Flashman and the Cobra

This is the second instalment in the memoirs of the Georgian Englishman Thomas Flashman, which were recently discovered on a well-known auction website. Thomas is the uncle of the notorious Victorian rogue Harry Flashman, whose memoirs have already been published, edited by George MacDonald Fraser. Thomas shares many of the family traits, particularly the ability to find himself reluctantly at the sharp end of many major events of his age.

This packet of the Thomas Flashman papers takes him to territory familiar to readers of his nephew’s adventures, India, during the second Mahratta war. It also includes an illuminating visit to Paris during the Peace of Amiens in 1802. During Thomas’s time, India was more of a frontier country for the British and, as he explains, they were very nearly driven out of much of it.

The second Mahratta war saw Europeans and Indians fighting on both sides, including Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington who fought his first battles there. As you might expect Flashman is embroiled in treachery and intrigue from the outset and, despite his very best endeavours, is often in the thick of the action. He meets many of the leading characters, from British governors and generals to Mahratta warlords, fearless Rajput warriors, nomadic bandit tribes, hairy highlanders and not least a four-foot-tall former nautch dancer, who led the only Mahratta troops to leave the battlefield of Assaye in good order.

Flashman gives an illuminating account with a unique perspective on both sides of the conflict. It details feats of incredible courage (not his, obviously) reckless folly and sheer good luck that were to change the future of India and the career of a general who would later win a war in Europe.

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