Petrie, David (1879-1961)

David Petrie was the highest-ranking police officer assigned to meet the Komagata Maru when it arrived back in India. He was already a senior officer in the criminal intelligence department in Delhi who had previously been employed in the central office of the criminal investigation department in Punjab; he had been with the police in India—in Delhi, Punjab and the Northwest Frontier Province—since 1900. Before the expected arrival of the Komagata Maru, he spent two weeks of briefing in Simla with the director of criminal intelligence for the government of India and with senior officers of the Punjab government. He understood from this that Gurdit Singh and the people around him were trouble makers and that they were certain to start an agitation once they got back to India; and he saw it as his job to prevent that from happening by detaining Gurdit Singh and a handful of leaders around him and by providing free transportation home to Punjab for the rest of the passengers.

With a party of police and officials, Petrie boarded the Komagata Maru, after it had entered the Hoogli River and was on its way upstream to Kolkata. He took a leading role in the decision to land the passengers at Budge Budge before they got to Kolkata; and he was present and involved for the entire day of the landing at Budge Budge, culminating in the riot that evening. In the riot he fired seven pistol shots, and he received two bullet wounds, one in the arm and one in the thigh, leading to a long convalescence after his wounds became infected. Petrie wrote a confidential note on the incident about a week after the riot and that became a principal part of the evidence that the Komagata Maru Committee of Inquiry relied on for the Budge Budge part of their report.

Petrie was a Scot from Inveravon, Banffshire and a graduate of Aberdeen University. He served with the police in India from 1900 to 1931, and as director of the intelligence bureau in India for the last seven of these years. He was knighted in 1929 and finished his Indian career as a member and then as chairman of the public services commission. He left India in 1936 and, after playing a police advisory role in Palestine, settled in Britain in 1938. In 1941, Winston Churchill’s government appointed him director of Britain’s counter-intelligence agency, MI5, and he remained in that position until he retired in 1946.

Sources: David Petrie, “Confidential Note on the Budge Budge Riot,” M.S. Waraich and G.S. Sidhu, Komagata Maru—A Challenge to Colonialism (Chandigarh: Unistar Books, 2005); Richard Popplewell, Intelligence and Imperial Defence: British intelligence and the Defence of the Indian empire, 1904–1924, (London: F. Cass, 1995).