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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter X


1852-1853. WUZZEERABAD

Wuzzeerabad cantonments - City - Flying column—Public conditions—The hot season—Rainy season—Sickness and death—Birth of a daughter—Australian gold fever—Struck by soldier— Assault and confession—The "Iron Duke "Items of news—Snake-bite----Prowling animals—Routine life of a soldier— Attempt at improvement—Book club—The sick soldier—Illness of wife— Incident of travel—Traite - Murree—Murder of Mackeson - Its outcome - Hazarees attack Murree—Wife's adventure—Charitable hospital.

IMMEDIATELY after the decisive battle of Goojerat,' by which the Sikh army was completely overthrown, a position for troops was selected on an extensive plain stretching for many miles along and from the left bank of the Chenab.2 That portion of the plain chosen as a site for what were to be cantonments was at the time under indigo cultivation; on it tents were pitched and "lines" drawn out in accordance with regulations bearing on the subject. With the approach of hot weather the tents were walled and covered in by mud, straw, and such other materials as under the circumstances were obtainable; then the tents were struck, partitions of mud "run up," and so houses or bungalows formed. By similar means "barracks" for the soldiers and their establishments were erected; the whole declared to be the station of Wuzzeerabad.

Six miles away stood the city of that name in its centre the palace occupied by General Avitabile, in the service of Runjeet Singh, and under him Governor of Peshawur at the time of the first war against Affghanistan. Extending from the main entrance to the city, what in former days must have been an imposing avenue of trees is represented by dilapidated willow trunks; at intervals smaller towns and villages occur, all surrounded by richly cultivated fields. Across the river, said to attain a breadth of fourteen miles during the rainy season, is seen the town of Goojerat; towards our left the position of Chilianwallah; in the far distance the Pir-Punjal and other peaks pertaining to the Cashmere range of the Himalayahs.

Our force, equipped as a "Flying Column," was so held prepared and ready, if need arose, for emergent service. Rumour had it that among the people the state of things incidental to recent annexation did not meet with universal acceptance; that the system of Thug- gee had extended to their country from Bengal, where for some years previous it had been relentlessly hunted down by Colonels Sleeman and Graham. At the new station of Sealkote an English church was in course of being erected. In reference thereto the strange report circulated among the natives that their children were being kidnapped, to be there offered as sacrifices. Meanwhile two expeditions were in progress of formation: the one to Swat, under command of Sir Cohn Campbell; the other to Burmah, under that of General Godwin.

The hot season was soon upon us. As it advanced we became painfully aware how unsuitable, under the circumstances, were the extemporised "houses" already mentioned. By the aid of tatties and thermantadotes, it was possible to reduce temperature within doors to something like 112' F. ; but such contrivances were themselves expensive, and in some instances beyond the means of individuals. The sense of oppression from the prevailing heat was greater during the night than in daytime; the stillness of the air, laden with impalpable dust, affected not alone people, but quadrupeds and birds, while over everything a yellow haze lay thick and heavy. Then would come a thunder burst; forked lightning threatened, and in some instances struck our houses; a downpour of rain would follow, and for a few days thereafter all would be comparatively agreeable. Later on hurricanes of dust burst upon us, their violence sufficient to unroof some houses and barracks, to be followed by storms of rain, and ultimately by the season so called. Early in September the hot season was at an end; the moist atmosphere became even more oppressive than it had been while dry heat prevailed, so that all of us looked forward anxiously to the advent of cold weather properly so called.

All belonging to the regiment suffered considerably in health; deaths of soldiers were numerous, the physical powers of all much depressed, a large proportion thus unfit to take the field in case of emergency. It was felt, however, that hospital régime was likely rather to increase their disability than benefit their condition; hence they were permitted to remain in barracks, though exempt from duty—a circumstance here noted as indicating the insufficiency of mere statistics to represent conditions of physical fitness of troops.

Among the deaths was that of a young surgeon, only a few months in India when attacked by climatic illness, to which he succumbed. For some time before life passed away, incapable of expression by voice, his look of terror told plainly his state of mind as he faced approaching death. The scene was most painful to witness.

On September 5, '52, a daughter was born to me. The event took place in early morning. Shortly after mid-day information reached my beloved wife, through tittle-tattle of servants, that a guest,2 who occupied a tent in our compound, was dead by heat apoplexy. Several of our men were struck down by the same disease, so that absence from my own domestic sphere was unavoidable under the trying circumstances of the day.

Within a week from her date of birth, an attempt was made by her ayah to poison the infant, the reason for the intended crime neither then nor subsequently ascertained. The prostrate mother from her bed saw the native woman put "something" in the mouth of the babe, who was immediately thereafter seized with tetanic spasms; nor was it without much difficulty that her young life was saved.

The recent discovery of gold-fields in Australia led to a somewhat unpleasant state of unrest on the part of a few soldiers serving in India. Letters from friends and relatives in the colonies instigated them to endeavour by means, whether foul or fair, to get sent thither, where fortunes could very quickly be made. The result was the outbreak, as if epidemic, of crimes of assault on officers and non-commissioned officers, the idea being to get tried before a General Court-Martial and sentenced to transportation; after which, once in Australia, it would be an easy matter to find one's way to the gold-fields. This "gold fever" resulted in a Resolution by the Commander-in-Chief to put a stop to the assaults in question; in one instance—and it sufficed for the purpose in view—the death penalty awarded was carried out.

On a morning in June, while examining a soldier who was about to appear before a Garrison Court-Martial on the charge of striking a sergeant, I received from the prisoner a somewhat severe blow on the forehead. Astonished at the occurrence, some little time was needed to collect my thoughts and decide upon the line of official action most suitable under the circumstances. In the interval I learned that the Garrison Court-Martial had been intentionally ordered to assemble for the express purpose of defeating the object the man was known to have in view, and this being the case it was natural to assume that in assaulting me he had in view trial and sentence by the more important tribunal. Aware as I was that a sentence of death. might be the possible award, and desiring to avert such a penalty, in making the official report of the assault I suggested that an inquiry should take place as to his mental condition at the time. Three months elapsed, and then the man appeared before that ordeal; he was found "not guilty" on the plea of "insanity." In due course he was sent to Calcutta, to be taken there into the Lunatic Asylum. At the end of a year he was discharged "cured" from that establishment, and while en route to rejoin the 10th he died of cholera. So ended that episode.

About the time I was struck a similar assault was committed upon the surgeon  of the 3rd Light Dragoons, occupying barracks also at Wuzzeerabad. He took steps to have an inquiry made into the mental condition of his assailant. On that inquiry I sat as president, and this is the substance of the story told me by the man. From the time when he first enlisted he had been haunted by visions of a murder committed by himself and his "pal" on Wandsworth Common in 1845; he made every endeavour to get killed while charging the Sikhs in battle; he had committed offences so that he might be taken to the guard room, and thence made pretended attempts to escape in the hope of being cut down by the sentry; but failing in all these he had struck the officer, in order that for so doing he might be tried, condemned, and shot. These particulars were duly entered in the report submitted to the authorities; meanwhile, the regiment to which he belonged received its orders for home, and left the station, taking with it as prisoner this unhappy man. It was not till long thereafter that the sequel of his story was heard of.

The death of the "Iron Duke" of Wellington, news of which was received early in November, was made the text of remark and discussion, the official acts and demeanour of His Grace towards officers and the army generally being looked at from different and at times directly opposite points of view,—the impression which seemed most generally to prevail being that although no one denied him the credit of great services performed in the first fifteen years of the century, yet for many years thereafter he had been "past his work "—a commentary which bears interpretation in more ways than one. It cannot be said that many signs of mourning for his loss were apparent.

Early in 1853 English papers brought news among other matters that Louis Napoleon had been recognised as Emperor by the Powers of Europe, though not with good grace, that a suspicion existed of a possible attempt at invasion was under consideration, an order for the concentration of troops of the regular army and militia at particular points being the outcome of that suspicion. Another item in those papers reads strangely while these notes are being transcribed, and conditions alluded to have developed in significance; namely, "The influence of the lower orders is fast on the increase, and altogether we seem to be on the eve of a crisis, the ultimate issue of which it is impossible to predict." Shortly thereafter came news of the Emperor's marriage to a Spanish lady,' his personal popularity in the army not enhanced thereby. According to Indian journals, overtures had been made to the British Resident at Moorshedabad by Sirdars of Affghanistan with a view to approach Government on the subject of taking over that kingdom. The truth or otherwise of the report did not transpire; but that the rumour was current was itself a suggestive circumstance.

As the hot season advanced, snakes, poisonous and otherwise, became numerous in cantonments. A sepoy while asleep was bitten by one of those reptiles. He soon became unconscious; blood oozed from two small punctures on the instep where he had been bitten, from his mouth, nostrils, and from under his finger-nails. He was treated by means of large doses of ammonia and turpentine, and ultimately recovered.

Prowling beasts of prey made night hideous. On one occasion much alarm was occasioned by one of them becoming "rabid," rushing violently at and biting animals and people. Considerable numbers of both were so injured by the pariah dog; some of those bitten were treated, some not, but no specific results followed the injuries. In the bazaars within cantonments prowling jackals and wolves were so many dangers to infants asleep on charpoys at night; some instances occurred in which they were carried away and devoured by the larger animals mentioned.

The conditions of a soldier's life in India at the time alluded to were calculated rather to weary than enliven him. The climate ill suited for out-of-door exercise; many of the men unable to read, and disinclined to learn; their two resources the bazaar and the canteen; their tastes and pursuits animal; mind a blank; the body a ready prey to disease. Absolutely no good result was to be gained from official reports on these points, and suggestions for improvements. I addressed letters to the journals in the hope of enlisting attention in favour of- station reading rooms, lecture rooms, etc., but with the result that little notice was taken of my representations.

In the 10th Regiment itself; through the action of two or three officers, some of the soldiers enrolled their names as members of a "Mutual Improvement Society." Meetings were held; tea and other light refreshments served in view to attracting men; lectures and demonstrations given on such subjects as Forts and Battles mentioned in the Bible,' Strata of the Earth's Surface, Uses of the Human Body; classes for reading and writing also set on foot. Not long thereafter, a General Officer, by order of the Commander-in-Chief; arrived at Wuzzeerabad "to put a stop to so dangerous an association." Military opinion was not then ripened for the innovation.

After some delay, and with considerable difficulty, a Book Club for the soldiers was launched in the regiment; the officers were already well provided in that respect. As with the one class, so with the other, works on "service" subjects were mostly read, but intellectual occupation was thus available whereby to pass the weary and exhausting days of the hot season. [Recollecting these endeavours made by a small number of us in 1853 to advance the intellectual condition of the British soldier in India, the few of us who still live attach suggestive significance to the extract now given from the most interesting work by Lord Roberts, entitled Forty-one Years in India. Under the date 1887 he wrote: "My name appeared in the Jubilee Gazelle as having been given the Grand Cross of the Indian Empire, but what I valued still more was the acceptance by the Government of India of my strong recommendation for the establishment of a Club or Institute in every British regiment and battery in India. Lord Dufferin' Government met my views in the most liberal spirit, and, with the sanction of Lord Cross, 'The Regimental Institute' became a recognised establishment."]

The second hot season of our residence at Wuzzeerabad proved even more severe than the first upon the health of our soldiers, large numbers of whom suffered from illness special to the climate and locality. Unfortunately for those so prostrated, the apathy and indifference of the native servants connected with the hospital were such that many lives were thus sacrificed which under more favourable circumstances would in all probability have been saved. For example :—A soldier in barracks, during the hottest hours of the day, is discovered by his comrades to be seized with heat apoplexy, or to be suffering from the scarcely less alarming symptoms of ardent fever. He is by them placed in a dooly and so dispatched to hospital. The bearers who carry him are indifferent to life and suffering among themselves, but if possible more so in respect to the white man, and so their pace is by no means rapid. They reach the "surgery"; but there, if they find no one present, they put their dooly down, while they themselves sit in the verandah to smoke, perhaps to sleep. After an interval more or less long, the presence of the sick—it may be unconscious—soldier is discovered; the circumstance, after another interval, comes, or is brought to the knowledge of the subordinate, who, just roused from his siesta, and considerably narcotised by his "hookah," takes time to collect his energies, and so be able to visit him. Even then the actual nature and severity of the attack is not always recognised and dealt with so when the surgeon pays his evening visit, the patient is dead.

Among those struck down by severe illness was my dear wife, vitality brought to so low an ebb that only by holding a hand mirror to her lips and observing the slight moisture left thereon could the fact be realized that she still breathed. In this our time of trial, sympathy and aid came unexpectedly, but not from sources whence they were looked for as an outcome of services rendered. When her removal became practicable, she proceeded by dooly dâk towards Murree, then newly established as a hill station and sanatorium. Our cavalcade—for I was of the party—crossed the Chenab, partly by boat, partly by being carried through shallow water and marshy tracts. Arrived at Goojerat, the field of battle, at a little distance from the city, was found to be so overrun by vegetation as to be recognisable only by monuments to individual officers erected on spots where they had fallen. The day wore on; a messenger arrived, bringing, with "salaam from the Collector Sahib,"' soup and other delicacies suitable for an invalid and infants. He had heard casually that a lady, severely ill, was in the dâk bungalow; hence this outcome of kind thoughtfulness towards complete strangers to him, as we were.

Jhelum, on the river so named, was the next stage of our anxious journey. Thence, next night to Pucka Serai. Arrived at the dâk bungalow, it was found that the building intended for travellers consisted of one room; in it a single bedstead, on which lay an elderly field officer, who, in transit to the hills, had arrived shortly before us. Attendants were absent; supplies unobtainable; there was no alternative but to carry my sick wife from her dooly and place her alongside the sick officer. How the child and infant fared all day is not recorded. Resuming our weary way as the cool breezes of evening set in, early morning found us at Rawul Pindee, then as still a favoured military station. Thence, in evening, towards the foot of the hilly range towards which our journey was directed. Night had closed in before the actual ascent began. As yet there existed no road properly so called. Progress was slow: rocks and boulders in the way caused many difficulties; but these surmounted, the light of our torches showed that in our progress we had attained a region of precipices, rugged valleys, and rapidly running streams.

As morning dawned we were set down at Trait, a place the loveliness of which—surrounded by pine-covered hills; its rich green vegetation, the purling rivulets that traversed the valley, the coolness of the breeze that wafted over us—all these, delightful in themselves, exerted upon my wife an effect to be described as magical. Then it was that from her dooly the pale, emaciated form emerged. Enthusiastically she clutched a twig of pine tree I had just cut; its grateful resin scent brought to recollection associations of bygone days. From that moment her recovery began.

The further journey to Murree was continued, the cool air at the elevation of six to eight thousand feet, to which we had attained, enabling us to travel by day, instead of only by night as in the plains. A road was in course of being made, but as yet that by which we continued was little else than a rugged mountain path, leading upwards through forest composed of sycamore, pine, chestnut, and other trees familiar in our English woods ; the altered conditions of temperature, scenery, and general surroundings were health-giving in their effect. Before many hours had passed we were welcomed and hospitably received by our friends, Dr. and Mrs. Banon.

A few days elapsed, and through the station bazaar rumour circulated that on the 11th "a great earthquake would take place at Peshawur," "a native prophecy" having so declared. On the 13th information was received that on the 11th —namely, the date indicated—Major Mackeson, Chief Political Officer at Peshawur, had been assassinated by an Affghan from Jallahabad; the murderer having delivered his thrust raised his hand to repeat the blow, when—so it was stated—a native rushed between them and received it. Subsequent information led to the belief that the murder of political officers at various other seats of local government had been intended, the existence of a conspiracy with that object well known among the native population.

Rejoining the ioth without delay, like every other officer who observed the signs of the times, I could not help seeing that as an immediate outcome of the Peshawur murder, the aspect of public affairs, not only on the North-Western frontier, but throughout India, rapidly became such as to cause anxiety to administrators, while it led officers and soldiers to speculate on the chances of active service. The prime mover in the murder of Major Mackeson was believed to be Sadhut Khan, chief of the Lalpoora State. Immediately on the occurrence of the murder British troops were moved onwards from Rawul Pindee, orders issued for others to march from other stations to take their place. These proceedings occupied several days, as all such movements had to be performed on foot. In the meantime the troops arriving at Peshawur were received with signs of disaffection by the Mahomedans of that city; while Rawul Pindee, left for the time being with a diminished garrison, was threatened with attack by a band of Hazara men under an impostor named Peshora Singh, who pretended to be a son of Runjeet Singh. That attack did not take place, but a movement somewhat threatening in character was made towards Murree, at the time occupied by invalid soldiers and their families, wives of officers (mine included), and the small number of officials required for the inconsiderable dimensions it had then attained.

On the night of September 28, some hours after darkness had closed in, messengers sent round for that purpose spread the alarm throughout that station that the Hazarees were rapidly advancing up the hill towards it; orders at the same time issued by which all should forthwith repair to the residence of the Commissioner, leaving their houses "standing." A heavy thunderstorm prevailed at the time; lightning flashes at intervals lit up the miry pathways along which the ladies and children had perforce to walk, in some instances a distance of a couple of miles. My own dear wife, as yet unrecovered, and unequal to such an exertion, was carried, together with her two children, and so reached the general rendezvous, where earlier arrivals had barricaded themselves as best they could by means of tables, chairs, and other articles of furniture. Meanwhile the Commissioner collected such officers, soldiers, and police as could be brought together in the emergency. Marching as best they could in the darkness, they came in contact with the rebels at daylight, and after a smart skirmish dispersed them, the Commissioner being wounded in the rencontre.

By the middle of October my wife, though far from restored to health, was sufficiently well to return with her two children to the plains. Starting from Murree in the evening, her palanquin-bearers speedily showed themselves to be ill-disposed; while she, unprovided with a guard, as some other ladies had been, was rendered helpless in what proved to be a most painful position. Frequent halts, unnecessary delays, repeated demands for buxees (presents), and general disregard of her requests to keep the palanquins together, continued throughout the long dreary hours of darkness, and well on in the following day. It was afternoon before she was deposited at the dâk bungalow of Rawul Pindee; but the party conveying her infant was nowhere in sight, nor could tidings of it be obtained. Thus did several hours pass. Then it was that the arrival of an officer I enabled my wife to communicate to him her state of anxiety and alarm. Without delay he proceeded to the residence of General Breton, in command, with the result that a cavalry escort was dispatched in search of the missing ones. Another period of delay, fear, and anxiety, and the palanquin with the infant arrived. It appeared that her carriers had simply deposited her on the roadside in the jungle, and dispersed. What might have happened is painful to contemplate.

For some time past a charitable hospital for the benefit of the native population in and around cantonments had been maintained by subscriptions and other contributions from officers of our regiments, the professional duties connected therewith being performed by myself. Gratitude on the part of those who benefitted by that institution was never expressed verbally, and in many instances not at all; indeed, claims were in some made for pecuniary reward, on the plea that individuals had submitted themselves to be operated upon. In a few instances, however, active gratitude was expressed, even in a somewhat demonstrative manner. The use of chloroform was then in its very early stages. In the instance of a child, that anaesthetic was administered while it lay placidly in its mother's arms. When under the influence of the drug, the little patient was gently lifted, placed upon a table, operated upon, then replaced in the position from which it had been taken, still apparently asleep, and placid. The surprise of the mother was very great; the whole thing declared by her to be jadoo - that is, witchcraft.


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