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Ameers of Scinde


Difficulties with the Ameers of Scinde - Sir Charles Napier marches against them - Sack of Guiamighar - Victories of Sir Charles Napier - Scinde made a British Dependency.
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The conclusion of the Afghan war did not end our difficulties with the countries bordering on India. In our treaty with the Ameers of Scinde, it was provided that we should have liberty to navigate the Indus for mercantile purposes, but that we should not bring into it any armed vessels or munitions of war, and that no British merchant should, on any account, settle in the country. In the first article it was stated that " the two contracting Powers bind themselves never to look with an eye of covetousness on the possessions of each other." But this implied an amount of self-denial and a regard for treaty obligations to which human nature has seldom proved equal, when there was an opportunity and a colourable pretence for the strong to seize the rich possessions of the weak; so that the nobles of Scinde, when the first English vessel entered the Indus, in pursuance of the treaty, said, prophetically, "Alas! Scinde is gone. The English have seen the river!" Permission, however, was given to a British agent to reside at Kurrachee, and in 1836, when the country was threatened by Runjeet Singh, the British Government took advantage of the occasion to secure a footing in the country, one of the most fertile in the East. Kurrachee was only at the mouth of the river, but in 1838 a great step in advance was gained, by getting a British agent to reside at Hyderabad, the capital, in order that he might be at hand to negotiate with Runjeet Singh. But our agent undertook to negotiate without consulting the Ameers, and awarded the payment of a large sum claimed by the Prince whom they dreaded, for which sum they produced a full discharge. This discharge was ignored by the British Government in India, acting in the interests of Shah Sujah, its royal protégé in Afghanistan. This was not all. A British army of 10,000 men, under Sir John Keane, marched, without permission, through Scinde, in order to support the same Prince against his competitors. Our encroachments now advanced with a bolder stride. We determined on establishing a military force at Yatah, contrary to the wishes of the people, and compelled the Ameers to contribute to its support, in consideration of the advantages which it was alleged it would confer upon them. When the draft of a treaty to this effect was presented to the Ameers, one of them took the former treaties out of a box, and said, " What is to become of all these? Since the day that Scinde has been covenanted with the English, there has been always something new. Your Government is never satisfied. We are anxious for your friendship; but we cannot be continually persecuted. We have given yon and your troops a passage through our territories, and now you wish to remain." But remonstrance was in vain. The treaty must be signed; and the great Christian power, which had its head-quarters at Calcutta, insisted that the British force might be located anywhere in the country west of the Indus, and that the Ameers must pay for its support three lacs of rupees. Pottinger was the first political agent at Hyderabad. He was succeeded by Major Outram, who could detect no hostility or treacherous purpose in the rulers of the country. But this favourable account did not suit the designs of Lord Ellenborough. He had issued a proclamation as hollow as it was high-sounding, condemning the "political system" that had led to the Afghan war. But he immediately began to act upon that system in Scinde, for no reason but that he looked upon that rich country with an eye of covetousness. In order to accomplish his objects more effectually, he superseded Outram, and sent Sir Charles Napier, with full civil and military authority, to get possession of the country any way; by fair means if possible; but if not, he was, at all events, t-j get possession. It was to be his first "political duty " to hear what Major Outram and the other political agents hat- to allege against the Ameers of Hyderabad and Khyrpore, tending to prove hostile designs against the British Government, or to act hostilely against the British army. It would be hard indeed if he heard nothing of that kind from the agents, for, Lord Ellenborough shrewdly added, " that they may have had such hostile feelings there can be no doubt. It would be impossible to suppose that they could entertain friendly feelings; but we should not be justified in inflicting punishment upon these thoughts. Should any Ameer or chief with whom we have a treaty of friendship and alliance have evinced hostile designs against us during the late events, which may have induced them to doubt the continuance of our power, it is the present intention of the Governor-General to inflict upon the treachery of such ally or friend so signal a punishment as shall effectually deter others from similar conduct. But the Governor-General would not proceed in this course without the most ample and convincing evidence of the guilt of the person accused." Notwithstanding the saving clause at the end of this extract, it would be difficult to get a more striking illustration than it affords of the fable of the wolf and the lamb. The expediency of a quarrel with the Government of Scinde was obvious. Nothing was wanted to produce it but evidence of evil designs, there being no overt acts.. And as it was impossible that they should not have unfriendly feelings towards a foreign military power placed in the heart of their country, or that they should not have doubted the continuance of that power, the convincing proof would easily be found. Lest, however, there should be any difficulty on that score, they were to be exasperated beyond endurance by further audacious aggressions. Certain letters had been produced by Sir C. Napier, which, no doubt, he considered authentic, though never proved to be so, and which might very easily have been fabricated by interested parties, showing a design among the chiefs to unite for the defence of their country. On the pretence of danger suggested by those documents, a new treaty was tendered to the Ameers for signature on the 6th of December, 1842, which required that around certain central positions the British Government was to have portions of territory assigned to it, and another portion should be given to the Khan of Buhawalpore as a reward for his fidelity; that the Ameers were to supply fuel for the steamers navigating the Indus, and that failing to do so, the servants of the Company were to fell what wood they required within a hundred yards of the river on either side, and that the East India Company should coin money for Scinde, with the head of the Sovereign of England stamped on one side. This was a virtual usurpation of sovereign rights; and if the people had any spirit at all, any patriotism, the casus belli so much desired was now forced upon them. The Ameers were so circumstanced, that they were coerced to sign this treaty; but it seemed to matter little to Sir Charles Napier whether it was signed or not; for long before it was ratified, he issued a proclamation, in which he said, " The Governor-General of India has ordered me to take possession of the districts of Ledzeel Kote and of Banghara, and to re-annex the said districts to the territory of his highness the Nawab of Buhawalpore, to whom they will immediately be made over." This was done, and Sir Charles Napier forthwith marched into the country, without any declaration of war; having by this time succeeded in blackening the character of the people, according to the custom of invaders, in order to make the seizure and confiscation of their country seem to be an act of righteous retribution. The following despatch from Sir Charles Napier would be worthy of a Norman invader of the twelfth century: - " I had discovered long ago that the Ameers put implicit faith in their deserts, and feel confident that we can never reach them there. Therefore, when negotiations and delays, and lying and intrigues of all kinds fail, they can at last declare their entire obedience, innocence, and humility, and retire beyond our reach to their deserts, and from thence launch their wild bands against us, so as to cut off all our communications, and render Scinde more hot than Nature has already done. So circumstanced, and after drawing all I could from Ali Moorad, whom I saw last night at Khyrpore, I made up my mind that, although war was not declared, nor is it necessary to declare it, I would at once march upon Emaum-Ghur, and prove to the whole Talpoor family, both of Khyrpore and Hyderabad, that neither their deserts nor their negotiations could protect them from the British troops. While they imagine they can fly with security they never will be quiet."

The forces on which the Ameers relied for the defence or deliverance of their country numbered about 20,000 men, who had retired to a great stronghold, eight days' journey distant, in the dreary desert of Beloochistan. Thither, notwithstanding the difficulties of the march, Sir Charles Napier boldly determined to pursue them. The wells being all dry, water for the troops and their horses had to be carried on camels' backs. With 360 men of the Queen's Regiment, mounted on camels, and 200 irregular cavalry, followed by ten camels bearing provisions, and eighty loaded with water, the adventurous general directed his perilous course into the desert, commencing his march on the 5th of January, 1843. After three or four days' march over burning sands, the camels became too weak to draw the howitzers. Their place was supplied, or their failing strength aided, by the hardy and indomitable Irishmen who formed part of the expedition. " At length, on the evening of the 14th, the square tower of Guiamighar was discerned, rising on the distant horizon in solitary grandeur, in that profound solitude." They found the place deserted; Mahommed Khan, the governor, having retired with his treasure the day before, leaving an immense quantity of ammunition behind. With this the fortress was blown up. No fewer than twenty-four mines were run under it in different parts. As Major Warburton, the engineer, was applying his fusee to the last one, his assistant cried, " The other mines are going to burst." " That may be," he replied; "but this must burst also." He then set fire to the fusee with his own hand, and quietly walked away. In a few minutes the stronghold of the Beloochees was blown into fragments. They had another, of equal strength, farther on in the desert; but to attack that with the forces now at his command was an impossibility; and so Sir Charles Napier returned, and rejoined his main army near Hyderabad. In this aggressive warfare Sir Charles was only obeying the orders of the Governor-General. In his " Memoirs " he says, " I had permission from the Governor-General to assemble an immense force to impose this final treaty. I told him it could be done with the troops under my command, without bloodshed. It seems to me I have done so, and proved my head sufficient for command in Scinde."

Soon after this, Outram, who continued to place implicit confidence in the pacific professions of the Ameers - they being anxious to gain time till the hot weather should come, and give them an advantage against their enemies - was convinced of his mistake by a treacherous attack made on the British residence; the Ameers boasting that " every man, woman, and child belonging to the British army in Scinde should be collected on the field of battle, and have their throats cut, except the General, who should be led, chained, with a ring in his nose, to the dhurbar." Outram's garrison consisted only of 100 soldiers, with forty rounds of ammunition each, with which he had to defend himself against 8,000 men, with six guns. The British fired with effect from behind a wall, till their ammunition was exhausted, when they slowly retired, till they got safe on board the British steamers, protected by their guns, which swept the flank of the enemy. The war had now come in earnest, and so Sir Charles Napier resolved to show the Ameers what British troops could do. The odds were greatly against him, for he had but 2,600 men, of whom only 400 were Europeans, with which he was to engage an army 22,000 strong, with 5,000 horse, and fifteen guns, all well posted in a strong position" at Meanee. It required marvellous hardihood in the veteran warrior of the Peninsula to enter upon such an unequal contest. But it was the first time that the ambition of his life was realised - in being placed in a position of supreme command - and he longed to show the world how worthily he could have filled it long ago. On the eve of battle he wrote in his journal - " It is my first battle as a commander; it may be my last. At sixty, that makes little difference; but my feelings are, it shall be Bo or die. To fall, will be to leave many I love best to go to many loved, and my home; and that, in any case, must be soon." The officers who fought under him in that memorable battle deserve to be mentioned. Major Lloyd commanded the Artillery, Captain Henderson the Sappers and Miners; next to them stood the 22nd, commanded by Colonel Pennefather; Colonel Teesdale led the 25th Sepoys; Colonel Bead the 12th Native Infantry; Major Clibborne the Bengal Engineers; Colonel Pattle the 9th Bengal Horse; and Captain Tait the Poonah Horse. The plain between the two armies was about 1,000 yards in breadth. The space was rapidly passed over. Napier's men rushed forward, and crossing the bed of a river which intervened, they ran up the slope, while the artillery of the Beloochees fired over their heads. Beaching the summit, they beheld, for the first time, the camp of the enemy, which cannot be better described than in the picturesque and glowing language of Sir Charles Napier: - " Thick as standing corn, and gorgeous as a field of flowers, stood the Beloochees in their many-coloured garments and dresses; they clustered on the banks of the Folailee, they covered the plains beyond. Guarding their heads with their large dark shields, they shook their sharp swords, beaming in the sun; their shouts rolled like a peal of thunder, as with frantia gestures they, with demoniac strength and ferocity, dashed against the front of the 22nd. But with shouts as loud, and shrieks as wild and fierce as theirs, and hearts as big, and arms as strong, the Irish soldiers met them with that queen of weapons, the bayonet, and sent their foremost masses rolling back in blood." The Native Infantry also behaved well, and while the little army was doing terrible execution upon the enemy, our artillery swept their ranks with shot and shell. Nevertheless, they fought bravely, and held their ground for three hours in a hand-to-hand encounter with their assailants. The chasms which were repeatedly made by our guns in the living mass were quickly filled up by those behind rushing forward to the conflict. The pressure of numbers bearing down the hill seemed more than once on the point of overwhelming the British and obliterating their " thin red lines. " Nearly all our officers were killed or wounded. Teesdale was killed while riding over the bridge at the head of his men. Pennefather and Jackson were also struck down. Sir Charles Napier himself was at one time surrounded by the enemy, and narrowly escaped. Everything now depended upon the cavalry, which were commanded by Colonel Pattle, who was ordered to charge instantly. They went at full gallop through the jungle: fifty were thrown off their horses, but the rest pressed on, ascended the ridge of the hill, dashed into the thick of the enemy's ranks, fiercely cutting their way with their swords right and left, trampling down the men under their horses' feet, never ceasing till they had traversed the whole camp. The confusion and wavering thus occasioned gave courage to our infantry. The Irish and the Sepoys, raising the cry of victory, pressed on with fury, drove the enemy back down the hill, and compelled them to retreat, abandoning their guns, their ammunition, and their baggage, leaving their dead on the field, and marking their course by a long train of killed and wounded. Their loss was estimated at 5,000 - 1,000 bodies being found in the bed of the river. Our loss was almost incredibly small: six officers and fifty-four privates killed, fourteen officers and 109 men wounded. The great disproportion in the casualties in the battle of Meanee is accounted for by the bad generalship of the Ameers, who, instead of extending their wings and endeavouring to outflank their assailants, presented a narrow front, where only a comparatively small portion of their forces could be employed at the same time, and where their dense masses were exposed to the raking fire of our artillery.

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