Field-Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar, V.C.:
The Young Gunner
Frederick Sleigh Roberts was born at Cawnpur in September 1832. His father was General Sir Abraham Roberts, G.C.B., and his mother Isabella, daughter of Major Abraham Bunbury, 62nd Foot.
Lord Roberts was educated at Eton, Sandhurst, and Addiscombe, and began his army career as 2nd Lieutenant in the Bengal Artillery.
On the 20th February 1852 he set sail from Southampton for Calcutta. On landing at Alexandria they were hurried on board a large mastless canal boat, and towed up the Mah'moudieh canal for ten hours. At Atfieh on the Nile they changed into a steamer and reached Cairo in sixteen hours.
After two days' stay at Shepperd's Hotel they set out across the desert in a sort of bathing-machine, holding six persons and drawn by four mules. Roberts' companions were five cadets, who made the journey of eighteen hours fairly tolerable; the baggage was carried on camels together with the mails and the coal for the Red Sea steamers.
At Madras young Roberts went ashore to see Addiscombe friends, who were excited at the prospect of a war in Burma: the transports being actually then in the Madras roads, ready to start for Rangoon.
As an artilleryman Roberts made his way to Dum-Dum, and found only one other subaltern at mess, as the rest had embarked for Burma. The life here was extremely dull and the sanitary arrangements defective: the adjutant-bird, highly protected, was their most efficient scavenger.
Calcutta, lighted at night by smoky oil-lamps, had no great attractions. The senior officers took little notice of the juniors, and Roberts began to wish he had never come, especially when he heard that nearly every officer in the Bengal Artillery had served over fifteen years as a subaltern. In those days a subaltern could not return home under ten years, and there was no going to the hills: Roberts felt home-sick, and wrote to his father, asking him to get him sent to Burma. His father replied that when he got command of the Peshawur division he would send for him. That gave him some hope at last: and in August he got his marching orders to proceed to the north-west of India.
From Calcutta to Benares, Roberts travelled in a barge towed by a steamer, taking nearly a month to accomplish it, owing to sandbanks.
From Benares to Allahabad he rode on a horse-dak; and on arrival was most kindly and hospitably received by Mr. Lowther, the commissioner.
His next halt was Cawnpur, his birthplace. Here he stayed a few days, and then proceeded to Meerut, where he first saw the far-famed Bengal Horse Artillery, and said to himself, "I, too, will be a horse-gunner some day." For the men were the pick of the Company's service, their physique magnificent and their uniform handsome.
From Meerut to Peshawur, 600 miles, Roberts had to ride in a palanquin, for there were no more metalled roads. Eight men divided into reliefs of four carried the traveller through the night hours; chattering coolies bore the baggage, and a torch-bearer lighted the path in front with stinking oil.
Three miles an hour was a good pace, and dak-bungalows, or rest-houses, were erected by Government at intervals. Here you could get a bath and shake off some of the dust; the khansameh, or host, would chase a thin chicken round the yard and serve it up to you in twenty minutes.
In November, Roberts reached Peshawur, his journey having occupied nearly three months, whereas now it only takes three days.
Sir Abraham Roberts, then in his sixty-ninth year, had just been appointed to command the division with temporary rank of major-general. He was considered a young and active officer for this responsible post.
Father and son had met very seldom before, but they soon made great friends, and the younger man learnt much about the Afghans which came in very usefully when, twenty-five years later, he commanded in Afghanistan.
The Peshawur station included Attock, Rawal Pindi, and .Jhelum, as well as the hill-station of Murree. As the frontier was so near, piquets were posted on all the roads leading to the hills, and every house was guarded by a well-paid watchman belonging to a robber tribe; it was dangerous to ride beyond the line of sentries, and officers with ladies had been attacked.
Here Roberts first began to enjoy life in India: there was plenty of adventure, and he made good friends. The two senior officers on Sir Abraham's staff were Lieutenant Norman and Lieutenant Lumsden; both destined to carve out distinguished careers. Like Seaton, Roberts was horrified by having to attend a flogging parade: fifty lashes were given to two fine young men in the Horse Artillery for selling their kits. After the flogging they were sent to prison.
No sooner were they released than they repeated the offence, probably as a way of showing their resentment at their ignominious treatment. A second time they were tried by court-martial and sentenced to be flogged. A parade was ordered. One man was stripped to the waist and tied to the wheel of a gun. The sentence was read out, a trumpeter stood ready with a whip, when the officer in command, instead of ordering him to begin, addressed the prisoners kindly, and said if they would promise not to commit the same offence again he would remit the flogging. They did promise, and they kept their word. Not only that, but they both became good, steady, and loyal soldiers.
In 1853, Sir Abraham, being sick, was advised to retire and go to England.
In 1854, Roberts got six months' leave and travelled in Cashmere—that hilly country of gardens and woods. So productive is the soil that if you cut a stick and put it in the ground, it will strike root and bear blossom or fruit in a short time: and yet Britain sold this country for three-quarters of a million pounds! As Lord Roberts remarks, it would have made the most perfect sanatorium for our troops, and from its height would have proved invaluable as a colony for cultivation. As it was, the people were poor and miserable; for the Mahommedan peasants were ground down by Hindu rulers who seized all their earnings.
In November, Roberts, to his great delight, was given "his jacket," and was to remain at Peshawur, the young officer's paradise. Nearly all the men in his troop were big Irishmen, fine riders, as they needed to be when the horses were half wild and full of spirit.
In 1855, when at Simla, Roberts lunched with Colonel Becher, the quartermaster-general, who was so taken by the young artilleryman that he said, "Roberts, I should like to have you some day in my department." This meant a staff appointment, and Roberts felt supremely happy.
In the winter he sometimes rode over to Mardan, where Harry Lumsden and his Guides were stationed. There he had many a gallop after the hawks, hunting the aubara; it was here he became so fine a rider.
The brigadier at Peshawur, Sydney Cotton, who did not believe in mere drill, kept them alive with field days, preparing for real war. And yet this able officer had not yet got the command of a battalion, though he had been forty-three years in the army and was over sixty.
That indeed was the age of elderly generals and irresolution, and of discontented subalterns. But Roberts was vastly surprised to hear in 1856 that he had been selected with Lumsden to assist in the survey of Cashmere. It was just what he wished; but soon his hopes were dashed by the Governor-General refusing to confirm his appointment, because he had not passed the prescribed examination in Hindustani.
It was then May, and the half-yearly examination was to be in July. Roberts set to work, engaged a good munshi, or instructor, and studied Indian literature from morning to night. Roberts passed the examination and won the appointment.
A year later, 1857, Roberts went with General Reed on a tour of inspection as staff officer. Jhelum was first visited; the sepoys seemed contented and respectful, and were praised highly by their British officers.
They went on to Rawal Pindi, where Sir John Lawrence offered Roberts a post in the Public Works Department. Roberts, not wishing to leave the army, respectfully declined the offer.
One day in April, Roberts was surveying in the hills at Cherat and found to his surprise a camp pitched close to his tent: Lieutenant-Colonel John Nicholson was on his tour of inspection. Roberts had heard this officer spoken of with admiration, and even awe, in the Punjab: he had just left Bunnu, a wild district which he had ruled as a semi-divine hero.
"I have never seen anyone like him," says Lord Roberts. "He was the beau-ideal of a soldier and a gentleman. His appearance was distinguished and commanding, with a sense of power about him which to my mind was the result of his having passed so much of his life amongst wild and lawless tribesmen."
During March and April rumours came to Peshawur of mysterious chupatties or unleavened cakes being sent about as a token of some change coming. Then they heard of the outbreak at Berhampur and of Mungul Pandy at Barrackpur; of the disbanding of two regiments and the refusal of the cartridges. Yet these, warnings passed unheeded: it seemed a partial trouble; no one believed the whole Bengal army could mutiny; the officers were positive that their own men were trustworthy.
At Peshawur the officers were sitting at mess on the evening of the 11th May, when the telegraph signaller rushed in, breathless with excitement, a telegram in his hand, which proved to be a message from Delhi "to all stations in the Punjab, "stating that a serious outbreak had occurred at Meerut, and that the mutineers had reached Delhi, which was in revolt.
Instantly Colonel Davidson rose and said, "We must let the Commissioner and the General know at once: and, gentlemen, not a word to anyone!"
Davidson then hurried off to Sir Herbert Edwardes, who, with his deputy, Nicholson, lived close by: Edwardes, on hearing the news, drove to the General's house, while Nicholson came to the mess-room.
He too pointed out the importance of keeping the news from the native troops. There were at Peshawur 5000 native soldiers and 2000 European troops: in the city were 50,000 natives who might rise and help the native regiments.
Fortunately there were some good men and true at Peshawur, and not all elderly. Edwardes was thirty-seven, Nicholson thirty-five; Neville Chamberlain, the commandant of the Punjab Frontier Force, was thirty-seven.
At once Edwardes seized all native correspondence at the post office: letters and papers, when examined, showed that every native regiment was involved in the rebellion.
On Tuesday the Nth May, Roberts was summoned to a military council at General Reed's house, when important resolutions were passed.
Edwardes and Nicholson said, "The only chance of keeping the Punjab and frontier quiet is to trust the chiefs and people: get them to join us against the Hindustanis."
It sounded perilous; but the thing was done, because no one knew the frontier so well as these two men: and our trust was not misplaced: the men of the north-west responded loyally to our demand. General Reed was to join the chief commissioner at Pindi, leaving Cotton at Peshawur; a movable column was to be organised and the Hindu regiments were to be scattered as much as possible. Punjab infantry was to replace the sepoys in the fort of Attock, where there was a magazine: Attock also covered the passage of the Indus.
Chamberlain was nominated to the command of the movable column, and, to Roberts' delight and surprise, he offered to take him as his staff officer. This column was to move on every point in the Punjab where open mutiny required to be put down by force.
We will now relate in more detail the occurrences which happened at Meerut, and which startled every mess in India.
The Meerut division was commanded by General Hewitt, an officer of fifty-eight years' service; the station of Meerut by Brigadier Archdale Wilson, of the Bengal Artillery. The garrison consisted of the 6th Dragoon Guards, a troop of Horse Artillery, a battery of Field Artillery, the 1st battalion 60th Rifles, and three native corps, the 3rd Light Cavalry and the 11th and Nth Native Infantry. Towards the end of April 85 men of the 3rd refused to take their cartridges. A general court-martial was held on them: the court was composed of 6 Mahommedans and 9 Hindus.
On the 8th May they were tried, found guilty, and sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour for ten years.
Next morning there was a parade of the whole garrison, and the sentence of the court was read out to the men.
The 85 troopers were then stripped of their uniform, shackled, and marched down the line to the goal: as each passed along, he called on his comrades to rescue him, but none stirred.
The commander-in-chief wrote his disapproval of the riveting of the fetters in the presence of the men. "This must have stung the brigade to the quick: the consigning the prisoners to goal with no other than a native guard over them was folly that is inconceivable."
But General Hewitt at any other time would have been applauded for his attempt to make the punishment as marked and public as possible. In order to understand what followed, a few words on the plan of the cantonment will be necessary.
Meerut is placed between the rivers Ganges and Jumna, in a great plain stretching from the lower spurs of the Himalaya towards Central India. It is one of the oldest stations in India, and was at first a frontier post. The barracks of the English troops fronted north, to a fine parade-ground; on the right were the Bengal Artillery, the Rifles were in the centre, and the 6th Dragoon Guards on the left. Behind the men's lines came the hospital, gymnasium, canteens, etc., and then the officers' quarters.
To the rear of these was a wide road named the Mall, and behind this the ground was occupied by houses and bazaars.
The native lines, being about a mile to the rear, fronted west, and were built for seven battalions: the officers' bungalows, each surrounded by its compound, were only separated by a street from the great Suddur bazaar. Between these northern and western lines were hundreds of fine buildings, residences of civil and military functionaries, public gardens and colleges and squares, all shaded by well-grown trees.
The native walled city lay a little south of the whole: the English church was to the north of the British lines.
How sudden and unexpected the rising of the sepoys was we can see by the accounts given. For instance, the wife of Captain Muter of the 60th King's Royal Rifles had driven to church on Sunday evening—the day following the manacling of the sepoys; it was about 6:30 p.m. and near sunset. As this lady sat in her carriage, awaiting her husband and listening for the sound of the band, a gentleman approached and said:
"You need not be alarmed, but an outbreak has taken place requiring the presence of the troops: so there will be no service this evening." But the lady waited until 7 p.m., and as no congregation came Mrs. Muter ordered the syce to turn the carriage and go home.
Then she saw the native lines in a blaze and heard a dull sound of voices. Men were running in all directions, and when Mrs. Muter reached home the servants advised her to hide in the compound as her life was in danger. Fortunately a message came from Captain Muter, bidding her take refuge in the quarter-guard.
The chaplain of Meerut tells us he was about to start with his wife for evening service, when the ayah, or native nurse, besought her mistress to stay indoors—"Mem-sahib, there will be a fight with sepoys."
They took the two children in the carriage with them at the wife's request; but before the church was reached sounds of musketry were heard from the native lines. As the chaplain arrived at the church enclosure, the buglers of the 60th Rifles were sounding the "alarm" and the "assembly."
The men had been standing unarmed, as for church, in groups on the parade-ground, ready to "fall in"; when, on hearing the "alarm," they rushed tumultuously towards their barrack-rooms and armed themselves. This the rank and file did instantly without waiting for any order. Then Captain Muter, seeing no superior officer near, dispatched Lieutenant Austin and a company of riflemen to secure the treasury, which contained several lakhs of rupees to pay the troops withal. This was perhaps the best service done that day; but Captain Muter's prompt action escaped at first the notice of his superiors and of historians.
The mutineers had made their plans craftily; they meant to begin their outbreak when the white soldiers were in church and unarmed. But they were not aware that, owing to the greater heat, the evening church parade had been altered to 7, instead of 6:30 p.m. In consequence of this, as the mutineers galloped down the 60th Rifle lines they came upon the men fully armed and falling in.
So they reined in, turned and galloped to the goal, broke into the cells, and released the 85 prisoners, their comrades, and all the other prisoners, being about 1200.
Meanwhile the two native regiments were firing at random on their own parade-ground and burning their barracks. Their British officers hurried to the lines and tried to restore order, but in vain. The sepoys, whom they had believed to be as true as steel, warned them to be off, or they would be shot. These sepoys would not willingly kill their own officers. But when Colonel Finnis began to exhort the men of his own regiment, the 11th, to be true to their salt, some of the 20th came up and riddled his body with bullets: he fell from his horse and was slashed to pieces.
Besides Colonel Finnis, seven officers, three officers' wives, some children, and many European men, women, and children were massacred.
We must remember that it was dark almost directly after the first outbreak. General Hewitt at first drew up his men on the parade-ground, and sent a few rounds of grape into a humming mass which could be heard on his left: the hum ceased and all was still. Then the men were ordered to the Mall—the wide street behind their lines—and there they bivouacked, while a chain of sentries was thrown around the European lines.
But the bazaars and private houses were all night in the hands of thousands of Goojurs (plundering gipsies) and bad-mashes (rogues): terrible were the experiences of many during those hours of riot and massacre.
Next morning soldiers were sent round to collect the dead. Ladies, lying naked on the ground, hacked with sabres and almost unrecognisable, were picked up from smoking ruins or from streets and ditches.
In some houses a pile of dying and dead had been half covered with broken furniture. Everything had been rifled and stolen; not by the sepoys, for they had ridden away to Delhi, but by the released goal-birds and bad men from the lowest classes of the native city.
But the outrages and murders were not confined to Meerut: many villages around were looted, their inhabitants lay dead in the streets, and a few women and children only remained to weep over their loss and the absence of British justice and compassion. For this was really not an Indian revolt, but a sepoy mutiny.
We have mentioned the alacrity of Captain Muter in saving the treasury: there were other officers whom the suddenness of the shock had not paralysed. Colonel Custance, commanding the Carabineers, had ordered out his men and sent to ask for instructions at the first sound of firing. After a long delay, General Hewitt ordered him to proceed to a goal some miles away: thus the services of this regiment were rendered useless to the rest of the troops. Fortunately the Carabineers lost their way in the dark and returned to the parade-ground, where they found the 60th Rifles and artillery waiting to be attacked.
Brigadier Wilson advised the General to return to the Mall, in case the mutineers had moved round to attack the European quarters. The General assented; and as the troops went south they saw lurid pillars of fire rising from many a bungalow. Search was made, but no sepoy could be found: for they had all gone off to Delhi. Captain Rosser of the Carabineers offered to lead a squadron of his regiment along the Delhi road, but his suggestion was not accepted. General Hewitt would hazard nothing, and do nothing on so dark a night. So the scum of the city were left to burn and rob and murder whom they would.
Even the commissioner, Mr. Greathed, knew nothing about the revolt until a howling mob surrounded his house; though an officer of the 3rd Native Cavalry had dropped hints, and an Afghan pensioner had given a warning of what might follow.
First he and the ladies sought refuge on the roof; but when torches were applied, the roof was no longer safe. The servants, as so often elsewhere, were true, and helped to conceal them in the garden; while the rabble were led away on a false scent to an outhouse.
But many wives were slaughtered without mercy, chiefly by the butchers of the city: these ruffians went to Delhi next day, but had the audacity to return to Meerut, and were promptly hanged. One Mahommedan gentleman in the city sheltered two families at great danger to himself, and many families owed their lives to the devotion of their servants.
Thus, we see, the sepoys were permitted to get off clear, owing perhaps to the darkness falling so suddenly: but it is difficult to learn why no attempt was made next day to punish the marauders.
The commissioner in his report writes: "It is a marvellous thing that with the dreadful proof of the night's work in every direction, though groups of savages were actually seen gloating over the mangled and mutilated remains of the victims, the column did not take immediate vengeance on the Suddur bazaar, crowded as the whole, place was with wretches hardly concealing their satisfaction." All that the authorities did was to collect and place in the theatre the bodies of the murdered men and women.
It must be recorded that the sepoys of the 11th Native Infantry behaved better than the others: some of them saw their own officers to a place of safety; and two sepoys escorted two ladies with their children to the Carabineer barracks. This regiment had joined the rebels unwillingly. It was reported afterwards that Lieutenant Gough had been told on the 9th May, the day before the outbreak, by a Hindoo native officer, that the men had determined to rescue their comrades.
Gough went at once to his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel C. Smyth, and reported what he had heard. "Pooh! pooh! my boy, quite ridiculous! You must not believe anything so monstrous," said his colonel.
Later in the day Gough met Brigadier Wilson and told him about the warning: the brigadier smiled contemptuously, and naturally the young lieutenant said no more about it.
But next day, Sunday, the same native officer, attended by two troopers, galloped to Gough's house, crying, "The hala (row) has begun, and the sepoys are firing on their officers."
Gough mounted his horse and, accompanied by these three cavalry soldiers, rode to the native parade-ground, where he found the sepoys yelling and dancing as if possessed, while the glare from the burning huts shed a lurid light on faces working with the wildest frenzy. The three troopers persuaded Gough to ride off before he was shot; on his way to the European lines he came upon an enormous crowd of townsfolk, armed with swords and sticks, who tried to stop him. Through these the four men charged at a gallop, and his native friends did not leave him till he was near the artillery mess. Then they made him a respectful salaam and rode away to join the mutineers. Gough could never hear what became of these good friends.
Meanwhile the mutineers galloped along the flat road between Meerut and Delhi, 35 miles; and very glad they must have been when they saw the minarets of the Jami Masjid glittering in the rays of the morning sun. Once or twice they had drawn rein to listen for the sound of galloping; but, strange to say, no horses of the Carabineers were on their heels that night. So they reached the waters of the Jamnah, crossed noisily by the bridge of boats, cut down the toll-keeper on the farther side, set fire to the toll-house and slew the one Englishman whom they met.
They then made the best of their way to the great gate, Chandni Chouk, facing the principal street in Delhi, Silver Street, where the jewellery shops occupied one side, with gaily painted varandahs and Moslem arcades and porticoes, while handsome trees rose with shady foliage on the other. Soon they came to an open square, in the centre of which was a tank where they stopped to water their horses. But the horses sniffed and turned up their lips in disgust; for already they smelt the blood of white men and women; though that tank was fated to receive many more bodies of butchered women and children in a few hours.
The buniahs, or shopkeepers, looked drowsily forth as; the sepoy troopers trotted by on their way to the lofty walls enclosing the king's palace; soon bastions and embrasures and loop-holes met their gaze, and slabs of red sandstone that faced the walls made all seem stony and massive.
There were two Englishmen who held official positions of importance inside the palace walls—Mr. Fraser, the commissioner of Delhi, and Captain Douglas, the commandant of the Palace Guards.
The sepoys were making no little noise in the outer courtyard, demanding admittance: the aged king heard the noise and sent for Captain Douglas to ask why they were there. Captain Douglas said, "I know not, sir, but I will go and see." For he thought the sight of a British uniform would frighten these men away. The king timidly begged him not to expose himself to danger, for the sepoys looked wild and ferocious: the king's physician added his entreaties to those of his master.
Douglas, then, did not go down to the courtyard, but entered the balcony, and looking down, ordered the troopers to be off, as their presence there was an annoyance to the king. Thereat the sepoys laughed scornfully and spat towards him. They again demanded to be admitted: it happened that the sepoys on duty at the palace belonged to the 38th Native Infantry, and were disloyal to the core. When, therefore, the troopers of the 3rd Cavalry attempted to force an entrance into the palace, they admitted them as comrades. Once admitted, the mutineers made short work of all white men and women they found within.
They cut down Mr. Fraser, Captain Douglas, the chaplain, Mr. Jennings, his daughter, and Miss Clifford, a young lady staying with them. Mr. Hutchinson, the collector, was also found and killed. The orderlies of the king did not look on and wonder; they joined in the savage fray with fiendish delight.
The fury soon spread from the palace to the mercantile quarter: the Delhi bank was attacked first; though its manager, Mr. Beresford, defended it for some time most gallantly, he was slain and the bank was stormed and gutted: the English church and every house occupied by Christian or Eurasian were attacked and rifled: no quarter was given to age or sex.
About two miles from the city the cantonments for the native brigade were situated on the Ridge, commanded by Brigadier Graves.
The morning parade was over and the officers had just finished breakfast when the startling news came that the native troops at Meerut had mutinied and that the 3rd Cavalry had galloped across the bridge. The officers here, too, never dreamed of suspecting the loyalty of their men: there were quartered on the Ridge the 38th, the 54th, the 74th Native Infantry and a battery of native artillery. Thinking the Meerut affair a mere local disturbance, and that the Carabineers would soon be coming up, the officers of the 54th Native Infantry led their men towards the city gates.
Even as they went some men of the 38th, at the main-guard, when ordered to fire on the Meerut troopers who were seen approaching, refused with insulting expressions; while the 54th fired, some in the air, and some on their own officers. Colonel Ripley was wounded; Smith, Burrowes, Edwards and Waterfield were shot dead.
The colonel of the 74th then addressed his men, reminded them of their past good conduct and called upon volunteers to come with him to the Kashmir gate. The sepoys stepped forward and their officers trusted their loyalty until they came near the main-guard, when they met some men of the 54th Native Infantry who were returning from the city. These exchanged words with the 74th, but just then the din within the walls of the city became overwhelming: the sepoys evidently dreaded lest the English troops might have arrived from Meerut, and they thought it wise to await events.
So they halted all unbidden, silent and glum, at the main-guard. Then suddenly an awful explosion within the city shook the foundations of the main-guard. We must see what had caused this explosion. In the middle of Delhi, not far from the palace, stood the great magazine, full of powder, shells and cartridges.
On that morning the following officers were within: Lieutenant George Willoughby, in charge of it; Lieutenant Forrest and Lieutenant Raynor; Conductors Buckley, Shaw, Scully and Crow; Sergeants Edwards and Stewart.
About 8 a.m. Sir Theophilus Metcalfe, the magistrate of Delhi, came to the magazine to say that mutineers were crossing the river and to ask for two guns to defend the bridge.
When, later, Willoughby learnt that the mutineers had been admitted into the palace, he began to act. The magazine should be defended! All gates were closed and barred and barricaded, guns were set at salient points, charged with grape.
But all the under-workers in the magazine were natives! However, arms were served out to them under Willoughby's eye. He knew them well, they had been good comrades for some years; but he did not like the look in the men's faces as they took the weapons of offence.
However, there was no alternative to be taken; but in case things should call for desperate remedies, these few Englishmen had a train laid to the powder magazine.
They had scarcely finished this job when there was a great beating on the gate; sepoys had come to demand the surrender of the magazine in the name of the King of Delhi. No reply was returned to this. Then the sepoys sent down scaling ladders: no sooner were they fixed than all the native workers clambered up to the top of the wall and joined the rebels from Meerut amid loud cries of joy. For some time a fire was kept up by the few defenders: Forrest and Buckley had been wounded, and death seemed to be certain when Willoughby gave the order to fire the train.
Scully, who fired the train, and four of his comrades vanished into space. Willoughby and Forrest succeeded in reaching the Kashmir gate; Raynor and Buckley somehow escaped with their lives; for no native was just then in a position to stop them, seeing that several hundreds of them had been blown to atoms or mutilated beyond recognition. The loud report, the concussion, the breaking of windows in the palace warned the king and his creatures that they had now to deal with a race who were most formidable when the odds were against them. It was about 4 p.m. when this explosion startled the sepoys near the main-guard; at first they were frightened, but on second thoughts it occurred to them that their friends were succeeding. The sepoys of the 38th Native Infantry raised their muskets and fired a volley into the group of officers near them. Gordon, the field-officer of the day, fell dead from his horse without a groan. Smith and Reveley of the 74th met the same fate.
The only way of escape for the rest was to dash through the embrasure in the bastion, cross the courtyard of the main-guard, then drop thirty feet into the ditch: after that they must climb the opposite scarp, gain the glacis and so plunge into the jungle beyond.
But as the unwounded officers ran, they heard the cries of women from the windows of the upper room and, staying their course, beckoned to them to come down.
Then hurrying all to the opposite embrasure, the officers fastened their belts together, and so helped the women and children to descend into the ditch. With difficulty they got the fugitives up the scarp; when this was done they pressed on into the jungle. But whither for safety?
Neither the cantonments nor the Metcalfe house were safe refuges, So away they ran, throwing away every ornament, crouching in lanes, fording rivulets, hiding in woods and hollows, carrying the little ones, falling and fainting from hunger and thirst and fatigue, racked by fever and sun-scorched, sometimes insulted by villagers, sometimes helped by kind Hindoos or loyal Mussulmans, until at length a small number of them reached Meerut, or Karnul, exhausted and half dead.
Meanwhile, in the city of Delhi some fifty Europeans and Eurasians had taken refuge in a strongly-built house and barricaded themselves in. But defence was impossible for long; the house was stormed and the defenders were dragged to the palace and thrust into an underground chamber, without windows. Here they stewed for five days; then they were led out into the courtyard and stabbed or shot. Their bodies were taken away in carts and pitched into the muddy-flowing Jamnah. After that 16th of May there were no more Christians left in Delhi.
The poor old king, Bahadur Shah, had been compelled to assume a power and responsibility for which he was unfitted by age; but his young queen was ambitious for her handsome son, and urged the old king to be brave. The cry was raised, "Restore the Mogul Empire ": and the Hindoos believed that their patriotism would secure them happiness here and hereafter. But they had not reckoned on the feeling of the Mahommedans and the Maratha princes: as it was, the princes of Central India thought it wiser to remain safe under British suzerainty rather than help the Hindoo sepoys to restore a dynasty which they themselves had thrown in the dust.
As the sepoys of Meerut had risen in revolt half an hour too soon, to find our men arming instead of dozing in church; so the mutiny of all Bengal had exploded several days before the date fixed in their councils, namely, Sunday the 31st of May.
Though General Hewitt, the man of indecisive counsel, did not know it till long after, he had by his manacling of the 85 men put a match to the local explosion too soon, and robbed the sepoy mutiny of half its force.
If Lord Canning did not at first recognise the gravity of the crisis, surrounded as he was by men who trusted the sepoy, yet when he heard of the seizure of Delhi, he resolutely set to work to find means of defence. He telegraphed to Lord Elphinstone at Bombay to hasten the return of troops from Persia; he bade the commander-in-chief make short work of Delhi; he gave Sir John Lawrence full powers to act for the best; he sent for a regiment from Rangoon and two regiments from Madras.
We can now return to the doings of Roberts in the North-West, having given the reader more facts about the beginnings of the Mutiny than any officers in the Punjab had had time to discover and appreciate.
On the 15th May, Brigadier Chamberlain and Roberts arrived at Rawal Pindi where Sir John Lawrence then was. Edwardes was summoned from Peshawur and consulted about the wisdom of raising levies of frontier men, as Nicholson and he had advised. Roberts, during the six days' stay at Pindi, was occupied mainly in copying letters and telegrams, and thus learnt all that was going on in the Punjab. He was struck by Sir John's correct judgment and by his intimate knowledge of details: he was very anxious to collect all the wives and children of soldiers and civilians into fortified stations, and gave orders accordingly. Brigadier F. Brind, who commanded at Sealkot, objected to withdraw the families of his troops to Lahore on the ground that such a measure would show a want of confidence in the sepoys!
But John Lawrence insisted on the removal, and soon after this Brind's troops mutinied, and he was shot down by one of his own orderlies.
It was reported that at Peshawur disaffection was spreading, English troops being few, now that the Guides and 27th Foot had been withdrawn. Nicholson felt this in the great reluctance of the frontier men to enlist.
Hence it was resolved to disarm the native regiments, as has been described. The native officers were loud in expressing their conviction that the disarming was wholly uncalled for, but Brigadier Cotton soothed their hurt feelings and excepted the 21st Native Infantry and two regiments of irregular cavalry. For in the cavalry both horses and arms were the property of the horsemen, and it was believed that the interest men had in the service would keep them loyal. The subandar-major of the 51st had arranged for a revolt on the 2nd May; but this disarming spoilt his game, for when he deserted with 250 men to the Afridis and brought no muskets with him, the Afridis seized the deserters and made them over to the British authorities. What was the use of 250 hungry men who could not shoot? So the subandar-major was hanged in front of the whole garrison.
On the 24th May, as Chamberlain and Roberts and Lieutenant Walker were riding in mail-carts to Wazirabad, the road being broken in parts, the drivers raced with one another and lashed their half-wild ponies in reckless rivalry.
One of the reins became unbuckled, and as long as the driver did not notice it, all went well; but at last he saw what had happened, lost his head and tugged at the one rein. The ponies went off the road, then came a crash, an upset and a scattering of bodies in collision.
It might have been of serious moment, but fortunately nobody was much hurt. At Wazirabad it was Roberts' duty to call upon the senior officer, Colonel Campbell, and inform him that Brigadier Chamberlain had come to take over the command of the movable column.
The colonel was lying on his bed and never moved when Roberts entered. "I am not aware," he said coldly, "that the title of brigadier carries with it any military rank. I understand that Chamberlain is only a lieutenant-colonel, whereas I hold the rank of colonel in Her Majesty's Army: I must therefore decline to acknowledge Brigadier Chamberlain as my senior officer." There was another reason for a soreness in the fact that Chamberlain was a servant of "John Company": for a certain jealousy always existed between the two services. However, things were smoothed down, and at last Campbell, who had only been a short time in India, consented to serve under the brigadier.
On the 31st May they reached Lahore and found it in a state of excitement: ladies and children had been hurried thither for security: in the city there were 100,000 people, mostly Sikhs and Mahommedans.
The headquarters of the Lahore division was Mian Mir, five miles away. Here there were four native regiments and very few European troops. Brigadier Corbett was in command, full of vigour, mentally and physically. The chief civil officer was Robert Montgomery, a man of a short and portly figure, gentle and benevolent, but able and of strong character. Montgomery, on hearing the Meerut news, got Corbett to call a parade, had guns loaded with grape, and then Corbett ordered, "Pile arms!"
Sullenly the men threw down their arms, for the guns faced them as they were ordered to change front to the rear.
So Lahore was saved by the decision of a soldier and a civilian, and when the movable column came in on the 2nd of June, it was hailed with delight by all the Europeans, for they had been living in great anxiety. But the 35th Native Infantry, which accompanied the column, seemed capable of mutiny. Chamberlain was employing spies to watch them, and one night—it was the 8th June—one of these spies awoke Roberts with the news that the 35th intended to revolt at daybreak, and that some of them had already loaded their muskets.
At once the men were ordered to fall in, their arms were examined, and two muskets were found loaded. The two sepoys implicated were lodged promptly in the police station.
A drum-head court-martial was called, of native officers drawn from Coke's Rifles just arrived, composed chiefly of Sikhs and Pathans. The prisoners were found guilty of mutiny and sentenced to death. Chamberlain decided they should be blown away from guns in the presence of their comrades, in order to strike fear into the rest. A parade was at once ordered. Three sides of a square were made up of the troops; on the fourth side were two guns.
As the prisoners were being brought to the parade, one of them asked Roberts, "Are we to be blown from guns, sahib?" "Yes," was his reply.
As they were being bound to the guns, one requested that some rupees he had on his person might be saved for his relations.
"It is too late," answered the brigadier. The word of command was given, off went the guns, and two human beings were no more.
The sepoys in the ranks looked startled, but more crest-fallen than horrified. The scene they had witnessed did not deter them from escaping to Delhi. Coke's Pathans, however, in the 1st Punjab Infantry, were well known for loyalty and bravery, for they loved their leader, and he cared for them as a father.
During the operations in the Kohat Pass in 1850, several of the men were killed and wounded. Among the latter was a Pathan named Mahomed Gul. He was shot in two places through the body, and as Coke sat by him while he was dying, he said, with a smile on his face: "Sahib, I am happy; but promise me one thing—don't let my old mother want. I leave her to your care."
War mingles together in strange contrast the hideous and the beautiful, the savage and the gentle elements of human nature. The politician, sitting quietly at home, votes for war too often without realising all the horrors and sorrows which the soldier feels very keenly. The movable column remained some days at Lahore: many places claimed its presence, being more or less disturbed.
At Ferozepur the native regiments had broken out on the 13th May, and tried to seize the arsenal, which was the largest in Upper India.
Multan seemed very unsettled, but fortunately was in the hands of an able and experienced officer, Major Crauford Chamberlain. Multan was a very important post, as it commanded our communications with Southern India and the sea. Chamberlain found out that his irregular cavalry were loyal, the artillery doubtful, the infantry ready to mutiny at any time.
Night after night sepoys, disguised, tried to persuade the cavalry to join them. A plot was raised to murder Chamberlain and his family. This plot was frustrated by men of the cavalry, but it became clear that the only remedy was to disarm. But how? there were only a few European troops near, gunners.
At this juncture Sir John Lawrence sent the 2nd Punjab Infantry, and Major Hughes, on his own initiative, sent from Asia the 1st Punjab Cavalry. At 4 a.m. next morning the native regiments were marched out and halted at about a quarter of a mile away; then the Punjab troops moved quietly between them and their lines, thus cutting them off from their ammunition. A selected body of Sikhs was told off to cut down the native gunners if they refused to obey orders; then Major Chamberlain rode up to the Native Infantry regiments, and explained why he was going to disarm them.
"Pile arms!" the word of command rang out sharply.
But a sepoy of the 62nd shouted, "Don't give up your arms: fight for them." Then Lieutenant Thomson, the adjutant of the regiment, seized the rebel by the throat, and wrestling, threw him heavily to the ground.
The order was repeated, and this time it was obeyed.
The Punjab troops remained on the parade-ground until the arms had been collected and carted off to the fort.
Lord Roberts says: "It was a most critical time, and enough credit has never been given to Major Crauford Chamberlain. He was very insufficiently rewarded for this timely act of heroism."
Umritsar, being a very important place and on the road to Jullundur, where the authorities had taken no steps to disarm the sepoys, was the next point on which the column moved. It was reached on the 11th June.
There a telegram came to Neville Chamberlain, offering him the adjutant-generalship of the army, since Colonel Chester had been killed before Delhi. He accepted the offer, and Roberts was eager to go with him, but he was told he must remain with the column. Roberts' first disappointment was tempered by content when he heard that Chamberlain's successor was to be his friend, John Nicholson.
Then the column moved on Jullundur, which was reached on 20th June. The place was in great confusion, the sepoys having been allowed to break into the treasury, plunder right and left, and then get safely over the wide Sutlej in a ferry: all this for fear of hurting the feelings of the sepoy! The commissioner, Major Edward Lake, who had repeatedly urged Brigadier Johnstone to deprive the sepoys of their arms, now accepted the offer of the Rajah of Kapurthala to garrison Jullundur with his own troops. And all through the Mutiny the Rajah loyally stood by us and kept the road open, though his general took the opportunity at this moment to show his scorn of our feebleness. But how he was reproved and humiliated by John Nicholson we may defer to another chapter.
On taking over command, Nicholson organised a part of his force into a small flying column ready to go anywhere at a moment's notice. Though Nicholson had spent most of his time as a civilian of the frontier, yet Lord Roberts says, "He was a born commander, and this was felt by every officer and man with the column before he had been amongst then many days." The column left Jullundur on the 94th June, and next morning it was thought necessary to disarm the 35th, as the native troops were too numerous. It was a great surprise to both British officers and men when the 35th were suddenly brought to face the unlimbered guns, and the order to "pile arms" was given.
However, the commandant, Major Younghusband, looked relieved and was heard to murmur, "Thank God!" He had been with this regiment thirty-three years, through the first Afghan War and at Sale's defence of Jelalabad: but perhaps he was now glad they were to be saved from disgracing the regiment. The sepoys threw down muskets and belts without a murmur. Then came the turn of the 33rd regiment: but the British officers in this case protested, for they believed in the loyalty of their men. Colonel Sandeman had been with them thirty-two years, and had commanded them through the Sutlej campaign. They were all his pride! On hearing the general's order, he exclaimed:
"What! disarm my regiment! I will answer with my life for the loyalty of every man!"
"On my repeating the order," says Lord Roberts, "the poor old fellow burst into tears."
Shortly after this, when Roberts was in the Philour fort with Nicholson, the telegraph-signaller gave him a copy of a message from Sir Henry Barnard, the new commander-in-chief, asking that all artillery officers not doing regimental duty might be sent to Delhi.
Roberts realised that his hopes might now be fulfilled, though he did not like the idea of leaving Nicholson. Nicholson, too, did not wish to lose Roberts; but as soon as his deputy could be found, Roberts started for Delhi.
In a mail-cart he rattled across the bridge of boats for Ludhiana, and while he rested there in the hospitable bungalow of the deputy commissioner, George Ricketts, he heard the tale of what the mutineers had done after breaking away from Jullundur. Ricketts, it appears, had gallantly opposed the rebels with a few men of the 4th Sikhs and two guns: he could have stopped their crossing the Sutlej if the Jullundur force had given any help.
It was ever the same tale—heroic deeds done by many; foolish, ignorant or lazy counsels followed by a few, and mostly by elderly men, who ought to have retired and gone home before they were worn out.
On the 27th June, Roberts reached Umballa: on driving to the dak-bungalow he found it crowded with officers, all eager to get on to Delhi. When Roberts, the young gunner, expressed his intention of going on at once, they laughed heartily, "Not a seat to be had, my boy."
But Roberts had a little talk with the postmaster; and he said, "Make friends with Mr. Douglas Forsyth, the deputy commissioner."
The result was that Roberts got a seat on an extra cart laden with small-arm ammunition. He was allowed to take two other men with him. These were Captain Law, who was killed on the 23rd July, after having greatly distinguished himself, and Lieutenant Packe, lamed for life before he had been forty-eight hours in Delhi.
Through Kurnal they drove and Panipat, where there was a strong force of Patiala and Jhind troops: but at Alipur, twelve miles from Delhi, the driver pulled up, shook his head and vowed he dared go no farther.
So they took the mail-cart ponies, for a consideration, and rode on; they heard the boom of guns and saw several dead bodies, already as dry as mummies. They had not the vaguest notion where the Ridge was, but luckily hit on the right road, got safely through the piquets and lay down for a long sleep.