Good heavens. I go away for a few days and America’s most wanted man gets eliminated in a quiet town named after a bloke who came from Blackheath.

I have to say that although Abbottabad doesn’t sound like a classic Pakistan name, I wouldn’t have known about  General Sir James Abbott (1807 – 1896) who was born at No 5 The Paragon if Neil Rhind (who I still haven’t persuaded to do a Greenwich version of his Blackheath & Environs I & II but, I understand, has a couple of very interesting other books in the pipeline…) hadn’t tipped me off, but this did, of course, give me a great excuse to waste time do valuable research on my first day back at work…

Sadly my “research” (a cursory glimpse along the Phantom Bookshelf) gave me very little. The only Abbott mentioned in Bonwitt’s history of the Paragon is Henry,  James’s father, which just goes to show that the splendid list of people famous, less famous and downright notorious in that particular book is not exhaustive. What it does tell me is that the family only lived there for two years, between 1806 and 1808, just long enough to bring young James into the world. And Neil’s own books don’t mention him either (unless it’s in the extended edition of The Heath, which I must get;  I only have the original… (though I do wonder, just wonder, Neil, whether the Abbots at No. 5 were in any way related to the Lemuel Abbott who painted that famous portrait of  William Innes, the Blackheath Goff Captain, in 1792? You do say the family lived in Blackheath between the 1790s and 1820…)

Happily, Neil was  kind enough to give me a bit of information about Sir James Abbott. Neil writes “Thought your readers would like to know the following before the national press get it wrong,” but of course now I’ve got hold of it, I’ve probably got it wrong all by myself. I just can’t help dickering.

Neil tells me that  Abbott “was one of three illustrious sons  of the family of Henry Abbott, navy agent and Calcutta merchant. James was  commissioned in the Bengal artillery in 1823;  in 1839 he was sent to negotiate a treaty between Khiva and Russia, signing the terms in St Petersburgh, in 1840.

He was Commander of the garrison at Hazara, in the Sikh War of 1849-50, and held it so tenaciously that he enjoyed the thanks of both houses of Parliament.”

And so, like so many places in the former British Empire, Abbottabad was named for an Englishman. Abbott’s memoirs of the Khiva campaign were published in 1843, but according to Wikipedia (which knows everything) he is better known for a poem he wrote talking about how sad he was to leave the place. Must have been quite weird to write an ode entitled Abbottabad when it’s named after you. His brothers, Augustus and Frederick, were also promoted to the rank of Major General and were knighted for their services in India and Afghanistan, though presumably it would have been rather confusing to have three places in the subcontinent named after Abbotts.

So there you have it. An excuse to write the name Osama bin Laden in a blog about Greenwich. Thanks Neil.

the attachments to this post:

NPG 4532; Sir James Abbott by B. Baldwin
NPG 4532; Sir James Abbott by B. Baldwin

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