The Inordinately Strange Life of Dyce Sombre: Victorian Anglo-Indian MP and a "chancery Lunatic"
The descendent of German and French Catholic mercenaries, a Scots Presbyterian subaltern, and their secluded Indian wives, David Ochterlony Dyce Sombre defied all classification in the North Indian principality where he was raised. Add to these influences an adoptive mother who began as a Muslim courtesan and rose to become the Catholic ruler of a strategically-placed, cosmopolitan little kingdom, which her foster son was destined to inherit, and you have the origins of a fascinating life that reflects many of the Romantic, political, and colonial trends of a century.As heir to the throne, Sombre took great advantage of the sensuous pleasures of privilege, but he lost his kingdom to the British upon his foster mother's death. Sombre kept his mother's vast wealth but lived in foreign exile, touring India, China, and Europe. In London Sombre married the daughter of an English Protestant Viscount who was a prominent defender of slavery. He bought himself election to British Parliament but was then expelled for corruption. His treatment of his aristocratic wife led to his arrest and confinement as a "Chancery lunatic." Fleeing to France, Sombre would spend years trying to reclaim his sanity and his fortune, setting new precedents for international and medical law throughout the Anglophone world. Each rehearing in the British courts sought to establish whether Sombre was a sane Indian or a lunatic European, with doctors and jurists repeatedly clashing over definitions of sanity. Even in 1851, decades after his death, Sombre's mind and heritage continued to fuel fierce debate. In this thrilling biography, Michael H. Fisher recovers Sombre's strange story and the echoes of his case for modern conceptions of health, race, and empire.
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