National Army Museum gifted death-defying Indian Mutiny redcoat

Richard Moss | 04 March 2013
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Pierced with bullet holes and stained with blood from a brutal exchange that should have seen its wearer fatally wounded, the National Army Museum's latest acquisition is a rare survivor from a bloody conflict.

a photo of red tunic with a black collar
The 156-year-old military tunic at the National Army Museum belonged to a Lieutenant Clark© Courtesy National Army Museum
The unique 156-year-old military tunic belonged to Lieutenant Campbell Clark, who was caught up in one of the many bloody episodes of the Indian Mutiny between 1857 and 1859.

Ambushed by rebel sepoys (Indian infantry) and shot at point-blank range during a skirmish in Cawnpore, the musket ball passed through Lieutenant Clark's stomach, taking with it his gold watch-chain and pieces of clothing.

His comrades managed to get him back to the basic military hospital at Cawnpore, where he was considered beyond hope. Remarkably, he defied the odds and survived.

"The Gen Hospital was a terrible place and I really think had we remained there we should have died or gone very near death,” he later wrote in a letter dated January 4, 1858.

“I have only one fear about my wound, and that is that there may be still some flannel shirt or red flannel from which my coat was made or merino under-waistcoat, or dyed blue trouser in my stomach and that may trouble me after the wound has healed up.”

Subsequent surgery removed fragments of watch-chain, clothing and lead musket ball and, although he had to wear a truss to support his stomach and bowel for the rest of his days, Clark went on to have a successful military career in India and at home, rising to the rank of colonel.

He eventually succumbed to stomach cancer, dying in Suffolk on March 28, 1896, aged 69.

The bloody events of the Indian Mutiny, which erupted in the northern states of India, also affected Campbell Clark’s brother, who lost his wife and unborn child in the siege of Lucknow. 

The tunic, which was gifted to the museum by his great-great nephew, John Gordon Clark, joins the most extensive collection in the UK of historical and military artefacts relating to the Indian Army from 1754 to 1947.

“Campbell Clark’s tunic and the story surrounding it provide a graphic example of the perils of soldiering in the 19th century,” says Pip Dodd, the museum curator.

“It also shows the extraordinary fortune of some soldiers to survive horrific wounds.”
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