Hodson of Hodson's Horse:
The Prince of Scouts
Of all the heroes of the Indian Mutiny, Hodson won for himself the brightest and the most short-lived fame. In the midst of a brilliant career of soldierly daring he committed one act which has been regarded from different points of view: as necessary severity, or cold-blooded retribution.
We shall see later what was the ambiguous deed which Hodson committed: but lest this preface should prejudice any reader against our hero, let us hasten to assert that few men had warmer and nobler friends and stouter admirers than Brevet-Major William S. R. Hodson. Like Sir Herbert Edwardes, he was the son of a country rector, who lived at Maisemore Court, near the Severn, to the north of Gloucester. William Hodson's father, a Canon of Lichfield, had been seventh Wrangler and second Chancellor's Medallist: his mother, May Stephen, belonged to a family of lawyers, intimate with Wilberforce and Macaulay.
Born in 1821, he grew up a shapely, slim lad with frank blue eyes and yellow hair: being troubled with headaches, he pursued his early studies at home under his father, and learnt by long country walks and runs to observe keenly and love wild nature.
At fifteen he was sent to Rugby, being older than most boys at entrance: his good teaching secured him a place in the middle fifth, so that he escaped fagging, and in two years was placed in the sixth form under Arnold.
Though an athlete Hodson never cared for cricket, but he was the best long-distance runner in the school, and excelled in the gymnasium.
He was a good hand keeping order, and when Cotton's house was growing unruly from lack of praeposters, Arnold transferred Hodson from Price's house to cotton's—in a week all disorder ceased!
Thomas Arnold writes: "His expansive and impulsive temper won him many friends, and for my own part I always liked him greatly. His faults were arrogance, rashness, and a domineering temper; if one bears this in mind, it is easy to understand the errors into which he fell in India.
In October 1840, William Hodson entered Trinity College, Cambridge, and took up boating, rowing in the 2nd Trinity boat, while he did not neglect his studies. By the time Hodson took his degree he was too old to get an Indian cadetship: but obtained a commission in the Guernsey Militia from General Sir William Napier, then Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey and the historian of the Peninsular War. On leaving Guernsey, Sir William wrote him a flattering testimonial, in which he remarked: "I think you will be an acquisition to any service." By passing thus through the militia, Hodson was enabled to obtain a cadetship, offered by Sir Robert Inglis, on the Bengal Establishment. On the voyage to Calcutta Hodson was deeply grieved at losing his dog: the poor little creature had been shut up during a gale, and on again seeing his master was so overjoyed that he fell into convulsions and died. Hodson was a great lover of animals; dogs and cats instinctively clung to him for love and protection.
After staying three weeks with the Chief Justice of Bengal at Garden Reach, a pretty suburb by the riverside, Hodson went by river towards Agra, to join a native regiment, 2nd Bengal Grenadiers, which was to form part of Sir Henry Hardinge's escort from Agra to Ferozepur. At Agra he was the guest of the Lieutenant-Governor, James Thomason, a friend of his father, who from that time treated Hodson as a son.
Thomason gave Hodson a horse, which carried him many a march, from 4 a.m. to sunset, with a rest in the hot hours. During the Mutiny he grieved over the wounds of his charger as of his dearest friend.
The officers used to ride before the band, and frequently Hodson would dismount in the cold dawn and run seven or eight miles to keep himself warm.
At Umballa he saw 12,000 of the finest troops drawn up in one line: the Sikh army of the Khalsa, or chosen, were encamped round Lahore, clamouring for their pay and threatening to cross the river Sutlej and plunder Hindostan. Sir Hugh Gough, the commander-in-chief, was preparing to meet these warriors.
Hodson's first battle, Mudki, was fought after a fasting march of twenty-five miles: he was grazed in the cheek by a ball fired by one of his own sepoys, who stood behind him. In the battles fought against the Sikhs the sepoys often refused to face the grape, and only the British regiments stood firm. After four days' fighting, and nights spent on the ground in great cold, they got a rest and some real food, and water flavoured with gunpowder!
Infantry attacking guns—that was his first ordeal of war, and the enemy were the proudest and bravest fighting race in the East. In sixty days the Sikh army was over-thrown. "I had the pleasure," Hodson writes to his sister, "of spiking two guns; and once more I have escaped, I am thankful to say, unhurt, except that a bullet took a fancy to my little finger and cut the skin off the top, and spoilt a buckskin glove."
The Sikh loss at Sobraon, the decisive victory, was some 8000 killed and wounded, while our loss was some 2500 killed and wounded.
When England was ringing joy-bells to welcome the glad tidings of great victories, Hodson was writing letters in criticism of his superior officers. He says: "Will it be believed that a large proportion of our losses was caused by our own regiments being so badly handled that they fired upon one another incessantly! My own regiment received a volley from behind as we advanced! The 1st Europeans fell before our eyes in numbers by a volley from our own 45th Sepoys."
His opinion of the native regiments was given to his friend Thomason at Agra: he found the discipline bad, and the native officers were more troublesome than the men. In disgust he asked to be transferred to a European regiment, the 1st Fusiliers; war had decimated them, but they had covered themselves with glory.
In August 1846, Hodson went to Simla to spend a week with Sir Henry Lawrence. He stayed a month and enjoyed a friendship with that good and great man which lasted all his life. Sir Henry wrote: "I have seldom met so promising a young fellow: I get a good deal of help from him; he works willingly and sensibly."
In October, Sir Henry invited Hodson to come with him to Cashmere. A motley army went with them, composed of stalwart Sikhs in small blue turbans and giant Afghans with voluminous headgear, Brahmins and Gurkhas—all bent on frightening the men of Cashmere into submission to Gulaab Singh, whom we had placed over them for a large concession! This maharaja, with all his engaging personality and gentlemanly manner, had a habit of skinning his personal enemies alive!
When accused of having flayed 12,000 men, he replied indignantly: "It is no such thing: I have only skinned three—what! well, it might have been three hundred, if you count every little rascal."
Resistance melted before the approaching army, and Hodson had an opportunity of admiring the lovely glens and woods and rocks. The women of Cashmere, Hodson describes as a wretched set, only good for beasts of burden, dirty, and atrociously ugly.
In the spring of 1847 Hodson was superintending the building of an asylum founded by Sir H. Lawrence for the children of our soldiers among the pines of Himalaya. He had to learn how to cut down trees and make planks, doors, and windows; how to quarry rocks and make bricks—and then teach all this to his 600 native workmen.
He liked the work, because it was to rescue the soldier's child from an infancy of contamination and ignorance, and perhaps from an early death. And yet this was the young Englishman whom some moralists pronounced more unfeeling than the dissolute princes of Delhi!
Sir Henry had lately formed a new and splendid corps—the Guides—he now asked Hodson to accept the adjutancy of this regiment. As first raised it consisted of one troop of horse and two companies of foot, and was placed under Lieutenant H. Lumsden, afterwards Sir Harry Lunsden. Amongst the men enlisted were old Sikh soldiers, Pathans, and Hindostanee soldiers who had served with the Sikhs.
The object of this corps was to train men in peace to be efficient in war: to know all roads, rivers, hills, ferries, and passes, and to give accurate information of what their neighbours were thinking of doing. In addition to all this work, Hodson was still kept on the staff at Lahore, and worked in Sir Henry Lawrence's office. "He has been a brother to me ever since I knew him," writes Hodson.
But in November 1847 Henry Lawrence had to go to England on sick leave for two years, and the friends were parted.
Among those who rejoiced at Hodson's appointment to the Guides was Herbert Edwardes, who wrote home: "I think Hodson will do it justice: he is one of the finest young fellows I know, and a thorough soldier in his heart."
One of Hodson's functions was to stop plundering and detect the plunderers: many cases of robbery did he unravel by sending out clever natives, disguised as fakirs, or religious beggars, to talk to the people in their villages. It was astonishing how he picked up cases of cruelty and violence; the Sikhs seemed quite indifferent to murder, but were horrified at the idea of shutting up a sacred ox who had gored his thirteenth man in two days! So venerable a beast, they said, should have fair play.
In 1848 the second Sikh War and the siege of Multan occupied Edwardes, and the Guides distinguished themselves by courage and Hodson by strategy: the latter received the special thanks of General Wheeler, not only for his services in the field, but for the information which he collected for him.
In a letter home Hodson describes one of his little affairs—one bold hill-man had beaten off four sowars (troopers) one after another. He then rushed at Hodson like a tiger, and closed with him, yelling, "Wah guru-ke-jai," and wielding his tulwar fiercely. "I guarded the three or four first blows, but he pressed so closely to my horse's rein that I could not get a fair cut in return. At length I pressed in my turn so sharply upon him that he missed his blow, and I caught his tulwar with my bridle-hand, wrenched it from him and cut him down with the right, having received no further injury than a severe cut across the fingers."
From the time that Hodson got promotion in the Guides jealousy began to whisper tales of evil against him. Hodson's plain speaking offended the older officers—for he inveighed against promotion by seniority (or senility); all elasticity, he said, was gone when men became colonels; all energy and enterprise was worn out. One cavalry commander at Chilianwala could not mount his horse unaided. A brigadier of infantry was so blind he could not see his regiment until his horse's nose touched the bayonets, and even then he asked plaintively, "Pray, which way are the men facing, Mr. Hodson?"
Three days Hodson spent on civil duty in Sir Charles Napier's camp; a man of iron, but most kind and cordial to the young adjutant. "I only trust he will remain with us as long as his health lasts, and endeavour to rouse the army from its present state of slack discipline," writes Hodson.
At the close of 1851 Hodson went down to Calcutta to meet the lady he was to marry, the widow of John Mitford. The wedding took place privately in the cathedral, and, after a visit to Mr. Thomason at Agra, Hodson had to leave his bride at Umballa. For he was obliged to make his way to Ludhiana, "to try a lot of gentlemen who had devoted their youthful energies to strangling their neighbours by the simple art of Thuggi."
In September, Lumsden went to England, and the Governor-General gave Hodson the command of the Guides—the most honourable and arduous command on the frontier, one that Hodson had long coveted. An expedition among the wild tribes of the Hazara gave him an opportunity of showing how he could handle his men in mountain warfare.
In February 1853, Sir Henry Lawrence was removed from the Punjab, and Hodson lost a good, sincere friend.
In 1853 it was bruited about that Hodson was very unpopular with his regiment and with military men generally; but Sir Richard Temple said he had marvellously attached the Guides to himself by the ties of mutual honour, daring, and devotion. But there is no doubt that this young soldier, who took war so seriously and scientifically, began to be disliked by the slow-moving men of the old school.
One of his bitterest enemies was his own adjutant, Turner, who was transferred in 1854 from the Guides to a regiment of Punjab Cavalry.
Hodson's chief commissioner, John Lawrence, must have heard stories to his discredit; for he wrote to Hodson and stated that neither the European nor the native officers were contented under his command.
Hodson had taken great pains to discover the men who had plotted the murder of Mackeson; he had seized and imprisoned a border chief named Khadar Khan, for it was one of his servants who dealt the blow. This prisoner was acquitted, but Hodson still believed him guilty. Major Edwardes reported the case to Lord Dalhousie as one of wrongful imprisonment. Soon after, the Court of Directors decreed that Hodson should never again be employed in ally civil capacity.
Fools may make mistakes, but if a genius trips every dullard is eager to hound him down and impute low motives.
Turner had been going about saying that Hodson had falsified the regimental accounts; in December 1854 a court of inquiry sat at Peshawur, and Hodson was ordered to give up his command during the sitting.
A most extraordinary order was published, calling upon all who had claims upon Hodson to bring them forward without delay. Such an order among Orientals was grossly unfair; of course all the scoundrels in the regiment came forward with false claims.
Lord Napier did what he could for Hodson, and urged him to have all the Persian accounts translated into English. By working night and day Hodson managed to get the translation finished.
He asked for a full and public examination of the whole case, and said he did not fear the result, if only they would hear him on his defense. The Court decided that Hodson's accounts were most unsatisfactory. Then Hodson demanded a court-martial, but John Lawrence asked Major Reynell Taylor to examine and report upon Hodson's alleged misdealings. For three months the Major worked at the accounts; he did not like doing it, but as he proceeded he found that all had been quite satisfactory, though unbalanced and undetailed—but Hodson had taken the accounts over from Lumsden in considerable confusion. "I believe it to be an honest and correct record from beginning to end," was the Major's verdict.
Colonel (Lord) Napier was delighted; he was a good soldier and rejoiced that Hodson had been found honourable and upright. But there it ended! No public acquittal was made known, though the Government gave Hodson his papers and closed the case. Taylor's report to Simla was filed and put away and forgotten. Hodson quietly made his way to the hill-station of Dagshai and resumed his place as regimental subaltern in the 1st Fusiliers.
So the Prince of Scouts might have remained unnoticed; but when real warfare begins we cannot afford to throw away such talent. Of course Hodson felt the reverse very keenly: his wife felt it, and they had just lost their only child! Sorrows have a habit of coming in jolly troops; the best way is to fight against despair, and not put down every disagreeable contretemps to an overruling Providence. Hodson had also come down from an income of 131200 a year to £250! But he says: "I trust I am too much of a soldier to permit myself to be subdued by reverses, or to sit down and fret over the past."
His colonel soon made him quartermaster, and later made an appeal to the adjutant-general of the army for his promotion. Subsequently Hodson had an interview with General Anson, the commander-in-chief, who had never heard of Major Taylor's good report! General Anson was most kind and cordial, and promised to write to Lord Canning about the case.
Meanwhile the Mutiny broke out, and no letters could pass between Simla and Calcutta; but General Anson gave Hodson a staff appointment on his own responsibility.
As soon as the telegraph wires flashed to Simla the news of the bloody revolt at Meerut on 10th May, and of the atrocities at Delhi, where English men, women, and children were butchered in street and square and palace, within sight and hearing of the king and his sons, General Anson at once ordered the dispatch of the white troops that garrisoned the hill-stations of Kussowlie, Dagshai, and Sabathu. So Hodson marched with his regiment to Umballa, and met his chief on the 15th May. This was no time for snubbing young heroes because they were arrogant and masterful.
Anson made Hodson assistant quartermaster-general to his new force en route for Delhi: But he did more: he empowered Hodson to raise one thousand Irregular Horse, set him at the head of the Intelligence Department, and sent him to Kurnal in order to restore communication between that place and Meerut.
Hodson started from Kurnal for Meerut on 20th May with a troop of Sikh horse—at dawn the next day he galloped through the pickets, having ridden seventy-six miles. He interviewed General Wilson, took a bath and some breakfast, had two hours' sleep, and then rode back, having had to fight his way some thirty miles of the distance.
How men talked of this daring and successful ride! All old libelous tales were forgotten when the presence of danger called for a real man. The officers at Kurnal sat watching him in awestruck silence as, after a wash, the tired rider tackled his plate with ravenous appetite. "I will answer no questions till I have had a square meal." Suddenly he put down his knife and fork and said, "Now I'm ready." Whereupon he began his awful recital of all that had befallen at Meerut, a story told with flashing eye and fierce tone. When he had finished, someone wishing for more, said "Well?
"Well," rejoined Hodson, changing from tragedy to cheery mirth, "here we are! the wires cut, north, south, east, and west: not a soul can interfere with us: we have the cracking of the nut in our own way: and here we are, as jolly as a bug in a rug."
It was the spirit of Baden-Powell at Mafeking, heartening the desponding with such a merry laugh as Robin Hood might have sent forth in the glades of Sherwood Forest.
For Hodson was the life and soul of the whole force marching down to Delhi. Pathan and Sikh listened to his merry voice, and the spirit of worship grew in their brave and generous souls. Here was a white man who knew not fear: him they could reverence. Meanwhile Hodson began to raise recruits for his Irregular Horse—2000 if he could get them.
His friend Montgomery helped him, and called upon the sirdars to send men, many of whom knew Hodson by repute.
In batches they kept on coming to Delhi, where Hodson and two or three subalterns set to and drilled them into form.
General Anson had died of cholera, and Sir Henry Barnard, his successor, took at once to Hodson.
Seaton had just ridden to the Ridge, escaping from his mutineers, and Hodson shared his tent with him: but he was ever riding away to get information, and thought nothing of eighty miles, for he could sleep on horseback without falling off; a feat not for every one to perform.
General Thomason gives a lively account of one of Hodson's single-combat fights near Delhi. "He had ridden a very short distance from us when he found himself confronted by one of the enemy with shield and tulwar. I shall never forget Hodson's face as he met this man. It was smiles all over. He went round and round the man, who in the centre of the circle was dancing more Indico, and doing his best to cut Hodson's reins. This went on for a short time, when a neat point from Hodson put an end to the performance!"
Next morning the Guides under Captain Daly arrived in Barnard's camp, having done a hot march of 580 miles in twenty-two days.
When the men of the Guides saw their old commander, they shouted "Hodson sahib!" till they were hoarse; they cheered, shouted, and wept and sung like frantic creatures: they kissed his bridle, dress, hands, and feet, and salaamed to the ground before his horse.
Officers hearing the hubbub and seeing the crowding round the tall, yellow-haired Englishman, ran out of their tents, crying, "What is it? Are they mobbing him?" Then, when they saw how matters stood, they murmured, "Good God! and they said this fellow was unpopular with his corps!"
The news spread and produced a great sensation in camp: it had a good effect on our native troops, for they were more willing to follow their European officers when they saw the enthusiasm of the Guides—their own countrymen. Almost every day there were fights and alarms, sorties to be repelled, houses to be cleared and blown up. Sometimes Hodson would ride and take a look round. Some officers grumbled and said the way he exposed himself to fire was sheer madness; but Hodson, like Nicholson, preferred to see things for himself. When he caught a severe cold, General Barnard insisted on having him in his own tent. "I woke in the night and found the kind old man by my bedside, covering me carefully up from the draught."
In one fight Captain Daly was hit through the shoulder, which gave Hodson more work; for the General requested him as a personal favour to take command of the Guides until Daly had recovered. He could not help feeling proud at being earnestly requested to resume a command of which his enemies had deprived him out of jealousy.
On 23rd June, the centenary of Hassey, the rebels came out with all their available men and guns: for a prophecy had long been quoted that on this day they were destined to overthrow the Faranghi rule.
All day long the fight went on under a burning sun which knocked over many officers and men; Hodson was in the saddle most of the day and bears testimony to the conduct of his old Guides and his new Sikhs and Gurkhas. We might have suffered more than we did from this fierce sortie, but Hodson's native spies had warned him of the coming danger.
These spies, says Seaton, came in at all hours and in all disguises, carrying mysterious little scrolls about their person: those who brought verbal messages Hodson cross-examined severely—such a mastery had he of the native languages. The English soldiers soon got to know and appreciate the great scout.
"There goes that 'ere Hodson," said a drunken private, as Hodson cantered down the lines: "he's bound to be in every mortal scrap—he'll get shot, I know he will: and—I'd a deal rather be shot myself: we can't do without that 'ere Hodson; blame me if we can!"
On 4th July, a large body of rebels, Hodson was informed, had marched past our right flank along the Alipur road. Major Coke with a force of all arms and the Guides set out to intercept the rebels and had to struggle through swamp and marsh; both men and horses were terribly knocked up, and could hardly crawl back to camp. "I was mercifully preserved," writes Hodson, "though I am sorry to say my gallant Feroza was badly wounded twice with sabre-cuts, part of his bridle was cut through and a piece of my glove shaved off."
On 5th July, General Barnard died of cholera brought on by exposure.
One day the laugh was raised against the wily scout: for a body of sowars was seen riding leisurely after our men who were returning from pursuit. "Who are those?" asked Hope Grant, who sent his aide-de-camp to find out their identity. "Our own cavalry, sir," said young Anson. But Captain Hodson too must needs ride up to them; he accosted them, and a friendly and even merry conversation ensued—"A party of the 9th Irregulars, are you? Then we're all irregular!"
When Hodson turned his back, they put spur to their horses and galloped off to Delhi like wild-fire. They were rebel cavalry in retreat!
How they laughed at mess that night when the story was told how the cunning intelligence officer had chummed with the enemy, and had seen at a glance that they were friendly sepoys! To catch that weasel napping was a comedy worth laughing at. A distinguished officer writes: "Affairs at times looked very queer from the frightful expenditure of life. Hodson's face was then like sunshine breaking through the dark clouds of despondency and gloom that would settle down on all but a few brave hearts."
Recruits for Hodson's Horse now came in faster: M'Dowell was the second in command, and Hugh Gough of the 3rd Cavalry, Chalmers and Ellis and Shebbeare and others were always well to the front.
It was strange how many hairbreadth escapes Hodson had: so that the natives thought he possessed a charmed life.
General Reed was ill; Chamberlain was wounded, because his men hesitated and he jumped, his horse over a wall into the throng of rebels to give them a lead; Wilson of the Bengal Artillery took the chief command, but he was unequal to the strain, and had little force of will.
On the 19th of July, the news of the Cawnpur massacre came in: spirits went down, and cholera burst out in mad fury.
General Wilson met this by ordering a regimental band to play cheerful tunes every morning: and the remedy seemed to do good.
On July 23rd, Colonel Seaton was wounded and carefully tended by Hodson. "Then I saw," wrote Seaton, "that the brave and stern soldier had also the tenderness of a woman in his noble heart."
By the end of July—what with disease and wounds, our Delhi force could muster only 2200 Europeans and 1500 Native Infantry.
On 4th August, the news came that Havelock had fought his way into Cawnpur, but was too late to save the women and children. Hodson's mouth closed with a grim determination. "Such fiends as these our arms have never met before. May our vengeance be as speedy as it will unquestionably be sure." Hodson never forgot those women and children, and the thought made him forget mercy.
On 5th August, Nicholson rode into camp, and men took heart again as the Punjab column, 3000 strong, marched into camp with bands playing and followed by cheering soldiers.
The many rides and adventures of Hodson's Horse are too numerous to detail: when the rebels saw the khaki tunic, scarlet turban, and scarlet sash worn over the shoulder they knew the Flamingoes were coming and 'twere best to beat a safe retreat.
An officer who served before Delhi thus describes Hodson's manner: "In a fight he was glorious: if there was only a good hard scrimmage he was as happy as a king. A beautiful swordsman, he never failed to kill his man; and the way he used to play with the most brave and furious of these rebels was perfect. I fancy I see him now, smiling, laughing, parrying most fearful blows as calmly as if he were brushing off flies, and calling out all the time, 'Why, try again now!' 'What do you call that stroke?' 'Do you call yourself a swordsman?'"
But on 3rd September all seemed lost! There were 2500 men sick in hospital, and General Wilson had lost all nerve.
But on 4th September came the heavy siege guns and mortars drawn by elephants, and miles of bullock-carts laden with shot and shell. All through the first week in September the troops were busy making ready for the assault soon to be made upon the city. On the morning of the 12th some fifty heavy guns and, mortars were playing upon the crumbling walls and giving the rebels little rest from their constant hail. It was arranged, at Nicholson's request, that Hodson should accompany the column which Nicholson would lead in pursuit of the mutineers after the capture of Delhi.
But Nicholson was to lead one of the storming columns on the 14th, and this "gambler's throw," as the sick General Wilson called it, might prove fatal. For the rebel gunners were every whit as skilful as the British, since it had been the practice of the English in India to train the sepoys to serve the guns. The besieged had seen what was impending, and had mounted heavy guns all along the northern face: they had even made in one night an advanced trench parallel to the left attack, covering their entire front. This trench they lined with infantry and sharpshooters.
On the afternoon of the 13th, Wilson directed that the breaches should be examined. Medley and Lang inspected the Kashmir bastion, Greathed and Home the Water bastion; both reported the breach practicable. Then Baird-Smith advised Wilson to assault on the morrow.
Thus at 3 a.m. the five columns of assault were drawn up: they waited while an explosion party, Lieutenants Home and Salkeld and others, covered by 100 men of the 60th Rifles, hurried on to attach kegs of powder and blow up the Kashmir gate: a bugle was to give the signal of success.
The bags were laid and the men were turning back when the rebels opened fire. Home jumped into the ditch unhurt; Salkeld was shot through the arms and leg, and fell back on the bridge.
"Light the fusee, Burgess" he murmured, and handed the corporal his port-fire. But Burgess fell dead. Then Sergeant Carmichael sprang forward and lit the fusee: he too fell mortally wounded.
The next moment a fearful explosion shattered the massive gate. Home then told the bugler, Hawthorne, to sound the advance.
The bugle-call, three times repeated, was never heard in the din and tumult. But Campbell, the commander of the third column, had noticed the explosion and ordered the advance. They entered the city just as the first and second columns had won the breaches.
For two hours, whilst these assaults were being made, Hodson and his men had to sit on horseback under heavy fire, waiting to prevent the enemy from coming out.
"Hodson sat like a man carved in stone," writes an officer, "and only by his eyes and his ready hand could you have told that he was in deadly peril." Six hundred horsemen, of whom only 200 were British, had to sit unmoved all that time under a hurricane of lead—it was a feat of great endurance, and a proof of high discipline.
That afternoon Wilson removed his headquarters into that part of Delhi which the columns led by Nicholson, Jones, and Campbell had won at the cost of so many brave lives: and Nicholson lay in a tent dying.
The death of Major Jacob made Hodson a captain: Hodson assisted at his burial, and said, "I would far rather have served on as a subaltern than gain promotion thus." Hodson gained later his brevet-majority as a reward for his services in the Punjab campaign: he had little time, however, to think of such things, for his business now was to ride round and ascertain the rebels' line of retreat.
General Wilson was sadly discouraged by the day's work. He had been told that Delhi would fall, but his columns had been stopped and one had been driven back: his troops only held a short line of rampart. "Ought we not to withdraw to the ridge?" he asked Baird-Smith. "Can we hold what we have taken?"
Baird-Smith looked at the invalid and replied, "We must hold it."
Sixty-six officers killed or wounded and 1104 men! Wilson shook his head! But the fact that the British had beaten the sepoys in hand-to-hand fight and were firmly lodged on the rampart cowed all,—from the old king in his palace to the meanest sowar.
On the 16th the British stormed the great magazine and captured guns and ammunition. Bit by bit the city was being wrested from the rebels. Alexander Taylor did splendid work on the 19th in effecting the capture of the Burn bastion, and Brigadier Jones seized the Lahore gate. There were still many thousand armed rebels in the city and its surroundings, and we had only 3000 left fit for service.
On the morning of the 20th, Hope Grant took his cavalry, including Hodson and his Irregulars, on a reconnaisance to the west of the city. From a hill they could see the native camp under the king's general, Bakht Khan, formerly a lieutenant of artillery.
Hodson was looking through his glass. "Did you hear that, sir?" They all heard a loud explosion.
"They are going to abandon their camp," cried Hodson, and at once detached two troopers to ride down and see. On their confirming his guess, Hodson got leave to carry the news to Wilson.
After seeing the General, Hodson took M'Dowell and 75 men and rode right round the city to the Delhi gate on the extreme right, which they found open. By evening they had ridden some miles beyond Delhi and executed many a straggler, brought away three guns and many camels and the mess plate of the 60th Native Infantry with their standards and drums.
Delhi had been evacuated during the night, and India was saved. But the old king, Bahadur Shah, was still alive and might become a focus for fresh rebellion. Hodson pleaded with Wilson for leave to fetch him back a prisoner: and the dying Nicholson added his voice for the king's arrest. So Hodson with only 50 horsemen rode through miles of ruinous tombs and palaces over the site of old Delhi for the king's hiding-place nearly seven miles off. As they reached the tomb of Humayun, the second great Emperor of the Tartar line, Hodson drew rein at the noble gateway of the wide court, in which rose the dome-capped glory of the marble tomb, glistening white. Concealing his men in a building near, Hodson sent his faithful Rajah Ali inside to negotiate the terms of surrender, and himself awaited the result not far off the gateway.
For two hours he waited, and his cold blue eyes sparkled angrily at the long delay. Why! the life of the king had been promised, that of his favourite wife and her son, Jamma Bakht.
At last his messenger reappeared, saying:
"Sahib, the king will accept if Hodson Bahadur will enter and repeat with his own lips the promise made by the Government."
So Hodson went in and repeated the pledge aloud, but added, "If there be any attempt at rescue, I shall at once kill the king." And the King of Delhi accepted his terms.
So at length there issued out of the gate a train of palkis conveying the royal prisoners, but closely guarded on either side by Hodson's sowars.
The march back to Delhi by a circuitous road, to avoid the seething crowd of angry Mahommedans, was the longest seven miles, Hodson says, which he ever rode. For his eyes had to turn on every side, watching the throng of fanatics, who were eager to strike a blow on behalf of their captive king: but they dared not lift a hand; for Hodson, the yellow-haired devil, rode close by the king, ready to shoot the old man if any rescue were attempted.
Passing slowly along the street of Silversmiths, the little band of troopers approached the red sandstone walls, loopholed and crenelated, which enclosed the Dewan Khas: they halted at the palace gate, and doubtless a feeling of relief took the place of that long tension of nerve all along the crowded roads.
For there was imminent danger at every step, though some writers who wish to belittle Hodson assert that the natives were too cowed to offer any resistance to these 50 horsemen!
So Hodson saluted the new commissioner, Charles Saunders, and made over his royal charge for safe lodgment in the royal palace. Saunders stood agape, admiring the brilliant audacity of the man.
"By Jove! Hodson," he exclaimed, "they ought to make you commander-in-chief for this." Then Hodson rode on to General Wilson's quarters to report his success, and to deliver up the royal arms.
The General greeted him gruffly, saying, "Well, I am glad you have got him, but I never expected to see either him or you again."
That remark goes to prove what soldiers at the time thought of the peril incurred by Hodson and his sowars. What they thought, when all the facts were staring them in the face, far outweighs any peaceful opinions written down in the seclusion of the study long afterwards.
So now Delhi had fallen, and the Bahadur Shah, the figurehead of the rebellion against English rule, was safe in British hands.
Hodson was not yet satisfied: he wanted to go again to the tomb and fetch the villain princes, the young men who had stirred up the city on 11th May to hack and butcher all the white men, women, and children in Delhi. General Wilson at first refused his consent: then grumbled forth, "Go then, but don't let me be bothered with them."
So, early on the morning of the 22nd, Hodson, taking his subaltern M`Dowell and 100 picked horsemen, started again for Humayun's tomb. He posted his men so that none could enter or come forth, and then sent in one of the lower members of the royal family and his one-eyed maulvi, Rajah Ali, to bid the shahzadas come forth.
Two hours again were spent in arguing and protesting, and then there came forth Mirza Moghul, Mirza Aboo Bukr, and Mirza Kisz Sooltan, the last being the grandson of the king.
They asked Hodson if the Government had promised them their lives. "Most certainly not," replied Hodson, and before they could step back they found themselves being hustled to a native carriage and driven off under escort towards Delhi.
Hodson then formed his troopers across the archway and slowly drove back into the courtyard the armed mob of retainers who were following the princes. Then riding in with M`Dowell, he ordered all to lay down their arms. The natives looked from one to another, but a second loud command had its effect. They threw down tulwar and gun and dagger, and Hodson made them collect horses, bullocks, and covered carts, or "ruths," which were used by the women and eunuchs of the palace.
Five hundred swords and guns were piled up in carts, and left in charge of a small guard, then Hodson galloped away to overtake the princes. This he did near Delhi. We will now give his own words as to what befell. "I came up just in time, as a large mob had collected and were turning on the guard. I rode in among them at a gallop, and in a few words I appealed to the crowd, saying that these were the butchers who had murdered and brutally used helpless women and children, and that the Government had now sent their punishment." Sir T. Seaton shall now say what he heard: "There was an immense crowd surging round them which was increasing every moment, closing in and pressing on his men. Hodson stopped the carriage and made the three prisoners descend. The wretches, seeing that something was about to happen, put up their hands and fell at his feet, begging that their lives might be spared, and that an investigation might be made into their conduct. All that Hodson said was, 'Choop ruho (be silent); take off your upper garments,' and they did so. 'Get into the ruth!' They obeyed. Hodson, then putting out his hand and taking a carbine from one of his men, shot Mirza Moghul, and immediately after, the two others. Hodson's men shouted, 'Now justice has been done'; and the crowd dispersed."
The bodies were then taken into the main street, the Chandnee Chouk, were dragged out of the ruth by sweepers, and exposed on the raised platform at the cut-wallee (head police-station) on the very spot where, on the 11th of May, the bodies of our unfortunate countrywomen, their husbands and children, had been exposed.
Hodson adds: "I deliberately shot them one after another. 'God is great!' was the cry that broke from a multitude of lips, and slowly but quietly the crowds of awestruck Mussulmans melted away. I am not cruel, but I confess I did rejoice at the opportunity of ridding the earth of these wretches. I intended to have had them hanged, but when it came to a question of they or us, I had no time for deliberation."
And in a letter to his wife Hodson wrote: "It was they or we! and I recommend those who might cavil at my choice to go and catch the next rebels themselves. I must be prepared to have all kinds of bad motives attributed to me.
Hodson had done a deed which startled and wounded many consciences. Critics jumped to the conclusion that if he could bring in the King of Delhi safely, he could have brought in the princes also.
His act has been branded as "a stupid, cold-blooded, threefold murder."
The second in command on that occasion, M'Dowell, says: "The increasing crowd pressed close on the horses of the sowars, and assumed every moment a more hostile appearance.
'What shall we do with them?' said Hodson to me. 'I think we had better shoot them here; we shall never get them in.'
"So ended the career of the chiefs of the revolt, and of the greatest villains that ever shamed humanity. Before they were shot, Hodson addressed our men, explaining who they were, and why they were to suffer death. The effect was marvellous: the Mussulmans seemed struck with a wholesome idea of retribution, and the Sikhs shouted with delight."
Unless these two English officers were lying, it seems to have been necessary to shoot the princes or they would have been rescued.
The native officers, too, averred that it was a "touch and go" affair, that some of Hodson's own men were wavering, and only prompt and decisive action could have saved them from the menacing crowd.
It is clear that a critic safe at his desk, writing in security years after, is not a fit umpire to decide whether the threats of the crowd made such drastic treatment necessary.
At the same time this impulsive, indignant officer, thinking of the shame of English women, and seeing before him the disgusting authors of that hideous outrage, might have been tempted to make himself "judge, jury and executioner" all in one. If it were so, every sane person would deeply regret that a brave man should have been tempted to take the law into his own hands to his own discredit.
But of what sort of human beings were these shahzadas?
An officer who knew the princes thus describes them:
"On the countenance of these three princes there was not a trace of nobility, either of birth or of mind; but, on the contrary, they were stamped with everything vile, gross, ignoble and sensual; as their education and pursuits had been, so were their features . . . these wretches, with the cold, calm hand of death on them, showed nothing of kingly descent or nobility of heart, their countenances being as forbidding as the despicable passions in which they had indulged could make them."
McDowell, who was there, has said, "Our own lives were not worth a moment's purchase"; and Dr. Anderson, surgeon to Hodson's Horse, when asked if he thought the escort were really in any danger, replied, "All I can say is that I dressed the wounds of my own orderly, who came back with his ear half cut off."
Sir Robert Montgomery wrote this note:
"My dear Hodson, —All honour to you (and to your Horse) for catching the king and slaying his sons. I hope you will bag many more!"
General Wilson in his dispatch of 92nd September writes: "Three of the shahzadas, who are known to have taken a prominent part in the atrocities attending the insurrection, have been this day captured by Captain Hodson and shot on the spot"; and he speaks further of Hodson's good and gallant service.
We must remember, too, that General Wilson had said to Hodson, "Go at once and take them if possible: but for God's sake do not bring them in, if you can help it; for I should not know what to do with them." General Thomason says: "The only time I ever saw Hodson otherwise than cheery was one day when I dropped in on him and found him 'writing his defence,' as he called it . . . . Poor fellow! he could not understand being called to account for a feat which must ever stand out in history as unbeaten by any Englishman, which is saying a good deal."
We must confess that most officers would have shrunk from the duty of shooting the princes—but they would probably have been butchered themselves, and the princes might have escaped, like the Nana, to do more mischief.
Let us also confess that some of Wilson's officers disapproved of the shooting: Sir Hugh Gough, for instance, regrets that Hodson should have placed himself in a position unworthy of so brave a man. "The wretched princes, cowards and miscreants as they were, deserved their fate, and I have always held that Hodson was right in all he did, only excepting that one false step."
Sir Hugh apparently thought Hodson might have risked the hostility of the crowd: but this—the main point—is incapable of proof either way. It was not Hodson's duty to expose himself and his 50 or 60 sowars—a guard had been left at the tomb—to be overpowered by the fanatic throng and torn to pieces. He may have erred: but a man who had served his country so well, deserves a merciful verdict. Let us end this episode by a quotation from Lord Roberts' Forty-one Years in India. He says:
"I went with many others to see the king; the old man looked most wretched, and as he evidently disliked intensely being stared at by Europeans, I quickly took my departure. On my way back I was rather startled to see the three lifeless bodies of the king's two sons and grandson lying exposed on the stone platform in front of the kotwali. . . . Hodson had shot them with his own hand—an act which, whether necessary or not, has undoubtedly cast a blot on his reputation . . . . My own feeling is one of sorrow that such a brilliant soldier should have laid himself open to so much adverse criticism: moreover, I do not think that, under any circumstances, he should have done the deed himself, unless there had been evident signs of an attempt at a rescue."
That is a fair judgment; poor Hodson had suffered in reputation before the siege of Delhi, as we have seen, and suffered unjustly. There is no doubt he was too hasty in temper, and his severe critics have been too hasty in judgment, possibly from the highest motives. Jealousy still haunted the steps of Hodson: stories of his looting were bruited about and refuted when he had time to get off his horse and explain things. It may be enough for us to remember that when he died Hodson had not enough money left to pay his widow's passage back to England.
We have related in the chapter on Seaton how, after the capture of Delhi, Hodson helped his friend in guarding the convoy and clearing the country of rebels. He then joined Sir Colin Campbell in his march from Cawnpur to Lucknow and while before the latter place he received notice from home that he had been promoted to major! Some one wondered why Hodson had not been given a V.C. "Why, you fool, he wins it every day of his life," was the reply. But there is a better reason: for the V.C. was not given to the Company's officers until early in 1859.
When Hodson rode seventy miles from Brigadier Seaton to Sir Colin's camp with dispatches, the news went round the 93rd Highlanders like wildfire: for they were all eager to see the man of whom they had heard so much. Mr. Forbes-Mitchell in his interesting Reminiscences (Macmillan & Co.) writes: "During the afternoon of the 30th December a man of my company rushed into the tent, calling, 'Come, boys, and see Hodson! He and Sir Colin are in front of the camp: Sir Colin is showing him round, and the smile on the old chief's face shows how he appreciates his companion.'
"I hastened to the front and had a good look at Hodson, and I could see that he had made a favourable impression on the chief. Little did I then think that in less than three short months I should see Hodson receive his death-wound, and that thirty-five years after I should be one of the few spared to give evidence to save his fair name from undeserved slander."
We will now pass on to the assault on the Begum's Palace before Lucknow on 11th March. Forbes-Mitchell had sent two men back to the breach in the outer wall for some bags of gunpowder to pitch into a dark room which was full of the enemy.
Instead of finding Colonel Napier and his engineers they saw Hodson, who had come with Napier as a volunteer for the storming of the palace. Hodson told the men where to find the powder and came running up, sabre in hand, crying, "Where are the rebels hiding?"
Forbes-Mitchell pointed to the door of the room, and Hodson, shouting, "Cone on!" was about to rush in.
The Scot implored him not to do so, saying, "It's certain death; wait for the powder, sir."
Hodson made a step forward, and Forbes-Mitchell put out his hand to seize him by the shoulder, when the major fell back, shot through the chest. Hodson gasped out a few broken words—"Oh! my wife!" but was immediately choked by blood: a dhoolie was near and the wounded man was lifted into it.
"It will thus be seen," the 93rd Highlander writes, "that the assertion made that Major Hodson was looting when he was killed is untrue. That the major was killed through his own rashness cannot be denied."
When Dr. Anderson came, he found the ball had gone through the liver and just avoided the lungs: Hodson's feet and hands were cold, for there was much internal bleeding, and he suffered great pain. At midnight he fell asleep: next morning, after a short rally, the bleeding began again, and when Napier came to see him he spoke and breathed with difficulty.
"I feel that I am dying, Napier. I should like to have seen the end of the campaign, and—to have returned to England to see my friends, but—it has not been permitted. I trust—I trust I have done my duty."
He asked Colonel Napier to give his love to his wife and say his last thoughts were of her: at a quarter past one he whispered, "Oh, God! Oh, what pain!" and in a few minutes died quietly, without a struggle.
On the evening of 12th March his body was buried in the garden of the Martiniere at the foot of a clump of bamboos.
Sir Colin Campbell, who attended his funeral in order to show his respect for "one of the most brilliant officers under my command," burst into tears as his remains were being lowered into the grave.
Lord Napier of Magdala, one of Hodson's friends, set a wall round the tomb: and in a letter to Hodson 's brother he says, "I am now, as I have always been, fully convinced of his honour and integrity."
In Parliament, Lord Derby and Lord Stanley spoke his praise: but Hodson had not received any reward in his lifetime, except the feeling in his mind and conscience that, like his great friend, Sir Henry Lawrence, he had tried to do his duty. Of all the heroes of the Indian Mutiny this soldier's fate is most pathetic, because somehow he made enemies as well as friends: the cruel breath of scandal had poisoned his reputation, and it has been many years before it could be fully proved that the bravest of the brave was not also an unscrupulous thief. Had Hodson been the wicked man some have painted him, he would never have won such noble friends as Seaton and Napier, Gough and Lord Clyde and Sir Henry Lawrence.