Home » The assassination of Lord Mayo: The ‘first’ jihad?

The assassination of Lord Mayo: The ‘first’ jihad?

Vol. 5, No. 2 (2009): 1–19.


In February 1872, Lord Mayo, Governor-General of India, was assassinated at the penal settlement of Port Blair in the Andaman Islands whilst paying a viceregal visit to the Province of British Burma. His assassin, a Pathan from North West India who had been in the Peshawar police, made no attempt to escape. He had been serving a life sentence for murder, a murder of which he had declared himself ‘Not Guilty’. The manuscripts and papers relating to the thorough investigation that was immediately launched into the death of the Viceroy use the word jihad (‘struggle for the Faith’) to explain the motivation for the assassination. However, intriguing unanswered questions remain that this paper will attempt to highlight. Was the alleged assassin a mere tool in a larger game of world politics? Was Lord Mayo’s security detail deliberately slack in performing its duties? Based on the manuscript collections in the Cambridge University Library, this paper scrutinises the evidence and frames it within the colonial history of the loss of Burmese independence in three wars with Britain from 1824 to 1885.

Author’s bio

Helen James is an associate professor (Adjunct) with the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute, and a Visiting Fellow with the Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, both at The Australian National University. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the Center of International Studies, Cambridge University (2003-2004, 2007) and Clare Hall where she is also a Life Member. She has also been a Visiting Fellow with the Swedish International Peace Research Institute, Stockholm, and the East West Center, Hawai’i. Dr James was previously Executive Director of the Asia Research and Development Institute and Director of the Thai/Myanmar Studies Centre, University of Canberra (1995-2000). She has lectured at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Thammasat and Chulalongkorn Universities, Bangkok (1967-1980) where she was a Visiting Professor. Her research and publication interests include the history, politics and international relations of Southeast Asia, especially Myanmar and Thailand, with particular attention to the politics of religion, civil society, human security and human rights, governance and sustainable development, and the politics of development, international aid and health. Her recent publications include Civil Society, Religion and Global Governance: Paradigms of Power and Persuasion (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2007); Security and Sustainable Development in Myanmar (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2006); Governance and Civil Society in Myanmar: Education, Health and Environment (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005), besides scores of journal articles. She is currently writing a book on “Civil Disobedience and Citizenship”.


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