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Chapter XLV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3


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An officer who was present has left a description of Hodson which is worth preserving. "I found time," he says, " for admiration of Hodson, who sat like a man carved in stone, and as calm and apparently unconcerned as the sentries at the Horse Guards; and only by his eyes and his ready hand, whenever occasion offered, could you have told that he was in deadly peril, and the balls flying amongst us as thick as hail."

When the evening of the 14th arrived, we had made a lodgement in Delhi. We held the ramparts from the Cabul Gate, along the north front, to the Jumna. We held the church and the college, and several houses. The palace, the magazine, the Selimghur, the great gardens, the Jumma Musjid - four-fifths of the city - were still in the hands of the enemy. To win what we had won had cost the little army 66 officers and 1,104 men killed and wounded - nearly a third of the whole force engaged! The position gained was fortified, and preparations were made for pushing on the work next day. But, unhappily, the troops found plenteous stores of liquor, and, demoralised by prolonged labour, with systems exhausted by the burning climate, they drank without stint, and on the night of the 14th and the morning of the 15th the Sepoys might have driven the helpless host out of the place. General Wilson was so alarmed that he talked of retreating to the ridge! Happily there were firmer minds about him, and he had sense enough to take their advice, and hold on. Nicholson's voice pealed up from his death-bed against the madness of the thought, the bare mention of which raised a storm of anger in our lines. To put a stop to intoxication, General Wilson sent a party into the warehouses to destroy every bottle of beer, wine, or spirits that could be found. It was done, and the army was saved at the expense of the sick and wounded, who needed the stimulants poured out in waste in the cellars of Delhi.

Once rescued from drunkenness, the troops steadily carried out their arduous enterprise, and at the end of six days Delhi was theirs. On the 16th the walls of the magazine were breached, and the 4th Punjabees and Beloochees, going in with the bayonet, drove out or killed the defenders. The enemy, losing courage, withdrew from Kishengunge, and the Ghoorkas replaced them. On the 17th the Delhi Bank House was carried, and a mortar battery planted to bombard the palace. All this time the enemy kept up a heavy fire from every point of vantage; but this did not prevent us from making progress. On the 18th the Burun Bastion was taken by surprise, and the Rifles had sapped their way through the houses up to the palace, the main gate of which was now exposed to a severe cannonade. The people and the Sepoys were now hurrying out of the city on all sides. Hosts of women had passed through our lines towards our camp, guarded by our soldiers, for we did not make war on women. There were signs that the palace had been deserted, and, rushing in the troops found only a few fanatics inside, and these soon received the death they sought. On the 20th we were in entire possession of the city, every large building and fortified post having been taken or abandoned.

But the King of Delhi, the descendant of Timur - the mail around whom insurrection would gather its thousands - had not been taken. With the bloodstained princes of his house, he had taken refuge in the Tomb of Humayoun, and the ruins of old Delhi. Hodson, who always saw into the heart of the business in hand, saw now that without the capture of the king, the capture of Delhi would be shorn of half its fruit. The old man was thoroughly tired of a tumultuous existence. His favourite wife, Zenat Mahal, and her father-in-law, were disinclined to run the risk attending the leadership of a wandering rebellious army. Hodson learned that they were ready to surrender on conditions. The conditions were such as could not be granted; but Hodson felt that it was for the conquerors to impose conditions. He therefore implored the general to allow him to take a body of his horse, and bring in the king, on the sole condition that his life should be spared if he surrendered. Wilson was obdurate. He did not want to be "bothered" with the king and the princes. He could not spare European troops, and so on. Neville Chamberlain threw the weight of his counsel into Hodson's scale, and again the words of Nicholson were forthcoming on the same side. The general gave way. He gave Hodson authority to spare the life of the king, but he declined to be responsible for the enterprise. Hodson selected fifty troopers from his Horse. He rode through the ruins of old Delhi, accompanied by his escort and the one-eyed Moulvie, Rujub Ali. The ruins were swarming with townspeople and the followers of the king. The peril was very great. Here was one white man; he had fifty faithful swordsmen with him; around him were a host of natives, chiefly Moslems. But he did not hesitate. Posting his men as well as he could, he sent Rujub Ali into the tomb. Two hours passed, hours of awful suspense - the longest hours in Hodson's life. At length the agents came out. The king would surrender to Hodson only on condition that with his own lips the Briton promised that the king's life should be spared. " Captain Hodson," says an authentic account of this incident, " then went out into the middle of the road, in front of the gateway, and said that he was ready to receive his captives and renew the promise. You may picture to yourself the scene before that magnificent gateway, with the milk-white domes of the tombs towering up from within. One white man among a host of natives, yet determined to secure his prisoner or perish in the attempt. Soon a procession began to come slowly out. First Zenat Mahal, in one of the close native conveyances used for women. Her name was announced as she passed by the moulvie. Then came the king in a palkee, on which Captain Hodson rode forward and demanded his arms. Before giving them up, the king asked whether he was 'Hodson Bahadoor,' and if he would repeat the promise made by the herald? Captain Hodson answered that he would, and repeated that the Government had been graciously pleased to promise him his life, and that of Zenat Mahal's son, on condition of his yielding himself prisoner quietly; adding very emphatically, that if any attempt was made at a rescue, he would shoot the king down on the spot like a dog. The old man then gave up his arms, which Captain Hodson handed to his orderly, still keeping his own sword drawn in his hand. The same ceremony was then gone through with the boy (Jumma Bukh), and the march towards the city began - the longest five miles, as Captain Hodson said, that he ever rode; for of course the palkees only went at a foot pace, with his handful of men around them, followed by thousands, any one of whom could have shot him down in a moment. His orderly told me that it was wonderful to see the influence which his calm and undaunted look had on the crowd. They seemed perfectly paralysed at the fact of one white man (for they thought nothing of his fifty black Sowars) carrying off their king alone. Gradually as they approached the city the crowd slunk away, and very few followed up to the Lahore Gate. Then Captain Hodson rode on a few paces, and ordered the gate to be opened. The officer on duty asked simply, as he passed, what he had got in his palkees? 'Only the King of Delhi,' was the answer; on which the officer's enthusiastic exclamation was more emphatic and hearty than polite. The guard were for turning out to greet him with a cheer, and could only be repressed on being told that the king would take the honour to himself. They passed up that magnificent deserted street to the palace gate, where Captain Hodson met the civil officer (Mr. Saunders), and formally delivered over his royal prisoners to him. His remark was amusing. 1 By Jove, Hodson they ought to make you Commander-in-Chief for this.' On proceeding to the general's quarters to report his successful return, and hand over the royal arms, he was received with the characteristic speech - ' Well, I'm glad you have got him; but I never expected to see either him or you again! ' while the other officers in the room were loud in their congratulations and applause. He has requested to select for himself from the royal arms what he chose, and has, therefore, two magnificent swords; one with the name of 'Nadir Shah,' and the other the seal of Jehan Gire engraved upon it, which he intends to present to the Queen."

Alas! he did not live to fulfil his intention. His life was cut short, as we shall see, in the palaces of Lucknow.

This adventure was followed by one still more striking, more tragic - the capture and summary execution of the felon princes. Again the general had to be entreated earnestly to permit their capture. Having obtained permission, he called up his lieutenant, Macdowell, and ordered him to bring a hundred men. They set out about eight in the morning of the 21st, and arriving at the Tomb, the troopers were so posted as to invest the huge building, in which were several thousands of armed men. "We halted," writes Macdowell, recounting the story to a friend, " half a mile from the place, and sent in to say the princes must give themselves up unconditionally, or take the consequences. A long half hour elapsed, when a messenger came out to say the princes wished to know if their lives would be promised them if they came out. ' Unconditional surrender,' was the answer. Again we waited. It was a most anxious time. We dared not take them by force, or all would have been lost, and we doubted their coming. We heard the shouts of the fanatics (as we found out afterwards), begging the princes to lead them on against us. And we had only 100 men, and were six miles from Delhi. At length, I suppose, imagining that sooner or later they must be taken, they resolved to give themselves up unconditionally, fancying, I suppose, as we had spared the king, we would spare them. So the messenger was sent to say they were coming. We sent ten men to meet them; and by Hodson's order, I drew the troop up across the road, ready to receive them, and shoot them at once if there was any attempt at a rescue. Soon they appeared in a small ' ruth,' or Hindostanee cart, drawn by bullocks, five troopers on each side. Behind them thronged about 2,000 or 3,000 (I am not exaggerating) Mussulmans. We met them, and at once Hodson and I rode up, leaving the men a little in the rear. They bowed as we came up, and Hodson bowing, ordered the driver to move on. This was the minute. The crowd behind made a movement. Hodson waved them back; I beckoned to the troop, which came up, and in an instant formed them up between the crowd and the cart. By Hodson's order I advanced at a walk on the people, who fell back sullenly and slowly at our approach. It was touch and go. Meanwhile Hodson galloped back, and told the Sowars (ten), to hurry the princes on along the road, while we showed a front, and kept back the mob. They retired on Humayoun's Tomb, and step by step we followed them. Inside they went up the steps, and formed up in the immense garden inside. The entrance to this was through an arch, up steps. Leaving the men outside, Hodson and myself (I stuck to him throughout), with four men, rode up the steps into the arch, when he called out to them to lay- down their arms. There was a murmur. He reiterated the command, and (God knows why, I never could understand it) they commenced doing so. Now, you see, we didn't want their arms, and under ordinary circumstances would not have risked our lives in so rash a way, but what we wanted was to gain time to get the princes away, for we could have done nothing had they attacked us, but cut our way back, and with very little chance of doing even this successfully. Well, there we stayed for two hours, collecting their arms; and I assure you I thought every moment they would rush upon us. I said nothing, but smoked all the time, to show I was unconcerned; but at last, when it was all done, and all the arms collected, put in a cart, and started, Hodson turned to me, and said, ' We'll go now.' Very slowly we mounted, formed up the troop, and cautiously departed, followed by the crowd. We rode along quietly. You will say, 'Why did we not charge them?' I merely say, we were 100 men, and they were fully 6,000. I am not exaggerating; the official reports will show you it is all true. As we got about a mile off, Hodson turned to me and said, ' Well, Mac, we've got them at last; ' and we both gave a sigh of relief. Never in my life, under the heaviest fire, have I been in such imminent danger. Everybody says it is the most dashing and daring thing that has been done for years (not on my part, for I merely obeyed orders; but on Hodson's, who planned and carried it out). Well, I must finish my story. We came up to the princes, now about five miles from where we had taken them, and close to Delhi. The increasing crowd pressed close on the horses of the Sowars, and assumed every moment a more hostile appearance. ' What shall we do with them? ' said Hodson to me. 'I think we had better shoot them here; we shall never get them in.' We had identified them by means of a nephew of the king's whom we had with us, and who turned king's evidence. Besides, they acknowledged themselves to be the men. Their names were Mirza Mogul, the king's nephew, and head of the whole business; Mirza Kishere Sultamet, who was also one of the principal rebels, and had made himself notorious by murdering women and children; and Abu Bukt, the commander-in-chief nominally, and heir- apparent to the throne. This was the young fiend who had stripped women in the open street, and cutting off little children's arms and legs, poured the blood into their mothers' mouths. This is literally the case. There was no time to be lost; we halted the troop, put five troopers across the road, behind and in front. Hodson ordered the princes to strip (that is, to take off their upper garments), and get again into the cart; he then shot them with his own hand. So ended the career of the chiefs of the revolt, and of the greatest villains that ever shamed humanity. Before they were shot, Hodson addressed our men, explaining who they were, and why they were to suffer death. The effect was marvellous - the Mussulmans seemed struck with a wholesome idea of retribution, and the Sikhs shouted with delight, while the mass moved off slowly and silently. One of the Sowars pointed out to me a man running rapidly across a piece of cultivated ground, with arms gleaming in the sunlight. I and the Sowar rode after him, when I discovered it was the king's favourite eunuch, of whose atrocities we had heard so muck The Sowar cut him down instantly, and we returned, well satisfied that we had rid the world of such a monster ".

The bodies were taken into the city, and thrown down in the Chandnee Chouk, in front of the Kotwallee, the very place where, four months before, they had exposed the bodies of our countrywomen whom they had slain! Our soldiers looked on this as poetical justice. To the Sikhs it had a deeper significance. Two hundred years before, the great King Aurungzebe, a fanatical Moslem, as intolerant as an inquisitor, had cut off the head of the Sikh prophet, Tej Singh, and had caused his body to be thrown on that very spot. Here, also, had come retribution for them, and the awful fulfilment of one of their cherished prophecies. There lay three scions of the hated house of Timour, on the public way. Hodson, who had fulfilled their desire of vengeance, and who had done rough justice at the same time, at once rose tenfold in their estimation.

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Pictures for Chapter XLV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3

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