Portrait of an officer of the 74th Bengal Infantry, circa 1840s


74th Bengal Native Infantry. A watercolour drawing of an officer, circa 1840s, with particular attention to the details of his uniform. Although the background shows a tented camp with sepoys by a fire and a few servants, the officer is very much the centrepiece of the composution. The portrait, around 5½ x 4½ ins visible, is in a mid 19th century gesso decorated frame and, fascinatingly, contains a manuscript letter from the officer to his daughters. This is on the reverse and also glazed. I have never tried to remove the picture or letter from the frame although I have had the picture for decades. The portrait has initials in white on a black ground bottom right GSM. Although the letter has no visible signature the initials suggest the artist / writer was Captain George Scougall Macbean of the 74th. His letter, reproduced below, shows his pride in his uniform was probably written quite early in his career, which began in 1843. Documentary illustrations like this seldom appear.

For Mary and Hannah.  In the undress which is worn for all …. …duties. parades (except inspections when the blue coat, as in the Royal Army, is worn), duties as officer of the day, riding out, dining, etc, etc. We have a full dress as the R.A. worn when required. This dress is only that of a Grenadier officer. The wings on the shoulder are very handsome, made of gilt chain entirely. The wreath on the cap is gold …….around our ….74 in the centre surmounted by a gold Grenade. On each wing is a silver Grenade on a circular raised gold field. As you saw from the sketch   [NB This refers to a sketch which we do not have] of the officer not in the Grenadiers, or Light Infantry wear nothing but a little piece of gold cord on the shoulder, and merely a crimson sash round the waist, and the sword stuck into a belt round the waist. The cords and sling belts, and tassels attached to the cords (of crimson silk and fastened on the breast) improve the uniform a great deal and are only worn by the above mentioned officers. The broad scarlet stripe down each leg makes our dress even prettier than the Queen’s.                          jul23/4

George Scougall Macbean  joined the East India Company as a Cadet in 1843 and was commissioned into its latest regiment of native Infantry, the 74th. After the 74th mutinied he remained on the cadre strength but was promoted to the Staff Corps where he served in the Commissary Department. We last noted him in the East India Register 1974 as a Lieutenant Colonel and Assistant Commissaries General in Calcutta


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