General Seaton in his entertaining book, From Cadet to Colonel, tells us of far-off times and strange customs; he saw the first beginnings of the Mutiny, and had always observed the native sympathetically. Training for the army was not very scientific in 1822: for, one day, a cousin called at Seaton's home and said:
"Tom, would you like to go to India as a cadet?"
"Yes, very much," replied the boy of sixteen: a sudden vacancy had occurred, Tom Seaton was rushed into a new uniform, and in a week was sailing from Spithead bound for Calcutta.
A small amount of Latin and Greek had been caned into him; a few months in a London school had brushed up his arithmetic and French, but of the world—its trials and temptations—he knew nothing, and still less of his new profession of Arms. The good ship Thames was in no hurry, she took nearly six months getting to Calcutta: Tom was completing his education in his own style and method. With three other cadets he sprang ashore, near Calcutta, at Chandpaul ghaut (steps), somewhere near midnight on the 1st of January 1823.
They were alone in the dark in a strange land, not knowing a word of the language: just as they were about to return to their boat a figure in white loomed up, and cried out in harsh, metallic voice:
"Master, where come from?"
"From England," replied one.
"Master belong ship? What business make?"
"We are officers."
"Oh! officers. Master, where go now?"
"Don't know: where is the fort? Is there any hotel?"
"Fort long way. All officer gentlemen's sleep; master go punch ghur."
"Punch ghur? what in blazes is that?"
"There master get some eaty-drinky, sleepy bed. Yes, I show way; master give a littil present—backshish! boatman—he carry things."
So they were personally conducted to a villainous tavern, where some sailors were drinking, smoking, and playing billiards: they were too sleepy to talk, and went off to bed.
Next morning they found the fort and were received by the superintendent of cadets and taken to the cadets' mess, which consisted of twenty young men, ensigns waiting to be posted to regiments, and cadets like themselves, serving the East India Company on the pay of ninety rupees a month.
"No care was in any way taken of us: we were neither sent to drill nor taught our duty, nor encouraged to study the native languages. The consequences may be imagined. A parcel of young lads, just released from the restraint of school, arriving in this country, green and ignorant,—many at once ran riot and commenced a career of debauchery and profligacy that speedily ended in ruin."
Fortunately young Seaton, having a brand-new gun, delighted to cross the river and shoot every bird he saw: so he was kept out of mischief. In a month or so he was promoted to the rank of ensign and sent to Barrackpur. A native boat took him lazily up river: on arrival he reported himself to the adjutant, who took him to call on the colonel. To the first question, "Have you any uniform?" Tom had to reply, "Not much, sir: I had no time to get it ready."
"Well, you have a sword, I suppose?"
"No, sir; it was in my list, but the outfitter forgot it, I expect."
The colonel and adjutant exchanged meaning glances; the result was that a new outfit had to be ordered from a Calcutta tailor. The bill that followed was prodigious! and alas! the letters from home, after its reception, scolded him for being a spendthrift and a scapegrace. Then came the learning of regimental drill—warm work in the new red coat—and days in the jungle with shot and gun. There was no common mess-room, but five or six officers living in bungalows would chum together, camp fashion.
In July, Seaton was posted to the 17th Native Infantry at Ludhiana, and went by water in a native budgerow with sixteen oars, having in tow a small boat for cooking in. For figure-head this clumsy craft had the figure of a European, black hat, blue coat and yellow waistcoat. The roof of the cabin was flat and formed a promenade. As the boat was flat-bottomed it steered very badly and would sheer out, or run ashore, in a way that tried the temper of the crew badly.
Arriving at Cawnpur, Seaton and his friend hired a bungalow whilst they bought camels, horses and tents for their forward march. They were advised to take a chokeg-dar, or watchman, to prevent being robbed. As they seemed to consider this a useless expense, being still "grills" or newcomers, they were told of a young officer who defied all the thieves and found next morning that his boxes had been removed from his bedroom, his gun and pistols had been taken from his bed, and his sword had been stuck through his mattress. Thieving in India is a fine art.
Seaton then took a fine old Brahmin of sixty, and old Bhowanny took to his master and treated him like a boy of his own. For eleven years this faithful Indian slave to his master, scolding him heartily when he was imprudent, and not allowing the servants to cheat him.
In those days there was a continuous jungle from four miles out of Delhi to Kurnal: now it is all under good cultivation. Seaton arrived at Ludhiana inn December 1823, and was warmly welcomed by his brother-officers. He soon engaged a moonshee (teacher) and studied Hindostanee, so that he could converse with the villagers.
Some of the native regiments at that period had a bhat, or bard, whose business it was to incite the men in action to deeds of valour. The bard in Seaton's regiment was a noble-looking fellow, six feet high, with a splendid head and patriarchal beard of grey. Every day after parade he used to plant the butt of his spear on the ground, raise his right hand, and roll out in deep sonorous tones the praises of the colonel and all his officers.
In October 1825, Seaton's regiment escorted the guns from Meerut which were being taken to the siege of Bhurtpur. The sepoys were then faithful to their salt, but the villagers predicted defeat to the gora log (white men): one wrinkled hag came from her hut and, raising skinny arms in the air, cried hoarsely, "Go to Bhurtpur! they'll split you up. Go and be killed, all of you."
At this a sepoy rushed out of the ranks, and flourishing his firelock over her head, exclaimed, "Get in, old hag: when we come back, the elephants shall serve you out: we'll pound you and your brats into mortar."
However, the strong walls succumbed to a mine, storming parties rushed through the breach, and the British took the stronghold.
In 1835, Seaton lost the wife he had married at Barrackpur and most of his fortune; he asked for three years' furlough and returned to England.
In 1838 he married again and sailed for Calcutta: a pilot came on board in the river, and on taking a newspaper the first thing Seaton read told him his regiment had marched for the campaign in Afghanistan. Husband and wife looked at each other in suspense: she knew no one in India: must she return to England, or live alone in a strange land?
It ended in Seaton leaving his wife at Simla, and by the kind help of Sir Henry Lawrence he secured a boat at Ferozepur and soon joined the convoy, carrying guns and stores to the army. In crossing a desert the sepoys suffered terribly from want of water, and camp-followers carrying infants excited great compassion: strong men fell and beat their breasts, the camels were exhausted and could only go two and a half miles in the hour.
Seaton and a sepoy were looking for water in a ravine: the latter could not speak, his tongue rattled in his mouth and his face was distorted with agony; yet he made no complaint, but struggled on.
Many died of brain fever, and cholera made its dread appearance. "My servant, Hyder, a descendant of the Prophet and entitled to wear a green turban, came a mile out of camp," writes Seaton, "and met me with a bottle of tea: I was very grateful to the good fellow." The roads were littered with dead and dying: the strong suffered from dust and myriads of flies and the stench of the dead camels.
At last the only white doctor died, and faces began to look grave. One of the native officers had a little girl, his only child, in camp with him. She was a pretty, lively prattling thing of about six years of age, the delight of everybody. Every day she would chatter to her father, help him to light his fire and cook his food. One morning at ten o'clock she was quite well, at 3 p.m. she was dead mad laid out for burial. The day the convoy arrived at Baugh, the natives told them that a report had come that all had perished, as they had never heard of a convoy crossing the desert in June!
On reaching a large pool of water the sepoys and camp-followers rushed into the water with shouts of delight, and from that hour all began to mend. A hundred sepoys had died, 300 camp-followers, and 6 officers.
When a camel was exhausted he would suddenly stop and sit down: from that position no torture could make the poor animal budge. "His heart is broken," said the natives, and they left him to die alone. Sometimes an officer would try a gill of whisky and water, followed by good food mixed with warming spice: then the camel might recover, if rested for a fortnight.
At Quetta they found a climate as cool as that of an English summer, gardens and fruit trees and long-woolled sheep met their eyes, and if it had not been for the jessail, or long rifles, of the Beloochees, they would have enjoyed their marches towards Kandahar.
They halted one day at Ghuznee, where our men had just recently blown in the gate under Captain Thomson of the Bengal Engineers. When the Ameer heard that Ghuznee had fallen, he lost heart: for his people said, "Who can stand before the dreaded English?"
But a terrible calamity overtook Colonel Herring, who, with Lieutenants Carlyon and Hawtry, had climbed a hill to get a view. For they were suddenly attacked by Afghans, and, being unarmed, had to run down the hill: the colonel was caught by an Afghan, but managed to seize him by the throat and strike him with his stick. But another Afghan came up and drew his knife over the colonel's loins. When his body was found, it was an awful sight, hacked and mangled out of recognition by sixteen or seventeen deep wounds.
When the convoy reached Kabul they delivered over the treasure and stores, and Seaton was kindly welcomed by his old comrades and Sir Robert Sale. But out of 5000 camels that started with the convoy, only 500 reached Kabul: the rest had died on the road.
In war, more men die of disease than by wounds, except in a Japanese army; for our friends have learnt the use of science. In war it is the patient animal that suffers most: yet it need not be so: the lives of camels, horses and mules are well worth a little thought before the campaign opens.
At Kabul, Seaton noticed how the British soldiers fraternised with the sepoys, and the sepoys would often relieve the sentries for an hour. It would be too long a task to describe how Sir Robert Sale marched from Kabul to Jellalabad in November 1841, how he held that city and repaired the fortifications and drove off the enemy by sorties, how on the 9th of January 1842 there came a letter from General Elphinstone, recounting the slaughter of the English Envoy and his own capitulation to Akbar Khan, and finishing by an order to Sale to retire to Peshawur. However, that order was never acted upon: the flag was kept flying on the crumbling ramparts.
"On the 13th of January," writes Seaton, "I was on guard at the south gate, when, a little after twelve o'clock, some one came rushing along the passage. The door was burst open and Lieutenant B—threw himself into my arms, exclaiming, 'My God! Seaton, the whole of our Kabul army has been destroyed. Only Dr. Brydon had escaped, as Lady Butler's picture shows us. The flag was hoisted at the west gate as a sign to fugitives, should there be any, cavalry were sent out, and at night buglers were posted to sound the advance every quarter of an hour: but the dreadful dirge brought no single soldier out of the Kabul Pass, the Afghans had shot all who had not died of cold and fatigue. This was the first catastrophe at Jellalabad.
The second occurred on the 19th of February: a little after eleven in the morning came a shock of an earthquake and a rumbling noise: this noise went on and grew louder, till it surpassed in volume the loudest thunder. The ground heaved in waves like a sea, one could not stand up without clutching at something for support: the walls and bastions began to rock and reel and crumble into dust and ruin. Then came a dead silence and men's faces were green with fear, while horses sweated and groaned and put their muzzles to the ground. Happily only three men were crushed, in the cavalry hospital.
"A month's cannonading with a hundred pieces of heavy artillery could not have produced the damage that the earthquake had effected in a few seconds. . . . The hand of the Almighty had indeed humbled our pride, and taught us the wholesome lesson that He alone is a sure defence." Without any delay every man in garrison was set to work and walls of clay and earth were run up around the city.
The enemy, who rode up to see the ruins, galloped back with the report that the white man's magic had prevailed even against an earthquake! In all this trouble the sepoys had behaved nobly, and when provisions ran short they stinted themselves to feed their white friends in our army. Great numbers of the British soldiers had friends amongst the sepoys, and some, when on the point to die, would send for their sepoy friend to be with them in their last moments.
Thus, when Jellalabad had been saved and the brave garrison had marched to Ferozepur, being received at every station by Lord Ellenborough's order with presented arms, the native officers came to Seaton and said, "Sir, we shall soon be separated from our white brothers, the 13th Light Infantry, and the whole regiment wish to give them a dinner." When Seaton approved of this, one said, "We will buy everything for our brothers but pig's flesh."
Hindoos and Mahommedans abhor swine's flesh; the Hindoo holds the cow sacred, but for all that there was plenty of beef on the tables. The dinner took place with eclat, aides-de-camp and staff officers looking in to see the fun: and soon after, the 13th gave a dinner to the native regiment, the 35th, and showed they were indeed brothers in arms. It is good to think of these things; even though the dark brothers, under the influence of religious frenzy were soon to lose our respect and behave like cruel demons.
At last Seaton was free to rejoin his wife at Simla, where he spent thirty days of peace in a lovely cottage girt about with whispering deodars. He was then appointed Major of Brigade and was sent to Agra; where, one day, as he sat at his desk writing, a sudden darkness came on, and a strange sound was heard, and the silent native orderlies, who were just outside, began to talk excitedly. Seaton called out:
"What is it?"
"Tiddee, sahib" (locusts, sir).
Mungul Pandy fired at Lieutenant Baugh, the Adjutant, and wounded his horse. Baugh fired his pistol at him but missed, and the Sepoy, drawing his sword, cut him down. Pandy was one of the first of the Sepoys to fire on the British, and from this circumstance the mutineers were known as "Pandies."
He went out and saw the air and sky teaming with millions of locusts and the only sound heard was the rustling of their wings. Some settled on big branches and broke them down; every vestige of foliage was devoured in a few minutes, and then they took to wing again.
In 1851, Seaton again went to England to escape ague, on a sick furlough of three years. He landed in Calcutta in December in 1854 in good health and joined his regiment at Sealkote in the Punjab as colonel. The station faced the north, and the Cashmere Mountains rose directly in front, covered with snow, peak after peak, stretching right and left for 200 miles.
Seaton had not seen the regiment for ten years, but fully half the men were old friends and had shared with him the perils of Jellalabad. However, his first week showed very plainly a marked change for the worse in the bearing and feeling of the sepoys towards their officers. The other officers, being used to it, did not notice the growing independence of the native soldiers: the power of the officer to keep strict order had been impaired, and the sepoy swaggered about as if he were the master and could court-martial any captain among them.
In April 1857, Seaton had a return of his old malady and went to Simla: a strange disinclination to start had troubled him and nearly kept him at Sealkote, but he thought it the result of his ailment and set off, reaching Simla on the 8th of May.
On the 11th, news came to Simla of a revolt of the troops at Meerut on the day before, and all officers of the Meerut division were ordered to return at once to their stations. In the afternoon the adjutant-general, Colonel Chester, told Seaton it was the desire of the commander-in-chief that he should proceed to Umballa and take command of the 60th N.I., which had shown strong symptoms of disaffection. Seaton reached Umballa on the 15th of May, and discussed affairs with Lieutenant Shebbeare: they spoke of the previous acts of insubordination, the burning of the telegraph office at Barrackpur on the 24th of January, the refusal of the sepoys to take the cartridges on the 25th of February, the nightly meetings of the 2nd and 34th N.I. at Barrackpur. H.M.'s 84th regiment had been sent for from Rangoon and had encamped a few miles above Barrackpur, but the sepoys of the 34th N.I. were reported to be highly excited. On the 29th, one of them, Mungul Pandy, had stalked through the lines with a loaded musket, shouting, "Rise, boys, rise, and shoot the white men." Lieutenant Baugh, the adjutant, galloped off to the parade to restore order; but Mungul Pandy aimed at him and fired, wounding his horse in the flank and bringing down the rider. Baugh, however, jumped up, fired his pistol at Pandy but missed him.
Then the sepoy, drawing his sword, cut the lieutenant down: as the sergeant-major ran out to help Baugh, he called out to the quarter-guard to come to his assistance.
The native officer commanding, upon this, ordered his men not to move, and the sergeant was also cut down. Then the quarter-guard, with their native officer, ran in and began to beat the officers about the head with the butts of their muskets.
At this moment Lieutenant Baugh's Mahommedan orderly came running up and seized Pandy just as he had reloaded his musket.
Then appeared General Hearsy and his two sons, roused by the sound of firing, and with their help Baugh and the sergeant were rescued from the grip of the sepoys.
Then General Hearsy said to the orderly who had saved the lieutenant, "Shaikh Pultoo, I promote you to the higher grade of havildar for your prompt and courageous action"
Mungul Pandy was secured and lodged in the quarter-guard of the 70th N.I., and it was owing to this man's fanatical conduct so early in the Mutiny that the mutineers came to be known as "Pandies." General Hearsy had promoted this orderly on the spur of the moment for his brave conduct; but for doing this the general received a reprimand in a few days from Colonel Birch, Military Secretary to Government. It is the old story—not trusting the man on the spot: the clever man writing at his desk miles away from the occurrences thinks he knows better than the man who has all the facts at his finger-ends. Mungul Pandy was tried, convicted and hanged in front of the troops on the 8th of April.
Then the authorities at Calcutta began to congratulate themselves on having crushed the mutiny, and were hiring transports for sending back H.M.'s 84th regiment to Rangoon. But on the 4th of May they learnt by telegram of the mutiny of the 7th Irregular Cavalry at Lucknow, and the order for the 84th to return to Rangoon was luckily rescinded. It was then thought advisable to get rid of the 34th N.I. who had been present in the lines on the 9th of March when Lieutenant Baugh was attacked. So the regiment was paid up, marched across the river without arms and dismissed. The disbanded sepoys carried the seeds of mutiny to their homes or wherever they scattered in their fury and wild treason. It was probably owing to the too mild treatment of these regiments that the troops at Meerut began burning their officers' bungalows. General Hewitt, thinking there were plenty of Europeans in the station to prevent any riot, ordered a parade of the 3rd Light Cavalry on the 5th of May; but 85 men refused to touch the cartridges. They were tried and condemned to six or ten years' imprisonment.
This fired the smouldering passion: they rose en masse, burnt the buildings and made off to Delhi.
All this and more Seaton must have been discussing when the news came that the commander-in-chief had ordered all troops to assemble at Umballa, to prepare for an advance on Delhi.
The commander-in-chief arrived on the 15th of May, and on the 16th a council of war was held to discuss the question of disarming the two native regiments in the station, the 5th and 6th Native Infantry.
Seaton's advice was to disarm at once, and as he knew more about the native mind than most, his opinion carried weight, and he left the council table with the order in his pocket to disarm at 4 p.m. But when Seaton was going to the parade appointed, he found there the Persian interpreter and Military Secretary, who told him that the chief had changed his mind: the men were to be trusted!
However, disgusted as he was at this vacillation, Seaton had to make the best of it: so he addressed the men, saying it had been resolved they should have an opportunity of being faithful. They received his speech well and swore fidelity to their colours.
After parade, Seaton chatted with the native officers, amongst whom was a soubandar-major whom he had known before. A little talk with him and a few inquiries after old friends pleased the man, for he was a genial, intelligent old fellow, "and from that moment he seemed to bear me goodwill," says Seaton.
Thus, then, the troops began their march on Delhi, and reached Kurnal on the 24th: but the European soldiers, having heard of the atrocities committed at Meerut, and having seen the mutinous conduct of the 60th N.I., began to say loudly that they would not remain in camp with the 60th. The only thing the staff could think of now was to order Seaton to march with the 60th to Rohtuck, which was forty-five miles from Delhi: he was to intercept troops which had mutinied at Hansi and Hissar and had massacred their officers: and he was to do all this with a regiment ripe for mutiny!
"There was a good road from Rohtuck to Delhi, and the most probable consequence of this move would be that the sepoys would massacre all their officers and join the mutineers at Delhi. with their arms, camp equipage and service ammunition.
When Colonel Chester, the Adjutant-General, gave Seaton his orders, so thoroughly ashamed was he of this cruel, half-hearted measure that he could not lift his eyes from the paper before him. And when Seaton and his officers bade their friends good-bye, there was a wistful look in their eyes, as though they knew their friends were going to certain death.
However, the doomed men put a good face on the matter and spoke cheerily to all. The first day's march showed the mutinous spirit of the 60th: for as they crossed a canal, Colonel Seaton halted his amen to let them drink. There was a grove of young mango trees in full bearing close at hand; this the sepoys tried to pillage of its fruit, but the officers hurried up to stop them. One young sepoy was very insolent to his captain and answered roughly when ordered to fall in. Captain S— collared him to force him back to the ranks: the sepoy resisted and the men began to look angry. Seaton felt that instant interference was necessary; so, stepping slowly up to the man and looking him sternly in the face, he said, "Do you know what you are about? go and fall in instantly; you are all mad."
The sepoy at once put up his hands in submission, and obeyed his colonel. The calm, determined tone of the officer and the habit of obedience had their full weight for the moment.
At the halting-place, Seaton sent for that sepoy, a fine, handsome young fellow, looking rather troubled.
"What had become of your senses this morning?" asked the colonel in a serious tone.
"Sahib," the man replied respectfully, "I did great wrong: I have repented, and will never do so again: forgive me."
"The commander-in-chief has been very good to this regiment: instead of punishing you all for your mutiny at Umballa, he freely pardoned you. He took me from my own regiment and sent me to this, that I might be kind to you and warn you against further error. Is this the return you make?"
"Colonel Sahib, I have repented; forgive me."
"Very well; your soubandar says you are sorry, and your captain says you are generally a well-behaved man, so I forgive you."
We see in this and similar cases that the Indian temper was susceptible even at the beginning of the Mutiny of gentle influences: this man expected to be met by a burst of anger and to be tried and punished. His colonel's calm and kindly feeling disarmed all resentment, and, as events proved, this sepoy became a faithful friend in the hour of danger. The heat became intense, the dust choked them as they marched on through the night: Seaton nodded sleepily on horseback and often had to get off and walk to save himself a fall.
They had halted at a walled village at 2 a.m. and the men were clustered round a well and were drawing water eagerly.
When an hour had passed, Seaton rose from his horse-cloth on which with his officers he had been lying, and ordered the call to be sounded. As the men did not leave the well readily, Seaton went up and called out, "Now, men, don't delay: let us get this march over in the cool of the morning."
No one spoke, but one man came up and saluting, said abruptly, "My lotah has fallen into the well: I want leave to stay behind to get it out."
A lotah is a brass pot which every sepoy carries strapped on his knapsack. Seaton knew this was an excuse, but something prompted him to say kindly, "What is the value of your lotah?"
"A rupee and a half, sahib."
Well, don't be so foolish as to risk being killed by staying behind amongst these wild people. Come on into camp and I will give you a new one. A lotah is nothing to me, but a sepoy's life is a great deal."
The man's face brightened, he snapped his fingers and called out, "Come along, brothers, you hear what the Colonel Sahib says."
So the march was resumed, and the colonel thought no more of it. But some days later, after Seaton had escaped to the camp at Delhi, a Sikh servant said to him, "I heard about you, sahib, from a sepoy who helped me to escape from the mutineers."
"Indeed! What was it you heard?"
"Do you know what the men were about, sahib, at the village well? You remember, when we halted there was a lot of talking."
"Oh yes, I remember; a sepoy's lotah had fallen into the well."
"No, sahib, that was all pretence: the men were all of the grenadier company, and when you came up they were debating whether they should shoot you and the officers: and if you had been angry with the sepoy who spoke to you and had answered him roughly, he would have shot you at once: for his musket was loaded."
Gentle words and kind deeds prevailed for a time in keeping the 60th true to their salt; but the colonel, conversing cheerfully with the men whenever he passed through the lines, and visiting the hospital daily, could see under their respectful demeanour that some deep fire of discord was smouldering in their hearts.
For three days after his arrival at Rohtuck, Seaton saw no change: but on the 4th of June, about 5 p.m., as he was writing in the mess-tent, the adjutant came in and said, "Colonel, I wish to speak to you."
"Well, Shebbeare, what is it?" said the colonel.
"I have just heard front two of our drummers (Eurasians) that the regiment is to mutiny to-night, murder the officers, and be off to Delhi."
Seaton thought it out for a bit and replied, "Very well: in half an hour the men will assemble in front of their tents for evening roll-call. I will go on parade and tax them with their intended outbreak: tell the officers to look out."
Accordingly the colonel at sunset went on parade, called the native officers in front, away from their respective companies, and taxed them with their intended treachery.
The sepoy officers were confounded when they knew that their secret plot was discovered: they one and all denied the charge and swore to be faithful. The men who had been listening quietly made no movement, and Seaton went to each company and said a few warning words.
When Seaton rejoined the European officers who stood at a distance, "What is it, colonel—is it all right?" they asked anxiously.
"Oh yes," Seaton replied cheerfully, "I think our throats are safe for to-night, and you may turn in without fear."
The next few days were spent in anxious expectation of a revolt. On the 8th of June, as Seaton was going in the evening to visit the hospital, and as he was about to cross a deep ditch, the young sepoy who had been rude to the captain by the well came out of his tent and gave the colonel a hand. As he stooped, he whispered, "Colonel Sahib, when your Highness's people shall have regained the Empire, I will make my petition to your Highness."
These words, so full of mystery, made Seaton think the moment for rising had come. He says, "I had no other course to pursue than to do my duty as firmly, as honestly and as wisely as I could, and trust to God's mercy and goodness for a favourable result."
Seaton had been forgotten by his superiors: they had been too busy to send him the news of victories won on the 30th of May. The news of these successes would have served to keep the 60th quiet, he thought. No wonder his officers felt a little embittered: "the men in power sent us off to Rohtuck to be out of the way: they seem mighty indifferent as to what our fate shall be."
Next day, as all seemed going on as usual, five of the young officers arranged to go out shooting. At 4 p.m., as the colonel sat writing letters in short, cotton drawers and shoes, a great explosion startled him. With his pen in his hand he ran out to see what was the matter, but could find no noise or tumult: most of the sepoys were lying down asleep, and a few were cooking.
As he gained the centre of the camp, the havildar-major, or native sergeant-major, rushed up and caught him by the arm and said hurriedly, "Colonel Sahib, don't go to the front."
"The grenadiers are accoutering themselves."
"By whose order, havildar?"
"Biggur-geea our kya" (They have mutinied).
At once the colonel called out for the native officers: it was in vain: not one answered his appeal. So, seeing the game was up, Seaton returned to his tent, put on a pair of corduroy trousers and called for his syce to bring his horse. Just then the grenadiers burst out of their tents and fired at the white officers, while the other sepoys, who were not in the secret, started up and stared stupidly about them. The shouts and the shots, the rush of mutineers and camp-followers, the cries of terror from the camp-followers and the galloping of horses formed a confused medley of sights and sounds.
Seaton snatched up his watch and keys and, without his sword, jumped on his horse when the mutineers were only ten paces from him. Luckily they had discharged their muskets, and so he got off unwounded. They rode through the night to Delhi, and Seaton dismounted at Sir H. Barnard's tent about 9 a.m.
The general was at breakfast with his staff. They all turned in surprise. "Good God! why, we have just been told the 60th had mutinied and killed all their officers except five that were out shooting!
After having some breakfast, Colonel Seaton went round the British camp like a beggar, securing a coat, a sword, a pair of boots, etc.
His friend Hodson invited him to share his tent and got him a good charpoy (bedstead). The Assistant Adjutant-General Ewart provided him with a sword and belt and posted him to the first brigade as a field officer.
"My first night's rest was heavenly. I heard distinctly all the firing, but it did not disturb me. For three nights before the 60th mutinied I had had little rest, and I had been on horseback from 4 p.m. the day before until 9 a.m. this day. . . . No wonder, then, that my sleep was profound."
We will not follow Colonel Seaton through his adventures during the siege of Delhi, as that part of the Mutiny war can come in later. On the 23rd July, however, as Seaton was helping two men to carry Captain Law, he was himself struck by a bullet on the left breast. Finding that no air issued from the wound, he concluded his lungs were unhurt. Dismounting, he felt faint, and was placed in a charpoy: soon he met his friend Hodson, who at once galloped off to camp and called a surgeon. The ball had struck on a rib, fractured it and driven it forcibly on the lung, passing out finally at the back. Seaton says:
"Hodson's care for me I shall never forget. He watched land tended me with the affection of a brother: he anticipated all my wants, prevented me from speaking (according to the doctor's orders) and carefully excluded every one from the tent."
This is high praise for Hodson, who has been so unmercifully condemned for one act of swift vengeance committed in a moment of excitement. On the 20th of September, Seaton went to Simla to regain his strength; he had latterly been acting as prize agent, but the foul air of Delhi interfered with his recovery.
He soon was able to ride about, and in November received this telegram:—
"If you wish to command the 1st Fusiliers, come to Delhi as soon as you can. Colonel Gerrard has been killed in action."
Seaton accepted, and on arrival at Delhi found he was ordered to escort a convoy of grain and stores through the Doab, land between the Ganges and the Jumna, to the commander-in-chief's camp. With a force of 2300 men, Colonel Seaton was to guard 4500 bullock-carts, 8000 camels, 1500 camp-followers and 16,000 bullocks: the whole might cover some eighteen miles of road. Before starting, Seaton asked General Penney if, instead of taking the squadron of dragoons detailed for him, he might have Major Hodson with his regiment of horse.
"But Hodson's corps is not so strong as the others, nor so well mounted," said the general.
"I know that, sir, but as the safety of the convoy will depend mainly on getting accurate information of the enemy, I wish to have Hodson; for I know well that if any man can get it, he is the man. He is indefatigable—a soldier of the highest class. I have unbounded confidence in him, and would rather have him than 500 more men."
General Penney, on hearing this, assented to his request.
Just before starting the hews came in that a large body of rebels was on the road, and threatening Colonel Farquhar and his small force. So a message was sent to Farquhar that help was coming. When Seaton and his convoy were well on their way, Hodson was sent on scout to discover the position and numbers of the enemy: he took with him Major Light of the Artillery.
Camp was marked out and the men began to pitch their tents, but to make things safe against a surprise, the horses were kept close to the guns, and the cavalry were ordered to keep their horses saddled.
Presently Major Light was seen to be returning at full gallop. "Captain Hodson desires me to say, sir, that the enemy's cavalry are advancing in force on both flanks."
Seaton, wondering if the enemy thought they had only Farquhar to tackle, sang out, "Bugler, the alarm! Mount, and turn out the artillery." Captain Trench turned out the dragoons, who drew their girths and were in saddle in three minutes.
At the sound of the alarm the 1st Fusiliers dropped their tents, and slung on their accoutrements.
In front of Seaton's camp was a village about 400 yards off, and beyond this was a slight rise in the ground, so that any view of the enemy was cut off by a sort of ridge crowned by hillocks and tufts of grass. Hodson had retired slowly and now came at a smart trot round the village and made his report of the enemy having artillery. Meanwhile two large bodies of cavalry appeared on the crest of the hill and their artillery began to open on the British troops.
"They are getting our range! Captain Bishop—your battery to the front."
Instantly Bishop dashed out and carried with him vast clouds of dust, driven by a strong wind into the faces of the enemy.
The dust prevented the enemy from seeing how many they had to fight, but the terrible accuracy of our guns startled them not a little.
"Look out, sir," cried the bugler, and as he spoke a cannon-ball came bounding along the plain, and fortunately leapt over the colonel's head, while a second ball just 'skimmed over his troupe.
The infantry under Colonel Farquhar advanced rapidly, and Hodson on the left moved forward with the whole of his regiment against the rebel cavalry, who were trying to take our guns in flank. Captain Wardlaw and his dragoons then charged and captured the guns of the enemy. Upon this the rebels, utterly routed and astonished, abandoned their last gun and two ammunition waggons: the infantry threw away their arms and hid themselves in the cotton crops, but a vigorous pursuit was kept up by our guns and cavalry. Captain Wardlaw, a good and gallant soldier, was unfortunately killed in this pursuit by desperate men darting out suddenly from the tall pulse. Our loss was 48 killed and wounded, but the enemy lost ten times that number, and bitterly regretted the trap into which they had flung themselves. It follows that the Hindoo villagers had not given the rebels any hint of our reinforced numbers; for they did not actively sympathise with the cause of revolt: a gentle, indolent race—they do not seem to care who rules them, so long as they are treated with justice. Next morning, after leaving Khasgunge and on entering Suhawir, they found a man hanging by the heels to the branch of a tree—quite dead. He had been one of Seaton's scouts, had been caught and slowly shot to death as he hung.
As Seaton was congratulating himself on having cleared the country of rebels and of having made it safe to bring on the treasure and stores, Mr. Cocks, the able commissioner of the district, rode up to say that a notorious traitor, Jowahir Khan, a pensioned rissaldar who with his sons had fought against us, had just returned to his home at Khasgunge.
"Hodson, take a troop and apprehend him," said the colonel.
In a few hours Hodson returned, saying, "I've got him, colonel: we rode in at a gallop, surrounded the house, burst open the door, killed the son and seized the traitor."
This man had been honoured and richly rewarded by the Company: he was sentenced to be blown away from a gun—a painless death, but one which makes a great impression on the native spectators.
We must remember that the feelings of our soldiers were excited to a pitch of fury by the sepoys' cruelties to English women and children. Some of us can remember how the tale of Cawnpur roused every town and village in Great Britain to call meetings for revenge: we cannot wonder, then, that men like Hodson threw away all thought of mercy. Early in January, 1858, Colonel Seaton met Sir Colin Campbell and his Highlanders, and was warmly congratulated for his vigorous opening of the country.
In the course of a few days, Seaton was made a brigadier, but his hopes of sharing in the relief of Lucknow were dashed by his being appointed to command the Futtygurh district, because he was the only brigadier who could speak the language and manage the natives.
The country along the Jumna was a network of ravines, a perfect hiding-place for all the ruffians and outlaws of the district, while at Alagunge there was a body of 15,000 rebels with cavalry and artillery. The day before Sir Colin marched, he said to Seaton: "You'll be mobbed, my dear friend, as soon as I leave, but you must hold out till I come back. Push on the repairs of the fort and indent on Agra for ammunition for your guns."
Sir Colin took with him all Seaton's movable column and Hodson. Of the latter Seaton writes: "All through the siege of Delhi we had shared the same tent. When I was wounded, he had tended me with anxious care and kindness;—he was the very perfection of a commander of irregular cavalry—one of those men who, from sound judgment, high courage, skill in the use of weapons and intuitive knowledge of human nature, are fitted to be the eyes and ears of an army, or to plan and carry out a bold and dashing enterprise. His untimely death was a calamity to our country, and I mourned for him as for a brother."
Seaton at once set about repairing the fort of Futtygurh, had all the boats within twelve miles moored under the fort, and instructed the 82nd in gun-drill; for the enemy threatened to bombard the fort from the farther hank of the river, which was at that point 1700 yards wide. Across the river was a small village. Seaton turned the people out for a couple of hours while he fired a few shots amid took the range.
Next day a native walked up to the brigadier's quarters with a 32-pound shot on his head, which he dropped at Seaton's feet, saying, "Huzzoor, your Highness, cherishes of the poor, your slave was working in his fields yesterday, two miles away, and while the guns were firing, your slave heard something rushing through the grass, and at once this big ball jumped over his head and lodged in a bank. I am a faithful ryot of the Sircar Angrez, and I have brought the ball to your Highness."
"Very well," said the brigadier, "you shall have a present; but, tell me, do you think the rebels at Alagunge heard the sound of our guns?"
"Your Highness, yes! their livers melted with fear, and half of their army ran away last night."
Though the rebels did not dare to attack Futtygurh and Seaton's fort, yet they raided about and burnt many villages; and at last they formed three strong posts along the river bank.
Seaton felt it necessary to attack one of these, or the rebels might cross the Ganges and raise the whole country up to the Jumna, and when Sir Colin arrived at Futtygurh he would give the brigadier "a bit of his mind."
Therefore Seaton resolved to attack Kunkur, the central post. Absolute secrecy was kept, and the amazed soldiers assembled at the bridge-head at 11 p.m. without sound of bugle.
The hot and dusty road concealed the files; at dawn they reached a walled grove of trees with low swampy ground on the right, and an old river-bed in front. A shot was fired, and then came shouts, hubbub, confusion.
In a few minutes two splendid bodies of cavalry, well mounted, rode right and left to take Seaton in flank as he moved forward on the grove.
"Major Smith, cover our advance, please, and bestow some favours on the cavalry to our right."
The enemy's cavalry to the left had entered the dry river-bed, and, thinking themselves unseen, were riding leisurely to wait till the English flank was exposed. Riding up to Colonel Hall, Seaton desired him to draw out two companies of his best shots and try to disturb this little manoeuvre.
This was done: the musketry instructor gave the number of yards and before three calm and deliberate rounds had been completed, there was a terrible shaking amongst the spears in the river-bed; the enemy's cavalry turned and bolted and were pursued by our horsemen, while the whole infantry line burst out into cheers and laughter.
"This was the first time I had seen the Enfield rifle used in the field," says Seaton, "and I thought it the king of weapons."
Major Smith meanwhile had persuaded the cavalry on the right to turn and escape: our troops charged the grove and the rebels fled in all directions, leaving their guns, stores, tents and baggage.
As our men were eating a well-earned breakfast in the enemy's camp, 200 native horsemen rode up from Alagunge to see if their friends needed anything, for they had heard firing.
Three or four well-planted shots from Major Smith's guns gave them all the information they required, and off they galloped, helter-skelter, for their fort.
This day, the 7th of April, was Seaton's lucky day; it was on this day sixteen years before that he had shared in the honour of defeating Akbar Khan and saving Jellalabad.
Out and home had been 44 miles, done in twenty-two hours, fighting thrown in, and not a single straggler left behind; the captured guns and stores were also brought safely in, and the rebels were so cowed that the two other forts were deserted, as well as Kunkur.
When the brigade-major came in to Seaton's tent next day he was laughing.
"What's the joke, major?"
"Do you know, sir, what the soldiers are calling you?"
"No, I don't; but I hope it is nothing very outrageous."
"Oh no; they are only calling you the Kunkuring hero!"
Seaton's still weak health needed the tonic of a laugh; this and the feeling that success brings helped to restore his wearied frame.
Fourteen days after the Kunkur affair Sir Colin Campbell (Lord Clyde) arrived with his force, en route for his Rohilcund campaign.
There was a kindly smile on his weather-beaten face as he shook his fist at Seaton and said, "So you must have your little flourish, sir."
But the chief was glad enough to find his communications safe and the rebels driven off. Seaton and his chief had a few days' quiet conference, and the former writes: "I felt very much at home with Lord Clyde—there was something in his features, in the squareness of the lower jaw, in his occasional abruptness, that reminded me of my old commander, Sir Robert Sale. He was a thoroughly kind and warm-hearted man, rather peppery at times, like Sale, and in all cases of neglect of duty, very stern.
General Penney came on the 24th of April to consult with his chief, and joining his force next day rode into a rebel battery and was killed by a discharge of grape. He had been misled by the civil officer, who had assured him that the enemy were miles away.
General Penney had been a friend of Seaton's, a kind-hearted, generous and clever soldier; he was sincerely lamented by his numerous friends.
In May, as the brigadier sat alone in his tent, after Lord Clyde had left and taken away many of his friends, and when he was tired with copying telegrams for the chief of the staff, and wondering if it were not time for him to resign and rest his worn-out frame, a note was brought him addressed to Brigadier Sir Thomas Seaton, K.C.B., and congratulating him on the honour conferred.
A rather cruel joke he felt it to be just then, and wrote back to the sender: "None of your nonsense; if you boys chaff your brigadier, he'll have to pitch into you."
The reply came again with a copy of the Gazette and hearty congratulations. He was amazed to see his name—and the honour conferred.
"My first thought was, God save the Queen! she has not forgotten me! the next, what will my wife and family think of it?"
Then he went back in thought to the day when he landed at Calcutta a thoughtless boy of sixteen, without a friend to take him by the hand, and he loved to trace a kind Providence in all his Indian career. In June 1859 his resignation was accepted after a service of more than thirty-six years.
Though he left India disgusted at the treachery of the sepoys, yet "time is a kindly god," as the Greek tragedian puts it; and Sir Thomas lived to make allowances for their temptations.
"Kind words," he says, "patience, good humour and courtesy are never thrown away upon them: if the English in India would make themselves sufficiently acquainted with the language of the natives so as to converse fluently and express themselves with elegance, and not in the barbarous jargon so commonly used; if they would exercise more patience, forbearance and good temper; if they would drop their proud superciliousness and haughty conduct—then their own manliness of character, their truthfulness and honesty of purpose would rapidly make way with the people, and they would soon be as much liked and respected as they are now hated and feared."
Years have passed since this wise and generous hero penned these words, and the highest in our land has more than once visited his Indian subjects and friends. Let us hope that such proof of sympathy has not been in vain.