Forty-One Years In india
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief
FIELD MARSHAL LORD ROBERTS
For a few days after our arrival at Lahore nothing could be settled as to the further movements of the column. It was wanted in all parts of the Punjab: Ferozeporo, Multan, Jhelum, Sialkot, Umritsar, Jullundur, Philour, Ludhiana—all these places were more or less disturbed, and all were clamorous for help.
Ferozepore At Ferozepore the Native regiments1 broke out on the 13th May, when they made a daring, but unsuccessful effort to seize the arsenal, situated inside the fort and the largest in Upper India. Had that fallen into the hands of the rebels, Delhi could not have been captured without very considerable delay, for the besieging force depended mainly upon Ferozepore for the supply of munitions of war. The fort had been allowed to fall into bad repair, and the mutineers had no difficulty in forcing their way inside; there, fortunately, they were checked by the wall which surrounded the arsenal, and this obstacle, insignificant as it was, enabled the guard to hold its own. Originally this guard consisted entirely of Native soldiers, but, as I have already recorded, after the outbreak at Meerut, Europeans had been told off for the charge of this important post; so strong, however, here as elsewhere, was the belief in the loyalty of the sepoys, and so great was the reluctance to do anything which might hurt their feelings, that the Native guard was not withdrawn. This same guard, when the attack took place, did its best to assist the assailants, and even prepared scaling-ladders to enable the latter to gain access to the magazine enclosure. The Europeans, however, were equal to the emergency; they overpowered and disarmed their treacherous companions, and then succeeded in beating off and dispersing the attacking party.
Being foiled in this attempt, the mutineers returned to the cantonment, set fire to the church and other buildings, and then started for Delhi. Ferozepore had a large European garrison, a regiment of Infantry, a battery of Field Artillery, and a company of Foot Artillery,[Page 70] and was supposed to be able to look after itself, although affairs had been greatly mismanaged.
Crawford Chamberlain at Multan Multan had next to be considered. Matters at that station were very unsettled, and indeed were causing the authorities grave anxiety, but Multan was more fortunate than many places, in being in the hands of an unusually able, experienced officer, Major Crawford Chamberlain. Consequently, the Commander-in-Chief and Chief Commissioner agreed, while fully appreciating the great value of Multan, that the presence of British troops was less urgently needed there than elsewhere, and it was decided they could not be spared from the Punjab for its protection.
The garrison at Multan consisted of a troop of Native Horse Artillery, two regiments of Native Infantry, and the 1st Irregular Cavalry, composed entirely of Hindustanis from the neighbourhood of Delhi; while in the old Sikh fort there were about fifty European Artillerymen, in charge of a small magazine. The station was nominally commanded by an officer who had been thirty-four years in the army, and had great experience amongst Natives; but he had fallen into such a bad state of health, that he was quite unfit to deal with the crisis which had now arrived. The command, therefore, was practically exercised by Chamberlain. Next to Delhi and Lahore, Multan was the most important place in Upper India, as our communication with the sea and southern India depended on its preservation.
To Chamberlain's own personality and extraordinary influence over the men of the 1st Irregular Cavalry must be attributed his success. His relations with them were of a patriarchal nature, and perfect mutual confidence existed. He knew his hold over them was strong, and he determined to trust them. But in doing so he had really no alternative—had they not remained faithful, Multan must have been lost to us. One of his first acts was to call a meeting at his house of the Native officers of the Artillery, Infantry, and his own regiment, to discuss the situation. Taking for granted the absolute loyalty of these officers, he suggested that a written bond should be given, in which the seniors of each corps should guarantee the fidelity of their men. The officers of his regiment rose en masse, and placing their signet-rings on the table, said: 'Kabúl sir-o-chasm' ('Agreed to on our lives'). The Artillery Subadar declared that his men had no scruples, and would fire in whichever direction they were required; while the Infantry Native officers pleaded that they had no power over their men, and could give no guarantee. Thus, Chamberlain ascertained that the Cavalry were loyal, the Artillery doubtful, and the Infantry were only biding their time to mutiny.
Night after night sepoys, disguised beyond all recognition, attempted to tamper with the Irregular Cavalry. The Wurdi-Major,2 a particularly[Page 71] fine, handsome Ranagar,3 begged Chamberlain to hide himself in his house, that he might hear for himself the open proposals to mutiny, massacre, and rebellion that were made to him; and the promises that, if they succeeded in their designs, he (the Wurdi-Major) should be placed upon the gaddi4 of Multan for his reward. Chamberlain declined to put himself in such a position, fearing he might not be able to restrain himself.
Chamberlain's Masterly Conduct Matters now came to a climax. A Mahomedan Subadar of one of the Native Infantry regiments laid a plot to murder Chamberlain and his family. The plot was discovered and frustrated by Chamberlain's own men, but it became apparent that the only remedy for the fast increasing evil was to disarm the two Native Infantry regiments. How was this to be accomplished with no Europeans save a few gunners anywhere near? Sir John Lawrence was most pressing that the step should be taken at once; he knew the danger of delay; at the same time, he thoroughly appreciated the difficulty of the task which he was urging Chamberlain to undertake, and he readily responded to the latter's request for a regiment of Punjab Infantry to be sent to him. The 2nd Punjab Infantry was, therefore, despatched from Dera Ghazi Khan, and at the same time the 1st Punjab Cavalry arrived from Asni,5 under Major Hughes,6 who, hearing of Chamberlain's troubles, had marched to Multan without waiting for orders from superior authority. The evening of the day on which these troops reached Multan, the British officers of the several regiments were directed to assemble at the Deputy-Commissioner's house, when Chamberlain told them of the communication he had received from Sir John Lawrence, adding that, having reliable information that the Native Infantry were about to mutiny, he had settled to disarm them the next morning.
It was midnight before the meeting broke up. At 4 a.m. the Horse[Page 72] Artillery troop and the two Native Infantry regiments were ordered to march as if to an ordinary parade. When they had gone about a quarter of a mile they were halted, and the Punjab troops moved quietly between them and their lines, thus cutting them off from their spare ammunition; at the same time the European Artillerymen took their places with the guns of the Horse Artillery troop, and a carefully selected body of Sikhs belonging to the 1st Punjab Cavalry, under Lieutenant John Watson, was told off to advance on the troop and cut down the gunners if they refused to assist the Europeans to work the guns.
Chamberlain then rode up to the Native Infantry regiments, and after explaining to them the reason for their being disarmed, he gave the word of command, 'Pile arms!' Thereupon a sepoy of the 62nd shouted: 'Don't give up your arms; fight for them!' Lieutenant Thomson, the Adjutant of the regiment, instantly seized him by the throat and threw him to the ground. The order was repeated, and, wonderful to relate, obeyed. The Native Infantry regiments were then marched back to their lines, while the Punjab troops and Chamberlain's Irregulars remained on the ground until the arms had been carted off to the fort.
It was a most critical time, and enough credit has never been given to Chamberlain. Considering the honours which were bestowed on others who took more or less conspicuous parts in the Mutiny, he was very insufficiently rewarded for this timely act of heroism. Had he not shown such undaunted courage and coolness, or had there been the smallest hesitation, Multan would certainly have gone. Chamberlain managed an extremely difficult business in a most masterly manner. His personal influence insured his own regiment continuing loyal throughout the Mutiny, and it has now the honour of being the 1st Regiment of Bengal Cavalry, and the distinction of wearing a different uniform from every other regiment in the service, being allowed to retain the bright yellow which the troopers wore when they were first raised by Colonel James Skinner, and in which they performed such loyal service.7
At Jhelum and Sialkot it was decided that, as the Native troops had been considerably reduced in numbers, the danger was not so great as to require the presence of the Movable Column.
Umritsar had been made safe for the time, but it was a place the importance of which could not be over-estimated, and it was thought[Page 73] that keeping a strong column in its vicinity for a few days would materially strengthen our position there. Moreover, Umritsar lay in the direct route to Jullundur, where the military authorities had proved themselves quite unfitted to deal with the emergency. It was decided, therefore, that Umritsar should be our objective in the first instance. We marched from Lahore on the 10th June, and reached Umritsar the following morning.
Chamberlain left for Delhi on the 13th; but Nicholson could not join for a few days, and as troops were much needed at Jullundur, it was arranged that the column should move on to that place, under the temporary command of Campbell, and there await the arrival of the new Brigadier.
On my going to Campbell for orders, he informed me that he was no longer the senior officer with the column, as a Colonel Denniss, junior to him regimentally, but his senior in army rank, had just rejoined the 52nd. Accordingly I reported myself to Denniss, who, though an officer of many years' service, had never before held a command, not even that of a regiment; and, poor man! was considerably taken aback when he heard that he must be in charge of the column for some days. He practically left everything to me—a somewhat trying position for almost the youngest officer in the force. It was under these circumstances I found what an able man Colonel Campbell really was. He correctly gauged Denniss's fitness, or rather unfitness, for the command, and appreciating the awkwardness of my position, advised me so wisely that I had no difficulty in carrying on the work.
We reached Jullundur on the 20th, Nicholson taking over command the same day. He had been given the rank of Brigadier-General, which removed all grounds for objection on the part of Campbell, and the two soon learnt to appreciate each other, and became fast friends.
Irresolution at Jullundur Jullundur was in a state of the greatest confusion. The Native troops, consisting of a regiment of Light Cavalry and two regiments of[Page 74] Native Infantry, began to show signs of disaffection soon after the outbreak at Meerut, and from that time until the 7th June, when they broke into open mutiny, incendiary fires were almost of daily occurrence. The want of resolution displayed in dealing with the crisis at Jullundur was one of the regrettable episodes of the Mutiny. The European garrison consisted of Her Majesty's 8th Foot and a troop of Horse Artillery. The military authorities had almost a whole month's warning of the mutinous intentions of the Native troops, but though they had before them the example of the prompt and successful measures adopted at Lahore and Peshawar, they failed to take any steps to prevent the outbreak.
The Brigadier (Johnstone) was on leave at the commencement of the Mutiny, and during his absence the treasure was placed in charge of a European guard, in accordance with instructions from Sir John Lawrence. This measure was reversed as soon as the Brigadier rejoined, for fear of showing distrust of the sepoys, and another wise order of the watchful Chief Commissioner—to disarm the Native troops—was never carried out. The Commissioner, Major Edward Lake, one of Henry Lawrence's most capable assistants, had also repeatedly urged upon Johnstone the advisability of depriving the sepoys of their arms, but his advice remained unheeded. When the inevitable revolt took place European soldiers were allowed to be passive spectators while property was being destroyed, and sepoys to disappear in the darkness of the night carrying with them their muskets and all the treasure and plunder they could lay their hands on.
A futile attempt at pursuit was made the following morning, but, as will be seen, this was carried out in so half-hearted a manner, that the mutineers were able to get safely across the Sutlej with their loot, notwithstanding that the passage of this broad river had to be made by means of a ferry, where only very few boats were available. Having reached Philour, the British troops were ordered to push on to Delhi, and as Jullundur was thus left without protection, Lake gladly accepted the offer of the Raja of Kapurthala to garrison it with his own troops.
There was no doubt as to the loyalty of the Raja himself, and his sincere desire to help us; but the mismanagement of affairs at Jullundur had done much to lower our prestige in the eyes of his people, and there was no mistaking the offensive demeanour of his troops. They evidently thought that British soldiers had gone never to return, and they swaggered about in swash-buckler fashion, as only Natives who think they have the upper hand can swagger.
It was clearly Lake's policy to keep on good terms with the Kapurthala people. His position was much strengthened by the arrival of our column; but we were birds of passage, and might be off at any moment, so in order to pay a compliment to the officers and principal[Page 75] men with the Kapurthala troops, Lake asked Nicholson to meet them at his house. Nicholson consented, and a durbar was arranged. I was present on the occasion, and was witness of rather a curious scene, illustrative alike of Nicholson and Native character.
Although in the kindness of his heart Lake had at first endeavoured to smooth matters over, he knew Natives well, and he readily admitted the wisdom of Nicholson's action. Indeed, Nicholson's uncompromising bearing on this occasion proved a great help to Lake, for it had the best possible effect upon the Kapurthala people; their manner at once changed, all disrespect vanished, and there was no more swaggering about as if they considered themselves masters of the situation.
Five or six years after this occurrence I was one of a pig-sticking party at Kapurthala, given by the Raja in honour of the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Hugh Rose.9 When riding home in the evening I found myself close to the elephant on which our host and the Chief were sitting. The conversation happening to turn on the events of the Mutiny, I asked what had become of General Mehtab Sing. The Raja, pointing to an elephant a little distance off on which two Native gentlemen were riding, said, 'There he is.' I recognized the General,[Page 76] and making him a salaam, which he politely returned, I said to him, 'I have not had the pleasure of meeting you since those hot days in June, 1857, when I was at Jullundur.' The Raja then asked me if I knew Nicholson. On my telling him I had been his staff officer, and with him at the durbar at Lake Sahib's house, the Raja laughed heartily, and said, 'Oh! then you saw Mehtab Sing made to walk out of the room with his shoes in his hand? We often chaff him about that little affair, and tell him that he richly deserved the treatment he received from the great Nicholson Sahib.'
Sir Hugh Rose was greatly interested in the story, which he made me repeat to him as soon as we got back to camp, and he was as much struck as I was with this spontaneous testimony of a leading Native to the wisdom of Nicholson's procedure.
Nicholson's Soldierly Instincts On taking over command, Nicholson's first care was to establish an effective system of intelligence, by means of which he was kept informed of what was going on in the neighbouring districts; and, fully recognizing the necessity for rapid movement in the event of any sudden emergency, he organized a part of his force into a small flying column, the infantry portion of which was to be carried in ekkas.10 I was greatly impressed by Nicholson's knowledge of military affairs. He seemed always to know exactly what to do and the best way to do it. This was the more remarkable because, though a soldier by profession, his training had been chiefly that of a civilian—a civilian of the frontier, however, where his soldierly instincts had been fostered in his dealing with a lawless and unruly people, and where he had received a training which was now to stand him in good stead. Nicholson was a born Commander, and this was felt by every officer and man with the column before he had been amongst them many days.
More Disarmaments The Native troops with the column had given no trouble since we left Lahore. We were travelling in the direction they desired to go, which accounted for their remaining quiet; but Nicholson, realizing the danger of having them in our midst, and the probability of their refusing to turn away from Delhi in the event of our having to retrace our steps, resolved to disarm the 35th. The civil authorities in the district urged that the same course should be adopted with the 33rd, a Native Infantry regiment at Hoshiarpur, about twenty-seven miles from Jullundur, which it had been decided should join the column. The Native soldiers with the column already exceeded the Europeans in number, and as the addition of another regiment would make the odds against us very serious, it was arranged to disarm the 35th before the 33rd joined us.
We left Jullundur on the 24th June, and that afternoon, accompanied by the Deputy-Commissioner of the district, I rode to Philour[Page 77] to choose a place for the disarming parade. The next morning we started early, the Europeans heading the column, and when they reached the ground we had selected they took up a position on the right of the road, the two batteries in the centre and the 52nd in wings on either flank. The guns were unlimbered and prepared for action. On the left of the road was a serai,11 behind which the officer commanding the 35th was told to take his regiment, and, as he cleared it, to wheel to the right, thus bringing his men in column of companies facing the line of Europeans. This manœuvre being accomplished, I was ordered to tell the commanding officer that the regiment was to be disarmed, and that the men were to pile arms and take off their belts. The sepoys and their British officers were equally taken aback; the latter had received no information of what was going to happen, while the former had cherished the hope that they would be able to cross the Sutlej, and thence slip off with their arms to Delhi.
I thought I could discover relief in the British officers' faces, certainly in that of Major Younghusband, the Commandant, and when I gave him the General's order, he murmured, 'Thank God!' He had been with the 35th for thirty-three years; he had served with it at the siege of Bhurtpore, throughout the first Afghan war, and in Sale's defence of Jalalabad; he had been proud of his old corps, but knowing probably that his men could no longer be trusted, he rejoiced to feel that they were not to be given the opportunity for further disgracing themselves.12 The sepoys obeyed the command without a word, and in a few minutes their muskets and belts were all packed in carts and taken off to the fort.
As the ceremony was completed, the 33rd arrived and was dealt with in a similar manner; but the British officers of this regiment did not take things so quietly—they still believed in their men, and the Colonel, Sandeman, trusted them to any extent. He had been with the regiment for more than two-and-thirty years, and had commanded it throughout the Sutlej campaign. On hearing the General's order, he exclaimed: 'What! disarm my regiment? I will answer with my life for the loyalty of every man!' On my repeating the order the poor old fellow burst into tears. His son, the late Sir Robert Sandeman, who was an Ensign in the regiment at the time, told me afterwards how terribly his father felt the disgrace inflicted upon the regiment of which he was so proud.
It was known that the wing of the 9th Light Cavalry was in communication with the mutineers at Delhi, and that the men were only waiting their opportunity; so they would also certainly have been disarmed at this time, but for the idea that such a measure might have a[Page 78] bad effect on the other wing, which still remained at Sialkot. The turn of this regiment, however, came a few days later.
Up till this time we all hoped that Delhi was our destination, but, greatly to our surprise and disappointment, orders came that morning directing the column to return to Umritsar; the state of the Punjab was causing considerable anxiety, as there were several stations at which Native corps still remained in possession of their arms.
The same afternoon I was in the Philour fort with Nicholson, when the telegraph-signaller gave him a copy of a message from Sir Henry Barnard to the authorities in the Punjab, begging that all Artillery officers not doing regimental duty might be sent to Delhi, where their services were urgently required. I at once felt that this message applied to me. I had been longing to find myself at Delhi, and lived in perpetual dread of its being captured before I could get there; now at last my hopes seemed about to be realized in a legitimate manner, but, on the other hand, I did not like the idea of leaving Nicholson—the more closely I was associated with him the more I was attracted by him—and I am always proud to remember that he did not wish to part with me. He agreed, however, that my first duty was to my regiment, and only stipulated that before leaving him I should find someone to take my place, as he did not know a single officer with the column. This I was able to arrange, and that evening Nicholson and I dined tête-à-tête. At dawn the next morning I left by mail-cart for Delhi, my only kit being a small bundle of bedding, saddle and bridle, my servants having orders to follow with my horses, tents, and other belongings.
FOOTNOTES, CHAPTER XI
[Footnote 1: One Cavalry and two Infantry.]
[Footnote 2: Native Adjutant.]
[Footnote 3: A name applied by the Hindus to any Rajput who has, or whose ancestors have, been converted to Islam. There were several Rangars in the 1st Irregulars. One day in June, Shaidad Khan, a Resaidar of this class, came to Chamberlain, and said: 'There was a rumour that he (Chamberlain) had not as much confidence in Rangars as in other classes of the regiment, and he came to be comforted'! Chamberlain asked him to sit down, and sent to the banker of the regiment for a very valuable sword which he had given him for safe custody. It had belonged to one of the Amirs of Sindh, was taken in battle, and given to Chamberlain by Major Fitzgerald, of the Sindh Horse. On the sword being brought, Chamberlain handed it over to Shaidad Khan and his sect for safety, to be returned when the Mutiny was over. The tears rose to the Native officer's eyes, he touched Chamberlain's knees, and swore that death alone would sever the bond of fidelity of which the sword was the token. He took his leave, thoroughly satisfied.]
[Footnote 4: Throne.]
[Footnote 5: A station since abandoned for Rajanpur.]
[Footnote 6: Now General Sir W.T. Hughes, K.C.B.]
[Footnote 7: The two disarmed regiments remained quietly at Multan for more than a year, when, with unaccountable inconsistency, a sudden spirit of revolt seized them, and in August, 1858, they broke out, tried to get possession of the guns, murdered the Adjutant of the Bombay Fusiliers, and then fled from the station. But order by that time had been quite restored, our position in the Punjab was secure, and nearly all the sepoys were killed or captured by the country people.]
[Footnote 8: No Native, in Native dress, keeps his shoes on when he enters a room, unless he intends disrespect.]
[Footnote 9: The late Field Marshal Lord Strathnairn, G.C.B., G.C.S.I.]
[Footnote 10: A kind of light cart.]
[Footnote 11: A four-walled enclosure for the accommodation of travellers.]
[Footnote 12: It will be remembered that this was the regiment in which two men had been found with loaded muskets, and blown away from guns at Lahore.]