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The Life and Times of General Sir James Browne
Chapter III - Beginning of Browne's Indian Career: 1860


THE last chapter has described at some length the public outlook when Browne arrived in Calcutta towards the end of 18591. He was kept there only a few weeks while the Government were deciding where to send him; and during that short stay, besides spending some pleasant days with his brother John, he studied the system and arrangements of his future departmental duties, and then started off to join the headquarters of the Sappers and Miners at Roorkee.

There too his stay was short, lasting only a few weeks, during which he was doubtless keeping his eyes and ears well open; and then came rumours of a row with some of the tribes on the north-west frontier, for the suppression of which a detachment of the Sappers would be needed. Then, as all the seniors were already otherwise engaged, Browne, the youngest officer of the corps, was dispatched, in command of two companies, to the seat of operation, distant some 700 miles—rather an onerous charge for an absolute novice.

The tribe concerned bore the name of the Mahsood Wuzeerees; and the tract they occupied was opposite part of the Punjab frontier lying between Dera Ishmael Khan and Bunnoo.

Without dealing at present with the general question of frontier quarrels and raids, it may be mentioned that there had been already twenty-two expeditions carried out by the British Government against one or other of these border tribes during the eleven years that had elapsed since the annexation of the Punjab in 1849. One had been in close proximity to the site of the impending operations. Two others also had been near it, slightly farther to the south; but the other nineteen had all been more northerly, in the neighbourhood of Kohat or Peshawur. All these expeditions had been conflicts with Pathan tribes. There had been none at all in the still more southerly district, where the trans-frontier tribes included Beloochees as well as Pathans. It will be explained presently that most Pathans are fanatical, but the Beloochees are not, and also what other differences* there are between these two races.

To revert to Browne, it was doubtless a trying task, for one so recently arrived in India, to carry out the responsibility of this march. He had scarcely had time to acquire even a smattering of the vernacular, or of the details of the management and command of native troops; but apparently he got through the march with perfect success. Railroads there were none, and he had simply to march the regulation stages by the, as yet, unfinished trunk roads via Umballa and Loodiana, and onwards across the whole of the Doabs1 of the Punjab, up to Attock, and thence descend by boat down the Indus to Tank, near Dera Ishmael Khan, the rendezvous of the column which was to carry out the expedition against the Mahsood Wuzeeree tribe.

There he found himself, on April 15th, under the direct command of Captain Pollard, R.E., and attached to a force of about 5,000 men, which included that superb corps, The Guides, and of which the general officers were General Sir Neville Chamberlain and Brigadier Lumsden—both of them distinguished commanders.

General Neville Chamberlain had been noted from his earliest days as a brilliant and valuable officer, as well as an unrivalled swordsman. He had served throughout the Afghan war, the Gwalior campaign, the Sutlej and Punjab wars, and the siege of Delhi, where he had been adjutant-general of the army; and he was now the commandant on the Punjab frontier.

Brigadier Harry Lumsden, usually known by the “happily chosen name of Joe,” had first served with Pollock in Afghanistan, and then in the Sutlej and Punjab campaigns. He had already been appointed to the exceptional duty of raising the corps of Guides, which attained the very zenith of soldier fame and repute with its deeds in the Mooltan campaign and in the Mutiny, when it had marched its 600 miles to Delhi in twenty-two days, and joined in action on the day of its arrival; losing in the engagement the gallant young Quentin Battye, who died with the old classic quotation on his lips, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” After some ceaseless partisan warfare on the frontier, he had been selected by Lord Canning for deputation, with his brother, Captain Peter Lumsden, and a medical officer, Dr. Bellew, on a mission to Candahar, to support there during the Mutiny the friendly policy of the Ameer Dost Mahomed. After the neck of the Mutiny had been broken, Lumsden had returned to Peshawur— and now he had come down with his beloved Guides to Dera Ishmael Khan for the Wuzeeree expedition.

A memoir which has been written of General Lumsden shows what a character these Wuzeerees bore, both as fighters and as ruthless marauders; but it may be specially mentioned here that, irrespective of the character of the people, the geographical position which they occupied was one of the highest strategical importance to the British Government. It commanded and held the two great kafila routes from the Punjab into Central Afghanistan, to Ghuznee and to Khelat-i-Ghilzie, respectively. And the weakness of our administration and of the Government of India cannot fail to be recognised when it may be plainly mentioned that, however victorious we may have been in this and other later contests with these Wuzeerees, we have never, until the present (Lord Curzon’s) rule, forced that tribe to yield to us the possession of those routes and the command of those entrances into the adjacent country. This has to be mentioned in direct explanation of the case and of the necessity of these operations.

The position, character, and attitude of the enemy must now be described. Their habitual boast, which they repeated to our general and to Pollard, was the distich:

Kings they have come, and kings they have gone—
Never a king of them tribute has won.

This indicated the general attitude of the Wuzeerees, which was apt to end in violent aggression on their neighbours.

They had recently committed a very truculent raid, and their special iniquity now was their refusal to pay the fine levied by Government for that deed; and the object of the expedition was to enforce the penalty and capture their chief stronghold, Kanagorum, which they fondly believed to be impregnable, if not actually inaccessible.

Browne had reached his post to the very day, for on the morrow, April 16th, the force crossed the border and entered Wuzeeree territory, which was quite unknown to us save by native rumours. It had never before been entered by an Englishman, but it was understood to be an entangled mass of mountains, in some five ranges, with crests rising from 5,000 to upwards of 12,000 feet, accessible only by the defiles of another quite separate range, the Suliman, with streams or rivers, some of which attained a breadth of 1,000 yards.

Shortly before this the Wuzeerees had received a sharp check, which had led them to keep to their own hills while the expeditionary force was assembling. The incident was this. The first party of the British force to appear in this neighbourhood, in advance of the rest, was a detachment of about 150 Native Cavalry, under the command of a very smart and knowing old ressaldar, or native officer. Hearing of their arrival, some 3,000 of the enemy poured out from their hills to the plains to attack this party. The wily ressaldar, affecting to retire before them, drew on these Wuzeerees after him, and handled his men so as to make it appear that they were gradually getting more and more disorganised. But when he had thus drawn the Wuzeerees, all infantry of course, some three miles away from their hills, he suddenly halted, threw his men into proper formation, and with a volley and a cheer charged home into the mass of the enemy and drove them back in hot flight to their own hills, the ground being strewn with some 200 of their dead before they reached their shelter.

It will be understood that at this time Browne was, for practical purposes, an entire novice. Everything in this Derajat country was absolutely new to him, and as perfectly the opposite as it could well be of anything he had hitherto experienced or seen. And there can be no doubt that he was at once, and strongly, impressed with the manly and vigorous style of men, friends or foes, with whom he was now coming in contact; and, however strong his combative tendency, he felt, at the same time, that they were people to whom he could be, as he eventually was, very warmly disposed. This must have eased his feelings and helped him to tackle the heavy work and labour now before him, and also led him not merely to carry out his current military duties, but to acquire the language of the country and gain good practical knowledge.

Next day, April 16th, the force started into the hills; and after penetrating some twenty-five miles, it split up into two parties, of which the smaller one, of some 1,500 men under Lumsden, halted at Palosin, with the camp and stores, while Chamberlain, with the larger party, advanced farther, exploring the adjacent valleys. Browne was left with Lumsden’s camp.

A few days afterwards—on April 23rd, to be precise—a compact body of 3,000 Wuzeerees attacked Lumsden’s camp at early dawn, overpowered the pickets and some irregular levies, and then dashed sword in hand onwards. But Lumsden soon got his troops into formation, and holding the enemy in front with his Guides whom they had attacked, swung his Ghoorkas and Sikhs round on their flank and repulsed them. Then he turned the check into a complete rout, pursuing the enemy over the hills, and giving them no breathing time, till they broke up thoroughly and dispersed in all directions. The Wuzeerees left behind dead in the camp some 130 men, including their chief.

It was here that the first of Browne’s adventures, of which so many are told, is said to have occurred. The attack was a surprise, and Browne was in his night dress; not finding his sword at once, he is said to have seized one of the light poles of his shemiana, or small tent, and swept down the raiders with it

Next morning the whole force advanced, the enemy essaying in vain to check them by proposals for a parley; and on May 4th the real fight came off in the Burrera Tonga Pass, which they had fortified with terraces of stone breastworks, and strong and thick abattis. Our troops were formed in three columns. The enemy, supposing they had checked the first column, charged the force; on which the whole three columns, acting in concert, drove them back, and accompanying them into the defences (where the gallant Keyes cut down their chief), then drove them out, and pursued them over the hills, leaving the ground thickly strewn with their dead.

These two fights, at Palosin and Burrera Tonga, were the only real combats in the campaign, and the road was now clear to the enemy’s chief stronghold of Kanagorum. This was reached next day; and, though reputed to be impregnable, it came to satisfactory terms forthwith, and was spared the destruction which had threatened it Parties of the victorious troops entered and walked quietly about the fort and position, much surprising the wild mountaineers by their peacefulness and camaraderie. A Syud who watched them could not refrain from calling out, “Well done, British justice!” an effusive testimony to the unexpected British discipline and British character and conduct which is said to have pleased the general as much as his military success.

In less than a week the force left Kanagorum on its march back, or rather round towards British territory, and swept northward for some 160 miles through the whole length of Wuzeeree Land to its northerly exit at Bunnoo. On its route it meted out punishment to those sections of the tribe that had earned it, and searched out and destroyed their principal strongholds.

The chief position thus dealt with was Makeen, a group of villages with a specially large collection of strong towers. These towers were all levelled to the ground, but not till after some delay—longer delay than Sir Neville liked. But blasting the large solid bases of such towers could not be done in a moment. One of them, for instance, which Browne destroyed, was forty feet high, square in plan, with a side of only twenty-five feet; but, up to a height of eighteen feet, this square was of solid stonework, the whole of which he had to blast to pieces. All the work was similar.

After this the force again went onwards toward Bunnoo, Browne continuing these demolitions, clearing the road and removing obstructions as the force advanced; and also triangulating, surveying, and mapping the country, and joining of course in any combats that occurred. Such was the work of Browne and his Sappers in this expedition, which, though brisk while it lasted, was over in a month, the closing task being the construction of a road for the guns through the Ruzmuk Pass at a height of 7,300 feet above sea level. On clearing out of the Wuzeeree country and reaching Bunnoo, the force was broken up, on May 19th; and Browne, who received high praise for his conduct in the expedition, was then posted to engineer work at Attock, on the Indus.

It may be here noticed, as a matter of personal interest, that Browne and his family were brought repeatedly into contact with this Mahsood Wuzeeree clan. In later years he surveyed their country and passes, reported on their communications, and organised the system of blockade by which only have they been kept under control. His brother-in-law, Pierson, of his own corps, contracted a fatal illness and died during one of the expeditions against them; and a year after Browne’s own death, his eldest son fell a victim to a treacherous attack in one of these Wuzeeree villages.

This was Browne’s first contact with the men of the frontier, and before the expedition was over he had advanced far in power of conversing both in the ordinary vernacular and in the Pushtoo and local dialects of the border tribes, and further, had shown a wonderful aptitude for dealing with the men.

His quickness in acquiring the vernacular was exceptional and marked, and widely recognised. It was doubtless due in a great measure to his fine ear for music; but he attributed it more to the training during his earlier years in speaking so many of the colloquial languages of Europe—English, French, German, and Italian.

In this expedition, too, he had specially gauged the feeling and bearing of the Pathan and other border men in that neighbourhood towards the English. They were exceedingly brave, manly, and bold. They had not fought against the English for many years; and they had sent many men to join our Punjab and frontier regiments, and to take part in the storming of Delhi and other operations for the suppression of the Mutiny. They were a race with whom firmness, authority, and vigour, as well as tact, were necessary to keep them under proper control. And well it was for Browne that he had thus early acquired, under exceptionally good frontier officers, sound and correct ideas on this point, and had, as already noted, taken a liking to the race.

For now, after four months of purely military experience, he was appointed, in July, i860, to the Public Works Department of the Punjab, and posted in almost solitary positions to works at Attock, and at isolated posts there and on the Indus and near Peshawur, among a wild Pathan people.

This first expedition was all the more valuable when followed by his new appointment For in that Wuzeeree expedition he had been brought into immediate contact with a peculiar and typical tribe. Though Pathans of the proudest and fiercest type, they were situate in the central ground between the exclusively Pathan districts on their north and the more Beloochee races to the south, and were comparatively free from the ruthless religious fanaticism of the tribes that stretched northwards to the River Attock and into the Himalayan Mountains beyond. His first experience therefore—and a very practical one it was—of the Pathan race was not the same as if it had been that of the more northerly and very fanatical tribes, and he was able to start on his new work with a more favourable idea than he might have otherwise formed of the temper and character of the Pathan workpeople with whom he was now to be brought into the closest contact

Further, he had come under the eyes and won the friendship of the two leading men upon that frontier, Sir Neville Chamberlain and Colonel Lumsden, who were also cognisant of the fact that Browne’s whole experience of India had been of less than six months’ duration, and appreciated the excellent use which he had made of it.

Neither the exigencies of the work on which he had been engaged nor the inaccessibility of its locality had admitted of his acquiring properly the public knowledge of outside general events for which he thirsted. For great events were stirring everywhere : in America the slavery crisis and civil war; even in England the anxieties that were creating the Volunteer movement, of which the suggestion originated from Louis Napoleon; in India, besides the matters already mentioned, the aggressive movements of Russia from the north. She had not only been in contest with the Khirgiz in the north, but had been threatening the Khokand and Bokhara States; and Kharikoffs mission, which had started early in 1858 for the exploration of Khorasan, had travelled as far as Herat But on essaying to advance still farther

India-wards, he had been checked by Dost Mahomed’s fidelity to his treaty and alliance with us, and had consequently returned to Teheran.

In moving from Wuzeeree Land to Attock, Browne was suddenly brought into close contact with—into the very midst of—a race differing in one most important point, fanaticism, from those with whom he had hitherto been dealing. This fanaticism, as already noted, did not exist at all in Wuzeeristan, or to its south, and had penetrated only slightly to its northern borders; but in the Eusufzai districts, Peshawur and Attock, and the northern hills, it was fierce and bitter, and Ghazees abounded. Englishmen carried their lives in their hands, and the outlook for any one who had to mix freely with the people was not apparently very promising. Browne, however, was quite impervious to such ideas, and his feeling and attitude to these wild people were quite unique. Hence, before proceeding with his personal story, the origin and the particulars of this fanaticism may perhaps be first described, with its spread and growth, in these parts, at the time of the Sikh advance to the west of the Indus River, its condition when, the British power replaced the Sikh rule, and its later history.

In the descriptions given by native historians of olden days, no fanatical feeling, indeed hardly any religious feeling at all, was shown as existing among the Afreedee or other neighbouring tribes about Peshawur, before the Sikh power crossed to the west of the Indus. It is since then that an exceptionally great change of religious feeling, with the rise of intense fanaticism, has begun and spread among the clans there—the Orakzais, Afreedees, Khyberees, Eusufzais, and the like.

It is very likely that so long as the rulers of the Indus districts of the Punjab, including Hazara and Kashmir, were Mahomedans, there was no need or necessity for any mullah or priestly pretender to come forward and stir up a religious war; for the strife would have been only between Moslem and Moslem. When the Moghul emperors or their Mahomedan or Hindoo lieutenants moved troops to conquer the country of any independent tribe, it was done to increase the power of a Mahomedan empire; and the mullahs would far rather have assisted the attack than opposed it. The resistance offered by the tribe would be due solely to the objection that any brave and independent race would have to the notion of conquest—to the indignity of seeing their country attacked and annexed by any one else, and not to any question of religion. Mullah fanaticism was never at the base of any such opposition or struggle. But when the soldiers of the Sikh “ Lion of Lahore,” having first annexed the different districts and quarters of the Punjab itself from the hands of the previous effete Moghul and Barakzai rulers, gradually acquired Hazara and Peshawur, and other trans-Indus districts, then the matter took quite a different turn; and the year 1825 saw the rise and commencement of that fanatical hostility and progress which have helped to cement the opposition of the Mahomedans—first against the Sikhs, and afterwards against their successors, the British.

It may be useful to describe first very briefly the career of one or two of these fanatical priests or pretenders, or whatever name one cares to call them by, who did so much to give and cause incessant trouble during recent years.

The first to be mentioned is Sayad Ahmad Shah of Bareilly. It was in the year 1824 that, having journeyed to Calcutta, and thence to Mecca, and returned by way of Candahar and Cabul, Sayad Ahmad appeared in the plains of Eusufzai with forty Hindustanee followers, and proclaimed himself champion of Islam! Who could have judged, or imagined, that this first pretender, with his small gathering, would one day secure Peshawur, and have the means of opposing the whole of the Sikh power? Who could have believed, at that period, that the followers of this one man would afterwards force on the English Government the campaign of 1853, the affair of Shekh Jana, 1858, the expedition against the Khuddu Khels, 1858, the subsequent conflicts such as the Ambeyla campaign, 1863, and the Black Mountain expeditions of 1868 and 1888? But, as it turned out, his arrival in the Eusufzai country proved a success. The simple and superstitious people there at once flocked to the standard, and his small Hindustanee band was forthwith increased to 900 men by recruits from India. Collecting his gathering, and assisted by the Khans of Hund and Zeyda, and the followers of the Peshawur Sardars, Sayad Ahmad determined in 1827 to offer battle to the Sikhs, and moved eastwards with the intention of laying siege to the fort of Attock. But Runjeet Singh had timely warning of what was going on, and Sayad Ahmad had barely reached Saidu when Runjeet’s famous general, Harree Singh, having a large force at Attock, sent Budh Singh with a strong command across the Indus to meet the Pathan host at Saidu. As, however, his Peshawur supporters promptly disappeared, Sayad Ahmad suffered a crushing defeat, and fled with a few followers to Lund Khwar, to Swat, and then to Boner.

After that, however, he was invited to return to Eusufzai by certain of its Khans, who promised to help and assist him. Accordingly he once more proceeded there, and thousands, including various other chiefs, swarmed to his standard. It was here that he seems to have first met that notoriety, Abdul Ghaffur of Jabrai, in Upper Swat, known also as the hermit of Beka, the Balajee, and still better in later days as the Akhoond Sahib of Swat. He appears, before this, to have joined in the slaughter of Khadi Khan of Hund, the treacherous chief who had revealed the secret of the proposed attack on the fort of Attock, and had in consequence brought on the disaster at Saidu.

Sayad Ahmad then proceeded to Panjtar, where Fatteh Khan gave him a warm welcome, and assisted him in his undertakings. He then subdued the Khans of Hoti and Hund, and in a night attack defeated the Barakzai Sardars who had advanced to Zeyda. In 1829 he again defeated the same Sardars at Hoti, and, following up his victory, secured possession of Peshawur.

These contests were all with his Mahomedan coreligionists; and were continued with them till at length his aggressiveness, and still more his obnoxious edicts regarding their women, stirred up the enmity of the whole Pathan community; and, in the massacre that followed, thousands of his disciples were slaughtered. After this, Sayad Ahmad, Sayad Ismail, and the ever-increasing colony of Hindustanees, now numbering some 1,600, were compelled to cross the Indus and take shelter in the Punjab, in Balakot, where other followers were coming in to join him. But the Sikh general, Sher Singh, was not the man to stand this, and, without losing any time, he marched at once against the Sayad and defeated him in a pitched battle in which Sayad Ahmad himself, his principal officers, and the mass of his men were either cut down or driven into the River Indus and drowned. Only 300 men managed to escape, and these no doubt went and joined other gatherings, and helped to inflame the minds of the Pathans inside, as well as those of the tribesmen outside, of the Peshawur district against the heretical Sikh. It is because he was the first and chief originator of this priestly fanaticism—which has since his days played so important a part in all fights and campaigns, whether against the Sikhs or ourselves—that we have recorded this history of him. But such briefly was the career of Sayad Ahmad, the first of their fanatical leaders.

The Sikh rule on the frontier was, it may be mentioned, a stern and harsh if not a cruel one: the slightest offence against person or property invariably led to the extreme penalty of death. If a village failed to pay its quota of revenue, a force was led out against it, the residents were shot down, and the village walls levelled with the ground. The Sardars and farmers of the revenue, whenever the farming system was established, were equally harsh and oppressive towards the inhabitants; and as they were supported by the Sikh power, the latter came in for the extra share of hatred brought on by the conduct of these understrappers. Hence the independent frontier hill country gradually became full of men, who had fled there from the Punjab plains for protection against the oppression of the Sikhs; and these refugees, assisted by the numerous mullahs, talibs, and disciples of Sayad Ahmad, Abdul Ghaffur, and others of less note, gradually led all the followers of Islam—inside and outside the border land—to hate virulently the heretical and infidel Sikh.

When afterwards the English power replaced the Sikh, the Afghan hatred towards the latter was at its very height; and as no steps were taken to avert the tendency, we, as the successors of the Sikhs in the rule of the country, came in for a full share of the same. As an Afghan gentleman of great influence has said, “The behaviour of the Sikhs had made it very difficult for the English to win the regard and affections of the Afghan population.” A few years of a steady course of kind treatment has certainly gained for us their respect, but the hatred of the mullahs, both inside and outside our borders, remains unaltered ; the former may veil and conceal their inward feelings, but the latter vaunt their dislike and enmity openly, and preach their “ghaza ” and “jehad"just as devoutly as ever. Thus was it that, in acquiring the Punjab, we also succeeded to the Sikh inheritance of the hatred towards them of the border Mahomedans.

What has been above written describes the real origin and opening phases of the fanaticism under reference; but some further instances and remarks may tend to stamp the characteristics more thoroughly.

After Sayad Ahmad the next priestly adventurer was Abdul Ghaffur, the recluse of Beka, best known as the Akhoond, whose name has already been mentioned as having met Sayad Ahmad in Eusufzai. Abdul Ghaffur had now settled down at Saidu, in Swat, where he married a woman of the Akhoond Khel clan, and had two sons and a daughter; and, leading a life of perfect austerity for many years, he managed to secure an enormous ascendency over the minds of the Mahomedans, while his fame spread to all quarters. Then in 1849, on the British becoming owners of the Peshawur district, he, the Akhoond, became mischievous, and encouraged the Swat marauders to raid into the plains of Eusufzai and disturb the peace of that border from Abazai to the Indus; and in the strife that then ensued there fell into our hands a letter fron the Akhoond which authorised the murder of all Europeans and Hindoos in the Peshawur valley, and of all Mahomedans in British service. So our eyes were opened to the malign influence at work.

But no immediate action was necessary, for our recent operations against the Utman Khels and others near them had opened the eyes of the people of Swat to the dangers they were incurring by sending marauders into our territory, and they had become fearful lest their own country might not just as easily be overrun by the British arms. They therefore held their hand, and, till 1863, did little beyond appointing a titular king, who died early, and was the first and last king of Swat Hence the Akhoond’s efforts collapsed, and he almost disappeared until 1863. When the story reaches the events of that year, we shall hear more of him.

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