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The Life and Times of General Sir James Browne
Chapter II - The India of Dalhousie and Canning


NOW that Browne is about to start on his career in India it may be useful to describe the state of that country, the events that had been occurring, and the antecedent circumstances, with a view to a proper understanding of the unfortunate position of affairs which had resulted from them.

This subject can be most conveniently dealt with in consecutive periods, of which the first is Lord Dalhousie’s rule; next, the first year of Lord Canning’s rule—i.e. up to the first signs of the Mutiny; and third, the course of the Mutiny from its outbreak to its complete suppression and the restoration of peace.

These will now be described; but reorganisation, the changes and rearrangements, administrative, military, and others, that were introduced in 1859 after the Mutiny as the start of a new regime, will be dealt with separately.

To proceed, then, first with the epoch of India under Lord Dalhousie: this period ended in 1856, and his last act had been the annexation of Oude, by which the territory included under “British India” had been brought within one huge unbroken ring fence. But with this enormous increase of territory there had been no really corresponding addition made to the arrangements for its military strength and security. Lord Dalhousie had asked for it from England, but had not received it to any adequate extent, owing, it is understood, to the exigencies and strain caused by the Crimean war; so that, as an example of the weakness of the military situation, the great stretch of country between Delhi and Calcutta—some 900 miles—was, as regards British troops, garrisoned by only three regiments.

The main strength of the English army was concentrated in the newly conquered Punjab, and on the Afghan frontier. The Punjab itself had been made thoroughly friendly at first by judicious and kindly treatment and light taxation. But latterly its chief ruler, the wise and beneficent Sir Henry Lawrence, had been moved away; the financial screw had been applied; the Sikh chieftains had been beggared, and the Sikh peasantry had felt the ignominy keenly.

Over all India and especially in Upper India there had been an exceptional and beneficent increase in the measures for the material improvement of the country (as shown in Lord Dalhousie’s Minute), coupled, however, with a less intimate intercourse with the people and a greater formality and rigidity in the administration of justice, with the resulting increase in chicanery and corruption. And unfortunately the most prominent and immediate result of these improvements was that malcontents and intriguers had used them widespread to excite the fears and suspicions of the people as to the supernatural aims and evil designs of their English rulers.

Meanwhile the seeds of ill-feeling that had arisen in the Sepoy army at the end of the Afghan war, owing largely to the loss of caste unavoidably entailed on the Hindoos by the exigencies of residence in a purely Mahomedan country, had been spreading rapidly, fostered and increased by the idea that the Government was indifferent to the matter.

The great group of native states, from Rajpootana to the Deccan, was fairly loyal, owing to the wisdom of the British officers who were the residents of their respective courts; but there was a strong element of disaffection and uneasiness caused by Lord Dalhousie’s widespread annexations and his opposition to the time-honoured practice of adopting heirs where none existed in the natural course of succession; his inclination being to have recourse, instead, to the summary measure (as in the cases of Nagpore and Jhansi) of declaring the dynasty at an end and incorporating the state into British territory.

Worst of all, there was prevalent among the whole native population, of all creeds and classes, a strong but generally vague religious agitation, based upon the prospect of some epoch, such as the centenary of Plassey, the prophesied advent of another Mahomedan prophet, the Emam Mehndee, and the like, as well as upon rumours of another class—traced to the notorious Moonshee Azimoolla—of the exhaustion and depletion of the British army owing to its losses in the Crimea.

Further, in addition to the indiscreet efforts of would-be .missionaries, some perfectly justifiable and righteous efforts to suppress real and rooted malpractices had increased the irritation of fanaticism and bigotry. Thuggee had been hunted out; but Suttee was still carried on, female infanticide was sadly prevalent, and there is no doubt that the efforts to suppress them entirely had met with much dogged opposition.

So that there was a very large and weighty mass of causes for disaffection and consequent anxiety; and to it all Lord Dalhousie, when he was leaving, added his heaviest and most telling legacy—the annexation of Oude, the last and most important of the independent states, and the dethronement of its King: the King, be it remembered, of the Fatherland—the greatest nursery—of the Rajpoot Sepoys of the native army.

This last was the final blow to the trust and fidelity of the Sepoy army of a century’s growth; and with the enactment of the next year, which will presently be described, that army was bound to subside.

At the end of his reign Lord Dalhousie had tersely drawn up a list and statement, under 180 heads, of his widespread series of administrative reforms and arrangements, and measures for the material improvement of the country. His achievements for England do not require to be described. He had conquered and annexed the kingdoms of the Punjab and Lower Burma. He had taken the administration of the great province of Oude out of the hands of its Nawab, and placed it under our own officers. So that now all India—all Hindostan—was in a ring fence under British sway, and Runjeet Singh’s prediction to Lord Metcalfe, “Sub lal ho jaega,” had been fulfilled. The whole map of India was now tinted red. Only one administrative reform did there appear to be which he had not carried through—the introduction of a budget and of scientific accounts and finance. That would have completed the task. So no wonder that congratulations and triumphant feelings pervaded England.

Lord Dalhousie’s departure for England and Lord Canning’s assumption of the government of India having followed closely on the annexation of Oude, the first matter to be now dealt with is the immediate fate of that province and of its King and court.

The administration of the province was left under the charge of Sir James Outram, a thoroughly capable ruler; but he soon fell ill, and had to quit for England, leaving for his successor a most well-ordered and beneficent scheme for the settlement and government of the province. Its fate will be referred to presently, but in the meanwhile the action of the King and his court have to be dealt with.

The King refused to remain at Lucknow, and came south with his whole court to Calcutta, sending some of his representatives to England to plead his cause. At the same time, two of the Sepoy regiments that had garrisoned Lucknow at and immediately before the annexation were—somewhat thoughtlessly it may be said—moved in the same direction—i.e. to the neighbourhood (1) of Calcutta, where the King of Oude now resided, and (2) of Moorshedabad, where was the palace of the former Nawabs of Bengal of Clive’s days.

Thus early in 1857 there were concentrated about Calcutta the leading malcontents, the chief of the displaced monarchs, the most practised and skilful body of intriguers, and the most disaffected troops in India, the whole of them in the immediate neighbourhood of our greatest arsenals and military factories. What, then, could be more natural, probable, and easy than that these Oude intriguers should tamper with the troops and arsenal workmen, and bring about the suspicion—with the swiftly following cry—of “improperly greased cartridges,” by which to contaminate and destroy the caste of the Sepoys who would have to use them? This cry was followed at once by the mutiny of the two regiments already named, the 19th and 34th (which were forthwith disbanded), and by the “Greased Cartridge” cry flaring up and spreading, like wildfire, through the whole of the old Bengal Sepoy army.

Meanwhile a war had begun with Persia, and was exciting and irritating the Mahomedans of India Moreover, at the very same time, there was a large assemblage in Calcutta, for court ceremonials and interviews with Lord Canning, of some of the most powerful representatives of the old Indian royalties —such as Scindia, and others—affording the easiest and most effective of means for widespread conspiracy.

In Oude, which had been left in a quiet and promising state by Sir James Outram, though its old rulers had since become the origin of the whole agitation, the interests of the Talookdars (the chiefs of the clans) and great landholders had been neglected, and they had become anxious, irritated, and at length angry; but Sir Henry Lawrence now arrived, as their new ruler, early in 1857, in the very nick of time. He at once acted promptly and wisely, and not only righted their wrongs, but made them friendly and cordial. Other malign influences, however, had been at work.

The Wahabi Mahomedan sect at Patna had incited religious quarrels between the Hindoos and the Mussulmans through a couple of emissaries, Moulvies, at the rival shrines of the two creeds at Fyzabad in Oude; and there had been some fighting, which too Sir Henry had at once suppressed. But these Moulvies were powerful and active leaders of fanaticism, and affected the whole country between Delhi and the east of Oude.

General Anson, the Commander-in-chief, had never seen service; was best known as a society man and a great whist player, and seemed either unequal or averse to the vigour called for by the crisis, or blind to its gravity. The troops in the provinces nearest Delhi were slow to concentrate, and though the mutiny at Meerut occurred on May ioth, the battle of Badli Ke Serai, with which the siege of Delhi began, was not fought till June 12th following—a lapse of more than a month, by which time the chief had died. Now the centenary of Plassey was June 23rd; so it was now beginning to be rather late for any overwhelming catastrophe to the empire to be brought about on or by that date; and the most the enemy could make of it as an epoch or anniversary was to generalise the date into a period.

Meanwhile, apparently, the first news of this state of affairs to attract attention at all in England was the intelligence of the actual Meerut outbreak of May ioth. No notice seems to have been taken of all the seething concomitants or previous causes of disaffection.

But before this Lord Canning had in 1856, the previous year, added the most effective fuel to the fire by the publication of the General Service Act, under which Sepoys could henceforward enlist only for general service, and would have to cross the seas, go wherever they might be desired, and so become liable to indiscriminate breach of caste. This act was the most mischievous deed of all as regards the soldiery. The cry now in the homes of the Oude and other Hindoo Sepoys was, “What will our sons now have to do? That which has been our business in life for the last hundred years is gone! The Sepoy army, which has built up this empire for the great 'Company’ that employed it, is at an end! An end of shame! It behoves us to act for ourselves.”

Then at length early in May, 1857, a crisis about the cartridges arose at Meerut, and was bungled— the troops there mutinied and rushed to Delhi, forty miles off, where the city people joined them and proclaimed the restoration of the Moghul empire; and thus began the war of the Mutiny, with the imperial city and fortress of Delhi as the gage of battle.

The outbreak at Meerut and Delhi was so premature as to upset the plans of those who were the conspirators of the revolt, and to give the Government time for some preparation. The only places where full advantage for that purpose was taken of the interval, were the Punjab and Lucknow. The only man in India who had really and fully foreseen the storm, and prepared strenuously for it before it developed, was Sir Henry Lawrence, who was at this juncture the head of the Government of Oude; and the people of the province now aided him heartily, with supplies and other needs. The one old warrior who scornfully refused to believe that the outbreak was serious was Sir Hugh Wheeler at Cawnpore, and he would not deign to make preparations to meet it, however strenuously urged by Sir Henry Lawrence to do so. The one province which met the crisis when it broke out with adequate, and more than adequate, vigour was the Punjab. There, too, fortunately, the foresight of Sir Herbert Edwardes had secured the integrity and safety of the frontier— (1) by a treaty with Dost Mahomed, and (2) by the presence with him of the Lumsden brothers; and his personal influence there was at once leading the local and frontier tribes to side with the English and join them in large numbers, first for the Punjab itself, and then for the struggle at Delhi.

The Sikhs were, for prudential reasons, not sent to the seat of war, but kept in the Punjab, and for a time some of the frontier regiments were the only troops sent to swell the army besieging Delhi. Then gradually additional troops of frontier men were raised and sent down with John Nicholson, and shortly afterwards Delhi was stormed, on September 14th.

Cawnpore, not having been prepared, fell. Its fate need not be told here Lucknow was the prolonged centre of conflict throughout the whole war, and in seven separate stages, thus: (4) Sir Colin Campbell relieved and removed the whole garrison,

(5) leaving Outram with a force at the Alum Bagh, on the outskirts of Lucknow, to hold the access to it, till,

(6) after three months—on March 4th next year, 1858—he attacked the huge triple entrenchments of the enemy round the palaces, and before the end of the month took the city and dispersed the enemy; and,

(7) lastly, clearing the districts around, from Lucknow itself as a centre, hemmed in the remains of the rebel army into the northern frontiers, and drove it thence into the Nepal mountains, when it totally disappeared.

Meanwhile, Sir Hugh Rose from Bombay, and other columns from Madras, had been clearing the Central India districts, and taken Jhansi, leaving the enemy holding no position of defence. But latterly there were other masses of the defeated enemy still in the field, chiefly towards Gwalior. Sikh levies having now been largely added to our army, these several gatherings there of the mutineers or rebel troops were systematically attacked and crushed, the last being, as already mentioned, Tantia Topee.

Thus the war, which had been brought on by the Mutiny, and had been designed to sweep the British out of India, had now become narrowed instead to certain northern districts, as has been described, and was in fact finished off in less than two years from its start. The political result was the transfer of the Government from the East India Company to the Queen, and the institution of more businesslike arrangements and extensive material improvements for the ring fence empire which Lord Dalhousie had acquired, and Lord Canning had secured, for Great Britain.

Both of James Browne’s brothers had before this time been out in India. The elder of them, John, of the Civil Service, who had won high honours at Oxford and at Haileybury, had gone to Bengal, and was now stationed at Dinajpore, between Calcutta and the Himalaya Mountains to its north. The country there had become disturbed, but nothing special needs to be recorded respecting him.

But of Robert, the story and fate were thought so interesting that they were included in the scanty intelligence that was sent from the force with Havelock at Cawnpore to the army before Delhi. He had been appointed to the 56th N. I. which was stationed at the Gehenna of Cawnpore. But he was away from the headquarters of his regiment when the rising occurred; so he escaped the massacre and catastrophe there. By good luck, he had been sent on detachment duty to Humeerpore and other outposts; and when the Sepoys there broke out, he and the other officers in the neighbourhood escaped to the jungles bordering the Ganges, and there hid in the hope of coming across some friendly force that might be marching up country from the south.

There they wandered for five weeks, encountering grave perils and attacks, and all of them, except Browne himself, meeting their death, being either drowned or murdered, or killed fighting, or succumbing to illness or privation. At last, when so ill, and so starved and exhausted, as to be on the point of death, he was lighted on, in a hut where he was lying hid, by a soubahdar (native captain) of the Madras army, named Gunga Singh. This officer, heartily loyal, secured a pony, carried out the emaciated Browne in his arms, placed him on the pony, and conveyed him thus, gradually, by secret paths, till they lighted on Havelock’s army.

Browne, on so reaching the camp, was in such a desperate state that the general proposed to send him to Calcutta But he entreated to be allowed to remain, as he felt already that he was recovering. So he stopped with the camp, did, as a fact, recover health and strength, joined Havelock’s Volunteer Cavalry, and fought in seven of the actions in the operations for the relief, or, as it was afterwards called, the reinforcement, of the garrison of the Lucknow Residency. But, alas! he was attacked by cholera, and succumbed to the fell disease.

The soubahdar, it may be mentioned, was made much of and well rewarded, receiving a handsome presentation medal with a suitable inscription, various military honours, and a valuablejagheer, or grant of land.

The intelligence of his brother’s adventures was of course most exciting to James at Addiscombe, but the later news of his death was a crushing blow. This, combined with some of the darker features and episodes of the war, materially affected his state of feeling during the last term of his cadetship, and the vigour of his work. But it did not do so sufficiently to prevent his gaining the prize at which he had been aiming—an appointment to the Bengal Engineers. In December, 1857, he left Addiscombe. Browne came out third in the list of Engineers—but the second on the list died while at Chatham, so that Browne stood second of those who reached India.

His comrades posted with him to the Bengal list were Conway Gordon and Carter (afterwards Carter-Campbell); and those to Bombay were Mant and A R. Seton. These, with Vibart, Manderson, Lovett, Home, Skipwith, Edward Trevor, and Jopp, all about the same standing, were his firm friends through life.

All these young Engineer officers went to Chatham for the prescribed course of practical professional instruction. They tried hard, of course, to be allowed to go out at once to India and have a chance of taking part in the later stages of the war. But this was not to be; and it was not until after the completion, in the middle of 1859, of the usual residence at Chatham that Browne proceeded to Calcutta, to start on his Indian career.

It may be added that, in consequence of the lessons of the Crimean war, the Chatham course had been extended and improved, both as to the subjects, and in the severity of the study. The period spent there was no longer regarded, as of old, in the light of a time for more or less of a holiday, after the continued strain at Addiscombe, and before embarking on one’s practical career.

One point to notice when Browne is thus about to land in India is that he was quite exceptional in respect of the strength and personal effect of his religious convictions. This is all that need be said of them at this period, except that he never obtruded them, though they were ingrained and fundamental, and that they influenced his every action.

We now come to the state of affairs in India after the Mutiny and the start of the new regime.

The fundamental change lay in the rapid and widespread development of the principles and methods of administration that had been initiated by Lord Dalhousie1 in substitution for the more patriarchal system that had prevailed. Departments were being everywhere formed for the several classes of duties and work that were required, and were being placed under more suitable and special supervision than of old.

The beneficent system that had been formerly in force, though scarcely thought of or recognised in England, where India was regarded chiefly as a sort of colony for the expatriation of younger sons, had been carefully watched and heartily praised by such men as Montalembert; and the changes now being introduced had to avoid any lessening of the benefits that had attached to that old system.

The most important measure now being started was that of a proper financial and budget system. The monetary transactions of Government, heretofore in a chaotic state, were being brought into order and financial regularity, under the guidance of Mr. Wilson of The Economist, who had been sent out to India to organise the Financial Department The Civil Service, which officered the Civil Departments, was now being entirely recruited by competition which ensured brain power, though it was still doubtful whether it also ensured the continuance of that simple and benevolent tone and that unison with native sentiment which had been held specially to characterise the old Civil Service, and which had been so effective in its influence with the great body of the teeming millions of the population. But the two greatest changes, besides that of the introduction of proper financial management, which affected Browne’s career, were those in the army and in the Engineer or Public Works Department.

In the army the abolition of the purchase system removed the obstruction which, as insisted on by the Duke of Wellington, had barred general commands and staff appointments to officers of Artillery and Engineers; and in India the officers of the new army, in substitution of the old Indian Cavalry and Infantry, were, curious to say, constituted a “Staff Corps,” which, at first at any rate, reserved all further staff appointments to its own members, and sedulously excluded officers of Artillery and Engineers save a very few rare exceptions. These staff appointments, as they were called, absorbed all the real prizes of the service, not only the army staff, but the political department, the regimental officers of the frontier force, and so forth.

In the course of time the rigidity of this exclusiveness was gradually reduced. One RE. was actually allowed to become Commander-in-chief This was Lord Napier of Magdala. And “Buster” Browne was himself the first RE. to become Q.M.G. of the army. This was done at the instance of Lord Roberts.

At the same time the numbers of the British troops in India were very largely increased beyond the force that had been maintained there before the Mutiny. This, with the claims of improved sanitation, necessitated a very great expansion in the accommodation needed for the British troops both in the plains and in the hills; and with the increasing prominence of the Russian and Eastern questions which had come to the front at the same time, the defence of India— on its frontier, its seaboard, and its interior—had to be thoroughly taken in hand.

Further, the necessity for progress in the material development of the country and its resources, which had been vigorously begun by Lord Dalhousie, had become more and more obvious. Only a very few important railways had as yet been started, and their management had been left entirely to the agency of State guaranteed companies; but to cope adequately with the real needs of the country, a vast expansion of them and the adoption of other agencies in addition, and of fresh methods, had become indispensable.

Irrigation works for agricultural purposes had always received an exceptional degree of attention— much more, that is, than any other class of enterprise; and some very important canals had already been carried out, or were in progress, in Madras and Scinde, in the North-west Provinces, and the Punjab. But an enormous increase was now felt to be really needed, if only to cope with the famines, more or less prolonged, which were ever recurring and becoming more prominent, and so establishing their claims to attention. All these requirements would obviously make great and special demands on the soldier and the engineer, and give them corresponding opportunities.

In extenuation of the apparent neglect in former days it may perhaps be just to observe that, with the exception of what has been already mentioned, the East India Company had, up to Lord Dalhousie’s time, felt that its attention and expenditure must be concentrated on the suppression of anarchy and the promotion of peace, justice, and commerce. It may also be observed that, as before noticed,* the native community were so impregnated, by instinct and habits, with suspicion of the objects and aims of their rulers, and of any proposed changes or innovations, that much precaution and care were needed for their introduction—as, for instance, in the case of the electric telegraph. This tendency to suspicion had been one of the most effective handles used for the propagation of the Mutiny. The people were content with their own style of country (non-macadamised) roads, with ferries instead of bridges, and so forth. There was not an iron bridge in India, except one or two at the capitals, and one at Lucknow; where it had been erected when Oude was a native kingdom, and its Engineer officers could personally influence the Nawab.

Also, very beneficial changes were made in the accounts of engineer operations, in part of the arrangements instituted by Mr. Wilson. These changes removed the overwhelming and prolonged monetary responsibility which had formerly attached to the Engineers pending the audit of their expenditure, in which the delay of many years was the chief characteristic, a veritable scandal and disgrace to the Government.

To meet the increase in the engineer work various schemes were more or less adopted. One was an addition to the corps of Royal Engineers. Another was that of recruiting from the trained young Civil Engineers in England, besides a sprinkling of older and more experienced men. And eventually this was supplemented by the institution of the Cooper’s Hill College. Of course, every now and then engineers left the service of the guaranteed railways and took employment under Government; but this did not occur to any great extent till ten years later.

But till then there was considerable friction between those several classes of engineers, and jealousy of the Royal Engineers, many of whom, on the other hand, had their time and professional ability frittered away on petty barrack work in the several cantonments, as the military stations were called.

Another point which should be referred to, before leaving this subject, is the condition of the British troops in India at that time. The enormous increase in their numbers made the provision of shelter for them very difficult. At first it could not be other than inadequate or unsuitable. The result was appalling mortality; and it was not till the wise and beneficent Lord Napier of Magdala forced this matter into prominence, meeting with much obloquy and ridicule at the time, that this mortality was reduced by four-fifths, mostly through the provision of healthy barracks, on healthy sites, and of facilities for a healthier life. The state of matters was, at first, nearly as bad for the officers and their families, while all expenses and the price of everything had risen enormously. Government adopted many steps to lessen the difficulties that had resulted, but it took a long time to make the state of matters tolerable. The soldiers’ wives and families were at first in great difficulties, but the extension of Sir Henry Lawrence’s asylums afforded the best help of all. It was a long time before the soldiers’ wives could come to terms with the natives. The marketing was curious. It was odd to hear the intended inquiry, “How much for this sheep’s head?” expressed in the vernacular thus: “What o’clock this sheep’s hat?”

Again, another feature which may be usefully mentioned in the change now begun in the State of India was in regard to the feeling between the English community and the natives. The tendency of the new English residents to dislike the natives, owing in a measure to a mistaken idea of their conduct in connection with the late rising, was more or less reasonable, but the special point now referred to is “domestic service.” Nothing, on the whole, could be more praiseworthy than the conduct of the servants of English families and regiments during the Mutiny; but the servants then extant exhausted the whole habitual trained supply. Hence the wants of the enormous increase of the English military community could not be met except from a very inferior and wholly untrained and unfit section of the native population. Naturally very bad and mischievous relations arose between the new English community and their domestics. And for some time this unpleasantness extended unfortunately to their demeanour towards natives in general, of all classes.

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