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The Life and Times of General Sir James Browne
Chapter XXII - The Close of Browne's Career: 1896


THE last chapter brought this narrative to the end of Browne’s active career. Its actual close was now at hand, and came very suddenly—as does sometimes occur, though very occasionally, with men of his robust health and constitution and magnificent frame. His work, both mental and physical, had always been exceptionally hard and ceaseless, and sometimes full of anxieties. Still it had not appeared to be telling on him. His friends, and the friends of India, had been looking forward to his further advancement to the highest posts; but he never really cared for the sort of bureaucratic employment that would probably be involved in this, and, as already described, he was preparing his plans and arrangements to retire from active official service in India, as the usual length of tenure of employment there was npw approaching completion, and he had hopes of getting in England work which would have suited his tastes. But this was not to be. In June, 1896, an insidious and fatal complaint developed very suddenly—and his eldest son was summoned to Quetta During four days he grew rapidly worse, till he succumbed on the early morning of June 13th. He was buried in the evening, with as a matter of course, the customary ceremonials which were thus described in the local Press:

“The arrangements for the State funeral to which the late officer was entitled were at once put in hand by Captain W. M. Cubitt, First Assistant to the Agent to the Governor-General; and under the orders of the General Officer commanding the Quetta district, the station order was issued with a black border.

“In accordance with these orders the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment paraded at the Residency at 6.30 p.m., under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Brind, and formed the firing party. The following troops forming the escort also paraded at the Residency—viz. three squadrons of the 5th Bombay Cavalry (mounted); 16th Bombay Native Infantry. The remainder of the troops in garrison lined the road leading to the cemetery under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Collingwood.

“At 6.30 p.m. the coffin containing the mortal remains of tne deceased officer was removed from the Residency and placed on the gun-carriage. On it was placed a cusnion containing the orders and medals worn by the late Sir James Browne, and the whole was draped with the ‘Viceroy’s flag.’ A very large number of handsome wreaths were laid upon the coffin and placed on the gun-carriage.

“The mournful procession, which was followed by a large number of military and civil officers, and by the members of the unofficial community, slowly wended its way to the cemetery, the bands of the Border and Lancashire Regiments playing funeral marches alternately. The roadsides were crowded by the natives, who viewed the solemn scene with much sad interest. While the procession was en route, a salute of thirteen minute guns was fired from the fort, where also the flag was flying at half mast. On arrival at the cemetery, the usual burial service was read by the Rev. F. E. D. Cobbold, M.A., chaplain, the hymn, ‘Jesus lives; no longer now’ (A. and M.) being sung at the close.

“As the body was committed to earth, No. 2 Mountain Battery, which was drawn up in action outside the cemetery, fired a final salute of thirteen guns. The troops then marched to quarters and the laree concourse of people dispersed to their homes. Tne late Sir James Browne died at the comparatively early age of fifty-six, and the immediate cause of death was certified to be sudden haemorrhage from the bowels.”

In addition to the formal or official particulars of this ceremonial, some other features may be noted. The regard in which Browne was held by the natives was vividly shown by the spontaneous attendance of the whole population of Quetta and its neighbourhood, who thronged the roads to pay the last respects to the man whom they had so long known and honoured, and many of them loved—among them being many an old outlaw, now transformed into a staunch supporter of Government and of law and order.

The intelligence of his really sudden death was received with the greatest sorrow in varied sections of the community; and letters came from all quarters —from old friends of course, but also from every class of native, in bodies as well as individually. There was a collective telegram from “ all the chiefs ” of Beloochistan, and a special one from the Khan. The Press of India, native as well as English, and the Press of England, eulogised him heartily. The several associations to which he belonged, such as the Institute of Civil Engineers, honoured him in their proceedings. A letter had reached Browne from Lord Elgin, who had received the report of his illness, just before his death. When the later news arrived, the Viceroy sent a telegram couched in the following terms:

“I have heard with deep regret the news of Sir James Browne’s death. Please convey to his son my personal sympathy with himself and his family, ana my sense of the loss the Government of India has sustained on the death of an officer who has rendered it such long and distinguished service.”

The Gazette of India issued this notification :

“The Governor-General in Council has heard with great regret of the death at Quetta on the 13th inst. of Major-General Sir James Browne, K.C.S.I., C.B., Royal Engineer, Governor-General’s Agent in Beloochistan. Sir James Browne’s active service in India extended over a period of more than thirty-six years, in the course of which he took part in the Mahsood-Wuzeeree expedition i860, the Umbeyla 1863-64, the Afghan war 1878-79, the Egyptian expedition 1882. He discharged for two years with conspicuous energy and ability the duties of Engineer-in-chief of the Smd-Pesheen Railway, and he held, with distinction, from 1889 to 1892, the appointment of Quartermaster-General in India Sir James Browne was specially selected in 1892 for the high post which he filled at nis decease; and his death—so near the conclusion of his long and very distinguished career —is much deplored by the Government of India”

It may be interesting to note that the year (1896) of Browne’s death was fatal to many of his comrades and friends. Among those who had served in the same campaigns were: Keyes, who had taken such an active part in both of Browne’s earlier campaigns, the Mahsood Wuzeeree and the Umbeyla expeditions; and Sir Harry Lumsden, who had been one of the commanders in the former. Sir Charles Aitchison, who had served in the Punjab during many years of Browne’s employment there, and other brother officers in the Punjab and Simla, died in the same year; and also that Sir O. Bright, who had been commanding troops in the passes of Northern Afghanistan when Browne was capturing Khelat-i-Ghilzie, besides meeting him on the Punjab frontier.

Browne had been instrumental in raising a memorial window to Sandeman in the Quetta church, in the erection of which both Sandeman and himself had worked zealously for many years; and now Browne’s friends placed a most beautiful mosaic reredos in his memory, below that window. The church, it may be remarked, is a very handsome structure, characterised by some as splendid. He had also taken the lead in furthering a permanent popular memorial, chiefly supported by the Beloochee community, in honour of Sandeman, in the shape of a jirgah, or people’s hall, to be used for durbars and public meetings. The cost was almost entirely met by the chiefs and natives in or round Quetta. He used to watch the progress of this work almost daily, and it is said that his death was traceable, in a measure, to a fall which he met with while climbing about to examine the work.

Browne’s friends in England placed a tablet to his memory in Rochester Cathedral. The following is a copy of the inscription transcribed for the family by the late Dean Hole:

In memory of

MAJOR-GENERAL SIR JAMES BROWNE, R.E., K.C.S.I., C.B., (late Bengal Engineers) who died at Quetta, 13th of June, 1896, when Agent to the Governor-General in Beloochistan. Aged 56.

Distinguished alike as a brave Soldier, a scientific and able Engineer, and an accomplished linguist, he was above all one who ruled over men in the fear of God and won the warm affection of all who served under him whether European or Asiatic.

"Looking unto the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto Eternal Life.”—Jude 21.

A memorial tablet has also been erected in the chapel of Cheltenham College.

As we have now described Browne’s career in the sequence of its details, it may be useful to analyse it The fact of his education having been entirely Continental until his professional course began debarred him from much of what is customary to boys brought up in the British Isles. He was no sportsman ; for though he had every inclination for it, he was throughout his career so hard worked that the usual opportunities for such amusements and recreation did not come in his way. His leaves and furloughs even were not used for rest or amusement, but almost entirely for study or travel for increasing his professional efficiency—engineering or linguistic.

During the whole of his career, until Lord Roberts became Commander-in-chief, the Engineers were nowhere as to the army staff—though the Mutiny campaign had been specially one of siege operation— and the prizes of the service had been reserved for the cavalry and staff corps. So that Browne, however widely known as an officer of exceptional practical capacity, was carefully kept to the beaten track, until Lord Lytton noticed his value, though he did not raise him to the prominence of those other Elites who mostly proved failures.

As a soldier, he was forward, to a marked degree, * in all his campaigns, and it has always been recognised that without his remarkable energy and physique, his dogged resolution, and his ability in surmounting all obstacles, the Hurnai Railway could not have been carried to completion within the time.

It has been generally charged against Browne that he did not do himself justice. He never sought anything: went wherever he was wanted, and let the usual prizes for men of capacity slip by him. The only occasion on which he publicly asserted his own views in opposition to weighty authority was when he questioned Lord Lawrence’s policy in regard to Candahar, and organised the public meeting in London to oppose it.

Most popular and influential with all classes and ranks of natives, he belonged to the old school that leant on personal influence and guidance rather than on rules and regulations—the school that saved India in 1857, and is mayhap saving it now. His eminent qualifications would have made him invaluable during and before the recent troubles in Africa. But it is only of very late years that Engineers, with the exception of Lord Napier, have overcome the older opposition, and men like Gordon, Kitchener, and Nicholson have had their value recognised.

Further, it may be noted that the period of Browne’s service was emphatically that of the steady introduction of the real development of India, chequered only by the slip back following on Lord Ripon’s well-meant measures when their harvest time had not yet come. Browne had seen the nakedness of the land immediately after the Mutiny; the quivering condition that followed till Lord Mayo took the reins and pressed forward the material development of the country; then the rapid advance in all matters except military organisation, followed by the feverish episodes of the Afghan war, and its sequel; after which his own position rose to greater heights, and would have been still more important and influential but for the official opposition he met with.

Such briefly were Browne’s experiences of the changes that occurred in India during his career; and though from his own personality he performed such splendid work and rendered such exceptionally valuable service to the State, there can be no doubt that he was equally well fitted for still more important positions, from which he was practically barred by the style and action of officialdom till then prevalent at Simla.

The various episodes of Browne’s career, and his action throughout as described in the preceding pages, give the best evidence there could be to his personal qualities. Still it may be well to touch on them before closing.

It cannot be stated too clearly and emphatically that his leading characteristic, which, though not obtruded, consistently coloured all his actions and conduct, was a profound, almost childlike, trust in divine protection and guidance. More need not be said—the point is too sacred.

He was absolutely fearless, but never reckless; fully alive to dangers, but resolute to face them, and wise to meet them with the best chances of success. A thorough man, he was, as such, gentle and kindly to all that were weak. This was at the bottom of his success with natives; for while he treated them as men, he recognised the disadvantages under which they suffered from the barbarism of ages, and so behaved to them with a subtle touch of consideration, to which they were not, as a body, accustomed.

Full of bonhomie and geniality, passing in suitable circumstances into joviality, he was the warmest of friends and the most delightful of companions, and when so minded would be the life of any social gathering. He had made notes of many hundreds of stories of native humour, but these unluckily t have disappeared. He had great powers of chaff, not only with his comrades, but with natives also—very effective because never sarcastic or ill-natured. During the days of profound illness all over the Humai route, he aided greatly towards the recovery of the prostrate not only by actual assistance, but also by the cheeriness of his presence and his hearty speech and quaint phraseology.

He was essentially a free lance ; a hater of needless trammels; too wise not to know that control and discipline are essential, but a rebel against unwarranted authority. No more trustworthy subordinate was ever met by sensible commanders-in-chief.

The gentleness which has been referred to extended to animals; and they reciprocated this liking. His ponies and dogs followed him about. It has been described how, in a difficult landing in the Red Sea, he led his mare along a narrow gangway ahead of the whole string of horses in the transports.

His chief social delight lay in music, as has been mentioned. He had not received any musical' education, and his free-lance character affected him now and then, when he had to join in concerted music. In addition to his natural voice, which was a deep bass, and in which he could sing songs of the Pathans and roll out their calls, he could sing falsetto, and so imitate the shrill tones of Nautch girls and others, as on an occasion already mentioned.

With all this gaiety of heart, its depth was what attracted his most earnest friends, combined as this was with such keen intellect and sound judgment. The charm lay not only in the “jolly face,” the “youthful spirit,” but in the “ leader of men,” the “ ruler of men,” a man whom “ all respect—all believe—all must love." Such were the words in which tributes to his memory were paid not from comrades only but from the most highly placed. Finally, how he was appreciated by his children may be understood from the following passage:

“A man to be trusted, loved, and obeyed: courteous and genial, and yet with a certain imperiousness of manner which allowed of no liberties. I was almost grown up before it struck me that father was a clever man—but I cannot remember a time when I did not feel and know that father was a good man. Full of life and brightness and cordiality, and yet underlying all, a gentleness, goodness, and sympathetic kind-heartedness that few could resist; and this came—I am sure that it came—from his religion.

“This religion, to put it quite simply, was ‘ Faith in God.’ This was the lode-star of his life; it helped him in and through everything. I do not know if he always had this firm belief and trust in God, or if he learnt it step by step through his own experience of life—but I do know that his faith never left him. He could not do without it; it was a second nature to him, and so true was its nature that no one could live with him and not feel its influence.

“There was no parade of religion, only a daily consecration to God, a simple belief that ‘ what will come, and what shall come, must come well.’

“On the day the Hurnai line was finished, this one and only one entry is found in his diary for that date,

‘Thank God.’ Every work he undertook began with a prayer for help and strength and ended with a prayer of thanksgiving. He knew what he believed and had a most perfect faith in the God who orders all. Father often used to tell us that one of the ‘ greater ’ blessings was the free will which is given to each one of us, if we chose to exercise it. He used to liken a man’s faith to the rope that passes through the catacombs in Rome. You may go through miles of darkness, but the rope is at the side, and it will lead you back to the light. 1 As long,’ he used to say, ‘ as you keep in touch with God, you cannot go far wrong.’ You may make false steps, but you will come back again.

“Father’s whole life carried out this belief, and his life of real goodness stands out apart from all other influences of our childhood. Worried and bothered he often was, and had to be—but it never came into his home life. I mean he never seemed put out or angry with us personally. I think I can honestly say I never saw father angry. It was not that he had not got a temper, but that he had it so marvellously under control that we never saw it.

“Dear, loving, warm-hearted father, who always had time if love and sympathy were needed, but who was always too busy to scold or find fault— who seemed to know by instinct the sorrows that touched his children, but who never forgot the pleasures that made them glad. He watched and guided each one as they grew out of childhood, showing them with such patience how to overcome their * besetting ’ sin—ana trying with all the force of his love and example to show them the only way that leads to true happiness. And through everything the same keynote seemed to be, ‘ Have faith in God.’

“This on the one side—and on the other laughter, cheerfulness, with an endless fund of stories and adventures.

“Although father read a great deal in his spare moments (anything and everything, in fact, that he came across), I do not think he often quoted from books. His thoughts and ideas were all his own, full of originality, and drawn from his own experience and worked out in his own quaint way.

“He seemed to remember so clearly the lessons that each work had taught him. I suppose it was because whatever he undertook, work or play, he did it with all his 'might.’ It was an all-absorbing work for the time being, and he used to say to himself that anything he had really worked out in this way he could not forget even if he would.

“He never forgot the music he had heard when a boy—chiefly operas and symphonies. He was very fond of music, though as a rule I do not think he cared much for modern ballads and drawingroom music. He was happiest when listening to Mendelssohn’s ‘ Duetto ’ or * Venetian Boat Song ’ played as he had heard it played years before, or to Mr. Mann’s band playing one of Beethoven’s symphonies. In these he would lose himself and be quite content. He loved singing and never seemed to forget either words or tune to any song he really cared for. At one time he wanted to study music more seriously, but his father would not hear of it, and afterwards he was really glad of this.

“I think he would have liked to take up medicine as a profession, and he often used to say that he believed he had the spirit and love for doctoring in him that alone can make a good doctor. Certainly in any case of illness no one could be more patient, gentle, and untiring; and he seemed to understand what might be wanted in a most wonderful way.

“I must leave it to others to speak of that side of his nature which appealed to them. 1 mean of his wonderful perseverance in carrying out his work; of his power of concentrating all nis attention on the work he had in hand; of his strong will and determination when he thought a thing was right.”

Such were some of the points of his character that gained for him the trust and confidence of all, superiors, comrades, and family, and that helped to bring him to the front.

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