The Cover-Up : An Unsolved Murder Mystery During the Raj

Queen Victoria-by George Hayter Royal Collection RCIN 405185 (actual image source unknown)/ Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

While Gladstone returned to 10, Downing street for the second time, banking on his anti-Victorian crowd pulling abilities, all was not well in British India. The outgoing viceroy Lord Lytton had been highly criticised for the mishandling of the Great Famine. The new man Lord Ripon, however, was a different person. When he became the viceroy in 1880, he tried to ease off tensions and introduced liberal measures such as the “Ilbert Bill” for instance.

Strangely enough for a colonial administrator, Ripon had many native friends. He believed that only love for the Indians will strengthen British rule in the subcontinent. His Liberal ideals made him revered by many as well as detested by many. The officials in the British Indian policy making, were mostly aged Conservative bureaucrats and had a bitter relation with the Liberal minded Ripon.

As the new regime proceeded, there were internal factions and hidden rivalries developing within the administration. Lord Ripon’s loyalties lay with his employer, the Liberal Prime Minister Gladstone. The newly appointed Secretary of State for India, Spencer Cavendish (alias Lord Hartington) was a known inter-party rival of the PM. Though both being Liberals, Gladstone had earlier refused to work under Hartington, defying the Queen’s orders. Add to that, the Conservatives in the Indian office, irked by Ripon’s compassion with the natives. The complex political structure of the Colonials was ready for a mishap and it happened soon!

Murder of an English officer in the North-Western provinces unmasked the complexity. Harold Dowden was found dead in a toilet, at the residence of the District collector (Mr. Elliston) of Oudh. On the day of the murder, Mr. Elliston was in Calcutta. The horrendous incident was kept a secret by the Police as they thought that they shouldn’t act before any prior notice from Calcutta. They came to know that the crime scene was first traversed by Mrs. Elliston and she informed others.

Mrs. Elliston or Lady Elliston was a middle aged Englishwoman and a writer. Though possessing the tenacity of a Journalist, the murder of an unknown man at their residence took a toll on her mental health. On that day, she had just returned from a friend’s house and went to the drawing room to freshen up. On walking up the stairs, she smelled an eerie feeling and when she saw the crime scene, she tried to run away drastically, collided with the floor mat and fell on the ground, unconscious. On regaining her senses, she called for the police.

The initial investigation yielded the following – a strangling mark at the throat of the dead body and presence of blood in the nails of the victim, most probably of the assassin. Mr. Elliston rushed to Oudh on being telegraphed from Agra and stated that he did not know the murdered man.

A week later, a team of Detectives were sent from Calcutta Police, Detective department, headed by the first class Inspector R. Lamb. Mr. Lamb questioned Lady Elliston several times and searched their residence as well. The team found two clues – A visitor’s card lying in the drawing room: of a certain Robert Hopkins and a footprint in the lawn, solidified on clay. The investigators were lucky that there were no rainfall after the day of the murder.

While Mr. Lamb and his team of professionals were following the leads, Mrs. Elliston used her analytical brain. She felt that her husband was trying to hide some facts and was carrying around, an unconscious botheration. Upon continuous questioning, Mr. Elliston agreed to his wife that he had met Sir Dowden six months back, at a party given by the previous Viceroy. Dowden had friends (and foes) in the higher circles. Mr. Elliston was quick to warn her- “Do not write anything about this incident in your Gazette and please do not try to be the detective!”

The dead body of Dowden was sent to Calcutta for Forensic study but due to some unknown reasons, the process could not be completed and after a few days, he was cremated at a City Burial ground. Meanwhile, Mr. Lamb and his team had traced Robert Hopkins to a Sanitation manufacturer at Dhaka, with their main office at Manchester, UK. The found footprint in the lawn was of a well built man of height about six feet. It contained the trademark logo of a famous British footwear. An efficient police personnel, Mr. Lamb reported the findings to his superior at Calcutta, the Police Commissioner and Mayor of Calcutta, C. T. Metcalfe.

The old man looked in Lamb’s face and with a fatherly grin, said -“Come, my good boy!”.

“A promising entrepreneur, the murdered Harold Dowden was the son of the Late Sir Joseph Dowden who happened to be a close aide of the PM Gladstone!” – said Officer Lamb with enthusiasm.

Metcalfe turned around slowly, lighted a pipe and replied – “Yes! But regarding the case however, I would advise you not to proceed.”

Lamb was surprised with the remark and was going to put through a reply but the old man stopped him.

“Well I should rephrase, that’s not an advise but an order and it comes directly from London.”

Demoralized, Lamb left. He could not understand the motive or the logic of the suppression.

“ comes directly from London.” – the words kept circulating in his mind. Who will be benefitted from the killing of this young entrepreneur? What is the stance of Lord Ripon? Does Prime Minister Gladstone know of the incident? Who are running the goddamn empire?

The investigators could do no more as there was not much scope. Neither could Mrs. Elliston. She secretly talked about the matter to her colleagues and sisters but was advised to forget the incident and change their residence. She had this disturbing feeling that her residence was watched. After a month, the Ellistons moved to Cawnpore and about a year later, to Dhaka, where Mr. Elliston got a healthy promotion. Mrs Elliston, however, never attained mental peace and kept analysing the crime.

Now, my readers might think why no one asked about the whereabouts of Dowden? Didn’t he have any friends or family? Well, it was declared by the Royal Police that Dowden had lost track while on a Hunting trip in the forest, somewhere north to Bahraich, Oudh and had died miserably. Not a soul in the Commonwealth knew of the poor fate of Dowden. The crime was so splendidly covered up that even Gladstone never heard of it in his lifetime. Loyalists of Lord Ripon came to know of the incident from reliable sources and developed a secret team of police personnel to investigate the matter. However, after Ripon left office, the others did not proceed either, afraid that London might sack them.

The well built tall man whose footprint was found in the lawn of the Ellistons’ lawn, sat in the majestic Cleasea flat along with a group of high class people. He received a brown business attache and bid everyone goodbye. He could not miss the appointment with his Scottish physician, the cut on his face was worsening day by day.

The sales of the Royal English Sanitation Pvt. Ltd. drastically increased over the next decade! This Manchester based manufacturer brought in revolutionary sanitation systems all throughout the Commonwealth world.

Robert Hopkins was an employee of the above named company. Apparently, he was a part of this great English conspiracy but actually he wasn’t. The truth is often different from what it seems. Ironically, this man named Robert Hopkins was victimized in an internal investigation set up by his Company and was sacked on grounds of “inefficiency” and “inability to cooperate”.

Maybe the finding of Hopkins’ Business card in the crime scene was all but a nasty fabrication. Maybe Dowden had an appointment there at the Ellistons’ residence where he was invited to his death. Maybe Mr. Elliston was a co-conspirator. Well, the questions remain.

Alas! No one knew about the genius and foresight of that Man on whose sheer brilliance, the new technology evolved the industry – the poor Harold Dowden! Along with him, died his newly formed enterprise – ‘Dowden and Sons’. However, his ideas and innovation created a fortune for his rivals in the trade and he was forgotten for ever.

Divine vengeance, they say! You cannot forget your wrong-doings, they say!

*The cold blooded conspirators who took his life, remembered him every morning!*