The Tusk of Gullala

The Tusk of Gullala is a silver centrepiece that was commissioned to commemorate the bravery of Rifleman Burke of the 1st Battalion 60th during the Yussufzai Expedition of December 1849. This was a punitive expedition against the Sam Barzai tribe who occupied the area between Peshwar and the Swat  River and were refusing to pay revenue to the British.

On 14 December 1849, as part of an operation to capture some occupied villages, Rifleman Michael Burke was advancing towards some high ground held by tribesmen when he and his rear rank man, Rifleman John Connell, spotted a black flag protruding from a rock.  Just as they reached the rock an Afridi on horseback dashed out from behind it and shot Connell dead.  Without hesitating Burke sprang upon the man, seized him by the head, hurled him to the ground and shot him as well as another Afridi who came to his friend’s rescue.  Burke was slightly wounded and given an immediate field promotion to Corporal.  He was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Crafted in silver and set on a plinth made from the tusk of a huge elephant named Gullala the centrepiece depicts the action of Rifleman Burke and was presented to 1st/60th by Major Thomas Maughan RA.  The tusk is engraved with a panorama and some details of the siege of Mooltan where Gullala was employed in placing the guns and later, on the march to Goojerat, carried the pole of the Officers Mess marquee.  In 1897 the centrepiece was aboard the troopship RIMS Warren Hastings¹ carrying 993 passengers, including the HQ and four companies of 1st Battalion 60th, from Cape Town to Mauritius.  On 6 January the ship was wrecked on the coastline of Reunion; all passengers were saved but most of the baggage, including the Officers Mess crockery, glass, cutlery and silver was lost.  By good fortune the box containing this centrepiece was rescued; it was the only item of silver to be recovered.  After over a 100 years of use in the Officers’ Messes the centrepiece has been repaired and restored for display in the Museum.

 

 

 

¹The story and images of the wreck of the Warren Hastings can be seen in the Photo Archive on the Museum website.  To access them go to Collection:  Photo Archive: series 8.