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Chapter XLVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8


Condition of Central India - Lord Elphinstone - Mutiny at Aurungabad - General Woodburn's weakness - Brigadier Stuart relieves Mhow; marches into Malwa; takes Dhar; defeats the Mahidpore Contingent - Combats near Mundasore - Relief of Neemuch - Return to Indore - Sir Hugh Rose arrives at Indore.
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The reader may remember how, in a former part of this narrative, we described the downfall of British authority in Central India; the mutiny of native contingents and regiments of the Bengal army from the frontiers of Rewah to the deserts of Bikaneer; the outrages at Saugor and Neemuch, at Indore and Gwalior, at Nowgong and Nusseerabad, and the terrible tragedy of Jhansi. The tempest that broke over Bengal and the north-west swept away every atom of our authority in Central India, except at Saugor and at Mhow, the hill fort near Indore. From the middle of June we had no representatives in the districts between the Nerbudda and the Jumna. The shock had reverberated, though faintly, in Madras and Bombay, having been counteracted in the latter presidency by the energy of Lord Elphinstone, and having only slightly affected the mounted force of the latter. But it had been felt in the Deccan, over which rules the Nizam, who, like the Guicowar, in Guzerat, derived his authority originally from the Great Mogul, and who now subsists, as a native prince, by virtue of British forbearance, and the dictates of good policy, if not of justice. The task of restoring British authority in Central India devolved upon the Bombay and Madras Governments, but especially on the former; and Lord Elphinstone was not found wanting in the hour of trial.

He was not satisfied with the repression of mutiny and signs of mutiny in the territory under his rule. He sought aid from Ceylon; he intercepted the Churs force; he urged the instant return of the troops from Persia; and he organised a movable column at Aurungabad to march upon Mhow. On the 13th of June the 1st Cavalry of the Hyderabad Contingent - that is, the force supplied by the Nizam, refused to obey orders, but did not break into open mutiny. On the 23rd the movable column, under General Woodburn, entered the station; and acting on the suggestion of Captain Abbott, the commander of the refractory troopers, went to the cavalry lines to disarm the bad men. Obedient to order, they fell in on foot, and Abbott called on the faithful men to fall out. They did so, and Abbott was addressing the mutineers, when one of the non-commissioned officers gave him the lie. Abbott was about to shoot him, when General Woodburn stopped him with the foolish remark that he should not shoot his own men, not even when one of them called him a liar. Seeing this, the native repeated the offensive epithet, and ordered his men to "prime and fire." They drew their pistols; but instead of firing, ran to their horses. Captain Woolcomb, standing at his guns, was about to fire; the general would not permit it. The troopers reached their horses, mounted, and got away; and when they were well off, the general ordered the artillery to open, and the 14th Light Dragoons to charge. It was too late. Three prisoners were taken, and of these two were shot, and one blown from a gun. Happily, the remainder of the Contingent were faithful, and did excellent service, but it was not the fault of General Woodburn. He shortly after obtained leave on sick certificate, and Colonel Stuart, of the 14th, took command.

The column marched from Aurungabad on the 12th of July; on the 21st it crossed the Tap tee; on the 29th, after being joined by all the cavalry of the Hyderabad Contingent, under Captain S. Orr, the force effected the passage of the Nerbudda, then rapidly rising from the rains in the Vindaya Mountains; and on the 2nd of August the troops entered Mhow, which, rejoicing to be " relieved," fired a salute. Here they remained for two months, their progress stayed by the rains; and during this period they re-constructed the fort, making it larger and more easily defensible.

It has been seen that neither Holkar nor Scindia, although they were powerful princes, could restrain their troops from mutiny. To the west of Mhow is the little state of Dhar; and when the greater princes could not control their mercenaries, it was not to be expected that the lesser should succeed in so doing. The Dhar troops (they were not numerous) revolted; the Bheels and Budmashes joined them; the rajah was powerless. They seized the fort of Dhar, and harried the country side. In the middle of October the brigade set out to drive them from Dhar, and to restore order in the Malwa country. The force arrived in front of Dhar on the 22nd of October. The enemy, with more valour than prudence, left their stronghold to fight a battle. They were charged and routed by the 25th Bombay Native Infantry, their three guns were captured, and they were driven into the fort. On the 24th the siege train came in after a fatiguing march through heavy roads; and Brigadier Stuart immediately laid siege to the fort. The place was invested; batteries were thrown up; and the wall in one place was breached. The enemy, who had made a good defence, now pretended to parley. On the 29th they sent in a letter asking for terms. The answer was unconditional surrender. "Whereupon they said, "Very good; we don't care; you are only destroying the Rajah of Dhar's property, not ours." Nevertheless, they began to flee, letting themselves down from the walls in baskets; and the next day they hoisted a white flag. Firing was suspended; and while we parleyed with them, they examined the breach, and they rejected all terms, asserting that they could only treat with the rajah! The next day the sappers inspected the breach, and reported it practicable. The stormers rushed in, and found the place empty. The enemy had got through the cavalry outposts unobserved. In Dhar our troops took an immense booty. It was the property of the infant rajah, who was not in arms against us, but himself a sufferer; and, contrary to all justice, we declared it prize, and divided it among the brigade. More than this, Dhar was annexed, and has not been restored to this day.

The enemy, flying from Dhar, went to Mahidpore, and there were joined by the contingent of that little state. The palace and fort of Dhar were blown up and burned - a most unjustifiable proceeding. Leaving this ruin behind them, the column moved north-west towards Mundasore, with the legitimate object of punishing the Mahidpore Contingent, and rescuing the fertile plains of Malwa from men who were no better than robbers and marauders. They were burning villages, beating the inhabitants, and carrying off the women. On the 14th of November Captain Orr, who had closely followed the enemy, surprised him in his camp at Rawul. Giving them no time to recover their equanimity, and Without waiting for reinforcements, the Hyderabad Horse, Abbott leading, charged the guns, regardless of the shower of grape they poured forth, and fought with such good will that the enemy was utterly routed and the guns taken. The enemy, chiefly Arabs, fought bravely, and we lost a hundred killed and wounded. The column pursued, passing through Jacra, where they were joined by the Nawab, who had remained faithful, and thence onward toward Mundasore, the head-quarters of the enemy, now mustering 5,000 strong. Crossing the Chumbul without opposition, the column halted a day to try and execute seventy-six mutineers, all of whom were shot for the murder of their European officers and non-commissioned officers. On the 21st the force was before Mundasore.

Here the enemy fought a battle. Their right rested on a village, their left on Mundasore, their centre stood across the parade ground. Our troops drew up opposite, the cavalry being held in readiness to charge. The combat, however, was short. Plied by a heavy fire of artillery the enemy soon showed symptoms of weakness; and as our infantry dashed into the village, the whole of the natives began to run. Then the cavalry went forward, and drove them headlong into Mundasore. It was not Brigadier Stuart's object then to assault the town. He desired to reach Neemuch and rescue the Europeans, who, since the mutiny of the 3rd of June, had been shut up in a fort, surrounded by enemies. He therefore crossed the Sore river, and made a flank march past Mundasore on the 22nd, in order to reach Neemuch, which lay to the north-west of the rebel stronghold.

The enemy in Mundasore made a sally, which was easily repelled, and the column took up the route for Neemuch, eager to be there, for the heroic garrison was reduced to the last straits for food. Hearing of the approach of the column, the enemy quitted Neemuch, and drew up across the road. Here they were found on the 23rd, posted among the tall waving crops, behind deep watercourses, full of water. After disposing of his baggage, Stuart brought up his guns, and, under cover of their fire, formed his line, infantry in the centre and cavalry on the flanks. Then ensued a very severe fight. In spite of the fire of our cannon, the enemy became the assailant, but found the 25th Bombay regiment too much for him, while the cavalry charged and captured the guns. The enemy now fell back fighting, inflicting considerable loss upon us; while his friends from Mundasore attacked the baggage, but were driven off by the dragoons. Routed from the field and thrown into disorder at all points, a strong body established themselves in a village, and here defied the whole army. The place was set on fire with shells, but the Rohillas would not give in, and night fell, leaving them in full possession. The next day the cannonade was resumed, and continued until the village was burnt to a mere shell; yet still these brave fellows held on. A little later about 200 surrendered, and then our infantry took the place by storm. They found that the village had no street. " The houses led from each other into little yards and gullies, like a rabbit warren."

This action relived Neemuch effectually. The pent-up Europeans came forth to tell how many desperate attacks they had beaten off, and how grateful they were for their rescue. The column marched back upon Mundasore, and found that the enemy had fled on learning the issue of the combat on the 23rd. Leaving the Hyderabad Contingent in Mundasore, and breaching the wall of the fort to make it untenable, Brigadier Stuart led his column back to Indore, byway of Mahidpore and Oejein. The object of this march was to disarm Holkar's refractory troops, who did not submit to his will until they saw the head of Stuart's column moving upon the town. Holkar thus recovered his power, and we ours. Sir Robert Hamilton, a most able man, succeeded the somewhat imperious and brusque Durand, as Political Agent, and on the 16th Sir Hugh Rose arrived to take command of the army. The campaign in Malwa had thus ended, and it was not until January, 1858, that General Rose set out on his brilliant campaign in Central India. Before describing that, we must return to the head-quarters of the Commander-in-Chief, and track his course until Lucknow and Bareilly have been rescued from the enemy. The mere struggle for existence had long been over. The work of regaining empire was about to begin. Nearly 30,000 men had come out from England, and the remaining part of our story will show how they were employed, and how the work was done.


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Pictures for Chapter XLVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8

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