A NEW book tells the distressing story of how a Dorset girl and her family were among the victims of the infamous Cawnpore massacre, which was as shaking to the British Empire as 9/11 was to the USA.

The Devil’s Trap - The Victims of the Cawnpore Massacre during the Indian Mutiny by James W. Bancroft It looks at the fate of north Dorset woman Emma Wyndham who escaped slaughter, but died of disease.

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 was the most ferocious explosion of violence in the history of the British Empire. As the rebellion spread, the garrison at Cawnpore, which included hundreds of women and children, came under siege from rebels.

They were constantly under fire, and suffered from heat and starvation for three weeks in a makeshift entrenchment. Being offered a safe passage out of the city in boats, most of the surviving men were treacherously massacred on the banks of the River Ganges, and the remaining women and children were taken to a place of imprisonment, where they suffered even further from disease and neglect, before being slaughtered in a murderous frenzy; most of their bodies being thrown down a well; some of them still clutching onto life.

One of these poor victims was Emma Wyndham, who lived at West Lodge in Iwerne Minster near Blandford. She had been born in 1833, one of eight children to Captain Alexander Wyndham of the Scots Greys, and his wife, Emma, who had been born at Nettlecombe.

There is a story that while Emma was walking in the countryside at Cranborne Chase she met a gypsy woman. The Romany told her some things about how her life would progress, including that she would be taken to ‘a far off country across the seas’ and there meet a ‘terrible’ death!

In spite of this she met and married Captain William ‘Willie’ Halliday of the Indian Army. The wedding ceremony took place at West Lodge in 1852, and their only child, Edith Mabel, was born in 1853.

Captain Halliday was stationed at Cawnpore when the rebellion broke out, and he and his wife and child suffered the deprivations in the entrenchment. Willie was killed when a round shot exploded near him as he took some soup to Emma, who was suffering from smallpox, and Emma and Edith Mabel eventually succumbed to disease; which saved them from the dreadful atrocities which followed.

Much has been written about the politics of the war and the events at Cawnpore, but now James W Bancroft is the first historian to trace back the lives of many of the victims of this dreadful event. James is the author of more than 100 books and articles, and the project is compiled from four decades of research.

*The Devil's Trap by James W. Bancroft is published on November 30.