John Orfeur was a Captain in General Phinias Bowles’ regiment of horse, later known as “the Carabiniers” or 6th Dragoon Guards. His career is summarised by Charles Dalton in George The First’s Army 1714~1727 — Volume 2. Page 362
Son of Philip Orfeur and Mary, dau. of Col. Richard Kirkby, of Kirkby Ireleth, Lancashire, was gazetted lst Lieut, to his uncle (i.e. Maj.-Gen. John Orfeur) 10 Jan. 1708/9, in Visct. Shannon’s Regt. of Marines. In 1724 he joined Lord Shannon’s Regt. of Horse, the 3rd Dragoon Guards, on the Irish Establishment, now the 6th Dragoon Guards or Carabiniers. Retd. as Capt.-Lieut. in 1745. Settled in Ireland, where he d. in 1753. He married Juliana, dau. of Col. Thomas Palliser, of Portobello, co. Wexford.”—(Communicated by Col. W. O. Cavenagh.)
Captain John Orfeur was the father of Catherine Hyde Orfeur (1738-1814) who married Matthew Cavenagh (1740-1819) in about 1769.
Catherine and Matthew Cavenagh had fifteen children. Their fourth child was named Mary Orfeur Cavenagh (1779-1823). Their tenth child was Orfeur John Howard Cavenagh who died sometime before his father’s death in 1819.
James Gordon Cavenagh (1770-1844), the oldest child of Matthew and Catherine, had seven children. His fourth child was named Orfeur Cavenagh (1820-1891).
Orfeur Cavenagh had two sons, the elder was named Orfeur James Cavenagh (1849-1931). He in turn had a son named Orfeur.
My great great grandfather Wentworth Cavenagh-Mainwaring named one of his sons Orfeur. I have a second cousin once removed with the middle name Orfeur.
Statement Of Major General Cavenagh’s Service
Passed the examination at Addiscombe on the 12th June 1837 and early in 1838 joined the 32nd Regt. N.I. In 1840 passed the prescribed examination at the College of Fort William. Appointed as Interpreter and Quartermaster to the 41st Regt. N.I. Attached to the Force employed in watching the Nepaul frontier 1840/41.
In 1842 appointed as Adjutant to the 2nd Regt. Irregular Cavalry employed against the insurgents in the Saugor and Nerbuddah Territories. Susequently transferred to the 4th Regt. Irregular Cavalry.
In 1843 engaged at the Battle of Maharajpore. Left leg carried away by a round shot, and otherwise severely injured by his charger, which was killed, falling on him.
For upwards of a year compelled to use crutches. Continued however to perform all his duties even those of parade, being placed upon his horse and taken off again by his orderlies. During this period compiled the Abstract of General Orders, for a long while the standing book of reference for the Army, the profits of the compilation made over to the Lawrence Asylum. Appointed 2nd in command of the 4th Regt. Irregular Cavalry, and, for a short time officiated as Pension Paymaster at Meerut.
In 1845-46 employed with the Army of the Sutledge, and, at the relief of Loodianah by the Division under Sir Harry Smith again severely wounded losing the partial use of his left arm. Whilst still on the Sick List and unable to sit on his horse without being held, at the particular request of the late Sir Hugh Wheeler, took charge of the whole of the native sick and wounded, many of whom were in great distress, owing to the want of proper food and clothing. Drew and issued the requisite advances, visited the hospitals and personally conducted the accounts of several hundred of men of various corps.
Appointed Superintendent of the Mysore Princes and subsequently of the Ex-Ameers of Scinde [Sindh] and Seikh Sirdars, as well as of the Ex-Governor of Kerman, the Persian nobleman, Agha Khan Mehlatee.
In 1850 selected for the political charge of the Nepaulese Embassy. On his return from England accompanied it to Kathmandoo, and afterwards prepared a report on the State of Nepal. Received the thanks of the late Court of Directors and of the Supreme Government.
For many years a Director of the military and Orphans Funds. Compiled and edited the Bengal Army List, containing the services and dates of commissions of every officer — the profits of this work made over to the Orphan Society.
In 1854, at the special request of the then Governor General Lord Dalhousie, accepted the appointment on his staff of Town Major of Fort William [the fort in Calcutta]. In this capacity as the Governor General’s representative, recommended the numerous alterations in the European Barracks and other buildings as well as general sanitary improvements, which have led to the ordinarily satisfactory state of health of the Garrison.
On the 26th January, 1857, frustrated the design of the Mutineers to seize Fort William (vide statement of Jemadar Durrion Sing, 34th Regiment, N.I.).
Throughout the Mutiny discharged all the arduous duties connected with the command of Fort William and Calcutta, including the charge of the state prisoners, the raising a Corps of Volunteers, the organisation of a body of Native Servants for the use of the troops arriving from England, the management of a large Military Canteen, the protection of the town, the control of all Public Departments, Military Buildings, Hospitals, etc., and the entire charge (arming, clothing and victualling) of all European invalids and recruits, numbering several thousands, of the company’s service. On four occasions received the thanks and commendation of the Supreme Government.
At the close of the mutiny, appointed Governor of the Straits Settlements. In addition to the ordinary duties connected with the Government, specified in the report forwarded to the India Office, obtained from the Sultan of Acheen an apology for the insult offered to the Governor General’s Envoy, Major Haughton; prepared a special report upon the resources of the State of Sarawak and carried out the secret instructions for preventing the exportation of arms and ammunition to Japan and the North of China. For the efficient performance of these duties received the thanks of the Secretary of State and the Governor General of India.
Received through the Secretary of State, the thanks on two occasions of the Emperor of France for assistance rendered to French vessels, and also the thanks of the Secretary of State for the Colonies for the valuable aid afforded in effecting the transfer of the Straits Settlement.
Major Orfeur Cavenagh, an officer of great shrewdness and perspicacity, who filled the important office of Town-Major of Fort William in Calcutta, visited, October and November 1856, the districts just beyond Agra. He had been struck everywhere by the altered demeanour of the sipáhís [sepoys], and loyal natives had reported to him the great change which had taken place in the feelings of the natives generally towards the English. Disaffection, he was assured, was now the rule in all classes. To the clear vision of this able officer it was evident that, unless precautions were taken, some great disaster would ensue.” … “one of the sergeants attached to Fort William reported to Cavenagh a remarkable conversation, between two sipáhís, which he had overheard …
Cavenagh, who, as Town-Major, was responsible to the Governor-General for the safety of Fort William, took at once measures to baffle the designs of which he had been informed, and then drove straight to Lord Canning to report the circumstance to him. Lord Canning listened to Cavenagh with the deepest interest, and sanctioned the measures he proposed. These were to transfer from Dam-Dam, where one wing of the regiment which was responsible for the safety of the Presidency, the 53rd Foot, was located, one company to Fort William. For the moment the outbreak was deferred.
In recognition of his services during the Indian Mutiny Orfeur Cavenagh was offered the post of Governor of the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malaya and Penang): he governed there from 1859 to 1867. Cavenagh Bridge in Singapore is named in his honour.
On 3 July 1891 Sir Orfeur Cavenagh died in Surrey, England, aged 70.
- Col. W. O. Cavenagh who provided information to Charles Dalton was Wentworth Odiarne Cavenagh 1856-1935,the son of Orfeur Cavenagh 1820-1891 and my first cousin three times removed. He undertook considerable research on the Cavenagh family history.
- I am grateful to my cousin Diana Beckett for the pictures in this post.
- Sir Orfeur Cavenagh’s private letterbooks from his time as Governor of the Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malaya and Penang) have been transcribed and digitised copies are available through the website of the the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada at https://www.uvic.ca/library/locations/home/spcoll/book/cavenagh.php
- Sir Orfeur Cavenagh published his reminiscenses in 1884: Sir Orfeur Cavenagh (1884). Reminiscences of an Indian Official. Allen.
- Malleson, CSI, Colonel G. B. (1891). “Chapter III: The first mutterings of the storm”. The Indian Mutiny of 1857. London: Seely and Co Ltd (republished on the web by the HyperWar Foundation). pp. 34, 36.
- Entry for Orfeur Cavenagh in Dictionary of Indian Biography. Ardent Media. p. 76.