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The Life and Times of General Sir James Browne
Chapter VII - Lord Mayo's Viceroyalty: 1869-72


IN the last chapter we left Browne closing his work in the north of the Punjab—and, more than this, closing with it his employment in the ordinary work in the Engineer Department of India.

Henceforward, as he had now made his mark as a brilliant practical Engineer and indomitable public servant, and as Lord Mayo had been starting a widespread policy for Public Works, Browne felt that he was certain to be employed in higher-class engineering, and wisely resolved to prepare himself thoroughly for it, and for this object to go on furlough and study the great undertakings of Europe and America

As a preliminary to Browne’s own proceedings to that end, it is expedient to describe first what Lord Mayo had begun to do, premising that, before he made his start, there had been a very scandalous succession of failures in the work of the Engineer Department of the State.

Lord Mayo’s rule of India was, as regards its earlier part, contemporaneous with Browne’s charge of the Kangra Valley road, and after it, with his absence on furlough. During the Kangra Valley episode he was so fully absorbed with it, and in such a comparatively isolated locality, that he took less heed than usual of what was going on elsewhere, and during his holiday he had other matters to think of. Hence Lord Mayo’s sway in India has been, as yet, but barely alluded to in these pages. But, as a matter of fact, it overflowed with acts and arrangements of the deepest moment, greatly affecting and influencing Browne’s subsequent career; and Lord Mayo’s measures and proceedings, covering so wide a range as they did and emanating so much from his own personal insight, will be now briefly described.

His first great measure was to start a wide expansion of railways and other works needed for the material development of the country, for the proper treatment of the needs of the British troops, and for the communications and defensive preparations required on the north-west frontier and on the neutral ground between India and Afghanistan.

Next, as his assumption of the viceroyalty had been coincident in time with the settlement of the troubles in Afghanistan and the assumption of its rule by Shere Ali, henceforth the Ameer, he invited him to a durbar to be held in his house and in recognition of his sovereignty. The Viceroy’s regal bearing and the heartiness of his demeanour won the Ameer’s heart and led to his continuing in the very best relations with England during all Lord Mayo’s viceroyalty, in spite of the failure of some of his own aspirations.

It may be here remarked that although Russia had not yet begun to show her teeth, experts who had been watching her knew that her movements in our direction had begun. She had, ostensibly, been wholly taken up with the northern part of Central Asia, but latterly on trying to move southwards had found the region impracticable, and had consequently now started on another line of advance towards Afghanistan, from the south of the Caspian, through the Turkoman country towards Merv and Herat. Also a new departure, a clear development of its policy and indication of its permanent aims and intentions had been given by the appointment of Kaufmann to the new and high position of Governor-General of Turkestan; though some time was still to elapse before he began to attract serious attention.

Referring back, however, to Shere Ali, it is expedient to show more fully what he had been doing and what Lord Mayo’s policy and attitude towards him had been. When Shere Ali had visited India to see the Viceroy, he came with five distinct objects in view. He desired, in the first place, a treaty; next, he hoped for a fixed annual subsidy; and thirdly, for assistance in arms or in men, to be given “not when the British Government might think fit to grant, but when he might think it needful to solicit it”; in the fourth place, for a well-defined engagement, “laying the British Government under an obligation to-support the Afghan Government in any emergency; and not only that Government generally, but that Government as vested in himself and his direct descendants, and in no others." Finally he cherished a desire that he might obtain some constructive act of recognition by the British Government in favour of his younger son, Abdulla Jan, whom he brought with him, and whom -he wished to make his heir to the exclusion of his elder son, Yakoob Khan, who had helped him to win the throne.

But in not one of these objects was the Ameer successful. The first four were distinctly negatived; the fifth did not enter into the discussions. Lord Mayo adhered to a programme which he had deliberately put in writing before he left Calcutta. Yet, by tact and by conciliatory firmness, he sent the Ameer away satisfied, and deeply impressed with the advantage of being on good terms with the British Power.

Lord Mayo’s foreign policy was this: “Surround India,” he wrote shortly after the Umballa durbar, “with strong, friendly, and independent states, who will have more interest in keeping well with us than with any other Power, and we are safe.” “Our influence,” he says in another letter, “has been considerably strengthened, both in our own territories and also in the states of Central Asia, by the Umballa meeting; and if we can only persuade people that our policy really is non-intervention and peace, that England is at this moment the only non-aggressive Power in Asia, we should stand on a pinnacle of power that we have never enjoyed before.”

To go farther afield than Afghanistan, Lord Mayo hoped to open conciliatory relations with Russia by honestly explaining the real nature of the change which had taken place. He accepted Russia’s splendid vitality in Central Asia as a fact neither to be shirked nor condemned, but as one which, by vigilant firmness, might be rendered harmless to ourselves. But he thought it might be advantageous that an unofficial interchange of views should take place between the high officers connected with the actual administration of Asiatic affairs. He did not, apparently, know—at any rate, he did not accept or act on—Lord Palmerston’s view of Russia’s ways.

He carried out his views, and in strict accordance with customary Russian diplomacy, appeared to succeed; the result being the formal acceptance of his theory that the best security for peace in Central Asia consisted in maintaining the great states on the Indian frontier in a position of effective independence. Unfortunately it was not an adequate security of itself. Efforts were also made to prevent the recurrence of those unauthorised aggressions by Russian frontier officers which had kept Central Asia in perpetual turmoil. Of these efforts it may be briefly said that they were successful, but only for the moment—i.e. during the term of Lord Mayo’s viceroyalty.

It was now agreed that Russia should respect—as Afghanistan—all the provinces which Shere Ali then held, that the Oxus should be the boundary line of Shere Ali’s dominions on the north, and that both England and Russia should do their best to prevent aggressions by the Asiatic states under their control. Lord Mayo lost no time in securing for Shere Ali the guarantee of a recognised boundary against the Ameer’s neighbours in Central Asia. In 1871 the Russians, however, raised grave objections to Badak-shan being included within the Afghan line. This question was settled by friendly negotiations in 1872. In January, 1873, Count Shouvaloff arrived in London to express personally the Emperor’s sanction to the disputed territories being recognised as part of Afghanistan. Subsequent delimitations have given precision to the frontier. But practically it may be said that Afghanistan, as territorially defined by Lord Mayo in 1869, remained substantially the Afghanistan of the following twenty years. But what did that mere fact matter to its rulers, if its real independence and safety were being all along undermined by insidious aggressions? A formal settlement of that boundary or frontier was made in 1873, the particulars being as follows.

The territories and boundaries which Her Majesty’s Government considered as fully belonging to the Ameer of Cabul were stated thus:

“(1) Badakshan, with its dependent district of Wak-han, from the Sir-i-kul (Woods Lake) on the east to the junction of the Kokcha River, with the Oxus (Panjah) forming the northern boundary of this Afghan province throughout its entire extent.

“(2) Afghan Turkestan, comprising the districts of Kunduz Khulm and Balkh, the northern boundary of which would be the line of the Oxus, from the junction of the Kokcha River to the post of the Khoja-Sale inclusive, on the high road from Bokhara to Balkh—nothing to be claimed by the Afghan Ameer on the left bank of the Oxus below Khoja-Sale.

“(3) The internal districts of Akcha, Siripul, Maimana, Shiberghan, and Andkui, the latter of which would be the extreme Afghan frontier possession to the north-west, the desert beyond belonging to independent tribes of Turcomans.

“(4) The Western Afghan frontier between the dependencies of Herat ana those of the Persian province of Khorassan is well known, and need not here be defined."

Therefore, on January 31st, 1873, Prince Gortchakoff definitely announced the Czar’s acceptance of the northern frontier of Afghanistan, as defined by the British Cabinet, and thereby formally agreed to a limitary line which neither England nor Russia should cross. As this final settlement—so arrived at— constitutes one of the most important agreements between the two Powers concerning Central Asian affairs, and as it is the keystone of the present political situation, the Russian Chancellor’s letter is given in extenso. It was addressed to Baron Brunnow, by whom it was communicated to Earl Granville on February 5th, 1873, and was as follows:

“We see with satisfaction that the English Cabinet continues to pursue in those parts the same object as ourselves, tnat of ensuring to them peace, and, as far as possible, tranquillity.

“The divergence which existed in our views was with regard to the frontiers assigned to the dominions of Shere Ali.

“The English Cabinet includes within them Badak-shan and Wakhan, which, according to our views, enjoyed a certain independence. Considering the difficulty experienced in establishing the facts in all their details in those distant parts, considering the greater facilities which the British Government possesses for collecting precise data, and, above all, considering our wish not to give to this question of detail greater importance than is due to it, we do not refuse to accept the line of boundary laid down by England.

“We are the more inclined to this act of courtesy as the English Government engages to use all her influence with Shere Ali in order to induce him to maintain a peaceful attitude, as well as to insist on his giving up all measures of aggression or further conquest. His influence is indisputable. It is based not only on the material and moral ascendency of England, but also on the subsidies for which Shere Ali is indebted to her. Such being the case, we see in this assurance a real guarantee for the maintenance of peace.”

But, to turn to another direction, the Russian annexation of Samarkand and the Zarafshan Valley created considerable excitement in England; consequently Lord Clarendon, the British Minister for Foreign Affairs, felt that something had to be done to allay the uneasiness of the British and Indian public. With this object he recommended “ the recognition of some territory as neutral between the possessions of England and Russia, which should be the limit of those possessions, and be scrupulously respected by both the Powers.”

Prince Gortchakoff sent an answer to the proposals of the British Foreign Minister, in which, after expressing his satisfaction at the friendly sentiments of the English Government, and after referring with true diplomatic insincerity to the “profound wisdom” of Lord Lawrence’s policy of “masterly inactivity," he gave “the positive assurance” that “His Imperial Majesty looks upon Afghanistan as completely outside the sphere within which Russia may be called upon to exercise her influence.”

Further, before his death, Lord Mayo had laid the foundation of another great feature in the consolidation of British rule on the frontier, a feature which very shortly came closely under Browne’s own ken, the pacification and settlement of the Beloochistan territory. He laid the foundations of this politic measure; but, owing to matters which will be duly noted, it was not effected till later days. But this subject is here mentioned because, though Browne was not cognisant of these or other contemporaneous matters during his furlough, he was very soon to be brought into close contact with them.

These will therefore be more fully dealt with in the special Beloochistan chapter, but the point that may be here specially referred to is the fact of the comparative muddle that had already arisen there owing (1) to the departure of Sir Henry Green, who had ruled that district so long and successfully after it had lost John Jacob; (2) the squabbles and interference with the old Bombay authorities, on the part of Captain Sandeman and the Punjab officials, who, now that the Indus Valley Railway was in progress, affected to claim a voice in the supervision of the district, and were at issue with Merewether, Jacob’s successor, on the Scinde frontier; and (3) the aggressive aims, against the other Belooch chiefs, of the Khan of Khelat, the primus inter pares of that community.

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