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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter V


1844-1845. ALLAHABAD TO ENGLAND

In charge—Routine—Orders for England—Volunteering—Getting ready—Departure —Chunar—Benares—Sarnath—Ramdee1a-9th Regiment—Ghazepore—Buxar —Dinapore - Patna - Granary - 62nd Regiment - Cholera - Monghyr-Hospitality---Bhaugulpore—Rajmahal—A reckless soldier—Corporal punishment—Berhampore—A Gwalior hostage—Plassee—Transport—Party of roth Regiment—" Rejected "—Chandernagore—Calcutta—Preparations—The bronze star—The "Monarch "—St. Helena - Garrison - Slave ships - Longwood— Napoleon's grave —Courage at sea—England.

ROUTINE of duty, and responsibilities connected with what was called "full charge" of the regiment, now devolved upon me. Much had to be learnt in respect to official matters relating to my new position, nor could it be so except from so-called "subordinates" attached in those days to hospitals pertaining to British troops; to them I had, therefore, to refer, and from them gain needed information.

The aspect of cantonments during the next few months much resembled that of the previous hot season pleasure and gaiety at suitable times, but not to interfere with duty. Among the soldiers unhappily there occurred, as before, great sickness and mortality, the line of new-made graves in the cemetery filled the previous year, and then numbering sixty, being duplicated and exceeded by one on this occasion.

Late in September, orders of readiness to proceed to Calcutta, there to embark for England, were appreciated in different senses by the younger officers and by the older, the latter contrasting in their minds their relative rates of pay in India, where the rupee had its standard value, and at home. With few exceptions the juniors expressed themselves as delighted at the prospect.

Then came the customary order that, prior to its departure, men who so desired should be given the opportunity to volunteer from the regiment to certain specified corps whose period of service in India had yet some years to run. A special officer was appointed to superintend the proceeding. Applicants for the privilege were subjected to physical examination; their defaulter sheets and "small books" looked at, after which, if deemed eligible, and under forty years of age, they were accepted, and received a bounty equivalent in amount to £3 sterling. To those whose age exceeded that limit no bounty was officially given, but a corresponding sum was granted from regimental funds as they existed at the time. As an unfortunate part of the system the canteen was kept open throughout; there the bounty money was quickly spent, with the result that throughout the week devoted to "volunteering" scenes of irregularity became numerous; parades and discipline were in abeyance, drunkenness and riot took their places.

As the arrival of our regiment, and its return from active service, had been made the occasion for a round of entertainments, so was now its prospective departure; civil officials and officers of native regiments joined in turn to show attention to the Buffs, and thus testify good fellowship and friendly sentiments towards the corps. Then came the final official ordeal; namely, inspection by the venerable officer commanding the Division. General Watson, then said to be of the old school, had seen much war service; personally amiable, but so full of years that, on the occasion of the parade in question, he was unable to mount a horse, and so perforce witnessed the formality of the march past while he remained on foot.

Boats of the kinds already described now lay ready moored to the bank of the Jumna for our reception. The General gave as a last entertainment a sumptuous déjez2ner, to which were invited the principal officers, civil and military, of the station. Healths proposed and drunk to in champagne; good wishes expressed; leave-takings gone through; then all take their respective places; bands play "Auld lang syne," "The girls we left behind us," "Home, sweet home," etc.; we are speedily on board; the moorings untied; the "fleet" in movement with the placid stream; from the ramparts of the fort heavy guns fire a "Royal salute" in honour of our regiment. Thus begins the journey homewards.

We are speedily at the fort of Chunar, built by the Mahomedan conquerors of India, from Hindoo temples destroyed for that purpose; captured by Major—afterwards Sir Hector Monro in 1764, but still held semi-sacred by the descendants of those whose shrines were so desecrated. On an open tract of ground in its near vicinity, a series of barracks and small houses were occupied by pensioners of the East India Company.

Benares, viewed from the Ganges, is picturesque, and in some respects beautiful. Houses of red sandstone, their fanciful windows, projecting balconies, and flat roofs, giving to them a character all their own. The city extends from the very edge of the river; its numerous temples and ghats—the latter crowded with devotees and others, wearing garments of many colours, giving the scene a picturesque aspect. Some of the temples and ghats present a dilapidated appearance; but others, especially that of Visheswar—dedicated to Siva—is resplendent with gold gilding. Another striking object is the Mosque of Arungzebe, erected in the reign of that monarch from Hindoo temples destroyed for that purpose. Near the golden temple, in the heart of the city, is the no less famous well, named after Manic Karnik, believed by votaries to be filled with "the sudor of Vishnu," and at its bottom to contain Truth. At a short distance is the Astronomical Observatory, erected by Jai Singh, A.D. 1693.

History records that this ancient city continued during many generations to be the metropolis of Aryan civilization in India. It was at Sarnath, a suburb of Kasi, as Benares was then called, that in the sixth century B.C. Gautama preached the doctrines of Karma and Nirvana. There Buddhism assumed its sway, which it retained till the fourth century A.D., when it gave way before a revival of Hindooism, in reg1rd to which religion Benares has ever since been considered its most sacred city.

Here we first witnessed the celebration of the Ramdeela festival. It consists in a representation of the more important incidents connected with the abduction of Sita; the chase, the siege, and capture of Ravanu's stronghold; her rescue, the ordeal of fire, to test her purity, and reception by Rama. As noted at the time, the performances, interpreted by the light of legend, gave to them considerable interest.

Resuming our river journey, we met a fleet of boats similar to our own, having on board a party of the 29th Regiment, in progress towards the north-west. The effective portion of the regiment was marching to its destination from Ghazepore, at which place it had been stationed during the two years it had been in India. From a strength of close upon 1,200, it had been in that short time reduced, by fever and cholera, to little over 400 effectives. Alas! out of those remaining, great were to be the losses at Ferozeshah, and other frontier battles, then in the near future.

There was nothing in the aspect of Ghazepore, or the buildings connected with it, to account for the havoc in life and health sustained by the 29th Regiment. A large extent of grass-covered plain separates the station proper from the river. On it stands a monument, erected in memory of Lord Cornwallis,' who died near this place, while in progress up the Ganges. That monument, surrounded by tamarisk bushes, above which its summit rises, bears upon it a memorial figure by Flaxman. The range of barracks and the church are the only other buildings that are immediately seen. A visit to the native town brought us to the ruins of what had been the palace of Mir Cossim Ali Khan, whose forces were defeated, and power destroyed, at Buxar, in 1764, by Major Munro. The graceful proportion of its pillars, arches, and general aspect struck us forcibly, though the building itself is in a state of decay, as are also the numerous smaller ranges by which, in former days, it was surrounded; nor is it more than eighty years since that decay began. Other points of interest connected with Ghazepore include the growth and manufacture of poppy and opium, roses and their otto. A breeding stud for cavalry and artillery horses is here maintained by Government.

Buxar, our next halting place, was one of three places at which breeding studs were maintained by "the Company," the other two being Ghazepore, already mentioned, and Haupur. It would appear, however, that all these are insufficient to meet the requirements of the army, and that consequently importation of horses from the Cape and Australia has had to be resorted to.

Dinapore, then occupied by European artillery, one British and three native regiments of infantry, for the assigned purpose of guarding against possible incursion by the Nepaulese, whose relations towards the Government of India were somewhat strained. It was said that for a number of years the terms of the Treaty of 1816 between Sir David Ochterlony and the chief of the Ghoorkas were faithfully adhered to by the latter; but that in recent times signs of disaffection had begun to show themselves. As an outcome of the Treaty in question, some of the Nepaulese took military service under the Company, they being enrolled in what became known as Ghoorka regiments. For some reason, the nature of which did not transpire, several days elapsed before our journey was resumed.

Impressions of the place were not particularly favourable; that it has attractions of a kind, however, seems evident, as families and various retired officers were said to make it their residence. A few miles distant is the city of Patna—Pataliputra of the Hindoos, and Palibothra of the Greeks—famous in relation to British history as the scene of murder by Kossim Khan, in 1763, of 200 Englishmen, besides 2,000 sepoys; to become again noted in connection with events of 1857. On our way to and from that city we noticed by the roadside the now disused grain store, erected in 1769-70, to receive grain against the great famine then prevailing in Behar, in respect to which it is related that "the tanks were dried up, the springs ceased to reach the surface, and within the first nine months of 1770 one-third of the population of Lower Bengal were carried off by want of food."

The 62nd, occupying barracks at Dinapore, entertained the officers of the Buffs on a scale of hospitality and in a manner to be compared only with regimental festivities pictured in the works of Charles Lever. "The Springers," as in those days they loved to be called, were under orders for Umballah, much delighted at prospects of service therein implied; for the state of affairs in the Punjab, already mentioned, had from day to day continued to increase in gravity. The feeling of gallant hilarity was expressed in a somewhat demonstrative manner in extemporary song by one of their officers in early morning hours, while mess had not yet broken up. Of our festive hosts on that occasion scarcely one was alive fourteen months thereafter.

Resuming our journey, our fleet was moored about sunset under a somewhat high alluvial bank, such as in this part of the river course are of frequent occurrence. To several of our soldiers the result was fatal; during the night cholera attacked with violence, and claimed them as victims. As we continued on our way next day the malady seemed to be left behind us.

Monghyr, at which we speedily arrived, is interesting in several respects. To the cession of its rather imposing fort was immediately ascribed the massacre of our countrymen at Patna, as already mentioned. Near this place, in the year of that occurrence, 1763, a mutiny occurred, in which not only native but also European troops were concerned, nor was it until several of their number had been blown from guns by order of Major Munro, already mentioned, that the outbreak was suppressed.

At this place more hospitality was shown us. While yet at some distance from our halting ground, an invitation reached the regiment from Mr. Hodson, then occupying the position of Joint Magistrate and Collector, that officers should dine with him; while to the soldiers, "refreshments" would be served on tables arranged for the purpose as near as possible to the boats. Thus did our host express the compliment he desired to show the regiment, and very highly were his successful endeavours appreciated.

Our next halting place was Bhaugulpore. There, in 1327, the Buffs were stationed, while as yet our frontier line was comparatively little advanced,—Bhurtpore only the previous year captured. In the range of hills that thence extend in a south-westerly direction are various wild Santhal tribes, very low in civilization, devil-worshippers by custom; their weapons were chiefly bows and arrows; their own ethnic alliance believed to be Dravidian.

At the time referred to the number of steamers on the Ganges was small; the length of inland voyage from three to four weeks. Officers and others availing themselves of that mode of transit considered that they were travelling "by express." It was customary with some to spend the period of sick leave, extending in certain instances to six months, on board comfortably fitted up "budgerows" on the river; tradesmen also arranged the kind of boat so called as travelling shops, and these different classes of persons and craft gave certain variety to our river voyage. Arrived at Raj mahal, the former capital of Northern Bengal, but now a ruined mass out of which stood a few broken shafts of what had been pillars of black marble. The ruined palace dates back only to A.D. 1630. Sultan Shujah, by whom it was founded, elder brother of Arungzebe, was at the time Governor of Bengal. He was soon thereafter deposed by the latter-named monarch; fled to Arracan, and there perished miserably. When visited by Bishop Heber, the ruins of the palace were in comparatively good preservation; subsequently, however, their materials were utilised in the construction of the magnificent palace of Moorshedabad.

Two incidents now occurred, each characteristic in its way. A soldier having clandestinely obtained bazaar spirit, was thereby rendered drunk and desperate; boasting of his courageous deeds, he was challenged to "take a header" into the Ganges. He did so, and appeared no more. The other was the infliction of one hundred lashes on the back of a hardened old offender, simply as punishment, for none of those who knew the man expected that it would have any deterrent effect in the future.

Entering the Bhauguruttee branch of the Ganges, our fleet was soon at Berhampore,' whence I had started up the river little more than two years previous. Again, but now as one of a body of officers, I partook of hospitality shown to the whole regiment by General Raper. A breakfast given at the palace of the Nawab; excursions by land and river, presentation to His Highness, permission to visit different parts of his palace, including jewel-room and its contents, were so many items connected with ovation given to us as representatives of a distinguished regiment. All this was wound up by dinner at the house of the General, followed by a "Reception," during which I had the pleasure of again meeting some "old" friends.

Among the guests at that Reception was "the Khasjeewalla of Gwalior," implicated, as we have seen, in the disturbances that led to the recent campaign in that State. For a time he was interned at Agra, but latterly had been "at large," under surveillance of our host; his demeanour towards those by whom the victory at Punniar was gained, by no means agreeable; but under the circumstances anything else could hardly have been looked for.

Resuming our journey, we soon arrived at and glided past the village of Plassee, but the actual field so named had long since been swept away by the river by which we were being carried along. At Kulnah, indications of flow and reflux of the tide were evident. There we met the fleet of boats, similar to our own, by which the 10th Regiment was being conveyed inland. Mutual salutations passed between us, but little at the time thought I of close association subsequently in store for me in relation to it. A short distance more, and we passed the village of Balaghurree, its inhabitants, those and their descendants, who, having been left by their relatives to die by the side of the river, were rescued through the good offices of missionaries.

We were nearing the end of this river journey. In quick succession our fleet glided past the important native towns of Baudel, noted on account of its Roman Catholic convent ; Hooghly, for its college; and Chinsurah, already mentioned. Now we were off Chandernagore, on the battlements of which waved the tricolour. In 1757 that little settlement was captured from the French by Clive, aided by Admiral Watson, who, for the attack, brought thither his frigate carrying seventy- four guns—a feat not now possible because of the silting up of the river. The place was shortly afterwards restored to the French, to again fall to the British during the Revolutionary War, and finally to be ceded to them in accordance with the Peace Treaty of 1816.

We are well within the influence of the tide. As it recedes we' are borne towards Calcutta. A forest of masts becomes more and more dense; tall chimneys on either bank tell of factories; the clang of hammers, of ship-building yards; the odour of tar, that we are nearing our port; and great is the surprise with which our north-country servants and followers look upon the unwonted sight. We pass the Armenian Ghat. If is an open space, on which various funeral pyres blaze and smoke; vultures and adjutant-birds are waiting for such human remains as may be left: the scene most unpleasant to look at. For many years past that which has just been alluded to has ceased to exist, a crematorium having taken its place. We arrive at Calcutta; the regiment lands, and marches into Fort William.

Preparations for departure proceeded rapidly, and with a will. Hospitality to the regiment and attentions in other ways were shown by some of the higher officials. At Government House some of us had an opportunity of being present at the dinners and balls, for which it was then, as since, well and favourably known; also at parties given by the Chief Justice Sir Lawrence Peel, in the spacious house occupied by him at Garden Reach.

The issue to men and officers of the Bronze Star respectively for Punniar and Maharajpore took place, but without pomp and circumstance such as most properly at the present time are observed on similar occasions. Being informed that the stars in question, composed of metal of Mahratta cannon that had wrought heavy injury to our regiments, were in readiness, in company with my friend Maude, I drove to the Mint, and there, from two heaps on the floor, of those decorations, selected one each, leaving both for the purpose of our respective names being engraved on them. A few days thereafter we returned, and having received from an employé of that establishment the much-prized decorations, we placed them in our pockets, and drove back to Fort William.

Soon thereafter, the Headquarter portion of the regiment was on board the Monarch, and away from India homeward bound. Our ship, one of a class by which troops were wont in favoured instances to be conveyed between England and her great Eastern dependency: graceful to look at, roomy, well fitted up, sumptuously provided—veritable floating palaces. The comfort of the soldier, his wife and children, secured to an extent that under subsequent regulations became impossible. With regard to officers, "stoppages" for messing was on the scale already mentioned. I became entitled to "head money," as on the outward voyage, notwithstanding that I was in the performance of my ordinary duties with my own regiment.

Nine weeks of uneventful life passed, and our ship was at St. Helena. Very shortly thereafter, parties of us, arranged for the purpose, landed at James's Town, the population of which seemed to consist almost entirely of mulattoes of low type, physically and intellectually; the balance were of pure negro type. We learned, moreover, that slave ships with their human cargo on board were from time to time brought to the island by British ships of war, very harrowing details being given of the sufferings of the unfortunate captives on board. At the time of our visit the garrison of the island comprised the St. Helena regiment and a battery of artillery.

An excursion to Longwood proved to be a somewhat arduous undertaking—carriages ricketty, horses like living skeletons, lame, and weak, the ascent steep, rugged. The six or seven miles to be traversed required several hours for completion of the task. At last we were at and within the barn-like, dilapidated building in which took place the closing life scenes of Napoleon; its surroundings a tangled mass of brambles and other shrubs. In the building itself his library room, then partly filled with hay; near it the stable, having stalls for six horses. In a pretty valley close by, under the shade of the then famous willow, was the open tomb whence the remains of the great Frenchman' were removed in 1840 for transport to the banks of the Seine.

Continuing our voyage, an incident which happened during its further progress deserves record. While sailing under the influence of the trade winds, a sailor fell from aloft into the sea. Quickly were life-buoys slipped, the ship brought round, a boat lowered, while from top-gallant cross-trees an officer directed the crew towards the man struggling in mid ocean. Soon, from the bows of the boat one of its crew dived, for the drowning man had already begun to sink; a brief interval, and both rescuer and rescued were hauled on board. With no loss of time the boat was alongside and on board ship, the man restored to animation and life by means used to that end. Many years thereafter, meeting Mr. Cloete, who performed the gallant act, we talked over the incident and its surrounding circumstances.

Another month at sea, and the Monarch swings at anchor off Gravesend; the Buffs, absent from England since 1821, disembark;' the ordeal of the Custom House gone through; the march on foot begun, for as yet a railway had not been opened. Evening was far advanced when the regiment arrived at Chatham, where it was to be temporarily quartered. In accordance with the routine of that day, nothing whatever had been prepared in barracks for our men, save that doors were open, displaying bare walls, bed cots devoid of mattress or bedding; while for the officers, not even quarters had been assigned; they were expected to look after themselves. Night had far advanced before duty rendered necessary by such a state of things was so far complete as to allow of our going in search of hotels in which to spend the few hours that remained till daylight. It was not till two o'clock in the morning that we had "dinner, in course of which various allusions were made to the "hospitality" accorded to us as a body on the occasion of our return, as contrasted with what we had experienced in India. Two days had to elapse before the regimental baggage arrived, though the distance over which it had to be conveyed was no more than ten miles; nor was it till then that straw for the men's cots was issued by the barrack stores, and they initiated into the art of stuffing their allotted quantities into their palliasses. This was the beginning of our Home Service.


 


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