Daniel Healy

Daniel Healy(1884–1962), British police officer in India, was born 22 August 1884 in Queenstown (Cobh), Co. Cork, the eldest son of John James Healy, a shoemaker and merchant and Anna Maria Healy (née O’Connor). His mother died a few months after giving birth to the younger of his two sisters. Educated by the Presentation Brothers in Queenstown and Cork city, Healy came first in the Indian Police exams in 1903, beating candidates from top British schools. In 1904 he travelled to Bombay and began a thirty-six year career.

Educated by the Presentation Brothers in Queenstown and Cork city, Healy came first in the Indian Police exams in 1903, beating candidates from top British schools. In 1904 he travelled to Bombay and began a thirty-six year career. His residence in India paralleled the expansion of that country’s nationalist movement and, indeed, his promotions often followed successes in suppressing efforts of Indian nationalists. However, his demeanour during certain events indicates some empathy with the Indian people. As with other Irish who participated in the Raj, the usual questions arise when looking at Healy’s choice to go to India and his sentiments about Irish Nationalism. The former may well be explained in terms of career opportunity, adventure and financial security.

Clues with regards to the latter can be found in his scrapbook, which contains photographs and cartoons of members of the Irish parliamentary party and its leader, John Redmond (qv). The presence and nature of these clippings suggest a certain support of the constitutional nationalists and of home rule within the context of empire. Healy’s assignments ranged between Bombay, Ahmedabad and Sind (the latter in present-day Pakistan). He passed through the ranks of police commissioner, assistant inspector general and inspector general; each promotion earned him the praise of his superiors and colleagues.

From documents in his scrapbook, it is clear that he lived the life of a gentleman of the Raj, participating in and hosting hunts, police dances, fêtes and golf weeks. The many formal photographs spanning his three-and-a-half Indian decades show him seated in the middle of his numerous Indian police subordinates, greeting governors and journalists, and at the centre of demonstrations. Healy did not marry but apparently had a great appreciation of women, given his clippings, photographs and poetry.

Lack of familial commitments may well have been a contributing factor to his successful career. Notable events that spanned that career included the 1919 Amritsar massacre, when 379 people were killed at the orders of Indian-born and Irish-educated General Reginald Dyer. Dyer was subsequently supported by the lieutenant governor of the Punjab, Sir Michael O’Dwyer (qv). While it is unclear if there was a direct connection between Healy and these men further north, they were all working in an atmosphere characterised by the growing activism of the Indian National Congress party and the rising influence of Gandhi on the one hand and the efforts by the British authorities to counteract them on the other.

A few days before the massacre at Amritsar, Healy was dealing with riots in Ahmedabad. His efforts had a rather different outcome than Dyer’s. As recounted by Francis Watson, Healy’s cool behaviour at Ahmedabadled to a different outcome than the one witnessed at Amritsar, as ‘there were more narrow escapes than victims and more examples of successful restraint than offiring by the troops and police’. Watson argues that without Healy’s actions, events “might easily have written Ahmedabad rather than Amritsar over a dark page of history” (Watson, 48).

Indeed, Healy coordinated the exchange of five prisoners for an injured policeman. He was lauded by the inspector general of police in Bombay, L. Robertson, while Thomas Bennett MP stated in parliament: ‘Let hon. Members if they want to see how things should be done turn from Amritsar to Ahmedabad in the Bombay Presidency and see the success of an entirely different method. The result was that within forty-eight hours the military authority was enabled to withdraw its orders suspending assemblages, and the abnormal conditions of things was [sic]brought to an end’ (Hansard, 8 July 1920).

The next well-publicised episode involving Healy was the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi in March 1922. According to a number of sources, it may well have suited Gandhi to be arrested at this point, as his control of the non-cooperation movement was in question. The British authorities had to tread carefully, and Healy possessed the type of personality to deal with Gandhi diplomatically. The arrest took place at a prearranged time, and apparently in a very ‘gentlemanly’ manner. This is emphasised in a number of press and biographical accounts, and Gandhi himself acknowledged it in a handwritten note to Healy who was a witness at the subsequent trial. The following year Healy received the King’s Police Medal, and in 1924 he was promoted to commissioner of police in Bombay. In 1930 Healy was linked again to another well-noted Gandhi episode, the Mahatma’s symbolic ‘march to the sea’ to protest the recently imposed laws designed to maintain British control over salt production.

Gandhi’s march inspired raids on salt depots and Healy was in charge of countering one such raid in late May on the Wadala depot outside Bombay. This time, in what one newspaper called ‘The battle of Wadala’, Healy had more authority, more men and used more force than in Ahmedabad eleven years previously. According to the Daily Telegraph (26 May 1930), Healy, with at least 600 police under his command, and more Sikhs in reserve, employed tactics reminiscent of the acclaimed French General Foch, whose actions at the battle of the Marne in the first world war were judged as tactically brilliant. Time magazine, on the other hand, described much bloodshed, and quoted Healy as saying ‘arrests do no good’ after authorising the beatings of the protestors with lathis.

The greater use of force here could be seen as a reflection of an increasing desperation by the British authorities to control Gandhi and the Congress party, as well as a reflection of the increased militarisation of police work as British authorities desperately sought to hold a fracturing India together. The last five years of Healy’s career were spent in the newly created large province of Sind, north of the Bombay Presidency. He was promoted to inspector general of the area in 1936, and wrote extensive police reports, which were sent back to London. His service was recognised when he was made a companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) in 1937.

Healy’s obituary and those who knew him suggest that he was also offered a knighthood more than once, but turned it down. Whether or not the prohibition on accepting foreign titles in Article 40:2.2 of the 1937 Irish constitution was a consideration for Healy is unclear (if indeed he knew about it). Healy returned to Ireland in 1939 having reached the retirement age of 55. According to his family, he was asked to stay on in India because of the impending war, but declined. He spent the next twenty-three years in retirement in Cobh (formerly Queenstown). Local accounts indicate that he was a quiet man who did not draw attention to his Indian career.

However, sometime after 1947, he wrote a brief (unpublished) commentary about Gandhi and India which illuminates his political leanings and his enduring respect for Gandhi. He was critical of what he called British ‘paternal bureaucracy’ which he believed conditioned the Indian people to depend on the government. Moreover, he observed that the British Labour party’s cordial relations with the Congress party in India accustomed India’s leaders to look to socialism as ‘the way to get things done’. In his opinion, Gandhi’s movement represented a more favourable alternative and he argued that India would have been better off if its government had operated on Gandhi’s principles of ‘self-help’where ‘nothing should be expected for nothing’ (Daniel Healy papers).

Besides, and perhaps because of, having built a career in British India, Healy also had made considerable investments in different parts of the empire. Whether it was a reflection of changing loyalties, a decline of faith in a receding empire’s stability,or merely practical financial management, these imperial investments were cashed in 1955 and were reinvested in Irish stock. This commitment to a more local setting was also reflected in his involvement in the Cobh Presentation Brothers’ past pupils’ union in 1950, and his strong financial patronage of the school.

He became the first president in 1950 and remained so until his death in Cork in 1962 after a ‘brief illness’. A plaque was unveiled in his memory at the school in 1963. Healy has received the most attention in Watson’s The trial of Mr Gandhi (1969) and brief mentions in some of the Gandhi biographies. Otherwise he has been overlooked. While the arrest of Gandhi is what stands out, his many years of service with thousands of Indian officers under his command, his management of riots, his administration of large regions, and his awards all contribute to the complicated narrative of the role the Irish played in the empire.

Also, after such a long service and much personal investment in empire, Healy’s focus and orientation appeared to be reversed with his return to Ireland. His investment in Irish stocks, commitment to his alma mater, and continuing admiration of Gandhi, while not answering the question about his loyalties, do provide a clue.

by Cliona Murphy, Joshua Rocha and Jared Bradford

Hansard 5, cxxxi (8 July 1920), col. 1,774–5; Ir. Times, 13, 18 Mar. 1922; DailyTelegraph, 26 May 1930; ‘No police were touched’, Time, 7 July 1930; CorkExaminer, 23 April 1962; Robert Payne, The life and death of Mahatma Gandhi(1969); Francis Watson, The trial of Mr Gandhi (1969); Judith M. Brown, Gandhi’srise to power (1972); Daniel Healy papers and information from McSweeney family,Cork

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