Tochi Valley

Part Four: James and Laura Mackie

I have recently broken through a brick wall in my genealogical research and have found out what happened to my great-grand aunt, Laura Jane Williams. Join me in Part Four: James and Laura Mackie as I research the social history of the Mackie family on the Isle of Wight and follow James into the Tochi Valley. When the Tochi Expedition is over, Laura is struck off the strength of the army and James and Laura separate.

Sergeant-Instructor David Douglas Mackie


Just days before the birth of Laura Dorothy in the Bengal Province of India, James’ father, Sergeant-Instructor David Douglas Mackie was found dead in the armoury at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight.

In late October 1892, about a week before his death, David Mackie, who had not had a drink in about four months according to his wife, began to drink heavily. On Monday, October 31, he had drank so heavily that he had to be brought home at about eleven by Sergeant Newman, and put to bed. On Tuesday, no doubt because of his drinking the night before, he was unusually quiet at the shooting range. That evening, he left the range with Sergeant J W Waller and Colour Sergeant Rands and the trio went to the Fleming Arms. David Mackie had two pennyworth of whiskey in a half pint of milk but complained soon afterwards of feeling queer and giddy and his companions sent for a carriage. Although he seemed better once they had gotten him into the carriage, according to his wife, he was in a awfully bad state when he arrived home at six o’clock and he went to bed that evening at half-past eight.

On Wednesday morning, he got up at about six o’clock in the morning and immediately left for the shooting range, something his wife said that he did frequently on busy days. Later that day, Major Flux found him in the armoury, dead of an apparent suicide. It appeared that Mackie had tied a piece of string to the trigger and pulled it with his foot. Later, at the inquest into the death, Major Flux described the horrific scene, saying that there must have a a bucket full of blood and brains about the place. He went on to say that David had been depressed for sometime because his son had married without permission of his commanding officer and Captain Sweetman added that it was believed that the wife had recently landed from India at Portsmouth, having been sent home from her husband’s regiment in disgrace.

After reading the account of the inquest, Laura’s mother, Harriet, wrote to the paper to correct the impression that Laura had been sent home in disgrace.

RYDE. The Death of Sergt. Mackie.—A correspondent, whose letter bears the signature ” H. Williams,” writes follows :—” At the inquest recently held on the body of Sergt.-Instructor Mackie some erroneous statements were made by two witnesses concerning the son and daughter-in-law of the deceased. Permit me, through the columns of your valuable paper, to state that the young man question married with the full consent of the officers of the corps to which he belongs, and his wife, who is on the strength of the regiment, is with him at Bengal, and has no thought of coming home.”Portsmouth Evening News - Wednesday 16 November 1892

Military Funeral

On Saturday, 5 November 1892, David Douglas Mackie was buried with military honours at the new Ryde Cemetery. 1Ryde Cemetery, Section D, plot 1008, location B2, unmarked

ISLE OF WIGHT. RYDE. Funeral of Sergeant – Instructor Mackie. —The late Sergeant • Instructor Mackie was buried with military honours the Ryde Cemetery on Saturday. The body was carried the deceased’s comrades, Sergt.-Major Beadle and Sergeant-Instructors Lougmuir, McGill, and Evans being pallbearers. The band played the Dead March in Saul the body was taken from the Mortuary to the Cemetery. The Rev. C. R. Sharpe officiated. Amongst those present were Major Flux, Captain Ellery, and Captain C. Sweetman, Q.M.S. Howden and Colour Sergeant Morgan, the Commissariat Corps, ex-Sergeant Brandish and Mr. Coombes, late of the Seaforth Highlanders, ex-Sergeant-Major Williams and ex-Quartermaster-Sergeant Waterworth, old comrades of the deceased, Sergeant-Major Barber, and several members of the Isle of Wight Troop Yeomanry. Wreaths were sent by the Ryde, Newport, and Cowes detachments of the corps to which deceased was attached. Portsmouth Evening News - Monday 07 November 1892

Emily Mackie was left a widow for a second time at the age of 40. David’s daughter Catherine from her first marriage was 16-years-old, Emily’s son Harry from her first marriage was 14-years-old and the children from Emily’s marriage to David Mackie included 7-year-old Douglas and baby Mary who was 2-years-old.

Sergeant James Mackie

Back in India, the Highlanders went to Dagshai in March 1893 and while they were stationed there, many in the regiment had jewelry and other belongings go missing. A watch was mounted to catch the thief. Finally, on April 6, the culprit, Private Williamson, was apprehended and tried by court-martial. Williamson was, by all accounts, a man of good character, but his guilt was certain, having been caught with many of the stolen items and a kit of burglary tools were found in his possession.

In November the Highlanders returned to Ambala, again leaving two companies in Dagshai.

On 14 Feburary 1894, James Mackie was appointed to Lance Sergeant and the regiment was sent to Mian Mir 2also known as Meean Meer, a British cantonment that was the headquarters of the Lahore district. By 23 October, James had proved his worth and was again promoted, this time to the rank of Sergeant, second in command of his troop or platoon. In December, the Highlanders took part in the Darbar Highland Games and the following year, they were stationed at the cantonment at Nowshehra. The cantonment stretched along the bank of the Kabul river. In 1896, the Highlanders moved to Fort Attock, a 500-year-old fortress on the banks of the Indus River where the British had established their district headquarters and in April, with an increased threat from the border tribes on the frontier, a detachment was dispatched to Cherat, a hill station in the Nowshehra District.

Attock Fort
Fort Attock by Optographer via Wikimedia Commons

Early in 1897, on 12 February, 25-year-old Sergeant James Mackie found that his first 12 years were complete and he re-enlisted at Nowshehra for such a term as would complete 21 years of service. Little did he know as he signed his papers what was about to come.

Tochi Valley Expedition

On the morning of 10 June 1897, Mr. Gee, the Political Officer in the Tochi Valley, left Datta Khel with an escort of 300 men. At 2 o’clock that afternoon, while the men were at rest at Maizar just sourth of Sheramni, they were attacked by a large body of tribesmen. Three British officers, twenty-two men of the native ranks and two followers were killed and three other British officers and twenty-four men were wounded.

Soon after, in response to the outrage, two battalions of men were rapidly organized into the Tochi Valley Expeditionary Force under the command of General Bird and the troops set off for the valley.

James and the second battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders left Nowshehra in trains, part of the 1st Brigade of men . They crossed the Indus River and camped at Khushalgarh and from there they marched to Bannu. The men were provided with sola topees 3pith helmet in lieu of helmets and sunglasses, but despite this, and that they marched in the dark of night to avoid the high daytime temperatures, three of the men died of heat apoplexy.

Elephant Battery of Heavy Artillery
Elephant Battery of Heavy Artillery

They crossed the frontier to Waziristan on 9 July 1897 and two more deaths en route were attributed to the heat. The march up the Tochi river continued for the next two days until they reached Datta Khel, joining the rest of the 1st Battalion. On 20 July they advanced as for as Sheranni. That night, shots were fired into the camp by a band of 10 to 12 tribesmen. Over the next week, the men took part in reconnaissances of the area but little trace of the enemy was found and they proceeded to demolish the fortified houses and towers of Maizar.

Reports came in that the Mullah Powindah had assembled 7000 Mahsud Waziris near Razani in the Khaisora Valley to the south and that he was poised to attack Boya or Datta Khel and the battalions began preparations for defensive arrangements. But no sooner was everything in readiness than word was received that the Mullah Powindah had abandoned their plan and other than the occasional sniper’s bullet or the theft of a camel or donkey, the British forces saw no sign of the enemy.

On 5 August, letters were sent to all the leaders of the Madda Khels, inviting them to come and hear the terms demanded by the British in atonement for the massacre the previous June. After some reluctance three Madda Khel Maliks came in. The demands of the British were that all property seized at Maizar be returned, eighteen headsmen be surrendered, an outstanding fine for the murder of a Hindi writer be paid along with an additional 10,000 Rupees and a response was required within the next ten days.

As the British waited, they worked on improving the Datta Khel Road and scouted for the enemy. There was no response from the tribes by the appointed day and the tribesmen remained in Afghan territory. Finally on 14 September the Madda Khel sent word of their refusal to accept the terms offered. With no enemy to fight, the Government of India decided that the Tochi Valley Expedition Forces should remain in occupation for a time to prevent any further unrest.

Finally, on 29 October, five headsmen from the village of Tormor surrendered to General Bird. Two days later, Khan Saheb and three other Sheranni Maliks surrendered followed by Sadda Khan and his brother Shadam of the Madda Khel tribe. On 14 November, the remainder of the Madda Khel tribe submitted to General Bird and he took the prisoners to Datta Khel to assess what fines were owed and the tribes were given leave to return to their lands at once.

The battalion left on the 15 November for Kanirogha and two days later they left for Boia. In January 1898, the battalion marched to Miransha then to Khushalgarh, finally travelling by train to Bareli.

When James returned from the Tochi Valley, he learned that Laura had been misbehaving once again while he was gone and he was ordered to return to Scotland with her in March 1898. When they arrived home on 28 April aboard the troopship Jelunga, they were sent to Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow, and once again, Laura promised to reform her ways and for a while she did.

Maryhill Barracks
Maryhill Barracks

On 1 June 1898, Sergeant James Mackie was transferred to the 4th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and assigned to the permanent staff at Paisley. Despite her promises, Laura went on drinking and finally on 7 April 1899, she was put off the strength of the married establishment for her conduct.

Laura told James that she wanted to return to her mother on the Isle of Wight and insisted on taking their daughter Laura Dorothy, now six-years-old, with her. In accordance with Army Regulations, James arranged that Laura would receive three shillings and six pence for child support while she lived with her mother.

Towards the end of 1899, word of Laura’s behaviour back home reached Paisley and James began divorce proceedings but before the arrangements were complete, he received orders to South Africa for the war with the Boers, departing on 18 January 1900.

Laura on the Isle of Wight

Back on the Isle of Wight, Laura continued drinking and on 29 June she was arrested for lewd behaviour on the beach. The arresting officer testified that just after noon on 29 June when he was on duty at the seashore to the west of the pier, he saw Laura Mackie with George Sudell of Castle Street and she was duly found guilty and sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment.

Ryde Esplanade
Ryde Esplanade via Rob Gallop via Flickr

On the day following the scene on the beach, Laura was again arrested, this time for being drunk and disorderly in High Street. When P.O. Flaherty found her, she was lying across the pavement in front of Mr. Frampton’s shop, clearly helplessly drunk and almost unable to speak. Assisted by another officer, Flaherty took her home to her parent’s house on St. John’s Road. When she appeared in court at the petty sessions, she was fined 2 s. 6d. and 58 with the option to serve seven days. Her companion, Sudell, who arrived at court the worse for drink, interrupted the proceedings repeatedly until he was ejected. He was sentenced to a month’s hard labour in his absence.

On Friday, 24 March 1900, Laura was again arrested, this time by P.S. Ryall. She charged with being drunk in St. John’s Road and with exposing her child, Laura Dorothy aged seven, to unnecessary suffering. She was fined five shillings for her drunkenness but the case of child neglect was carried over to the next sessions.

The following Monday, Laura Mackie, of no fixed address, appeared in court on the charge of having exposed her 7-year-old daughter to unnecessary suffering and was offered a trial by jury but declined.

P.S. Ryall testified that on the night of Friday, 24 March at about 11:50 at night, he was on duty on St. John’s Road and found Laura sitting on a doorstep. He turned his light on her and saw that she had a small child with her. He told her to get up, and when she attempted to do so, she fell over across the pavement, clearly drunk. She said “The old —– inside has locked me out”. She said that she had been knocking since six o’clock and by then it was twenty past 12.

Ryall asked how old the child was and she replied she was 7-years-old. When he took the child by the arm, he found that she was icy to the touch, shivering in the icy wind that was blowing up St. John’s Road. He then took Laura and her daughter to the station, placing the child in bed with warm blankets and the mother in the lock up.

Next to testify was Inspector Marshall of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children 4The NSPCC was granted a Royal Charter in 1895 with Queen Victoria become its Royal Patron. He told the court that he had received complaints about how Laura was treating the child the previous August and that he had warned her against taking the child from one public house to the other.

Laura told the court that she had heeded Inspector Marshall’s warning and had not gone out with her daughter again. She said that she and James were back on friendly terms and that she was only waiting until she could draw her money on the first of the following month. When her mother would not let her in, she stayed at the door knocking, hoping that she would soften. She told the court that her daughter had eaten a good tea and denied that she was drunk when Ryall found her. She said that she had only taken a little brandy on the advice of her doctor because she had been feeling ill. She said that her daughter was well clothed and went to school each day and asked if she could have a little time and that she would send her daughter to a private school at Southampton for seven shillings a week as soon as she was able to draw her money.

Unimpressed by Laura’s story, the Mayor sentenced her to prison for 14 days.

James Mackie’s sister Kate told the court that her brother was now in South Africa and that he had expressed a wish that the child be taken from her mother and be sent to live with Mrs. Wells of Dodnor near Newport where she would be well cared for and the Bench ordered that young Dorothy Mackie be place with Mrs. Wells until she was 16 years of age.

Coming Next: From Prison to Workhouse to Hospital to Asylum

Brick Wall Busting
As some of you might know, I’ve been searching for my great-aunt Laura Williams for a VERY long time. Several weeks ago, early on a Saturday morning, I received a comment on one of my blog posts about Laura. The first words were: “I can help. Laura is my great-great-grandmother…” My research over the last weeks has taken me from the Isle of Wight to India, to Egypt, to Scotland, and to Ireland and back to the Isle of Wight. Laura’s story involves the British army, a decorated war hero, arrest, a trial and a conviction. It touches on prostitution, an unfit mother, adoption, suicide and a Scottish divorce. Join me as I uncover the details of James and Laura Mackie’s story.


1 Ryde Cemetery, Section D, plot 1008, location B2, unmarked
2 also known as Meean Meer
3 pith helmet
4 The NSPCC was granted a Royal Charter in 1895 with Queen Victoria become its Royal Patron