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The Campbells of Argyll
John Campbell of Stonefield


The eldest of the seven sons of a distinguished Scottish judge, John Campbell of Stonefield began his military service in the American War of Independence. When peace was made he returned to England, and was soon afterwards sent out to India in command of the Seaforth Highlanders. On arriving at Bombay he found that he had been appointed to the 2nd Battalion of the 42nd Highlanders or Black Watch. The 42nd joined a body of troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Mackenzie Humberstone, and were sent into the interior to attack an important fortress in the territory of Hyder Ali. Several small forts were taken on the way, but the large one proved to be much stronger than had been expected; and having heard that Tippoo Sahib was on his way with a large army to relieve it, Colonel Humberstone was obliged to retreat.

He withdrew to a small fort in possession of the British; then hearing that Tippoo’s army was pressing forward in great numbers, he retreated towards Paniane after first blowing up several native strongholds. Advance guards of the enemy harassed the soldiers on their march, but the retreat was covered by Major Campbell, who had a horse killed under him. The officer in command reported that it was entirely owing to the soldierly conduct of the major that the natives were held at bay and the expedition enabled to reach Paniane in safety.

Lieutenant-Colonel Macleod now assumed command of the British, who were reduced by sickness and fighting to three hundred and eighty Europeans and two thousand two hundred Sepoys. The position they occupied was a strong one, and the defenders were endeavouring to strengthen it by field-works when they were surrounded by a force of ten thousand cavalry and forty thousand infantry, including two corps of Europeans under the French general Lally.

On the 29th of November Lally advanced at the head of his European troops, directing his attack against the post occupied by the Highlanders. There was a sharp contest, which was well maintained on both sides; but the Highlanders, making charge after charge with the bayonet, drove back the enemy, who were entirely defeated and dispersed.

The action was mentioned in these terms in General Orders :—

“. . . this little army, attacked, on ground not nearly fortified, by very superior numbers skilfully disposed and regularly led on. They had nothing to depend on but their native valour, their discipline, and the conduct of the officers ; these were nobly exerted, and the event has been answerable. The intrepidity with which Major Campbell and the Highlanders repeatedly charged the enemy was most honourable to their character.”

The gallant 42nd lost three sergeants and nineteen rank and file, while three officers and thirty-three men were wounded.

After this defeat Tippoo retreated towards Seringapatam, having heard rumours of the death of his father. The post being no longer molested, Colonel Macleod was sent with his battalion to join Brigadier-General Matthews, who was invading Hyder’s provinces in the interior. The two forces met and marched towards Bednore, being followed and harassed on the way by flying parties of the enemy. Strong field-works had been erected on the slopes of the mountains which they had to ascend. Seven of these forts in succession were stormed and taken by the 42nd, who "attacked the positions with the bayonet, and, pursuing like Highlanders, were in the breastwork before the enemy were aware of it.” Four hundred of the defenders were bayoneted, and the others driven back into the forts.

The principal redoubt, Hyder Gurr, was discovered on the summit of a lofty precipice, with a dry ditch in front and twenty pieces of cannon threatening the invaders. On the face of the

mountain were seven batteries on terraces, one above the other; and large trees had been cut down and so placed as to prevent the approach of the troops except on parts exposed to the fire of the guns. Major Campbell gave the word; and the lower defences of the stronghold were attacked with such spirit by the Highlanders that the enemy were completely terrorized, and fled from the strong position during the night. All resistance for the time being was at an end, and Bednore was taken possession of by the British.

In February the Highlanders under Major Campbell attacked and carried the fort of Annanpore with great loss to the defenders, the cost to the British being trifling. On the following day Major Campbell thanked his little army for their spirited behaviour, and on the 28th of February again led his men against two small forts, which they reduced.

While there news came of the entire defeat of General Matthews and his army, and the Highlanders were sent to join the scattered remnant of the defeated forces at Mangalore.

His superior officer having been recalled, Major Campbell was promoted lieutenant-colonel, and placed in charge of the troops at Mangalore. Emboldened by his successes, Tippoo advanced towards the town, sending on an advance guard of four thousand horse and foot and several field guns. The force halted in a position about twelve miles distant from the place, and Colonel Campbell resolved to take them by surprise. Making a midnight march, he reached the enemy’s camp while they were asleep; attacked and completely defeated them. Four field pieces fell into his hands, as well as a hundred and eighty draught bullocks—a most valuable prize, the entire country being in the hands of the enemy.

On the 19th May Tippoo’s vanguard arrived, and by the 23rd the little garrison was surrounded by an army of not less than a hundred and forty thousand men, including two bodies of European soldiers under General Lally and Colonel Cossigny. The Sultan himself was with this formidable force, which was accompanied by a hundred pieces of artillery.

The siege which followed is one of the most remarkable achievements of the British army, the troops in Mangalore amounting only to eighteen hundred and eighty-three men, of which some three or four hundred were British soldiers, the rest being sepoys or native infantry. The supplies were insufficient, and the garrison were short of every necessity for withstanding a siege. The defences being incomplete, the handful of men had to be on the alert day and night to prevent Tippoo’s huge force from swarming in at one of a thousand weak points.

Early in the siege a small outpost, defended by some sepoys, about a mile distant from the place, was almost surrounded by the enemy. An attack being made upon the small body, the 43rd, with a corps of sepoys, made all speed to their assistance, but arrived only in time to witness their defeat, and the troops had literally to cut their way back to the walls of the fortress.

Attack after attack followed, the natives being supported by their French allies, but every assault was repelled. Besides cannon-ball, the enemy threw into the city immense stones, which were fired from enormous mortars. Large breaches were made in the walls, leaving the besieged exposed to the enemy’s marksmen when they tried to fire their cannon. The houses were laid in ruins, and having no means of rebuilding them, the garrison were without shelter when the monsoon set in. Sickness prevailed, and the men were in want of food, clothing, medicine, and the commonest necessities of life.

Colonel Campbell encouraged the defenders by word and example, checking all complaints, relieving their distresses as far as was possible, and inspiring them with courage to continue. The losses of the enemy were greater at each successive assault, and after the siege had lasted about two and a half months, a truce was made through the intervention of the French envoys.

This splendid defence had filled Tippoo with admiration for his gallant antagonist. During the truce he invited Colonel Campbell and several of his officers to an audience in his tent. All the enemies sat down together to a splendid feast, and their host paid them many compliments upon their bravery. He greatly admired the Highland uniform of his Scottish guests, and, after entertaining the whole party with great hospitality, presented the colonel with an Arabian charger and sabre.

Some days later the enemy sprang a mine while the flag of truce was still flying, and hostilities immediately recommenced. The provisions of the garrison were almost exhausted when some troopships arrived in the bay, conveying General Macleod and a reinforcement for the defenders. Some provisions were conveyed into the city, but an armistice being in force, the general retired to Tillycherry with all his men. Another reinforcement arrived in November, but after the troops had begun to disembark, the defenders had the bitter disappointment of seeing them return to the ships and sail away.

Repeated disappointments were telling terribly upon the men, who were reduced by wounds and sickness to nearly half their number. Many of the sepoys had become blind, and others were so reduced by starvation and sickness that they fell down while shouldering their firelocks. “The troops were eating horses, frogs, dogs, crows, catfish, etc., etc.,” and enduring privations of every kind ; they had no hope of relief, and did not know the whereabouts of the rest of the British forces.

In the circumstances Colonel Campbell called a council of war, and it was agreed that to hold out any longer would be a mere useless sacrifice of life. The besieged surrendered upon condition that the small remnant of the garrison should be allowed to proceed to Bombay; and, after nine months of a most courageous and stubborn resistance, the little force left Mangalore with all the honours of war.

This wonderful defence was of the greatest importance to the British at that time. By keeping all Tippoo’s forces in one place, the small garrison prevented him from attacking in any other part of the empire, which he would certainly have done had he been free.

The defence of Mangalore was the one bright spot in the campaign against Hyder Ali. In his “Views of the British Interests in India ” Colonel Fullerton says: “We now arrive at the most interesting moment of the war; the garrison of Mangalore, under its inestimable commander, Colonel Campbell, had made a defence that has seldom been equalled and never surpassed. With a handful of men, worn out by famine, he resisted for many months a formidable force under Tippoo Sultan. The whole power of the Prince, assisted by the science of the French auxiliaries, could not force a breach that had long been laid open, and he was repulsed in every attempt to take it by storm.”

Another writer says: "The defence of Colberg, in Pomerania, by Major Heiden and his small garrison, and that of Mangalore, in the East Indies, by Colonel Campbell and the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Highlanders, now the 73rd Regiment, we conceive are as noble examples as any in history.” The hero of this great achievement was entirely worn out by his exertions. He left his regiment on the 9th of February, and went to Bombay; but he was past all hope of recovery, and died on the last day of February 1784, in the thirty-first year of his age.


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