Ryves, William Henry (1812 DEV - 1873 IND)

Ryves, William Henry

Ryves, William Henry


Father: Peter Thomas Ryves
Mother: Matilda Elizabeth Pirner

Birth: 9 Jan 1812 Stoke Damerel, Plymouth, England
Birth Source: Family Bible, British India Office Births & Baptisms (Birth/baptismal certificates in Cadet Papers)

Death: 30 Sep 1873 Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India
Death Sources: Family Bible, England & Wales Deaths 1837-2007, British India Office Wills & Probate

Spouse: Elizabeth Athames Young


Children of William Henry Ryves and Elizabeth Athames Young:
  1. Amy Ross Ryves‏‎, b.24 Sep 1840
  2. Hervey Ekins Ryves, b.14 Nov 1841
  3. Charles Maxwell Ryves, b.‎29 Oct 1843
  4. Emily Francis Ryves, ‎b.22 Feb 1845
  5. Neville Thorsley Ryves, b.2 May 1847
  6. William Alfred Ryves, b.20 Jun 1848 d. 22 Jul 1848
  7. Frank Montague Ryves, b.27 May 1849 d. 21 Nov 1850
  8. Harry Robert Ryves, b.5 May 1850 d. ‎29 Jan 1851
  9. Kate Lizzie Ryves, b.‎29 Oct 1851
  10. William Theodore Ryves, b.1 Oct 1853
  11. Frederick Barstow Watson Ryves, b.30 Dec 1854

William Henry Ryves was born in England, being one of the five children of Peter Thomas Ryves (c.1772 - aft.1828) and his second wife Matilda Elizabeth Pirner (b. 06 Jan 1777). He married Emma Maxwell, the youngest daughter of Brigadier General William Maxwell CB, 4th Local Horse Guards on 19th October 1838 at Neemuch, India and the couple had 11 children, three of whom died in infancy. He was to establish an exemplary military career in India.

He joined join the Bengal Infantry as a cadet in 1827 (aged 15), with his mother recommending him as his character reference. His first recorded action was at the Battle of Ghuznee in July 1839, as a Lieutenant in the 61st Bengal Native Infantry & Adjutant 4th Local Horse. This battle was an early British victory in the the otherwise disastrous First Anglo-Afghan War. Having been involved in the storming and capture of the town he was awarded the Ghunzee Medal. In 1835 he was assigned to duty with the Arracan Battalion (in the place of Ensign C.M. Shairp, who had declined the posting).
In 1842, raised the 6th King Edward' Own Cavalry at Fatehgarh as the 8th Regiment of Bengal Irregular Cavalry. He later progressed through the ranks of Captain (by 1845), Major and Colonel, finally rising to the rank of Brigadier-General in the Bengal Army and Brevet Colonel in the Bengal Staff Corps in 1870.

The 8th Regiment's first action was in 1843 during the Gwalior Campaign, a conflict between British and Maratha forces in central India. There were two significant battles in the campaign, both of which took place on 29 December 1843, the Battle of Maharajpore, in which the 8th regiment was not to have been involved and the Battle of Punniar in which it was. At Punniar, despite ‘walking into a trap’, the British forces, under General Sir John Grey, fought their way out achieve victory. With these two battles the campaign was over, and on New Year’s Eve the Rani came into the British camp and a treaty was signed. The Gwalior army was greatly reduced, to around 10,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry and 32 guns. The native contingent, under British officers was reduced to a strength of 10,000. In recognition of their contribution to the campaign all members of the regiment were awarded the battle honour the Punniar (Gwalior) Star.

After the Gwalior Campaign, the regiment played a prominent role in the First Anglo-Sikh War the causes of which resulted from the instability in the Sikh leadership following the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839. This instability, and the build-up of military forces by both the British and the Sikh Empire, created significant hostility and suspicion on both sides. The British were concerned that the Sikh army, without strong leadership to restrain them, was a serious threat to British territories along the border while the Sikhs felt that the military preparations made by the British were offensive in their nature. After mutual demands and accusations between the Sikh Durbar and the East India Company, diplomatic relations were broken off and an East India Company army began marching towards Ferozepur.

During this war, the regiment saw action in the Battle of Mudki (1845), where the British won an untidy encounter, with the army of Lal Singh suffering heavy casualties. The regiment was also in action the following day at the Battle of Ferozeshah against forces under the command of Tej Singh, where Sir Hugh Gough's exhausted army faced defeat and disaster. However, Tej Singhin inexplicably withdrew from the battle, believing that British cavalry and artillery were making an outflanking move when they were actually withdrawing to replenish ammunition. The regiment was also involved in the decisive Battle of Sobraon in February 1846. The key moment of this battle was the collapse of the pontoon bridge that was positioned across the Sutlej River. The bridge’s collapse trapped nearly 20,000 men of the already retreating Sikh Khalsa Army on the east bank of the river. None of the trapped Sikh soldiers attempted to surrender and many detachments, including one led by Sham Singh, fought on to the death. Some Sikhs rushed forward to attack the British regiments, swords in hand; others tried to ford or swim the river. British horse artillery lined the bank of the river and continued to fire into the crowds in the water. By the time the firing ceased, the Sikhs had lost between 8,000 and 10,000 men, and the British had also captured 67 guns. The British victory at this battle left the way clear for them advance on Lahore, some 30 miles away, where the Sikhs finally surrendered under the Treaty of Lahore of 9th March 1846. Amongst the many concessions given by the Sikhs under this treaty was the surrender of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, one of the largest cut diamonds in the world at 105.6 carats and which continues to be part of the Crown Jewels being set in the Crown of the Queen Mother.

On 19th September 1873, while commanding at Agra, William fell ill with choleraic diarrhoea and died on 30th of that month. Following his death, an attempt was made to raise money to pay for a monument to his memory, with the instructions that no one should subscribe more than one gold 'mohar' towards it. It is not clear whether sufficient funds were raised or any such monument erected. His more lasting legacy is perhaps his book 'Veterinary Aide Memoire and Receipt Book for the use of Non-Professional Horse-Owners in India', of which at least 5 editions were published and which reputedly is a sought after ‘bookshelf novelty’ for veterinary surgeons today.

Research notes

Listings of children initially taken from notes in family bible under 'family affairs' and subsequently validated against mainly British India Office records.


British India Office Births & Baptisms (Birth/baptismal certificates in Cadet Papers)
Statesman, London, 15th January 1812.
The East-India Register and Army List (1845).
A History of the British Cavalry, 1816–1850 Volume 1: 1816–1919, Marquess Of Angelsey, 1993
Anglo-Sikh Wars, Sikh Museum Initiative, 2017.
The Indian Medical Gazette, 1 November 1873.
Homeward Mail from India, China and the East - 17 Nov. 1873.
British India Office Wills & Probate
'Veterinary Aide Memoire and Receipt Book for the use of Non-Professional Horse-Owners in India', W.H.Ryves, Newman, 1870.
Contributors to this page: David_Ryves .
Page last modified on Wednesday 03 of January, 2024 08:00:43 CST by David_Ryves.