The Heroes of Cawnpur
No memorial of the heroes of the Indian Mutiny would be complete which did not give some account of the men, women and children who suffered, fought or died at Cawnpur.
Those of them who may not be designated heroes were veritable martyrs. Cawnpur lies on the right bank of the Ganges, 270 miles south-east from Delhi, 684 from Calcutta by land, 954 by water; from Allahabad, some 120 miles: it is the principal town in the Doab, which lies between the Ganges and the Jumna.
The cantonments, quite distinct from the native city, were extended along the bank of the river six miles from north-west to south-east and contained an area of about ten square miles. Here hundreds of little white bungalows, the homes of the officers and their families, stood in their three-acre compounds or gardens, each surrounded by a low and crumbling mound and ditch, or hedge of prickly pear.
Forest trees abounded and gave a pleasant shade—each regiment had its own bazaar, whether the men lived in the barracks or under canvas. On higher ground stood the church and assembly rooms; farther on was the theatre for amateur performances, and a cafe.
In the officers' gardens vegetables of all kinds thrived, while peaches and melons, limes, oranges and custard apples formed a healthy addition to the diet. In summer, Cawnpur is one of the hottest stations in India; in winter, water will freeze in shallow pans if left out at night.
Boating on the river, horse-racing, polo and billiards were the chief amusements. In the dry season the Ganges is about five hundred yards wide, but in the rains it swells to more than a mile across: it is navigable for boats of light draught down to the sea, or one thousand miles: while upstream one can travel by boat for three hundred miles.
The ghaut, or landing-place, is usually the spot where strange creatures congregate—traders, hucksters, fakirs, beggars of all kinds.
A bridge of boats constructed by the Government was open to all who wished to pass over into, or from, the province of Oudh: a small toll being charged for the upkeep. Hundreds of vessels with thatched roofs were moored! near the shore, looking like a swaying village, while country boats like stacks adrift were constantly being urged up or down by their smoking and singing rowers.
The native city, closely packed in teeming huts and houses, contained sixty thousand inhabitants, having only one wide street or boulevard, called the Chandnee Choke, or Silver Street. This name dates from the time when there were no banks, and natives who possessed capital were fain to convert it into fantastic belts and rings, and hang their wealth for security about the ears and ankles of their families: this street abounds in the shops of silversmiths.
The city swarmed with cut-throats escaped from smaller cities after they had murdered and robbed some industrious and saving countryman.
Of course the city goal was tolerably full of the worst specimens of humanity, poisoners and adepts in the fine art of strangling and stabbing. We must now give a short account of the two men who are notorious for having urged the mutineers to make war upon our women and children. Nana Sahib, as he is usually called, was the adopted son of Bajee Rao, who had been Peishwa of Poonah, and the last of the Mahratta kings.
The Government at Calcutta had dethroned the Peishwa for his repeated acts of treachery, confiscated his lands and made him live at Bithoor, twelve miles up river from Cawnpur. Here he resided in princely state near the banks of the sacred Ganges, having from the Company an annuity of £80,000 wherewith to supply himself with luxuries and keep contented his host of splendid retainers.
But the ex-Peishwa had no son: so, according to Hindoo custom, he adopted Seereek Dhoondu Punth, or "Nana" (grandson) for short.
The old man died in 1851: his heir, the Nana, at once presented a claim upon the East India Company for a continuance of the pension allowed to the late Peishwa. Lord Dalhousie curtly refused it; but the Nana still came into possession of the old man's savings, and his wealth was very conspicuous amongst the richest Indian landowners. His palace was furnished expensively, his stables contained well-bred Arabs, elephants and camels; his ladies were tricked out with costly jewels; his little army, horse and foot, paid four rupees each man a month, eked out their pittance by plundering peasants or riots and extorting blackmail from the merchants of Cawnpur.
Yet the Nana never forgot, or forgave, Lord Dalhousie's stern denial of his claim. He sent his vakeel, or agent, to London in 1854 to press his demand in Leadenhall Street. This man was Azimoolah Khan, a clever, witty and good-looking young Indian.
It is said he had once been a kitmutgar, or butler, in the house of an Anglo-Indian: here he learnt to speak English and French fluently. Then he became a teacher in a Government school at Cawnpur, and later became a trusted adviser of the Nana.
This man, then, went to London with plenty of money, posed as a prince, was accepted as one of the lions of the season, and made influential friends of both sexes. However, he could not induce the Company to grant his master the pension: yet he took home important news, for he passed through Constantinople just when our fortunes in the Crimean War were at the lowest ebb: he was thus able to tell his Bithoor master that the power of England was shattered: now was the time for revolt!
The Nana Sahib was at this time about thirty-six years old, very corpulent, sallow, clean shaven, as all Mahrattas are: he treated the English officers with generous hospitality, for he never allowed any suspicion of his loyalty to arise from look or word or deed. No doubt Azimoolah's' account of the decadence of England was spread abroad in all the great cities of India; and this, together with the anniversary of Plassey, decided the time of revolt.
Azimoolah, the feted prince, was perhaps more cruel and bloodthirsty than his master: it was he who ordered the massacre of the women and children.
The Cawnpur garrison in 1857 consisted of about 3000 sepoys. The Europeans consisted of about 300 fighting men, their wives, children and native servants; 300 half-caste, or Eurasian children of the Cawnpur School; merchants, shop keepers, etc., and other civilians: these amounted in all more than a thousand Europeans.
Major-General Sir Hugh Wheeler, K.C.B., was in command of the Cawnpur division: he had spent more than fifty years in India, and was supposed to understand the native mind as well as any one. Like most of the old officers he worshipped his sepoys, chatted with them in their o language and could not believe they would prove unfaithful He was short and spare, active for his years, and inspired confidence. But sinister news from Meerut and Delhi began to leak out from the bazaars, and came to the ears of the general.
Sir Hugh had always found the Maharaja of Bithoor, or the Nana, full of genial courtesy: he had no reason to suspect his loyalty, except that Sir Henry Lawrence had misliked the Nana's manner on his late visit to Lucknow. He now, at the suggestion of Mr. Hillersden, the resident magistrate, asked the Nana to take charge of the treasury and the magazine, whilst this temporary unrest was upsetting his sepoys.
Nana Sahib rode over, attended by his bodyguard, and offered to send a force of 200 cavalry, 400 infantry and two guns to protect the revenue.
This was considered exceedingly kind and generous: the Nana had even offered to take charge of all the English ladies at his palace; but some of the officers scrupled to go so far, and the (apparently) chivalrous offer was not accepted.
The treasury was distant from the cantonments about five miles, and was on the other side of the native city: it contained more than a hundred thousand pounds in silver. The magazine was well stocked with powder, shot and shell: the general felt relieved when these valuable buildings were safe under the charge of the polite and gracious Maharaja.
It was time something was done: for alarming news kept coming from Delhi after the 14th of May, and the north road was infested with dacoits and liberated convicts; but the sepoys remained quiet and obedient.
Then there came a visitor to the cantonments who frightened all the ladies by her terrible tale of woe.
This was Mrs. Fraser, the wife of an officer in the 27th Native Infantry, who had travelled by dak from the city of Delhi. The native driver had taken her up in the suburbs of Delhi and brought her safely 266 miles through a country excited by passion, disturbed by marauders and thronged with mutineers on their way to the capital of the Moghul.
Her carriage had been pierced by bullets, but the lady had escaped. Poor woman! she drew a breath of thankfulness as she found herself safe once more and amongst friends and loyal sepoys.
Captain Mowbray Thomson in his Story of Cawnpore places this lady in the forefront of the many heroines that the perils of the siege called forth to do and dare for the sake of the weaker.
He says: "During the horrors of the siege she won the admiration of all our party by her indefatigable attentions to the wounded. Neither danger nor fatigue seemed to have power to suspend her ministry of mercy. Even on the fatal morning of embarkation, although she had escaped to the boats with scarcely any clothing on her, in the thickest of the deadly volleys poured upon us from the banks, she appeared alike indifferent to danger and to her own scanty covering; while she was entirely occupied in the attempt to soothe and relieve the agonised sufferers around her, whose wounds scarcely made their condition worse than her own. Such rare heroism deserves a far higher tribute than this simple record."
Mrs. Fraser was one of the ladies who were recaptured from the boats, and is said to have died of fever in the massacre house; and so she escaped that last awful scene arranged by the Nana and Azimoolah.
As day followed day, so evidence accumulated that the sepoys at Cawnpur would follow the example of their comrades elsewhere.
The sergeant-major's wife of the 53rd, an Eurasian, was accosted by a sepoy while she was marketing in the native bazaar: "You will none of you come here much oftener," he said; "you will not be alive another week."
She reported this story, but it was not thought worthy, of belief.
Some officers tried to persuade the ladies to retire to Calcutta.
"Why should we?" was the reply; "General Wheeler's family are here."
But Sir Hugh had heard enough to make him nervous about the women and children. He began to consider a good site for a fort: the magazine was too far off: there was no building large enough on the river-bank: he decided to strengthen the old dragoon hospital, which consisted of two brick buildings, one thatched, the other roofed with masonry, and a few outhouses. A mud wall, four feet high, was thrown up round this hospital: it was hard work digging in the rock-like ground, but they did what they could in the time.
On the 21st of May the women and children were ordered into this enclosure; the officers still slept in the native lines with their corps, lest the sepoys should think the officers suspected their loyalty.
A few days later Lieutenant Ashe of the Bengal Artillery arrived from Lucknow with two 9-powders and one 24-pounder howitzer. So the garrison now had ten guns placed in wide embrasures that gave no cover, but exposed to the enemies' fire all who worked them.
General Wheeler ordered supplies to last twenty-five days: surely they would be relieved before that! Also the regimental mess sent in beer, wine and tinned food. Ammunition was plentiful, two thousand pounds of powder and plenty of round-shot.
During the last days of May many of these doomed sons and daughters of Britain were busy writing the last letters they would ever pen. They were eager to catch the home mail—and some of them foresaw it would in all probability be their last.
Colonel Ewart, sitting in his tent amongst the swaggering, insolent sepoys whom he had given many years to teach and train and improve, writes thus: "I do not wish to write gloomily, but there is no use in disguising the fact that we are in the utmost danger; and, as I have said, if the troops do mutiny, my life must almost certainly be sacrificed; but I do not think they will venture to attack the entrenched position which is held by the European troops. So I hope in God that E-- and my child will be saved. . . . I know you will be everything a mother can be to my boy. I cannot write to him this time, dear little fellow. Kiss him for me: kind love to M— and my brothers."
Had he some glimmer of the last procession to the river, when his own men would stop his litter, taunt him and slash him to pieces in presence of his wife, ere she met the same cruel fate?
And Mrs. Ewart, writing in the stuffy room of the barracks on the 1st of June, was sending her last message home by the Calcutta mail: "My dear little child is looking very delicate: my prayer is that she may be spared much suffering. The bitterness of death has been tasted by us many times during the last fortnight; should the reality come, I hope we may find strength to meet it with a truly Christian courage. It is not hard to die oneself, but to see a dear child suffer and perish—that is the hard, the bitter trial, and the cup which I must drink should God not deem it fit that it should pass from me."
If we only could read more of the letters in that last mail-bag from Cawnpur, we should be able to realise more fully the sterling worth of those heroes, great and small, who were beginning to tread the hard road that led through fear and thirst and suffering to a cruel death.
"We must not give way to despondency," writes the same brave lady, "for at the worst we know that we are in God's hands. . . . He will be with us in the valley of the shadow of death also, and we need fear no evil."
It is so difficult for us to realise that it is not the life of the body, or its preservation, that the providence of God, takes charge of. Perhaps in the few weeks of painful, agonising endurance which these poor mortals went through they were training their spirit life for higher duties in a better world hereafter. That must be our chief consolation when we follow with indignant sympathy their earthly trials in the next three weeks.
On the night of the 6th of June what all feared suddenly happened. The sowars of the 2nd Cavalry arose in the night with shouts, set fire to the bungalow of the English riding-master, attacked the soubandar-major, or native colonel, who tried to defend the colours and treasure, and called upon the 1st Native Infantry to join them in mutiny.
Colonel Ewart, hearing the tumult, ran across to his men, crying in Hindostani, "My children! do not so great a wickedness—oh! my children!"
It was useless to recall the sepoys to their duty: they were fired by the lust of loot and sped away to the treasury. The 56th Native Infantry followed the next morning: the 53rd stood firm against evil counsel, until Sir Hugh Wheeler made the mistake of ordering Ashe's battery to open upon them; the sepoys of the 53rd could not believe they were being fired upon at first, but at the third round they broke and fled. Their native officers had been called within the entrenchments before this: these and eighty men of the 53rd who came in later gave their help to the white folk, until after nine days' fighting they were asked to depart, because there was not enough food to keep so many men!
There were a few hours of stillness before the storm; the faithful sepoys were now employed in collecting and carting muskets, ammunition, etc., which had been left about in the native lines. The English officers drew a long breath of relief: the mutineers had doubtless gone off to Delhi. At present they had only gone as far as the treasury, when the Nana met them with an escort and many elephants, swore fidelity to the national cause, and distributed much of the silver among the four regiments. Then the sepoys broke open the goal and let out a motley host of God-forsaken rascals, who set to work at once and burned and sacked every European house, making a bonfire of all the records in the court-house, civil and criminal alike. The mutineers had travelled on the Delhi road as far as Kullianpur when they were overtaken by the Nana, his two brothers, Bala and Baba Bhut, and Azimoolah.
"Return to Cawnpur, destroy all the Europeans, and I will give every man a gold anklet and license to pillage"; so spake the Nana.
The sepoys agreed, saluted the Nana as their Rajah and chose Teeke Sing chief of their cavalry, and other Hindoos as colonels of the 53rd and 56th.
Next morning Sir Hugh Wheeler received a polite letter from the Nana, intimating that he was about to commence the attack.
Sir Hugh at once summoned all the officers from the native lines within the entrenchment without delay: they came, leaving their breakfast coffee, their clothes and valuables, and hurried into the fatal precincts of the Dragoon hospital, which was exposed on four sides to attack, And was commanded by some half-finished barracks at distances varying from 300 to 800 yards. A small detachment was placed in No. 4 barrack, consisting chiefly of civil engineers, who were good shots and judges of distance.
Captain Moore of Her Majesty's 32nd Foot assisted General Wheeler in arranging for the defence, and gradually became the practical chief. It was Sunday morning, about 10 a.m., when the first shot fired by the mutineers came from a 9-pounder; it struck the crest of the mud wall and glided over into the smaller barrack, where it broke the leg of a native servant.
A large party of ladies and children were sitting in the shade of the verandahs, when the whizz of the round-shot, and the bugle-call sending every man to his post, awoke all to the stern reality which was coming upon them. The children screamed with fright and ran into the dark rooms for safety. By noon the mutineers had placed many guns in position and the entrenchment was raked by 24-pound shot from every quarter.
All through this first day the shrieks of the women and children were heart-rending, as often as the balls struck the walls and windows; while a low wailing cry formed a piteous undertone of sad despair, but it was only on that first day that such sounds troubled the hearts of the brave defenders: after that, Captain Mowbray Thomson tells us, they had learnt silence and never uttered a sound except when groaning from the horrible mutilations they had to endure. Had their mothers taught these tiny heroes to suppress all cries of fear? had they told them that if God willed they should die, He would welcome them in His arms to a better world than this?
Anyhow, the children grew used to the horrible noises and the fearful sights, and even ran and played about on the exposed ground between the mud walls of the entrenchment.
Before the third evening every window and door had been battered in; screens, piled-up furniture, partitions—all went down, and shell and cannon-ball ranged freely through the naked rooms. Grape and round-shot, bullets and falling timber killed many ladies and children in those first days, while the gunners at their guns fell mortally wounded in large numbers.
But wherever there was pressing danger or direst misery, Captain Moore was not long before he came with encouraging sympathy to strengthen and comfort the sufferer. He was a tall, fair, blue-eyed Irishman, full of cheerful animation and intrepid as a young lion.
"Wherever Moore had passed," writes Sir G. Trevelyau, "he left men something more courageous, and women some-thing less unhappy."
The three civilians in No. 4 barrack outside the walls, Heberden, Latouche and Miller, with a few others had the most severe time: for after fighting all day they were assaulted in the dark by hundreds of sepoys who crept up to take them by surprise.
To aid these gallant civil engineers Captain Jenkins of the 2nd Cavalry was given them as commander: and here the little company of sixteen held the key of the position. Lieutenant Glanville afterwards held No. 2, and when dangerously wounded was succeeded by Mowbray Thomson. Lieutenant Sterling, an expert shot with the rifle, did good service here: for Thomson contrived a sort of perch twenty feet up the wall in which Sterling used to sit and wait upon the unwary.
Sometimes prisoners were brought in at night: on one occasion eleven sepoys were captured, and as no sentry could be spared to guard them, they were at a loss how to keep them.
"Give me a sword, sir: I'll undertake to mind they don't get out."
The officer turned in surprise, for it was a woman's voice surely.
Yes, Bridget Widdowson, a stalwart dame indeed! wife of a private in H.M.'s 32nd regiment. The prisoners were roped together, wrist to wrist, and sat motionless for more than an hour while the strong and brave woman marched with drawn sword before them.
It is a pity—but when she retired and a male guard took her place, they all managed to slip away in the dark. After that no more prisoners were brought in.
After a week's siege food began to grow scarce and the Europeans were put upon rations: once a lean horse allowed himself to be shot, and once a sacred bull went down before Mr. Sterling's rifle. But as his sanctity fell some three hundred yards away from the wall, to fetch in the beef might entail loss of human life.
Yet beef was beef: so Captain Moore and eight others ran out with a strong rope, hauled in the bull at the cost of a few wounds and were rewarded by the cheers of the ladies.
Alas! Captain Jenkins, when carrying some horse-soup from No. 2 barrack to his wife, was shot dead.
The heat was so intense that a gun-barrel left for a few minutes in the sun could not be touched, and many died of sunstroke. The well in the entrenchment was a great source of danger, as the rebels fired grape upon that spot as soon as any one came to draw water. At night they knew by the creaking of the tackle that water was being drawn and instantly opened with their artillery.
Privates were paid eight shillings a bucket: but they were willing to draw water for nothing, to help the poor women and children. Soon John M'Killop, of the Civil Service, gallantly constituted himself captain of the well. For a week he drew water cheerfully for all: then a grape-shot wound in the groin removed him from the scene. The dead were thrown at night down a well outside the walls. By the end of the first week fifty-nine artillerymen had been killed at their posts: sunstroke had killed Major Prout and Captain Kempland. Lieutenant Eckford was struck on the heart by a cannon-ball while resting under the verandah, Dempster was shot dead, and Martin had a bullet in his lungs: then untrained volunteers came forward to do what they could, firing 6-pound balls from damaged 9-pounders. At last only two guns could be fired, and for these the ladies gave up their stockings to supply a sort of cartridge-case. On the eighth evening of the bombardment a shell settled among the rafters of the thatched barrack and it was burnt to the ground. There were sick and wounded within; long after midnight men and women were working to get them out; but in spite of all, two wounded artillerymen perished in the flames.
The enemy advanced that night by hundreds with yells of defiance to storm Ashe's battery. Ashe held his fire until they cache within sixty yards, and then let them have a charge of grape. Every man round the wall had eight or ten rifles which he fired in quick succession; in half an hour a hundred sepoys lay dead. In the burnt barrack all medical stores and surgical instruments were consumed; and from that time no bullets could be extracted, no mutilations dressed.
Amongst those who distinguished themselves during the fire was Lieutenant Ward, a son of Admiral Ward, "a model soldier," says Captain Thomson. That night of horror who can describe? The men were either saving the wounded from the flames, or beating back the enemy. The poor children, huddled together in the ditch, were crying softly, the women, tired out, at last flung themselves down in the ditch too, for there was no room for them in the other barrack.
Unshod, unkempt, ragged and squalid—for they had not had a pint of water to wash in for a week—they herded together in their misery. All good looks and signs of youth had fled: want, exposure, sorrow, depression had drawn awful lines upon faces recently so fair: fever and apoplexy and dysentery brooded over what shot and shell had spared. Not less than two hundred women and children now had to pass twelve days and nights upon the bare ground without a roof over their heads. The cold by night, the heat by day, were wearing them out slowly: but many of them braced themselves up to help the fighters; they carried round ammunition, they tended the sick and wounded, they encouraged all by brave smiles and the appearances of indifference to their wretched state. Once a shell fell into Whiting's battery and killed seven soldiers' wives, who were sitting together in the trench.
Mrs. White, a private's wife, was walking beside her husband carrying her twin children, one on each arm; they were well under cover, they thought, but a bullet killed the man and passed through the wife's arms, so that father, mother, and babes fell in a heap together.
Thomson says: "I saw her afterwards in the main-guard lying on her back with the children laid, one at each breast, while the mother's bosom refused not what her broken arms could not administer."
Mrs. Williams, after losing her husband, Colonel Williams, early in the siege, was herself shot in the face: her daughter, who was also suffering from a bullet-wound, attended to her till she died.
An ayah had both her legs taken off by a round-shot: the babe was picked up smeared with blood, but unhurt.
It is too harrowing to go through the fatal list of sufferers: Miss Brightman, Mrs. Evans, Mrs. Reynolds and many more were killed. But those who were not killed became the greatest martyrs.
One poor woman must have had some premonition of this; for she ran out with a child in each hand, courting sudden death; but a private bravely went after her and dragged them back to cover.
Mr. Hillersden, the magistrate of Cawnpur, was standing in the verandah talking to his wife, who had only recently recovered from her accouchement, when a round-shot cut him in two. Mrs. Hillersden died three days later under a fall of bricks. Thomson says: "She was a most accomplished lady, and by reason of her cheerfulness, amiability and piety a universal favourite."
The general's son, Lieutenant Wheeler, was sitting on a sofa, faint with a wound just received: his sister was fanning him when a round-shot passed through the room and carried away his head. Father, mother and two sisters were in the room at the time.
Lieutenant Daniell was among the bravest of the young officers. He had been a favourite of the Nana, and had often been invited to the palace at Bithoor: once the Nana took a valuable diamond ring from his own finger and gave it to Daniell. He was scarce twenty years old, a splendid rider and good in all field sports, full of fun and enthusiastic love of life.
One day, as Thomson and he were dashing round to clear the out-buildings of sepoys, they heard sounds of a struggle going on within. They entered and saw Captain Moore lying on the ground, a powerful native kneeling over him with tulwar raised. In a moment Daniell had run the sepoy through with his bayonet.
"Thanks, old fellow," said Moore, rising stiffly; "my broken collar-bone has a bit disabled me: that was a touch and go."
In the multitude of terrible accidents this was as nothing: Daniell survived the siege, but was wounded during the embarkation by a musket-shot in the temple, and probably fell into the river.
About ten days after the beginning of the bombardment, very early in the morning mist, the sentinels saw some one riding up at a gallop. A shot was fired and the horse was hit, but rose at the wall and cleared it like a bird.
"A white man, by Jove!" The excitement spread through the camp.
"I am Lieutenant Bolton of the 7th Cavalry—excuse my feeble voice, friends. Yes, I was sent out with a detachment of the 48th from Lucknow to keep open the road from Futteyghur to Cawnpur: our men mutinied; Major Staples and I rode away—pursued—poor Staples shot—fell from his horse. They cut him to pieces. Three troopers chased me for sixteen miles, one gave me this bullet-hole through my cheek. I gave them the slip last night, got through the Nana's camp unobserved. Didn't know where you fellows were, so slept out in the plain all night. At daybreak I spotted the entrenchment and rode for safety, as you see."
Safety! an ironical smile must have passed round the listening group. Well, this Lieutenant Bolton proved a valuable addition to the garrison. He joined the out-picket under Captain Jenkins and lived through the siege to perish in the boats.
The 23rd of June, being the centenary of Plassey, the rebels showed signs of keeping the eve thereof by a series of night assaults. After repelling two or three attacks, Captain Moore and Delafosse came across to Thomson's barrack, and the former said: "Thomson, I think I shall try a new dodge; we are going out into the open, and I shall give the word of command as though our party were about to commence an attack."
Forthwith out they went into the dark space beyond the walls, Moore with a sword, Delafosse carrying an empty musket. The gay captain shouted in stentorian tones, "Number one to the front!" Thereat, like rabbits scuttling to a warren, hundreds of sepoys bolted out from their cover behind heaps of rubbish to the safer shelter of the barrack walls.
With a hearty laugh at their success in clearing out the hiding foe, they returned to their posts. But by dawn the sixteen men in No. 2 had shot eighteen sepoys just outside their doorway.
On the 23rd, great efforts were made to break into the entrenchment; cavalry rode up winded and retired in confusion after a dose of grape. General Wheeler grew less and less able to superintend the posts of defence: his short, spare figure was seldom seen now: the death of his son seemed to have taken all the vigour out of him. Mrs. Moore often accompanied her husband in his visits to the various posts: the men fitted up a bamboo hut for her. Alas! she lived long enough to endure the last torments in the house of massacre.
Mr. Moncrieff, the station chaplain, had been very devoted to his work all through, spending most of his time in the hospital, but going round the post and batteries to read a prayer or psalm; the men would bow head for a minute or two, and think on these things.
Meanwhile the Nana had managed to intercept a few stray travellers, families going down stream and others: all these he ordered to be shot, though they had nothing to do with Cawnpur.
On the twenty-first day of the siege the look-out men in the crow's nest of the barrack shouted to Captain Thomson, "There's a woman coming across." The captain knocked up a man's arm who would have fired at her, only just in time to save her: the poor thing had neither shoes nor stockings, and held a child to her breast.
As Thomson lifted her over the barricade he recognised her as Mrs. Greenway, wife of a wealthy merchant in the city. Her husband had paid the Nana 530,000 to save the lives of the whole household. The monster took the ransom and killed all save this lady.
As soon as she had recovered herself, Mrs. Greenway (or, as some assert, Mrs. Jacobi, a friend of the Greenways), handed Captain Thomson this letter:
"To the subjects of Her Most Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria,—
"All those who are in no way connected with the acts of Lord Dalhousie, and are willing to lay down their arms, shall receive a safe passage to Allahabad."
It was unsigned, but the handwriting was that of Azimoolah.
Thomson took the letter at once to Captain Moore, who, together with General Wheeler and Captain Whiting, deliberated over the contents.
Sir Hugh, fearing treachery on the part of the Nana, for a long time opposed the idea of making terms. But when the others reminded him that they had only three days' rations left, that the rains were due and would inevitably wash away the ramparts and level the hospital, he gave in. It was the thought of the women and children that made the younger men agree to treat: if they had only had men to consider, they would have made a dash for Allahabad, and Moore would have led the forlorn hope.
As Mrs. Greenway waited for the reply, she answered inquiries as to how she had been treated: very cruelly, she said, on a starving allowance of chupatties and water, stripped of all clothing but a gown; her ear-rings had been pulled out roughly; and she cried bitterly as she mentioned her wrongs. She was sent back in the afternoon with the message that the general was in deliberation as to his answer. The Maharaja heard the lady's message and sent her back to her prison: he needed her no further.
Next morning Azimoolah, accompanied by Jwala Pershad, the brigadier of the Nana's cavalry, walked up to within 200 yards of the outer barrack and met Moore, Whiting, and Mr. Roche, the postmaster, in conference. It was agreed that the English should surrender the fortification, treasury and artillery, should go forth armed with sixty rounds of ammunition per man; that carriages should be provided for the sick and wounded, and that boats furnished with flour should be ready at the ghaut.
To this the native delegates agreed, and one graciously added: "Yes, and we will give you sheep and goats also."
The Nana read over the terms and sent a trooper to say that the entrenchments must be evacuated the same night.
After some haggling and threats, the Nana consented to put it off till next morning. Then Mr. Todd, who had been the Nana's tutor, went over to get the Nana's signature: he was courteously received, and returned with the signature affixed. As if to show their good faith, the rebels sent three men into the entrenchment to stay the night as hostages. One of these was Jwala Pershad: this gentleman made a parade of condoling with General Wheeler upon the privations he had undergone, and assured him that no harm should come upon any one to-morrow.
A company of the Nana's artillerymen stood guard by the guns all night. Meanwhile Captain Turner and Lieutenants Delafosse and Goad were deputed to go down to the river and see if the boats were being got ready: they went on elephants with an escort of native cavalry, and found about forty boats moored near the bank. But to their vexation the boats were in a very dilapidated state; so, four hundred workmen were set to work repairing the thatched roofs and making a flooring of bamboo. As the officers waited, provisions were brought on men's heads and stored on board: all seemed to be in a fair way for the departure. But one thing perplexed them not a little: Captain Turner had listened to the idle talk of some men of the 56th Native Infantry who were lying on the river's bank: he distinctly overheard the word "kuttle" repeated, and every time with a sardonic laugh. Now "kuttle" means massacre, and it made him uneasy; but he made no report of it, because it was not evidence strong enough to bring a charge of treachery.
And now the little garrison lay down for their last sleep in the entrenchments: all was quiet, except the well and bucket: quite a little queue of waiting children stood by it, and every one enjoyed a good drink of the cloudy water. Double rations were given round. The faces of the women grew less anxious: the children laughed and played till they dropped down that Friday evening in a pleasant, peaceful sleep.
The women whispered together as they rested after collecting their few valuables: "Will it be all right to-morrow, think you?" or "Will they really let us go down in safety to Allahabad?"
The strange stillness of the night, in contrast to the usual pandemonium of shot and shell, kept many of the men awake till long past midnight: perhaps their confidence in the Nana and in Azimoolah was not so strong as they had pretended during the day. They could hear the jackals barking as they prowled around amongst the dead bodies outside; and the dawn disclosed to view a greedy company of vultures and adjutant birds hard at work.
The 27th of June shone fiercely on a busy scene of me and women preparing to leave their frail home: some were hiding little relics of jewellery in the tattered fragments of their dress. For there was no distinction of dress now between rich and poor: all were bare-legged, for the stockings had gone to the ammunition-box. All were clad in short skirts and scanty underclothing, because they had torn up all their linen to serve as bandages.
Perhaps the greatest relief this morning was to be able to wash face and hands after three weeks' grime and dust and heat insupportable.
But in the Nana's tent his kinsmen and courtiers had been hearing Azimoolah's plans and arranging the parts each was to play in the coming tragedy. Tantia Topee, a Mahratta warrior, was in command of the troops to be employed. He was to order 5 guns and 500 picked shots to muster at the landing-place two hours before daybreak.
Certain rebel nobles were to present themselves with their retinue, and the cavalry were informed something of what was brewing. But, to the Nana's surprise, these sepoys came crowding before his tent, shouting indignantly against the treachery—a breach of faith that the gods might well resent. This was a little awkward, and promised a hitch in the Nana's arrangements which might spoil the day's entertainment.
The Maharaja came out and made the excited men a speech: "I assure you, my trusty sowars, that it is permissible to forswear at such a time as this: I tell you this on the authority of a royal Brahmin! For my part, if the object was to annihilate an enemy—and that enemy an unbeliever—I would not hesitate to take a false oath on burning oil or holy water."
The sowars bowed their heads and went apart to grumble: for they had known the white man's faith, and still possessed a conscience.
It was early when sixteen elephants and eighty palanquins were driven down to take the sick and wounded, women and children. More than two hundred were thus to be conveyed to the river. There were crowds of sepoys looking on indifferently: not one offered a helping hand as the wounded were borne along to the palanquins, and many a groan was forced from unwilling throats as the rude shaking jolted half-healed wounds.
The women and children were put on the elephants and into bullock-carts; the able-bodied walked down after them.
As soon as the first party had gone, the sepoys flocked in to examine and poke about for treasure.
"And did you dare to stand up against us with just this poor mud wall?" said one.
"Give me that musket," said another, catching hold of the barrel.
"You shall have its contents, if you like: but not the gun," was the stern reply.
The sepoys said they had lost a thousand men: they inquired after some of their old officers; and when informed that they were dead, seemed sincerely distressed. The Eastern mind is difficult to fathom. Major Vibart was the last officer to leave. Some sepoys of his old regiment insisted on helping him with his boxes, and escorted his wife and family down to the boats with many outward marks of respect.
The Suttee Chowra Ghaut, or landing-place, was within a mile to the north-west of the entrenchments. Here a ravine runs into the Ganges, which in summer is dry and lumpy, in the wet season is a boiling torrent. High banks and decayed fences and prickly pear stand up on either side as the gorge descends to the shore, where there is an open space 150 yards long and 100 deep. On the left of this as you face the river was a village, on the right a temple in good repair rises above the river on a little raised plateau, looking like an old-fashioned summer-house. A steep flight of steps leads down to the water, which is shallow and muddy for many yards.
Tantia Topee was there in the cold dawn of Saturday making his arrangements as the master of the Nana's ceremonies.
He placed a strong body of sepoys under cover of the village, and a squadron of troopers near the little temple: others were secreted behind some timber near the river. A field-piece was posted a quarter of a mile down the river, and on the opposite shore, facing the little ravine, stood two cannon with a battalion of infantry and some cavalry.
The heavy boats rested on the sandy bottom; the boats men had had their instructions, and munched their cold rice and handed the pipe round, or said their prayers religiously. For was it not a religious ceremony they were going to share in—ridding the earth of a party of unbelievers in order to start life anew!
Before the procession of the victims arrived, thousands of townsfolk from the city thronged down to the landings place. Curiosity brought some, and sorrow shone in the eyes of many a merchant who knew his best customers were going away.
Besides, was there not a fine spectacle to behold?—Azimoolah and the brothers of the Peishwa, and so many nobles glittering in jewels and gold as they rode proudly down and joined Tantia Topee on the Temple platform; a fine elephant, equipped with a state howdah, had been sent by the Nana for Sir Hugh Wheeler, his old and respected friend. The general was sensible of the attention: but it looked too much like a victorious leader sitting in triumph; and the poor old man, after seeing his wife and daughters safely mounted, called for a homely palanquin and was carried beside them.
The sepoys, as a rule, had no inkling of what was to follow: they talked freely to our men and peered about, finding only two bottles of liquid butter, a sack of flour, and, lying on quilts on the floor, eleven Europeans, evidently near death.
But already some of the rebels began to show a different temper. Lady Wheeler, just before mounting her elephant, had presented her ayah with a small bag of rupees for her constant fidelity. When the elephant moved off' a sepoy relieved her of her treasure and dealt her a slash with a sabre: some sepoy servants who had been faithful to the last were rudely seized and carried off to death.
Colonel and Mrs. Ewart had started late, she on foot walking by the side of her husband's litter, which was carried by four native porters. As they came up to St. John's Church, seven or eight sepoys of the Colonel's own battalion stepped up, shouted to the porters and said, "Set down your load, brothers: stand back a while."
Then in taunting language they cried, "This is a fine parade, is it not? is it not well dressed up, eh?"
At once they set to and hewed him to pieces with their swords: then turning to Mrs. Ewart, who stood pale and trembling, they said: "Throw down whatever you have about you and go your ways: for you are a woman; we will not kill a woman."
Thereat she took out of her dress something tied up and handed it over to one of the sepoys, who instantly cut her down dead!
When the last of the garrison had entered the defile, a double line of troops formed across the mouth of the gorge and kept off any who wished to follow.
One sepoy was overheard to say, "They know not what is before them. Now let them repent of their misdeeds, and ask pardon of God."
Meanwhile the sight of the shining river had given heart to many: the children openly rejoiced and thought all their fears and sufferings were over at last.
But to get on board was not so easy, for no planks were laid to serve as gangway: the Hindoo boatmen stood in their boats, silent, giving no help to men or women.
Standing knee-deep in the water, the British officers hoisted in the wounded and the women. The children, once on board, saw smoking plates of boiled rice, and were laughing merrily at the unwonted sight when the loud blast of a bugle came ringing down the ravine, Then occurred a dramatic scene which had been well prepared by Tantia Topee and his myrmidons.
The native rowers leaped into the water and hurried splashing to the water's edge: crack went the carbines of a hundred sowars: and before the Englishmen could handle their rifles, the straw roofs of the boats burst into flames from the red-hot charcoal which the boatmen had thrust into the thatch.
The guns thundered from the opposite bank, throwing grape amongst the startled fugitives: many girls leaped overboard and crouched beneath the prows, or waded out till the water touched their chins. The men set their shoulders to the sterns and sides of the boats and tried to push out into deep water.
Only three boats moved away, and of these two drifted across to the Oudh bank into the hands of the pitiless foe.
The third boat floated downstream almost unnoticed, for the smoke from the burning boats was spreading a pall over the scene. Into this boat some vigorous men had climbed: Vibart and Whiting, Ashe of the artillery, Delafosse and Bolton, Moore and Blenman, Glanville and Burney and a few others.
Sir George Trevelyau gives an account related by two Eurasian women, wives of musicians in the band of the Fifty-sixth:
"In the boat where I was to have gone," said Mrs. Bradshaw, "was the schoolmistress and twenty-two misses. General Wheeler came last, in a palkee. They carried him into the water near the boat: I stood close by: he said, 'Carry me a little farther towards the boat.' But a trooper said, 'No, get out here.'
"As the general got out of the palkee, head foremost, the trooper gave him a cut with his sword into the neck; he fell into the water! Some women were stabbed with bayonets, others cut down. Little infants were torn in pieces: we saw it! . . . the school-children were burnt to death. I saw their clothes and hair catch fire."
There was more evidence of similar nature, very heart-rending and amply explaining the savage temper in which the news was received in England: where public meetings were held in every town, great or small; and a fierce requital was demanded. Tantia Topee stood on the Temple platform all this time and saw to it that none escaped.
With a motion of his hand he sent a few score sepoys into the water, like otter-hounds keen on the scent, to collect the girls that still crouched under the charred boats or in deeper water. With blows and shrieks for mercy, with tearing off ear-rings and rude pushing, one hundred and twenty-five were assembled near the landing-place and made to sit in the sand—a piteous company. There, in the heat of the morning, faint and desperate, they were made to abide, with sentries posted round: then they were marched back through the ravine and past the European bazaar, the chapel and racquet court. On either side surged a crowd of exulting natives, whose hands were full of silver and jewellery. Many of the ladies were barefoot and wounded, their clothes were covered with mud and blood and torn to tatters: a few children were naked: there were boys of twelve years of age, but no men in that procession of victims.
At last they emerged from the plain and were halted in front of the Maharaja's grand pavilion. The Nana glutted his eyes with the sorry sight, and then ordered them to be taken to the Savada house, a one-storied building to which was attached a small courtyard: here in two large and dirty rooms, furnished with cupboards, they remained until the final massacre; this was ordered perhaps by Azimoolah on hearing of the imminent approach of Havelock.
Let us now return to the escaping boat under Major Vibart. Mowbray Thomson tells us that after trying to push his boat out into deep water and finding it immovable, he and nine or ten others swam after the one boat which was drifting downstream. Close by Thomson's side were two brothers Henderson of the 56th Native Infantry: the younger soon went down from weakness, the elder was wounded in the hand by grape-shot, but managed with Thomson's help to reach Vibart's boat, which was stranded on a sand-bank on the Oudh side of the river.
Captain Whiting pulled them in terribly exhausted: all of the other swimmers sank or were shot in the water, except Lieutenant Harrison of the 2nd Light Cavalry and Private Murphy. Harrison had reached a small islet on the Cawnpur side, where he was attacked by three sowars armed with the tulwar: they had just cut down an English lady, and were bent on finishing off an English gentleman. But Harrison had his revolver at hand, and in spite of his late immersion it responded to the trigger; two sowars went down before him, the third turned tail and sought the water. Harrison then plunged in on the river side of the island and swain to Vibart's boat.
And now another boat came drifting clown, but was struck by a round shot below water-mark and began to fill.
However, Vibart managed to take them off, and crowded his own boat so much that there was little room to work her with the spars they had. There was no rudder, and the boatman had taken away the oars: grape and round shot flew about the huddled fugitives from either bank, and on that 27th of June many were killed and thrown overboard.
Captain Moore, the cheery Irishman, was shot in the heart while pushing off the boat: Ashe of the artillery and Bolton, the young officer who had ridden his horse over the entrenchment wall, were also shot. Burney and Glanville were cut asunder by the same round-shot that shattered Lieutenant Fagan's leg below the knee.
Mrs. Swinton, standing up in the stern, was knocked by a round-shot into the river. Her little boy, six years old, went up to Thomson and said, "Mamma has fallen overboard, Captain Thomson."
"Thank God, my little man, that He has taken your mother away: she will not suffer any more pain now, poor dear."
"Oh! why are they firing at us?" cried the child; "did they not promise to leave off?" History does not relate what became of that little boy.
They had no food to eat all through the long-drawn agony of that blazing day: at 5 p.m. they stranded again after a six miles' drift, and were attacked by a burning boat and lighted arrows; so that it became necessary to cut down the thatch and throw it overboard. Four more miles were made in the night. Next day Vibart was shot twice through the arm, Captain Turner had both legs smashed, Whiting was killed, Lieutenant Quin and Captain Seppings were shot through the arm, Mrs. Seppings through the thigh, Lieutenant Harrison was shot dead, and many others not named. At sunset a boat sent from Cawnpur with fifty natives well-armed grounded close to them on a sandbank: twenty British charged them, and instead of their finishing the Nana's massacre, they met their own doom.
Their boat was well supplied with ammunition, which was useful: but still our people had no food, and began to feel very faint and weary.
The next night a hurricane came on and set the boat floating; but as daylight came they found they had drifted up a side stream. At 9 a.m. Major Vibart directed Thomson, Delafosse, Grady, and eleven privates to wade ashore and drive off the sepoys who were firing at them.
This forlorn hope saved four lives: for, maddened by desperation, these fourteen men charged and cut through the sepoys, driving them back from the river: on their return they found their boat gone! The only chance now was to take flight anywhere: after retreating three miles they fortified themselves in a little temple, shot many assailants, but were smoked out: they dashed through the crowd outside, and seven reached the water, into which they threw their guns and then themselves.
As they swam more were shot: four approached the shore, but seeing some armed men standing near, they turned to swim away.
"Sahib! Sahib! why swim away? we are friends," they shouted.
They even offered to throw their weapons into the river to prove their sincerity. As one by one the Englishmen reached the shallow water, they fell exhausted—they had just swum six miles, their feet had been burnt in escaping from the temple: they only asked for a speedy death. But what were the natives doing?
Gently they drew the white men up on the dry sand, wrapped them in blankets, rubbed their bare limbs, and told how they were the retainers of the Rajah Dirigbijah Singh, of Moorar Mhow, in Oudh; this loyal gentleman treated the four men, Thomson, Delafosse, Sullivan, and Murphy, right royally and gave them each a piece of carpet to cover their bodies. Here they were hospitably entertained for a month, enjoying the simple fare of the Brahmins and the precious balm of unbroken sleep.
Three times during their stay the Nana sent word to the Rajah that he must surrender the white men: but the old chief took no heed: he was a gentleman indeed! It is pleasant to know that the English Government conferred upon him a handsome pension when the Mutiny was suppressed.
In course of time these four survivors of the Cawnpur massacre were taken across the river, and to their joy met a detachment of the 84th under Havelock.
They were only thirty miles from Cawnpur, marching in Havelock's rear and seeing on all sides the signs of recent battle.
Thomson went off alone, on arrival at Cawnpur, to see the place where they kept the flag flying for three weeks, and where so many loved ones were lying deep in the old well outside the mud walls. To his surprise, Dame Nature had covered up all the ghastly sights with a luxuriant growth of long grasses; as if she said: "Let the dead past go and be forgotten: be strong, quit yourselves as men; for there is always work to be done in a naughty world."
General Neill no sooner heard of the four survivors being in his camp than he sent for them and heard their story.
The two officers were given honourable posts; Delafosse lived to fight under Chamberlain in the Hindu Kush, Thomson to write his story of the Mutiny, "so told that it may be read by a Christian without horror, and by an educated person without disgust."
Murphy became custodian of the Memorial Gardens: Sullivan lived fourteen days in peace and safety, and then succumbed to an attack of cholera, being worn out by his privations and sufferings. A native spy told how Vibart's boat came back to the Ghaut at Cawnpur; sixty sahibs, twenty-five mem-sahibs and four children. "The Nana ordered the sahibs to be separated from the mem-sahibs and shot by the First Bengal Native Infantry." But they refused. However, some men of the Naduic regiment offered to kill them.
"So the sahibs were seated on the ground, and two companies stood with their muskets ready to fire. Then said one of the mem-sahibs (the wife of Dr. Boyes), 'I will not leave my husband: if he must die, I will die with him.' So she ran and sat down behind her husband, clasping him round the waist. Then the other mem-sahibs said, We also will die with our husbands'; and they all sat down, each by her husband. . . . The Nana ordered his soldiers to pull them away: but they could not pull away the doctor's wife, and she remained there. Then the Padre (Captain Seppings) asked leave to read prayers before they died. . . . After he had read a few prayers he shut the book and the sahibs shook hands all round. Then the sepoys fired: one sahib rolled one way, one another, as they sat. But they were not dead, only wounded. So they went in and finished them off with swords."
It is painful to read such things, but it is ungrateful to forget the heroes and heroines of those terrible days. They died for us and for England, and their brave example must surely nerve us, if ever the time should come, to scorn danger, suffering, and death, in defence of hearth and home.
In part from Cawnpore, by kind permission of The Right Hon. Sir George Trevelyan, Bart., and Messrs. Macmillan.