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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter XXIII


1862-1864. DEVON PORT—CALCUTTA

Paris- Versailles—Champ de Mars—An incident—Rouen—Proceed to IndiaCalcutta—A viJlaige of subjects—Continued —A painful incident—State trial —Sea transport—General events-43rd Regiment-More "news"—Scenes revisited—A rough journey—hill coolies- Darjeeling—Sinchal—Nunsook - Rungeet—Pilgrims—Locusts--A happy event—Death of Lord Elgin—Agricultural Exhibition—Sittana—Spring sickness—Sanitary Commission formed —General news—Indigo—Cyclone—History of "Masterly inactivity."

ADMINISTRATIVE duties in the Western Military District of England, of which Devonport was, and still is, the Headquarters, were peaceful, and so contrasted with events during the past few years, as already recorded. In due time—the first for several years—I applied for and obtained the usual two months' leave accorded annually to officers serving at home. With my wife I proceeded to Paris, where time passed agreeably and profitably in visiting places of historical, artistic, and scientific interest, and in exploring public buildings and monuments with which that very beautiful city abounds.

On that occasion the French capital was en fete, the King of Holland being on a visit to Napoleon the Third; military displays on a grand scale the order of the day. One such display being arranged to take place at Versailles, we joined the crowds proceeding thither from St. Lazare. Having visited the château and its surroundings, we had the opportunity, while in the latter, of meeting the young Prince Imperial, then little more than seven years old, as he rode a small pony, accompanied and guarded by a group of attendants. Within the château we visited the various salons open to the public, among them the Salon de la Guerre and Grande Galerie des Glaces, little thinking as we did so that they were to be revisited under very different circumstances.

An important "function," at which we "assisted," was a grand review at the Champ de Mars, where 40,000 troops paraded for the purpose, accompanied by an imposing military train, and an efficient-looking pontoon train. The precision with which the various battalions and other bodies of troops took up their assigned positions was striking, giving to a looker-on the impression of a high state of efficiency. With the Champ de Mars I was to become unpleasantly acquainted eight years subsequently.

During our visit an incident took place which may be mentioned in these notes. While at the table d'hote one morning I got into conversation with a lady whose seat adjoined my own. In the course of talk the subject of the late expedition to China being alluded to, she mentioned the name of the officer whose death at Hong-Kong has been already recorded. I related to her some of the particulars already given, among others his request that I should destroy the mysterious parcel, and the fulfilment by me of that his dying request. As I did so, the lady seemed surprised; she informed me that her daughter, then seated at her left side, had been engaged to Captain M----, and she doubted not that the parcel in question contained the letters of the fair fiancée, whose health had given way, and on whose account both were now travelling.

A short but very pleasant visit over, I took leave of the fascinating capital, little thinking of the conditions under which my acquaintance with it was to become more intimate a few years thereafter. On our homeward journey a short stay was made at Rouen. To us that city had several points of interest, including its traditional association with the closing scene in the life of Joan of Arc, with its attendant barbarities; and as the capital whence William started on his conquest of England, the Caserne de Bonnes Nouvelles now occupying the site of the palace where Matilda received "the good news" of that conquest. Interesting also in that its cathedral contains the heart of Richard Cour de Lion, together with a monument to that monarch. But the edifice which seemed to us the architectural gem was the church of St. Ouen, dating, it was said, from A.D. 533, and in its present form from 1318; with its numerous windows of stained glass, its western portal and arcade, its sculptured vase, from the surface of the "holy" water contained in which a reflected view is seen of the roof through its entire extent, including the exquisite workmanship of its ornamentation.

Returned to duty at Devonport, an intimation soon reached me that I was again to proceed on foreign service. A few days sufficed to make the necessary arrangements for my dear wife, who, with the children, must be left behind. Then came in quick succession orders to embark for Calcutta; then the very painful ordeal of leave-taking; then embarkation at Southampton on board the P. and O. SS. Ripon, September 4, 1862, and away from England for a sixth tour abroad.

Arrived at Calcutta, I was appointed to administrative charge of the Presidency and Benares divisions, the duties connected with the former including charge of the office of Inspector-General, and inspections of all ships arriving or departing with troops, all those combined functions being of a much more arduous nature than at the time I was able to appreciate.

The cold season had set in, and with its advent the usual influx of higher officials to the Indian capital. Lord Elgin, recently appointed Governor-General, carried with him sympathetic feeling towards those who had lately served in China, and in this spirit extended his civility to myself, as to some others who had but lately arrived. It was while partaking of Viceregal hospitality that I met Admiral Sir James Hope, who had given such material help to the hospital for Chinese we had established at Tientsin. With him I discussed the question mooted in China of establishing at Nagasaki a sanatorium for invalid soldiers and sailors employed at various places on, and in vessels off, the coast; but, as I think unfortunately for both those classes, the proposal never came to anything.

The unusual mélange of subjects which gave rise to comment in Calcutta at the same time was in its way remarkable. The ex-King of Delhi had very recently died at Rangoon. The King of Greece was reported to have abdicated, and together with his queen fled from his kingdom. A crisis had occurred in Prussia. The Emperor of Austria was about to be crowned as King of Hungary. In America, a Proclamation had declared the emancipation of the slaves, various reports reaching us of threatened risings and other complications as outcomes of that measure. In the columns of some English journals, strong comments with regard to British policy in China in taking military action against the Taiping rebels. In Japan, a revolution, the city of Yedo destroyed by the insurgents. In the Straits of Corea, the Russians induced to abandon the island, of which they had quietly taken possession during the earlier stages of the Anglo-French expedition against China. Garibaldi wounded; a consultation of surgeons as to whether the bullet was in the wound or not—one would think, not a very difficult enigma to solve by men of experience in the field. The coming of age of the Prince of Wales, together with the honours and promotions announced on that auspicious occasion. The nomination of Prince Alfred to the throne of Greece. The proposed mediation by France between the Northern and Southern States of America, and failure of that attempt. The endeavours made to diminish as far as possible difficulties into which Lancashire weavers had fallen. Such are a few of the outside matters to which conversation in Calcutta was directed.

Among those more nearly connected with India was the report contained in the home papers of the Court-Martial---at the time notorious— having reference to the circumstances under which the death took place of the Sergeant-Major of the 6th Dragoons at Mhow. A very unpleasant incident at a Service Club was the subject of comment; the action taken with regard to it by the officer in chief command being discussed in terms more energetic than flattering. Towards the end of the cold season the ceremony took place of consecrating the well at Cawnpore into which were thrown the victims of the saddest of all sad episodes connected with the Mutiny of 1857.

There seemed to be a lull in the current of events in India; but not in those relating to various European nations, and to America. The insurrection which for some time past has been in progress in Poland was said to have assumed increased proportions. In England, the approaching marriage of the Prince of Wales was the subject of loyal excitement throughout the country. In America renewed endeavours to bring about cessation of the Civil War had so far proved futile.

With the advance of the hot season came the usual influx of sick officers from the interior, on their way home if possible, or to be treated in the hospital provided for their care by the Indian Government. Among them the story of one was very sad, and at the same time illustrative of that of many others. Brought to a hotel, together with his wife, a girl in age, he was found, when first seen by a medical officer, to be dying, consciousness all but gone; his wife unaware of his actual condition; both without friend or even acquaintance in Calcutta. There was no time for delay or ceremony. I accordingly informed her at once how desperate was his state, asking at the same time if she knew what was the position of his worldly affairs. Her reply: "Not more than the child unborn." I led her to the couch of the expiring man, and asked directly, "Where is your will?" He muttered rather than intelligibly expressed a reply, which seemed, however, to give his young wife the requisite indication. Within an hour thereafter he was dead. The widow and her infant had to be left for the time being in the apartment immediately adjoining that in which lay the corpse of her husband, until, with the Indian hospitality of that day, a resident family were communicated with, and sent their carriage for her and her infant; both of whom were cared for until arrangements were completed, and the bereaved ones some weeks thereafter sailed for England.

A good deal of talk was current in reference to two noted State trials of chiefs who had taken an active part in murders and other atrocities committed in connection with the Mutiny, but who had only recently come within the clutches of the law, notably at Lucknow and Bombay. At this time emissaries of the Nana were believed to be actively at work, the general impression being that he was alive and in Nepaul, whence he continued to issue instructions to sympathisers.

The near prospect of the canal across the Isthmus of Suez being completed, as well as some other considerations, led to a reconsideration by the authorities of the general question relating to the transport of troops between England and India, and vice versa'. Experience had recently shown the inconvenience and military objections against the long sea route via the Cape, including the long period during which to all intents and purposes troops in transit are non-effective. Statistics had so far been unfavourable in regard to the results obtained by sending to hill "sanatoria" soldiers suffering from organic illness. These circumstances were deemed of sufficient importance to justify inquiry into the whole matter, the outcome of the investigation being a scheme in accordance with which a line of Indian troopships was some time thereafter established.

Several circumstances combined to occupy public as well as official attention. The death of Dost Mahomed was followed by fratricidal wars between his sons; these conflicts were to continue during the next few years, and become historically interesting because of the policy of "masterly inactivity" observed towards the contending parties. Relations between England and Russia were in a strained condition; with Japan so unsatisfactory that the dispatch thither of a military force was contemplated. A certain amount of excitement was kept alive by rumours, more or less plausible, that the Nana was alive and active; first one suspect and then another was captured, but only to be set at liberty by judicial authority.

The dispatch of the 43rd Light Infantry for service in New Zealand was in Calcutta looked upon as quite an important event; arrangements for transport presented no difficulty whatever, but it was impossible to provide the regiment with equipment of a kind suitable for the service on which they were proceeding, for however well adapted for the circumstances of India is that authorized by regulations of the country, it is ill adapted for others in which camels and elephants as beasts of burthen are unobtainable.

From different parts of India came reports of disaffection, while from some, including Sittana, came accounts of actual outbreaks—fanalical, they were called. Early in October information reached us that under Admiral Kuper the British fleet had opened fire upon and destroyed the forts at Kagosima, though not without heavy loss to his own officers and men. Orders had been issued in England for the dispatch of reinforcements thither, and instructions to the same effect have been received by the Government of India.

In course of duty I visited the several stations within the divisions already named at which British troops were quartered, renewing acquaintance with places formerly well known, and connected with which were various associations, pleasant and otherwise. Of such places were the jungle road leading from Arrah to Jugdispore, so familiar in connection with service there; Beehea, where our force was suddenly attacked by Koer Singh's rebel sepoys; Jounpore, through the streets of which city in dead of night our field force marched towards what proved to be a somewhat severe action at Teegra, listening as we proceeded to the sound of "grinders" at their "mills," by which alone silence was broken; Azimghur, with the compound in which under fire from sepoy rifles we bivouacked, the line of march, and scene of action by our force against the besieging mutineers.

On that tour of inspection duty the journey from Dinapore to Darjeeling was attended by incidents of which the following are examples :—A hitch and consequent delay in regard to transit arrangements; several hours by railway train; a night spent in a wattle-anddaub hut called a dâk bungalow; twenty odd miles by steamer on the Ganges; starting by palanqueen; a break-down; return on foot several miles to the place whence I had so proceeded; delay and trouble in obtaining another conveyance of the same kind; another start; a short rest in the house of a hospitable civil servant; then on by raised causeway through a long tract of swampy ground; rowed across a broad nullah, and then the land journey resumed. After a little the discovery was made that the carrier of the luggage had dropped out of sight, nor could his whereabouts be discovered. On arriving at the "stage" where a relay of bearers was expected, there were none in waiting; the old ones heavily bribed continued, but at a slow pace, with many intervals to rest and indulge in smoking. Two more stages had to be got over in much the same manner, and then on reaching the rest house at the foot of the ascent towards Darjeeling, no provision whatever had been made for progress onward. Starting on foot, some four or five miles were got over, when meeting a native leading a small horse, or tat, bare backed, without halter or other substitute than a rope around its neck, I mounted the animal, but unable to guide it, had to resume walking, and so in time got over twenty out of the thirty miles that separate Punkabaree from the popular hill station. Railway transit between Calcutta and Darjeeling was in the far future.

In the near vicinity of Darjeeling numerous hillmen were employed improving and remodelling the road along which my walk lay. The general aspect presented by them Was miserable and unpleasant. Tartar in feature and costume, the majority distinguished by queue or "pigtail"; many affected with goitre, others with large foul ulcers on legs or feet, unprotected by dressing of any kind,—the ulcers said to result from wounds inflicted by a poisonous fly abundantly met with here and hereabout.

In the early hours of the following morning a magnificent view of the snowy range, including the peaks of Mount Everest and Kinchinjunga was obtained, all reflecting brilliantly the first rays of sunlight, but later on becoming obscured by mist.

An experimental station for troops had some few years previously been established at Sinchal, situated on a mountain spur about a thousand feet higher than Darjeeling itself. Thither I went in course of duty, but only to learn how hateful the place was to officers and men quartered there, isolated, and for the most part concealed in cloud or mist as it was, the atmosphere damp, cold, and chilly. That the experiment was a failure was evident, but some time had yet to elapse before it was so acknowledged officially, and abandoned.

Situated in a deep valley, ten or twelve miles from Darjeeling, and at a level of four thousand feet below that station, are the mineral wells of Nunsook; the intervening spurs and ranges for the most part under cultivation with tea, coffee, or cinchona. Between us and the wells the Rungnoo River rushed in curling foam along its rocky bed, leaping as it went, as a cascade of considerable height and volume. Crossing that stream by a wooden bridge, then ascending among the rocks to a little distance, we reached the object of our journey. So deep and narrow is the mountain rent in which the chalybeate spring issues from the rock, that sunlight reaches it during no more than two hours daily. In its immediate neighbourhood was a hut in which a few British soldiers were accommodated, also "experimentally" to test the beneficial qualities of the spring. No wonder that they wished themselves with their regiment, or anywhere except at the well of Nunsook.

Another excursion was to the valley of the Rungeet River, some fourteen miles distant from Darjeeling, and forming the boundary between British India and Sikkim. The descent is steep; as we proceeded we met numbers of hillmen toiling upwards, bearing heavy loads in kalbas or baskets upon their backs—women were similarly engaged—the goods so carried consisting in a great part of borax, spices, and other "fragrant" substances, including asafoetida,—some of the people so fair that a rosy tint was on their faces. As we descended into the deep and narrow valley the snowy range, at first so prominent an object, became lost to view, precipices shut us in on either side, trees of great size rising from ledges or projecting from crevices. The Rungeet rushed as a large green-coloured stream along its rugged bed, at short intervals curling in white foam as it eddied around rocks or leaped in cascades over ledges; at a short distance from where we now were it joins the Rungnoo, the united stream so formed being the Teesta, which finally discharges itself into the Brahmapootra. Crossing the Rungeet by what seemed a very frail and unsteady bridge of cane,' we arrived in Sikkim, the span of the construction by which we did so being two hundred feet, the roaring torrent rushing beneath us. Such was the character of one part of the sphere in which in 1861 military operations had to be conducted against that region, including the transport of guns and supplies.

The return journey from Darjeeling was in some respects little less unpleasant than that to it had been. Arrived at Raneegunge, it became necessary to proceed towards the station of Hazarabagh, and for that purpose to take "garry" along some part of the Grand Trunk Road, by which in 1859 I had marched with the 10th Foot when en route for England. In the course of that journey crowds of pilgrims were encountered, each bearing upon his forehead the distinctive mark of the Hindoo sect to which he belonged, and carrying the pilgrim's gourd so familiar to us in medieval pictures; all were devout in aspect and manner; some performing penance by crawling on hands and knees—a mode of progression by which the distance daily got over by them was said to be about one mile. And yet the majority of them had come from Ajudiah (Fyzabad), and were on their way to Juggurnath.

Two days thereafter I traversed a flight of locusts. Seen from a distance the mass looked somewhat like a snow shower in a clear sunshiny day, the apparent breadth of the flight over a mile, its length six or eight; the road and bare soil on either side completely covered by those that had fallen or alighted; the sound made by those still on the wing distinct and rustling. The conditions alluded to in this and the preceding paragraph illustrate those which existed while railways were in their early stages.

The arrival of my beloved wife on December 13 was an event to be chronicled, though for the time being a boarding-house was the substitute for the home to which I could take her. Like so many other ladies similarly situated, she had to place her children at school as best she could, and then take leave of them to join her husband in India. The necessity of so parting with one's children is one of the greatest drawbacks of service in India, or indeed anywhere in the tropics; it is lamented by all who are affected by it, and by none more than by ourselves. And yet it is unavoidable. Various instances illustrative of unsatisfactory results arising out of this necessity occur to the mind of most men of experience, not the least being that sons and daughters are thrown more or less at haphazard upon those whose method and manner of training is destined to determine the style of their own lives and the relations in which they are to stand with their parents.

The somewhat sudden death of Lord Elgin, while on tour, was followed by very general expression of sympathy; among those who had been associated with him in China, and so had opportunities of estimating his amiable and upright character, the sentiment was one of regret and esteem. But in India, as elsewhere—le Roi est mort; Viz'e le Roi Sir John Lawrence arrived from England ere many weeks were over; was received by a guard of honor; duly sworn in, and matters official proceeded in their ordinary course.

For the first time, and as an experiment, an Agricultural Exhibition was organized and took place. The variety of animals brought from all parts of British India was great; so was that of native contributors and visitors; but there was reason to believe that lively interest on the part of the latter was sadly lacking; they thought of the entire proceeding in the light of a mere tornasluzh, or "hubbub," and nothing more.

In the further north,—namely, on the Sittana frontier,—the "rising" among some tribes of that region had just been suppressed; that favourable end attained in part by means of a military expedition, in part by persuasion, otherwise diplomacy.

Experience had long taught residents in Lower Bengal that the period of early spring is that when cholera is most to be dreaded, alike in respect to the suddenness of its attack and its fatality. The 55th Regiment, recently arrived and temporarily encamped at Raneegunge, became somewhat severely attacked by that scourge. Various instances of sudden death occurred from the same cause among old Calcutta residents, and the health of others began to droop; among them my wife.

Soon after the direct government of India had been assumed by the Crown, a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into sanitary questions relating chiefly to the British troops in that dependency, and also to the native population whether in cities, villages, or rural districts; their deliberations were necessarily protracted. In due course their report was published, and now the new Governor-General issued the necessary orders for the appointment, in Calcutta, of a Commission to give effect to their recommendations, familiarly referred to as the Thirty-nine Articles, that being their number. On that Commission I was appointed to serve.' It began its labours with enthusiasm, in the belief that by measures to be recommended by it the havoc by sickness and death to which our troops had been subject during the long period of our hold on India were to be materially lessened, their condition generally improved. At this date the number of soldiers required to fill the vacancies so caused amounted to 240 per week, and this we hoped to reduce considerably.

Among the Wahabees 2 of India there existed wide-spread spirit of disaffection, Patna and Dacca being two important centres of its propagation. From Europe came news of war between Denmark on the one hand, Austria and Prussia on the other; the combined armies being in occupation of Schleswig. That America had claimed from England indemnity for losses inflicted by the Alabama 3 on the plea that as "290" she was built in a British dockyard. The request of the Pekin Government for British officers to act against the Taipings being acceded to, the list of those so "lent" included the name of Major C. G. Gordon, R.E., whose remarkable career had thus its starting point. From New Zealand came, unhappily, news of misfortune to the regiment recently dispatched from Calcutta to take part against the Maoris.

On the invitation of a friend- we proceeded to his indigo factory, and so had an opportunity of obtaining some interesting particulars with regard to that industry, the actual origin of which in India, seems to have been due to civil servants of the East India Company. South America is the region to which the growth and manufacture of the plant and dye originally pertained. When introduced into India, the cultivators grew it simply at the request of the civilian in his particular district, and for the profit of the latter; after a time overseers were employed, but as in those days the presence of "interlopers" was discouraged by the local government, the class of persons employed was not such as to exert upon the natives that moral influence which would have been beneficial as it was desirable. This state of things after a time gave place to a better; the presence of adventurers, as all who belonged not to the Indian service were called, had to be recognised, and so the indigo industry fell into the hands of men belonging to the middle class of British society. Then came what has ever since been looked upon as class legislation, the effect of which is considered to have been friction and disaccord between cultivators and planters.

One of the most severe hurricanes recorded in this part of India occurred on the night of October 7; the devastation caused by it on land, at sea, and in the river Hooghly, being great and extensive. Off Calcutta ships were driven from their moorings and wrecked; in some instances in tiers. So high did the storm-wave rise that the river overflowed the high embankment, carrying with it one or two vessels, one of which was left stranded near the Botanic Gardens; many houses were damaged, some completely destroyed; trees in all directions were prostrated, among them the once famous "duelling tree," under the shade of which in early morning "meetings" took place in days not long past, and "honour" was satisfied—at the distance of twelve paces.

Regarding hurricanes, the first of which definite record is available swept over Calcutta in 1737. An extremely violent one happened in 1821, on which occasion the storm-wave covered Saugor Island, destroying immense numbers of people, cattle, and wild animals. Another took place in 1842, then in 1851, and now in 1864, indicating something like a cycle, varying from eleven to thirteen years between their occurrence.

The significance of some among the public events alluded to in the preceding notes transpired in years subsequent to their actual occurrence; the following brief summary relating to the chief performers in that drama is accordingly given here. From the death of Dost Mahomed, in June, 1863, till September, 1868, his third son, Sheer Ali Khan, who, with the sanction of the Government of India, succeeded him on the throne of Affghanistan, passed through a very stormy time. His two elder brothers, Afzul and Azim, and his nephew, Abdur Rahman (the present ruler), were in revolt against him. His favourite son and heir-apparent, Ali Khan, was killed in action in 1865. In 1866 he was defeated near Ghazni by Abdar Rahman, who released his father, Afzul, from prison, into which he had been cast by Sheer Au, led him in triumph to Cabul, and proclaimed him Amir of Affghanistan. Afzul at once wrote to the Government of India, expressing a hope that as such the friendship of the British would be extended to him. He was informed in reply that the Government of Sir John Lawrence recognised him only as Ruler of Cabul; that as Sheer Ali held Kandahar and Herat, existing engagements with the latter could not be broken off. Afzul and Azim thereupon directed the Waziri chiefs in attendance at Court, together with the envoy, who had come from Swat to pay respects to the new Amir, to set on foot a holy war against the English, while an emissary was sent on a secret mission to Russia. In 1867 Sheer Ali was again defeated near Khelat-i-Ghilsie, and lost Kandahar. On this fact being communicated to the Government of India, Afzul Khan was in his turn recognised as Amir of Cabul and Kandahar, Sir John Lawrence at the same time informing him that the British Government intended to maintain a strict neutrality between the contending parties in Affghanistan. This policy on the part of the Governor- General was at the time called, often in sarcastic terms, "masterly inactivity." Under the circumstances of the time, such public opinion as found expression in Calcutta approved of the policy in question. But neither to Afzul nor Azim was that policy satisfactory. They sent a copy of the letter conveying the decision of Sir John Lawrence to the Russian Governor of Tashkend, who was informed by Afzul that he had no confidence in the "Lord Sahib's" fine professions of friendship; that he was disgusted with the British Government for the ingratitude and ill-treatment shown towards his brother Azim, who, it was asserted, had encouraged his father, Post Mahomed Khan, not to disturb the Peshawurfrontier during the Mutiny.


 


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