1843. AT ALLAHABAD
I join the Buffs—An
execution parade—Remnants of 44th Regiment—Allahabad—Sickness—Papamow—Cobra
bite—Accident -Natural history—Agriculture—Locusts—Hindoo girl's
song—Society—Lord Sahibs—Their staffs—.Rumours of war—Preparations—The
start—Affairs in Gwalior—The Punjab.
EIGHTEEN months had
elapsed since the day when we left Chatham to that on which we joined
the distinguished regiment' of which I was a member, the manner of my
reception kind and friendly. As the regiment passed through Cawnpore, a
short halt was ordered to take place; the camp to be pitched on that
part of the parade ground, afterwards to be occupied by the defences in
connection with which the story of General Wheeler and his party has
left so many sad associations. The object of that halt appeared in
Division Orders— the carrying into execution of sentence of death passed
by General Court-Martial on a soldier of the regiment convicted of
murdering a comrade. This was to be the first regimental parade on which
I was to appear. By sunrise the troops were in their places, so as to
form three sides of a square, the fourth being partly occupied by the
construction above which the fatal beam and its supports stood
prominent. The procession of death began its march, the regimental band
wailing forth the Dead March; then came the coffin, carried by low-caste
natives; then the condemned man, ghastly pale, strongly guarded. Thus
did they proceed until they arrived at the place of execution. The eyes
of most of us were averted, and so we saw not the further details of the
sad drama. Regiment after regiment marched past the structure, from
which dangled the body of a man; thence to their respective barracks or
tents, their bands playing " rollicking" tunes.
Pleasant as novel were
the incidents of our march eastward along that most excellent highway,
the Grand Trunk Road. The early rouse, "striking" tents, the "fall in,"
the start while as yet stars glistened in the sky and dawn had not
appeared; then came the wild note of the coel as herald of coming day;
the gleam of blazing fire far ahead, indicating where the midway halt
was to take place, and morning coffee with biscuits was in readiness for
all. Resuming the day's journey, we reached the appointed camp ground by
8 a.m. Tents were quickly pitched on lines previously drawn by the
Quarter-master and his staff. Bath, a hearty breakfast, duty, shooting,
and other excursions occupied the day, then early dinner, early to bed,
and so ready to undergo similar routine on the morrow. In our progress
we passed through Futtehpore, a place to be subsequently the scene of
stubborn fight against mutineers in 1857.
Attached to the Buffs
were the remnants of what had been the 44th Regiment, now consisting of
a few men of whom the majority were mutilated or suffering from bodily
illness; the party under command of Captain Souter, by whose gallant
devotion to duty the regimental colour was saved two years previous when
our force was annihilated near the Khyber by Affghans, directed by Akbar
Pârâg, as the locality of
Allahabad was anciently called, is closely connected with Hindoo
tradition, and still retains a sacred character. At the date referred to
in the Ramayana it was a residence of a Rajah of "the powerful Kosalas,"
whose capital was Ajudyia, their country the modern Oude. Here it was
that Rama and Seeta crossed the Ganges in their progress to the jungles
of Dandaka, where shortly afterwards she was captured by Ravana and
carried away by him to Lunka, otherwise Ceylon. Within the fort, now
occupied by our regiment, is an underground temple dedicated to Siva,
its position believed to indicate the point where the mythical
Suruswatee joins the still sacred Ganges. On an enclosed piece of ground
stands one of six pillars assigned to Asoka, B.C. 240, bearing an
inscription of the period of Samudra Gupta, 2nd century A.D. That
pillar, having fallen, was restored by Jehangir, A. D. 1605 ; the fort
itself captured by the English from Shah Alum, A.D. 1765.
As the hot season
advanced, severe and fatal disease prevailed alarmingly among our men,
cholera and heat fever claiming victims after a few hours' illness.
Treatment applied by the younger medical officers in accordance with
theoretical school teaching was useless, nor was it till the regimental
surgeon (Dr. Macqueen) directed us to more practical methods that
anything approaching favourable results were attained. In these notes,
however, the intention is to omit professional matters.
A full company of our men
was sent to Papamow, situated on the right bank of the Ganges, six miles
distant, the object being to afford additional space to those within the
fort. Captain Airey, in command of the detachment, had been one of the
hostages in Affghanistan to Akbar Khan, and utilised on that occasion
his culinary talents by acting as cook to the party. For a time the men
enjoyed, and benefited by their change to country quarters. Towards the
end of the rainy season, however, malarial diseases attacked them to a
degree larger in proportion than their comrades in the fort;
consequently our detachment was ordered to rejoin Head-quarters.
A good deal of freedom
was allowed to the soldiers when first sent to the country place above
mentioned, one result being that crime was next to absent from among
them. A favourite amusement was shooting in the adjoining woods and
fields, and, unhappily for some of them, of bathing, notwithstanding
strict orders to the contrary, in the Ganges, then in full flood. On one
of those shooting excursions a soldier got bitten in the hand by a
cobra, the reptile being immediately killed, and brought in with him.
That the teeth penetrated was manifest by the wounds; yet, strange to
say, no serious results followed—a circumstance accounted for only by
supposing that the poison sacs must by some means have been emptied
immediately previous. Of those who insisted on entering the river, some
fell victims to their temerity.
The pursuit and study of
subjects relative to natural history furnished those of us whose
leanings were in those directions with continuous enjoyment and
profitable occupation. Visits by friends and small attempts at
hospitality came in as so many pleasant interludes. When neither of
these was practicable, a good supply of books and papers gave us variety
in the way of reading.
So time passed until the
month of September, when the cultivated fields were covered by heavy
crops special to this part of India. A sudden outburst of discordant
noises induces us to quit our quarters in search of the wherefore. A
dense cloud is seen in rapid advance from the south-east; myriads of
locusts, for of those insects it is composed, alight upon and by their
accumulated weight bear down the stems to which they cling. Next day a
similar flight is upon us, devouring every green thing; eight days
thereafter, a third, but it passed over the locality, obscuring the sky
as it did so.
The regimental mess house
occupied an elevated position adjoining and overlooking the Jumna, a
short distance above the confluence of that river with the Ganges, a
terrace pertaining to the building being a favourite resort whereon, in
the cool of the evening, it was usual for the officers to enjoy the
refreshing breeze, when there was any, and contemplate the unrippled
surface of the deep stream as it glided past. On one such evening, while
a number of us were so enjoying the scene, watching the lights of native
boats secured for the night to either bank, and listening to that
strange mixture of sounds to which natives give the name of music, a
series of what appeared to be floating lamps emerged from where the
boats lay thickest and glided along the stream. Here we witnessed the
scene alluded to, and so graphically described by L.E.L in her version
of "The Hindoo Girl's Song." It was, in fact, the Dewalee Festival.
Allahabad was the chief
civil station in the provinces ; the principal courts were situated
there, the higher officials connected with criminal and with revenue
administration having their residences scattered over what was an
extensive and ornamental settlement. Some of their houses were noted for
hospitality, and for more homely entertainments given for the special
benefit of the younger officers. Of the latter, that of Mrs. Tayler4 has
left most pleasant recollections, the good influence exerted by that
lady making its mark on some of us who might otherwise have had
remembrances very different in kind. Among the most esteemed of the
residents was Dr. Angus, "The Good Samaritan," as he was called.
Hospitable to all; considerate to juniors; his good advice, and help in
other ways, readily given to all who in difficulties applied to him.
Early in October, the
Commander-in-Chief, Sir Hugh Gough, arrived en route north-westward. New
colours were presented by His Excellency to a native regiment I of
distinguished service in Affghanistan, the event celebrated by festive
gatherings, in accordance with customary usage. On the staff of His
Excellency were two officers, both of whom subsequently attained high
military distinction; the one Sir Harry Smith, the other Sir Patrick
Reports were "in the air"
that a Camp of Exercise was about to assemble at Agra, as an experiment
then tried in India for the first time. Bazaar report had it that the
Buffs were about to be ordered on service, the scene and nature of which
did not just then transpire. Meanwhile, responsible officers "saw to"
the state of "brown Bess," with which weapon our men were then armed; to
that of ammunition, and other necessary items of equipment. The arrival
of part of the 29th Regiment, to take our place, next followed, and,
simultaneously, came an order directing the Buffs to proceed to Kalpee,
on the Jumna, thirteen days' march distant. A few days thereafter,
published orders directed the organization of "the Army of Exercise"
into divisions and brigades; still, there was no inkling of what was
about to happen.
For some time previous
evidences were manifest that all was not right in Gwalior; latterly
report said that things in that State had settled down, terms having
been come to between the young Maharajah and leaders of the disaffected.
A few days thereafter, our preparations were renewed; our weakly men,
together with soldiers' wives and children, arranged for to be left
behind, and with a fighting strength of 739 powerful and seasoned
soldiers, the regiment started fit and ready for whatever service might
be required of it.
The actual state of
affairs, above referred to, was briefly this:—The young Maharajah, known
as "Ali Jah Jyajee Scindia," owed his selection to the widow of the
deceased monarch of the same name, who died childless, she a girl aged
thirteen, named Tara Bye. To the post of Regent, Mama Sahib, an uncle of
the deceased monarch, was acknowledged by Lord Ellenborough through the
Resident, against the wishes of the Maharanee; Dada Khasjee, steward of
the Household, by the Maharanee. Thereupon, the Resident was ordered by
His Excellency to quit Gwalior, and the Dada prepared his troops to
oppose forces of the Company, if sent against him; hence the campaign
now about to take place.
In the Punjab, conditions
were at the same time most serious, giving rise to expectations of armed
intervention there. For example:—On the 15th of September, 1843, was
perpetrated the double murder of the Maharajah Shere Singh1 and his son
Pertab, at the northern gate of Lahore, the conspiracy which led up to
that deed having been formed by Dyhan Singh. Next day Ajeet Singh, by
whose hand the crime was committed, together with his followers, were
attacked and put to death by Heera Singh, son of the deceased vizier,
and his party. For a time a state of anarchy, with its attendant
slaughter and rapine, prevailed within the capital. These having run
their course, Dhuleep Singh, only surviving son of Runjeet, was placed
upon the throne of his father, Heera Singh making himself vizier.
Meanwhile, the Sikh or Khalasa army had become formidable under Lal
Singh, a favourite of the Ranee as an outcome of a conspiracy among
them, Heera was murdered, his place taken by Lal. Nothing could then
restrain their ardour but an expedition into British territory, for
which it was well understood that preparations were in progress. The
proceedings thus alluded to supplied ample subject for comment in the
papers, and talk at social gatherings.