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Self Lost in Service - Alexander Duff of India
Chapter X. The Indian Mutiny

FROM Bombay Dr Duff made his way across India, visiting amongst other places of interest, Jubbulpore, where he saw the white marble rocks on the Sacred Nerbudda river; the bees, which often attack visitors, did not molest the party. From the boatmen he received this singular explanation of the white rocks:—They were originally black as coal, till a holy man who led a self-denying life- on one of the overhanging ledges which break the face of the rocks, became so holy that he invited the gods to visit him. Although they number over three hundred and thirty million, they all came, and amongst this number the Sun god, and it was the effect of his brilliant presence that changed and left the rocks pure white:

Duff was truly glad to be back again in his beloved Institution, with his devoted colleagues, and right joyfully did his Indian teachers and senior scholars welcome him, but it was evident to one and all how much he had suffered, for as one of his colleagues said, "he was no longer able to run up the steps of the Institution three at a time, but had to take them one by one."

In May 1857 peace in India was rudely dispelled by the revolt of the Bengal army. It was a hundred years since the British rule had been confirmed in that country by Clive's victory at Plassy, and, according to a saying, that rule was to come to an end after a hundred years. It was a time of special anxiety to Dr and Mrs Duff, because their elder son was surgeon attached to the regiment at Meerut, where the Mutiny started, the officers being shot while at mess. But Dr Groves Duff, feeling unwell that night, was not at mess, and therefore escaped.

Dr Duff's Mission House, as he stated in one of the series of remarkably vivid letters he wrote during this grave period, was "absolutely unprotected, in the very heart of the native city." Yet he never dreamt of leaving it. Rifles and ammunition were served out to the Europeans, and in order to become familiar with the weapon which he received Duff often fired blank cartridge in his compound. One of his colleagues said he would never forget the gleam of glee that lighted up his face as he handled his rifle. Duff "felt with the men of that day that necessity over-rides all conventions." It was on Sunday, 9th May 1857, that the cartridge panic at Meerut set the mutiny ablaze, a mutiny which but for this precipitate incident, which disordered the plans of the conspirators, would, three weeks later, have taken shape, not in detached and broken form, but as a general rising over the whole land.

Massacre Averted by Storm

Even as it was, Calcutta itself narrowly escaped a general massacre. "There was a deep-laid plot or conspiracy," wrote Duff, on Sunday, 16th May—"for which some have undergone the penalty of death—to sieze on Fort William and massacre all the Europeans. The night chosen for the desperate attempt was that on which the Maharaja of Gwalior, when here, had invited the whole European Community to an exhibition of fire-works, across the river, at the Botanic Gardens. On that evening, however, as if by a gracious interposition of Providence, we were visited with a heavy storm of thunder, lightning and rain, so that the grand entertainment of the Maharaja had to be postponed. The European officers, therefore, had not left the Fort; and the object of the conspirators being thus defeated, was soon afterwards brought to light to the horror of all, and the abounding thankfulness of such as acknowledge the loving-kindness of the Lord ..... At this moment all interest is absorbed by the two most prominent cases, at Meerut and Delhi. Such a blow to the prestige of British power and supremacy has not been struck in the whole history of British India. All Calcutta may be said to be in sackcloth." But with Duff it was not a time of idle mourning. He was busy heartening others and doing all that was possible towards furthering safety. One night, we are told, two men with lanterns could be seen approaching each other along one of the streets of the native city. They were Doctors Ogilvie and Duff, making their way to enquire about each other's welfare.

Though disaster had been averted in Calcutta by the fortunate storm described by Duff, the city was still in dire peril, and but for the prompt action of General Neil, Calcutta would probably have been tragically enveloped in the mutiny.

Dr Duff used to tell us that when the General was waiting at the station for the landing from the transport of his regiment, which had just arrived from Madras, he heard the stationmaster give the order for the train leaving. "What,!" he said, "Send off the train without my troops! Put him in arrest." The order to start was countermanded, and not until the soldiers had entrained did that train leave Calcutta, with the result that Neil arrived in Benares, the terminus of the line at that date, in time to prevent an outbreak in that city and in lower Bengal, which must have followed.

A Dread Change

Notwithstanding Calcutta's good fortune thus far the city remained in deep gloom, agitated, as it daily was, by the reverberations of the dire struggle which was in progress. On 24th June 1857, Dr Duff wrote
Through .God's over-ruling providence, Calcutta is still the metropolis of British India. But, alas! throughout the whole of the North-West Provinces, all government is at present at an end. The apparently settled peace and profound tranquility which were wont to reign throughout British India in former years, once called forth from an intelligent French traveller the somewhat irreverent but striking remark, that the Government of India was 'like the good Deity; one does not see it, but it is everywhere. So calm, serene and ubiquitous did the power of British rule then appear to be. How changed the aspect of things now! . . . Instead of peace and tranquility, security of life and property........ universal anarchy, turbulence and ruin! the military stations in possession of armed and bloodthirsty mutineers,—the public treasuries rifled—the habitations of the British residents plundered and reduced to ashes,—numbers of British officers, with judges, magistrates, women and children, butchered with revolting cruelties,—the remnant portions of the British that had yet escaped, cooped up in isolated spots, and closely hemmed in by myriads that are thirsting for their blood, while bands of armed ruffians are scouring over the country, striking terror and consternation into the minds of millions of the peacefully disposed"

Calcutta's Sunday of Panic

In a letter dated 16th June, he said :"Calcutta has been in a state of alarm far exceeding anything that has gone on before. Our great infantry station, Barrackpore, lies about twelve miles to the north of Calcutta, and on the same side of the river; our artillery station, Dum Dum, about four or five miles to the North-East. To the south is Fort William, and beyond it the great Allipore jail, with its thousands of imprisoned desperadoes, guarded by a regiment of native militia; not far from Allipore is Garden Reach, where the ex-King of Oudh has been residing with about a thousand armed retainers, the Mussulman population, generally armed also, breathing fanatical vengeance on the 'infidels,' and praying in their mosques for the success of the Delhi rebels. Calcutta, being guarded by native police only, in whom not a particle of confidence can' any longer be reposed, seemed to be exposed on all sides to imminent perils, as most of the European soldiers had been sent to the North-West. In this extremity, and in the midst of indescribable panic and alarm, the Government began to enrol the European and East Indian residents as volunteers to patrol the streets at night, etc. Happily the 78th Highlanders arrived during the week, and their presence helped to act so far as a sedative. Still, while the city was filled with armed citizens, and surrounded on all sides with armed soldiers, all known to be disaffected to the very core, and waiting only for the signal to burst upon the European population in a tempest of massacre and blood, the feeling of uneasiness and insecurity was intense. Many, unable to stand the pressure any longer, went to pass the night in central places of rendezvous; numbers went into the fort; and numbers more actually went on board the ships and steamers in the river.

"On Sabbath 14th the feeling of anxiety rose to a perfect paroxysm. On Saturday night the Brigadier at Barrackpore sent an express to Government House to notify that, from certain information he had obtained, there was to be a general rising of the Sepoys on Sabbath. Accordingly, before the Sabbath dawned, all manner of vehicles were in requisition to convey all the available European forces to Barrackpore and Dum Dum. Those which had been sent to the North by the railway on Saturday were recalled by telegraph message through the night. But the public generally had not any distinct intelligence as to the varied movements; and even if they had, there would have been the uttermost uncertainty as to the result. Accordingly, throughout the whole Sabbath day the wildest and most fearful rumours were circulated in rapid succession."

In these circumstances Dr Duff was urged to leave Cornwallis Square, which, on the event of an attack, would have been in special danger. He declined to do so. "There were others in the Square besides my partner and myself ......If one must leave the Square, all ought to do so; and I did not consider the alarming intelligence sufficiently substantiated to warrant me to propose to my neighbours a universal abandonment of the Square. So I went on with all my ordinary Sabbath duties, altogether in the ordinary way." And, so far as he had heard, not one of the ministers in Calcutta had yielded to the entreaties made to them to refrain from duty; they went on preaching, though in the forenoon the churches were half empty, and in the evening nearly empty altogether.

"On Sunday, at 5 p.m. the authorities, backed by the presence of British troops, proceeded to disarm the Sepoys at Barrack- pore, Dum Dum and elsewhere. Through God's great mercy the attempt proved successful. This, however, was only known to a few connected with Government House and their friends, so that the panic throughout Sunday night rose to an inconceivable height. With the exception of another couple, Mrs Duff and myself were the only British residents in Cornwallis Square. Faith in Jehovah as our refuge and strength led us to cling to our post; and we laid us down to sleep as usual; and on Monday morning my remark was, 'Well, I have not enjoyed such a soft, sweet, refreshing rest for weeks past.' Then we soon learnt the glad tidings that all the armed Sepoys had everywhere been successfully disarmed; and that, during the night, the ex-King of Oudh, and his treasonable courtiers were quietly arrested and lodged as prisoners of State in Fort William."

A Notable Warning

Even during the Mutiny Dr Duff was anxious "lest the longing for retribution may swallow up the feeling of mercy, and he hoped that, with the restoration of peace, there would be a greater effort to make the Gospel known throughout India." "It should be remembered," he insisted, "that the men who have been guilty of such outrages against humanity have been so just because they never came under the regenerating, softening, mellowing influences of the Gospel of grace and salvation." And he penned a notable warning. "The British people should be jealously on their guard against the fair weather representations of men high in office,—men who from personal intercourse know nothing of native sentiment beyond the glozing lies of a few sycophants,— men who, from motives of political partisanship and personal self-interest, are sorely tempted to mistake the apparent calm on the upper surface for peace, contentment, and loyalty." He held that it was right the British people should know the real state of native feeling, and should insist on a rigid scrutiny into its causes He had a great contempt for the cowards of India House, who, in their fear of giving official support to Christian work, declared for neutrality, yet for the time openly recognised Hinduism. "Cowards in the eyes of man, and traitors in the eyes of God."

Through all the trials of the mutiny the loyalty of the Indian Christians to the British Government cheered him greatly. Rev. Lal Behari Day, one of their number, describing their trying position said, "If they fell into the hands of the mutineers, they received short shrift, and yet they could not altogether extinguish in their hearts every feeling of sympathy for the people of the land of their birth, however much they might disapprove of their actions."

When Lord Canning was leaving India, Dr Duff, wearing his moderator's robes, attended at Government House, with other delegates from different societies to pay the customary respect to him. Sir John Peter Grant, noticing the ornamental gown which the doctor was wearing, remarked that it put them all into the shade. "And why not?" was the Highlander's reply, "A Duff's as good as a Grant."

Meantime the work went on as usual, though the strain was very obviously telling upon Duff's frame, in spite of his great recuperative power. It was now no unusual thing for him, after conducting service in the Free Church on the Lord's Day, to drive home lying prostrate in the conveyance drenched with perspiration and unable to speak; but on reaching home, after an hour's rest and a change of garments, to appear quite refreshed.

A Lover of Punctuality

He hated unpunctuality in public or in private. On one occasion he wrote to ask Mrs Duff to "apologise to Misses for my unusual abruptness yesterday, by simply stating of my being touched to the quick at finding myself unable to implement my engagement with Mrs to the very second. I am sure they must have thought me acting a strange part when, for instance, among other things, I actually took the bread out of A's (his son's) hand and hurried him away. I would rather want my breakfast a hundred times than fail in a plighted engagement, if otherwise able to fulfil it. Punctuality, rigid punctuality, as to time not less than order and arrangement, is a prime article in my code of practical morals." Now, owing to many excessive calls upon his time, it sometimes happened that he was late for his Bible Class. In that event, had you looked in you would have heard the class commence punctually to read in rotation the passage prescribed for the day till he arrived. When he appeared he always apologised, and pleaded that with so many calls upon his time, it was difficult to avoid being sometimes late.

Duff now made an effort to open a school for girls of the higher castes for, as he said at a later date in the Assembly, "You may teach the men in India, but you have done only half the work if you fail to educate, civilize, and Christianise the females." For the third time in his experience he was indebted to ,an Indian gentleman, who agreed to let the missionary have a room or two in his house, which stood in the same street as the new Institution, in which to open the school, and who also, by his influence with his neighbours, induced them to send their girls to the school. One of the last visits Duff paid before he left India for good was to this school, which is still known as "Duff's School." A lady visitor who found the doctor at the school wrote, "It was a touching sight to see this great man, the real pioneer of the enlightenment of India, as eagerly teaching these little girls as in preparing the students in his College for University matriculation, and, of course, underlying all was the lesson of the Gospel--Jesus Christ as Saviour and sympathetic Friend."


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