Forty-One Years in India
From Subaltern to Commander-In-Chief
FIELD MARSHAL LORD ROBERTS
I travelled home viâ Corfu, Trieste, Venice, and Switzerland, arriving in England towards the end of June. The intense delight of getting 'home' after one's first term of exile can hardly be exaggerated, and certainly cannot be realized, save by those who have gone through the[Page 252] exile, and been separated, as I had been for years, from all that made the happiness of my early life. Every English tree and flower one comes across on first landing is a distinct and lively pleasure, while the greenness and freshness are a delicious rest to the eye, wearied with the deadly whitey-brown sameness of dried-up sandy plains, or the all-too gorgeous colouring of eastern cities and pageants.
My people were living in Ireland, in the county of Waterford, so after only a short sojourn in London, for the very necessary re-equipment of the outer man, I hastened over there. I found my father well and strong for a man of seventy-four, and to all appearance quite recovered from the effects of his fifty years of Indian service, and, to my great joy, my mother was looking almost as young, and quite as beautiful, as I had left her six years before. My little sister, too, always an invalid, was very much as when I had parted from her—full of loving-kindness for everyone, and, though unable to move without help, perfectly happy in the many resources she had within herself, and the good she was able to do in devoting those resources to the benefit of others.
There, too, I found my fate, in the shape of Nora Bews, a young lady living with a married sister not far from my father's place, who a few months later consented to accompany me on my return to India. The greater part of my leave was, therefore, spent in Ireland.
During the winter months I hunted with the Curraghmore hounds, and was out with them the day before Lord Waterford was killed. We had no run, and at the end of the day, when wishing us good-bye, he said: 'I hope, gentlemen, we shall have better luck next time.' 'Next time' there was 'better luck' as regarded the hunting, but the worst of all possible luck for Lord Waterford's numerous friends; in returning home after a good run, and having killed two foxes, his horse stumbled over quite a small ditch, throwing his rider on his head; the spinal cord was snapped and the fine sportsman breathed his last in a few moments.
1859 I was married on the 17th May, 1859, in the parish church of Waterford. While on our wedding tour in Scotland, I received a command to be present on the 8th June at Buckingham Palace, when the Queen proposed to honour the recipients of the Victoria Cross by presenting the decoration with Her Majesty's own hands.
Back in India Being anxious that my wife should be spared the great heat of a journey to India in July, the hottest month of the year in the Red Sea, and the doctors being very decided in their opinion that I should not return so soon, I had applied for a three months' extension of leave, and quite calculated on getting it, so our disappointment was great when the answer arrived and I found that, if I took the extension, I should lose my appointment in the Quartermaster-General's Department. This, we agreed, was not to be thought of, so there was nothing[Page 253] for it but to face the disagreeable necessity as cheerfully as we could. We made a dash over to Ireland, said good-bye to our relations, and started for India on the 27th June.
The heat in the Red Sea proved even worse than I had anticipated. Our captain pronounced it the hottest trip he had ever made. Twice was the ship turned round to steam against the wind for a short time in order to revive some of the passengers, who were almost suffocated.
We passed the wreck of the Alma, a P. and O. vessel which had struck on a coral reef not far from Mocha. The wreck had happened in the dead of night, and there had been only time to get the passengers into the boats, in which they were rowed to another reef near at hand; there they had remained for eighty hours in their scanty night garments, and without the smallest shelter, until rescued by a friendly steamer. The officers and crew were still on the rock when we passed, endeavouring to get up the mails and the passengers' property. We supplied them with provisions and water, of which they were badly in need, and then had to leave them in their extremely uncomfortable position.
We could not complain of lack of air after we passed Aden, for we forthwith encountered the south-west monsoon, then at its height, and on entering the Bay of Bengal we experienced something very nearly akin to a cyclone. We broke our rudder; the lightships, on which a certain number of pilots were always to be found, had all been blown out to sea; and as we had only just sufficient coal to take us up the Hugli when the pilot should appear, we did not dare to keep up steam. Thus we had to remain at the mercy of the winds and waves for some days, until at length a brig with a pilot on board was sent to look for us, and eventually we arrived in Calcutta, in rather a dilapidated condition, on the 30th July.
We were not cheered by the orders I found awaiting me, which were to proceed to Morar and join Brigadier-General Sir Robert Napier, then in command of the Gwalior district. Morar in the month of August is one of the hottest places in India, and my wife was considerably the worse for our experiences at sea. However, a Calcutta hotel never has many attractions, and at that time of year was depressing and uncomfortable to the last degree; in addition, I had rather a severe attack of my old enemy, Peshawar fever, so we started on our journey 'up country' with as little delay as possible.
The railway at that time was not open further than Raniganj; thence we proceeded for a hundred miles in a 'dâk-ghari,' when, changing into doolies, we continued our journey to Hazaribagh, a little cantonment about twenty miles off the main road, where some relations of mine were living; but a day or two after our arrival at their hospitable house, I was ordered back to Calcutta.
I left my wife with our kind friends, and retraced my steps in considerable elation of spirits, for the China expedition was even then[Page 254] being talked about, and I hoped this sudden summons might possibly mean that I was to be sent with it in some capacity. On reaching Calcutta, however, I was told that I had been appointed to organize and take charge of the large camp to be formed for the triumphal progress which Lord Canning proposed to make through Oudh, the North-West Provinces, and the Punjab, with the view of meeting the principal feudatory Chiefs, and rewarding those who had been especially loyal during the rebellion. I was informed that the tents were in store in the arsenal at Allahabad, and that the camp must be ready at Cawnpore on the 15th October, on which date the Viceroy would arrive, and a day or two later commence his stately procession towards Lucknow.
While I was in England a Royal Proclamation had announced to the people of India that the Queen had taken over the government of their country, which had hitherto been held in trust for Her Majesty by the Honourable East India Company. This fact had been publicly proclaimed, with befitting ceremony, throughout the length and breadth of the land, on the 1st November, 1858. At the same time it was announced that Her Majesty's representative in India was henceforth to be styled Viceroy and Governor-General of India, and it was with the object of emphasizing this Proclamation, and impressing the Native mind with the reality of Queen Victoria's power and authority, that Lord Canning decided on undertaking this grand tour.
While in Calcutta on this occasion, I was offered a post in the Revenue Survey Department. I refused it, for, although as a married man the higher pay was a tempting bait, the recollection of the excitement and variety of the year of the Mutiny was still fresh upon me, and I had no wish to leave the Quartermaster-General's Department. I therefore started for Allahabad, picking up my wife en route.
It was then the middle of the rains, and the bridge of boats over the Jumna had been taken down, so we had to cross in ferry-boats—dâk-gharis, horses, and all—rather a perilous-looking proceeding, for the river was running at a tremendous pace, and there was some difficulty in keeping the boat's head straight. At Allahabad we stayed with a brother officer of mine in the fort, while I was getting the camp equipage out of store, and the tents pitched for inspection. There had not been a large camp for many years, and everything in India deteriorates so rapidly, that I found most of the tents in such a state of mildew and decay as to render it necessary to renew them almost entirely before they could be used for such a splendid occasion as that of the first Viceroy's first march through the re-conquered country.
Allahabad and Cawnpore From Allahabad we proceeded to Cawnpore, where I had a busy time arranging for the multifarious requirements of such an enormous camp; and sometimes I despaired of its being completed by the appointed date. However, completed it was; and on the 15th October Lord and Lady Canning arrived, and expressed themselves so pleased with all the[Page 255] arrangements, and were so kindly appreciative of the exertions I had made to be ready for them by the appointed time, that I felt myself fully rewarded for all my trouble.
The next day I took my wife to call upon Lady Canning, whose unaffected and simple, yet perfectly dignified manner completely charmed her, and from that day she was devoted, in common with everyone who was at all intimately associated with Lady Canning, to the gentle, gracious lady, who was always kindness itself to her.
On the 18th the Viceroy made his first march towards Lucknow. The camp equipage was in duplicate, so that everyone on arriving at the new halting-place found things exactly the same as in the tents they had left.
The Viceroy's Camp The camp occupied a considerable space; for, in addition to the Viceroy's large entourage, ground had to be provided for the Commander-in-Chief and the officers of Army Head-Quarters, who were marching with us; then there were the post-office, telegraph, workshops, toshikhana,1 commissariat, and a host of other offices to be accommodated, beside the escort, which consisted of a battery of Horse Artillery, a squadron of British Cavalry, a regiment of British Infantry, a regiment of Native Cavalry, a regiment of Native Infantry, and the Viceroy's Bodyguard. For the Viceroy, his staff, guests, and secretaries alone, 150 large tents were pitched in the main street, and when we came to a station the duplicate tents were also pitched. For the transport of this portion of the camp equipage 80 elephants and 500 camels were required.2
It is very difficult to give any idea of the extraordinary spectacle a big camp like this presents on the line of march. The followers, as a rule, are accompanied by their wives and families, who are piled upon the summits of laden carts, or perched on the loads borne by the baggage animals. In the two camps marching together (Lord Canning's and Lord Clyde's) there could not have been less than 20,000 men, women, and children—a motley crowd streaming along about four-and-twenty miles of road, for the day's march was usually about twelve miles, and before every one had cleared out of the camp occupied the night before, the advance guard had begun to arrive on the ground to be occupied the next day. The strictest discipline had to be maintained,[Page 256] or this moving colony would have been a serious calamity to the peasantry, for the followers would have spread themselves over the country like a flight of locusts, and taken anything they could lay their hands on, representing themselves as Mulk-i-Lord-Sahib-Ke-Naukar,3 whom according to immemorial tradition it was death to resist. The poor, frightened country-people, therefore, hardly ventured to remonstrate at the mahouts walking off with great loads of their sugar-cane, or to object to the compulsory purchase of their farm produce for half its value. There was a great deal of this kind of raiding at the commencement of the march, and I was constantly having complaints made to me by the villagers; but after I had inflicted on the offenders a few summary and tolerably severe punishments, and made the peasants to understand it was not the Mulk-i-Lord-Sahib's wish that they should submit to such treatment from his servants, order was established, and I had very rarely any trouble.
Our first halt was at Lucknow. Sir Hope Grant was commanding the division, and had established himself very comfortably in the Dilkusha. He had written asking me to bring my wife straight there and stay with him during the Viceroy's visit, as it was still very hot in tents during the day. An invitation which I gladly accepted, for it was pleasant to think of being with my old General again, and I wanted to introduce him to my wife.
The next day, the 22nd October, the state entry was made into Lucknow. It must have been an imposing sight, that long array of troops and guns, with Lord Canning in the centre, accompanied by the Commander-in-Chief, and surrounded by their respective staffs in full uniform. Lord Canning, though at that time not given to riding, looked remarkably well on horseback; for he had a fine head and shoulders, and sat his horse well; on foot, his height, not being quite in proportion, rather detracted from the dignity of his presence.
State Entry into Lucknow I headed the procession, leading it across the Charbagh bridge, the scene of Havelock's fiercest encounter, past the Machi Bhawan, and the Residency, to the Kaisarbagh, in front of which were drawn up in a body the Talukdars of Oudh, who had with difficulty been persuaded to come and make their obeisance, for, guiltily conscious of their disloyalty during the rebellion, they did not feel at all sure that the rumours that it was intended to blow them all away from guns, or to otherwise summarily dispose of them, were not true. They salaamed respectfully as the Viceroy passed, and the cavalcade proceeded to the Martinière park, where the camp, which I had pitched the previous day, lay spread before us, in all the spotless purity of new white tents glistening in a flood of brilliant sunshine. The streets through which we passed were crowded with Natives, who—cowed, but not tamed—looked[Page 257] on in sullen defiance, very few showing any sign of respect for the Viceroy.
Sir William and Lady Mansfield, and several other people from our camp were also staying with Sir Hope Grant, and that evening the whole Dilkusha party went to a state dinner given by Lord and Lady Canning. The latter was a delightful hostess; the shyest person was set at ease by her kindly, sympathetic manner, and she had the happy knack of making her guests feel that her entertainments were a pleasure to herself—the surest way of rendering them enjoyable to those she entertained.
I made use of the next week, which was for me a comparatively idle time, to take my wife over the ground by which we had advanced two years before, and explain to her the different positions held by the enemy. She was intensely interested in visiting the Sikandarbagh, the Shah Najaf, the mess-house, and, above all, that glorious memorial of almost superhuman courage and endurance, the Residency, ruined, roofless, and riddled by round shot and bullets. Very little had then been done towards opening out the city, and the surroundings of the Residency were much as they had been during the defence—a labyrinth of streets and lanes; it was therefore easier for the stranger to realize exactly what had taken place than it is now that the landmarks have been cleared away, and well-laid-out gardens and broad roads have taken the place of jungle and narrow alleys.
On the 26th the Viceroy held a grand durbar for the reception of the Talukdars. It was the first function of the sort I had witnessed, and was an amusing novelty to my wife, who, with Lady Canning and some of the other ladies in camp, viewed the proceedings from behind a semi-transparent screen, it not being considered at that time the thing for ladies to appear at ceremonials when Natives were present. The whole scene was very impressive, though not as brilliant in colouring as it would have been in any other part of India, owing to the Chiefs of Oudh being clad in simple white, as is the custom amongst Rajputs.
The Talukdars of Oudh The Talukdars, to the number of one hundred and sixty, were ushered to their places in strict order of seniority, the highest in rank being the last to arrive. They were arranged in a half semicircle on the right of the Viceroy's chair of state, while on the left the Europeans were seated according to their official rank. When all was ready, the words 'Attention! Royal salute! Present arms!' were heard without, warning those within of the Viceroy's approach, and, as the bugles sounded and the guns thundered forth their welcome, Lord Canning, accompanied by the Commander-in-Chief, and preceded by their staffs, entered the tent.
Everyone rose, and remained standing until the great man took his seat, when the Foreign Secretary came forward, and, making a low [Page 258] bow, informed His Excellency that all who had been summoned to attend the durbar were present. The Chiefs were then brought up and introduced to the Viceroy one by one; each made a profound obeisance, and, as a token of allegiance, presented an offering of gold mohurs, which, according to etiquette, the Viceroy just touched by way of acknowledgment. The presents from the Government to the Chiefs were then handed in on trays, and placed on the ground in front of each, the value of the present being regulated according to the rank and position of the recipient. This part of the ceremony being over, the Viceroy rose and addressed the Talukdars.
After expressing his pleasure at meeting them in their own country, he gave them an assurance that, so long as they remained faithful to the Government, they should receive every consideration; he told them that a new era had commenced in Oudh, and that henceforth they would be allowed to revert to the conditions under which they had held their estates prior to the annexation of the province. When Lord Canning had finished speaking, a translation of his address in Urdu was read to the Talukdars by Mr. Beadon, the Foreign Secretary; atar and pan4 were then handed round, and the Viceroy took his departure with the same formalities as those with which the durbar had been opened.
There is some excuse to be made for the attitude of the Talukdars, who, from their point of view, had little reason to be grateful to the British Government. These powerful Chiefs, whose individual revenues varied from £10,000 to £15,000 a year, and who, in their jungle fastnesses, often defied their sovereign's troops, had suddenly been deprived of all the authority which in the confusion attending a long period of misgovernment they had gradually usurped, as well as of a considerable proportion of the landed property which, from time to time, they had forcibly appropriated. The conversion of feudal Chiefs into ordinary law-abiding subjects is a process which, however beneficial to the many, is certain to be strenuously resisted by the few.
In March, 1858, when Lucknow was captured, a Proclamation was issued by the Government of India confiscating the proprietary rights in the soil. The object in view was not merely to punish contumacious Chiefs, but also to enable the Government to establish the revenue system on a sounder and firmer footing. Talukdars who submitted were to receive their possessions as a free gift direct from the Government; while those who had done good service, whether men of Oudh or strangers, might be rewarded by grants of confiscated property.
Loyalty of the Talukdars The Proclamation was considered in many influential quarters too arbitrary and sweeping a measure; Outram protested against it, and[Page 259] Lord Ellenborough (the President of the Board of Control) condemned it; but Lord Canning was backed up by the British public, and Lord Ellenborough resigned to save his Cabinet from being wrecked. That Outram and Ellenborough took the right view of the case is, I think, shown by the fact that Lord Canning cancelled the Proclamation on his first visit to Lucknow. By that time he had come to recognize that the Talukdars had reasonable grounds for their discontent, and he wisely determined to take a step which not only afforded them the greatest relief and satisfaction, but enlisted their interest on the side of Government. From that day to this, although, from time to time, subsequent legislation has been found necessary to save the peasantry from oppression, the Chiefs of Oudh have been amongst the most loyal of Her Majesty's Indian subjects.
We remained a few days longer at Lucknow. Lord and Lady Canning entertained all the residents, while a ball was given by the latter in the Chatta Manzil to the strangers in camp, and the city and principal buildings were illuminated in the Viceroy's honour with those curious little oil-lamps which are the most beautiful form of illumination, the delineation of every line, point, and pinnacle with myriads of minute lights producing a wonderfully pretty effect.
On the 29th the first march was made on the return journey to Cawnpore. My duty was to go on ahead, select the best site for the next day's camping-ground, and make all necessary arrangements for supplies, etc. I waited till the Viceroy had given his orders, and then my wife and I started off, usually in the forenoon; sometimes we remained till later in the day, lunching with one or other of our friends in camp, and on very rare occasions, such as a dinner-party at the Viceroy's or the Commander-in-Chief's, we drove on after dinner by moonlight. But that was not until we had been on the march for some time and I felt that the head Native in charge of the camp was to be trusted to make no mistake. It was a life of much interest and variety, and my wife enjoyed the novelty of it all greatly.
Lord Canning held his second durbar at Cawnpore on the 3rd November, when he received the principal Chiefs of Bundelkand, the Maharaja of Rewa, the Maharaja of Benares, and a host of lesser dignitaries.
It was on this occasion that, in accordance with the Proclamation which had already announced that the Queen had no desire to extend her territorial possessions, and that the estates of Native Princes were to be scrupulously respected, the Chiefs were informed that the right of adoption was conceded to them. This meant that, in default of male issue, they were to be allowed to adopt sons according to the Indian custom of adoption, and that the British Government would recognize the right of the chosen heir to succeed as Ruler of the State as well as to inherit the personal property of the Chief by whom he had been adopted. There had been no clear rule on this point previously,[Page 260] each case having been considered on its own merits, but the doctrine that adoption should not be recognized, and that, in default of natural heirs, the State should lapse and be annexed by the supreme Government, had been enforced in a good many instances. Lord Canning's announcement therefore caused the liveliest satisfaction to certain classes throughout India, and did more than any other measure to make the feudatory Princes believe in the sincerity of the amnesty Proclamation.5
Cawnpore and Fatehgarh Our next move was to Fatehgarh, eight marches from Cawnpore, where, on the 15th November, a third durbar was held, at which was received, amongst other leading men of Rohilkand whose services were considered worthy of acknowledgment, the Nawab of Rampur, who had behaved with distinguished loyalty in our time of trouble. This Mahomedan Nobleman's conduct was the more meritorious in that the surrounding country swarmed with rebels, and was the home of numbers of the mutinous Irregular Cavalry, while the close proximity of Rampur to Delhi, whence threats of vengeance were hurled at the Nawab unless he espoused the King's cause, rendered his position extremely precarious.
From Fatehgarh we proceeded to Agra, nine marches, only halting on Sundays, and consequently everyone appreciated being stationary there for a few days. The camp was pitched on the parade-ground, the scene of the fight of the 10th October, 1857. Here the Viceroy received some of the bigger potentates, who were accompanied by large[Page 261] retinues, and, as far as the spectacle went, it was one of the grandest and most curious gatherings we had yet witnessed.
The Agra Durbar The occasions are rare on which a Viceroy has the opportunity of receiving in durbar the great vassals of our Indian Empire, but when these assemblies can be arranged they have a very useful effect, and should not be looked upon as mere empty ceremonials. This was especially the case at a time when the country had so recently been convulsed by intestine war, and when the Native Princes were anxiously considering how their prospects would be affected by Her Majesty's assumption of the administration of India.
The Chief of highest rank on this occasion was the Maharaja of Gwalior, who, as I have already stated, influenced by his courageous Minister, Dinkar Rao, had remained faithful to us. Like most Mahratta Princes of that time, he was very imperfectly educated. Moreover, he was possessed of a most wayward disposition, frequently threatening, when thwarted in any way, to throw up the reins of government, and take refuge in the jungle; manners he had none.
Next came the enlightened head of the Princely house of Jaipur, the second in importance of the great Chiefs of Rajputana.
He was succeeded by the Karaoli Raja, whose following was the most quaint of all. Amongst the curious signs of his dignity he had on his escort four tigers, each chained on a separate car, and guarded by strange-looking men in brass helmets.
The Maharao Raja of Ulwar was the next to arrive, seated on a superb elephant, eleven feet high, magnificently caparisoned with cloth-of-gold coverings, and chains and breastplates of gold. He was a promising-looking lad who had succeeded to his estate only two years before; but he soon fell into the hands of low intriguers, who plundered his dominions and so oppressed his people that the British Government had to take over the management of his State.
After Ulwar came the Nawab of Tonk, the descendant of an adventurer from Swat, on the Peshawar border, who had become possessed of considerable territory in Rajputana. The Nawab stood by us in the Mutiny, when his capital was plundered by Tantia Topi.
The sixth in rank was the Jât Ruler of Dholpur, a bluff, coarse-looking man, and a very rude specimen of his race.
Last of all arrived the Nawab of Jaora, a handsome, perfectly-dressed man of considerable refinement of manner, and with all the courtesy of a well-bred Mahomedan. Though a feudatory of the rebellious Holkar of Indore, he kept aloof from all Mahratta intrigues, and behaved well to us.
Some of the highest of the Rajput Chiefs declined to attend, alleging as an excuse the distance of their capitals from Agra; but the truth is that these Rulers, the best blood of India, had never bowed their heads to any Power, not even that of the Moghul, and they considered[Page 262] it would be derogatory to their dignity to obey the summons of the representative of a sovereign, of whom they considered themselves the allies and not the mere feudatories.6
Those of the Chieftains attending this durbar who had shown conspicuous loyalty during the rebellion were not allowed to leave without receiving substantial rewards. Sindhia had territory bestowed on him to the value of £30,000 a year. Jaipur was given the confiscated property of Kôt Kāsim, yielding £5,000 a year, while others were recompensed according to the importance of the services rendered.
FOOTNOTES, CHAPTER XXXII
[Footnote 1: The depository for jewels and other valuables kept for presentation to Native Chiefs at durbars.]
[Footnote 2: The following details will give some idea of the magnitude of the arrangements required for the Viceroy's camp alone. Besides those above mentioned there were 500 camels, 500 bullocks and 100 bullock carts for transport of camp equipage, 40 sowari (riding) elephants, 527 coolies to carry the glass windows belonging to the larger tents, 100 bhisties, and 40 sweepers for watering and keeping the centre street clean. These were in addition to the private baggage animals, servants, and numberless riding and driving horses, for all of which space and shelter had to be provided.]
[Footnote 3: Servants of the Lord of the Country, or Governor-General.]
[Footnote 4: A few drops of attar of roses are given to each person, and a small packet of pan, which is composed of slices of betel-nut smeared with lime and wrapped in a leaf of the betel-tree.]
[Footnote 5: The question of Native Rulers having the right to adopt heirs was first brought to Lord Canning's notice by the three Phulkian chiefs—Patiala, Jhind and Nabha—who jointly requested in 1858 that the right of adoption might be accorded to them as a reward for the services they had rendered during the Mutiny. The request was refused at the time on the ground that it had never been the custom of the country, though it had occasionally been done. Since then, however, Lord Canning had come to see that the uncertainty which prevailed as to the rights of succession was harassing to the owners of land, and undesirable in many ways, and he urged upon the Secretary of State that some distinct rule on the subject might with advantage be laid down. He wrote as follows: 'The crown of England stands forth the unquestioned Ruler and paramount Power in all India, and is now for the first time brought face to face with its feudatories. There is a reality in the suzerainty of the Sovereign of England which has never existed before, which is not only felt, but eagerly acknowledged by the Chiefs. A great convulsion has been followed by such a manifestation of our strength as India has never seen; and if this in its turn be followed by an act of general and substantial grace, over and above the special rewards which have already been given to those whose services deserve them, the measure will be seasonable and appreciated.' Lord Canning's proposals met with the cordial approval of Her Majesty's Government, and his announcement at Cawnpore rejoiced the hearts of the Chiefs, one of whom, the Maharaja of Rewa, was a leper and had no son. He said, on hearing the Viceroy's words, 'They dispel an evil wind which has long been blowing upon me.']
[Footnote 6: These Rajput Chiefs, however, accepted Lord Lytton's invitation to attend the Imperial Assemblage at Delhi on the 1st January, 1877, and having once given their allegiance to the 'Empress of India,' they have since been the most devotedly loyal of Her Majesty's feudatory Princes.]