Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Life and Times of General Sir James Browne
Chapter VI - Lord Lawrence’s Viceroyalty: 1864-9


BROWNE AND THE FRONTIER SYSTEM—THE TWO POLICIES : THE “FORWARD POLICY” AND “MASTERLY INACTIVITY” —HOW THE MULLAH EPISODE BEGAN—FURLOUGH, MARRIAGE, AND THE ROORKEE APPOINTMENT—LAHORE —THE KANGRA VALLEY.

WHEN Browne returned to Nowakilla John Lawrence’s return to India on his assumption of the viceroyalty was the event of the day; and it was followed quickly by the emphatic exposition of the frontier policy that was to come into force: "Laissez faire” as known to the dissentients— “Masterly inactivity” as called by its supporters— a deep-seated question of which the merits and issues were not to be seen for some years, during which however there was persistent movement.

Up till now, Browne’s sole experience of India had lain on the Punjab frontier; but, much as he was taken with its native community, with the work, and with his comrades, there is little doubt that he was not at all satisfied with the changes that were beginning to appear in the local outlook, and he applied for short leave to England during the hot weather, and arranged that, at its close, he should not necessarily revert to the frontier, but be free for other employment and duties.

One probable reason for this was that, with his strong tendency to look ahead, he realised that his future tasks would be likely to involve more varied engineering, for the study of which he would not have time during his coming short-leave, and for which he would like to be able to make other arrangements.

His papers show that the altered system of frontier management that was now being introduced in the Punjab was not at all to his liking, a matter which will be dealt with later on; and he also felt strongly the weakness and blunders of the policy and management of the recent campaign both in the diplomatic and the resulting military aspect; while, as far as he could foresee, the undesirable system seemed likely to be continued. By the military aspect is meant, it must be explained, the guidance that lay not with the generals, but with the political authorities as to the effective action and measures against the enemy. That experienced and able frontier commander, Sir Harry Lumsden, wrote to this effect: “It is reported that Captain James, Commissioner of Peshawur, is exercising his influence to induce the hill tribes to give in and come to terms. My opinion is that once we get to blows with natives we should not leave off till the latter give in from a conviction of their helplessness. A treaty made under other circumstances will only prove a source of more trouble hereafter and leave an idea in the native mind that we give in to them from want of ability to go on with the war. Once a shot is fired the politicals should retire into private life till called to the front again by the supplicant chiefs begging to be let off.”

There can be no doubt that though the enemy we meant to attack had been destroyed, the object of the expedition had been gained, and the Akhoond even had wholly collapsed, still the tribes who had joined against us and formed the real difficulty of the war had been in noisense subdued or punished, though they had felt themselves unable to beat us. But, though thus let off, they had felt and understood our strength, and being a manly race, did believe our statements and accept the assurance that we had not had any intention to meddle with them—and the result was that there was peace on that frontier for the next sixteen years; not, however, any subjection to our supremacy as on the plains of India.

Major James, it may be observed, was in bad health, had hurried back from England at once on hearing of the broil; and was, of course, acting under orders. But his career was ended, and he died very shortly afterwards; a great loss, as was universally recognised, to the frontier administration.

Further, Browne’s three years’ presence on the frontier, with his close and intimate intercourse with the frontier and tribesmen of all classes and ranks, had led to his possessing a very keen and sound knowledge of the trans-frontier movements in progress and of the current action going on both in Afghanistan and beyond. His singular linguistic aptitude, and his quite unique powers over certain classes of tribesmen, made him a mine of exceptional knowledge which was never properly tapped by the authorities, with their habitual narrow prejudices, though it served as a most valuable guide to himself in steering his course, especially when he. reverted some years later on— almost finally it may be said—to the north-west frontier of India.

These remarks apply not merely to the dealings with the Afghans and our attitude towards them, but to the “Masterly Inactivity Policy” definitely and authoritatively announced at that very time by the Viceroy as the treatment and attitude to be maintained in India in respect of the movements of Russia.

This emphatic exposition had been brought about in a manner that verged on the ludicrous, almost at once becoming common property. Before it was known, in consequence of the suddenness of Lord Elgin’s death, who his successor would be, Sir Bartle Frere, the champion of the "Forward Policy,” had addressed a letter to the new Viceroy (whoever he might be) to meet him at one of the ports on his voyage out, pressing that policy on him; little dreaming, of course, that its recipient would be the very champion of the opposition or “Masterly Inactivity Policy”—Sir John Lawrence himself. But so it was!

The difference between the two schools, which must be explained, is excellently stated in the following passage, cited from Wyllie’s Essays on the External Policy of India.

“Afghanistan and Russia

“In 1865 it was held to be quite possible that in a very short time the Russians would have military colonies on the Oxus at Charjui and at Takhtapul. From Chariui troops might be thrown across the desert to Merv, and from Merv the fertile banks of the Murgab offered easy access to Herat Simultaneously a smaller- column might proceed through Takhtapul and the defiles of the Hindu Khush to occupy Kabul. Persia, of course, would act in alliance with the invaders, and at Herat the force from Charjui might be joined by large Russo-Persian reinforcements marching in from the shores of the Caspian Sea and the districts of Khorasan. Some delay would occur at Herat, for that city, as the key of the position, would have to be fortified and provisioned, and a chain of smaller forts on either side would have to be established, stretching as far as Takhtapul in the north and Lake Seistan in the south. But the interval would be well redeemed by disarming the hostility and securing the co-operation of the Afghans. The darling dream of that whole nation is to plunder India, ana Russia would offer them that guerdon, and the restoration of their old provinces of Peshawur and Kashmir to boot. Then some fine morning in early spring—unless timely measures of prevention were adopted on a scale far above the capacity of the Indian Government to comprehend or its courage to undertake—forty thousand disciplined troops of Russia and Persia, in conjunction with a countless horde of wild Afghan auxiliaries, could be launched, resistless as an avalanche, upon the doomed plains of the southern El Dorado; and there at once is the end of the English Empire of India.

“Language like this was at this period, 1865, by no means uncommon in India; and the practical remedies recommended extended to an immediate re-occupation of all Afghanistan.

“But politicians of another and far higher stamp {i.e. of the Bartle-Frere school], while they saw clearly that any immediate or even proximate danger of a Russian invasion was chimerical, nevertheless looked forward with uneasiness to the inevitable day when the Russian and English empires should be conterminous, and the presence of a first-class European state on our border would have power at any time to fan into a flame those elements of sporadic disaffection which of necessity are ever smouldering in any country won and held, as India was and is, by an alien sword. For political reasons of obvious weight, these persons believed that it would be in the last degree dangerous, should war arise, to have India as a battlefield; and on grounds of military strategy they were convinced that sooner or later we ought to occupy certain positions beyond our present frontier as outworks of the empire. Therefore, advancing from Jacobabad, which then was our uttermost station on the Scinde border, they would proceed up the Bolan Pass through Shawl1 into Afghanistan, and, leaving Kabul and Ghazni untouched, they would take possession of Kandahar and eventually also of Herat, and establish, at these two points, fortresses of exceeding strength, to be to India what the Quadilateral has been to Venetia, strongholds such as no invader would dream of trying to mask. Further, the long process of a regular siege would, it was argued, be an almost hopeless undertaking in consequence of the natural poverty of the country, the distance of our enemy from their base, and the previous destruction of the crops by the besieged.

“These opinions were held not only by high authorities like Sir Justin Sheil and the late General John Jacob, but also by Sir Henry Rawlinson, who besides his large general experience of war and policy in the East, stood facile princeps, as Dr. Vambdry testified, among all who professed a special knowledge of the cbndition of Central Asia.

“But the majority of the British public appeared to favour a third view of the question. Under the inspiration of a generous optimism, rather than from any discriminate appreciation of the dangers to which the Indian empire is exposed, they scouted Russo-

Ehobia as an exploded fallacy. In the interests of umanity they rejoiced that a dayspring of Christian civilisation was spreading through the horrible blackness of barbarism in which Central Asia had hitherto been wrapped; and they positively grudged the interval that must yet elapse before India could have a neighbour whose dealings with her would be conducted on the clear principles of European good faith, and whose settled Government would offer new openings for trade. Their vision of the future was that of the Cossack and the Sepoy lying down like lambs together on the banks of the Indus.

“Lord Lawrence, the Governor-General of India, had been steeped too long in the rough practice of actual statesmanship to have much faith m the advent of that political millennium when

“The common sense of most shall keep a fretful realm in awe, And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.

But his opinions with respect to Russia, so far as they can be inferred from his public acts, tended clearly towards the conclusion which the quietists would advocate—a masterly inactivity.”

Broadly speaking, the Forward Policy had originated, or rather had been brought into shape, in 1856, some eight years before the present crisis: in the year before the Mutiny, while Lord Canning and Herbert Edwardes were making with Dost Mahomed the treaties which immediately afterwards proved so all-important; though John Lawrence had received them with strong disfavour, and had agreed to them with extreme reluctance.

The exponents, then, of that policy1 declared that if the red line of England’s boundary was to retain its position on the map, there was absolute necessity for our occupying posts in advance of it.

“A war," they said, “within our own territory, with a European army, might be ruinous to our reputation and might entirely undermine our strength, although that strength might have sufficed successfully to meet a world in arms in a field beyond our own boundary.

“There were but two great roads,” the argument proceeded to say, “by which an army could invade ndia from the north-west—viz. the Khyber Pass and the Bolan Pass. Our existing outposts were on the hither or Indian side of both these passes—at Peshawur as regards the Khyber, and at Jacobabad in respect of the Bolan. At Peshawur we might well remain as we were, watching the mouth of the defile; but from Jacobabad we were bound in self-preservation to advance.

“To that end, the first step would be to take advantage of that article in the existing treaty with the Khan of Khelat which permits the cantonment of British troops in any part of his territory, and proceed accordingly to occupy Quetta. Connected with this measure, as its immediate consequences, would come a continuation of the Sind Railway to the foot of the Bolan Pass, and the construction of a good road through the Pass.

“Next, we should take into our pay a body of Belooch Irregulars, who, politically, would be useful as a link or connection with the native inhabitants, and who, in a military capacity, might be to us what the Cossacks are to the Russian army. Having thus established ourselves in Beloochistan, we should subsidise the Afghans, and pave the way for a peaceable occupation of Herat. With a proper garrison at Quetta, and 20,000 men in the fortress of Herat, we should not only block the Bolan route, but be able to operate with destructive effect on the flanks and rear of any invader attempting to proceed by way of the Khyber; and then India would be as firmly locked in our grasp as if surrounded by the ocean.”

These proposals, ever since their original publication, had been the theme of endless controversy in the press, and their general principles had secured the favourable opinion of weighty authorities such as Sir Henry Rawlinson and Sir Justin Sheil. But the more pressing public needs following on the Mutiny, and especially the reorganisation of the whole internal administration of India itself, had thrown the subject, for the time, into the background.

But now that it was resuscitated—and resuscitated moreover by Sir Bartle Frere in the way that has been described—the new Viceroy laid the matter forthwith before the Council.

He explained that he, John Lawrence, had all along known and been familiar with these arguments, that he had never at any time recognised their validity, and that he saw nothing in the present condition of Central Asia to lead him now to a different conclusion. Of the strategic advantages of occupying Quetta there was doubt, while some of its political disadvantages were obvious. The expense would be enormous, and the jealousy would be aroused not only of the Afghan, but of the Persian court also. Furthermore, it would always be open to us to occupy Quetta and subsidise the Beloochees at any period when the imminence of any real danger to our power might render such a step expedient.

“In the meantime,” he concluded by saying, “I am absolutely opposed to this undertaking.” Thus spoke the champion of “ Masterly Inactivity,” who had been just selected to save India in what was supposed to be a second great crisis—a dictator whose judgment none dared to dispute. And all this while Afghanistan was in a state of absolute anarchy—a state so hopeless and helpless that it took five years of strife and rack and misery before the land began to emerge into the glimmerings of more orderly rule.

Now Browne’s mind was far in advance of his years, especially in respect of public affairs; and he was quite exceptional, if not singular—and even single—in his breadth and independence of thought. The direction of his bent now seemed very decidedly to be towards a claim to absolute independence in action whenever there was full responsibility imposed by entire absence of specific instructions. This was, of course, coupled with the strict discipline demanded in respect of implicit obedience and genuine compliance and furtherance in the case of clear and positive orders. It is necessary to write this, because he was exceptionally ready to accept responsibility and act on his own judgment, if allowed such freedom— was inclined to oppose any subsequent interference or questioning that might be attempted, and especially resented it as a breach of faith if he had been promised a free hand, or otherwise led to expect exemption from such interference.

Such were the matters that affected Browne’s inclination as to the location of the work of his immediate future. He was too junior to carry weight and have influence with the authorities, but he was too thoughtful and too clear-headed not to have strong and decided views for his own guidance.

It was at this period, when Browne was quitting the north-west frontier, that an incident occurred in the Peshawur region which had a very singular and amusing connection with Browne’s career, but not till some fifteen years afterwards. This incident is the origin of the appearance of his double—and it began thus. An officer, of much the same age, appearance, and build as Browne, retired from the service about this time at Peshawur, and started on an independent and novel career of travel and adventure in Central and Western Asia—a career which will be described from time to time later on; and the likeness between the two led, for a time, and with singular results, to their being regarded as one and the same person. In connection with this episode and before Browne quits the scene of his early labour and life, it may be well to refer again and more fully to his intercourse with the Ghilzyes and other local tribesmen, including of course the gentry and men of family and rank, and their religious leaders. It was with men of every class and grade that he came into such close contact, and of whom he obtained such intimate and valuable knowledge. The result was frequently actual friendship amounting to devotedness. Instead of bigoted hostility, he met with kindliness and respect. There was one fine old Mullah whose greeting to Browne always used to be “Huzrut Yeesoo Ka Salamut,” which, being interpreted, is “The blessing of the Prophet Jesus be with you.” For Browne, though thoroughly cognisant of the wild fanaticism of some of them, was a hearty admirer of the better sort, and used to say that he knew the hearts of many of them to be nearer the divine light than those of many Christians. As for Browne himself, as he grew in years, so did his early religious spirit and habits grow with him, but always as a matter private and personal and never obtruded on others.

To return now to the actual course of Browne’s career, after Umbeyla. At the usual season, towards March, 1864, he applied for and obtained a short furlough, and found his family in their former London residence. His experiences and the character he had now won doubtless secured for him a very exceptional holiday time—anyhow a honeymoon—as he took advantage of the opportunity to secure to himself a bride, the sister of Pierson, his brother officer and comrade. And as this was the bright particular event and feature of the trip, nothing further need be said of its occurrences, which were not otherwise in any way exceptional. As the summer drew to an end, Browne had secured the appointment to a post which would give him the opportunities that he desired for rest, quiet, and study. This was at Roorkee, in the North-west Provinces, the seat of the Engineer College; and presently therefore the young couple left for India, and duly reached Roorkee in the early days of that delightful season—the cold weather—of 1864-5.

When Browne reached Roorkee in the early winter of 1864, he experienced at once a period of great quiet and rest as compared with anything he had ever before enjoyed in India, though he was keen to begin taking advantage of the library and the other professional advantages the college afforded.

And it was gratifying to him to find that his special aptitude and capacity were recognised by his being appointed to the chair of mathematics, and also assistant principal. While here settling to study his profession during the coming summer, it may be remarked that the social atmosphere of India at this time meant, in the upper provinces at any rate, a continuous ovation for John Lawrence. Before the summer set in he had assembled and met all the Punjab and hill chiefs in a great durbar at Lahore, accompanied by something like 60,000 armed clansmen ; and this was of course the chief incident of which the impression was felt at Roorkee. But, in fact, Sir John’s difficulties had already begun. His flatterers had overshot the mark. The blunder of the Bhootan war had occurred, and he was somewhat at issue with his colleagues. A serious famine also and other causes of friction were to the front.

But, in regard to the Brownes themselves, it was an advantage to the young bride to gain her first experiences of Indian society in a quiet but busy station, exceptionally free from frivolities, and likely to be friendly and helpful, being the headquarters of the Royal Engineers, the seat of the Engineer College, and the site of the capital, as it may be called, of the Great Ganges Canal. It was a pleasant introduction into the family life of the corps to which her husband belonged, before plunging into the rougher tracts and more isolated lines of life in which their future career would most probably be spent Browne himself, besides enjoying the advantages already alluded to resulting from the college and its library, especially devoted his time to mastering the vexed question of the suitable conditions and the respective merits of the several systems of irrigation in India. To that work his employment might be at any time directed; but, as it turned out, it was the one line of departmental duty on which he was never engaged.

The several systems of irrigation were not really rival systems, as so frequently called; but each of them had a speciality of its own, resulting from local circumstances, permanent and unalterable. Thus in the North-west Provinces and the Punjab the flooding of the Himalayan rivers, caused by the melting of the mountain snows in summer, led to their excess supply on reaching the plains of Northern India, being there scientifically tapped and distributed by subsidiary branches from the main canals, chiefly at special seasons, but also so as to ensure a fairly equable supply being maintained throughout the rest of the year. In Madras and Bombay the river floods caused by the heavy rains, in the rainy seasons, were utilised by their surplus water being led off into enormous tanks (i.e. artificial lakes or reservoirs) and therein stored against the proper time for distribution. And in Scinde and similar desert tracts the passage of the Indus and other great rivers through them led to a system of surface irrigation channels, branching off from them right and left at as close intervals as possible, for the benefit of the lands immediately bordering the rivers. This supply, however, is not constant, but mainly autumnal and deltaic.

It may be justly assumed that Browne did not neglect any of the opportunities afforded by Roorkee for effecting his great object of increasing his theoretical knowledge on points on which he had hitherto not had any practical experience. And it turned out before long, after less than a year of this quiet life, that he was to plunge again into a prolonged practical engineer career, which continued for twenty-two years, coloured occasionally by political work in addition, and twice by campaigning.

From Roorkee he was transferred, towards the autumn of 1865, to Lahore, the capital of his old province (the Punjab). Here, where he had at first a short spell of local duty, the work he carried out was important and valuable, though brief; it was the protection of the city against the erosive operation of the waters of the River Ravee. The stream there had a tendency to work to its left or eastern bank, and this Browne had to counteract; which he did by a series of spurs and training works that guided the current of the river away into mid-channel and thus saved the bank which had been threatened.

He was further employed on buildings and works at other stations lying in the neighbourhood of Lahore, if not belonging to that division, such as Umritsur and Sealkote.

He was then at length posted to the Kangra Division in the near Himalayas, where, it will be seen, he remained for many years. It may be considered certain that he had been all along, while at Roorkee, preparing for this task by study. But now, when working at Lahore, before starting for the Kangra Valley, he was enabled to make all the preliminary practical inquiries needed, and thus prepare properly for the great variety of work he would have to undertake; and also to investigate and consult regarding the economical utilisation of the local labour and materials to which he would be restricted. There the life that had to be led in the midst of the beautiful but wild and grand mountains, on the borders of ordinary civilisation, was a rough one, but free from the anxieties of warfare or the presence of a fierce population.

The principal work now before Browne was that of the Kangra Valley road. The object of the road, which was a purely Punjab scheme, was to open out the range of the Lower Himalayas for frontier commerce generally, and for the local tea planting industry and enterprise in particular. That road followed the general run of the Sewalik Hills, covered or negotiated all otherwise impossible obstacles, and thus increased to a most valuable extent the commercial value and prosperity of the whole region. There was practically no level ground, or stretch of ground that could be made level, along its whole extent of 120 miles. The alignment was nearly as difficult as his later Humai Railway Line of 1883-7.

But his main difficulty, or rather the matter in -which his ingenuity most markedly came into play, was the selection, in view to economy, of the modes of construction and methods of labour, the more so that there was no skilled labour on the spot; the men, though not wild or fierce, were all uncultivated nomads from the interior mountains, and, as elsewhere, besides teaching and training them he turned them into devoted followers.

The prominent facts of the work were: (1) that Browne had to be always encamped, rarely under house shelter, whatever the weather or the temperature, and generally at a distance from any resources; for these were to be found only at the terminus, Dharmsala, or Puthankote, still farther off, to which he could only occasionally take a short run; (2) that the construction of the road occupied three years; (3) that the process by which the road itself was formed was the continuous blasting out of precipitous cliff; (4) that there was a succession of bridges at very short intervals over rivers and torrents; and (5) that to build these bridges Browne had to use such materials, stone or brick, concrete or timber, as were most conveniently available.

In the construction of the road, the men had to be slung by ropes from the tops of the cliffs till they could get a proper foothold from which to start their drivages inwards at the proper level, whence to carry out their blasts, tunnels, or terraces. Whenever it was known that a big blast was to come off, it was a real holiday for the hill people, who used to gather from all quarters to see the spectacle. On one occasion that he describes “the largest (blast) consisted of six charges of 1,850 pounds, which had to be fired off at the same moment. The great cliff stood up some 200 feet like a wall of stone which nothing in the world could move—and it was very exciting to see the white smoke of the fuses creeping slowly up to the hose which would set off the mines. Then just a slight flash, and the enormous mass of rock seemed to collapse and crumble in a cloud of dust spreading out like a large tree against the sky, and with a rumbling muffled sound, as if the powder had had as much as it could do to lift the mass of rock on its back without wasting its energies in making a noise. Some of the mines again (and those the least successful), when they happened to meet a soft vein in the rock, or when he did not succeed in exactly calculating the proper charge, exploded with a tremendous roar, pouring out a torrent of stones in every direction which was much more imposing than useful and agreeable. But only two out of about thirty behaved in this fashion—and all was completed without any sort of accident to any one employed!

Of the numerous bridges that he had to build there, there were some that deserve special notice. There were two, at Buneyr and Nigul respectively, made of brickwork, of single spans of 140 feet, the largest ever constructed, by that time, either in India or anywhere else. There was one of concrete, at Daron, with a span of 48 feet, of which an illustration is given. And there was one at Dehra of timber, 214 feet span, the largest in India.

Referring to the Buneyr and Nigul bridges, the Punjab Government thus eulogised them: "They were constructed under very unfavourable circumstances. They were Lieut. Browne’s own design— and are worthy of all admiration." And it was ordered that a slab should he inserted in each of them, with the inscription:

"Projected, designed, and erected by Lieut. J. Browne, R.E., Executive Engineer.”

The Governor wrote:

“The boldness of design, and the vigorous readiness in overcoming local physical difficulties, in the absence of many usual resources, have combined with careful and accurate execution, which does the greatest credit to Lieut. Browne.”

The chief Engineer described them as “grand works,” and reported that “careful examination had failed to bring to light any flaw in the arches or any cracks in the spandrils, walls, or parapets. They reflected great credit, and were a monument of constructive skill.” Further, the estimates were so carefully prepared, and the work was so economically managed, that the cost was within the sanctioned amount. While these works, being exceptional in size and difficulty, demanded much skill and ingenuity, no less credit attached to the careful selection, with a view to economy, of suitable methods and material—rock, stone, brick, concrete, timber, or whatever was found available on or near the spot, after careful and laborious inquiry. Browne’s system was very simple—“to spare himself no work, trouble, or pains.”

One of the features of the work on which he was specially complimented was his ingenuity and skill in that ticklish final operation, the removal of the centrings on which the arches had to be supported while being built. They, the centrings, rested on large cases in sections filled tight with sand, which, when the time arrived, was gently run out, under guidance, through holes drilled in the bottoms of the cases; thus allowing the surface to subside slowly until no longer needed as a support

These works gained for him the highest reputation as an Engineer—and a paper which he afterwards, in 1871, read respecting them at the Civil Engineers’ Institute in Westminster gained him the Telford Premium.

It was in this charge that the first serious instance occurred of his exceptional readiness to assume grave responsibility and violate regulations where he held it to be necessary for the duties entrusted to him.

A financial difficulty had arisen, caused by the unexpected withdrawal of funds at a critical time in the construction of some of the bridges, when, as the rains were coming on, the stoppage of work would have resulted in great loss. All entreaties to Government for funds having failed, he, on his own personal security, borrowed from a native of wealth a sum sufficient to carry on the work till out of the reach of danger; repaying the advance later on when he received his new grants. This was done purely in the interests of Government, but it laid him open to a very severe censure, if not personal loss; and it was not till some years after the event that he let out how he had obtained the money. Thus early in his career he showed his fearlessness of responsibility, provided he felt that he was acting in the interests of Government.

In 1869, when the most important stage of the Kangra work was nearly over, he was much employed in the survey of the road from the plains to the new and neighbouring hill station of Dalhousie, and in preparing and arranging for the buildings needed there—work which he was to take up again after his return in 1873 from the furlough which he was shortly about to take.

It may be observed that the people whom he had to employ—with whom he was brought intimately into contact—in the Kangra Valley and towards Dalhousie differed entirely from all with whom his former experiences lay. They were quiet, peaceable, and kindly hill folk—chiefly Buddhist in religious persuasion—with many hill Rajpoot tribes among them, and sprinklings of Mussulmans from the Lower Himalayas, here quite different from the fiercer fanatics on the Indus. The quiet and peace and security were important on account of his bride and young family, and formed, by contrast, a break and a stepping-stone to the rougher associations of later years.

Meanwhile, too, the career of his “Double” was proceeding, but it will be more convenient to defer dealing with it to a somewhat more advanced stage.

While Browne was thus carrying on his work between 1865 and 1870 on the north-east frontier of the Punjab, outer events in which the fate of India was involved had not been standing idle. Russia had not as yet been making overt movements or pushing her advances towards our borders, or even towards Afghanistan, but she had been very active in the more northerly districts, and on our part there had been somewhat ostentatious movements towards the Yarkund direction, while our real attention and watch had to be directed towards Kaufmann, the Governor-General of Turkestan.

In Afghanistan Shere Ali had been, by degrees, fighting his way through the large family of rival brothers, and was now, after five years, coming more clearly to the front as the Ameer of the country; though Sir John Lawrence was doggedly adhering to bis avowed policy of “Masterly Inactivity.” Further, we had ourselves a war on in Abyssinia, in which fortunately our commander was that wise statesman and determined leader, Sir Robert Napier, who, carrying out his own plans, in spite of all opposition and obstacles, won his decisive and thorough victory just in time to anticipate the rains and so avoid a prolonged war. The great flare-up was also beginning in Europe; Prussia had already fought Denmark and was at war with Austria, and France and Prussia were beginning to snarl. Such was the state of matters when Browne obtained his first furlough and went to England.

Still these recent years were, it may be assumed, the most quiet, pleasant, and untroubled of Browne’s career, spent in a fine climate, under the very appreciative Government of the Punjab, and free from the anxieties of war; the only serious wars that had been going on being on the Continent of Europe and the Abyssinian war. The troubles in Afghanistan in respect of the strife between Dost Mahomed’s sons had now ceased and Shere Ali had become the recognised Ameer of Cabul.

Sir John Lawrence, in pursuance of the policy of recognising and befriending the de facto ruler, had deemed it wise that the British Government should acknowledge, in a public manner, the change which had thus taken place. He therefore intimated that he would grant to the Ameer a State interview or durbar, and that he would befriend him, in the consolidation of his power, with a present of money. But Sir John quitted the viceroyalty in January, 1869, and it fell to his successor, Lord Mayo, to carry out these promises. This he did at the Umballa durbar in March, 1869. The effect of that durbar was to give to our policy of a definite basis for our dealings with Afghanistan its legitimate development. So long as the claimants to the Afghan sovereignty were fighting among themselves, that policy debarred us from interfering. But when one of them had finally emerged triumphant, and concentrated the authority in his own hands, the same policy led Lawrence and Mayo to strengthen him in that position. During the first five years after this Umballa durbar events proved that they had accurately gauged the situation. The successful claimant, Shere Ali, whom that durbar publicly recognised, continued to maintain his authority and to reign as the rightful ruler of Afghanistan. This was a happy juncture for Browne to take his well-earned holiday. The public outlook was settled and peaceful, and Browne recognised or foresaw, as few did, that there would soon be a real and vigorous start of important Engineer operations, under the direct control of the Government. With the exception of canals, none such had heretofore, to any serious extent, fallen to the lot of the Government Engineer. And he had now a good opportunity of such further study and inquisition into Engineer work as he might think needful for this new era, as well as of taking a real holiday.

He had now had ten full years of sound practical experience, nearly all of it in Engineer works that were in many respects most valuable for his future career, and a few months of it in rough soldiering that had drawn out and developed his character and capacity in an exceptional manner, as well as giving him the most valuable sort of experience he could have desired.


Return to our Book Index Page


 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast