My first cousin five times removed Norman William Mainwaring, son of George Mainwaring and Isabella née Byres, was born on 21 July 1821 and baptised on 10 October in Benares, Bengal. He was the fifth of their fourteen children. Norman’s mother Isabella was the illegitimate daughter of Lieutenant-General Patrick Byers. She was probably Anglo-Indian, with an Indian mother.

Norman Mainwaring was educated in both classical and mathematical subjects by a Mr Tulloch at Bellevue school, Aberdeen, Scotland. His brothers Rowland, Harry, and George also attended this school. Norman was later a pupil at Kings College, Aberdeen; it is probably not a coincidence that his maternal grandfather Lieutenant-General Patrick Byers lived nearby.

On 26 August 1840 Mainwaring, 19 years old, petitioned to join the East India Company as a cadet in the Bengal Infantry. He was nominated by William Butterworth Bayley Esq, director and chairman of the British East India Company, to whom he had been recommended by his mother.

His application successful, Mainwaring joined the Company’s Bengal army. By 1841 he was firmly established in the 73rd Native Infantry regiment. In 1843 he was promoted to lieutenant, and in 1854 to captain.

Mainwaring served in the Punjab campaign of 1848-49, which ended in its annexation by the British.

On 21 April 1849 Norman Mainwaring married Jane Kent in Lahore, at that time the capital of the Punjab region. Jane Kent was the illegitimate Anglo-Indian daughter of Robert Kent of the Bengal Army, quite likely Lieutenant Colonel R. Kent of the 18th Regiment Native Infantry, who had died at Lahore in 1848.

Norman Mainwaring and Jane Mainwaring née Kent had seven children:

  • Isabella Jane Mainwaring 1850–1934
  • Georgeanne Agnes Emma Mainwaring 1852–1863
  • Robert Byres Mainwaring 1854– died young
  • Norman Hawthorn Mainwaring 1855–1856
  • Rowland Kent Mainwaring 1855–1938
  • Edward Currie Mainwaring 1856–1914
  • Norman Hall Mainwaring 1857–1910

In 1851 Mainwaring, at the time a Lieutenant of the 73rd N.I. was seconded to a civilian engineering project, placed at the disposal of the director of the Ganges irrigation canal for employment as assistant executive engineer. He was attached to the 2nd division of the Ganges Division of the Canal Department of the Bengal Department of Public Works.

The Ganges Canal was constructed between 1842 and 1854 in response to a disastrous famine, the Agra famine of 1837–38, in which some 800,000 people died. The British East India Company sponsored the project; the driving force behind it was Colonel Proby Cautley (1802-1871), British palaeontologist and engineer.

Hindu priests opposed the canal, believing that it would imprison the waters of the holy river Ganges. In response Cautley undertook to leave gaps in the dams through which water could flow unchecked. He further appeased the priests by  repairing  bathing ghats along the river, and he inaugurated  dams by ceremonies honouring Lord Ganesh, the god of good beginnings.

The Canal opened on 8 April 1854. When irrigation commenced a year late,r over 3000 square kilometres, encompassing 5,000 villages, were able to draw on Canal water.

The Ganges Canal at Roorkee in the Saharanpur District of Uttar Pradesh, watercolour by William Simpson dated 1863. Image from the collection of the British Library.

In 1854, recently promoted to Captain, 73rd Native Infantry regiment, and with the civilian title of Deputy Superintendent Second Division Ganges Canal, Mainwaring resigned pleading poor health, and asked to be permitted to rejoin his regiment. A sceptical newspaper, the Indian Standard, commented “that any one acquainted with the late and present ongoings of that division of the canal would be able to form their own opinion as regards this excellent officer’s resignation”.

Two of Captain Mainwaring’s children were baptised in St. John’s Anglican Church Wynberg, Capetown, South Africa: Edward on 2 February 1857 and Norman on 14 March 1858. I cannot find any record of Norman Mainwaring serving in South Africa, however. He may have been passing through, for Captain N.W. Mainwaring of the 73rd Regt. B.N.I. [Bengal Native Infantry] was reported to have arrived on 21 September 1857 in Calcutta on HMS Belleisle. The Belleisle had sailed from Plymouth, possibly stopping over in South Africa.

In January 1858 the Indian News and Chronicle of Eastern Affaires reported that Captain N.W. Mainwaring of the 73rd N.I. was to remain at the Presidency (Calcutta, the capital of Bengal) from 1st November 1857 to 1 January 1858 on a medical certificate. I know nothing about the illness or the injury covered by the medical certificate.

On 21 April 1858 Captain N. Mainwaring 73rd N.I. was appointed to act as a probationary assistant in the Department of Public Works in the Hyderabad assigned districts, also known as Berar Province.

Norman Mainwaring’s career as a engineer, however, and as a soldier, came to a sudden end on 3 June 1858, when he was accidentally killed in a railway accident at Howrah station near Calcutta:

A dreadful accident happened at the Howrah Station on the 1st of June. Captain Mainwaring of the 73rd N. I. was a passenger by the down train. When the train stopped at Howrah that the guard might collect the tickets, Captain Mainwaring attempted to get out under the impression that the train was to go no further. The train moved on, there was no standing room between the door of the carriage and a brick work buttress. Horrible to relate, Captain Mainwaring was thus crushed and dragged between the train and the brickwork till the bones of the pelvis had been almost reduced to powder, and other frightful lacerations had been inflicted. Captain Mainwaring lingered for forty-eight hours in great agony and then expired.

Friend of India and Statesman of 10 June 1858
‘Railway station near Calcutta’ photographed in 1895 by American photographer, William Henry Jackson (1843-1942). Image retrieved : Howrah Railway Junction Station, Howrah, 1854 – The present very grand station building at Howrah was built in the early 20th century.

Mainwaring was 37 years old when he was killed. His widow Jane née Kent received a pension and the five surviving young children were provided with assistance by the Bengal Military Orphan Society.

Not long after her husband’s death Jane Mainwaring took the children to England. At the time of the 1861 census she and the children, aged 3 to 10, were living in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. The household included a cook and a nurse.

Jane died in 1870 in Exeter, Devon. One daughter had died in 1863. Isabella married an English clergyman. Rowland emigrated to Queensland, Australia. Edward Mainwaring emigrated to America. Norman Mainwaring lived in Yorkshire.


  • H is for Haileybury about Norman’s father George Mainwaring
  • I is for Indian Mutiny Norman’s brother Charles was killed at Cawnpore and his brothers, Rowland and George, were caught up in the mutiny. I do not know about Norman’s experience in the mutiny.


  • Norman William Mainwaring, born at Jaunpore and baptised 1821 at Benares, was killed in 1858 in a railway accident at Howrah. Son of George Mainwaring (1790 – 1865), and grandson of Rowland Mainwaring (1745 – 1817) and Jane Mainwaring née Latham (1755 – 1809), my 5th great grandparents.