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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter XXXVI


1875-1880. MADRAS PRESIDENCY—FINALE

Return to Madras—Death of Lord Hobart—Lord Pigot's tomb and story—Inter. regnum—Duke of Buckingham—H.R.H. the Prince of Wales—Commandersin-Chief—Famine—A relief camp—Ootacamund—Fever among British troops - Thebaw—Affghanistan—Sir N. Chamberlain as Envoy—Young soldiers versus old—Suggested scheme—Medical system—Inspection tours—New barracks—. Calicut - Cannanore - Maliaporarn - Bangalore - Bellary - Secunderabad - "Confidential" reports—Indication of illness—" New brooms "—Official demeanour—In the hills—Pleasant recollections—Back at Portsmouth—Finale.

WE embark on the Meca. A week passes; we land at Madras, bearing with us pleasant recollections of friendly hospitality received during our now bygone "Trip to Burmah."

The death of Lord Hobart, Governor of the Presidency, was an event regretted by those of us who had come to know his amiable though retiring character, and much sympathy was expressed towards the widowed Lady Hobart on her bereavement. The remains of the deceased were carried to the tomb with all the pomp and ceremony due to the high office he had occupied, and estimation in which he was generally held, the coffin committed to the tomb in St. Mary's Church, Fort St. George.

While clearing out a place for the purpose, the workmen came upon the coffin of Lord. Pigot, whose death took place in 1776, and whose place of burial, if not intentionally concealed, had long since ceased to be remembered. The story of his death was thus resuscitated, and reference made to history relating how the Council deposed him, how he was arrested by the Commander-in-Chief, placed in confinement, and there forcibly kept during eight months, at the end of which he died. No wonder that this audacious proceeding on the part of the chief actors in the drama produced astonishment and indignation at home.

An interregnum followed, during which the senior member of Council became head of the Government, the headquarters of which, together with those of the Commander-in-Chief, were shortly thereafter transferred to Ootacamund, where they remained until the following "cold" season, as it is called in Madras.

In the latter part of the year arrived His Grace the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, appointed Governor. On the occasion of his landing, together with his daughters, the three Ladies Grenville, there was an immense gathering at the pier to receive the distinguished party. The assemblage comprised His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief, staff, high military officers, and heads of departments, a guard of honour, Government and municipal officers, representatives of the native princes and nobility, and, in addition, a large concourse of the community.

The arrival of the Prince of Wales was an important event in the history of Madras. During the stay of His Royal Highness at the provincial capital, the best endeavours of all classes, official and nonofficial, natives and British, were directed to manifest duty and loyalty to the Heir Apparent. In addition to official entertainments and receptions given by Governor and Commander-in-Chief, the civil society, native princes and community, did all they could to do honour to him and to themselves on the occasion.

The next events of importance in reference to official affairs in Madras comprised a change in the head of the Army, Sir Frederick Haines being moved to Simla, and succeeded by Sir Neville Chamberlain. The departure of the former was much regretted by all classes, military, civil, and non-official; all honour and welcome were given to the latter, whose great military reputation and high character were known to and acknowledged by all.

In 1877 the Madras Presidency, as well as other parts of India, was visited by famine, large numbers of natives falling victims, notwithstanding the exertions by the Governor and officers acting under the orders of His Grace to combat the misfortune. Private associations and individuals added their endeavours to those by Government; missionary bodies provided for large numbers of orphans and other victims, with the result that many "converts" were added to their lists. The necessity for extended and improved systems of irrigation being shown, steps were taken in both directions. While not a few of the ancient methods had been abandoned, the modern substitutes were, in some instances, far from effectual for their purpose. Now also an important financial measure was adopted : a special fund against famine was established, the equivalent of eight million pounds sterling set aside for that purpose, and if some time thereafter that fund was otherwise absorbed, its original devisers and founders had passed from office before the change in question took place.

In obedience to orders, I visited a camp situated a few miles from the city of Madras for the reception and care of sufferers from the famine, the object being the somewhat technical one of making a report on the phenomena of starvation. In tents provided for their accommodation lay prostrated men, women, and children in all stages of absolute starvation. Carts were bringing in from the surrounding districts persons who, while proceeding along the highways in search of food and other aid, had fallen exhausted, and so lay on the roadsides. Altogether, the sights presented were very sad.

There being a prospect that Ootacamund would shortly become the permanent seat of the Presidency Government, His Grace the Governor appointed a Committee,' of which I was senior member, to inquire into and report upon the general condition of that place. The subject was carefully gone into, the respects pointed out in which improvements were suggested, the nature of those improvements given in detail. In due time our report (written by me) was officially submitted; it passed through the usual official channels, and, having done so, was not acted upon. Years have passed away since then; the public prints record that evils have occurred at this beautiful locality which, it is safe to believe, would have been averted had our recommendations been carried out; those evils, moreover, definitely predicted in that report.

Another subject on which it fell to my lot to submit a report, related to the prevalence of fevers among our troops: a duty which caused myself much unpleasantness, inasmuch that practical experience was brought into somewhat violent collision with pure theory. All that need be noticed in this place is that, according to what is called the "scientific" school, the actual cause of those affections is dirt, and apparently dire alone. According to the practical school, the causes are various, including the youth of the men, translation to an alien climate and alien conditions, exposure, indiscretions, etc. In accordance with the views first-named, numerous works to which the term "sanitary" was applied were undertaken at a cost to the Indian Government of many thousands, nay millions, of rupees. According to the second, many of those expensive improvements have been without their intended result, nor have they in any degree touched the root and origin of the evil, comprised in the general conditions just named.

The king of Burmah having died, the legal heir Thebaw was duly acknowledged his successor. No sooner had he attained to power than acts of maladministration and of atrocity drew upon him extreme displeasure of the Indian Government. Milder measures having proved ineffectual, a military force was sent to his capital, with the result that in due time it was captured, he himself deposed, and brought to India as prisoner of State. For a considerable time before that expedition was dispatched, preparatory arrangements for such a contingency had been as far as practicable matured—those of the department under my own supervision included.

Relations between the Government of India and the Ameer of Affghanistan had been in a more or less strained condition since 1873, when "after the return of Noor Mahomed Shah from Simla, the Ameer's language was very unsatisfactory" to Lord Northbrook. "A sum of £100,000 placed to the Ameer's credit at Peshawur by the British Government was allowed to remain there, and never drawn." During the early months of 1878 the general state of those relations was much discussed in military society and in civil, two different views being expressed regarding it: the one by officers and others of long Indian experience and practical acquaintance with frontier matters; the other, chiefly by those of shorter Indian experience, and less practical acquaintance on the border.

Later in that year, our much-esteemed Commander-in-Chief, Sir Neville Chamberlain, was ordered by Lord Lytton to proceed as Envoy to Sheer Au, the Ameer. He did so, and now the Madras command fell during his absence to General Elmhirst, formerly of the 9th Foot, a good officer and amiable man. After much ineffectual negotiation by Sir Neville Chamberlain, in the hope of averting armed intervention, Lord Lytton declared war against the Ameer. Forces were meanwhile being gathered for the purpose of the campaign, the 67th Regiment with some other troops being sent from the Madras Presidency. Their equipment and the general arrangements for active service had to be provided under orders of the responsible officers concerned, of whom I was one. In due time, Sir Neville was received with welcome hack from the important, but unhappily futile, mission upon which he had been sent.

While the general subject of young soldiers versus old was occupying the War Office authorities, the opinions held regarding it from personal experience of certain senior officers were called for, mine among them. To a number of definite questions, definite answers were submitted by us individually; but the tone of all was identical,—namely, that for the purpose of field service in India men of mature growth, and who had already been some years in the country, were most capable of withstanding the wear and tear incidental to war. Sufficient grounds for that opinion are casually stated in reference to incidents relating to the Mutiny campaign, and to the Siege of Paris.

In connection with the same subject, the question arose whether or not advantage might accrue from the introduction of a double system of recruiting; namely, short service for home, long service for India. Some of us elaborated a series of calculations, the outcome of which was that on the score of expense, including pensions, the latter scheme would be more economical than the system, then as still in operation, involving as it does the constant influx and efflux of men to and from India, the maintenance of expensive systems of transport, hill stations and sanatoria. This, however, is but one among several points relating to the important question now touched upon.

The process of "divorcing" medical officers from regiments had become general, notwithstanding representations and protests from men of long experience. In the early part of the nineteenth century, the defects incidental to "general" hospitals and methods relating thereto having declared themselves in the Peninsular campaign, what was called the regimental system was introduced in addition to, and partial supersession of that method, the better to meet the requirement professionally of the several classes pertaining to regiments. With the abolition of that system a retrograde step is taken, to the serious disadvantage of the soldier and all other persons concerned. No sufficient reason exists why the double system, staff and regimental, should not continue as before, and so fulfil alike the purposes of war and of peace.

Inspection duty to military stations within the command occupied the greater part of each "cold" season. In the performance of this somewhat invidious function, the agreeable far outbalanced the unpleasant, hospitality and every consideration by the officers with whom I came in contact going far to make each such tour a pleasure trip.

Barracks, hospitals, and other buildings for accommodation or other use by soldiers had recently been erected in accordance with plans and instructions formulated by the Sanitary Commission in Calcutta, of which I was a member, as already mentioned In the majority of instances they had been in use by the troops during six to eight years; but so far, liability to endemic illness of their occupants showed no decrease statistically from what had occurred among occupants of "the old style" of barracks. With regard to several other matters connected with them, evidence was apparent that anticipations by that Commission had yet to be realized.

Beyond the objects of routine duty there was much of interest connected with the majority of places visited. On the west coast the history of what are now civil or military stations carries us back to a period when Tadmor in the wilderness, the ancient Palmyra, was a depot for merchandise and goods imported in the days of Solomon from this part of India. It was off Calicut, at which there is now stationed a small force of British troops, that in May, 1498, Vasco da Gama came to anchor after a voyage of eleven months from Lisbon. In 1509, Albuquerque having failed in one attack upon that place proceeded to Goa, which he captured, and has ever since that time remained in Portuguese possession.

Cannanore, situated further up along the Malabar coast, is also a place of great antiquity, though now of small importance. From the days of Pliny, and long before then, the inhabitants of the whole district so named were known to be sea robbers and wreckers. At the present day, however, the descendants of those early pirates may be seen quietly at study, and learning useful handicrafts in the establishments belonging to the Basel Mission, which are in a very flourishing condition, if we can form an opinion on the subject from a cursory visit to them.

An isolated military post is Maliapuram, situated in a district mostly covered with dense jungle, at the distance of a night's journey from Calicut. The result to rue of the trip there and back through malarious forests was an attack of illness, recovery from which was due to the hospitable attentions received from Mr. and Mrs. Wigram. The object of the little garrison alluded to is to preserve peace among the Moplas, a manly, lawless race, whose descent is believed to be from Arab sailors who, in ancient times, formed connections with native (Tier) women. They are noted for their zeal as Mahomedans, for the rapidity with which "risings" take place among them, and the bloodshed incidental to those occasions.

Bangalore has been already mentioned in these notes. The large cantonment for British troops, in respect to completeness of arrangements, is unsurpassed in India. In near proximity to it is the residence of the representative of Government at the Court of Mysore.

From this place the routine usually is to proceed to Bellary, situated in the centre of the Indian Peninsula. Smaller than Bangalore, yet of considerable importance, it is the military centre of the Berar district, assigned in 1853 to the Government of India represented by Lord Dalhousie on account of certain subsidies then in arrear on the part of the Nizam.

Secunderabad, perhaps the largest military station in India, is situated at a distance of nine to twelve miles from Hyderabad. That important native city was visited after duty had been gone through, the visit performed on elephants, a guard of sowars furnished for our safe conduct; nor was the precaution unnecessary, if an opinion could be gathered from the expression of men's countenances as we proceeded along the narrow winding streets. Our excursion was varied by a short trip by stearn launch on the Meer Alum tank, and afterwards by a short visit to the mosques at Golconda.

An unpleasant duty connected with my position, but one which fortunately had only at rare intervals to be performed, was that of reporting otherwise than favourably on officers within my sphere of superintendence. Such occasions only arose at the periodical inspections, and then the method I adopted was to read to the officer concerned the portion of the usual official report relating to the particular point commented upon, requesting him at the same time to furnish his explanation regarding it, so that the explanatory document should be transmitted together with the adverse comment. Otherwise, as it seemed to me, an injury would be inflicted without the officer concerned being aware of the grounds or extent of it, and without an opportunity being afforded him to defend himself. In fact, the whole system of "confidential" reports is open to very grave objection, as by their very nature they more or less "strike a man in the dark."

In some instances, fortunately of rare occurrence, it was found that an officer, previously known to be zealous, painstaking, and otherwise efficient, suddenly displayed impatience of administrative control, and in other respects brought himself unpleasantly before the authorities. In the course of experience I came to know various instances in which the sudden change alluded to was in reality the premonitor of illness; others in which it was the first indication of actual disease; consequently I was at the outset prepared to look upon such a change in one or other of these lights. This remark may apply to all classes or officers, more especially in the tropics, and I believe that much unnecessary disciplinary severity towards individuals under such circumstances could be with advantage exchanged for more considerate methods.

In my own branch of the general service, and in others, I had various opportunities of seeing the results of so-called "sweeping" reforms by "new brooms" and particular officers whose moving principle seemed to be that whatever is, is wrong, and therefore must be abolished. Happily for the personal comfort of all concerned, and for the benefit of the service as a whole, the great majority of administrative officers have learnt that reasons are forthcoming, if sought for, to account for whatever may not be at first sight evident in reference to particular modes of routine; therefore the officer of experience, as opposed to the mere "reformer," endeavours, in the first place, to ascertain the nature of those conditions, and having done so, to introduce slowly and gradually such changes as altered conditions may suggest.

There are certain other points relating to administration which I may note. I had long ago become aware that in conducting duties, the making of promises other than such as could there and then be performed is a bad one; circumstances are apt to arise which render it quite impossible to carry out those made in anticipation. In such cases great disappointment and often chagrin to the officer concerned was the result. Very bitterly as a young man had I felt rough and cavalier action towards me by senior and official superiors. It was accordingly my endeavour to avoid similar demeanour towards my juniors. In communicating expressions of official dissatisfaction, it was an object of my endeavour to avoid giving such an expression the tone of personality.

During the greater part of the five years comprising my tour of service in the Madras Presidency, my family occupied a house in Ooty, for by that almost loving abbreviation was Ootacamund known. There my wife and daughter remained continuously, their occupation and enjoyment comprising horses, dogs, a farmyard, and garden. Thither in the hot season I repaired, as one of the officials entitled to that great privilege; and there, while carrying on departmental duties, I was able to participate in the various occupations and enjoyments special to the place. Among those were rides, drives, excursions, and picnics, visits to various Government and other gardens and plantations, including tea gardens; while to a lover of nature there was a never-failing source of interest in the phases of plant and animal life as we rode or walked along the various mountain faces by which the station was encircled.

Society was pervaded by a spirit of sociability and friendliness; that tone given to it by its leaders, the Ladies Grenville and Lady Chamberlain. Official duty was conducted in a spirit of kind consideration between officials, at the same time that it was well and honestly performed. It was, then, with great regret that my period drew to a close; that having ended, my "relief" arrived. My five years in the Madras Presidency were indeed "the green spot" in my somewhat long period of service. In December, 1879, I embarked for England.

In the early days of January, 1880, we landed at Southampton, whence we proceeded to Portsmouth, to which district I found myself again appointed. It was now the dead of winter. The rapid change from the heat of Madras to the bitter cold of this part of England caused severe illness in the person of my dear wife—a circumstance which gave rise to a fellow-feeling for the many soldiers' wives and children who undergo the same transition between extremes, but without sufficient provision in clothing and other requisites to enable them to withstand its effects. The routine of duty was much the same as it had been some ten years previous; the one respect in which a change was visible referred to my own special department, into which alterations introduced seemed to tend neither to the well-being of the soldier nor comfort of the officer.

My period of service drew to a close under the terms of a recently issued Royal warrant. Arrangements were made accordingly for handing over to a successor duties the performance of which had become in a manner second nature to me, so much so that their cessation was looked forward to as a blank in prospect. In the early days of April the Army Estimates for the current year were published. In accordance with them I was one of six to whom was authorized the reward for "Distinguished Military Services." On May 25, as the clock struck the hour of noon, I resigned my seat to the officer ordered to relieve me. In the succeeding Gazelle the notification appeared that I was placed on retired pay. My active career was ended.

[P.S.—In the Jubilee Gazelle, 1897, the distinction of K.C.B. was conferred upon me. On August 11 following, at Osborne, Her Most Gracious Majesty was pleased to invest me with the Insignia of the Order. On December 2 I had the additional honour of receiving the Jubilee medal, transmitted by command of the Queen, to be worn in commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of Her Majesty's Reign.]


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