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Letter VI

Camp, near Larkhanu,
Wednesday, 6th March, 1839.

MY DEAR FATHER,--I last wrote to you from Kotree, opposite Hydrabad. We are now, as you will see by the date, at Larkhanu, a pretty considerable distance from the former place. I see, by my journal, that it was the 6th of February when I last wrote, exactly one month ago. We were then, I believe, rather ignorant of what the Ameers intended; but the fate of Curachee, of which I gave you an account; brought them to their senses, and the day after I wrote things were settled, and officers had permission to visit Hydrabad, merely reporting their names to their respective majors of brigade before they did so. In consequence of which I went over to that place on the 9th, with Dickenson and Piercy; but there was not much to repay us for our ride, under a cruelly hot sun, as the fort, the only place worth seeing, was shut up, and no one could get a view of the inside except a few of the staff. It did not appear to be very strong, although it had a pretty appearance. I think the Ameers acted very wisely, as it could easily be taken by escalade. The rest of the town consisted of a great straggling bazaar, just the same as is to be seen everywhere in India; and it did not appear a bit better than that at Belgaum. There were some fine elephants belonging to the Ameers, and some pretty ruins on the outskirts of the town. The Beloochees had all left, and were nowhere to be seen.

Sunday, the 10th, we marched off our ground at Kotree, and reached Lukkee on Saturday, the 16th, after a six days' march, most of them fifteen miles. Here we halted four days to allow the pioneers, &c., to make a road over the Lukkee Pass for the artillery. We found here some excellent sulphur springs and baths, about a mile from our encampment, among the Lukkee hills, which, if they could be transported to Dartmouth, would make a second Bath of it. The whole of our force were bidetizing here all day long. Being so directly under the hills, we found it rather warmer than we liked. There were some large lakes here, full of wild duck, and capital partridge-shooting, and we were cracking away all the time. On the march to this place I had the misfortune to lose a very nice little bull-terrier bitch, about a year old, which I had from a pup, at Belgaum, and which had followed my fortunes so far. It was all her own fault, as she broke from my tent one night, and though I used every endeavour I could hear nothing more of her.

The 21st we marched over the Pass to Schwun, the largest place in Sinde next to Tatta. The Pass was not half so bad as we expected, so we filed over it very easily. On our arrival at Schwun we heard that Sir H. Fane had just passed down the river, with his staff, en route for Bombay, and was laying at anchor about five miles down the river, where Sir J. Keane went to meet him; so that here ended my last chance of meeting Col. Fane, and giving him Arthur's letter. Sir H. Fane will remain at Bombay, which is to be the head quarters of the Indian army while this business lasts. We only halted one day at Schwun; I rode in to look at the town, which was nearly desolate, as the inhabitants of every place invariably remove with their families on our arrival. There was, however, a fine old castle in ruins, which was well worth seeing, and must have been a place of some importance in former days; and a very superb mosque in the centre of the town, in which was a tame tiger. We left Schwun on Saturday, the 23rd, crossing the Arrul river, which flows round the town into the Indus, on pontoons, and commenced our first march in Upper Sinde. This day's march was delightful, and the only tolerable one we have had, all the rest being through a dismal, dusty desert, with sometimes no path at all, and the dust generally so thick in marching that you cannot see an inch before you. This was, however, a grand exception. We marched by the side of a magnificent lake, full of wild fowl, the banks of which were carpeted with rich wild clover, and over-shadowed with fine trees, the only ones of any size that we have yet seen in Sinde; so that you might almost fancy you were going through a nobleman's park in England (Kitly, par example.) In fact, this place put me more in mind of Old England than, any I have seen in the East. From Schwun we marched direct to this place, which we reached on the 4th, the day before yesterday, without halting once: most of the marches fifteen miles, and all terrible teasers, on account of the badness of the roads, and the stupidity or wilful ignorance of our guides. One of our marches was to have been a short one of ten miles; but for some unaccountable reasons our route and encamping ground were changed three times. We lost our way in the jungle, and marched fifteen, instead of ten, miles before we found ourselves in our proper places; on arrival at which we found that half the officers' and men's baggage was gone on to our next encamping ground, fifteen miles further, which, owing to the variety of places named in orders, our servants supposed to be the right one. My baggage was one of the unlucky; but my servant came back with my things about five o'clock in the evening; so that my poor camels must have gone nearly forty miles that day, with a prospect of another fifteen the next morning at five. General Willshire, and, I hear, Sir J. Keane also, were among the sufferers. Our poor sick were all lost in the jungles for this day, and we saw nothing of half of them till we arrived on our next encamping ground. Some of them were upwards of twenty-four hours without getting anything to eat, or attendance of any sort. Well, we marched to this place on the day before yesterday, after ten days' regular hard work. A great number in hospital; though they are coming out again now pretty fast.

It is believed we shall halt here about a week; but what we shall do then nobody seems to know. The greater part of the force will, it is believed, follow the Bengalees to Candahar, who marched from Shikarpoor for that purpose, under Sir Willoughby Cotton, on the 22nd, but have since been detained, owing to the impracticability of the country. One regiment of our brigade (the Grenadier regiment, Native Infantry) is under orders for Bukkur, an island fort on the Indus, about twenty-five miles from Shikarpoor, which (i.e., Bukkur) is to be our depôt for stores, &c., and where all the present unfits, in the shape of sick men, are to be sent. No doubt some other troops will be left in Upper Sinde, at different places, and I have some fears that the "Queen's" may be among the number. Heaven defend us from being quartered in any part of this wretched country, particularly from Shikarpoor, which is said to be one of the hottest places in existence. In fact, the Persians say, "While there is a Shikarpoor, there ought to be no Johannum," or hell. What a pity it would be to lose such a capital chance of seeing Candahar, and perhaps Cabool, which is said to be a splendid place and a delightful climate. The Bolan Pass, a most magnificent and difficult one, the key to Afghanistan from Sinde, is said to be now totally impassable, from the number of dead cattle, horses, and camels, which Shah Shooja's force lost there. This I believe, however, to be mere report. We heard, the other day, that Dost Mahomed had occupied it, and that we should have to take it at the point of the bayonet. So much do reports vary, one knows not what to believe. This pass, said to be thirty miles long, and at some places almost impassable, runs through and over the large chain of mountains that separates the mountainous country of Candahar and Cabool, or, as it is generally called, Afghanistan, from the lowland of Sinde; it is not easy to cross it, at least before April, as till then the snows are not melted.

I hope and trust my next letter will be dated from Candahar, which is, however, a good six weeks' march from this place. We have found the weather dreadfully hot for the last few days, averaging generally 106 in our tents in the day time, though the nights are cool, and the mornings generally very cold. I have not yet been in Larkhanu, though we marched through a part of it on our arrival. Our men have been now for three days without any dram at all, and their rations are getting worse and worse every day; in fact, things are so bad that they have been obliged to send to Shikarpoor for part of what was left there by the Bengal commissariat, which is said to be excellent, and which has fed their army very well, although they have come a much greater distance than we have.

I spoke to our paymaster about my bill, and he has shewn it to the paymaster-general, who says he will cash it whenever I like, but that I must take it in a lump; he will not give it me by instalments. This is a great nuisance, as it is very hazardous taking so much money about with one; the money, too, takes up a great deal of room and is very heavy; it was, however, quite a god-send, as I had no idea how very expensive this march would turn out; grain for cattle being exceedingly dear, the natives raising the price to about 500 per cent. everywhere, thanks to bad management somewhere. At Tatta each officer received a month's pay in advance, that he might purchase cattle for his baggage. This is to be deducted by three instalments, one from each of the next three issues of pay. An ensign's pay for one month will hardly purchase sufficient conveyances. The only mode in this country is by camels, and a camel is of all animals the most treacherous, or rather precarious lived; they get ill suddenly and go off in three hours: a great number have died with us. Now an officer losing his camels loses one month's pay, and must leave his kit on the ground, as he has nothing wherewith to replace his loss. You can, therefore, imagine what a great relief your bill proved to me, as I shall always have it to fall back upon. I bought a very nice little Cabool horse at Kotree, from one of the Ameers' disbanded Beloochees. He is very hardy, and accustomed to this country, and not particular as to his food, which is a capital thing, as most of the Arab horses that have been brought from India have fallen off terribly. He is a very pretty figure, goes well, and leaps capitally, which few of the Arabs can. I gave 170 rupees for him, or 17l. In India, I am confident he would fetch 500 or 600 rupees (50l. or 60l.)

I am very doubtful as to the time when this letter may reach you; I hope it may catch the overland mail on the 25th; but Jephson says it is very doubtful, and will depend entirely on the chance of there being a ship at Curachee, or off the Hujamree. The heat now, while I am writing, is dreadful, and there is a beastly hot wind blowing which I never felt before. Heaven send us soon out of Sinde! We are expecting the overland mail from England every day; it generally manages to come two days after I write home. You will by this time have received the letter I wrote from the Syden, and the one I wrote to Kate about the 13th of December from Bominacote. Reports vary much as to whether we shall have any fighting if we advance into Candahar. I should think Dost Mahomed would like to try a brush with us, at least with Shah Shooja.

With love to all at home,

Believe me your affectionate son,