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Letter IV

Camp, near Jarruk, on the banks of the Indus,
Twenty miles from Hydrabad,
January, 31st, 1839.

MY DEAR FATHER,--I had fully intended this letter for Kitty, but such a dreadful event happened in our regiment yesterday, that I was afraid, if she was at all unwell when she received the letter, connecting it, as she would, with me, it might throw her into some dreadful fever, or something of that sort. I have very little time to write, as the post leaves this, by steamer, at three o'clock to-day; and I have a great deal to do during the day. I think it my duty, however, to write, as the report of the circumstance might get into the papers without mentioning names, or giving wrong ones, and you might be needlessly alarmed.

To strike at once in medias res, this event is no less than the horrible death of three of our officers in a burning shikargur, or large thicket, enclosed by the Ameers for the preservation of game. The names of the poor, unfortunate fellows are Sparky (whom, by-the-bye, you might have seen at Chatham,) Nixon, and Hibbert. The two first, Lieut. Sparke, in the Grenadiers, and Nixon, in the Light Company. Hibbert was assistant-surgeon. They were three of the finest hearted fellows: Nixon, a long time one of my fellow subs in the Light Company. (I can hardly write, my hand shakes so.) Poor Hibbert was an exceedingly clever fellow, and a great traveller, and one of the most beautiful draughtsmen you could meet with any where. They are all three a terrible loss to our corps. I will tell you the mournful tale as it happened. We arrived here on the 25th. I breakfasted on Tuesday with them at mess, which was the last time I ever saw them alive: they were in exceedingly high spirits. The success of an enterprise the day before appears to have determined them to go upon another expedition on this day, which at first sight did not appear half so hazardous as it unfortunately proved to be; this was no less than going into a shikargur (of which I have explained the meaning above) about four or five miles in the rear of our camp, and which was supposed to be well stocked with game. It happened that this jungle had been set on fire about two days previously, most likely by some of our camel drivers, or other native followers: some said it was done by the Beloochees; but this I think very unlikely, as it is dead to leeward of our camp. Well, they did not appear in the evening, and we began to be rather alarmed on their account: however, we thought they would turn up by some chance or other. Next morning (yesterday), when the regiment fell in, an hour before daylight, which the whole camp does here every morning, as we are supposed to have a hostile force not very far from us, they were reported absent. Breakfast came; no tidings of them: ten; eleven o'clock; and they began to be the talk of the whole camp. However, we speculated that the worst that could have happened to them was being taken prisoners by a party of Beloochees, and kept as hostages, or something of that sort. At twelve, General Willshire became so alarmed and anxious about them that he sent out a troop of the 1st Light Cavalry to scour the jungles, and discover what they could of them; another officer sent out a party of six natives, with the promise of a reward of two hundred rupees if they could find any tidings of them. Well; the day went on; and at mess, at six o'clock, nothing had been heard relative to their fate, except that a little dog belonging to poor Nixon returned to camp about four o'clock. About eight o'clock I was in Dickinson's tent, smoking a cheroot, &c., previous to turning in, when one of our servants rushed in with the dreadful intelligence that the bodies had been found in the jungle by the Light Cavalry. It struck us at first so unexpectedly, and as being a thing so dreadful, that we would hardly believe it; however, all doubt was soon changed into horrible reality by the arrival of the bodies within our lines. I was determined not to see them; but there was a horrible fascination which drew one along with the rest to the hospital tent, where they were lying.

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Twelve o'clock.--Well; I am just returned from seeing the last honours paid to their remains; it is a melancholy business a military funeral; every officer in camp attended; and, after all, they have had the satisfaction of a Christian burial, which may not be our luck in a short time. I do not know why, but this sad event has made me an old woman almost! They lie side by side on a hill just in the rear of our camp; "no useless coffin enclosed their corse;" but there they lie together, wrapped in their cloaks. Peace to their manes! We intend erecting a monument to them, if possible. I learned that some of the staff had been to the jungle to investigate it thoroughly to-day, and from various circumstances, have come to the conclusion that they had climbed up some high trees, which surrounded the place where they fell, in order to shoot the game as they came out, and that before they had time to make their escape, a breeze came, which brought the smoke, and which most likely stifled, or at least rendered them senseless. Let us hope that this was the case, as I should think that so their death would not have been very painful: the position in which their bodies were lying when found seems to warrant this supposition. A porcupine was found close to their trees, burnt to a cinder. It blew very hard last night, and I passed an almost sleepless night in thinking of these poor fellows. It gives a man an awful shake in going through life, seeing the very fellows you have lived with for the last two years, in whose proceedings you have borne a part, brought suddenly before you in such a state: a man in these situations thinks more in two hours than he does in the whole course of his natural life under ordinary circumstances. It proves what helpless beings we are; how little we can control our own actions: truly, "in the midst of life we are in death."

I wrote to you on the new year's day everything that had happened up to that time; the letter was to have gone by the overland mail of the 19th. I hope you will receive it safe, as I should be sorry you should lose anything from me now, as it may be the last you may ever have, so precarious are the chances of a soldier's life on actual service. Shortly after writing to you, I got ill again, and it ended in a slight fever, which cleared me out altogether, since which I have been in perfectly good health, thank God. I came off the sick list on the 22nd January, the day before we marched from Tatta. I will give you my journal from that time to the sad event which has just happened.

Wednesday, Jan. 23, 1839.--On this day, at 6 A.M., the corps d'armé of Sinde marched out of the encampment near Tatta en route for Hydrabad, the Cutch Auxiliary Horse in advance, detaching flankers, &c., then the main body in the following order:--The 4th Light Dragoons in front; next, one squadron of horse artillery, followed by two squadrons of the 1st regiment of Bombay Light Cavalry, one company of foot artillery, then the first brigade of infantry, under General Willshire, consisting of the Queen's Royals, 5th and 1st, or Grenadier regiment, Native Infantry, a second squadron of horse artillery, a second company of foot artillery; the 2nd infantry brigade, consisting of H.M. 17th regiment, the 19th and 23rd regiments Native Infantry; the whole closed by two other squadrons of 1st Light Cavalry. We (i.e., the 1st brigade) left our ground a quarter before six, and halted on a rising ground close to the walls of Tatta, whence we had a very fair view of the cavalry, artillery, &c., that were in the advance of us, winding their way through a pretty avenue of trees: the whole presented a very animated and martial appearance, the different corps marching off with colours uncased, band playing, &c. Cunningham's, or the Poonah Auxiliary Horse, having only arrived the night before, did not join the main body, but came up somewhat later in the day, I believe. The march of the main body this day was not more than ten miles; but our brigade was posted two miles in advance of the rest of the force, and the Queen's were nearly a mile in advance of the other two regiments of the brigade; so that we marched about thirteen miles. We encamped in a rather pretty valley surrounded by barren rocks, with our right resting on a shikargur (or hunting thicket); we had a fine pebbly bottom, which was a great relief to our feet after the hot dust of Tatta. My baggage did not make its appearance till about five o'clock, my unfortunate young camel having proved restive, and flung its load two or three times, thereby considerably damaging my cot and table: mess at six,--nothing particular.

Thursday, Jan. 24.--In consequence of our being so much in advance, our "rouse" did not sound till six o'clock this morning, and we did not march off our ground till seven. After we had marched about two miles; we halted and piled arms, to enable the cavalry, &c., in our rear to pass on, and thus we had a very good review of them: they marched in the same order as yesterday, except that in addition, and near to the light cavalry, came Cunningham's horse from Poonah: this was the first time we had seen them; they made a very splendid appearance, about 600 strong, and well equipped in every respect; their dress and accoutrements the same as the Cutch Horse, (of which I gave you a description in my last,) with the difference of wearing yellow and red instead of green and red. We had a very pleasant march this day, except the latter part, which was exceedingly dusty; some very pretty and romantic scenery, consisting of ruined forts, abrupt hills, large rocks, interspersed with some beautiful lakes here and there. We reached our encamping ground rather late--half-past eleven o'clock--lost my breakfast, owing to my native groom, who carried some stock for me, and to whom I had given directions to wait by the regiment till they had piled arms and were dismissed, having disobeyed my orders, and cut off with my tatter to the river, about three miles off: gave chase directly the parade was dismissed, and walked through a shikargur to the river, but could not find the rascal. I had, however, a good view of the Indus, which does not here appear to be very broad: a cruel hot day; and, in addition to my other misfortunes, was nearly stifled by the clouds of dust raised by cavalry of every description leading their horses to water. On my return to camp I luckily found my baggage arrived, and had a good snoose till six o'clock, mess time; heard at mess that the Ameers had agreed to all our terms, and would do everything to assist our passage through their country; that we were to march straight to Shikarpoor, without halting at Hydrabad; after remaining at which place for some time, we should advance upon Candahar,--all fudge. Our position this halt was about the centre of the army,--bad encamping ground,--very dusty.

Friday, 25th.--Left our encampment at six, in the same order as before; our out-lying picket, under Stisted, joined us near our first halt, about three miles. Warlike news,--the Ameers had rejected our treaty, and that a force of 10,000 Beloochees had crossed the river; and would probably give us some trouble. Stisted had received orders to keep a very sharp look-out with his picket, as there was a chance of its being attacked: Jephson joined, with news from Sir J. Keane, that there was every chance of our being attacked on the line of march; however, we were not, although we passed over some very pretty ground for a battle. Marched into our encamping ground about half-past ten, near a half-ruined village called Jarruk, on the banks of the river; the army here took up a rather strong position, on a chain of heights; our brigade being, however, pushed on again in advance, on some low and jungly ground near the river; the Queen's again on the extreme front. News still warlike; the Beloochees, under Meer Mahomet, one of the Ameers, and the most restive of them, being supposed to be near us in great force, though nobody seemed to know where. All the oot-wallas, or camel-drivers, put under charge of sentries, as there was reason to suspect they meditated deserting in the night with our camels. Bad encamping ground again,--a dusty, half-cultivated field.

Saturday, 26th.--Turned out of bed between two and three, A.M., with orders to fall in, at a moment's notice, in "light marching order," as an attack was strongly expected. Spies had reported that 10,000 Beloochees were in a shikargur not seven miles from us, and that they intended a night attack; everybody in the highest state of excitement, pistols loading, &c. Fell in an hour before daylight; cavalry sent out in all directions; staff and field-officers galloping about like mad fellows; remained under arms till day had fully broke, when we were dismissed, but commanded not to stray far from camp: great excitement all day; Cunningham's horse sent out to reconnoitre; returned late at night, reporting that they had patrolled sixteen miles in advance, had closely examined the shikargur in question, and could find no traces of the Beloochees,--a strong suspicion, however, remained that there were Beloochees in our neighbourhood.

Sunday, 27th.--Under arms an hour before daylight; no further news; camp quiet. As I was to be on out-lying picket this evening, rode out after breakfast to look at my ground, which appeared rather strong, intersected with ravines, brushwood; &c., and a good place to hold against cavalry. Mounted picket at five o'clock, P.M., fifty-seven rank and file, two serjeants, four corporals, and one bugler, a chain of nine double sentries, the right resting on the river and the Hydrabad road, and the chain running along a dry nullah, till it communicated with the sentries of the 5th regiment's picket; a corporal's party of three men detached in advance to an old ruin on the left front; a picket of cavalry about two miles in advance, with videttes on some high ground. A beautiful moonlight night, and not very cold till about one o'clock in the morning; lay on the ground and thought of what was going on at Brookhill and fancy ball at Torquay; visited my sentries continually; the men in high spirits, and very much on the alert; nothing extraordinary occurred.