British Executions

Madar Lal Dhingra

Age: 25

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 17 Aug 1909

Crime Location: Imperial Institute, Exhibition Row, South Kensington, London

Execution Place: Pentonville

Method: hanging

Executioner: Henry Pierrepoint


Madar Lal Dhingra was convicted of the murder of William Hutt Curzon-Wylie 61 and Cawas Lalcaca 48 and sentenced to death.

He shot them at the Imperial Institute in South Kensington, London on 1 July 1909.

William Hutt Curzon-Wylie was an administrator for the Secretary of State for India.

Cawas Lalcaca was a doctor from Shangai and Bombay and had been in England since 8 June 1909 and was staying at the Grand Hotel on Northumberland Avenue.

Madar Dhingra was a Sikh from Amritsar in the Pounjaub although he claimed to be a Hindu by religion.

He had been studying Engineering at London University since 1906 and had for some time boarded at the notorious Krisanavarma's India House in Highgate but had more recently lodged at 108 Ledbury Road, W.

His father was a retired Civil Surgeon and Deputy Commissioner and several of his brothers held good positions in India. He also had a brother in London who was a law student.

In April 1909 the brother that had been studying law in London got in touch with William Curzon-Wylie, who was a political ADC to the Secretary of State for India after fearing that his brother, Madar Dhingra, had got into bad hands.

William Curzon-Wylie later got in touch with Madar Dhingra in April 1909 and interviewed him.

In January 1909 Madar Dhingra purchased a Colt automatic pistol and started practicing at a shooting gallery once or twice a week.

Then, on 1 July 1909 the National Indian Association held an At Home evening at the Imperial Institute to which Madar Dhingra was invited.

On that day, at about 5.30pm, Madar Dhingra had a final practice at a shooting gallery in Tottenham Court Road and then at 9pm attended the At Home event.

William Curzon-Wylie arrived at the Institute at about 10.30pm. Then later, at about 10.50pm, whilst William Curzon-Wylie was talking to Madar Dhingra in the vestibule, Madar Dhingra pulled out his Colt pistol and shot William Curzon-Wylie five times, four shots penetrating his head and a fifth grazing his cheek. William Curzon-Wylie died instantly.

Cawas Lalcaca then tried to intervene and Madar Dhingra shot him twice in the body. Cawas Lalcaca died before he could be removed to hospital.

Then another man advanced on to Madar Dhingra. Madar Dhingra first pointed the gun at the man and then turned the pistol towards his own temple and pulled the trigger, however, the spring behind the butt was not compressed and the last cartridge failed to explode.

A man who saw Madar Dhingra shoot William Curzon-Wylie said that there were a good many people present. He said that he had been invited by the National Indian Association and had arrived at about 9.20pm. He said nothing unusual happened until 11.10pm when he heard shots from the ante-room. He said that he looked up and saw William Curzon-Wylie standing by Madar Dhingra, just a yard apart and facing each other and then saw Madar Dhingra level a revolver and shoot and saw a flash. He said that the shot was aimed at the left side of William Curzon-Wylie's face. He said that he rushed at Madar Dhingra and that as he did so William Curzon-Wylie dropped. He said that there were certainly more than four shots but that they were all fired in very quick succession.

However, he noted that he didn't see Cawas Lalcaca fall.

The man said that when he got hold of Madar Dhingra, Madar Dhingra levelled the revolver at him and then put the muzzle to his right ear and pulled the trigger. The man said that he heard a click and then he pushed Madar Dhingra down.

The man said that after Madar Dhingra was held he saw a loaded revolver taken out of his inside pocket along with a hunting knife. He said that the only thing Madar Dhingra wanted were his glasses and said that Madar Dhingra seemed to be the only person not agitated or excited.

The man said that he then saw Cawas Lalcaca writhing in agony about 2 or 3 yards from William Curzon-Wylie.

He said that when Madar Dhingra was over powered he was quite calm and had asked for his spectacles which had fallen off.

When he was searched, the police found another fully loaded pistol in his right inside breast pocket. It was a Belgian pistol and it was thought that he had borrowed it. The police also found a sheathed knife inside his left inside breast pocket.

The police also found several papers on him including a written statement which was thought to have been intended as a political manifesto and found after his arrest and given to the world.

When he was arrested Madar Dhingra said that he had shot Cawas Lalcaca in self-defence.

The police report stated that there could be no doubt that Madar Dhingra's motive was purely political and inspired by the teaching of Krishnavarma and others.

The report also noted that there was no evidence to support the theory that the murder had been the outcome of a well-defined conspiracy. However, it did state that Madar Dhingra would practice shooting with another man and that it was improbable that they had not talked over a crime such as this. It also noted that Madar Dhingra was unlikely to have purchased two pistols and that it was thought that someone had lent him the second revolver for the nights work.

It was suggested that the selection of William Curzon-Wylie as the target may have been a desire that there should be no reasonable explanation for the murder other than political demonstration, which was noted to being common across many anarchist outrages. It was said that William Curzon-Wylie was not sufficiently eminent as an administrator to justify his being singled out as a political victim, whilst on the other hand Madar Dhingra could have no personal animosity against him. The police report stated that the assassination was due to a political motive of the most dangerous character and a deliberate piece of wanton imbecile cruelty for which there could be only one punishment.

The police report also stated that purely on the grounds of expediency it might have been better to imprison Madar Dhingra for life for that sort of murder and thereby deprive him of the martyrdom he coveted and to perhaps deter imitators, but also noted that that course was impractical in the absence of any evidence of insanity. It also stated that public opinion in the country would rightly resent any interference with the due course of the law and also stated that it would be represented as a sign of weakness in India.

In court, Madar Dhingra said 'I do not want to say anything in defense of myself, but simply to prove the justice of my deed. As for myself, no English law court has got any authority to arrest and detain me in prison, or pass sentence of death on me. That is the reason I did not have any counsel to defend me. And I maintain that if it is patriotic in an Englishman to fight against the Germans if they were to occupy this country, it is much more justifiable and patriotic in my case to fight against the English. I hold the English people responsible for the murder of eighty millions of Indian people in the last fifty years, and they are also responsible for taking away ?100,000,000 every year from India to this country. I also hold them responsible for the hanging and deportation of my patriotic countrymen, who did just the same as the English people here are advising their countrymen to do. And the Englishman who goes out to India and gets, say, ?100 a month, that simply means that he passes a sentence of death on a thousand of my poor countrymen, because these thousand people could easily live on this ?100, which the Englishman spends mostly on his frivolities and pleasures. Just as the Germans have no right to occupy this country, so the English people have no right to occupy India, and it is perfectly justifiable on our part to kill the Englishman who is polluting our sacred land. I am surprised at the terrible hypocrisy, the farce, and the mockery of the English people. They pose as the champions of oppressed humanity, the peoples of the Congo and the people of Russia, when there is terrible oppression and horrible atrocities committed in India, for example, the killing of two millions of people every year and the outraging of our women. In case this country is occupied by Germans, and the Englishman, not bearing to see the Germans walking with the insolence of conquerors in the streets of London, goes and kills one or two Germans, and that Englishman is held as a patriot by the people of this country, then certainly I am prepared to work for the emancipation of my Motherland. Whatever else I have to say is in the paper before the Court I make this statement, not because I wish to plead for mercy or anything of that kind. I wish that English people should sentence me to death, for in that case the vengeance of my countrymen will be all the more keen. I put forward this statement to show the justice of my cause to the outside world, and especially to our sympathizers in America and Germany. I have told you over and over again that I do not acknowledge the authority of the Court. You can do whatever you like. I do not mind at all. You can pass sentence of death on me. I do not care. You white people are all-powerful now, but, remember, it shall have our turn in the time to come, when we can do what we like.'

The Imperial Institute was later demolished although Queen's Tower was saved and is now part of Imperial College.

see National Archives - CRIM 1/113/5, HO 144/919/180952

see Illustrated Police News - Saturday 28 August 1909