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

The Pindaris and the Last Maratha War

The trouble with the Ghurkas was over, but the lawlessness of Central India became worse and worse. The Pindaris made life a terror. Rather than fall into the hands of these fierce bandits, whole villages of people were known to burn themselves alive in their huts. Rather than be driven off by them like sheep, so be sold and slaughtered, women drowned themselves in the village wells.

Yet, while horrors unspeakable still raged around, and the Pindaris carried fire and sword among the peaceful, defenceless villages, Lord Hastings could do little, for the directors at home kept telling him not to interfere.

But at length he made up his mind to look on no more, but to crush the power of the Pindaris for ever. To do this, he gathered the largest army ever seen in India. From north and south the soldiers came; from Madras, Bombay and Bengal, until the Governor-General had an army 116,000 strong. It was a far greater force than was needed to crush the Pindaris. But Lord Hastings knew that he had not only to deal with them but with all the Maráthá chiefs, who were weary of their Subsidiary Alliance, and of the peace that it gave them, and who were longing to be free again to fight and plunder as of old. And if the Pindaris were successful ever so little, Lord Hastings knew it would give the Maráthás courage to rise against the British too.

But before there was any fighting, Lord Hastings found means of settling with several of the lawless chieftains. The Pindaris thus found themselves forsaken by many of their friends, and surrounded on all sides by a watchful enemy. In the battles which followed, many of the Pindaris were slain, some yielded themselves prisoners, and many were killed by the villagers whom they had been used to oppress and plunder, and who were now glad of revenge. Some sought refuge in the pathless jungle. For nearly a year the last chief held out, followed by a little band of about two hundred. But he, too, at last sought shelter in the jungle, and there, one day, his dead body was found, torn and mangled by tigers, while beside him, grazing quietly, was his horse, the only friend from whom he had not been forced to part.

So thoroughly were the Pindaris rooted out, that in a few years their terrible deeds were almost forgotten, and those of them who were left became as peaceful farmers and weavers of cotton as the peasants whom they had plundered in days gone by.

The Peshwá, or over-lord of the Maráthás, had, you remember, made an alliance with the British. But for a long time he had been growing restless, and eager to be rid of his alliance. Although he still pretended to be friendly, he was really trying to stir up the other Maráthá chiefs against the British, urged on by a favourite called Trimbukji Dainglia, in whose power he was. Already, about two years before the Pindari war, Trimbukji had murdered a man because he would not side against the British.

For this, Trimbukji was put in prison. The prison was not very strong, but so that he might have no chance of escape, he had a guard of British soldiers. But in spite of this, when he had been about a year in prison, he escaped. It was very cleverly managed.

One of the British officers had a groom who was a Maráthá. This man used to walk his master's horse up and down outside the prison, passing under Trimbukji's window. And as he passed he used to sing Maráthá songs, which, of course, the guard could not understand. But these songs told Trimbukji that friends were near and were making ready for his escape. This is something like what he sang:

Behind the bush the bowmen hide

The horse beneath the tree,

Where shall I find the knight will ride

The jungle-paths with me?

There are five-and-fifty coursers there, and

four-and-fifty men;

When the fifty-fifth shall mount his steed,

The Deccan thrives again.

Soon all was arranged. A hole was cut through the wall of Trimbukji's room, into a stable next it, and one dark, wet night, he squeezed himself through. Then in the dress of a common workman, carrying a basked on his head, he boldly marched out of the gate. The four and fifty men were ready waiting for him, and throwing himself on his horse, he was soon galloping with them through the darkness and the rain.

To hunt for him was useless. He had vanished. The Peshwá knew all about it.

It was soon heard that Trimbukji was raising both men and money. The Peshwá, too, began to gather his army. Other Maráthá chiefs joined them, and the last Maráthá war began.

Now again there were many stern fights, brave defences, gallant deeds. Both the Bombay and the Bengal sepoys proved heroes, and faithful to their British masters. In the end the Peshwá was utterly defeated. His land was taken from him, and added to the Bombay Presidency. But he was left with his title and given a pension of £80,000 a year, and so, wealthy and idle, he lived in luxury in Cawnpore till he died, an old man.

The Maráthá power was broken for ever, and Rajputana, which had been torn with war and bloodshed for nearly a hundred years, was at last at peace. Indeed, for the first time in all known history, there was peace in India from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin.

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