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Chapter 25: 1857

Sir Colin's wise decision--Robert Napier --Impressions on visiting the Residency--Henry Lawrence --Lawrence as Statesman and Ruler --Lawrence's friendliness for Natives--A hazardous duty

The night of the 17th passed off quietly. Before daybreak the next morning the troops were under arms. Thousands of the enemy had collected in the Kaisarbagh, and for the protection of the mess-house, the Tara Koti, about 200 yards to the south-west, was seized and held, as from this position a flanking fire could be brought to bear upon any enemy advancing from the Kaisarbagh.

The most difficult part of Sir Colin's task had yet to be accomplished--the bringing away of the women and children, and the sick and wounded, from the Residency--and the question of how this could best be done was one which caused the Commander-in-Chief much anxious thought. Many, amongst whom were Outram and Hope Grant, pressed him to attack the Kaisarbagh and capture the city in the first instance; but 45 officers and 496 men out of our small force had been killed or wounded; Sir Colin, therefore, decided that it would be to the last degree imprudent to attempt such an undertaking with his reduced numbers, and became more than ever determined to confine his operations to the relief of the garrison.

That the Chief was right there can be no room for doubt. This force was barely strong enough for the service it had to perform. Every man was on duty day and night; there was no reserve to fall back upon; and had he listened to these proposals, and allowed himself to be drawn into complications in the city, it is more than probable that those he had come to succour would have been sacrificed. The wisdom of his decision was fully proved by subsequent events, and unreservedly acknowledged by Hope Grant and others who at the time differed from him in their ideas of the course which should be adopted.

From the Dilkusha to the Residency was not less than five miles; every yard of the way had to be guarded, and the garrison at the former place was so attenuated that it had to be reinforced by the withdrawal of part of the 75th Foot from the Alambagh. Fortunately this could be done without dangerously weakening that post, as it had been lately strengthened by the arrival of a small body of troops from Cawnpore.

It had now to be settled whether the evacuation should be effected by the route we had ourselves followed, which was circuitous and in places difficult for the wheeled vehicles necessary for the conveyance of the sick and wounded, and the women and children; or by the way past the barracks and Banks's house, which was shorter and had the advantage of a metalled road throughout. But unless Russell, whose brigade was in position at the barracks, could make the latter line secure, it would be too hazardous to adopt, and up to the present the reports from Russell had not been very promising. He had been hardly pressed on the 17th, and had sent word that he could make no impression on the enemy without heavy guns. Colonel Biddulph, the Deputy-Quartermaster-General, was therefore ordered to proceed to the barracks to ascertain how guns could best be sent to Russell's assistance, and report to the Commander-in-Chief on the whole situation. I was told to go with him and bring back the required information.

We found Russell in a very uncomfortable position, exposed to a hot fire and closely surrounded by the enemy, who were holding the British Infantry hospital and other buildings within a few yards of him.

I remained with Russell while Biddulph reconnoitred the ground between the barracks, the canal, and the Sikandarbagh. It was found covered with villages and walled enclosures, but he discovered a path secure from the enemy's fire, along which he was able to bring to Russell's assistance a 9-pounder gun, a 24-pounder howitzer, and four 5-1/2-inch mortars. As the 9-pounder was fired, a round shot from one of the enemy's 18-pounders struck the mud wall immediately in front of it, scattering great clods of earth, which knocked over Bourchier and another officer; the round shot then hit Brigadier Russell, just grazing the back of his neck, actually cutting his watch-chain in two, and causing partial paralysis of the lower limbs for some days.

Russell being for the time hors de combat, Biddulph assumed command, and ordered me to return to Head-Quarters, report what had happened, and inform Sir Colin that he intended to attack the hospital and endeavour to drive the enemy out of his immediate neighbourhood.

I never saw Biddulph again. I had scarcely delivered my message to the Chief when heavy firing was heard from the direction of the barracks, and shortly afterwards a determined attack was made by the rebels on the piquets placed between the Sikandarbagh and the barracks, which was repulsed by Remmington's troop of Horse Artillery, with two companies of Infantry belonging to the 23rd and 53rd Foot, brought up by the Commander-in-Chief himself, who expressed to Remmington his warm approval of the brilliant manner in which his troop had come into action.

Sir Colin now received information that Biddulph was killed, and that Hale, who succeeded to the command of the brigade, had attacked and taken the hospital, but had been forced to abandon it, as the thatched roof had been set on fire by the shells showered upon it by the enemy, who were keeping our troops constantly on the alert. This decided Sir Colin to give up the idea of withdrawing the relieved garrison by Banks's house.

Early on the following morning, the 19th, I was sent by the Commander-in-Chief to the Residency with a note for Sir James Outram, containing the information that arrangements for the withdrawal were now complete, and that conveyances for the women, children, sick, and wounded would be sent as soon as they arrived from the Dilkusha.

When he had read the note Sir James questioned me as to the road, and asked me particularly if I had noticed the openings made in the walls of houses and enclosures, and whether I thought they were large enough for the guns, carts, and carriages to get through. I replied that I had not observed them very particularly, but I was inclined to think some of them were certainly rather small. My answer, to my astonishment, roused the ire of a wounded officer lying on a couch at the end of the room, for he wrathfully asked me whether I had measured the openings, and on my saying I had not, he added: 'You had better wait to give your opinion until you know what you are talking about; those openings were made by my orders, and I am quite sure they are the necessary size.' The officer was no other than Colonel Robert Napier, who, as I have already stated, was badly wounded on the 17th. I felt myself considerably snubbed, but Sir James kindly came to the rescue, and explained that I had merely answered his question and had not offered any opinion of my own: Colonel Napier, however, was not to be appeased, and I could plainly see that I had incurred his displeasure, and that he thought me a very bumptious youngster. I do not know whether the Chief of the Staff[1] ever heard of it, but it was some satisfaction to me to find afterwards that I was right in my estimation of the size of those apertures, some of which had to be enlarged before the guns and carriages could pass through.

By sunset that day the women and children had been brought away and collected in the Sikandarbagh. Not a very agreeable resting-place, for though the 2,000 dead mutineers had been got out of sight, they were merely slightly covered over in a ditch which they themselves had recently dug outside the north wall to strengthen the defences. The survivors of the siege, however, had become too inured to horrors of all kinds, and were too thankful for their deliverance from the fate which for months had constantly threatened them, to be over-sensitive.

It was a sad little assemblage; all were more or less broken down and out of health, while many were widows or orphans, having left their nearest and dearest in the Residency burial-ground. Officers and men accorded them a respectful welcome, and by their efforts to help them showed how deeply they felt for their forlorn condition, while our old Chief had a comfortable tea prepared for them. When night set in, the road having been carefully reconnoitred beforehand, the melancholy convoy with its guard of soldiers started for the Dilkusha, where it arrived in safety, and was warmly received by the officers of the 9th Lancers and the rest of the garrison, who did all that circumstances would allow to make the ladies and children comfortable.

During the 20th, 21st, and 22nd, everything that was worth removing and for which carriage could be provided was brought away. Such a miscellaneous collection it was--jewels and other valuables belonging to the ex-royal family, twenty-five lakhs of treasure, stores of all kinds, including grain, and as many of the 200 guns discovered in the palace as were considered likely to be of use.

The troops were not moved away from the Residency till midnight on the 22nd, and I had several opportunities before then of going over the position, to every point of which some thrilling story was attached, and of renewing acquaintance with many of the garrison whom I had known before. Amongst them was Sam Lawrence, of the 32nd Foot, a friend of Peshawar days, who, for his gallant defence of the Redan, was awarded the Victoria Cross. I was shown Innes's advanced post, named after McLeod Innes,[2] a talented Engineer officer, who also subsequently gained that coveted reward; the Cawnpore battery, where so many valuable lives had been sacrificed, and the room where Sir Henry Lawrence received his mortal wound; then I climbed up to the tower, from which a good view of the city and the posts held by the enemy could be obtained.

The more I saw, the more I wondered at what had been achieved by such a mere handful of men against such vast numbers. It was specially pleasant to me to listen to the praises bestowed on the officers of my own regiment, of whom nine were present when the siege commenced, and only one escaped to the end unwounded, while five were killed or died of their injuries. Of the other three, one was wounded three different times, and both the others once.

All were loud, too, in their praises of the Engineer officers. During the latter part of the siege the rebels, finding they could not carry the position by assault, tried hard to undermine the defences; but our Engineers were ever on the watch, and countermined so successfully that they were able to frustrate the enemy's designs on almost every occasion.

The wonderful manner in which the Hindustani soldiers held their ground, notwithstanding that they were incessantly taunted by their mutinous comrades for aiding the Feringhis against their own people, was also much dilated upon.

The casualties during the siege were extremely heavy. When it commenced on the 1st of July, the strength of the garrison was 927 Europeans and 765 Natives. Of the former, 163 were civilians--brave and useful, but untrained to arms; of the latter, 118 were pensioners, many of whom were old and decrepit. Up to the arrival of Outram and Havelock (a period of eighty-seven days), 350 Europeans and 133 natives were either killed or died of wounds and disease. Of the noble and unselfish conduct of the ladies and soldiers' wives, everyone spoke in the highest terms and with the warmest appreciation. They suffered, without a murmur, the most terrible hardships; they devoted themselves to the sick and wounded in the hospital, and were ever ready to help in any way that was useful. Two ladies were killed, and nine died, during the siege.

The contemplation of the defence of Lucknow, and the realization of the noble qualities it called forth in the defenders, cannot but excite in the breast of every British man and woman, as it did in mine, feelings of pride and admiration. But what impressed me more than even the glorious defence was the foresight and ability of the man who made that defence possible.

Henry Lawrence was, apparently, the only European in India who, from the very first, formed an accurate estimate of the extent of the danger which threatened our rule in the early part of 1857, and who, notwithstanding his thorough appreciation of the many good qualities of Native soldiers, was not misled into a mistaken belief in the absolute loyalty of the Native army. Fourteen years before Lawrence had predicted the Mutiny[3] and the course it would take, and when events shaped themselves as he had foreseen, he gave it as his opinion that the disaffection would be general and widespread. But while his intimate knowledge of Native character led him to this conviction, so great was his influence with Natives--perhaps by reason of that knowledge--that he was able to delay the actual outbreak at Lucknow until his measures for the defence of the Residency were completed, and he persuaded a considerable number of sepoys, not only to continue in their allegiance, but to share with their European comrades the dangers and privations of the siege--a priceless service, for without their aid the defence could not have been made.

In no part of India was there greater need for the services of a strong, enlightened, and sympathetic Ruler and Statesman. Difficult as were the positions in which many men in authority were placed in 1857, none was more difficult than that in which Henry Lawrence found himself when he took over the Chief Commissionership of Oudh in the spring of that year. His colleagues in the administration were at feud with each other, and by their ignorance of the proper methods of dealing with the people they had succeeded in alienating all classes.

While Lawrence was engaged in pouring oil on these troubled waters, and in earning the gratitude of the people by modifying the previous year's undue assessment, signs appeared of the disaffection, which had begun amongst the troops at Barrackpore, having spread to the cantonments in Oudh. Sir Henry met this new trouble in the same intelligent and conciliatory spirit as that in which he had dealt with his civil difficulties. He summoned to a durbar some Native officers who had displayed a very proper feeling of loyalty by arresting several fanatics who had tried to tamper with the soldiery, and he liberally rewarded them, pointing out at the same time in forcible language the disgrace to a soldier of being faithless to his salt. But while doing everything in his power to keep the Natives loyal, and with a certain amount of success, he did not neglect to take every possible precaution.

When first he heard of the outbreak at Meerut, he telegraphed to the Governor-General advising him to send for British troops to China and Ceylon, and to call on the Nepalese to assist; at the same time he applied to Lord Canning for, and obtained, the rank of Brigadier-General, which gave him military as well as civil control--a very necessary measure, for none of the senior military officers in Oudh were men to be relied upon; indeed, as in so many other places, they had to be effaced when the troubles began.

Very early in the day Henry Lawrence commenced his preparations for the defence of the Residency; he cleared the ground of all cover in its immediate vicinity, as far as it was possible to do so; he fortified it, mounted guns, stored ammunition, powder, and firewood; arranged for a proper supply of water; collected food, which proved sufficient, not only for the original number of refugees, but for the 3,000 additional mouths belonging to Outram and Havelock's force; in fact, he did everything which forethought and ingenuity could suggest to enable the garrison to hold out in what he foresaw would be a long and deadly struggle against fearful odds. There was no fort, as there was at Agra, capable of sheltering every European in Oudh, and strong enough to defy any number of mutineers, nor was there, as at Cawnpore, a well-stocked and strongly-fortified magazine to depend upon. But Henry Lawrence was not cast down by the difficulties which surrounded him; he was fully alive to the danger, but he recognized that his best, indeed, his only, chance of delaying the inevitable rebellion until (as he hoped) assistance might arrive, was to show a bold front.

On the 27th May Lawrence wrote to Lord Canning as follows: 'Hitherto the country has been kept quiet, and we have played the Irregulars against the line regiments; but being constituted of exactly the same material, the taint is fast pervading them, and in a few weeks, if not days--unless Delhi be in the interim captured--there will be but one feeling throughout the army, a feeling that our prestige is gone, and that feeling will be more dangerous than any other. Religion, fear, hatred, one and all have their influence; but there is still a reverence for the Company's ikbâl[4]--when it is gone we shall have few friends indeed. The tone and talk of many have greatly altered during the last few days, and we are now asked, almost in terms of insolence, whether Delhi is captured, or when it will be. It was only just after the Kabul massacre, and when we hesitated to advance through the Khyber, that, in my memory, such a tone ever before prevailed.[5]

Feeling all this so strongly, it is the more remarkable that Henry Lawrence never lost heart, but struggled bravely on 'to preserve the soldiery to their duty and the people to their allegiance,' while at the same time he was, as I have shown, making every conceivable preparation to meet the outbreak whenever it should come.

There is no doubt that Henry Lawrence was a very remarkable man; his friendly feeling for Natives, and his extraordinary insight into their character, together with his military training and his varied political experience, peculiarly fitted him to be at the head of a Government at such a crisis.[6]

All this, however, is a digression from my narrative, to which I must now return.

While the withdrawal was being effected, Peel's guns distracted the enemy's attention from the proceedings by keeping up a perpetual and destructive fire on the Kaisarbagh, thus leading the rebels to believe that our whole efforts were directed to taking that place. By the evening of the 22nd three large breaches had been made, and the enemy naturally expected an assault to take place the next morning. But the object of that heavy fire had already been accomplished; the women and children, the sick and wounded, were all safe in the Dilkusha; no one was left in the Residency but the garrison, on duty for the last time at the posts they had so long and so bravely defended, and they were to leave at midnight.

As the clock struck twelve, in the deepest silence and with the utmost caution, the gallant little band evacuated the place, and passed down the long line of posts, first those held by Outram's and Havelock's men, and then those occupied by the relieving force, until they reached the Martinière Park. As they moved on, Outram's and Havelock's troops fell in behind, and were followed by the relieving force, which brought up the rear. The scheme for this very delicate movement had been most carefully considered beforehand by General Mansfield, the clever Chief of the Staff, who clearly explained to all concerned the parts they had to play, and emphatically impressed upon them that success depended on his directions being followed to the letter, and on their being carried out without the slightest noise or confusion.

Sir Colin Campbell and Hope Grant, surrounded by their respective staffs, watched the movement from a position in front of the Sikandarbagh, where a body of Artillery and Infantry were held in readiness for any emergency. When the time arrived for the advanced piquets to be drawn in, the enemy seemed to have become suspicious, for they suddenly opened fire with guns and musketry from the Kaisarbagh, and for a moment we feared our plans had been discovered. Fortunately, one of Peel's rocket-carts was still in position beyond the Moti Mahal, and the celerity with which the officer in charge replied to this burst of fire apparently convinced the enemy we were holding our ground, for the firing soon ceased, and we breathed again.

Mansfield had taken the precaution to have with him an officer from Hale's brigade, which was on the left rear of our line of posts, that he might go back and tell his Brigadier when the proper time came for the latter to move off in concert with the rest of the force; but this officer had not, apparently, understood that he would have to return in the dark, and when Mansfield directed him to carry out the duty for which he had been summoned, he replied that he did not think he could find his way. Mansfield was very angry, and with reason, for it was of supreme importance that the retirement should be simultaneous, and turning to me, he said: 'You have been to Hale's position: do you think you could find your way there now?' I answered: 'I think I can.' Upon which he told me to go at once, and ordered the officer belonging to the brigade to accompany me. I then asked the General whether he wished me to retire with Hale's party or return to him. He replied: 'Return to me here, that I may be sure the order has been received.'

I rode off with my companion, and soon found I had undertaken to perform a far from easy, and rather hazardous, duty. I had only been over the ground twice--going to and returning from the position on the 18th--and most of the villages then standing had since been burnt. There was no road, but any number of paths, which seemed to lead in every direction but the right one; at last, however, we arrived at our destination, I delivered the order to Colonel Hale, and set out on my return journey alone. My consternation was great on reaching the Sikandarbagh, where I had been ordered to report myself to Mansfield, to find it deserted by the Generals, their staffs, and the troops; not a creature was to be seen. I then began to understand what a long time it had taken me to carry out the errand upon which I had been sent, much longer, no doubt, than Mansfield thought possible. I could not help feeling that I was not in at all a pleasant position, for any moment the enemy might discover the force had departed, and come out in pursuit. As it turned out, however, happily for me, they remained for some hours in blissful ignorance of our successful retirement, and, instead of following in our wake, continued to keep up a heavy fire on the empty Residency and other abandoned posts. Turning my horse's head in the direction I knew the troops must have taken, I galloped as fast as he could carry me until I overtook the rear guard just as it was crossing the canal, along the right bank of which the greater part of the force had been placed in position. When I reported myself to Mansfield, he confessed that he had forgotten all about me, which somewhat surprised me, for I had frequently noticed how exactly he remembered the particulars of any order he gave, no matter how long a time it took to execute it.

[Footnote 1: Colonel Napier was Chief of the Staff to Sir James Outram.]

[Footnote 2: Now Lieutenant-General McLeod Innes, V.C.]

[Footnote 3: Calcutta Review, 1843. After commenting on the habitual carelessness of Government and its disregard of ordinary military precautions and preparations, Henry Lawrence had shown how possible it was that a hostile party might seize Delhi, and, if the outbreak were not speedily suppressed, what grave consequences might ensue. 'Let this happen,' he said, 'on June 2, and does any sane man doubt that twenty-four hours would swell the hundreds of rebels into thousands, and in a week every ploughshare in the Delhi States would be turned into a sword? And when a sufficient force had been mustered, which could not be effected within a month, should we not then have a more difficult game to play than Clive at Plassy or Wellington at Assaye? We should then be literally striking for our existence at the most inclement season of the year, with the prestige of our name tarnished.' Going on to suggest that Meerut, Umballa, and Agra might say that they had no troops to spare from their own necessities, or that they had no carriage, 'Should we not, then,' he wrote, 'have to strike anew for our Indian Empire?]

[Footnote 4: Prestige, or, rather, good luck.]

[Footnote 5: 'Life of Sir Henry Lawrence.']

[Footnote 6: In Sir Henry Lawrence's 'Life' two memoranda appear, one by Lieutenant (now Lieutenant-General) McLeod Innes, Assistant Engineer at Lucknow in 1857, the other by Sir Henry Lawrence himself. They are worthy of perusal, and will give the reader some insight into Lawrence's character; they will also exemplify how necessary it is for anyone placed in a position of authority in India to study the peculiarities of the people and gain their confidence by kindness and sympathy, to which they readily respond, and, above all, to be firm and decided in his dealings with them. Firmness and decision are qualities which are appreciated more than all others by Natives; they expect them in their Rulers, and without them no European can have any power over them, or ever hope to gain their respect and esteem.

(See Appendix II).]