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Calcutta


Calcutta - Position of Lord Canning - Havelock at Bombay - Lord Canning sends for Reinforcements to the Mauritius, Ceylon, and the Cape: also to Madras - Colonel Neill and his Fusiliers - Neill at Benares - Mutiny at Allahabad - European Officers and Sikhs hold the Fortress - Neill Arrives, and Conquers - Mutiny at Cawnpore - The British Entrench themselves - Nana Sahib appears on the Scene - His Perfidy - Azimoolah - The Sepoys start for Delhi - Nana Sahib brings them back - Siege of Cawnpore - Endurance of the Garrison - Their Sufferings - Their Valour - Ferocity of Nana Sahib - Hideous Massacres - Incidents of the Siege - Capitulation - Massacre on the River banks - Escape and Fate of the Thirteen - Four only Survive - Immense Extent of the Mutiny - General View - Lucknow - Measures of Sir Henry Lawrence - Battle of Chinhut - Defeat of the British - They are besieged in Lucknow Residency - Death of Sir Henry Lawrence.
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It cannot now be denied that at the outset of the mutiny the magnitude of the crisis was totally misapprehended at Calcutta. Lord Canning was new to India. He was a man of a powerful but a slow intellect. With time to think, he acted wisely. With ample and sound information, and some leisure for reflection, he could recognise the true importance of facts and their meaning. He could, indeed, look through them and beyond them, and so shape his measures as to give them permanent effect. He never forgot, when he came to understand the mutiny, that he or his successors would have to govern India after the mutiny, and hence he seemed cold and passionless amid a world on fire, and indifferent to the fate of the white race in India. But on the first days of the mutiny the civil servants - the Grants, Bea- dons, Dorins, men of a stamp very different from the clear-sighted and determined statesmen of the Punjab - sadly misled him. They treated the mutiny in the army as a military émeute, which would soon be quelled. We have already described the condition into which the Government had reduced that army, and from that the reader will have inferred how the civil servants looked down on the military servants of the Company, and from the height of their conceit, lived on in blessed ignorance of military affairs. To this we must trace the paltering way in which the Government dealt with the mutiny at the outset; and the severe rebuffs they administered to all - not of the Government - who offered either counsel or advice. It is true, the Governor-General had very few European troops under his hand - only the 53rd at Fort William, and the 84th at Barrackpore. But at an earlier, he ought to have done what he did at a later stage: he might have called in troops from Madras, from Ceylon, from the Mauritius, and the Cape. On the 10th of May, before he knew of the outburst at Meerut, Sir John Lawrence had telegraphed his opinion to Calcutta that the whole regular army was ready to break out. And then he gave this large-minded counsel: - " Send for troops from Persia. Intercept the force now on its way to China, and bring it to Calcutta. Every European soldier will be required to save the country if the whole of the native troops turn against us. This is the opinion of all leading minds here" - in the Punjab. But at Calcutta, had the civilians been as quick-sighted as Lawrence, this advice would have been needless, for the course it recommended would have been adopted in March, or, at least, in April. After Meerut, it was too late to prevent, though not to cure. Lord Elphinstone, indeed, at Bombay, saw what was coming; and as soon as he knew that peace had been made with Persia - that is, in April - lie pressed on General Outram the necessity of sending back to India the European troops at once. The Governor-General allowed him to act on his discretion, and Sir James, being discreet, complied with the argent request of the Governor of Bombay. Yet General Havelock did not quit Mohumra, at the head of the Persian Gulf, until the 15th, nor did he land at Bombay until the 29th of May, when he was astounded by the news that Delhi was in the hands of mutinous Sepoys. He at once set out for Calcutta by sea; but being wrecked off Ceylon, he did not reach Calcutta until the 17th of June. With him went from Madras Sir Patrick Grant, who, on the death of Anson, was appointed Commander- in-Chief. By this time, as our readers know, the Bengal native army had practically " gone."

It was not until the middle of May that Lord Canning, getting some insight into the facts, sent to Ceylon, the Mauritius, and Madras for troops, and despatched a steamer to lie in wait for the regiments bound to China, and ordered the late army of Persia to come to Calcutta. The first to arrive were the Madras Fusiliers, under Colonel Neill, a man swift to see and to strike, and one who did not understand the system of paltering with mutiny. The Madras Europeans arrived on the 23rd of May, and were at once, with the 84th, despatched towards the north-west. An incident occurred at the departure of this regiment which illustrates the character of Neill. " When he arrived in Calcutta, at the head of the Madras Fusiliers," says the able author of the "Mutiny of the Bengal Army," "he was ordered up with a detachment by railway. The train was to start at a certain hour; but, owing to some delay on the part of the authorities in procuring boats, a portion of the detachment seemed likely to be a few seconds behind time. Colonel Neill had already arrived. The station- master, addressing him, stated that he was behind time, and could not wait for his men, and that the train should go without them. As he rose to execute this threat, Colonel Neill ordered his men to seize and detain him till the rest of the detachment should arrive. When they came up, the station-master was let go, the men got into the carriages, and the train started. A military man who could thus brave the civil power, was not likely to shrink before mutineers."

While Neill was hastening onwards "towards Benares, and Allahabad, and Cawnpore, the native regiments at these and other stations had thrilled to the shock of the news from Delhi, and were prepared to imitate the example. There was one European regiment, the 10th Foot, and three native regiments, at Dinapore, near Patna, 130 miles from Benares; at Benares there were a Sikh regiment, and two Bengal regiments, and thirty European artillerymen; at Allahabad there were a few Sikhs under Braysher - a gallant soldier who had risen from the ranks - and the 6th Native Infantry. Benares, the sacred city, was the head-quarters of Hindooism. Its population, numbered at 300,000, mainly Hindoos, was turbulent. Within its walls lived many dethroned princes, from Nepaul, and Sattara, a branch of the Delhi family, and several Sikhs. Here, if anywhere, disaffection was certain to exist; and here were only thirty British soldiers and the civil servants. Among these civil servants was Mr. Frederic Gubbins, a very resolute man; and when news of the Meerut mutiny came, although he saw the peril, he determined to stand stiffly up against it, and resist. Such measures of precaution as could be taken were adopted, but the prospect was most discouraging. On the 3rd of June the vanguard of the Madras Fusiliers arrived - sixty men - and the question of at once using them and the Sikhs to disarm the 37th Native Infantry was debated. News came that the 17 th Native Infantry at Azimghur had just mutinied, and it was resolved on the 4th to disarm the regiment the next day. At this crisis Colonel Neill came in. He saw no good in delay. "As soon as the 37th hear of the mutiny at Azimghur," he said, " they will rise. Do it at once." Brigadier Ponsonby yielded. The troops were paraded; the Sikhs and irregular cavalry on the left, the artillery on the right, of the 37th. The latter at once mutinied, and began firing. Two or three officers fell. The artillery opened fire. By some mistake, never explained, the Sikhs fired on their officers and on the Fusiliers. Then the guns opened on them, and all was confusion. Brigadier Ponsonby fell from sunstroke. Neill took command, and with his handful of thirty gunners and Fusiliers, routed the rebels. The whole district around for many miles rose in revolt at once; but such was the stern energy of Neill, the occult and long-acquired influence of Gubbins, the devotion of men like Venables and Chapman, indigo planters - " adventurers " in the estimation of the exclusives of the Company's servants - that not only was the city population held down, but in a very short time we regained our power in this country also. At this time gibbets were set up, and, for many months, traitors and mutineers of every caste and rank were mercilessly hanged thereon. This is one of the ghastliest features of the mutiny; but let those who would condemn hastily remember that the few Europeans in India were engaged in a contest for life, not only with the army, and those native chiefs who may have felt themselves aggrieved, but the bulk of the ruffian classes who abound in a land where murder has been elevated to the dignity of a religious faith!

The safety of Benares was important in a political point of view, and it was guarded by thirty European artillerymen. The safety of Allahabad was essential in a military point of view, and it did not contain a single European soldier. Its absolute masters were the 6th Native Infantry, a native battery, and part of the Ferozepore regiment of Sikhs. Yet what was Allahabad? It was not only a very strong fortress, commanding the confluence of the Ganges and Jumna; it was not only the point of passage over the Jumna into the Doab on one side, and thence to the north-west, and over the Ganges on the other into Oude and the valley of the Goomtee; it was the greatest arsenal in India - full of guns, stores, ammunition; our sole base of operations upwards towards Cawnpore and Lucknow. That the two great arsenals of Delhi and Allahabad should have been left without a single European is a stupendous monument of the blindness and folly of men. The 6th Native Infantry were quite ready to mutiny. With the fort and treasure - £175,000 - in their power, it is inexplicable that they did not. Perhaps it may be attributed to the fact that their officers were most devoted to them; but this explanation was refuted by another fact that, when they did break out, not one of those officers was warned. Fortunately, the Government, in a moment of alarm - for it had its moments of alarm as well as its moments of confidence - ordered up from Chunar some sixty European artillerymen, all invalids, yet fit for garrison duty. These arrived on the 23rd of May, and entered the fort. They saved this invaluable post. The 6th had volunteered to march on Delhi, and the Government was so delighted, that on the 5th its commander, Colonel Simpson, was directed by telegraph to thank the regiment, and tell them the order would appear in the next Gazette. On that very day came news of the mutiny at Benares, and on the 6th, twenty-four hours after it had been thanked for loyalty, the 6th rose, and the men shot nearly every one of their officers. The mutiny was characterised by the greatest treachery, carried on by the foulest murders, and pushed on to a climax of atrocity. But the reader is now familiar with the aspects of a military mutiny. Here all night flames licked up the lines; released felons and Sepoys hunted for Europeans, and hewed them and their wives and little ones in pieces. In the fort all was anxiety. The real nature of the contest raging in cantonments was not known until a fugitive officer, naked from a swim in the Jumna, ran in. Then, by the steadfastness and skill of Braysher, the Sikhs were induced to disarm the company of the 6th, and the fort was saved. But the rabble invested the fort! For five days this was permitted, and not a gun allowed to be fired. Colonel Neill, with forty men, came up on the 11th from Benares. The bridge of boats was in the hands of the rebels, but he got a boat and crossed below it. Then, without resting, he organised a plan for recovering the bridge; and early the next morning he executed it with vigour and promptitude. From that time he continued to regain the lost sway over the city. Reinforced by driblets from below, maintaining a constant fire on the city, now issuing out, now using a steamer laden with infantry, he so punished the insurgents in the town that in a week he was master of the situation so completely that he was able to organise a small flying column to clear the country between Allahabad and Benares, to levy a heavy fine on the city, and to seize and hang the ruffians who were captured and brought in day after day. Neill became a name of terror all along the banks of the Ganges, and by his wise as well as severe measures he made it possible for Havelock to avenge Cawnpore, of which it is now time to speak. - Cawnpore is a large station. Seated on the right bank of the Ganges, it is midway between Lucknow and Calpee and Agra and Allahabad. Thus, it was one of the most important stations in the Doab of the Ganges and Jumna - a central point whence troops might move on an enemy or intercept one on four great lines. There were three regiments of native infantry, the 1st, 53rd, and 56th, and one regiment of native cavalry, in the station. There were about sixty European artillerymen, and six guns. The commandant was Sir Hugh Wheeler, a soldier who had served under Lord Lake fifty-four years before, and who then and since had led Sepoys in battle in half a dozen great campaigns. There were at Cawnpore the wives and children of the men of the 32nd Foot; a number of ladies, wives of officers and civilians, and many merchants and traders and their families. Agitated by the earlier incidents of the mutiny, the natives were more deeply stirred by the outbreak at Meerut and Delhi, and General Wheeler felt that no trust could be placed in the men he commanded. But he was absolutely powerless. He had only sixty-one Europeans. He could not disarm the Cawnpore garrison. He could only wait and watch, and prepare some ark of refuge, however frail. Nor had he much time. News of the Delhi massacres arrived on the 14th of May. The troops gave no outward sign. A few days afterwards Mrs. Fraser entered the station. Her husband had been slain at Delhi, and she had travelled down 266 miles in safety. A native had undertaken to perform the journey, and he did. This lady was a real heroine, and in the dreadful days at hand, regardless of herself, she gave up everything to soothe and minister to the wounded.

On the 20th of May all communication with Delhi and Agra had ceased. Fires broke out in the native lines, and prophecies of evil were uttered. Sir Hugh Wheeler entrenched an old hospital - two brick buildings, one thatched, one roofed with stone. The entrenchment was so slight that an English horseman could have leaped in anywhere. In this enclosure the guns were placed, and the women and children were ordered to take up their quarters therein. Stores of food, but not sufficient, were laid up. Happily, ammunition was plentiful. There were nine guns in the work. Still no sign of mutiny. Nevertheless, as the treasure was exposed, Sir Hugh and Mr. Hillersden thought fit to request the Nana Sahib of Bithoor to supply a guard. He complied, bringing down troops of his own, and taking up his quarters in the civil lines. Who was the Nana Sahib? He was the son of a Brahmin living near Bombay. His name was Seereek Dhoondoo Punt. Bajee Rao, the last Peishwa, having no issue of his own, adopted this boy; and when, for his treachery, Bajee Rao was dethroned, the Government granted him a pension, and sent him to live at Bithoor, on the Ganges, a few miles above Cawnpore. When he died, the Nana, by forging a will, obtained his enormous wealth; but the Government refused to continue the pension allowed to the late Peishwa. That Nana Sahib never forgave. But he showed no sign of resentment. He lived a life of the lowest sensual indulgence in the splendid fort at Bithoor, wherein were rooms decorated in a style "unfit to meet any human eye." He was on the most friendly terms with the British officers, frequently entertaining them at Bithoor, but accepting no hospitality in return. He had for prime minister, or chief agent, one Azimoolah, originally a waiter, then teacher in the Government schools at Cawnpore, then agent to Nana Sahib. Azimoolah was sent to London to pray the Board of Directors to grant the Nana his pension. He came in 1854, was a lion in society, much admired by the ladies, at one time nearly carrying off one to grace his harem. He returned to India by way of Constantinople, and was there in the depths of that dreary winter when our soldiers were holding the heights at so much cost. "Subtle, intriguing, unscrupulous, bloodthirsty, sleek, and wary as a tiger, this man," writes one who knew him, "betrayed no animosity to us until the outburst of the mutiny, and then he became the presiding genius of the assault on Cawnpore," the instigator of the massacres.

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Pictures for Calcutta

Sir John Lawrence
Sir John Lawrence >>>>
Troops preparing for a march in India
Troops preparing for a march in India >>>>
Mutineers pursues by English cavalry
Mutineers pursues by English cavalry >>>>

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