Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief
FIELD MARSHAL LORD ROBERTS
His Excellency received me very kindly, telling me he felt that I was not altogether a stranger, as he had been reading during the voyage a paper I had written for Lord Napier, a year or two before, on our military position in India, and the arrangements that would be necessary in the event of Russia attempting to continue her advance south of the Oxus. Lord Napier had sent a copy of this memorandum to Lord Beaconsfield, by whom it had been given to Lord Lytton.
During the summer of 1876 our frontier policy was frequently under discussion. Sir Bartle Frere wrote two very strong letters after the Conservative Government came into power in 1874, drawing attention to the danger of our being satisfied with a policy of aloofness, and pointing out the necessity for coming into closer relations with the Amir of Afghanistan and the Khan of Khelat. Soon afterwards the Secretary of State communicated with the Government of India as to the advisability of establishing British agents in Afghanistan,[Page 329] and of persuading the Amir to receive a temporary Embassy at Kabul, as had originally been proposed by Lord Northbrook.
The members of Lord Northbrook's Council were unanimously opposed to both these proposals, but they did not succeed in convincing Lord Salisbury that the measures were undesirable; and on the resignation of Lord Northbrook, the new Viceroy was furnished with special instructions as to the action which Her Majesty's Government considered necessary in consequence of the activity of Russia in Central Asia, and the impossibility of obtaining accurate information of what was going on in and beyond Afghanistan.
The question of the Embassy was dealt with at once; Lord Lytton directed a letter to be sent to the Amir announcing his assumption of the Viceroyalty, and his intention to depute Sir Lewis Pelly to proceed to Kabul for the purpose of discussing certain matters with His Highness.
Difficulties with Sher Ali To this communication a most unsatisfactory reply was received, and a second letter was addressed to the Amir, in which he was informed that, should he still decline to receive the Viceroy's Envoy after deliberately weighing all the considerations commended to his serious attention, the responsibility of the result would rest entirely on the Government of Afghanistan, which would thus alienate itself from the alliance of that Power which was most disposed and best able to befriend it.
This letter was the cause of considerable excitement in Kabul, excitement which ran so high that the necessity for proclaiming a religious war was mooted; and, to complicate matters, the Amir at this time received overtures from General Kauffmann, the Russian Governor-General in Turkestan.
A delay of six weeks occurred before Sher Ali replied to Lord Lytton's letter, and then he altogether ignored the Viceroy's proposal to send a Mission to Kabul, merely suggesting that the British Government should receive an Envoy from him, or that representatives from both countries should meet and hold a conference on the border, or, as another alternative, that the British Native Agent at Kabul should return and discuss affairs with the Viceroy.
The last suggestion was accepted by the Government of India, and the agent (Nawab Ata Mahomed Khan) arrived in Simla early in October. The Nawab gave it as his opinion that the Amir's attitude of estrangement was due to an accumulation of grievances, the chief of which were—the unfavourable arbitration in the Sistan dispute; the want of success of Saiyad Nur Mahomed's mission to India in 1873, when it was the desire of the Amir's heart to enter into an offensive and defensive alliance with the British Government; the interposition of Lord Northbrook's Government on behalf of Yakub Khan;1 the recent proceedings in Khelat,2 which the Amir thought[Page 330] were bringing us objectionably near Kandahar; the transmission of presents through Afghanistan, to his vassal, the Mir of Wakhan, without the Amir's permission;3 and, above all, the conviction that our policy was exclusively directed to the furtherance of British interests without any thought for those of Afghanistan.
As regarded the proposed Mission to Kabul, the Envoy said that His Highness objected to it for many reasons. Owing to local fanaticism, he could not insure its safety, and it seemed probable that, though of a temporary nature to begin with, it might only be the thin end of the wedge, ending in the establishment of a permanent Resident, as at the courts of the Native Rulers in India. Furthermore, the Amir conceived that, if he consented to this Mission, the Russians would insist upon their right to send a similar one, and finally, he feared a British Envoy might bring his influence to bear in favour of the release of his son, Yakub Khan, with whom his relations were as strained as ever.
In answer, the Viceroy enumerated the concessions he was prepared to make, and the conditions upon which alone he would consent to them; and this answer the agent was directed to communicate to the Amir.
The concessions were as follows:
(1) That the friends and enemies of either State should be those of the other.
(2) That, in the event of unprovoked aggression upon Afghanistan from without, assistance should be afforded in men, money, and arms; and also that to strengthen the Amir against such aggression, the British Government was willing to fortify Herat and other points on the frontier, and, if desired, to lend officers to discipline the army.
(3) That Abdulla Jan should be recognized as the Amir's successor to the exclusion of any other aspirant; and that the question of material aid in support of such recognition should be discussed by the Plenipotentiaries.
(4) That a yearly subsidy should be paid to the Amir on the following conditions:
That he should refrain from external aggression or provocation of his neighbours, and from entering into external relations without our knowledge.
That he should decline all communication with Russia, and refer[Page 331] her agents to us.
That British agents should reside at Herat and elsewhere on the frontier.
That a mixed commission of British and Afghan officers should determine and demarcate the Amir's frontier.
That arrangements should be made, by allowances or otherwise, for free circulation of trade on the principal trade routes.
That similar arrangements should be made for a line of telegraph, the direction of which was to be subsequently determined.
That Afghanistan should be freely opened to Englishmen, official and non-official, and arrangements made by the Amir, as far as practicable, for their safety, though His Highness would not be absolutely held responsible for isolated accidents.
The Viceroy concluded by suggesting that, if the Amir agreed to these proposals, a treaty might be arranged between the agents of the respective Governments, and ratified either at Peshawar, by the Amir meeting Lord Lytton there, or at Delhi if the Amir accepted His Excellency's invitation to be present at the Imperial Assemblage.
The Amir at the time vouchsafed no reply whatever to these proposals or to the invitation to come to Delhi.
Imperial Assemblage at Delhi In the autumn of 1876 preparations were commenced for the 'Imperial Assemblage,' which it was announced by the Viceroy would be held at Delhi on the first day of January, 1877, for the purpose of proclaiming to the Queen's subjects throughout India the assumption by Her Majesty of the title of 'Empress of India.' To this Assemblage Lord Lytton further announced that he proposed 'to invite the Governors, Lieutenant-Governors, and Heads of Administration from all parts of the Queen's Indian dominions, as well as the Princes, Chiefs, and Nobles in whose persons the antiquity of the past is associated with the prosperity of the present, and who so worthily contribute to the splendour and stability of this great Empire.'
Delhi was selected as the place where the meeting between the Queen's representative and the great nobles of India could most appropriately be held, and a committee was appointed to make the necessary arrangements. As a member of the committee I was deputed to proceed to Delhi, settle about the sites for the camps, and carry out all details in communication with the local authorities. The Viceroy impressed upon me that the Assemblage was intended to emphasize the Proclamation Lord Canning issued eighteen years before, by which the Queen assumed the direct sovereignty of her eastern possessions, and that he wished no trouble or expense to be spared in making the ceremony altogether worthy of such a great historical event.
I returned to Simla in October, when my wife and I accompanied the Commander-in-Chief on a very delightful march over the Jalauri[Page 332] Pass through the Kulu valley, then over the Bubbu Pass and through the Kangra valley to Chamba and Dalhousie. Our party consisted of the Chief, his Doctor (Bradshaw), Persian interpreter (Moore), General and Mrs. Lumsden, and ourselves. The first slight shower of snow had just fallen on the Jalauri Pass, and as we crossed over we disturbed a number of beautiful snow-pheasants and minals busily engaged in scratching it away to get at their food. The scenery on this march is very fine and varied; for the most part the timber and foliage are superb, and the valleys are very fertile and pretty, lying close under the snow-capped mountains.
Having inspected the 'Hill stations,' we proceeded to Peshawar, where the Viceroy had arranged to hold a conference with the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab and the Commissioner of Peshawar about frontier affairs.
Early in December I was back again at Delhi, where I found the arrangements for the several camps progressing most satisfactorily, and canvas cities rising up in every direction, I had previously chosen the site of the old cantonment for the camps of the Viceroy, the Commander-in-Chief, and the principal officials, while for the Assemblage itself I had selected ground about three miles off.
The Chiefs and Princes were all settled in their several camps ready to meet the Viceroy, who, on his arrival, in a few graceful words welcomed them to Delhi, and thanked them for responding to his invitation. He then mounted, with Lady Lytton, on a state elephant, and a procession was formed, which, I fancy, was about the most gorgeous and picturesque which has ever been seen even in the East. The magnificence of the Native Princes' retinues can hardly be described; their elephant-housings were of cloth of gold, or scarlet-and-blue cloths embroidered in gold and silver. The howdahs were veritable thrones of the precious metals, shaded by the most brilliant canopies, and the war-elephants belonging to some of the Central India and Rajputana Chiefs formed a very curious and interesting feature. Their tusks were tipped with steel; they wore shields on their fore-heads, and breastplates of flashing steel; chain-mail armour hung down over their trunks and covered their backs and sides; and they were mounted by warriors clad in chain-mail, and armed to the teeth. Delhi must have witnessed many splendid pageants, when the Rajput, the Moghul, and the Mahratta dynasties, each in its turn, was at the height of its glory; but never before had Princes and Chiefs of every race and creed come from all parts of Hindustan, vying with each other as to the magnificence of their entourage, and met together with the same object—that of acknowledging and doing homage to one supreme Ruler.
Reception of the Ruling Chiefs The next few days were spent by Lord Lytton in receiving the sixty-three4 Ruling Princes of India according to the strictest etiquette.[Page 333] Each Prince, with his suite, was met at the entrance to the camp, and conducted up the street to the durbar tent by mounted officers, the salute to which he was entitled being fired while the procession moved on. He was then presented by the Foreign Secretary to the Viceroy, who placed him on a chair on his right, immediately below a full-length portrait of Her Majesty. A satin banner, richly embroidered with the Chief's armorial bearings, surmounted by the Imperial crown, was next brought in by Highland soldiers and planted in front of the throne, when the Viceroy, leading the particular Chief towards it, thus addressed him: 'I present Your Highness with this banner as a personal gift from Her Majesty the Queen, in commemoration of her assumption of the title of Empress of India. Her Majesty trusts that it may never be unfurled without reminding you not only of the close union between the throne of England and your loyal and princely house, but also of the earnest desire of the paramount power to see your dynasty strong, prosperous, and permanent.'
His Excellency then placed round the Chief's neck a crimson ribbon, to which was attached a very handsome gold medal5 with the Queen's head engraved on it, adding: 'I further decorate you, by command of Her Majesty. May this medal be long worn by yourself, and long kept as an heirloom in your family in remembrance of the auspicious date it bears.'
Each Chief and high official sat beneath his own banner, which was planted immediately behind his chair, and they were all mixed up as much as possible to avoid questions of precedence, the result being the[Page 334] most wonderful mass of colour, produced from the intermingling of British uniforms and plumes with gorgeous eastern costumes, set off by a blaze of diamonds and other precious stones.
All the British troops brought to Delhi for the occasion were paraded to the north, and the troops and retainers belonging to the Native Chiefs to the south, of the pavilion. Guards of Honour were drawn up on either side of the throne and at each opening by which the Ruling Chiefs were to enter the pavilion.
The guests being all seated, a flourish of trumpets by the heralds exactly at noon announced the arrival of the Viceroy. The military bands played a march, and Lord Lytton, accompanied by Lady Lytton, their daughters, and his staff, proceeded to the pavilion. His Excellency took his seat upon the throne, arrayed in his robes as Grand Master of the Star of India, the National Anthem was played, the Guards of Honour presented arms, while the whole of the vast assemblage rose as one man. The Chief Herald was then commanded to read the Proclamation. A flourish of trumpets was again sounded, and Her Majesty was proclaimed Empress of India.
When the Chief Herald had ceased reading, the Royal Standard was hoisted, and a salute of 101 salvoes of artillery was fired, with a feu de joie from the long line of troops. This was too much for the elephants. As the feu de joie approached nearer and nearer to them they became more and more alarmed, and at last scampered off, dispersing the crowd in every direction. When it ceased they were quieted and brought back by their mahouts, only to start off again when the firing recommenced; but, as it was a perfectly bare plain, without anything for the great creatures to come in contact with, there was no harm done beyond a severe shaking to their riders. As the sound of the last salvo died away the Viceroy addressed the assemblage. When he had ceased speaking, the assembly again rose en masse and joined the troops in giving several ringing cheers.
His Highness the Maharaja Sindhia then spoke as follows: 'Shah in Shah Padishah. May God bless you. The Princes of India bless you, and pray that your sovereignty and power may remain steadfast for ever.'
Sir Salar Jung rose on behalf of the boy Nizam, and said: 'I am desired by His Highness the Nizam to request your Excellency to convey to Her Majesty, on the part of himself and the Chiefs of India, the expression of their hearty congratulations on the assumption of the title of Empress of India, and to assure the Queen that they pray for her, and for the enduring prosperity of her Empire, both in India and England.'
The Maharajas of Udaipur and Jaipur, in the name of the united Chiefs of Rajputana, begged that a telegram might be sent to the Queen, conveying their dutiful and loyal congratulations; and the[Page 335] Maharaja of Kashmir expressed his gratification at the tenor of the Viceroy's speech, and declared that he should henceforth consider himself secure under the shadow of Her Majesty's protecting care.6
Political importance of the assemblage It is difficult to overrate the political importance of this great gathering. It was looked upon by most of the Ruling Chiefs as the result of the Prince of Wales's visit, and rejoiced in as an evidence of Her Majesty's increased interest in, and appreciation of, the vast Empire of India with its many different races and peoples.
I visited all the camps, and conversed with every one of the Princes and Nobles, and each in turn expressed the same intense gratification at the Viceroy's reception of him, the same fervent loyalty to the Empress, and the same satisfaction that the new title should have been announced with such appropriate splendour and publicity.
General rejoicings in honour of the occasion took place all over India, in Native States as well as British cantonments. School-houses, town halls, hospitals, and dispensaries were founded, large numbers of prisoners were released, substantial additions were made to the pay of all ranks in the Native Army, as well as a considerable increase in numbers to the Order of British India; and the amnesty granted in 1859 was extended to all but murderers and leaders in the Mutiny.
When the Assemblage broke up, I started with Sir Frederick Haines for a tour along the Derajat frontier. We visited Kohat, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, and Multan; proceeded by steamer down the Indus to Sukkur, and thence rode to Jacobabad. Then on to Kotri, from which place we went to see the battle-field of Miani, where Sir Charles Napier defeated the Amirs of Sind in 1843. From Kotri we travelled to Simla viâ Karachi and Bombay, where we were most hospitably entertained by the Commander-in-Chief of Bombay (Sir Charles Stavely) and his wife.
Afghan affairs were this year again giving the Viceroy a great deal of anxiety. The Amir had eventually agreed to a discussion of Lord Lytton's proposals being held, and for this purpose Saiyad Nur Mahomed and Sir Lewis Pelly had met at Peshawar in January, 1877. The meeting, unfortunately, ended in a rupture, owing to Sher Ali's agent pronouncing the location of European officers in any part of Afghanistan an impossibility; and what at this crisis complicated matters to a most regrettable extent was the death of Saiyad Nur Mahomed, who had been in failing health for some time.
Sher Ali proclaims a 'Jahad' On learning the death of his most trusted Minister, and the failure of the negotiations, Sher Ali broke into a violent fit of passion, giving vent to his fury in threatenings and invectives against the British Government. He declared it was not possible to come to terms, and that there[Page 336] was nothing left for him but to fight; that he had seven crores of rupees, every one of which he would hurl at the heads of the English, and he ended by giving orders for a jahad (a religious war) to be proclaimed.
For the time being nothing more could be done with Afghanistan, and the Viceroy was able to turn his attention to the following important questions: the transfer of Sind from Bombay to the Punjab, a measure which had been unanimously agreed to by Lord Northbrook's Government; the removal from the Punjab government of the trans-Indus tract of country, and the formation of the latter into a separate district under the control of a Chief Commissioner, who would be responsible to the Government of India alone for frontier administration and trans-frontier relations. This post Lord Lytton told me, as much to my surprise as to my gratification, that he meant to offer to me, if his views were accepted by the Secretary of State. It was above all others the appointment I should have liked. I delighted in frontier life and frontier men, who, with all their faults, are men, and grand men, too. I had felt for years what an important factor the trans-Indus tribes are in the defence of India, and how desirable it was that we should be on better terms with them than was possible so long as our policy consisted in keeping them at arm's length, and our only intercourse with them was confined to punitive expeditions or the visits of their head-men to our hard-worked officials, whose whole time was occupied in writing long reports, or in settling troublesome disputes to the satisfaction of no one.
I now hoped to be able to put a stop to the futile blockades and inconclusive reprisals which had been carried on for nearly thirty years with such unsatisfactory results, and I looked forward to turning the wild tribesmen from enemies into friends, a strength instead of a weakness, to our Government, and to bringing them by degrees within the pale of civilization. My wife quite shared my feelings, and we were both eager to begin our frontier life.
As a preliminary to my engaging in this congenial employment, Lord Lytton proposed that I should take up the command of the Punjab Frontier Force. I gladly acquiesced; for I had been a long time on the staff, and had had three years of the Quartermaster-Generalship. My friends expressed surprise at my accepting the position of Brigadier-General, after having filled an appointment carrying with it the rank of Major-General; but this was not my view. I longed for a command, and the Frontier Force offered opportunities for active service afforded by no other post.
1878 We were in Calcutta when the question was decided, and started very soon afterwards to make our arrangements for the breaking up of our home at Simla. I took over the command of the Force on the 15th March, 1878. My wife accompanied me to Abbottabad—the[Page 337] pretty, quiet little place in Hazara, about 4,000 feet above the sea, which was to be henceforth our winter head-quarters. For the summer months we were to be located in the higher hills, and my wife was anxious to see the house which I had purchased from my predecessor, General Keyes, at Natiagali. So off we set, nothing daunted by being told that we were likely to find snow still deep in places.
A journey under Difficulties For the first part of the way we got on well enough, my wife in a dandy, I riding, and thirteen miles were accomplished without much difficulty. Suddenly the road took a bend, and we found ourselves in deep snow. Riding soon proved to be impossible, and the dandy-bearers could not carry my wife further; so there was nothing for it but to walk. We were seven miles from our destination, and at each step we sank into the snow, which became deeper and deeper the higher we ascended. On we trudged, till my wife declared she could go no further, and sat down to rest, feeling so drowsy that she entreated me to let her stay where she was. Fortunately I had a small flask with me filled with brandy. I poured a little into the cup, mixed it with snow, and administered it as a stimulant. This restored her somewhat, and roused her from the state of lethargy into which she had fallen. Again we struggled on. Soon it became dark, except for such light as the stars, aided by the snow, afforded. More than once I despaired of reaching the end of our journey; but, just as I had become quite hopeless, we saw lights on the hill above us, and heard our servants, who had preceded us, shouting to attract our attention. I answered, and presently they came to our assistance. Half carrying, half dragging her, we got my wife up the steep mountain-side; and at length, about 9 p.m., we arrived at the little house buried in snow, into which we crept through a hole dug in the snow wall, which encircled it. We were welcomed by a blazing wood-fire and a most cheering odour of dinner, to which we did full justice, after having got rid of our saturated garments. Next morning we started on our return journey at daybreak, for it was necessary to get over the worst part of the road before the sun had had time to soften the snow, which the night's frost had so thoroughly hardened that we slipped over it without the least difficulty.
This was our only visit to our new possession, for very soon afterwards I was informed that Lord Lytton wished me to spend the summer at Simla, as the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab would be there, and His Excellency was anxious to discuss the details of the proposed Chief Commissionership. My wife, therefore, returned to Simla at once, and I joined her at the end of May, having in the meanwhile inspected every regiment and visited every post held by the Frontier Force between Sind and Hazara—a most interesting experience, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
FOOTNOTES, CHAPTER XLII
[Footnote 1: The Amir's eldest son, who had rebelled on his younger brother, Abdulla Jan, being nominated heir to the throne.]
[Footnote 2: Before Lord Northbrook left India he sent Major Sandeman on a Mission to Khelat to re-open the Bolan Pass, and endeavour to settle the differences between the Khan and the Baluchistan tribes, and between the tribes themselves, who were all at loggerheads.]
[Footnote 3: Presents given by the British Government to the Mir of Wakhan in recognition of his hospitable reception of the members of the Forsyth Mission on their return from Yarkund.]
[Footnote 4: 'Besides the sixty-three Ruling Chiefs, there were nearly three hundred titular Chiefs and persons of distinction collected at the Imperial Assemblage, besides those included in the suites of Ruling Chiefs.—J. Talboys Wheeler, 'History of the Delhi Assemblage.']
[Footnote 5: These gold medals were also presented to the Governors, Lieutenant-Governors, and other high officials, and to the members of the Imperial Assemblage Committee.]
[Footnote 6: In endeavouring to describe this historical event, I have freely refreshed my memory from Talboys Wheeler's 'History of the Imperial Assemblage,' in which is given a detailed account of the proceedings.]