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Grant of Rothiemurchus
Part I - Biographical Sketch - Chapter V


THE experiences of civil servants at this epoch in Indian annals were novel and tragic. Some district officers were slain at their posts. Others remained at their several Stations as long as there was the least hope that the Treasury would not be plundered and the convicts would not be released from jail. It was Grant’s duty to take up a position on the very border line between administration and anarchy. On one side river communication with the Presidency was never interrupted, and with now and then an exception, the Grand Trunk Road to the Lower Provinces was clear. On the other, it was not safe to go two miles into the interior. To say that the Lieutenant-Governor of the Central Provinces was, at any time, in a perilous position resembling that of the Commissioners of Rohilkhand and of Meerut, would be an exaggeration. Still it will probably be admitted, that to live, for four months, in a city inhabited by 300,000 Hindus, liable to outbursts of religious fanaticism and to the contagion of evil example, was to encounter a certain risk. Grant’s letters, public and private, as I have said, sufficiently indicate what might have been done in the way of disturbance by a Sepoy General of “light and leading.” The Lieutenant-Governor and his small staff were not exactly sheathed in armour. They did not lay down to rest in their corslets, nor did they carve their meat in gloves of steel; but they had to be prepared for emergencies and dangers, and their revolvers lay ready when they took that evening drive with which the Anglo-Indian Administrator, in cold, hot, or rainy season, almost invariably ends his exhausting day’s task. Grant left Allahabad, having done much to restore order, to revive the loyalty of the wavering, and to provide for the necessities of the relieving force, while in his relations with military chiefs he never for a moment laid himself open to the sarcastic reproof administered by the Carthaginian General to the Greek pedant who lectured him on the art of war.

When Grant resumed his seat in Council in Calcutta, in the hot weather of 1858, the neck of the Mutiny, to use the common phrase of that day, had been broken by the final conquest of Lucknow. The aspect of affairs was not afterwards materially altered even by the mutiny of the Gwalior troops in the middle of the year. It is quite true that this unexpected revolt caused more trouble and anxiety, but it is quite a mistake to suppose that it again shook the Indian Empire to its foundation, or caused any one in India to entertain a doubt of our final success. In May of this year Grant, at Calcutta, was, however, troubled by the proximity of Barrackpore and its disarmed Sepoys, by an uneasy feeling prevalent in Calcutta and the metropolitan districts, by reports of diverse new intrigues and conspiracies and of arms hidden in Bengal villages, ostensibly quiet and well disposed, and by a not unnatural fear that native confidence in our ultimate triumph might not be proof against a prolonged suspense and the hope delayed which, proverbially, makes the heart sick. Thus Grant was in constant correspondence with Sir John Hearsey, commanding the Presidency Division; with Mr H. D. Hamilton-Fergusson, the able Magistrate of the important district comprising the Calcutta suburbs and Barrackpore; and with Colonel Orfeur Cavanagh, who, under the old and curious designation of Town Major, was really the highest military authority inside the Fort. It should be remembered that, for many years, the Governor-General of India was also Governor of Fort-William, and the Town Major who lived there as his Deputy, was not in any way under the orders of the Commander-in-Chief. All this is altered now. During this year, moreover, the large, populous, districts in Central and Lower Bengal were alarmed by a report that originated, no one knew where, and spread widely, no one could say how, to the effect that in “three months’ time one white thing would no longer be seen.” To what the rumour pointed no one could be sure. Divers interpretations were given. Some said it meant “flour,” others that it pointed to “bones” or "salt,” but the most probable interpretation was that it referred to the white faces of the Sahibs, who were doomed to disappear. In all likelihood, as far as could be made out, the report was designedly started in Behar and sent on to Lower Bengal in order to annoy the authorities, to perplex the well-disposed, and to prepare the way for disorganisation, disaster, and general “ loot” However, no untoward event occurred. After a timely exhibition of vigour on the part of the executive and judicial authorities of the populous and important district of Jessore, the rumour died away, and nothing more was heard about any “white thing.” Two sedition-mongers were sentenced to transportation; the loyal Zamindars were reassured; the English planters scattered over the district at a distance from each other, felt secure; and the year passed without any fresh outbreak. If there ever had been any danger of a disturbance at the Presidency, nothing of the kind took place. Grant, in a letter to the Viceroy, while assuring him that there was no present likelihood of an interruption to the peace of the capital, added “that no man would dare to say that such a thing was impossible anywhere,” and that “a street tumult in Calcutta would do more to shake the Empire than the loss of a battle in Oudh.” Fortunately, under the administration of Sir Frederick Halliday, the experienced Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, not a shot was fired in defence or attack in that province.


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