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General James George Smith Neill Statue - Wellington Square, Ayr

General Neill is the most controversial of those commemorated by monuments in South Ayrshire. He belonged to the Ayrshire landowning family of the Smith Neills of Barnweil and Swindridgemuir. He was born at Prestwick on 27th May 1810 and attended Ayr Academy while residing at his family's Ayr town house in Wellington Square. In 1826 he entered the service of the British East India Company, which administered India on behalf of the British government. The Company had its own armed forces, largely composed of Indian soldiers commanded by British officers, and he rose to high rank in this service. General Neill played an active part in suppressing the rebellion which the British called the Indian Mutiny, He was killed on the 25th of September 1857 while leading his men at the breaking of the siege of the British Residency at Lucknow, and was buried at Lucknow.

After his death General Neill was honoured in Britain as a hero of the Empire, but in more recent times he has become a controversial figure due to the ruthlessness with which he crushed resistance. This severity increased after the massacre at Cawnpore (present-day Kanpur). The British besieged at Cawnpore had been promised safe passage if they left, but during their departure fighting broke out and the men were killed. This was regarded at the time as treachery, but it is now thought to be a strong possibility that it was not premeditated and was due to confusion. About 120 women and children were taken prisoner, but they too were brutally killed shortly before the arrival of a rescue force under Generals Havelock and Neill. This is thought to have been a reprisal for indiscriminate killing carried out by the British on their march, which General Neill was reported to have encouraged. Neill was enraged by the horrific sights he witnessed when he arrived at Cawnpore, and having been left in charge there, he took a terrible revenge. He had all prisoners summarily executed, even if they were only suspected of having supported the rebels. Often the victims were first compelled to carry out actions calculated to degrade and humiliate them.

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