William Orfeur Cavenagh

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Sir William Orfeur Cavenagh

Sir Orfeur Cavenagh.jpg
7th Governor of Straits Settlements
In office
6 August 1859 – 16 March 1867
Preceded byEdmund Augustus Blundell
Succeeded bySir Harry St. George Ord
Personal details
Born8 October 1820
Hythe, Kent
Died3 July 1891(1891-07-03) (aged 70)
St. Aubyn, Sussex
Elizabeth Marshall Moriarty (m. 1842–1891)
Children2 sons
MotherAnn née Coates
FatherJames Gordon Cavenagh
ProfessionColonial administrator,
British Army officer
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Star of India
Military service
AllegianceUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
Branch/service British Indian Army
RankMajor General
Battles/warsFirst Anglo-Sikh War
Indian Rebellion

Major General Sir William Orfeur Cavenagh KCSI (8 October 1820 – 3 July 1891) was the last India-appointed Governor of the Straits Settlements, who governed the Settlements from 1859 to 1867.[1]

Family background[edit]

Cavenagh was the third son of James Gordon Cavenagh and Ann née Coates.


Cavenagh trained at Addiscombe Military Seminary, the military academy of the British East India Company, he passed his examination in June 1837, and early in 1838 joined the 32nd Regiment Native Infantry. In 1840 he passed the prescribed examination at Fort William College, Calcutta, he was appointed interpreter and quartermaster to the 41st Regiment Native Infantry. In 1840–41 he was attached to the force employed in watching the Nepal frontier.[2]

He was an Adjutant of the 4th Irregular Cavalry (Skinner's Horse), and in December 1843 was badly wounded in the Battle of Maharajpore, his leg was severed just above the ankle by a round shot and his horse was killed under him. He was wounded again in January 1846 during the First Anglo-Sikh War, when he was struck in the left arm by a ricochetting round shot. After this he was appointed as Superintendent of the Mysore Princes and of the ex-Ameers of Sindh.[3]

In 1850 he travelled to Britain and France in political charge of the Nepal Embassy under Jung Bahadur Rana.[4] In 1854 he was appointed Town and Fort Major of Calcutta. In this role he was responsible to the Governor-General, the Marquess of Dalhousie followed by Lord Canning, for the safety of Fort William during the time of the Indian Rebellion.[5]

It was in recognition of his services during the Rebellion that Canning offered him the post of Governor of the Straits Settlements: he took up the post on 8 August 1859.[6] Under a royal charter of 1826, Singapore, Malacca, Penang and Dinding had been combined to form the Straits Settlements; the Governor of the Settlements and his council were answerable to the Governor-General of India in Calcutta. The Governor had little formal power, but was able to influence the Calcutta authorities who relied largely on the recommendations of these representatives on legislation and policy in each settlement. Control passed from Bengal to the Colonial Office in London on 1 April 1867 and the Settlements became a Crown colony.[7] Cavenagh was the last Governor who reported to the Governor-General in Calcutta, his successor, Sir Harry Ord, reported to the Colonial Office in London.

Personal life[edit]

Cavenagh married Elizabeth Marshall Moriarty on 7 September 1842 at Dinapore, India, he died in 1891 leaving two sons.


Singapore's Cavenagh Road and Cavenagh Bridge is named in honour of the governor; the coat of arms of the Cavenagh family can still be seen atop the signage at both ends of the bridge.


  1. ^ Corfield, Justin. Historical Dictionary of Singapore. Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 9780810873872. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  2. ^ Letter of January 20, 1868 to R Bain, Adjutant General Bengal Staff Corps in Cavenagh, William Orfeur. "Private letter book of Orfeur Cavenagh, no. 11, 1865-68" (PDF). Cavenagh letter books, 1859-68. University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
  3. ^ "The Aga Khan I in Calcutta". Hasan Ali Shah Aga Khan I (1233–1298/1817–1881); the Heritage Web Site (Ismaili electronic library and database). Retrieved 18 October 2007. At length, however, through the intervention of the British envoy, it was agreed that the Aga Khan should be allowed to remain in India provided he stayed at Calcutta from where he could not be a menace to the Iranian government as from Sind. The government of India wrote to Superintendent of Mysore Princes and ex-Amirs of Sind [Cavenagh], a letter which reads:- "It having been determined upon political considerations that the Persian nobleman Aga Khan Mahallati, shall be required to reside for the present in Bengal. I am directed to inform you that the President in Council considers that it will be expedient to fix the Aga's residence in the vicinity of Calcutta and to place him under your care. ..." ... Sir Orfeur Cavenagh (1821–1891) had arranged for a house at Dumdum (where the city's airport is now) in Calcutta under the care of Bengal Presidency.
  4. ^ Vibart 1894, p. 473.
  5. ^ Malleson, CSI, Colonel G. B. (1891). "Chapter III: The first mutterings of the storm". The Indian Mutiny of 1857. London: Seely and Co Ltd (republished on the web by the HyperWar Foundation). pp. 34, 36. Retrieved 18 October 2007. Major Orfeur Cavenagh, an officer of great shrewdness and perspicacity, who filled the important office of Town-Major of Fort William in Calcutta, visited, October and November 1856, the districts just beyond Agra. He had been struck everywhere by the altered demeanour of the sipáhís, and loyal natives had reported to him the great change which had taken place in the feelings of the natives generally towards the English. Disaffection, he was assured, was now the rule in all classes. To the clear vision of this able officer it was evident that, unless precautions were taken, some great disaster would ensue." ... "one of the sergeants attached to Fort William reported to Cavenagh a remarkable conversation, between two sipáhís, which he had overheard ... " ... "Cavenagh, who, as Town-Major, was responsible to the Governor-General for the safety of Fort William, took at once measures to baffle the designs of which he had been informed, and then drove straight to Lord Canning to report the circumstance to him. Lord Canning listened to Cavenagh with the deepest interest, and sanctioned the measures he proposed; these were to transfer from Dam-Dam, where one wing of the regiment which was responsible for the safety of the Presidency, the 53rd Foot, was located, one company to Fort William. For the moment the outbreak was deferred.
  6. ^ Vibart 1894, pp. 473–4.
  7. ^ Cornelius, Vernon (3 October 2017). "Past and present leaders of Singapore". Singapore infopedia. National Library Board Singapore. Retrieved 13 June 2019.


  • Cavenagh-Mainwaring, J. G. The Mainwarings of Whitmore and Biddulph in the County of Stafford. pp. 180–181.
  • Vibart, H.M. (1894). Addiscombe: its heroes and men of note. Westminster: Archibald Constable. pp. 473–4.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Edmund Augustus Blundell
Governor of Straits Settlements
1859 – 1867
Succeeded by
Major-General Sir Harry St. George Ord