The Madras College Archive


Former Pupil Biographies

Major General Archibald Lewis Playfair (1838 - 1915)

Archibald Lewis Playfair was born November 30, 1838, son of late Col. Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair, Knight Commander of the Bath, Doctor of Laws

Education: Studied at Madras College; University of St. Andrews


  • Entered Indian Army, 1856;
  • Lieutenant 1857;
  • Captain, 1868;
  • Major, 1876;
  • Lieutenant.-Colonel, 1882;
  • Colonel, 1885;
  • Major.-General, 1887; served Indian Mutiny, 1857-1858, including siege and capture of Lucknow (Indian medal and Lucknow clasp);
  • Adjutant and 2nd in command 4th Infantry, Hyderabad Contingent;
  • Superintendent of Jails, Hazaribagh;
  • Cantonment Magistrate and Judge Dum-Dum, Dinapore, Morar, Neemucli, and Mhow;
  • Political Agent 2nd Class;
  • Officiated as Resident 2nd Class at Gwalior;
  • Selected to accompany the Maharajah Scindiah as Political Officer in attendance at the Viceroy’s Durbar at Agra, 1881;
  • Knight of Grace of Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England, 1909;
  • Colonel of the 97th Deccan Infantry, 1909;
  • H.M.’s Bengal Staff Corps (retired); Foreign Department, Government of India (retired).

Cycling, golf.

The Gazette made the following announcement:

India Office, 12th August, 1887.
The Queen has approved of the retirement from the Service of the undermentioned Officers of the Staff Corps and Indian Military Forces :—
                Colonel Archibald Lewis Playfair Bengal Staff Corps. Dated 1st May, 1887

The 'Old Boys Chronicle' in the Madras College Magazine for Easter 1909 reports:

"It is officially announced in a recent issue of the London Gazette that the King has been graciously pleased to sanction the appointment to the Order of the Hospital Of St. John of Jerusalem in England as "Knight of Grace", Major-General Archibald Lewis Playfair.

General Playfair was born in St. Andrews on "St. Andrews Day" 1838, and was educated at the Madras College and University, St. Andrews. He is the youngest son of our former Chief Magistrate, Colonel Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair, LL.D. Many Old Boys will therefore wish to congratulate him heartily on the honour which has now been conferred upon him. General Playfair served throughout the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58 - including the ever to be remembered "siege and capture of Lucknow" - and in all the operations preceding it. ........ The exertions of General Durham Massy and Lieut.-Colonel Playfair, have made that cantonment a model of cleanliness and order.

General Playfair is one of the oldest members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, having joined that famous institution nearly 51 years ago.  In spite of his full three score years and ten, General Playfair's tall figure, with erect military carriage, might be envied by much younger men."

The 'Old Boys Chronicle' in the Madras College Magazine for Summer 1916 reports:

"The late Major-General Archibald Lewis Playfair.
The death occurred on Friday, 10th September, 1915, at St. Leonards-on-Sea, of Major-General Archibald Lewis Playfair, Hon. Colonel 97th Deccan Infantry. He was the only surviving son of the late Colonel Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair, K.C.B., LL.D., Bengal Artillery, a famous Provost of St. Andrews, and, for many years, Chairman of the Governors of Madras College.

Major-General Playfair was born on the 30th November, 1838. He was educated at the Madras College and St. Andrews University. He obtained his commission as ensign in the East India Company's Army on the 5th August 1856, and was posted to the 7th Bengal Native Infantry which he joined in November, and with which he was serving when it mutinied the following May at Dinapore. The 8th and 40th Bengal Native Infantry, who were also at Dinapore, mutinied at the same time, and after attacking the Europeans who took refuge in the house at Arrah, near Dinapore, they made their way to Lucknow, where they took part in the various operations against our troops. Promoted to Lieutenant on the 7th November, 1857, he volunteered and served with the 1st Bengal European Fusiliers (afterwards the 101st, and now the 1st Batallion Royal Munster Fusiliers), under the command of the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir James Outram, and subsequently with the 3rd Sikh Irregular Cavalry, in the suppresion of the mutineers, including the occupation and defence of the Alumbagh with Outram's division, and the repulsion of numerous attacks thereon; in the Trans-Goomtee operations; throughout the siege and capture of Luckuow by Lord Clyde's force, including the first assult on the enemy's entrenchments, the storming and capture of the Begum's palace and serai, and the attack on the Gool Musjid, when he was wounded, Later he served with Edward Lugard's field force at the actions of Munnehar and Azimghur, and in the pursuit of Koor Singh, including the actions of Azimghur, Munnehar, and Sheeapore, receiving, at the close of the campaign, the medal with clasp.

In 1862 he went to the 4th Infantry Regiment of the Hyderabad Ocmtingent (as the 97th Deccan Infantry wan then designated), and was for ten yearn its adjutant and subsequently second in command. He had joined the Bengal Staff Corps on the 12th September, 1866, and on the 5th August, 1868, he was promoted to captain. Leaving the 4th Infantry in 1873, two years later he was appointed officiating Cantonment Magistrate and Judge of the Small Cause Court at Dum Dum. On the 5th August, 1870, he was promoted to major, being shortly afterwards transferred as officiating Political Agent, second class, to Neemuch. He beeame lieutenant -colonel on the 5th August 1882, colonel on the 5th August 1886, and retired on the 1st May, 1887, as Major General, his last employment having been as Cantonment Magistrate at Morar, Central India.

Major-General Playfair wan also at different times Superintendent of Jails at Hazaribagh Cantonment ; Magistrate and Judge at Dinapore, Neemuch and Mhow ; and Officiating Resident at Gwalior. He was selected by the Viceroy to accompany the Maharajah of Scindiah as Political Officer in attendance during the Viceroy's Durbar at Agra in 1831. In 1910 he was appointed a Knight of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

Playfair's surviving sons have distinguished themselves in various spheres.

Mr. Arthur Wyndham Playfair is the well-known actor ; Dr. Hugh Playfair has a large medical practice in London ; and Major Fred Playfair, who has been for a considerable time connected with the Army, is at present on active service."