Frederick Mackeson and the Jewel in the Crown



In 1801, two brothers from Deal bought a brewery in Hythe. They were Henry and William Mackeson. Though business acumen or force of personality – or both – Henry became the senior partner, patriarch of the Mackeson dynasty in Hythe and started the business on the road to international fame.  William and his family, however, have their own monument in St Leonard’s church, Hythe which lists the adventures of some of his ten children

William married, in 1797, Harriet Reynolds and their first son, Charles William was born in Deal. The next nine – another seven sons and two daughters, came into the world in Hythe. William had not much of a head for finance and and when he died, during a trip to Bath in 1821, it was revealed that he had huge debts. His brother Henry stepped in to ensure that Harriet was not left destitute, but her sons needed to find paid occupations.

Charles William had predeceased his father at just nineteen years old. The next son, John, worked at the brewery for at least seven years after his father’s death, before moving to London, where he described himself as an accountant. In retirement he moved in with his widowed sisters and died unmarried in 1892. John had difficulty accepting that his father’s negligence had resulted in the family’s impoverished state and in 1840, his uncle Henry had to make a witnessed statement that William’s estate had not been sufficient to cover his debts.(1)

John’s younger brother Henry Scrope Mackeson became a physician, married twice and had five children. He died in 1875. George became a civil servant, also married twice and had a son. He died in Uxbridge in his early fifties. Thomas joined the Royal Navy, where he saw service at the Battle of Navarino during the Greek War of Independence in 1827; endured a hellish trip in a surveying vessel down the African coast in 1830, when more than half the crew died of fever; and finally succumbed himself in Malta aged twenty-eight. William Lawrence and Julius Arthur both joined the Bengal Native Infantry and both died of fever in India, in 1842 and 1847 respectively.

The daughters both married. The elder, Isabel, married a solicitor in Canterbury Cathedral and died childless in 1886. Her younger sister Harriet Sophia married an army chaplain and travelled with him to Agra, where he died of fever eight months after their wedding. Harriet returned home and lived latterly with her sister.

Which leaves the fourth son, Frederick, who managed to avoid both marriage and death from fever.

He was born on 2 September 1807, educated at the King’s School, Canterbury and joined the Bengal Native Infantry in 1825. After a spell as political agent in the Punjab, he was sent to Peshawar, now in Pakistan, where he stayed during the first Anglo-Afghan War and where he earned a reputation as a first-class soldier and linguist.  His next conflicts were the first and second Anglo-Sikh wars when notably, after the battle of Chillianwala in 1849, he swam the treacherous Jhelum river to warn comrades on the other side of an imminent Sikh attack. That year he was promoted Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel.

The next year he was chosen for a special escort duty – accompanying the Koh-i-noor diamond to England.  The British had won the war and the diamond was ceded to Queen Victoria under the Treaty of Lahore (or stolen, depending on your point of view). On 1 February 1850, the jewel was sealed in a small iron safe inside a red dispatch box, both sealed with red tape and a wax seal, which for the sea voyage to England was placed inside a larger iron safe.  It was a miserable trip.  During a stopover at Mauritius, there was an outbreak of cholera on board and the locals threatened to open fire on the vessel unless it departed immediately. Back at sea it was caught in an enormous storm.  Finally on 1 July the diamond was handed over to the East India Company who formally presented it to the queen two days later.

She and Prince Albert did not much care for it and nor did the British public who viewed it at the Great Exhibition in 1853. The cut meant that it did not sparkle and when viewed head on looked like a black hole. Prince Albert had it recut by Garrards, the royal jewellers. Now it was dazzling and the queen had it put in a circlet, but still did not like it: ‘no one feels more strongly than I do about India or how much I opposed our taking those countries and I think no more will be taken, for it is very wrong and no advantage to us. You know also how I dislike wearing the Koh-i-Noor’ she wrote to her daughter twenty years later.

After Victoria’s death,  the stone was used in the crowns of the Queen Consorts.

The Koh-i-noor in the crown of the late Queen Mother

Frederick went back to India and was appointed Deputy Commissioner for Peshawar where he was known by the locals as ‘Kishin Kaka’ . One evening in September 1853, as he was hearing appeals on his veranda, he was greeted with a salaam by a Muslim from Swat and presented with a piece of paper. The man then stabbed him. He died four days later on 14 September. The assassin was hanged and his body burnt.

Frederick is buried in Peshawar and as well as the memorial in St Leonard’s church Hythe he has another in Canterbury Cathedral.

Frederick’s tomb

The inscription on his Canterbury Cathedral memorial….

… and the full monument

His mother Harriet died in 1855, having four times received the news of a son’s death in a faraway land.

The full text of the memorial in St Leonard’s church is:

In memory of/William Mackeson/of this town/who died at Bath 10th April 1821, aged 47 years

Also of Harriett, his wife,/who died at Canterbury 19th December 1855, aged 79 years

And of Charles William, their eldest son/who died 19th May 1819, aged 19 years./ The remains of the above are deposited in a vault/near this and adjoining the church.

Also in memory of/Thomas, their fifth son, lieutenant in the Royal Navy/who died at Malta 4th October 1837, aged 28 years./He served at Navarino 20th October 1827, and in/H.M’s surveying vessel Hecla on the West Coast of Africa 1829-30/and was one of the few officers who survived/the trials of that expedition.

William Lawrence, their seventh son, lieutenant and adjutant,/19th regiment Bengal Native Infantry,/who died at Bombay 30th October 1842, aged 26 years

Julius Arthur, their eighth son, lieutenant,/33rd Regiment Bengal Native Infantry,/who died at Neemuch 28th September 1847 , aged 29 years./He served in the Cabul campaign 1842,/and in the Sutlej campaign 1845-6.

And/Frederic, their fourth son, Lieutenant Colonel Bengal Army,/Companion of the Bath/Member of the Third Class of the Douranee Empire/and Commissioner of Peshawur,/who died 14th September 1853,/of a wound inflicted by a Mahometan fanatic/aged 46 years./He served in all the campaigns and important operations/on the north western frontier of India from 1838 to 1853,/during the whole of which eventful period/he was engaged in appointments/of the highest political responsibility and distinction./A monument has been erected to his memory/and in honor of his character and public services/at Peshawur, where he fell, and in Canterbury Cathedral,/by his friends and admirers in India.


  1. Taken from a partial history of the Mackeson family held in the Hythe Civic Society Archives and signed only ‘DHC/JAR 4.2.60’.