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

Good Words 1860
Aspects of Indian Life During the Rebellion


We left Mr Russell with the army before Luck-now. They have passed Jellalabad, the extreme point held by Outram's garrison, a solitary fort by the side of a large lake; they front the grotesque Martiniere, raised by the French private, afterwards general, Claude Martin. From the royal country house of the Dilkoosha, "a good specimen of a French chateau of the beginning of the last century, improved by an Italian artist," he has "a vision of palaces, minars, domes, azure and golden cupolas, colonnades, long facades of fair perspective in pillar and column, terraced roofs—all rising up amid a calm, still ocean of the brightest verdure. Look for miles and miles away, and still the ocean spreads, and the towers of the fairy city glitter in its midst. Spires of gold glitter in the sun. Turrets and gilded spires shine like constellations. There is nothing mean or squalid to be seen. There is a city more vast than Paris, and more brilliant, lying before us. Is this a city in Oude? Is this the capital of a semi-barbarous race, erected by a corrupt, effete, and degraded dynasty? I confess I felt inclined to rub my eyes again and again." "Not Rome," he says further on, ''not Athens, not Constantinople, not any city I have ever seen, appears to me so striking and beautiful as this; and the more I gaze, the more its beauties grow upon me." And again, on the very morning of the attack, '' How lovely Luck-now looks to-day! the sun playing on all the gilt domes and spires, the exceeding richness of the vegetation, and forests, and gardens, which remind one somewhat of the view of the Bois de Boulogne from the hill over St Cloud." Such was the city upon which England was about to avenge the frightful crime of a people rising in arms against its foreign masters.

Our blood was up. At mess, the talk is of "potting pandies," and "polishing off niggers." No quarter is given. "It is horrible, but it is true, that our men have got a habit of putting natives ' out of pain' as if they were animals. They do it sometimes in charity."Some—officers apparently—deny that natives have a soul," or, as one of them put it, 'If niggers have souls, they 're not the same as ours.'" Worse is it still with our savage auxiliaries, Goorkhas from Nepaul, or men of the Punjab. The former are led by a man, (Jung Bahadoor,) of whom one of our officers said, he believed him to be "the------dest villain hung or unhung." Of the latter, let the following dread tale suffice for the present. It belongs not to the end of the attack on the city, but to the very first day of it, March 9:—

"I saw one who had come over from Outram's camp, and he told us of the great success of the day, and of the fine advance made by the right corps, a wing of our army. Alas, that he should have to tell, too, of the disgusting termination to the attack on the Chuckerwallah Kothie, the yellow house on the race-course, in which some few sepoys made a resistance which a national Tyrtaeus or Dibdin would have chanted in noble song; their enemies called it foolish and fanatic. What could they do more than fight to the last, and kill or wound every man who approached them ? As they had killed a British officer of a Sikh regiment, several men, and wounded more, the troops were withdrawn from the house, and a heavy fire of artillery was opened on it. After the walls had been perforated in all directions with shot and shell, so that it seemed impossible for the little garrison to have escaped, a detachment of Sikhs rushed into the house. Some of the sepoys were still alive, and they were mercifully killed; but for some reason or other which could not be explained, one of their number was dragged out to the sandy plain outside the house, he was pulled by the legs to a convenient place, where he was held down, pricked in the face and body by the bayonets of some of the soldiery, whilst others collected fuel for a small pyre, and when all was ready, the man was roasted alive. There were Englishmen looking on; more than one officer saw it. No one offered to interfere. The horror of this infernal cruelty was aggravated by an attempt of the miserable wretch to escape when half-burned to death. By a sudden effort, he leaped away, and, with the flesh hanging from his bones, ran for a few yards ere he was caught, brought back, put on the fire again, and held there by bayonets till his remains were consumed. ' And his cries, and the dreadful scene,' said my friend, ' will haunt me to my dying hour.' ' Why didn't you interfere?' ' I dared not; the Sikhs were furious. They had lost Anderson; our own men encouraged them, and I could do nothing.' "

The writer adds in a note, "I saw the charred bones some days after on the plain."

Two days later, the Begum Kothie, or Queen's Palace, is stormed. Mr Russell visits it the next day. The deep ditch which defends it "was filled with the bodies of sepoys, which the coolies were dragging from the inside and throwing topsyturvy, by command of the soldiers, stiffened by death, with outstretched legs and arms. Those rent and shattered figures seemed as if they were about to begin a dance of death. We crossed literally a ramp of dead bodies loosely covered with earth." Within—where "from court to court, and building to building," the sepoys had been driven, "leaving in each hundreds of men bayoneted and shot," by "the strength of the 93d and the fury of the Sikhs,"—"the scene was horrible. The rooms in which the sepoys lay burning slowly in their cotton clothing, with their skin crackling and their flesh roasting literally in its own fat, whilst a light-bluish vapoury smoke, of disgusting odour, formed a veil through which the dreadful sight could be dimly seen, were indeed chambers of horrors ineffable. It was before breakfast, and I could not stand the smell."

On the 14th, (to pass over minor scenes of devastation and death,) the King's Palace or Kaiserbagh is stormed. "Discipline may hold soldiers together till the fight is won, but it assuredly does not exist for a moment after an assault has been delivered, or a storm has taken place. Imagine courts as large as the Temple Gardens, surrounded with ranges of palaces, or at least of buildings well stuccoed and gilded, with fresco-paintings here and there on the blind windows, and with green jalousies and Venetian blinds closing the apertures which pierce the walls in double rows. In the body of the court are statues, lines of lampposts, fountains, orange - groves, aqueducts, and kiosks with burnished domes of metal.....At every door there is an eager crowd, smashing the panels with the stocks of their firelocks, or breaking the fastenings by discharges of their weapons. .... Here and there the invaders have forced their way into the long corridors, and you hear the musketry rattling inside, the crash of glass, the shouts and yells of the combatants, and little jets of smoke curl out of the closed lattices. Lying amid the orange-groves are dead and dying sepoys, and the white statues are reddened with blood. . . . . . Here and there officers are running to and fro after their men, persuading or threatening in vain. From the broken portals issue soldiers laden with booty or plunder—shawls, rich tapestry, gold and silver brocade, caskets of jewels, arms, splendid dresses. The men are wild with fury and. lust of blood—literally drunk with plunder. Some come out with china vases or mirrors, dash them to pieces on the ground, and return to seek more valuable booty. Others are busy gouging out the precious stones from the stems of pipes, from saddle-cloths, or the hilts of swords, or butts of pistols and fire-arms. Some swathe their bodies in stuffs crusted with precious metals and gems; others carry off useless lumber, brass pots, pictures, or vases of jade and china.....Never had I felt such exhaustion. It was horrid enough to have to stumble through endless courts, which were like vapour-baths, amid dead bodies, through sights worthy of the "Inferno," by blazing walls, which might be pregnant with mines, over breaches, in and out of smouldering embrasures, across frail ladders, suffocated by deadly smells of rotting corpses, of rotten ghee, (melted butter,) or vile native scents; but the seething crowd of camp-followers into which we emerged in Huzrutgunj was something worse. As ravenous, and almost as foul as vultures, they were packed in a dense mass in the street, afraid, or unable to go into the palaces, and, like the birds they resembled, waiting till the right was done to prey on their plunder." . . . .

One more scene has to be told, as an episode of the day.

"When our advance from the Imambarra to the Kaiserbagh was established, a portion of our troops swept round to the right, and two parties of Her Majesty's 20th came upon the house, which contained two courts, and rooms full of old machinery. They came upon a body of 300 or 400 sepoys, who had fled there for refuge. Holding possession of the only means of exit, one portion of the 20th made a furious onslaught on the rebels, shot them down in files, and ceased not till no living enemy was left to kill."

Yet Sir Colin Campbell was bitterly found fault with for having let so many escape.

Four days more (15th to 18th March) elapsed ere the city was finally cleared out. Mr Russell describes the streets, in which "lay the bloated corpses of natives, in all kinds of attitudes; most of them (there were old men and women among them) hit by fragments of shell, which always produce very horrible wounds." Attacking the Imambarra mosque, "as Brasyer was leading on his men, he was badly wounded by a shot from a house. A dooly (litter) was sent for; and, as he was getting into it, his infuriated Sikhs entered the building, and taking out some men and boys whom they found there, placed them with their backs against the wall, and shot them on the spot. Their cries for mercy were piteous. In a few seconds they were lying below the blood-stained wall, a heap of palpitating, quivering bodies." "On every side," writes our traveller, "were sights which I would fain have shut my eyes on, sounds which I would not readily listen to again."

Worse than all, however, was the act of an English officer of the Fusiliers. "After the Fusiliers had got to the gateway, a Cashmere boy came towards the post, leading a blind and aged man, and throwing himself at the feet of an officer, asked for protection. That officer, as I was informed by his comrades, drew his revolver, and snapped it at the wretched suppliant's head. The men cried 'shame' on him. Again he pulled the trigger—again the cap missed; again he pulled, and once more the weapon refused its task. The fourth time—thrice had he time to relent—the gallant officer succeeded, and the boy's life-blood flowed at his feet, amid the indignation and the outcries of his men."

Why have I dwelt upon these tales of destruction and slaughter? Not to provoke unmeaning outcry against war's dread surgery, needful and even holy as it must sometimes be. Not to hold up our soldiers in India—unless it may be that nameless commissioned scoundrel of the Fusiliers— as brutal and bloodthirsty beyond what you or I might have been in their places. To one another, thank God, our soldiers are most kind-hearted. During the taking of Lucknow, Mr Russell mentions having seen two wounded men, of whom "the one, who was hit in the arm, helped up his comrade, who was wounded in the leg. Nothing could be kinder or more gentle than the conduct of one to the other." Not to carry the guilt even of their brutal and bloodthirsty acts to the generals who led them; for sure I feel that no generals more unwilling than Lord Clyde, Sir James Outram, Sir William Mansfield, to shed needless blood, ever commanded a British army; indeed, the severity is almost always on the side of the civilians. General Outram ''is for a large, and generous, and general amnesty, except in the case of actual murderers;" Mr Montgomery, "for the most vigorous prosecution and punishment." Lord Canning issues a confiscation proclamation, which Sir Colin Campbell disapproves, and Sir James Outram refuses to carry out. Civilians are open-mouthed against Sir Colin for not having killed 20,000 men. One of them, in the very camp, hangs a man who has surrendered on the pledge of a British officer that his life should be spared. And yet, strange to say, these very civilians, Sir Colin complains, "are continually deceiving us, or allowing themselves to be deceived by the natives: they will have it that the people are not against us." No; these tales need telling for no invidious purpose. They are wanted for this: to make us feel, above all things, upon what fearful memories we have now to rebuild our rule in India—in what pools of yet fresh blood the foot of governors-general, or their subordinates, may easily slip.

For this Lucknow—the last great native capital but one that remained in India a few years back— was the abode of a race of kings, of whom Lord Dalhousie, even in the proclamation which spoiled them of their ancestral throne, declared that they had "ever been faithful and true to their friendship to the English nation." And the sole plea for that annexation was misgovernment; since "fifty years of sad experience" had "conclusively shewn that no effectual security" could be had from the "grievous oppression" the people had long endured, unless "the exclusive administration of the territories of Oude" should be "permanently transferred to the British Government." And behold—O mystery of mysteries!—when the king has been removed to Calcutta, it is from his people that we have to conquer his country; it is in the name of his child that their resistance is carried on; and three times in succession has a British army to cut its way to the capital, and, for more "effectual security," apparently, from that "grievous oppression" that Oude had "long endured," to make that magnificent capital a scene of devastation and massacre, at the hands of maddened English soldiers, and their ferocious native auxiliaries ! Already do we not feel that there is bitter truth in Mr Russell's words:—

"The Christianity of a Roman emperor could not save his empire; and as 'Sarmatia fell unwept, without a crime,' so might we fall unwept, with many crimes, of which our people know nothing, in spite of our being Christian, with a Protestant constitution, and an empire of all religions in the world. I believe that we permit things to be done in India, which we would not permit to be done in Europe, or could not hope to effect without public reprobation; and that our Christian character in Europe, our Christian zeal in Exeter Hall, will not atone for usurpation and annexation in Hindostan, or for violence and fraud in the upper provinces of India."

It is sometimes said, indeed, "Well, after all, our perilous position in India renders it necessary that we should be fearful enemies. But, at least, we are fast friends." Fast friends ! Nay, the annexation of Oude, of the land of our "ever faithful and true" allies, is alone a sufficient answer to that on the larger political scale. Would you see an answer also on the narrow social one ? You suppose, perhaps, that, having had such pains to reconquer Oude, those natives who adhered to us were, at least, sure of all consideration and honour? Mark the following tale, which Mr Russell assigns to the 1st April, within a fortnight from the taking of Lucknow. The scene lies in Sir James Outram's tent:—

"We were sitting at a table smoking and reading the papers, when a chuprassie came in and announced that Munoora-ood-Dowlah, formerly a man of great rank in Oude, an ex-minister, and related to the royal family, craved an audience of the Chief Commissioner. He was ordered to walk in. A very old and venerable-looking gentleman entered, followed by two or three attendants, and salaamed all round to us, whilst he and his chief secretary paid us many compliments expressive of delight at seeing us.

"First Aide—'I say, you speak the old chap's lingo better than I do. Tell him the General is busy, and that he must wait.'

"Second Aide—'No, you tell him yourself. Confound me if I do your business!'

''All this time Munoora is standing. After a little further controversy, the second aide tells him to sit down, and he and his attendants shuffle into broken chairs, and balance themselves with evident uneasiness.

"First aide whistles, with his legs on the table; second aide draws, assiduously, a fine bold sketch on a sheet of blotting-paper. Munoora-ood-Dowlah, after a long pause, begs to know whether the Burra Sahib Bahadoor knows he is waiting, and is likely to see him.

"First Aide—'I say now, it's your turn to go in to Sir James. I don't want to be bored by this old humbug.'

"Second Aide—'Well, hadn't we better say Sir James won't see him?'

"First Aide—'No, hang it; he's been a faithful old swell, and all that; and Sir James might be angry, as they were chums long ago.'

"Second Aide, exit.— 'You are one of the laziest' ....

''After a time, in came Sir James; but, in the interval, Munoora was the very type of misery, for, to an Oriental of his rank, all this delay and hesitation about an audience were very unfavourable symptoms. He had really been our friend, and had undergone the greatest misery, privation, loss, and insults at the hands of the rebels. In former days, he was noted for his hospitality to the English, for his magnificent sporting parties, and for his excellence as a shot at both large and small game. He had upwards of a hundred rifles, of the very best English makers, in his battery, and his greatest pleasure was to lend a chickar to his friends. Sir James gave him rather a kindly reception, and sent the old man away in better spirits. (But he never recovered the ignominy to which he had been subjected by the rebels, and he died soon afterwards.)"

Was it only of the ignominy to which he had been subjected by the rebels, that this aged native gentleman of princely rank, our firm friend, and who had suffered for being so, is likely to have died?

Where there is this English insolence towards the native gentry, what is likely to be our English brutality towards the lower classes of natives?

"We returned this morning," (April 26,) writes Mr Russell at Futtehghur, "from the Maharajah's bath, to breakfast in a small pagoda or mosque inside a large serai," (inn or lodging-place,) "which is used by our officers as a kind of club. (How the natives must be disgusted at our use of the holy places!) I was very much shocked to see in this courtyard two native servants, covered with plasters and bandages, and bloody, who were lying on their charpoys, moaning. On inquiring, my friend was informed by one of the guests they were So-and-so's servants, who had just been 'licked' by him. It is a savage, beastly, and degrading custom. I have heard it defended; but no man of feeling, education, or goodness of heart can vindicate or practise it. The sobs of the poor woman, the wife of one of the men who sat by the charpoys, were most affecting; but not a soul went to comfort or say a kind word to her. The master, who had administered his 'spiriting' so gently to his delinquent domestics, sat sulky and sullen, and, I hope, ashamed of his violence, at the table; but he had no fear of any pains or penalties of the law."

Even without the vulgar abuse of physical force, is there much less brutal contempt for native feeling in the following sample (prior in date to the taking of Lucknow) of how we do reward our native friends?—

"After dinner, one Canoujeelall, a very handsome, intelligent Hindoo, came to Outram for final instructions as to a very perilous enterprise. He is to try the depth of the river near the iron bridge, in order that we may know whether it be fordable or not; but the man is used to services of danger. It was he who accompanied Kavanagh out of the Residency to seek Sir Colin Campbell, and he has since been actively engaged as a spy in our employment. He is working for a high reward, but I do not think the mode we propose of dealing with him evinces much judgment. We know him to be a double-dealer, for he deceives and betrays his own countrymen; but we have promised him a judicial and legal appointment in the public service. How will he exercise his trust?"

A man, no doubt, to be well paid. But imagine a French invader promising a judgeship at Westminster to an English traitor for help in making the former master of London, and you will have an idea of the outrage on humanity which such a reward implies as was promised to our spy.

And yet—let it be insisted on at the risk of repetition,—to use Mr Russell's words—though "assuredly never was the strength and courage of any race tried more severely in any one year, since the world began, than was the mettle of the British in India in 1857, .... yet it must be admitted that, with all their courage, they would have been quite exterminated if the natives had been all and altogether hostile to them.....

Our siege of Delhi would have been quite impossible if the Rajahs of Puttiala and Jheend had not been our friends, and if the Sikhs had not recruited our battalions, and remained quiet in the Punjab. The Sikhs at Lucknow did good service; and in all cases our garrisons were helped, fed, and served by natives, as our armies were attended and strengthened by them in the field. Look at us all here in camp at this moment! Our outposts are native troops, natives are cutting grass for and grooming our horses, feeding the elephants, managing the transport, supplying the Commissariat which feeds us, cooking our soldiers' food, cleaning their camp, pitching and carrying our tents, waiting on our officers, and even lending us money. The soldier who acts as my amanuensis, declares his regiment could not live a week but for the regimental servants, dooly-bearers, hospital-men, and other dependents. He admits to-day he is quite fatigued, coming across in the sun to my quarters. We never hear any public acknowledgment of their services." Add to this list of our obligations to the natives in rebellion time, the following note of an earlier date, which, indeed, reflects little credit on our own soldiers:—"The Commissariat officers also prefer native guards for their treasure-chests and tumbrils. Very recently, when in charge of European regiments, two of these tumbrils, on two separate occasions, were afflicted with an extraordinary leakage of rupees."

Mr Russell's mention of an amanuensis will have been observed. Without wishing to enter into the detail of his diary, it is necessary to state that, severely injured already through a kick from a horse, he had, while accompanying the army from Oude into Rohilcund, found himself involved in a charge from the rear of Mussulman cavalry—fanatics, as we term them, called Ghazees—"fine fellows, grizzly-bearded, elderly men for the most part, with green turbans and cummur-bands," (waist-scarfs,) every one with "a silver signet-ring," and "a long text from the Koran engraved on it," who "came on with their heads down below their shields, and their tulwars flashing as they whirled them over their heads, shouting, 'Deen! deen!' " (The faith! the faith!) "and dancing like madmen," and got cut to pieces all but one or two. Our " Special Correspondent" was barely saved by the promptitude of his groom, was cut down whilst flying on horseback for his life in his shirt, and was only saved from dying by sunstroke through his having been "so weakened by previous bleeding and dosing." "Unable to remain with the army, he proceeded, by way of Futtehghur and Delhi, to the hills.

At Futtehghur, he sat "in the very room where some of our ill-fated countrywomen were massacred by the sepoys." (Why was one stone of the building left on the other?) Two women, he was told, "were blown from guns;" some children ''placed against the targets on the practice-ground as marks, by the men of the 10th and 41st B.N.I." Fearful acts on the part of those whom British discipline and contact with British officers should, one would think, have raised above such! ''But were our acts," asks Mr Russell, "those of civilised Christians, when, in this very place, we hung a relative of the Nawab of Furruckabad, under circumstances of most disgusting indignity, whilst a chaplain stood by among the spectators ? It is actually true that the miserable man entertained one or two British officers of a British regiment in his palace the day before his death, and that he believed his statements with respect to his innocence were received; but, in a few hours after he had acted as host to a colonel in our army, he was pounced upon by the civil power, and hanged in a way which excited the displeasure of every one who saw it, and particularly of Sir William Peel. All these kinds of vindictive, unchristian Indian torture, such as sewing Mohammedans in pig-skins, smearing them with pork fat before execution, and burning their bodies, and forcing Hindoos to defile themselves, are disgraceful, and ultimately recoil on ourselves. They are spiritual and mental tortures to which we have no right to resort, and which we dare not perpetrate' in the face of Europe."

As he proceeds, he says, ''The aspect of the country around me for ever forced on my imagination the horrors of last year in India. Bungalows, police-stations, were all burned down, blackened, and in ruins. Even the milestones were defaced. The Grand Trunk Road remained nearly the sole trace of our rule." At a ruined station, he finds three young gentlemen ''representing British rule, law, and order, over an immense district lately swarming with rebels," with "a hundred Sikhs to aid them, and a local levy, but not another white face" within many miles. On crossing a wide stream by a rude bridge of boats towards the keep of Selimghur, one of the defences of Delhi, the Sikh sentries, who ''examine all natives, and force them to produce their passes," on seeing his white face, present arms. "My skin is the passport; it is a guarantee of my rank. In India I am at once one of the governing class—an aristocrat in virtue of birth—a peer of the realm—a being specially privileged and exempted from the ordinary laws of the state."

At Delhi, I shall leave Mr Russell for the present. J. M. L.

Return to 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