable East India Company had given way to a greater authority. The triumphant tour ended after seventeen weeks and on his return to England, Probyn was rewarded with a K.C.B. ( Civil Division ), a K.C.S.I., and by being advanced to the rank of Lieutenant-General.
From 1877 to 1891, he became Treasurer and Comptroller to the Prince of Wales and was promoted to General in 1888. In 1896, he was created a KCVO and in 1901 became a PC, in 1902, a GCB (civil) and in 1903 created a ISO. From 1902 to 1910, he was the Keeper of the Privy Purse and Extra Equerry to King Edward VII, a Member of the Council of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Secretary and Registrar to the Royal Victorian Order. In 1911, Probyn was paid a unique tribute by being advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath ( Military Division ), thus becoming the only non-Royal to hold the highest grade of the Order in both civil and military divisions.
Probyn’s twilight years were spent chiefly at Sandringham in Norfolk. In June 1924 he was taken ill and was nursed at Sandringham in the room previously occupied by Queen Victoria. He died there on 20th June and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London. Probyn’s medals passed through several hands before becoming part of the Brian Ritchie collection of HEIC and British Gallantry Medals. On 23rd September 2005, in an auction at Dix Noonan Webb, Probyn’s medals were sold to a private buyer for £160,000. They are still in private ownership.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: PRIVATELY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: KENSAL GREEN CEMETERY, LONDON.
SQUARE 117-2, GRAVE 21487
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.
Dix Noonan Webb – Image of the Probyn VC Medal Group.