A civil servant under the East India Company (1822-1848)
He was the son of Lt-Col Patrick Vans Agnew, an East India Company director. Agnew joined the Bengal civil service in March 1841. In 1842, he became assistant to the commissioner of Delhi division. In December 1845, he was appointed assistant to Major George Broadfoot, the superintendent of the cis-Sutlej states. He was present at the battle of Sabhraon in 1846. In April 1848, he was sent by the British resident at Lahore, the capital of the Sikh kingdom of the Punjab, to Multan to take over the government of that province from Diwan Mul Raj who had resigned. He was accompanied by Lt William Anderson, of the Bengal army, the new governor-designate Kahn Singh, and an escort of Sikh troops from Lahore. The party reached Multan on 17 April 1848. Diwan Mill Raj called on them the following day, but a dispute arose as Agnew demanded that accounts for the preceding six years be produced. On 19 April, the two English officers were taken round the fort and the various establishments. As they were returning to their camp both Agnew and Anderson were attacked and wounded by a retainer of Diwan Mul Raj . Soon afterwards, Mul Raj’s troops rose in arms and took him prisoner, thus preventing him from visiting the wounded officers in the British camp at the Idgah.
The Multan troops called a council of war on 20 April and issued proclamations in the name of Mul Raj, inviting the people to rise against the British. The same day, the Sikh escort from Lahore rebelled. Kahn Singh made terms for himself. In the evening both Agnew and Anderson were killed at the Idgah.
Patrick Vans Agnew (1822-1848) was an East India Company official sent to the Sikh city of Multan (now in Pakistan) in April 1848 to oversee the transfer of governorship of the city to Sirdar Khan Singh. However, on arriving at the city, Agnew and his associate, Lieutenant William Anderson, were murdered by an angry mob. Agnew’s corpse was decapitated and his head returned to the British by Multan’s rebellious governor Mul Raj. These murders sparked off rebellion against British rule and so triggered the 2nd Anglo-Sikh War. McCosh photographed Agnew at Ferezopore (Firozpur) before he left for his posting at Lahore on 31 March 1848, little knowing the grim fate that awaited him.
In the spring of 1848, being then assistant to the resident at Lahore, he was sent to Multan with instructions to take over the government of that province from Mulraj, the Nazim or governor, who had applied to be relieved of it, and to make it over to Sardar Kahan Singh Mann, a Sikh noble, remaining himself in the capacity of political agent to introduce a new system of finance and revenue. On this mission he was accompanied by Lieutenant W. A. Anderson, of the Bombay Army, who had been his assistant on his mission to Gilgit, and also by Sardar Kahan Singh Mann, the dewan designate, and an escort of Sikh troops. The mission reached Multan on 18 April 1848. On the following day Agnew and Anderson were visited by Mulraj, and some discussion, not altogether harmonious, took place as to the terms upon which the province should be given over, Agnew demanding that the accounts for the six previous years should be produced. On 20 April, the two English officers inspected Multan Fort and the various establishments, and on their return to their camp in company with Mulraj were attacked and wounded (Anderson severely) by the retainers of Mulraj, who immediately rode off at full speed to his country residence. The two wounded Englishmen were placed by their attendants in an idgah, or fortified temple, where, on the following day, their Sikh escort having gone over to the enemy, they were brutally murdered by the adherents of Mulraj.
This incident, so important in its political results, produced a profound sensation throughout India. Both the murdered officers, though young in years (Agnew would have been twenty-six had he lived one day longer), had already established a high reputation in the public service. Anderson had some time previously attracted the favourable notice of Sir Charles Napier in Sind, and the duties upon which Agnew had been employed, including his last most responsible and, as the event proved, fatal mission, sufficed to show the high estimation in which his services were held. Nor was it only as a rising public servant that Patrick Vans Agnew’s death was mourned. In private life his brave, modest, and unselfish nature had won the esteem and affection of all who knew him. “If,” wrote Sir Herbert Edwardes to one of his nearest relatives, “few of our countrymen in this land of death and disease have met more untimely ends than your brother, it has seldom been the lot of any to be so honoured and lamented.”