Walter Reinhardt Sombre

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

Walter Reinhardt Sombre (born as Walter Reinhardt or Reinert; c. 1725 – 1778[1]) was an adventurer and mercenary in India from the 1760s.

Early life

Sombre is thought to have been born in Strasbourg or Treves.[2] His nationality is uncertain, being given in various sources as Austrian,[3] French,[4] German,[5] Luxemburger, or Swiss.[6] One version is that he was born in a village called Ort Simmern near Trier (Treves). There are still Reinhardts/Reinerts in the area.


He entered early into the French Service assuming the name of Summer, but due to the darkness of his complexion, he received the French nickname Sombre.[7] His nickname [8] was a nom de guerre, and is more commonly used for him, in Indian sources.

He was a turncoat, changing sides for advantage. Soon after his enlistment in the French Service, he went to Bengal, entered a Swiss Corps in Calcutta from which he deserted in 15 days, fled to the Upper Provinces and served some time as a private trooper in the cavalry of Sufdur Jung. This service, he also quit and became attached to the service of Mir Qasim, Nawab of Bengal. While in the Nawab's service he was blamed for a massacre of English captives at Patna.[9]

In The Fall of the Mogul Empire of Hindustan, H. G. Keene describes this massacre:[10]

In the meanwhile the unscrupulous heroes who were founding the British Government of India had thought proper to quarrel with their new instrument Mir Kasim, whom they had so lately raised to the Masnad of Bengal. This change in their councils had been caused by an insubordinate letter addressed to the Court of Directors by Clive's party, which had led to their dismissal from employ. The opposition then raised to power consisted of all the more corrupt members of the service; and the immediate cause of their rupture with Mir Kasim was about the monopoly they desired to have of the local trade for their own private advantage. They were represented at that Nawab's Court by Mr. Ellis, the most violent of their body; and the consequence of his proceedings was, in no long time, seen in the murder of the Resident and all his followers, in October, 1763. The scene of this atrocity (which remained without a parallel for nearly a century) was at Patna, which was then threatened and soon after stormed by the British; and the actual instrument was a Franco-German, Walter Reinhardt by name, of whom, as we are to hear much more hereafter, it is as well here to take note. This European executioner of Asiatic barbarity is generally believed to have been a native of Treves, in the Duchy of Luxemburg, who came to India as a sailor in the French navy. From this service he is said to have deserted to the British, and joined the first European battalion raised in Bengal. Thence deserting he once more entered the French service; was sent with a party who vainly attempted to relieve Chandarnagar, and was one of the small party who followed Law when that officer took command of those, who refused to share in the surrender of the place to the British. After the capture of his ill-starred chief, Reinhardt (whom we shall in future designate by his Indian sobriquet of "Sumroo," or Sombre) took service under Gregory, or Gurjin Khan, Mir Kasim's Armenian General. Broome, however, adopts a somewhat different version. According to this usually careful and accurate historian, Reinhardt was a Salzburg man who originally came to India in the British service, and deserted to the French at Madras, whence he was sent by Lally to strengthen the garrison of the Bengal settlement. The details are not very material: Sumroo had certainly learned war both in English and French schools. He again deserted from the Newab, served successively the Principal Chiefs of the time, and died in 1776.

Personal life

Later on, Walter Reinhardt formed his own mercenary army, in which Jats also served. In about 1767, when he was 42, he met and married (or started living with) a 14-year-old Nautch girl named Farzana, who became known as Begum Samru. Sumroo moved from Lucknow to Rohilkhand (near Bareilly), then to Agra, Deeg and Bharatpur and back to the Doab. At one time, he was Governor of Agra. He attained a position from Shah Alam II, briefly held before his death, ruling Sardhana.


Sombre died at Agra on 4 May 1778. He was buried in the Agra churchyard by his widow, Begum Samru. His widow took over his mercenary army and succeeded to the rule of Sardhana.


A modern novelist, Vikram Chandra, has used the character of Sumroo in his book "Red Earth and Pouring Rain". In this book, fiction intermingles with history and myth. The dramatis personae include the historical adventurers, the Frenchman Benoit de Boigne (1751–1830), the German Walter Reinhardt (1720–1778) and the Irishman George Thomas (1756–1802).


  1. Sardhana Fair - Christian Fair Sardhana - Sardhana Fair Meerut India - Christian Fair Meerut
  2. Details as given in Michaud, Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne, entry Somrou
  3. Stephen Neill, A History of Christianity in India: 1707-1858
  4. [1] says Franco-German, but also offers Salzburg as birthplace.
  5. Dying abode of the unsung Begum Sumru, The Milli Gazette, Vol.5 No.09, MG103 (1-15 May 04)
  6. [2] calls him Swiss-German.
  7. ""REINHARD'S ERBENGEMEINSCHAFT" R.E.G.: About the German Adventurer Walter Reinhard".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Summer, Samru, Sumroo, Somroo, Sombrou, Somrou, Somru, Sumru.
  9. Mir Kasim was defeated in two pitched battles at Gheria and Udhanala (Oodeynullah) in August and September 1763, and in revenge ordered the massacre of all his prisoners, which was carried out with the help of a renegade in his employment named Walter Reinhardt, (afterwards the husband of the famous Begum Samru). About sixty Englishmen were murdered on this occasion, the bodies being thrown into a well belonging to the house in which they were confined.1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
  10. H. G. Keene (1887). "The Fall of the Mogul Empire of Hindustan". Oxford.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>