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Letter III

Camp near Tatta, four miles from the Indus,
January 1st, 1839.

My DEAR FATHER,--I write to wish you a happy new year on this the first day of 1839, which, if it turns out as its opening prognosticates, is likely to be a very eventful one for me, if I do not get knocked on the head or otherwise disposed of. I wrote to you from the ship Syden, about the 28th of November, and to Kate from our last station at Bominacote, on the right bank of the Hujamree, about the 12th of last month, both which letters will, I expect, leave Bombay to-day by the overland mail for England; but as another mail will leave on the 19th, and I thought you would be anxious to learn as much of our movements &c. as possible, I dare say the present letter will not be amiss.

We remained at our old encampment, Bominacote, until the 26th of last month, and I picked up my health very fast there, and was able to enjoy myself shooting a great deal, particularly the black partridge, which is an uncommonly handsome bird, and much bigger than the English. The 2nd brigade of infantry, consisting of H.M. 17th regiment, the 19th and 23rd regiments Native Infantry, under the command of General Gordon, a Company's officer, together with the 4th Light Dragoons, a regiment of Native Cavalry, and one troop of horse artillery, left the aforesaid place on the 24th, with Sir John Keane and his escort; and the first brigade, consisting of ourselves, the 1st Grenadiers, and 5th regiment Native Infantry, under the command of our chief, General Willshire, left on the 26th. I was on out-lying picket the night before, (Christmas night,) and a very curious way it was of passing it. The first part of the night, till twelve o'clock, was exceedingly fine and beautiful, and, as I lay on the cold ground, my thoughts travelled towards poor old Devonshire, and I could not help fancying in what a much more comfortable way you must be spending it at home, all snug, &c. at Brookhill. After twelve, the strong northerly wind, which blows with great force at intervals this time of the year in this country, sprung up, and it soon got intensely cold. Towards two I forgot myself for about half an hour, and nodded on my post, and on awakening I was taken with what I am sure must have been a slight attack of cholera. I was stone cold, particularly my arms, hands, legs, and feet, and suffered excruciating pains in my stomach, till nature relieved me, which she was kind enough to do uncommonly frequent. I had luckily some brandy with me, of which I drank, I should think, half a bottle down without tasting it; but it did me a great deal of good at the time, although I have not been well since, and am still very far from being so. Our camels, of which I had two, were furnished us by the commissariat, and we ought to have had them at four o'clock on the day before; but, like everything else, we did not get them till four o'clock the morning we marched, about an hour before we turned out. I had to trust entirely to Providence with regard to mine, as to whether I should get them or not, as I was on outlying picket, and could not attend to them, and I had just two minutes, after coming from picket in the morning, to get a mouthful of villanous coffee, when I was obliged to fall in with my company, which formed the advanced guard of the brigade, and march off in double quick time, leaving all to chance. My poor stomach wanted something most awfully to stop its proceedings, but it was totally out of the question, as General Willshire hurried us off at a slapping pace; luckily, the march was only eight miles, so it did not fatigue me much: I marched on foot the whole of it, as I could not get my pony in the hurry of starting. We got nothing to eat till two o'clock, when part of our mess things arrived, and we pitched into whatever we could get. This march; though, was by far the most pleasant, as we had a good firm tract of country to pass over, and no sand. The "rouse" sounded at five, and we marched again at half-past six. This night I was on in-lying picket, and was obliged to pass it in harness, and ready to turn out at a moment's notice, although awfully tired. We had a very unpleasant march, as the north winds got up soon after we started, and blew the dust and sand right into our eyes; we had, however, being on the advance guard, comparatively easy work, as there were only two sections with each officer: the poor column suffered severely. This day, however, was paradise compared to the next, which was eighteen miles, through an uninhabited sandy desert, with a few tamarisk shrubs and no water, except a few stagnant pools, which was the cause of the march being so long, there being no place for encampment. General Willshire, however, made the best of a bad matter, and sent on the night before to a place about half way, and the least unchristian-like spot he could find, half the men's rations for the next day, together with the bheesties (or water carriers) and the men's grog, &c., with orders for the cooks to have these rations cooked and ready for the men as soon as they marched in; so that on arriving at the ground we piled arms and formed a curious sort of pic-nic in the middle of the desert. We halted here about an hour, and lucky it was that the men got the means of recruiting their strength in this manner, as the latter part of the march was a terrible teaser. We marched off from this place about twelve. Although we had found the morning pleasant enough, with a fine bracing breeze, yet in the afternoon, about half an hour after starting, the wind went down, and the sun shone out terribly; the sand in some parts was half knee deep, and although there was no breeze to blow it in our faces, yet it rose from the trampling of so many feet in successive dense columns, and completely enveloped the whole brigade, almost blinding the men, so that they could hardly see the man before them, and getting into their noses and mouths so as nearly to suffocate them; however, they bore it manfully, and marched straight through it like Britons. Our encampment that night was at a place called Golam Shah, on the Buggaur, one of the branch streams of the Indus. We found that the second brigade had only left it the same morning, having been obliged to halt there the preceding day; and General Willshire found a letter from Sir John Keane, advising a halt there for the following day, which we accordingly did, and a precious comfortable day we had. I got off my pony at the close of this day's march with a dreadful headache, and had to wait for an hour till Halket's tent and kit, with whom I am doubling up, arrived. His servants brought me the delightful intelligence that my camel man had bolted with his camels at our last encampment, and that my things were all left there on the ground, with my servant, and that it was quite uncertain when they would be up; in fact, it seemed exceedingly doubtful whether they would arrive at all. However, they did come in at last, but very late, on three ponies, two bullocks, and one donkey, which were the only things my boy could get, and for which I had to pay considerably. I turned in as soon as I could; and the next day, which was a most wretched one, I was very unwell. This place, Golam Shah, must, I think, be one of the most wretched places in the whole world, situated as it is in the heart of a desert, with only one recommendation,--viz., the river Buggaur, the water of which is excessively sweet and wholesome. The day we passed at it was the coldest I remember since leaving England. A strong northerly wind blew the whole day, and the clouds of dust and sand that rose in consequence were so thick as perfectly to obscure the sun, and all we could do we could not keep ourselves warm. Here we had the misfortune also to lose the only man that has as yet fallen on the march, an old soldier. He was taken with cholera at eight in the morning and died at twelve at night: he was buried about six hours afterwards, just as the regiment marched. The hospital men had no time to stretch him, and he was laid in the earth in the same posture in which he died, with his arms stuck a kimbo, pressing upon his stomach, which shews that he must have suffered intense agony. Poor fellow! they had not time to dig his grave very deep, and I am afraid the jackals will be the only benefiters by his death. We left this place the next morning, the 30th, and arrived here (Tatta) about eleven o'clock, a twelve-mile march. A great number of the 2nd brigade rode out to meet us, and the 4th Light Dragoons very kindly asked us to breakfast immediately on our arrival. You may be sure they had not to ask us twice!

Tatta is a very ancient town, said to have been built by either Alexander, on his march down the Indus, or by one of his generals; the ancient name was Patala. At that time the country was in possession of Hindoos, or, at least, of the followers of Brahma, who were most probably the original possessors of the greater portion of the east. Afterwards, on the rise of Mahomet, it was soon in possession of his followers, who seem to have held it for a long period, as they have left magnificent proofs of their grandeur, both in the city and all round the neighbourhood, which is studded with splendid cupolas, domes, temples, and tombs; there is one in particular in the town itself an old tomb, now used as a caravanserai, which is excessively handsome. When I talk of a tomb being turned into a caravanserai, you will of course understand that a tomb in this part of the world is very different from one in the western part of the globe. This tomb itself would cover as much ground as Exeter Cathedral. The inside of the domes are very beautifully enamelled in the chastest colours, and with most excellent taste, and would put to shame the most handsome drawing-room in London, I should think. I have never repented not being able to draw so much as I have since I have been in the East, but particularly since I have been at this place, where there is so much that would look well in a sketch; but I would not give twopence to be able to draw and not draw well, particularly when I see the daubs that some men, who fancy they are hands at it, produce, after fagging at the simplest thing possible, and I believe that if nature does not give you a turn for it, all the trying possible would never make a painter, and that what the old Roman proverb said of the poet, "Non fit sed nascitur poeta," is equally applicable to the painter. I tried it for a short time, at Hanover, but my master told me I was the most awkward and stupid pupil he ever had, and advised me to cut the concern, and I followed his advice; nor am I sorry that I did so, as I should never have been able to draw well, and should have only been discontented, and given it up in disgust. We have, however, two officers in our regiment who both draw and sketch exceedingly well; and I will try to get duplicates from them if possible, so that, if God spares my life, and I ever return home, I shall be able to shew you some specimens of the country we have passed through.

Jan. 2nd.--Well, we are to have no fighting, at least at present, it appears. This will be cheering news for Kitty, I expect. We were most egregiously disappointed in the town or city of Tatta itself. We saw it at a great distance on our march, and on arriving on our encamping ground, it looked excessively well, and gave us the idea of a very handsome place. We saw what we imagined to be high houses, built of stone, towers and pillars; but lo! when we rode in to examine it, these splendid buildings turned out to be a most miserable collection of white mud houses, which had the appearance of stone at a distance. Some of them were tolerably high, certainly; but the most wretched-looking things possible. This is the case with most towns in the east. Like Dartmouth, they all look best à la distance.

I am sorry to say that we have a great many men in the hospital now, and four officers on the sick list; two of them very unwell. All the cases are bowel complaints, and most of them dysentery. This is the case generally. While on the march, soldiers seldom feel it; but when the halt afterwards comes, then they get touched up awfully. However, it is not to be wondered at, when one considers the quantity of duty which they have to perform at present. Out-lying and in-lying pickets, and guards, &c.; add to which, the being suddenly transported from the climate of India, to which most of them have become inured by a residence, on the average, of twelve years, to this comparatively cold and changeful climate, is enough of itself to shake them a little. They have also done what no Indian troops have done before: in marching in India, almost everything is carried for the soldier; he merely carries what he does on parade--viz., his firelock and accoutrements. Our regiment though, by-the-bye, has always carried a blanket, with a clean shirt and stockings and flannel waistcoat wrapped up in it, that they may be enabled to change as soon as they have marched in. On this march, each man has carried his knapsack, with his kit in it, twenty rounds of ammunition, a havresack with his day's rations, and a small round keg containing water, the weight of all which is no joke. While at Bominacote, we fully expected to have a little fighting after passing Tatta, and on our arrival here we heard a report which induced us to believe that we should have a brush with the Ameers very shortly; but it appears now that the Ameers have seen the folly of such proceedings, and have determined to receive us amicably, and to assist our passage through their country, and that it was only one of the Ameers that was inclined to be restive. He endeavoured to stop our camels, &c., and managed to do so for some time, and collected as much of what they call an army as he could--about 5000 of these Beloochees, but with no guns, or anything of that sort. However, on collecting them, they represented to him that the British troops were behaving so well, and the inhabitants of the country were getting so much more money for their articles of sale than they ever got before, that they considered it was more for their profit and advantage that the English should march through their country than that they should oppose them, and get licked into the bargain, as they were sure they would be. All eastern nations have an awful dread of European artillery. It also happened that the poor Ameer had unfortunately not the wherewithal to carry on the war, and his army made excessively high demands on him, you may be sure. The consequence of all which was, that the army dissolved itself as quietly as possible, and the poor Ameer found himself solus. The result is, that a deputation is now here, with a small force from the head Ameer, at Hydrabad, under the command of Nûr Mahomed, another Ameer, and that he has made most ample apologies for the conduct of his brother Ameer, and offered not only to let us pass through his country, but to assist us in so doing to the utmost of his power. It was indeed well for the Ameers that they came to this decision, as had they acted contrary we should have taken possession of their country to a moral certainty. Now they have a chance of keeping half the loaf.

We have here certainly the flower of the Bombay army, and a very respectable force in every respect: two of the best European regiments, four of the best native, the 4th dragoons, two regiments of light cavalry, two troops of horse artillery in prime order, and a battalion of foot artillery, together with a splendid band of auxiliary horse from Cutch, the finest looking fellows I ever saw: they arrived here on the same day as ourselves. I was standing on one of the hills as they wound their way round it; I was never struck with anything so much, nor have I ever seen anything so orientally military before. They are dressed in green garments, edged with gold, and red turbans, tied under the chin, like the old Mahratta soldiers; their arms are match-lock, lance, scimitar, and pistols, and they appear to be excellent and practical riders. They are quite an independent corps, each man finding his own horse, arms, accoutrements, &c., and they take good care to be excellently mounted. They have a few European officers attached to them from the Bombay establishment. Their dress is also uncommonly handsome; a green hussar dress, with gold braiding. In addition to all this force, we have a subsidiary one nearly as large, coming on directly to follow our steps, and occupy Sinde, while we march on with the Bengalees for Cabool. This force, they say, is to consist of H.M. 40th regiment from Deesa, the 10th, 16th, 22nd, and 24th regiments, 23rd N.I., together with H.M. 90th and 61st regiments, and Ceylon Rifle Corps (Malays) from Ceylon, so that I expect the government at home will have to send more regiments to India as quickly as possible. Sir J. Keane is very likely to have the command of the whole force, both Bombay and Bengal, as they say Sir H. Fane is gone back to Bengal with half the Bengal force, in consequence of the Burmese declaring war; which, as might have been expected, they did directly when so many regiments were marched from their neighbourhood. This report is, however, contradicted, and they say now that Sir H. Fane is going home, and will meet us at Shikarpoor or Hydrabad, give up the command to Sir J. Keane, and go down the Indus, and thence to England overland. Which is the true version I know not; but I am afraid that I have little chance of meeting Colonel Fane, and giving him Arthur's letter, which I expected to do when I wrote last. I am delighted at the prospect of our going to Cabool: there we may have some fighting, and have a chance of being permanently quartered till we return to Europe, whenever that may be.

What the original cause of all this was, as I told you before, I hardly know; and you are more likely to get at the true version from some of the Indian newspapers, or from any friends you may have connected with this part of the world, than from me. But, as far as I can learn, this appears to be it: Shah Shooja is the rightful heir to the throne of Cabool, and Dost Mahomed is what Mr. C. Dickens calls the "wrongful one," alias the usurper. Dost Mahomed had possession of the country, and the Indian government, from what motives I know not, determined to unseat him and replace Shah Shooja. In this matter they are assisted by old Runjet Sing, King of Lahore, or, as his oriental title goes, "the blind lion of the Punjab." The Persians, on the contrary, took part with Dost Mahomed, insulted our resident at their court, and besieged Shah Shooja's party in Herat; from which, however, after a siege of long duration, they were finally obliged to retire. There was a report at first that Russia was concerned in this affair, and that Russian troops were present with the Persians at the siege, but these turned out to be a regiment or two of Russian renegadoes whom the King of Persia has in his pay. There was another report of a letter having been discovered from the government of Russia to the King of Persia, which induced the belief that the Emperor of Russia was playing a deep game, the object of which was to lessen our influence in the East; and many people, I believe, are very much of this opinion. How far all this may be true I know not; but I have been told by old Indians that for a long time the Indian government have been anxious to have a strong footing in Sinde, and to command the navigation of the Indus; and that now they have the opportunity they are not likely to let it slip. The Afghans are a very hardy race of men, and we may have some sharp work with them; but I think a gun or two of our horse artillery would have sent the Beloochees scampering. They are miserably equipped; but being nearly all robbers, they might have annoyed us by a night attack, which would have been anything but pleasant, particularly for the poor sub. on out-lying picket. Some Bombay native merchants are at present at Tatta; they have been here for ten years, and have been afraid to stir for fear of being robbed. I have no doubt but that the inhabitants of the country would prefer our government considerably to that of the Ameers, as they are exceedingly tyrannical, and grind their subjects to the last degree, demanding half of everything that is offered for sale. When Burnes travelled first in this country, some few years ago, and was received by the Ameer in divan, at Hydrabad, an old priest who was present is said to have reproved the Ameer for receiving Burnes so civilly, and to have told him "that since one Englishman had seen the Indus, it would not be long before they would be in possession of it;" and so it seems likely to turn out.

Well; as long as I keep my health I care little where we go or what we do; but marching in ill health is a great damper to the spirits. The stay-at-home soldiers in England little know what service in this climate really is. I should like to see ---- of the ---- on out-lying picket here; he would not find it quite so pleasant as Almack's. I have very little time to add more, as the post goes to Bombay to-day, but to wish you all at home a very happy new year, and love to all relations and friends, as you may not hear from me again for some time. I will endeavour to pick up as many curiosities and things of that description as possible for you, if I do not get knocked on the head. I keep a journal, and will write by every opportunity. Your next letter to me may find me in Cabool. Once more, good bye.

Ever your affectionate son,