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The Campbells of Argyll
An Intrepid Traveller; and How a Clansman saved India


Donald Campbell of Barbreck, a retired Indian officer, wanted some fresh adventures, and started upon a journey overland to the East. He passed through many towns and countries of Europe, and through Alexandria, Aleppo, and other cities which were less known at that time than to-day; but it was when he reached Bagdad that the most interesting part of his journey began.

Reaching that city in the charge of a Tartar guide, he took boat down the Tigris to Bussora, passing through a dreary stretch of country infested by robbers. Several attacks were made upon him, but for the most part the brigands fled in consternation when the boatmen fired a shot or two. A more serious attempt occurred one night when the travellers, in passing a creek, saw several boats issuing in good order, trusting to the darkness to enable them to take the stranger vessel by surprise. In the hope of driving them off, several shots were fired over their heads, upon which the robbers set up shrill cries and rowed quickly towards the vessel, trying to intimidate the voyagers with shouts and noise. Taking aim, the members of the expedition fired a volley, when the robbers fled in confusion, and losing command of their boats, narrowly escaped being swamped. There was a tremendous shouting and turmoil, but the boats sheered off at last, and the voyagers were not again molested.

After ten days of travel Bussora was reached, and Campbell took a passage in a date boat bound for Muscat, hoping to be landed at Bombay. The boat sprang a leak, and had to run into Bushire, where the voyager was hospitably received by the East India Company’s resident. It was found that the Persian Gulf was swarming with French privateers, so Donald had to wait until the passage was cleared and a British vessel started for Bombay. After a short stay in that city Campbell embarked on a Portuguese vessel for Goa, whence he took ship for Madras.

Scarcely had the vessel reached the open sea than the passengers discovered to their dismay that the ship was overloaded and hardly seaworthy. When they were nineteen days out from Goa they ran into the monsoon. The sky became dark at noonday ; thunder pealed and lightning flashed; then a hurricane arose, and after two days the vessel became unmanageable, and the crew, consisting chiefly of Portuguese and Lascars, fell into a panic. Wave after wave broke over the vessel; the masts were carried overboard; and she lay at the mercy of the wind and waves. The pumps became unworkable, and the vessel was heeling over to larboard when land was sighted, and it was found that the ship was drifting towards it. She grounded some distance from shore, and several of the crew tried to save themselves by swimming. Campbell was carried ashore clinging to a piece of wreckage, but lost consciousness after being washed up on the beach.

On recovering from his swoon he found himself surrounded by natives, at the sight of whom he almost wished himself in the ocean again. Among them were some soldiers in the uniform of Hyder Ali, the most notorious foe of the British, and he knew that he had the worst possible treatment to expect on falling into his hands.

The half-drowned and exhausted Scotsman was taken prisoner, together with the Lascars who had saved themselves from the wreck, and carried to a village some miles off, where he was confined for the night in a small enclosure, half ruined and open to the weather. The wind blew with violence, and torrents of rain added to the misery of the prisoner, who was crowded with the Lascars in a narrow space without room to lie down. Thirst caused them the greatest torments, but no relief was given until about four in the morning, when some cold rice was thrown in for the prisoners to eat, with some water brought from a muddy hole.

On the following day Campbell was removed to a hut, where to his surprise he was joined by his fellow-passenger, Hall, who told him that only the two British and fourteen Lascars had been saved from the wreck.

Four more days were spent in the hut, exposed to wind and rain, the only food of the prisoners being a little rice which an old woman threw into their cell. Then they were driven with the Lascars for a long distance, spending eight hours on foot each day, exposed alternately to blistering heat and torrential rain. During the halts the unlucky prisoners had to wait outside in the sun while their drivers dined or slept in the shade.

After giving an account of themselves to some officials connected with the government, the march was resumed under the same, conditions, the natives pricking the Englishmen with their bayonets when they flagged. At two in the morning, after several days of march, Hydernagur was reached, the capital of the native state of Bednore. The prisoners were made to wait outside until their judges should be ready. As the sun rose the day became very hot, but they were kept standing in the glare of sunshine without food or shelter until the opening of the audience of the jemadar, or governor, at six o’clock in the evening.

A crowd collected, and stared at the white men with curiosity. Among the bystanders Campbell was surprised to observe some who appeared greatly perturbed, and were gazing at him with wonder and concern. Their faces seemed familiar, and gradually it dawned upon him that they were soldiers from the troop of native cavalry which he had once commanded. The poor fellows were prisoners at large with Hyder, and were eyeing their old commander with looks signifying that they were grieved at his plight, and would gladly help him if it were, possible.

At six o’clock the audience began, but the prisoners had to wait an hour while the governor considered native cases without once casting a glance in their direction. When the natives were dismissed, the governor, whose name was Hyat Sahib, ordered the prisoners to prostrate themselves before him. The Lascars obeyed, but the Englishmen contented themselves with salaaming.

The jemadar asked Campbell a number of questions about England and the East India Company, which he answered with caution, feeling certain that the governor was trying to extract information to be used against his country. Hyat then began boasting of the power of Hyder Ali, and to tell stories of his successes against the British, most of which Campbell did not believe. Then suddenly, having heard from one of the Sepoys that the Scotsman had been an officer and came of a distinguished family, Hyat’s tone changed. He invited the prisoner to take a seat, paid him many compliments, and hinted that his having fallen into his hands might prove the most fortunate event of his life.

As he left the governor’s presence, Campbell wondered very much what could be the meaning of this sudden civility. His consternation may be imagined when he heard his guards congratulating him upon his good fortune, and found that he was about to be “honoured” with a command in Hyder’s army

To fight against his own country with her most deadly foe was a thing no British officer could do, whatever might happen.

That evening a supper was sent to Campbell from the jemadar’s own table, and he and Hall were separated from the Lascars, and imprisoned in a hut by themselves. They were still carefully watched, and surrounded by a strong guard, which was changed every week.

A few days later Hyat sent once more for his captive, made him many gifts, and told him that a flattering proposal was about to be made to him, when his position would become a most enviable one.

The same evening another high official sent for the Scotsman, and after praising the greatness and generosity of Hyder Ali, announced that the sultan had placed him in command of five thousand men in his own army—an honour, the chief added, which it was impossible to decline.

Campbell’s worst fears were realized. The offer was an insult, and he explained very firmly and courteously to the official his reasons for being unable to accept it.

The jemadar listened with patience, but when Campbell had finished speaking he said in a significant tone that he had little doubt that means would be found to overcome his guest’s unwillingness.

Campbell was taken back to his prison, where he told Hall what had taken place, and both agreed that he was likely to meet with cruel persecution. The Scotsman replied that nothing would induce him to disgrace his country by becoming a traitor; and he resolved to endure whatever might happen.

On the following day he was sent for again, and the governor asked him if he had duly considered Hyder Ali’s magnificent offer and the consequences of a refusal. To this Campbell made a dignified reply, showing the impossibility of his taking service with the enemy of his own country.

Every argument and threat was used by the governor, who sent for Campbell day after day, and tried to shake his resolution. After some weeks of this treatment he tried the effect of hunger, but his prisoner still held out.

Months passed, and the lot of the prisoners only became worse. Their jailers brought them continual reports of Hyder’s successes against the British, which they felt sure were invented to dishearten them. Campbell was forming plans to escape with some of the men of his old regiment, when of a sudden he and Hall were put in irons. This cruelty was too much for Hall. He died, and his companion was left alone among the natives.

His situation appeared desperate, when suddenly he heard of the death of Hyder Ali, and found that the troops were preparing for some warlike expedition. Campbell was set free from his irons as well as a native prisoner with whom he had become friendly, and after a few days a messenger came from the jemadar, who was with the soldiers on the frontier, desiring that the Englishman might be sent to him.

In high spirits Campbell set out, hoping that this might mean freedom, or at least an improvement in his condition. On the way the cavalcade met a young chief whom Campbell had seen several times in Hydernagur, where he had attended the jemadar’s audiences. On recognizing him the young man leaped from his horse in great agitation, and turning to Campbell’s guards ordered them to retire, and he would be answerable for the consequences. The men hesitated, but the order was repeated, upon which they ran off.    .

The native then told Campbell that he knew him and pitied his plight, but had been unable to interfere. He was the son of the nabob who had once received kindness from Campbell’s father, and he would willingly do the brave Scotsman a service. He told him that the British had won a victory over Hyder’s troops, and were in possession of the frontier passes. Here the youth broke off, and for a moment was unable to speak.

“Alas, sir,” he said at last, “this day I heard Hyat Sahib give orders to bring you before him, in order that he might revenge himself for the defeat of his countrymen by putting you to death.”

Campbell was greatly alarmed, but the prince added, “And now, how happy I am to be able to show my gratitude by rescuing you. Come with me, and I will take you to my father, with whom you will be safe.”

They set off, but had only gone a little way when they were startled by hearing the sound of music, which proved to be from the band of Hyat’s troops returning from the front.

The prince was deeply disappointed, but told Campbell that he must fly at once, as he was unable to protect him. Pointing out a path in the forest, he told him that by following it he would fall in with the British army.

Campbell struck into the path, but after walking for a little while it occurred to him that now had come the chance of doing his country a service.

Hyder Ali was dead, and his son, Tippoo Sahib, who succeeded him, was the enemy of Hyat. Under

the new reign Hyat Sahib was no longer safe, and Campbell resolved to return to Hydernagur and try to induce him to make terms with the British.

He found Hyat looking extremely crestfallen. “Well, sir,” he said on seeing the Scotsman, “you have heard that your fellow-countrymen are in possession of the Ghauts, and you know that, according to our custom, I am now justified in treating you with the utmost severity. In consideration of your family, however, and because I happen to have a liking for you, I will allow you to escape. Fly without delay; haste you; begone.” With that he waved his hand and looked another way—a signal for the Scotsman to depart.

Campbell thanked him, but said that before leaving he had something of the utmost importance to communicate. The jemadar seemed surprised, and Campbell said he would like to give him some advice, as he, Hyat, had now everything to fear from Tippoo Sahib, who would be sure to take some revenge upon him in return for his former enmity.

Hyat was extremely dejected.

“It is true,” he said; then he looked at the speaker with a sad curiosity. “But of what use can your advice be to me now?” he asked.

Campbell praised the generosity and kindness of the British, and leading the governor on by skilful arguments, advised him to yield himself to the victorious general, who would know how to treat a brave man. The jemadar at first looked surprised, then nodded his head thoughtfully, and after considering for a little while he told Campbell that he might go to the British general and ask for terms of surrender.

“If you do not return before daybreak to-morrow,” he said, “I will set fire to the town with all the stores and the powder magazine. Six thousand horse and a thousand foot soldiers are now on their way from Seringapatam; I will tell them to hasten if you do not come. If Tippoo once meets the English army in the open field, he will give them cause to repent of their rashness.”

Giving his word that he would be back by the appointed time, Campbell set off on horseback, accompanied by a native interpreter. The British army was soon reached. The Englishman knew the password, and was taken by a sentry to the general’s tent.

The general was asleep, and his native servant was at first afraid to admit the newcomer, whose wild appearance frightened him. Unshaven and uncombed, the unfortunate captive had neither cap nor stockings, and was clothed only in a ragged shirt and breeches, with his feet thrust in a pair of Indian slippers. At last the Hindu ceased to utter exclamations of astonishment, and led the way to his master. The meeting caused great surprise, both to the visitor and his host, Campbell recognizing in the conqueror his old friend General Matthews, while the latter was much surprised at meeting Campbell, whom he knew to be a prisoner of Hyder Ali, but whom he had not expected to see in his tent. He received Hyat’s message with great satisfaction, and in less than an hour after his arrival Campbell set out in the general’s palanquin carrying General Matthews’ terms of surrender.

The jemadar read the message and seemed pleased, but asked for four or five days to consider. Delay might be fatal; so, taking advantage of the confusion which reigned in the city, Campbell collected his old soldiers, posted them at all the gates, the powder magazine, and other important points, and set off to meet the general, who had pushed on with his advance guard. He conducted him to Hyat’s presence while the governor was still undecided, and terms being quickly arranged the British flag was hoisted over the city.

Campbell had gained a province for Britain, but his adventures were not yet over. He was sent with dispatches to Madras and Bengal, and continued his journey through Travancore, Trichinopoly, and other places.

During the journey he received very sad news of his friend General Matthews. Success had made the old soldier less vigilant, and, taking advantage of his neglect, Tippoo had reconquered Bednore and put the garrison of Hydernagur to the sword, forcing the general to take poison in prison.

Campbell took ship at Negapatam, but the vessel on which he sailed was captured by a French frigate near Fort St. George.

Campbell escaped, only to set out upon further travels, and was so little discouraged by the perils he had undergone as to take a trip to China before setting out to return to his own country, which he reached after a voyage of five months, having been absent for four years and five days.


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