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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter XII


1854-1856. MEEAN-MEER - ABERDEEN

An unpropitious New Year—Depart for India—A quotation—Distilling water— First news of Sepoy mutiny - Madras - Conditions at Calcutta - The Soorma - Terrible tales - Berhampore - Rajmahal - Bhaugulpore - Monghyr—Delhi and Agra cut off—Rejoin the 10th.

THE year 1857 began with me inauspiciously. Unrecovered from illness, it was necessary that I should proceed to the metropolis, there to appear before a Medical Board. A short extension of leave being granted by that tribunal, the fact was communicated in a manner personally offensive, with the intimation superadded that if at the expiration of the period I was still unfit to join my regiment, I must make way for a more efficient officer.

The aspect of affairs, so far as I was concerned, was gloomy. On the one hand I had the prospect of half-pay for an indefinite time, on a rate' quite insufficient to meet the ordinary needs of myself and family; on the other, to return to India in the state of physical illness in which I then was. Taking an estimate of my worldly means, the circumstance came out that from insurance, and small amount of investments as they then stood, comparing the result with income on half-pay, the receipts of my wife as a widow would exceed by a trifling amount that to which I should be entitled in the alternative first named. Thereupon decision was quickly made; a solicitor prepared my "last will and testament." I placed the document in the writing portfolio of my wife; took leave of her as she lay weak and ill in bed started away to rejoin my regiment, the children clapping their little hands as I did so, and shouting, "Papa's gone away for toys."

Embarking at Gravesend, the earlier part of our voyage was without special incident. The excellent selection of books sent on board for the use of the troops—for a considerable number were being conveyed to India—enabled those who so desired to get through a good deal of reading. A passage in one of those works seemed so appropriate at the time to personal conditions that it was duly noted; namely, "The evil we suffer is often a counter-check which restrains us from greater evil, or a spur to stimulate us to good. We should therefore consider everything, not according to present sensation of pain, or the present loss or injury it occasions, but according to its more general, remote, and permanent effects and bearings—whether our higher faculties are not brought more into play, and our mental powers more invigorated by the meditation and experiments necessary to secure ourselves."

A considerable part of the voyage passed without special incident. Some "heavy" weather was experienced, but in that respect nothing unusual or of a kind likely to do harm to ship or stores. Great, therefore, was the consternation with which we learnt that water casks and tanks had so suffered that the sea water had got into and rendered their contents unusable. At the time we were in the latitude of the Mauritius, and about twelve hundred miles east of that island. What was to be done? The chief officer and myself devised a distilling apparatus, constructed with kettles, boilers, gun-barrels, and leaden pipes of sorts. Our success was considerable; some twenty gallons of "fresh" water were thus obtained throughout the day, and so on during twenty-two that had to pass before land was reached, though from some of our lady passengers comments were not wanting as to the "nasty" taste of the product. Meanwhile fuel ran short; bulkheads and spars bad to be utilised; our ship reduced to skeleton state. In that condition we arrived off Madras and anchored.

The news we there received was at the moment astounding, as it was unexpected. The greater part of the Bengal army in open mutiny; sepoys murdering their officers, together with their wives and children; widespread disaffection among the native troops of both the other Presidencies. As written at the time, and when the intelligence was fresh: "It appears that the ostensible cause of the outbreak was the issue of cartridges greased with animal fat. But for a long time past • deep-rooted determination has existed among the natives to throw off foreign yoke, and to raise for themselves a king of the Delhi line of succession. Large numbers of mutineers are said to have fled to the imperial city; many officers and their families have been massacred."

At Madras the state of things indicated that something very serious and unusual was in progress. European residents enrolled as volunteers; Fort St. George in process of being manned and provisioned; ammunition got ready for immediate use; at each post where stood a native sentry there was also placed a British soldier, or pensioner, the latter "embodied" and armed for the occasion. The regiment' in the fort was held ready for emergencies; so were, the artillery at St. Thomas' Mount. The Mahomedan inhabitants of Triplicane, a suburb of Madras, were declared to be in open revolt.

At the mouth of the Hooghly the arrival of the pilot on board was eagerly looked for, his recital of news listened to with painful interest. In that recital particulars were given of murder and atrocities committed by mutineers on women and children, the names of the victims at the same time given. Disembarking at Calcutta early in August, unusual military turmoil was in progress. At short intervals throughout the city parties of extemporised volunteers were posted; Fort William was in course of reinforcement; the streets were patrolled by armed parties of Europeans, while everywhere an air of unrest seemed to prevail. At Government House sentries of the Body Guard were on duty, their arms the ramrods of their carbines. An impression existed that as the date was that of the Mahomedan festival, the Buckraeed, the occasion was likely to be celebrated by an attack on the capital—a belief which derived support from the fact that a spy from the King of Oude, then at Garden Reach, had been captured while conveying a traitorous letter, his trial and execution following thereupon without much delay. Other preparations in progress indicated the conditions of the time; accommodation, stores of food and clothing, as well as other requirements, were being got ready in anticipation of women and children, survivors from deeds of blood at upcountry stations, who were known to be on their way hither. Comments were very freely made on the energy displayed by commanders in some instances, in contrast with pusillanimity in others.

A passage order obtained, I embarked as deck passenger—for there was no spare cabin—on board the river flat Soorma, proceeding with a body of Sikh troops and their officers, Sir James Outram and staff being in the steamer to which the Soo-ma was connected. On the day of our departure we met in the Hooghly a steamer and its flat, both crowded with ladies and children who had succeeded in effecting their escape, but whose husbands, fathers, or other relations had for the most part fallen victims at their respective stations.

Very terrible were the tales some of the "refugees," as they were called, told of atrocities committed within their own knowledge, or of which they had received what in their estimate was authentic information. A few examples must suffice :—Two young ladies 1 stripped naked, tied to hackeries, and so driven through the streets, then dishonoured by sweepers and barbarously murdered. A lady tied up in her own house, and so forced to witness the murder of her husband. An officer, to save his wife and child from dishonour and abuse, shot them both, before being himself cut down. The massacre at Cawnpore perpetrated by bazaar butchers employed for the purpose. A young lady with her own hand killing five of her assailants, then throwing herself upon her sword rather than fall into the hands of their fellows. A lady, with her husband and child, while endeavouring to escape on horseback; her husband dying in the jungle as a result of exposure; she forced to abandon his corpse, and with her child continue their flight. And so on.

At Berhampore, the 11th Irregular Cavalry and 63rd N.I. had recently been disarmed; their horses and arms collected around the military hospital; that building put into a state of defence; houses in its vicinity in process of destruction; guns and other arms being sent into the station by the Nawab of Moorshedabad.

At Rajmahal news received that mutineers besieging Arrah had been dispersed; that "something" had happened to a party of the 10th. Havelock's force, in its advance on Lucknow, severely seized by cholera; losses by death, and inefficiency by sickness so great that he was under the necessity of returning to Cawnpore, there to dispose of sick, and obtain reinforcements preparatory to resuming his advance. Sorties by the rebels in Delhi repulsed with heavy loss to them; Lord Elgin arrived at Calcutta, accompanied by some marines and artillery; other reinforcements expected to arrive in a few days.

At Bhaugulpore the display of the Union Jack from a Mahomedan mosque indicated the fact that the edifice was occupied by British troops. We learned also that a portion of the 5th Irregular Cavalry, suspected of mutinous intentions, were about to be disbanded by the 90th Regiment in progress up country; that a few days previous men of the former corps, occupying a station in near vicinity of this place, murdered Sir Norman Leslie, one of their officers, and wounded several others; that, notwithstanding these circumstances, the officer in command urged his confidence in the loyalty of his men, as a reason that they should be spared from the disgrace of being disarmed. His prayer was acceded to. That night the men deserted their officers, rode off with their horses to join the 32nd N.I., at Deoghur.

Monghyr was in a state of panic; a small body of the Northumberland Fusiliers, aided by residents, doing their best to put the dilapidated fort in a state of defence, and making other preparations against possible emergency.

Communication with Agra and Delhi only practicable via Bombay; all direct telegraph wires destroyed; military and residents at the first- named place, secure within the fort, declaring themselves able "to hold out" for a long time, notwithstanding that in a sortie against the rebels they had suffered severely; at Delhi offensive measures against mutineers languishing by reason of heavy sickness and mortality among our troops besieging that city.

Rejoining the 10th at Dinapore, that station was seen to be without sepoy troops; the barracks formerly occupied by them deserted; the barrack square filled with refugees from neighbouring places. Next day the 9oth Regiment, in progress up country, was temporarily detained, as attack by mutineers was anticipated and had to be guarded against; a considerable number of the men fallen sick, had on that account to be landed, for they also were being conveyed by river. A few days thereafter a detachment of the 10th arrived from Jugdispore, at which place they inflicted considerable loss upon the mutineers, who had taken part in the disaster to be presently noticed as having befallen a portion of the regiment at Arrah. But continuity demands some particulars relating to events which led up to the disaster and expedition so alluded to.


 


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