Michael O’Dwyer Age, Death, Wife, Children, Family, Biography & More » StarsUnfolded


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Father: John

Age: 75 Years

Wife: Una O’Dwyer

Sir Michael Francis O'Dwyer

Sir Michael O'Dwyer

Some Lesser Known Facts About Michael O’Dwyer

  • Sir Michael Francis O’Dwyer was an Irish Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer. In 1913, he was appointed as the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, British India, till 1919. During his tenure as a Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, on 13 April 1919, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre occurred in Amritsar. His actions during the Jallianwala Bagh massacre resulted in the rise of Indian independence movements all across the country. In his statements after the massacre, he mentioned that Reginald Dyer’s action to shoot the crowd at Jallianwala Bagh was correct. Consequently, on 15 April 1919, he administrated martial law in Punjab. In his book titled India as I Knew It, which was published in 1925, he stated that when he was the administrator of Punjab, the state was preoccupied with political agitation and terrorism. He was assassinated by the Indian revolutionary Udham Singh in 1940 as a retaliation for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
  • Michael O’Dwyer was born and brought up in Barronstown, Limerick Junction, County Tipperary. He was the sixth child of his parents and had thirteen siblings. Michael O’Dwyer was brought up in a family that neither supported Irish nationalism nor the Young Ireland movement. In 1882, he qualified for the open entrance competition for the Indian Civil Service. He completed his two years of probation at Balliol College, Oxford. In 1884, Michael O’Dwyer attained the fourth rank and passed the final examination of the Indian Civil Service. At that time, this was very tough to clear the Civil Service exam of India as it was a highly competitive examination. The passing of this examination was a matter of high reputation, and Michael O’Dwyer was highly influenced by the reputation of Lord Lawrence, who was one of the first British civil administrators in India. Michael earned a first-class division in jurisprudence in the final year of his college. An author and a lawyer Philip Woodruff wrote about the upbringing of Michael O’Dwyer as,

    Michael O’Dwyer was one of the fourteen children of an unknown Irish land-owner of no great wealth, as much farmer as landlord. He was brought up in a world of hunting and snipe-shooting, of threatening letters and houghed cattle, where you were for the Government or against it, where you passed every day the results of lawlessness in the blackened walls of empty houses. It was a world very different from the mild and ordered life of southern England… One gets the impression [of O’Dwyer when at Balliol] of a man who seldom opened a book without a purpose, whose keen hard brain acquired quickly and did not forget but had little time for subtleties.”

  • The Irish nationalists burned Michael O’Dwyer’s home in Ireland in 1882. In 1883, his father died of a heart attack. Two of his siblings worked in India, and two chose the religious path and became Jesuit priests. As an IAS officer, Michael O’Dwyer moved to India in 1885. His first posting as an administrator was at Shahpur in Punjab. He was given the charge of the inland revenue settlement work. In 1896, Michael O’Dwyer was appointed as the director of the land records and agriculture in the Alwar and Bharatpur provinces of Punjab. For one and a half years, he travelled Europe and Russia. In the middle of 1898, Lord Curzon chose him for the establishment of the new North-West Frontier Province, which was to be separated from Punjab. Michael O’Dwyer served as the revenue commissioner from 1901 to 1908. He lived in Hyderabad from 1908 to 1909. He worked as the agent to the governor-general in Central India from 1910 to 1912. Michael O’Dwyer was appointed as the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab in December 1912 when Lord Hardinge of Penshurst was the Viceroy. He was appointed as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India in May 1913. Upon this, the Viceroy Penshurst cautioned,

    Punjab was the Province about which the Government were then the most concerned; that there was much inflammable material lying about; which required very careful handling if an explosion was to be avoided.”

  • Soon after his appointment in Punjab as a Lieutenant Governor, during the outbreak of the First World War, he started organising a centralised system for the recruitment of army men with the help of military and local Punjabi leaders. In return, Michael O’Dwyer promised them to grant big pieces of land and formal titles. Consequently, a large number of Punjabis got attracted to his proposal and the family of these men lost their only earning source. These soldiers wished for a reward and better life after the end of the war. The historian Tan Tai Yong described this mutual cooperation between local political leaders and the military as,

    the foundations of a militarized bureaucracy in colonial Punjab.”

    More than 360,000 soldiers were recruited from Punjab, and this number was more than half of the whole recruitment from all across India. Michael O’Dwyer was appointed as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Indian Empire for his efforts in recruiting soldiers from Punjab for the First World War. Lord Chelmsford was the Viceroy of India when Michael O’Dwyer was appointed as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Indian Empire. During this period, the Home Rule Movement was also growing.

  • In 1915, Michael O’Dwyer was one of the administrators who played an important role in compelling the British government in India to pass the 1915 Defence of India Act. Soon after passing this act, he was provided with the important authoritative powers for the ruling. On 18 March 1915, this act was passed. Under this act, the revolutionary and nationalist activities in India were curtailed during and after the First World War. This was an emergency criminal law passed by the Governor-General of India in 1915. During the same period, the Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms, which were introduced by the British government to encourage self-governing institutions, was opposed by Michael O’Dwyer as he did not want his efforts, to recruit the soldiers through Punjabi leaders, would get spoiled by increasing the powers of the urban elites.
  • In March 1919, Michael O’Dwyer ordered a special CID team in Amritsar to keep an eye on two Indian nationalists named Saifuddin Kitchlew (a Muslim barrister) and Dr Satyapal (a Hindu physician), who were the followers of Gandhian non-violence movement. On 10 April 1919, they were detained and were summoned to Deputy Commissioner Miles Irving’s house in the Civil Lines. They were secretly sent to Dharamshala, a region at the foot of the Himalayas. They were kept under house arrest. Soon, the news of Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal’s arrest and escort spread all across the region and people started gathering around his (Irving) house to protest against the arrests. The campaign that started peacefully, ended up in violent riots. The revolutionary and local people decided to schedule a peaceful meeting at Jallianwala Bagh on 13 April 1919 as a protest against the arrests.
  • On 13 April 1919, when the Jallianwala Bagh massacre occurred in Amritsar, Michael O’Dwyer was the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab. The massacre happened three days after the violent riots. The records of the British government estimated that Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer commanded Gurkha troops to open fire on more than 379 unarmed civilians gathered at Jallianwala Bagh. Reportedly, some of the media houses claimed that the casualties were more than 1500. On 14 April 1919, Michael O’Dwyer received the report of the incident at 3 AM, and in a reply to Dyer, he sent a telegram in which he stated that Dyer’s actions were correct. Michael O’Dwyer stated,

    your action correct and the lieutenant-governor approves.”

  • The actions of Dyer were backed by Michael O’Dwyer and various senior British military officers. Consequently, on 15 April 1919, martial law was imposed in Punjab. This law was backdated to 30 March 1919 in the records by the British authorities. This killing of innocent civilians was considered the most crucial factor in the rise of the Indian independence movement, which was initiated by Mahatma Gandhi. O’Dwyer defended the actions of Dyer on 21 April 1919, and O’Dwyer stated,

    the Amritsar business cleared the air, and if there was to be holocaust anywhere, and one regrets that there should be, it was best at Amritsar.”

  • The historians Pearay Mohan and Raja Ram described the theory behind the Jallianwala Bagh massacre as,

    one of a “premeditated plan” conspired by O’Dwyer and others, including a young Punjabi youth Hans Raj.”

  • However, the other historians including Nick Lloyd, K. L. Tuteja, Anita Anand (journalist), and Kim A. Wagner founded this theory that lacks evidence. These historians were of the viewpoint that Hans Raj was merely an agitator.
  • Michael O’Dwyer supported the actions of Dyer and in justification, he said that the gathering of civilians at Jallianwala Bagh was illegal and a part of a conspiracy to revolt against the British rule in India, and it coincidentally happened during the rumoured Afghan invasion. Soon, the general implementation of martial law was restricted by the British government in India; however, Michael O’Dwyer imposed it in Punjab and denied the responsibility for the consequences of the same. Soon, he was held responsible for the killings of dozens of innocent people, including children, during the riots in Gujranwala when he send an aeroplane to clear the area by throwing bombs at people.
  • On 24 June 1920, the opposition Labour Party Conference at Scarborough passed a resolution and demanded the dismissal and trials of O’Dwyer and Chelmsford for the barbarous actions in Punjab. Labour Party Conference also urged for the repeal of the Rowlatt Act. All the delegates who attended the conference paid a standing tribute to those innocent civilians who were killed in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Soon, Michael O’Dwyer was relieved from his existing post keeping in mind the Punjab disturbances.
  • On 30 April 1924, Michael O’Dwyer’s Jallianwala Bagh massacre case was started before Justice McCardie in the Court of King’s Bench in London and was carried over five weeks. During the proceedings of the case, Michael O’Dwyer provided various justifications for Dyer’s actions at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
  • On 13 March 1940, Michael O’Dwyer was shot dead by an Indian revolutionary, Udham Singh, to revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Punjab. O’Dwyer was attending a joint meeting of the East India Association and the Central Asian Society (now Royal Society for Asian Affairs) in Caxton Hall in Westminster, London. He was seventy-five years old when he was killed. He died on the spot when two bullets hit him. The Secretary of State for India, Lord Zetland, was wounded in the gunshots. Udham Singh was immediately detained by the British police as he did not try to escape. During the court trials, Udham Singh stated in the court,

    I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it. He was the real culprit. He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I have crushed him. For full 21 years, I have been trying to wreak vengeance. I am happy that I have done the job. I am not scared of death. I am dying for my country. I have seen my people starving in India under the British rule. I have protested against this, it was my duty. What a greater honour could be bestowed on me than death for the sake of my motherland?”

    Udham Singh (smiling) after arrest

    Udham Singh (smiling) after arrest

  • Later, Lord Zetland opted for early retirement from his post as the Secretary of State for India, and he was succeeded by Leo Amery. O’Dwyer was buried in Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking.
    Michael O'Dwyer's Grave at Brookwood Cemetery

    Michael O’Dwyer’s Grave at Brookwood Cemetery

  • His wife, Una Eunice, was the daughter of Antoine Bord of Castres, France. His wife established ‘Lady O’Dwyer’s Punjab Comforts Fund,’ which was a charitable venture that was created to collect money and gifts for those soldiers who served the Indian Army during the First World War. His wife was honoured with the Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and his daughter earned a Member of the Order of the British Empire honour.
  • Sir Michael O’Dwyer was an avid writer. The journals written by him include “Border Countries of the Punjab Himalaya: Discussion” in The Geographical Journal and “Races and Religions in the Punjab” in the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, London.
  • The books published by Michael O’Dwyer include India as I knew it. London: Constable & Company in 1925, The O’Dwyers of Kilnamanagh: The History of an Irish Sept in 1933, and Fusion of Anglo-Norman and Gael in 1938. 
  • In his book titled India as I knew it, O’Dwyer narrated that when he was an administrator in Punjab, the state was distracted by the terrorism and political agitation incidents. In his book titled The O’Dwyers of Kilnamanagh: The History of an Irish Sept, he narrated about his family, which was commanding the areas of the Thurles from a pre-Norman era, and ultimately, lost its big castles and properties in the seventeenth century when Cromwellians seized Ireland. In The Times media house, O’Dwyer used to write articles criticizing the non-cooperation movement initiated by Mahatma Gandhi and focused on encouraging colonial rule in India.
  • In 2000, a Bollywood film titled Shaheed Udham Singh was released, and he was portrayed by Dave Anderson in the film. In 2021, in the Bollywood film Sardar Udham, Michael O’Dwyer was portrayed by Shaun Scott.
  • On 14 March 1940, Liverpool Daily Post, a leading English newspaper, published an article on Michael O’Dwyer, a day after his killing. It wrote,

    Sir Michael O’Dwyer Amritsar affair recalled’. “Sir Michael, who was seventy-five, was an Irishman, and one of the most outstanding men in Indian Administration. During his term of office as lieutenant-governor of the Punjab, there occurred the Amritsar affair, of April 13, 1919, which marked one of the most difficult periods in Indian affairs of those times.”

    Michael O'Dwyer's murder news

    Michael O’Dwyer’s murder news

  • Michael O’Dwyer liked horse riding and had a keen eye for horses. According to his companions, he was a fearless rider and a very fine tennis player.
  • Major General Sir William Beynon wrote about Michael in one of his articles that after his retirement from the post of lieutenant-governor of Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer stated in one of his speeches that there was no such thing as an Indian nation. William Beynon narrated that O’Dwyer was feeling impatient with the changes in the Indian administration. Beynon stated,

    Since his retirement from the post of lieutenant-governor of Punjab, Sir Michael had on many occasions bitterly opposed the changing form of administration in India. In 1934, he said that a democratic constitution in India would be a sham. There was no such thing as an Indian nation. The word India was unknown there.”



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