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Chapter XL, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2

Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5

But, for the present we must leave them with these armed traitors all around, to show what General Anson was doing in the first week after the outbreak at Meerut.

"We have already caught a glimpse of General Anson, whose distinction among men it was to be the greatest whist-player in either hemisphere. We have seen him at Umballa, misunderstanding the mutiny, and snubbing Sepoys and Sepoy officers for telling tales. He was on the road to Simla, and to Simla he went. Where and what is Simla? Let the able author of the anonymous " History of the Siege of Delhi " tell us in his own way. General Anson was not within reach of the electric wire, hut deep among the spurs of the mighty Himalayas. "About forty miles from Umballa rises abrupt from the plain, in awful precipices, the mountain ridge of Kussowlie. On the top of the wild pine-clad hill, 6,000 feet high, in the cool climate in which Europeans delight, are barracks and houses, with the station church. Here was the 75th Foot. In the second range, about ten miles off, stands the bare and bleak mountain, on the summit of which is the station of Dugshai, then sheltering the 1st Fusiliers. Still deeper in, but much lower, in a half tropical climate, are the barracks and white bungalows of Sabbathoo, where were the 2nd Fusiliers. About thirty miles farther on, far out of sight of India, surrounded by awful ghauts and precipices, there is a mighty hill 8,000 feet high. On its top is a somewhat larger space of level ground than is commonly seen among these mountains, ever so wonderfully steep. A wandering Englishman had once come to this desert, where the most far-fetched fancy of a native could never have dreamt of building anything but the low stone hut for the poor mountaineer, who would turn the nearest waterfall to irrigate each narrow shelf of soil which his rude ploughshare scratched on the edge of the abyss. The stranger returned with a report that the climate was as cool as his own England; and soon the first cottage was built in Simla, a marvel to the untaught hillmen in the stony ravines below. In a few years Simla was a city. A thousand houses and pleasant cottages, reached by stairs and narrow winding paths, nestled on every nook, amongst the Himalayan pines, yews, and rhododendrons that shade the rocks from the ever powerful sun of India; but let through the breezes that cross from the crescent of eternal snow, whose spotless zigzag line refreshes the eye turned upon the northern range. Here the fainting invalid finds he can live again, as the cool air fills his chest. The breath of the grave does not mount so high. Here young officers come to spend their months of privileged leave, ladies come to escape the heat of the plains. Incessant toil has widened the ways round the hill, and the eye unaccustomed to such giddy heights, is kept steady by the sight of stout wooden palings, which run along their free sides. By turning the taxes for the village roads in India to another work, a path has been cut, blasted, or built on stakes along the most awful precipices and the highest mountains in our globe - hundreds of miles away into the far distant valleys of Bunawor, between the peaks of eternal snow, where those of our officers who are more manly or less gay, may betake themselves to hunt the bear, or bag game strange to the European sportsman."

Such was the abode of the Commander-in-Chief of India at the greatest crisis in the fate of British rule. Below him were spread out the Cis-Sutlej States, governed chiefly by native Sikh chiefs who owned allegiance to the Company. It was among these that we had sought and found our earliest allies. We have seen how the Rajah of Kuppoorthulla cast his lot at ' once with ours. There were others ready to follow his example. The whole country below had been for three days in the ferment of mutiny; the troops at Lahore had been disarmed; the movable column had been formed, an outbreak of the 5th and 60th Native Infantry at Umballa on the 10th of May had been frustrated by a mere accident; and blood had been shed at Ferozepore, before General Anson heard that there was any serious mutiny in the army. When the famous message from Delhi reached Umballa, General Barnard sent off Captain Barnard, his aide-de-camp, to inform the Commander-in-Chief. As he passed through Kussowlie, he warned the 75th Foot to be ready to march at a moment's notice. On the 12th he astonished the Commander-in-Chief by presenting the Delhi telegram! It was fortunate for General Anson that he had with him at that moment men like Colonel Chester and Major Norman. Whatever indecision there may have been in the mind of the chief, there was none in that of his subordinates, and when he could not decide, they decided for him. Orders were sent that very night for the march of the 75th and 1st Bengal Fusiliers at once to Umballa; and for the 2nd Fusiliers to be ready for marching. But General Anson did not stir. Fresh news came in on the 13th, as precise as it was horrible. The 2nd Fusiliers were ordered to march. On the 14th, the general and his staff quitted Simla, and the next day they were at Umballa. The 1st Fusiliers arrived the same day, having marched in two nights sixty miles. The 75th had come in, and these, with the 9th Lancers, under Colonel Hope Grant - a name to be remembered - and two troops of horse artillery, formed a weak but respectable brigade. On the 17th they were joined by the 2nd Fusiliers.

Pending the arrival of General Anson the civil authorities had not been idle. Acting under the inspiration and on the orders of Sir John Lawrence, whose comprehensive mind embraced the whole state of affairs' north of Delhi, Mr. Barnes and Mr. Forsyth had called upon the Maharajah of Puttiala, and the Rajahs of Jheend and Nabha, for the aid of troops, provisions, carriage, and it was instantly granted. Detachments of their forces were sent to guard fords and places of importance in the country, to Loodiana, and on the road to Kurnaul. The military commissaries could not meet the immense demand for transport; it was met by the civilians. These were days of vast activity. For the first time European soldiers mounted sentry, and European officers rode and walked in the burning sun. With the aid of the native princes the civilians took firm hold on the country, between the Jumna and the Sutlej, and thus secured the road from Delhi to the Punjab, whence troops and ammunition and spirited counsels alone could come.

One of the first acts of General Anson, or rather of his able staff officers, was to organise a siege train at Philour. The order, however, did not reach that fort until the 17th, and four days elapsed before it could be prepared. In the meantime, a Ghoorka battalion near Simla, which nobody doubted was badly managed, broke into mutiny, creating a disgraceful panic at Simla. These men were to have marched on Philour, to form the escort of the train; they were finally pacified by concessions, but not until a detached company had plundered the treasury at Kussowlie, and the general's baggage coming from Simla.

The effect of this quasi-mutiny of the Ghoorkas was important. The siege train had to be entrusted to the escort of the 3rd Native Infantry, encamped at Philour. Part of this regiment, and of the 4th Cavalry, had already been sent to guard a small supply of ammunition for the Europeans. It was said the 3rd had sworn the siege- train should never reach Delhi, and it is not an improbable story; nevertheless, when, hearing that the Ghoorkas were in revolt, they volunteered to act as escort, the offer was accepted. The train, consisting of thirty-two guns, including six 18-pounders, one 24-pounder, and four 8-inch mortars, started on the 21st. Seven miles off ran the Sutlej, deep and broad, and now rapidly swollen by the melting snows. Over this stream there was a bridge of boats, and the question was, how long it would stand against the rising waters. Mr. Rickets, ever watchful, was there, with 300 workmen, watching night and day, strengthening the bridge and repairing damages, damming up the river above, and relieving the boats of the strain upon them. On came the train; it started at three in the morning; it entered Loodiana at ten at night, occupying nineteen hours in traversing seven miles. As soon as the guns and ammunition were over, a body of troops, supplied by the Rajah of Nabba, relieved the men of the 3rd Native Infantry; and two hours after, the river, overcoming all barriers, swept the bridge away. That night, too, a fierce dust-storm arose, followed by torrents of rain and blasts of wind, which levelled the camp. But as the guns escaped the rushing river, so the powder was not injured by the rain. On went the train towards Umballa and Kurnaul.

In the meantime some troops had marched from Umballa on the road to Delhi. They were few, but transport for more could not be had. They consisted of four companies of the 1st Fusiliers, a squadron of the 9th. Lancers, and two Horse Artillery guns. They marched on the 17th to Kurnaul. With them, let us note, went Lieutenant Hodson, a gallant and accomplished soldier in every way, and one we shall meet with frequently between Umballa and Lucknow. Hodson had been grievously injured by the Punjab Government, deprived of his command of the Guides, to whom he was attached, and who adored him, and even when his entire innocence of the charges against him was demonstrated, the proof was kept back from the Government at Calcutta. General Anson did a wise thing when he selected Hodson to be assistant quarter-master general. Hodson arrived at Kurnaul on the 18th, the next day the troops came in, and Hodson at once volunteered to open communication with Meerut. It was a daring proposal. It was accepted. On the 20th, with an escort of the Jheend troops, he rode off for Meerut. It is remarkable, and shows what a name for daring Hodson had achieved, that an officer at Meerut, hearing others lament that they were not in communication with head-quarters, said, " Hodson is at Umballa, I know; and I'll bet he will force his way through, and open communications with the Commander-in-Chief and ourselves." The next morning, May 21, at day-break, Hodson galloped into Meerut. He "rode straight to [Brigadier] Wilson, had his interview, a bath, breakfast, and two hours' sleep, and then rode back the seventy-six miles," reaching Kurnaul on the night of the 23rd, having had to fight his way. On the 24th he drove to Umballa, reported to Anson the same evening, and five hours later was again on the road to Kurnaul. The fruit of the expedition of this dashing horseman was, that the troops at Meerut were able to act in concert with the little army collecting at Kurnaul. Hodson was commissioned to raise a regiment of irregular horse - 2,000 if he could get them - and he was made chief of the Intelligence Department.

Perplexed and harassed by the weight of responsibility thrown upon him, General Anson reached Kurnaul on the 25th; on the 26th he was attacked by cholera, and on the 27th he died. It may be fairly said he died of a consciousness of his own incapacity to contend with the gigantic difficulties around him. It was not his fault that he was neither a Lawrence nor a Montgomery, neither a Havelock nor a Campbell; but it was the fault of the British Government that they selected a man of such moderate abilities and no force of character to command the Indian army. On the 26th the Delhi Field Force under Sir Henry Barnard, son of gallant Sir Andrew Barnard, reached Kurnaul, and Sir Henry, whom we have seen before Sebastopol, assumed command. It was now nearly the end of May, twenty days since the mutiny began; and here were the troops from Umballa and the brigade from Meerut converging on a point, to effect a junction and lay siege to Delhi.

By this time the Punjab had been the theatre of more decision and vigour. Sir John Lawrence, Mr. Montgomery, and their able coadjutors had shown how mutiny should be dealt with. No half measures were adopted. They went upon the time-honoured principle, that he who is not for ns is against us. " Treason and sedition," writes one of the Punjab men, " were dogged into the very privacy of the harem, and up to the sacred sanctuaries of the mosques and shrines." Mr. Montgomery banished red tape. All letters were intercepted; all important ferries, fords, and roads were watched. Rewards were offered for fugitive mutineers, dead or alive. It was soon found that the population were on our side, and the villagers ready to stop mutineers, or to report their movements. The Hindostanee soldiers had boasted throughout the Punjab that they had conquered it, and now it was the turn of the Sikh and the Punjabee. The Sikhs were burning to march on Delhi. More than a century and a half before, Aurungzebe, the Great Mogul, had beheaded a prophet of the Sikhs in his palace at Delhi, and there was a prophecy current that the Sikhs, in conjunction with the British, should sack Delhi, and avenge the death of their martyr Gooroo. This made the work of the British leaders less difficult; but it was, in the middle of May, still a problem whether we should stand or fall.. But the temper of those leaders is best illustrated by an anecdote, true, as we believe. When he was at Umballa, General Anson, by telegraph, asked Sir John Lawrence whether it would not be wiser to entrench and await reinforcements. Sir John, who knew that we could only be saved by showing power, promptly replied; and this message from one famous whist-player and something more, to another famous whist-player and nothing more, flashed along the wire: - " When in doubt, win the trick. Clubs are trumps, not spades." The Delhi Field Force, as we have seen, marched for Delhi.

But the Punjab still had to be made safe. Peshawur was not yet secure. The blow to be struck there by the Sepoys had only been parried. The hill tribes looked on with suspicion and doubt. The cantonments were full of intrigue. The Sepoys were the first to draw down on themselves the doom awaiting them. It may be remembered that the 55th had been sent from Nowshera to Ho tee Murdan, and the 64th into their forts near Peshawur. This had reduced the force to be watched to four infantry and three cavalry regiments. They had all heard of the success of their "brothers " at Meerut and Delhi. In spite of vigilant watching and severe measures, these regiments were in close communication. But some of the letters seized not only showed that an extensive conspiracy existed, but revealed its nature. Happily, Colonel Nicholson felt danger in the air, and induced Sir John Lawrence to send back half the 27th Foot to the Indus. Happily, also, the Punjabee troops on the frontier were coming in. But there was no time to be lost. The Sepoys in the station were ripe for revolt, and the plot formed was only discovered eight-and-forty hours before the time fixed for its execution. The 51st Native Infantry at Peshawur sent a letter to the 64th and the Khelat-i-Gilzies, inviting them to march into Peshawur on the 22nd of May, and hinting what should then be done. The letter got safely to hand, but the Sepoy who received it took it to the officer commanding at one of the three forts. The officer sent it back instantly to Peshawur, and thus saved the station. About the same time a fakir of suspicious aspect was arrested at Peshawur, and searched, and in the hollow of his armpit was found a letter, declaring that now was the time, and inviting the Sepoys to bring with them "a few pounds of fruit," in other words, the heads of British officers Now was the time to disarm the whole of the native troops. It was the 21st of May. Edwardes had just come in from Rawul Pindee. Promptly a council was held, and although the colonels of the Sepoy regiments - as they did everywhere - vehemently refused to believe that their men were mutinous, Cotton, Edwardes, and Nicholson saw more clearly, and would not be gainsaid. News from Nowshera and Hotee Murdan quickened their resolves into acts. The 55th were in open mutiny. Brigadier Cotton decided that the 24th, 27th, and 51st Native Infantry, and the 5th Cavalry, should be disarmed on the 22nd. The 21st Native Infantry and the 7th and 15th Irregular Cavalry were still trusted.

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