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Good Words 1860
Aspects of Indian Life During the Rebellion


Recruited by his tour in the hills, Mr Russell started again for the plains, to join Lord Clyde's force for another campaign in Oude. He passed again through Umballa, of which he says:—"Like all the native cities I have seen, it is in a state of ruinous decay. It has never yet been my fortune to look at a new native house, or even a middle-aged one. Have they ceased to build houses of late days? At one time or other they must have erected edifices, but that time is certainly not the present." He was, however, "gratified to perceive that Mr Melville, unlike some of our civilians, did not think it beneath him, or too much trouble, to return the salutations of the people, who salaamed to him universally."

One of the most interesting portions of his work describes his visit to Puttiala at the express invitation of the Raja, who saw in him, perhaps, like many other natives, the "Queen's news-writer" (a familiar personage in the East), and received him with marked distinction. Puttiala is about eighteen miles from Umballa, the road thither being very bad—in several places quite impracticable. Mr Russell, however, found the villagers " a little better clad" than in the Company's territories ; while the local authorities in particular, ''fat and well-clad, salaamed to us as we passed, and blessed their stars, if they have any, that my excellent friend by my side" (Mr Melville) "was not their sahib collector." The Raja he found a large, good-looking man, with powerful jaw and mouth, and "sagacious and deep forehead;" and "though he be a 'nigger,' he seemed to me a right gracious and noble sort of monarch." The city seemed to Mr Russell as large as Dublin; the court, he says, was "rich enough and splendid enough to astonish me." What the Raja of Puttiala has done for us, it is need that we should bear in mind:—

"It is universally admitted, as far as I know, that whatever might have been the exertions of Mr Montgomery and Sir John Lawrence from the Punjaub, we must have lost Delhi if the Raja of Puttiala had not, in conjunction with the chiefs of the neighbouring states, kept open our communications with the Punjaub, and rendered the despatch of supplies practicable. By the gradual accumulation of nearly the whole of the British forces in the Punjaub, to the denudation of the North-west, .... the authorities in the Punjaub were able to hold their own, and to organise that remarkable system of supplies which enabled us to remain before Delhi till we got force sufficient to strike the rebels a death-blow. But that system must have utterly failed if the Sikh states south of the Sutlej had revolted, for we never could have maintained the communications with the Punjaub; and the political effects of such a rising would have probably paralysed the efforts of Sir John Lawrence and his able colleagues to raise the Sikh levies which gave us such invaluable aid. . . .

''Had the state of Puttiala been annexed, .... we should have seen, no doubt, there, as in all other parts of India, the natives rise to restore their mediatised or deposed prince to his full rights and powers, and to the throne of his ancestors.....In such a case, I have heard it said, over and over again, by good authority, India would have been lost. . . . But the Raja of Puttiala never hesitated. . . . He at once equipped and raised a large force, in addition to his regular army, and placed it at our disposal, to clear the road, to escort baggage, stores, and munitions of war. He gave us all the transport animals and carts he could collect; and he opened his coffers, and, at a low rate of interest, and on security which, to any but very keen eyes, was inappreciable, he lent us money when silver was worth its weight in gold. . . . There can be no question that all the physical power of his state was devoted to the re-establishment of our rule, and to the overthrow of the rebellion."

Surely the very highest honours at our Sovereign's disposal—-that garter which is the pride of kings, and which has ere this been bestowed on an effete Turkish sultan—would not have been too much to reward so invaluable an ally. Some strips of territory are, I believe, the best part of what he has received. But the Raja, writes Mr Russell, ''is most anxious to visit England, and he alluded to his intention several times during the durbar" (court). "With that view, he has applied for the repayment of the money which he lent to our Government during our necessities; but it is very inconvenient to repay it just now." The writer adds, in a note:—"Since the above was written, the Raja has, it is said, abandoned his intention of coming to England, being vexed by small impediments thrown in his way by Government as to servants, equipage, &c.; and being rather averse to the selection made by the Government in reference to the English official in whose charge he was to be placed."

"I could not help thinking, as we drove home, how harsh the reins of our rule must be to the soft skins of the natives. The smallest English official treats their prejudices with contempt, and thinks he has a right to visit them just as he would call on a gamekeeper in his cottage. Lord Clyde and others have said they were often pained by the insolence and rudeness of some of the civilians to the sirdars and chiefs in the North-west after the old war. Some of the best of our rulers administer justice in their shirt-sleeves, (which, by the by, are used as a substitute for blotting-paper all over India,) cock up their heels in the tribunal, and smoke cheroots to assist them in council; and I have seen one eminent public servant with his braces hanging at his heels, his bare feet in slippers, and his shirt open at the breast, just as he came from the bath, give audience to a great chieftain on a matter of considerable State importance. The natives see that we treat each other far differently, and draw their inferences accordingly."

There is only one term to apply to such conduct. It is as un-English as it is ungentlemanly; it is but ultra-American vulgarity.

Through Meerut, the scene of the first outbreak, where Mr Russell found it impossible to comprehend how it should not have been stifled at once, he proceeded to Agra, and saw that "pearl of architecture, the wonder of the world," the Taj, a monument erected by one of the Mussulman emperors to a dearly-loved wife, and of which one "who loves not India or her races" said to our writer, ''If the people of this land really built the Taj, the sooner our English leave the country the better. We have no business to live here and claim to be their masters." Mr Russell devotes eight pages to this monument, without being able adequately to express his admiration of it; "for it is alone in its loveliness—pure, and chaste, and graceful—among all the architectural triumphs of man." Passing through Cawnpore, he rejoined Lord Clyde at Allahabad, in time to hear Lord Canning read the proclamation of the transfer of the government to the Crown (1st November 1858). The advent of the change, he declares, produced ''no alteration in the external aspect of affairs," and excited no interest in the minds of the servants of the State; strangest of all, the Company's servants shewed "little regret at the transition;" and none, so far as he was aware, openly declared their conviction that it was a mischievous measure. Yet there was underworking against it evidently, since he was told ''that the people were actually prevented or dissuaded from coming to listen to the royal promises of pardon, forgiveness, justice, respect to religious belief, and non-annexation." The ceremony itself was "cold and spiritless," as well as the banquet which followed it. So callous were some of the civilians to the most ordinary notions of loyalty and fair-dealing, in respect of its pledge of unconditional pardon or submission before the 1st January, that Mr Russell heard that "an officer of the civil service—a most distinguished and able administrator, one of the first public men in India—suggested at Allahabad that we ' should knock down a few of those fellows' forts, and give them a good shelling,' without waiting for the proclamation to have its effect!" Lord Clyde, however—always on the side of uprightness and truth, always tender of human life and British honour—was determined not to proceed to extremities against any of the chiefs till there was full ground for knowing that they had received copies of the proclamation. He '' has but one wish," writes Mr Russell,—"to put an end to the disaffection in Oude, and to enforce obedience to the British rule; and if we can do that without shedding the blood of misguided men, and without sacrificing the life of a single British soldier, his greatest ambition will be achieved."

The story of the campaign of 1858, one of the chief events of which was the reduction of Amethie, has less exciting interest than that of the previous ones, in which the fate of our empire might still seem to be in question. The following description of the more fertile portions of Oude, and of the effects of the march of an army through them, deserves, however, to be quoted:—

"The country is of exceeding richness. . . . There is nothing Oriental in scenery or vegetation in the general aspect of the fields. A vast plain, green as the sea, covered with crops of dall," (a kind of lentil,) "young wheat, peas, vetches, grain, sugarcane, amid which are numerous islands, as it were, of mangoes, peepul, tamarind, and other trees, which, till closely examined in detail, differ nothing in broad effect from clumps of oak, elms, and sycamores, spreads to the remotest verge of vision, set in a circular fretted framework of topes," (groves,) "condensed by distance into the appearance of a solid belt. Right across the centre, in a tapering diameter, streams the army, baleful as a comet, its course marked by a wall of dust, through which glint forth the lance-point and bayonet. Whether the head or the tail of a comet be most harmful, I know not; but certain it is, the wide, fanlike tail of the Indian army is more terrible to our friends than its artillery or its sabres. Those insatiable 'looters,'—men, women, and children, all are at it; a field is gobbled, crunched, and sacked up in ten minutes. In vain Lord Clyde himself charges among them with a thick stick in his hand and thrashes the robbers heartily. In vain Colonel Metcalfe zealously aids his chief, and displays immense vigour in executing the duties of Provost-marshal. It is to no good end that police cavalry and flankers of hussars and carabineers make raids here and there against the more conspicuous bands of plunderers. If the whole available force of this army of Europeans were turned out against the camp-followers, they could only check their depredations by mitrailade," (grape,) "and then the survivors would either run away, (in which case, it is not too much to say the army would be as helpless as the Foundling Hospital or an infant-school,) or they would return to their work to-morrow." It is somewhat consolatory to be able to add, that " all these deeds are perpetrated by natives. The European soldiers are always closed up in columns of march; but Sikh and Belooch stray away from their baggage-guards." On the other hand, it is impossible not to see that the number of these marauders is multiplied by the luxurious habits of Anglo-Indian warfare, by the already described ''myriads of animals and men, and heaps of tents and baggage and furniture," which it drags with it. We have already seen this on the march; shall we glance at a halt? "As soon as the tents are pitched, the coolies deposit a long wooden box with sloping lids, slung from poles, which, being raised, uncover a goodly array of cold meat, plates, bread, butter, tea, patties, cold fowl, and other luxuries. Another servant has arrived with soda water and pale ale, a brisk fusillade of corks is opened, and the camp servants have already selected a favourable spot for a fire close at hand, over which a kettle is placed, while other fires are lighted to warm up curries or cook chops and steaks. A table-cloth is spread upon the grass; each man's syce" (groom) "puts his horse-rug by the side of it for him to lie down upon. The table is profusely covered with a Homeric banquet, a huge caldron of tea is in readiness, and the feast proceeds to its termination under a heavy fire of pipe and cheroot smoke."

Such being the luxuries of war in India, one is tempted to ask—What may be those of peace?

On the other hand, ''How our servants exist, I cannot ascertain by any reference to my own experience. No English servant could—or if he could, he certainly would not—exhibit the patience and powers of endurance of these bearers, syces, and grass-cutters. My syce follows me all day, for six or seven hours, at a jog-trot, not a sign of fatigue on his dusty face, or a drop of perspiration on his dark skin. He is heavily weighted too, for he carries a horse-cloth, a telescope, a bag of gram," (a kind of pea)—"part for himself, and part for his horse—and odds and ends useful on a march. When we halt, he is at hand to hold the horse. At the end of the march, there is no rest for him ; he grooms the horse with assiduity, hand-rubs him, washes out his nostrils and ears and hoofs, waters him, soaks his grain, and feeds him; then he has to clean saddlery, and boots and spurs; finally, at some obscure hour of night, he manages to cook a cake or two of wheat flour, to get a drink of water, to smoke his hubble-bubble, and then, after a fan-or so on the tom-tom, aided by a snuffling solo through the nose in honour of some unknown beauty, wraps himself up, head and ail, in his calico robe, and sleeps," (in the open air,) "till the first bugle rouses him out to feed and prepare his horse on the march. If any true Briton maintains that beef and beer are essentials to develop a man in stature, or strength, or 'lasting,' let him look at our camp-servants and own his error. The grass-cutter has an equally hard existence; the kelassies, or tent-pitchers, keep pace with the camels; and your bheesty" (water-carrier) "is ready with his mussuck" (water-skin) "the moment you ride into camp. And here, at this moment, is my bearer, with a clean snow-white turban and robe, sliding into my tent to tell me dinner is ready, to wait on me till I go to sleep, and to wake me betimes in the morning."

And the confidence generally reposed by Anglo-Indians in their own native servants, stands in strange contrast with their loudly proclaimed distrust of the natives in general. ''Here is a friend of mine," writes Mr Russell, at a later period in Bengal, "in a state of pardonable anger against Government and all mankind, because the 'niggers' have just murdered some unfortunate gentlemen who were surveying a railway close at hand. If they had been shot in a boundary-row, or on a Minister jaunting-car, he would think little of it. 'I would,' he exclaims, ' hang every scoundrel within ten miles of the place.' A moment afterwards, he is eulogising the syce who has fed his horse. The syce says, he has relations among the rebels who killed the engineers, Further on I meet a man going out to shoot. 'I can't try the best places, about five miles from this, .... because there are a lot of rascally rebels there.' 'But suppose they came down on you ?' ' Oh ! my fellows' (all natives) ' will keep a sharp look-out, and they would all fight for me to the death.' 'Can you trust them, after all that has happened ?' 'Well, I am going out alone—they carry my guns and everything, and I have five hundred rupees also, but they won't do me any harm.' 'What is the difference between them and sepoys?' 'Well, as to that, you know, they're all niggers alike, but I can trust my fellows,' " &c. &c.

Surely, if there be any ground for such confidence as is thus expressed, the natives of India cannot be the race of fiendish traitors which we are fond of representing them as being; if they are, it must be our own brutality, our own blood-thirstiness that makes them such. Of which, let two final instances suffice.

In camp, on the march to Amethie, Mr Russell "heard a man tell a story," he says, "which astonished me—not the tale so much, for I had heard many of them, as the way he told it—a very worthy man, no doubt, but what he said was this:—On a certain occasion, in a recent celebrated action, a place, to which I shall not more particularly allude, was strongly occupied by the enemy. Our men carried it with great gallantry; and bursting in, proceeded to kill all whom they found inside. The work was nearly completed when this officer perceived a number of sepoys crouching upon the flat roof of the enclosure. They had been firing on our men, but seeing the terrible fate of their comrades, they sought to escape notice, and had taken to this place of refuge. They made signs to the officer that they would surrender; and he ordered them to come down the narrow staircase leading from the roof, and as the first sepoy appeared, he told the man to take off his belt and pouch and to lay it with his musket down upon the ground. The same thing he did with each succeeding sepoy till he had got them all, fifty-seven in number, 'upon which,' he said, ' I fell them in against the wall, and told some Sikhs, who were handy, to polish them off. This they did immediately, shooting and bayoneting them, so that altogether they were disposed of in a couple of minutes.'"

Of which cowardly butchery, horrible as it is, it must nevertheless be observed that, having been perpetrated in heat of blood, it must yield the palm to Mr Frederick Cooper's well-known massacre at Meean-Meer, of which he himself has had the audacity to boast as of the ''ceremonial sacrifice" of a Christian.

The other instance which I shall quote involves no loss of life, but is no less ominous as a sample of the tempers and habits out of which such atrocities as above mentioned have grown, and must grow whilst indulged in. When the rebels had been driven into Nepaul, Mr Russell returned to Lucknow, and was thinking of a tour through the indigo-plantations, when his home-news determined him to return to England. At Cawnpore, returning from the railway office to the hotel, '' there were a number of coolies sitting idly under the shadow of a wall: suddenly there came upon them, with a bound and a roar, a great British lion—his eyes flashing fire, a tawny mane of long locks floating from under his pith helmet, and a huge stick in his fist. . . . He rushed among the coolies, and they went down like grass, maimed and bleeding. I shouted out of the gharry, 'Good heavens, stop! why, you'll kill those men!' (One of them was holding up an arm as if it were broken.) A furious growl—'What the------business have you to interfere? It's no affair of yours.' 'Oh yes, sir, but it is. I am not going to be accessary to murder. See how you have maimed that man ! You know they dared not raise a finger against you.' ' Well, but these lazy scoundrels are engaged to do our work, and they sneak off whenever they can ; and how can I look after them?' Now, I believe, from what I have heard, these cases occur up country frequently; in one place, there has been a sort of mutiny and murder among railway labourers ; and, in fact, the authorities have issued injunctions to the railway subordinates to be cautious how they commit excesses and violence among their labourers, and warn them they will be punished. A ganger, or head-navvy, accustomed to see around him immense results produced by great physical energy and untiring strength, is placed over hundreds of men, remote from supervision and control; he sees the work is not done—'a good-for-nothing set of idlers,'—and so he takes to stick and fist for it." And, as Mr Russell observes, in India, "if Europeans are not restrained by reason and humanity from giving vent to their angry passions, there is little chance of their being punished for anything short of murder—and of murder it has been oftentimes difficult to procure the conviction of Europeans at the hands of their countrymen."

And now let us see what are Mr Russell's own conclusions on leaving India.

"I confess that the present aspect—the aspect of the outward and visible signs of our rule in India—to me is not very encouraging. Towns, villages, and public works, monuments, temples, tombs, tanks, reservoirs, and buildings of all sorts in which the people of India are deeply interested, are in decay. In the late mutiny, the people took their revenge by burning our stations, our barracks, our bungalows, and our hotels.....When I was at Agra, I observed that a wild fig-tree had taken root in the cupola of the Taj, and threatened it with destruction; a few rupees would have cleared it, but there was no one to order the work to be executed, though there is, indeed, an officer appointed to survey public buildings in Agra. The great tombs all over India are falling to pieces ; the revenues appropriated to them being misapplied or absorbed for other purposes. Many of them are now the refuge of wild beasts.. We may point to the Ganges canal and to our railways; but the iron road and the iron wire pass over crumbling cities, by prostrate monuments and deserted villages; and even the canal itself has not produced, according to the statements of the people, the benefits which were expected to be derived from it. As to the state and extent of the internal communications in the oldest of our possessions, they are all summed up by one of the inspectors of schools, who declares that no one would dream of taking wheel conveyances sixteen miles from Calcutta, as metal roads fade into the mud at that distance in Western Bengal, and in all his district, for one hundred miles, he did not see a single bridge even of bamboo.

"But these may be said to be small matters, provided that we have increased the sum of general prosperity, security of life and property, contentment, and virtue. I am not in a position to determine if such has been the case; but I believe that the actual physical happiness of the natives has not been augmented by the change of rulers. Sir Henry Lawrence, who had long and varied experience, told Sir Robert Montgomery, on whose authority I repeat the statement, that he was persuaded, on the whole, the people were happier under native government than under our own. There is the whole difficulty of our position. We have, by this very effort, which effected the reduction of India, satisfied ourselves that the drain on our resources is too great to be submitted to permanently without ruin to the empire at home. There is but one way left to retain it. Let us be just, and fear not—popularise our rule—reform our laws — adapt our saddle to the back which bears it. Let us govern India by superior intelligence, honesty, virtue, morality—not by the mere force of heavier metal—proselytise by the force of example—keep our promises loyally in the spirit, nor seek, by the exercise of Asiatic subtlety, to reach the profundity of Asiatic fraud. Otherwise, the statesman was never born who can render India either safe or profitable ; and our arms will be paralysed in the money-market, for the cost of keeping that glorious empire will be far greater than the profit we derive from its possession ; and such a result, in these days, is considered quite sufficient ground for the relinquishment of the greatest heritage that the devotion, courage, and energy of her sons ever bequeathed to a nation."

J. M. L.

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