Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Cavagnari, Sir Pierre Louis Napoleonlocked

  • G. C. Boase
  • , revised by James Lunt

Sir Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari (1841–1879)

by John Burke, 1878–9 [centre, with the sirdars]

Cavagnari, Sir Pierre Louis Napoleon (1841–1879), army and political officer in India, was born on 4 July 1841 at Stenay, département of the Meuse, France; he was the son of General Adolphe Cavagnari, an Italian of 'an ancient and noble Parmesan family' (ILN, 231), formerly an officer in Napoleon's army, and his wife, Caroline, third daughter of Hugh Lyons Montgomery of Laurencetown, co. Down, Ireland. He entered Christ's Hospital, London, in 1851, and after six years there passed the necessary examinations at Addiscombe, became a direct cadet of the East India Company on 9 April 1858, and was appointed ensign in the 67th Bengal native infantry on 21 June. He had on 7 December 1857 been naturalized as a British citizen (under the name of P. L. N. Cavagnaré, though he did not later use that spelling). On arriving in India on 12 July he joined the 1st Bengal European fusiliers and he served throughout the Oudh campaign (1858–9). Promoted lieutenant on 17 March 1860, in July 1861 he was appointed to the staff corps and appointed an assistant commissioner in the Punjab. He was ambitious, energetic, brave, charming, and 'self-confident to the point of arrogance, bold to the point of rashness' (Robson, 118). According to H. B. Hanna he was a man of rash and restless disposition and overbearing temper, consumed by the thirst for personal distinction (Hanna, 1.119–20). He distinguished himself in the frontier service, and had political charge of the Kohat district from April 1866 to May 1877, when he was appointed deputy commissioner of Peshawar. As chief political officer he served in several hill expeditions between 1868 and 1878, including the Afridi expedition, 1875–7, and in June 1877 was made CSI. He married on 23 November 1871 Mercy Emma, second daughter of Henry Graves MD, of Cookstown, co. Tyrone, Ireland; she survived her husband. Cavagnari met the new viceroy, Lord Lytton, gained his favour, and apparently influenced him, encouraging his forward policy, including domination of Afghanistan, to counter the perceived Russian threat from central Asia. Lytton advanced Cavagnari's career.

When the dispatch of a British mission to the amir of Afghanistan, Sher Ali Khan, in September 1878 under Sir Neville Chamberlain was decided upon, Cavagnari was attached to the staff, and he interviewed Faiz Mahomed Khan when the latter on 21 September 1878 refused to allow the mission to proceed. After the British invasion and defeat of Afghan forces, the death of the amir (21 February 1879), and the succession of his son Yakub Khan, Cavagnari met the new ruler and negotiated the treaty of Gandamak (26 May 1879), by which the amir agreed to a British envoy at Kabul and British control of foreign policy. For this Cavagnari was made a KCB on 19 July. Cavagnari himself favoured breaking up Afghanistan. Lytton appointed him envoy resident at Kabul: both Lytton and Cavagnari intended he should bring Afghanistan more under British influence. Reportedly Cavagnari told his friends that the chances were four to one that he would never return, though according to Roberts he went 'in the best of spirits' (Roberts, 381). He entered Kabul on 24 July, and resided in the Bala Hissar. His reception by Yakub Khan was friendly, but on 3 September 1879 several Afghan regiments mutinied and attacked the citadel where Cavagnari and the other members of the embassy were living. Cavagnari fought until wounded or killed, then the burning building collapsed and presumably his body was burned. His Guides escort, commanded by Lieutenant Walter Hamilton (b. August 1856), fought until all were killed.


  • B. Robson, The road to Kabul: the Second Afghan War, 1878–1881 (1986)
  • H. B. Hanna, The Second Afghan War, 3 vols. (1899–1910)
  • Lord Roberts [F. S. Roberts], Forty-one years in India, 2 vols. (1897)
  • K. Kaliprasanna, Life and career of Major Sir Louis Cavagnari (1881)
  • Annual Register (1879)
  • ‘Afghan revolt and murder of the British envoy at Cabul’, ILN (13 Sept 1879), 229, 231, 234
  • ‘The death of Prince Louis Napoleon’, The Graphic (5 July 1879), 2
  • ‘Our illustrations: Major Cavagnari’, The Graphic (5 July 1879), 3
  • ‘The last photograph of Major Cavagnari—a conference with Yakoob Khan at Gundamak’, The Graphic (27 Sept 1879), 303–4
  • M. M. Kaye, The far pavilions (1978)
  • H. Hensman, The Afghan war of 1879–80 (1881)


  • BL OIOC, corresp. with Sir Alfred Lyall, MS Eur. F 132


  • J. Burke, albumen print photograph, 1878–9, NPG [see illus.]
  • wood-engravings, 1879, NPG; repro. in ILN
  • J. Burke, photograph, NAM
  • portrait, repro. in Kaliprasanna, Life and career
  • portrait, repro. in Illustrated News (1879), 262–70
  • portrait, repro. in Robson, Road to Kabul
  • portraits, repro. in The Graphic, 20 (1879), 4, 29, 261, 304
Illustrated London News