Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief
FIELD MARSHAL LORD ROBERTS
We remained at Agra until the 9th December. There was so much of beauty and interest in and around the place, that Lady Canning found a wealth of subjects for her facile pencil, and was well content to remain there. There were the usual banquets to the residents, and entertainments given by the Agra people to those in camp, one of them being a party in the Taj gardens, to give us an opportunity of seeing the tomb by moonlight, when it certainly looks its loveliest. My wife was more delighted even than I had anticipated with the perfect beauty of the Taj and the exquisite little mosque in the fort, the Moti-Masjid. I greatly enjoyed showing her all that was worth seeing, and witnessing her pleasure on first viewing these wonderful works of art.
There was no halt again, except the usual one on Sunday, until we reached Meerut on the 21st December.
Three marches from Agra a fire broke out in Lady Canning's tent soon after she had retired for the night, caused by the iron pipe of the stove, which passed through the side of the tent, becoming over-heated. Lady Canning's tents were on one side of the big dining-tent, and the Viceroy's on the other. Immediately on perceiving the fire, Lady Canning ran across to awaken her husband, but the Native sentry, who did not know her or understand a word of what she was saying, would not let her in, and, in despair of being able to make anyone hear, she rushed off to the tent of Sir Edward Campbell, the Military Secretary, which was nearest her own. She succeeded in awaking him, and then flew back to try and save some of her own treasures. The first thing she thought of was her portfolio of drawings, which she dragged outside; but it had already been partially burned, and most of the valuable[Page 263] and characteristic sketches she had made at the different durbars were destroyed. She next tried to rescue her jewels, many of which she had worn the night before; her pearls were lying on the dressing-table, and she was only just in time to save them; one of the strings had caught fire, and several of the pearls were blackened. She swept them off the table into a towel, and threw them into a tub of water standing outside. Her wardrobe was completely destroyed. More damage would have been done had not the Private Secretary, Mr. Lewin Bowring, on the alarm being given, hurried to the dining-tent, and, with great presence of mind, ordered the Native Cavalry sentry to cut the ropes, causing it to fall at once, and preventing the fire from spreading. Some office boxes and records were destroyed, but nothing more. We were as usual in the advance camp, and did not hear what had happened until next morning, when Lady Canning arrived dressed in Lady Campbell's clothes; and as Lady Canning was tall, and Lady Campbell was short, the effect was rather funny.
Christmas was spent at Meerut, where I met several of my brother officers, amongst others my particular friend Edwin Johnson, whom I had the great pleasure of introducing to my wife. With scarcely an exception, my friends became hers, and this added much to the happiness of our Indian life.
Delhi under a different aspect Delhi, our next halting-place, was certainly not the least interesting in our tour. Lord Canning was anxious to understand all about the siege, and visited the different positions; the Ridge and its surroundings, the breaches, and the palace, were the chief points of interest. There were two 'Delhi men' besides myself to explain everything to him, Sir Edward Campbell, who was with the 60th Rifles throughout, and one of the best officers in the regiment, and Jemmy Hills, who had now become the Viceroy's Aide-de-camp; while in Lord Clyde's camp there were Norman, Stewart, and Becher.
I had, of course, taken my wife to the scenes of the fights at Agra, Aligarh, and Bulandshahr, but Delhi had the greatest fascination for her. It is certainly an extraordinarily attractive place, setting aside the peculiar interest of the siege. For hundreds of years it had been the seat of Government under Rulers of various nationalities and religions; few cities have the remains of so much pomp and glory, and very few bear the traces of having been besieged so often, or could tell of so much blood spilt in their defence, or of such quantities of treasure looted from them. When Tamerlane captured Delhi in 1398 the city was given over to massacre for five days, 'some streets being rendered impassable by heaps of dead'; and in 1739 the Persian conqueror, Nadir Shah, after sacking the place for fifty-eight days and massacring thousands of its inhabitants, carried off thirty-two millions sterling of booty.
Although the fierce nature of the struggle that Delhi had gone [Page 264] through in 1857 was apparent everywhere, the inhabitants seemed now to have forgotten all about it. The city was as densely populated as it had ever been; the Chandni Chauk was gay as formerly with draperies of bright-coloured stuffs; jewellers and shawl-merchants carried on their trades as briskly as ever, and were just as eager in their endeavours to tempt the Sahib log to spend their money as if trade had never been interrupted; so quickly do Orientals recover from the effects of a devastating war.
1860 We left Delhi on the 3rd January, 1860, marching viâ Karnal. When at this place my wife went to see Lady Canning, as she often did if we remained at all late in camp. On this particular occasion she found her busy with the English mail, which had just arrived, so she said she would not stay then, but would come next day instead. Lady Canning, however, would not let my wife go until she had read her part of a letter from Lady Waterford, which she thought would amuse her. It was in answer to one from Lady Canning, in which she had described the camp, and given her sister a list of all the people in it. Lady Waterford wrote: 'Your Quartermaster-General must be the son of General Roberts, who lives near Waterford; he came home on leave last year. I must tell you an amusing little anecdote about his father. One night, when the General was dining at Curraghmore, he found himself sitting next the Primate of Ireland, with whom he entered into conversation. After some time they discovered they had known each other in the days of their youth, but had never met since a certain morning on which they went out to fight a duel on account of some squabble at a mess; happily the quarrel was stopped without any harm being done, each feeling equally relieved at being prevented from trying to murder the other, as they had been persuaded they were in honour bound to do. The two old gentlemen made very merry over their reminiscences.'
Lord Clyde For some time I had been indulging a hope that I might be sent to China with my old General, Hope Grant, who had been nominated to the command of the expedition which, in co-operation with the French, was being prepared to wipe out the disgrace of the repulse experienced early in the year, by the combined French and English naval squadrons in their attack on the Taku forts. My hope, however, was doomed to disappointment. Lord Clyde decided to send Lumsden and Allgood as A.Q.M.G.'s with the force, and I was feeling very low in consequence. A day or two afterwards we dined with the Cannings, and Lord Clyde took my wife in to dinner. His first remark to her was: 'I think I have earned your gratitude, if I have not managed to satisfy everyone by these China appointments.' On my wife asking for what she was expected to be grateful, he said: 'Why, for not sending your husband with the expedition, of course. I suppose you would rather not be left in a foreign country alone a few months after[Page 265] your marriage? If Roberts had not been a newly-married man, I would have sent him.' This was too much for my wife, who sympathized greatly with my disappointment, and she could not help retorting: 'I am afraid I cannot be very grateful to you for making my husband feel I am ruining his career by standing in the way of his being sent on service. You have done your best to make him regret his marriage.' The poor old Chief was greatly astonished, and burst out in his not too refined way: 'Well, I'll be hanged if I can understand you women! I have done the very thing I thought you would like, and have only succeeded in making you angry. I will never try to help a woman again.' My wife saw that he had meant to be kind, and that it was, as he said, only because he did not 'understand women' that he had made the mistake. She was soon appeased, and in the end she and Lord Clyde became great friends.
The middle of January found us at Umballa, where Lord Canning met in state all the Cis-Sutlej Sikh Chiefs. Fine, handsome men they most of them were, and magnificently attired. The beautifully delicate tints which the Sikhs are so fond of, the warlike costumes of some of the Sirdars, the quiet dignity of these high-born men who had rendered us such signal service in our hour of need, made the scene most picturesque and impressive. The place of honour was given to the Maharaja of Patiala (the grandfather of the present Maharaja), as the most powerful of the Phulkian Princes; and he was followed by his neighbours of Nabha and Jhind, all three splendid specimens of well-bred Sikhs, of stately presence and courtly manners. They were much gratified at having the right of adoption granted to their families, and at being given substantial rewards in the shape of extension of territory.
The Sikh Chiefs were followed by Rajas of minor importance, chiefly from the neighbouring hills, whom the Viceroy had summoned in order to thank them for assistance rendered during the Mutiny. Many of them had grievances to be redressed; others had favours to ask; and the Viceroy was able to more or less satisfy them by judiciously yielding to reasonable demands, and by bestowing minor powers on those who were likely to use them well. The wisdom of this policy of concession on Lord Canning's part was proved in after years by its successful results.
On the 29th January the Raja of Kapurthala came out to meet the Viceroy one march from Jullundur. He had supplemented the valuable assistance rendered to Colonel Lake in the early days of the Mutiny by equipping and taking into Oudh a force of 2,000 men, which he personally commanded in six different actions. The Viceroy cordially thanked him for this timely service, and in recognition of it, and his continued and conspicuous loyalty, bestowed upon him large estates in Oudh, where he eventually became one of the chief Talukdars.[Page 266] This Raja was the grandfather of the enlightened nobleman who came to England three years ago.
Umritsar and Lahore After visiting Umritsar, gay with brilliant illuminations in honour of the Viceroy, and crowded with Sikhs come to welcome the Queen's representative to their sacred city, we arrived at Lahore on the 10th February.
Early the following morning Lord Canning made his state entry. As we approached the citadel the long line of mounted Chiefs drawn up to receive the Viceroy came into view. A brilliant assemblage they formed, Sikh Sirdars, stately Hill Rajputs, wildly picturesque Multanis and Baluchis with their flowing locks floating behind them, sturdy Tawanas from the Salt range, all gorgeously arrayed in every colour of the rainbow, their jewels glittering in the morning sun, while their horses, magnificently caparisoned in cloth-of-gold saddle cloths, and gold and silver trappings, pranced and curvetted under pressure of their severe bits. As the procession appeared in sight they moved forward in one long dazzling cavalcade, each party of Chiefs being headed by the Commissioner of the district from which they came; they saluted as they approached the Viceroy, and then passing him fell in behind, between the Body Guard and the Artillery of the escort. A royal salute was fired from the fort as we passed under the city walls; we then wound through the civil station of Anárkáli, and on to camp where the garrison of Mian Mir, under the command of Major-General Sir Charles Windham, was drawn up to receive the Viceroy.
At nightfall there were illuminations and a procession of elephants; the Viceroy, seated in a superb howdah, led the way through the brilliantly lighted city. Suddenly a shower of rockets was discharged which resulted in a stampede of the elephants, who rushed through the narrow streets, and fled in every direction, to the imminent peril and great discomfort of the riders. In time they were quieted and brought back, only to become again unmanageable at a fresh volley of fireworks; a second time they were pacified, and as they seemed to be getting accustomed to the noise and lights, the procession proceeded to the garden of the old palace. Here the elephants were drawn up, when all at once a fresh discharge of rockets from every side drove them mad with fright, and off they bolted under the trees, through gates, and some of them could not be pulled up until they had gone far into the country. Howdahs were crushed, hats torn off, but, strange to say, there was only one serious casualty; an officer was swept out of his howdah by the branch of a tree, and falling to the ground, had his thigh broken. Lord Clyde declared that a general action was not half so dangerous, and he would much sooner have been in one!
The Lahore Durbar The Lahore durbar, at which the Punjab Chiefs were received, surpassed[Page 267] any former ceremonials in point of numbers and splendour of effect. Many of Runjit Singh's Sirdars were present, and many who had fought against us in the Sutlej and Punjab campaigns, but had now become our fast friends. The Chiefs quite spontaneously prepared and presented Lord Canning with an address, and, in reply, his Excellency made an eloquent and telling speech, commenting in terms of the highest appreciation on the courage and loyalty displayed by the Nobles and people of the Punjab during the Mutiny.
While the camp was marching to Sialkot, where the Maharaja of Kashmir and some of the leading men of the Punjab were to be received, the Viceroy, accompanied by Lady Canning, Lord Clyde, and a small staff, went on a flying visit to Peshawar, with the object of satisfying himself, by personal examination of our position there, as to the advisability or otherwise of a retirement cis-Indus—a retrograde movement which John Lawrence was still in favour of. The visit, however, only served to strengthen Lord Canning in his preconceived opinion that Peshawar must be held on to as our frontier station.
My wife remained at Mian Mir with our good friends Doctor and Mrs. Tyrrell Ross until it was time for her to go to Simla, and the kind thoughtfulness of Lord Canning, who told me the camp now worked so well that my presence was not always necessary, enabled me to be with her from time to time.
Lord Canning's tour was now nearly over, and we marched without any halt of importance from Sialkot to Kalka at the foot of the hills, where, on the 9th April, the camp was broken up. It was high time to get into cooler regions, for the heat of the tents in the day had become very oppressive.
Thus ended a six months' march of over a thousand miles—a march never likely to be undertaken again by any other Viceroy of India, now that railway trains run from Calcutta to Peshawar, and saloon carriages have taken the place of big tents.
This progress through India had excellent results. The advantages of the representative of the Sovereign meeting face to face the principal feudatories and Chiefs of our great dependency were very considerable, and the opportunity afforded to the Viceroy of personally acknowledging and rewarding the services of those who had helped us, and of showing that he was not afraid to be lenient to those who had failed to do so, provided they should remain loyal in the future, had a very good effect over the whole of India. The wise concessions also announced at the different durbars as regards the adoption by Native Rulers of successors to their estates, and the grant to Native gentlemen of such a share as they were fitted for in the government of the country, were undoubtedly more appreciated than any other description of reward given for assistance in the Mutiny.
Simla My duty with the Viceroy being ended, I returned to Mian Mir to[Page 268] fetch my wife and the little daughter, who had made her appearance on the 10th March, and escort them both to Simla. The journey up the hill was a tedious one. Carriages were not then used as they are now, and my wife travelled in a jampan, a kind of open, half-reclining sedan chair, carried by relays of four men, while I rode or walked by her side. She had been greatly exhausted by the heat of the journey from Mian Mir, but as we ascended higher and higher up the mountain side, and the atmosphere became clearer and fresher, she began to revive. Four hours, however, of this unaccustomed mode of travelling in her weak state had completely tired her out, so on finding a fairly comfortable bungalow at the end of the first stage, I decided to remain there the next day. After that we went on, stage by stage, until we reached Simla. Our house, 'Mount Pleasant,' was on the very top of a hill; up and up we climbed through the rhododendron forest, along a path crimson with the fallen blossom, till we got to the top, when a glorious view opened out before our delighted eyes. The wooded hills of Jakho and Elysium in the foreground, Mahasu and the beautiful Shalli peaks in the middle distance, and beyond, towering above all, the everlasting snows glistening in the morning sun, formed a picture the beauty of which quite entranced us both. I could hardly persuade my wife to leave it and come into the house. Hunger and fatigue, however, at length triumphed. Our servants had arranged everything in our little abode most comfortably; bright fires were burning in the grates, a cosy breakfast was awaiting us, and the feeling that at last we had a home of our own was very pleasant.
Lord Canning did not remain long at Simla. His Council in Calcutta was about to lose its President, Sir James Outram, who was leaving India on account of failing health; and as the suggestion to impose an income-tax was creating a good deal of agitation, the Viceroy hurried back to Calcutta, deeming it expedient to be on the spot.
The measures necessary for the suppression of the Mutiny had emptied the Government coffers; and although a large loan had been raised, the local authorities found it impossible to cope with the increased expenditure. Lord Canning had, therefore, applied to the Government in England for the services of a trained financier; and Mr. Wilson, who had a great reputation in this respect, was sent out. He declared the only remedy to be an income-tax, and he was supported in this view by the merchants of Calcutta. Other Europeans, however, who were intimately acquainted with India, pointed out that it was not advisable to ignore the dislike of Natives to such direct taxation; and Sir Charles Trevelyan, Governor of Madras, argued well and wisely against the scheme. Instead, however, of confining his action in the matter to warning and advising the supreme Government, he publicly proclaimed his opposition, thus giving the signal for agitation to all the malcontents in India. Lord Elphinstone, the Governor of Bombay,[Page 269] followed Trevelyan's example, but in a less pronounced manner, and these attacks from the minor Presidencies proved a serious embarrassment to the action of the Government. In spite of all this antagonism, the income-tax was passed, and Sir Charles Trevelyan's unusual procedure led to his recall.
Lord Canning left Simla for his long and trying journey in May, about the hottest time of the year. On my taking leave of him, he told me that Sir Hugh Rose, then commanding the Bombay army, had been appointed to succeed Lord Clyde, who had long been anxious to return to England, and that Sir Hugh, though he intended to go to Calcutta himself, wished the Head-Quarters of the Army to remain at Simla; a question about which we had been rather anxious, as it would have been an unpleasant breaking up of all our plans, had I been ordered to Calcutta.
Life at Simla Life at Simla was somewhat monotonous. The society was not very large in those days; but there were a certain number of people on leave from the plains, who then, as at present, had nothing to do but amuse themselves, consequently there was a good deal of gaiety in a small way; but we entered into it very little. My wife did not care much about it, and had been very ill for the greater part of the summer. She had made two or three kind friends, and was very happy in her mountain home, though at times, perhaps, a little lonely, as I had to be in office the greater part of each day.
In the autumn we made a trip into the interior of the hills, beyond Simla, which was a new and delightful experience for my wife. We usually started in the morning, sending our servants on about half way, when they prepared breakfast for us in some pretty, shady spot; there we remained, reading, writing, or resting, until after lunch, and it was time to move on, that we might get to our halting place for the night before dinner.
It was a lovely time of the year, when the autumn tints made the forest gorgeous, and the scarlet festoons of the Himalayan vine stood out in brilliant contrast to the dark green of the solemn deodar, amongst the branches of which it loves to twine itself.