Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The Siege of Bhurtpore

Meanwhile the news of the losses and disasters in Burma had been brought to India. Many of the Indian chiefs and princes, who had not yet quite settled down under the over-lordship of Britain, began to be restless. As the war dragged on month after month they began to believe, and to hope, that the Burmese would overthrow the power of the British. They began to look forward to the time when the Company should no longer be over-lord in India, and when each prince should be free to fill the land with lawlessness and bloodshed as before.

When things were at their worst in Burma the Raja of Bhurtpore died. He was succeeded by his son, a child of seven, with his uncle as regent. But a cousin, who wished the throne for himself, murdered the uncle, and put the little Raja in prison. Thus he defied the British, who had accepted the little boy as Raja.

But Lord Amherst wanted no more fighting, so he made up his mind not to interfere. When the usurper saw this he became very bold and haughty. All the chieftains of Central India openly cheered him on, and men of every conquered tribe gathered to him, until he had an army of twenty-five thousand men.

The fort of Bhurtpore was the strongest in India. The Indians, indeed, believed that it could never be taken by mortal man. It was surrounded with five miles of enormous sun-dried, mud walls sixty feet thick. It had nine gates and thirty-five strong mud towers. Outside the wall was a broad ditch fifty-five feet deep, and one hundred and fifty feet wide. This ditch, in time of war, was filled with water from a lake near the town.

Lord Amherst soon saw that he had made a mistake. He saw that if the usurper of Bhurtpore was not punished there would be war all over Central India. So he sent an army against the fort. Fortunately it arrived in time to stop the bank of the lake being cut, and water let into the moat, and it was still dry.

The siege began. For days the British battered the mud walls with their heaviest guns. The roar and thud of cannon, the shriek of shells, filled the air for weeks, and still the brown walls stood solid and unbroken.

Then it was resolved to blow them up. Three mines were dug, the biggest being filled with ten thousand pounds of gunpowder. The train was lighted, and the army waited ready to rush in the moment there was a breach. In a few minutes the earth seemed to shake, a low rumble as of distant thunder was heard, the great wall trembled. Then huge masses of mud rose in the air carrying with them the shattered bodies of many of the defenders. The sky grew dark with smoke and dust, and lurid with flames. The air was filled with shrieks of pain, yells of triumph, the thud and crash of falling masses, as the British rushed through the yawning breach in the mighty wall.

Yet, before the fort was taken, there was terrible slaughter, six thousand or more of the defenders falling in the fight. But at last it was over, and the British were masters of the place.

Next day the little Raja was brought from prison, and again set upon the throne, and the usurper, in his turn, became a prisoner. The war was at an end and the Rajas or princes, who had been ready to make war, but who had been waiting to see what would happen, settled down in peace again. The famous walls of Bhurtpore were levelled to the ground, and with them the last rampart against British rule in India seemed to vanish.

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