The Empress of India
Lady Florentia Sale
Heroin of the First Afghan-War
Florentia Wynch was born on 13 August 1790, in Madras, during Company rule in India, the daughter of George Wynch, a member of the civil service.3 George’s father Alexander Wynch was the Governor of Madras for a time during the 1770s.3 It is possible she is named after her paternal grandmother, Florentia Craddock, wife of Alexander.4 She was raised by her uncles and received a good education as a child.5
Marriage and adult life
In 1809, Wynch married Sir Robert Henry Sale of the British Army. She accompanied him on his numerous postings, raising their children while he fought. The couple’s first child, daughter Mary Harriet, was born a year after their marriage, on 17 February 1810 in Walajabad.1 By the time of the birth of her second child, she had moved to Mauritius, where Sale was stationed; George Henry was born in 1811 in Port Louis, Mauritius.1 Five of the couple’s other children were born in Port Louis too, the last being in 1818.1 On 1 October 1820, she bore her eighth child, Henrietta Sarah, in Montluel, France.1 Her last child, Alexandrina was born nearly three years later, on 2 January 1823 in Calcutta, India.1
During the First Anglo-Afghan War, Lady Sale, along with other women and children, as well as soldiers, were kidnapped in 1842 for nine months.6 The group were taken hostage by Akbar Khan following the massacre in the Khurd Karbul Pass. Amongst the hostages with Lady Sale was her youngest daughter Alexandrina, along with her husband Lieutenant John Sturt and their newborn daughter.7 Sturt was fatally injured by three dagger wounds to the abdomen, with Lady Sale nursing her son-in-law in his final hours.5 Upon his death, she secured him a Christian burial; he was the only fallen officer to receive such a burial.5 Lady Sale bribed the Afghan officers into releasing them; they were then rescued by Sir Richmond Shakespear on 17 September, 1842.8 Her courageous and defiant actions meant that she endangered herself frequently; she was shot in the wrist, with the bullet lodging there.7 Throughout her time as a captive, Lady Sale kept a diary, detailing the events of the ordeal. A year later, Lady Sale published her journal which documented her experiences throughout the Afghan War,9 and the book received critical acclaim.