Sher Ali Afridi ; the Pashtun who killed Lord Mayo

Sher Ali Afridi, remembered in history as the murderer of Lord Mayo, the British Viceroy of India (literally one of the most powerful figures in the British Empire after Queen Victoria and the Prime Minister), was a Kuki-Khel from a village near Jamrud. Initially he served in the army of British East India Company and fought for British in 1857’s war of Independence. On return to Peshawar, he joined the Peshawar Mounted Police and, as an orderly to the British Commissioner. He also served British very well in the Ambela War in 1863 (in which British clashed with Yousafzais).

After few years, Sher Ali Afridi killed one of his cousins, with whom he was at feud, in broad day light at Peshawar and in 1867 he was sentenced to death by the British government since he had committed the murder in the ‘settled area’. Later the death sentence was changed to life imprisonment in consideration for his past services to the British army and he was sent to Kala Pani. Sher Ali felt that he was wronged by the British, that it was no crime to kill an enemy and is said to have avowed to kill a high-ranking British officer as a revenge for his Kala Pani sentence which he considered humiliating.

On 8 February 1872 Sher Ali Afridi murdered Lord Mayo, the British Viceroy of India, who was visiting Kala Pani. He was sentenced to death again and was hanged on 11th of March 1873. His body was burnt, and his ashes were thrown into the river.

British suspected that Sher Ali might have connections with “Wahabi” movement of India. Letters found among Sher Ali’s belongings, written in Persian, were translated and combed for any sign of wider conspiracy. The letters of all the convicts in Kalapani were opened and examined in Calcutta. Full inquiries were made into Sher Ali’s family’s connections, but no evidence of links with Wahabis and wider conspiracy was proven.

Excerpt from “The history and romance of crime: oriental prisons from the earliest times to the present day” by Arthur George Frederick Griffiths as follows: 

“The assassin, Sher Ali, was a very brave man belonging to one of the Afridi tribes, who had done excellent service to more than one commissioner at Peshawar and distinguished himself as a soldier. He was completely trusted by Colonel Reynolds Taylor, one of the best of our Indian officers, when at Peshawar, and was often in attendance on his family; in fact, he was the confidential servant of the house. This man, however, belonged to a society in which tribal feuds were a hereditary custom. Some such feud existed in his family and he was called upon to take his part in exacting a bloody vengeance for a quarrel. Had he committed the murder on his own side of the frontier, no notice could have been taken of it; and it would have been esteemed a legitimate deed sanctioned by the religious feelings and customs of the tribe; but his offence was committed within British territory and must be tried by British laws. He was convicted and sentenced to transportation to the Andamans instead of death, which he would greatly have preferred. Continually brooding under a sense of wrong, he took the first opportunity that offered for murderous retaliation and found the death he desired, on the gallows.” 

During interrogation the day after the assassination, he was described as being a Mohammedan Pathan of the Kooka-Kheyl tribe, about. 25 years of age, 5 feet 10 inches in height, who had served Colonel Pollock since 1867. At Port Blair, he had worked as a barber since May 1871. [H.James, “The Assassination of Lord Mayo: The ‘First’ Jihad?”]

An Indian paper quoted by the April 15 London Times reported the Sher Ali Afridi’s last hours thus:

“I had a long interview with the prisoner the evening previous to his execution. He talked quite freely and appeared to think he had done a fine thing. He had been told about an hour before I saw him that he was to be hanged next morning. We got up steam early next morning and went to Chatham, passing him with his police guard in a boat on the way. As soon as we were moored we got over to Viper Island, where the gaol is. There was no unusual preparation for the affair, and the convicts were at work as usual. Indeed, it was not generally known that it was to be. There were from 30 to 40 Europeans present, no natives except the police and sepoys, and no European soldiers. About a quarter to 8 the fellow was led out. He was smiling and quite collected. The police officer who came down to investigate the affair, as he ascended the steps leading up to the scaffold, asked him a question. He shook his head with a smile, as he said nahin sahib. As soon as he got up, he asked the hangman to turn his face towards Mecca, and then began to pray very loudly and quickly. He said two prayers and kept on repeating the Mussulman’s creed. The drop fell at seven minutes to 8 o’clock exactly. The knot slipped round to the back of his neck, and although he had nearly seven feet of a drop, his neck was not broken, so he died very hard. He was hanging about ten minutes before he ceased to struggle. As he was scantily clothed, and his legs and most of his body naked, his struggles were distinctly visible. We were quite close to the scaffold. After he was dead, we adjourned and returned to see him cut down at 9. His face was not distorted in the least but wore an expression of pain. We afterwards went to see the postmortem examination. There were only eight persons present. The prisoner’s lungs, liver, heart, &c., were taken out and weighed. The top of his head was cut off, and his brain taken out: the latter weighed 47 ounces.” [Source]

[Sher Ali Afridi was] “the son of Wullee.” He came from a village near Jamrud, so he said, at the foot of the Khyber.”. [“The English Illustrated Magazine, 1903 – Volume 28 – Page 138]

Read Also: Ajab Khan Afridi

Sher Ali Afridi
Sher Ali Afridi. British Library.
Sher Ali Afridi
Sher Ali Afridi. British Library.
Sher Ali Afridi
Sher Ali Afridi. British Library.
“Shere Ali, assassin of Lord Mayo, in prison,” an undated photo.

Sher Ali Afridi

Sher Ali Afridi and Lord Mayo
Illustration from Tarikh-i-Ajib showing Sher Ali Afridi and Lord Mayo. Its author Muhammad Jafar was deported to the Andaman colony for his part in the 1857 uprising.
Lord Mayo, viceroy of India
Lord Mayo
Sher Ali Afridi
Pencil sketch of Sher Ali Afridi, dated February 8th, 1872. 
Sher Ali Afridi
Assassination of Lord Mayo,” from ‘Cassel’s Illustrated History of India’, 1880
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3 thoughts on “Sher Ali Afridi ; the Pashtun who killed Lord Mayo”

  1. Sher Ali ke olad b aj mazay kar rahi hoti agar angrez k agent ban jata… jiss tarah aj k naam nehad malak,qabaili mashran etc ke oladain esh kar rahi hain

    Reply
    • 1857 or 1863 mey mohtaram sher ali khud b “agent” tha or is beech jo jo musalmaan sher sahab ney maarey agent k thor par wo bechaarey shaheed hue

      Reply

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