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Assam British India
|Died||1955 (aged 90)
|Other names||Zolûti (among Mizo people)|
|Alma mater||Royal Moray College|
|Known for||British occupation of Mizoram|
|Spouse(s)||Harry Innes Howie|
Mary Winchester, or Zolûti to Mizos, (1865-1955) was a Scottish girl who was captured and held hostage by the Mizo tribes of Mizoram, India, in 1871, and rescued by the British expedition in 1872. This historic event marked the beginning of British rule in Mizoram that lasted till the Indian Independence in 1947. Indirectly, it also paved the way for Christian missionaries to introduce Christianity among the Mizos.
Mary Winchester lived with her father at Cachar, Assam, India. She was an illegitimate child of James Winchester and his Meitei worker. Her father was a manager of the British tea plantation, and had been there for 12 years. When she turned six years of age in 1871, her father decided it was time for formal education in Britain. Her farewell party was arranged on 23 January at Alexandrapur plantation at the place owned by her father's close friend George Seller. While they were strolling in the garden, the workers were suddenly in commotion, and Seller was frantically galloping around on his horse. When she and a nurse headed towards the bungalow, her father met them on the way and ran her to a stable. But then the Mizo tribal warriors caught up and cut her father on the head and shot him down from behind. The warrior snatched her away from the dying clutch of her father, who murmured, "Dear, only God knows your fate." The invaders left him to die and carried the girl away. A number of people were killed in the clash, some were taken as hostages, including Mary Winchester. Probably all, except the girl whom they took special care, others were killed on their journey to Mizoram.
Mary Winchester was the first white person most Mizos had ever encountered. Though a hostage, she was most of the time treated with good care. But some warriors wanted to depose her for fearing the consequences. She was finally lodged in the house of Bengkhuaia, the chief of Sailàm, one of the most formidable chiefdoms. Her arrival in the village was celebrated with wine and meat, led by the queen. Not understanding her language to know her name, the Mizos called her Zolûti (Zo for "Mizo" or "Mizoram", lût for "enter"). The village chief then entrusted the girl under the ward of his most trusted woman, Pi Tluangi, wife of the village elder Vansuakthanga (grandparents of Vangchhunga, one of the first three Mizo pastors). Pi Tluangi eventually cared for her like a princess, sleeping with her, and making garments and toys for her.
The British government was compelled to make a retaliation and recovery, a military campaign called the Lushai Expedition was launched on 8 October 1871. The British army crushed the Mizo villages one by one. The right column of the campaign reached Sailàm village on 21 January 1872. The siege started at 0830 in the morning, and after a few gunshots and shelling, the Mizos found their tribal weaponry no match to such advanced artillery and soon tendered their submission. After destroying the granaries and crops, they rescued Mary Winchester.
The moment of her rescue is told in two different versions:
Mary Winchester was immediately transported to Calcutta and from there directly to Scotland. She lived with her grandparents in Elgin, Moray. She graduated from Royal Moray College, where she met Harry Innes Howie. They got married after she got a job as headmistress and moved to London. She died in 1955.