The renown won by our troops in 1857 is now wellnigh forgotten, and, in fact, their deeds in that distant quarter of our Empire faded into oblivion within a very short period subsequent to the capture of Delhi. When the regiments engaged at that place came home to England after a long course of service in India, scarcely any notice was taken of their arrival. There were no marchings past before Her Majesty at Windsor or elsewhere, no public distribution of medals and rewards, no banquets given to the leading officers of the force, and no record published of the arduous duties in which they had been engaged. Those times are changed, and the country has now rushed into the opposite extreme of fulsome adulation, making a laughing-stock of the army and covering with glory the conquerors in a ten days' war waged against the wretched fellaheen soldiers of Egypt.
Five years passed away after 1857 (and how many poor fellows had died in the meantime!) before a mean and niggardly Government distributed to the remnant of the Delhi army the first instalment of prize-money, and three years more elapsed before the second was paid.
In September, 1861, exactly four years after the storm of Delhi, my regiment paraded at the Plymouth citadel to receive medals for the campaign of 1857. The distribution took place in the quietest manner possible, none but the officers and men of the regiment being present. Borne on a large tray into the midst of a square, the medals were handed by a sergeant to each one entitled to the long-withheld decoration, the Adjutant meanwhile reading out the names of the recipients. There was no fuss or ceremony, but I recollect that those present could not help contrasting the scene with the grand parade and the presence of the Queen when some of the Crimean officers and men received the numerous decorations so lavishly bestowed for that campaign.
The city was entirely in our possession by noon of September 20, and shortly after that hour I proceeded on horseback, with orders from the Colonel, to withdraw all the advanced pickets of my regiment to headquarters at Ahmed Ali Khan's house. These were stationed in different parts of the city, and it was with no small difficulty that I threaded my way through the streets and interminable narrow lanes, which were all blocked up with heaps of broken furniture and rubbish that had been thrown out of the houses by our troops, and formed in places an almost impassable barrier. Not a soul was to be seen; all was still as death, save now and then the sound of a musket-shot in the far-off quarters of the town.
My duty accomplished, I started in the afternoon with two of our officers to view a portion of the city. We made our way first in the direction of the Palace, passing down the Chandni Chauk (Silver Street) and entering the Great Gate of the former imperial residence of the Mogul Emperors. Here a guard of the 60th Rifles kept watch and ward with some of the jovial little Goorkhas of the Kumaon battalion. From the first we learnt particulars of the easy capture of the Palace that morning, and were shown the bodies of the fanatics who had disputed the entrance and had been killed in the enclosure. None of them were sepoys, but belonged to that class of men called "ghazi," or champions of the faith, men generally intoxicated with bhang, who are to be found in every Mohammedan army--fierce madmen, devotees to death in the cause of religion. Passing on, we wandered through the courts, wondering at the vast size of this castellated palace with its towering, embattled walls, till we came to the Dewan-i-Khas, and further on to the Dewan-i-Aum, or Hall of Audience. This last, a large building of white marble on the battlements overhanging the River Jumna, was now the headquarters of the General and his staff, and where formerly the descendants of the great warrior Tamerlane held their court, British officers had taken up their abode; and infidels desecrated those halls, where only "true believers" had assembled for hundreds of years.
Passing thence through a gateway and over a swinging bridge, we entered the old fort of Selimgarh, built, like the Palace, on the banks of the river, its battlements, as well as those of the latter place on its eastern side, being washed by the waters of the Jumna. Several heavy guns and mortars were mounted on the walls of the fort, and we noticed one old cannon of immense size for throwing stone balls, but which was cracked at the muzzle, and evidently had not been used for centuries. The fort was full of large and commodious buildings, used afterwards for hospitals by our troops, the place itself, from its commanding situation open and separate from the rest of the city, being the healthiest place that could be found. There was a lovely view of the country on the left bank of the Jumna, while to the north and south we followed the windings of the broad river till lost to view in the far distance.
Descending from Selimgarh, we took our stand on the bridge of boats now deserted in its whole length, but over which, during the days of the siege, thousands of mutineers had marched to swell the rebel forces in Delhi. Thence we skirted along the banks of the river outside the walls, viewing on our way the houses of the European residents, built in charming situations close to the water's edge. These had been all entirely destroyed, gutted, and burnt; nothing but the bare walls were left standing, and the interiors filled with heaps of ashes. We thought of the wretched fate of the former inmates of these houses, most of whom had been mercilessly killed by the city rabble, urged on in their fiendish work by the native soldiers, of the regular army.
The mutineers of the 3rd Light Cavalry from Meerut had entered Delhi on May 11, crossing the Jumna by the bridge of boats, and, being joined by the city scoundrels, first wreaked their vengeance on the European residents who lived close by, and who, without any previous warning of the terrible fate in store for them, fell easy victims to the murderers. It made our blood run cold, when visiting the ruins of these houses, to think of the dastardly crimes which had been committed in and around the spots on which we were standing. Defenceless and unarmed, helpless in the hands of these human tigers, our unfortunate men, women, and children were immolated without mercy. Turning back, we entered the city by the Calcutta Gate, and walked along the ramparts by the riverside, past the walls of the magazine, till we reached the Water bastion. Here the destructive effect of our batteries during the bombardment was most apparent. Fired at the distance of only 180 yards, the guns had smashed the walls and ramparts to pieces, huge fragments had rolled down into the ditch, and the cannon in the battery were completely dismounted from the carriages, lying in confusion one on top of the other.
At the Kashmir Gate there was a heap of goods (consisting principally of clothes and rubbish) many feet high, which had been looted from the houses around. The guard at the gate had orders to allow no one to pass out with a bundle of any kind; and the consequence was an accumulation of material, chiefly worthless, which covered many square yards of ground. I have omitted all record of the plundering which up to this time, and for long afterwards, took place all over the city where our troops had penetrated. This account I have reserved for the last chapter, where full details of the loot of Delhi and the amount of prize-money accruing to the force will be found. September 21.--During the 21st I, in company with other officers, wandered over the heart of the city, continuing our perambulations south of the Chandni Chauk and penetrating into streets beyond, where the six days' fighting had taken place. The night before we had heard occasional shots fired at no great distance, and these were continued during the day and for some time afterwards.
Looting was going on to a great extent, both European and native soldiers engaging in the work; and though strict orders had been issued to prevent such licence, it was found impossible to check the evil. The shots emanated from these men, who, of course, went about well armed, and brooked no interference when in the act of securing booty. Altercations of a serious nature had taken place between the Europeans and Sikh soldiers, ending sometimes in blows, and often in bloodshed, when the two parties met in a house or were busy employed in dividing the spoil. However, in time, when most of the native troops had left Delhi, and the European regiments were quartered in walled enclosures with a guard at the gates to prevent egress, the looting on the part of the private soldiers ceased, and the prize agents were enabled to gather in the enormous wealth of the city without any trouble.
The portions of the town we passed through on that day had been pillaged to the fullest extent. Not content with ransacking the interior of each house, the soldiers had broken up every article of furniture, and with wanton destruction had thrown everything portable out of the windows. Each street was filled with a mass of debris consisting of household effects of every kind, all lying in inextricable confusion one on top of the other, forming barricades--from end to end of a street--many feet high. We entered several of the large houses belonging to the wealthier class of natives, and found every one in the same condition, turned inside out, their ornaments torn to pieces, costly articles, too heavy to remove, battered into fragments, and a general air of desolation pervading each building. Much of this wholesale destruction was, no doubt, attributable to the action of the sepoys and rabble of the city, who during the siege, and in the state of anarchy which prevailed during that period, had looted to their hearts' content, levying blackmail on the richer inhabitants and pursuing their evil course without let or hindrance. Still, that which had escaped the plundering and devastating hands of the sepoys was most effectually ruined by our men. Not a single house or building remained intact, and the damage done must have amounted to thousands of pounds.
We were quite alone in most streets; deserted and silent, they resembled a city of the dead on which some awful catastrophe had fallen. It was difficult to realize that we were passing through what had been, only a few days before, the abode of thousands of people. What had become of them, and by what magic influence had all disappeared? Not till days afterwards was the mystery solved.
The tai-khanas, or underground rooms of houses, scattered all over the city, were found to be filled with human beings--those who, by age or infirmity, had been unable to join in the general exodus which had taken place during the last days of the siege. Hundreds of old men, women and children, were found huddled together, half starved, in these places, the most wretched-looking objects I ever saw. There was no means of feeding them in the city, where their presence also would have raised a plague and many would have died; so, by the orders of the General, they were turned out of the gates of Delhi and escorted into the country. It was a melancholy sight, seeing them trooping out of the town, hundreds passing through the Lahore Gate every day for a whole week. We were told that provisions had been collected for their use at a place some miles distant, and it is to be hoped the poor creatures were saved from starvation; but we had our doubts on the subject, and, knowing how callous with regard to human suffering the authorities had become, I fear that many perished from want and exposure.
There were other objects also which raised feelings of pity in our minds. During our walks through the streets we caught sight of dozens of cats and tame monkeys on the roofs of the houses, looking at us with most woe-begone countenances, the latter chattering with fear. These, as well as birds of every description left behind in cages by their owners on their flight, literally starved to death in the houses and streets of the city. There was no food for such as these, and it is lamentable to think of the torture and suffering the poor pet creatures endured till death put an end to their misery.
Dead bodies of sepoys and city inhabitants lay scattered in every direction, poisoning the air for many days, and raising a stench which was unbearable. These in time were almost all cleared away by the native scavengers, but in some distant streets corpses lay rotting in the sun for weeks, and during my rides on duty, when stationed at the Ajmir Gate, I often came across a dead body which had escaped search.
On the afternoon of the 21st a most important capture was effected by Hodson. Shah Bahadoor Shah, the old King of Delhi, was taken by that officer near the city while endeavouring to escape down-country.
Hodson, with his accustomed daring, and accompanied by 100 only of his own troopers, seized the person of the King from amongst thousands of armed dependents and rabble, who, awed by his stern demeanour, did not raise a hand in resisting the capture. The King was brought to Delhi the same day, and lodged as a prisoner in the house formerly the residence of the notorious Begum Sumroo. He was guarded by fifty men of my regiment, under command of a Lieutenant; and on the 22nd I went to see him, accompanied by our Adjutant.
Sitting cross-legged on a cushion placed on a common native charpoy, or bed, in the verandah of a courtyard, was the last representative of the Great Mogul dynasty. There was nothing imposing in his appearance, save a long white beard which reached to his girdle. About middle height, and upwards of seventy years old, he was dressed in white, with a conical-shaped turban of the same colour and material, while at his back two attendants stood, waving over his head large fans of peacocks' feathers, the emblem of sovereignty--a pitiable farce in the case of one who was already shorn of his regal attributes, a prisoner in the hands of his enemies. Not a word came from his lips; in silence he sat day and night, with his eyes cast on the ground, and as though utterly oblivious of the condition in which he was placed. On another bed, three feet from the King, sat the officer on guard, while two stalwart European sentries, with fixed bayonets, stood on either side. The orders given were that on any attempt at a rescue the officer was immediately to shoot the King with his own hand.
[Illustration: KING OF DELHI AS A PRISONER IN 1857.]
[From a photograph taken from a pencil sketch by Captain Robles, who was placed on guard over him.]
The old King was brought to trial shortly afterwards at the palace, and found guilty of complicity in the murders of our country men and women, and was transported beyond the seas, dying in British Burmah before he could be removed to the Andaman Islands, where, in accordance with his sentence, he was to have remained in imprisonment for the term of his natural life. The vicissitudes of fortune, numberless as are the instances among men of royal birth, can scarcely show anything more suggestive of the transitoriness of earthly pomp and grandeur than the case of the last King of Delhi. Sprung from the line of the great conqueror Tamerlane, the lineal descendant of the magnanimous Akbar and of Shah Jehan the magnificent, he ended his days as a common felon, far from the country of his ancestors, unwept for and unhonoured.
September 22.--Lieutenant Hodson, also on the 22nd, took prisoner, at a place some miles from Delhi, the two eldest sons and the grandson of the King. These men, more especially the eldest, who was Commander-in-Chief of the rebel army, had been deeply implicated in the murders of May 11, had urged on the sepoys and populace in their cruel deeds, and were present at the terrible massacre of our people which took place in the Chandni Chauk on that day.
Hodson's orders were precise as to the fate of these blood-thirsty ruffians, and though his name has been vilified and his reputation tarnished by so-called humanitarians for the course he adopted in ridding the world of the miscreants, he was upheld in the deed by the whole Delhi army, men in every respect better qualified to form a judgment in this particular than the sentimental beings at home who denounced with horror this perfectly justifiable act of speedy and condign punishment.
The three Princes were placed in a gharee, or native carriage, and, guarded by Hodson's native troopers, were conducted towards the city. Before they entered, the carriage was stopped, and Hodson spoke to his men of the crimes committed by the prisoners. Then, dismounting from his horse and opening the door of the gharee, he fired two shots from a Colt's revolver into each of their hearts. After being driven to the Kotwali, or chief magistrate's house, in the centre of the Chandni Chauk, on the very spot where our country men and women had suffered death, the three bodies were stripped save a rag around the loins, and laid naked on the stone slabs outside the building.
Here I saw them that same afternoon; nor can it be said that I or the others who viewed the lifeless remains felt any pity in our hearts for the wretches on whom had fallen a most righteous retribution for their crimes. The eldest was a strong, well-knit man in the prime of life, the next somewhat younger, while the third was quite a youth not more than twenty years of age. Each of the Princes had two small bullet-holes over the region of the heart, the flesh singed by gunpowder, as the shots were fired close; a cloth covered part of the loins, but they were otherwise quite naked. There was a guard, I think, of Coke's Rifles stationed at the Kotwali, and there the bodies remained exposed for three days, and were then buried in dishonoured graves.
On the 22nd the regiment, or what was left of it, comprising about 180 effective rank and file, moved from Ahmed Ali Khan's house to the Ajmir Gate at the extreme south-western side of the city, a distance of a mile and a half from our former residence. Here we put up in a large serai, with open courtyards in the centre, shaded by high trees, the small rooms on each side of the building being turned into quarters for the men, the officers taking up their abode in a mosque at the far end. The change was far from agreeable; flies and mosquitoes swarmed around us, the ditch outside the walls was filled with pools of stagnant water, and a horrible stench impregnated the air, increasing the sickness among the already enfeebled soldiers, and still further reducing our scanty number.
September 23.--The next day I started with D----, of my regiment, to view the Jama Masjid, or Great Mosque. Nothing can exceed the rich, though chaste, beauty of this glorious structure. The building stands in a large walled enclosure, high broad steps leading up to the mosque, with its three domes of pure white marble and floor of the same material, all inlaid with figures. We ascended one of the minarets, about 120 feet high, obtaining a grand view of the imperial city and the surrounding country. To the south extended the ruins of Ferozebad, or ancient Delhi; to the east lay the River Jumna; and to the west and north stretched a forest of trees and gardens, among which were seen the suburbs of the city, the now historic ridge in the far distance hiding the whole camp from our view. From our elevated position a just estimate could be formed of the great size of Delhi: the city lay spread out below with its vast area of streets, its palaces, mosques, and temples, all silent and deserted, in striking contrast to the din and turmoil of a few days back.
Major Coke's corps of Punjab Rifles were quartered in the Masjid--a luxurious place of residence--but there were no worshippers to be found in the sacred building, and only armed men of an infidel creed were to be seen. A report spread at this time that it had been decided to blow up the mosque. I cannot vouch for the truth of this statement, and can only attribute the rumour to a belief that a large ransom would be paid by the Mohammedan population of India for the preservation of their temple had the authorities really intended to carry out the project. Its destruction would have been an act of vandalism quite at variance with the character of the British nation, and one which would have brought down on us the wrath and contempt of the whole civilized world.
From the Jama Masjid we wandered through narrow lanes and back-slums--the former resort of the worst characters in the city--to the Delhi and Turkoman Gates, the streets, as in other parts, being strewed with property from the wrecked houses, and wellnigh impassable. We saw parties of Europeans and native soldiers, all eager in the pursuit of plunder, going from house to house, or diving down courts and alleys when they saw us approaching. Interference or remonstrance with these men would have been useless, if not dangerous; in their excited state they were no respecters of persons, and we deemed it the better judgment to take no notice of their actions. Dead bodies lay in almost every street, rotting in the burning sun, and the effluvium was sickening, so that we were glad to make our way back to the Ajmir Gate to a less poisonous atmosphere.
A movable column of 2,500 men of all arms started on the morning of the 23rd in pursuit of the rebels, taking the direction to Cawnpore. My regiment had been detailed for this service; and, though numerically weak, and suffering from sickness, the officers and men hailed with pleasure the approaching departure from Delhi. But, unfortunately for us, the Colonel in command reported us sick and unfit to march. We were all to a man furious at this; everyone fit for duty was willing, heart and soul, to be sent wherever the exigencies of the war required, and more especially looked forward with delight to the prospect of serving under Sir Colin Campbell, in whose brigade the regiment had fought in the Punjab campaign of 1848-49. Still, the decision of the responsible officer was not to be disputed, and so the regiment was kept at Delhi.
On the 25th I mounted guard with fifty men at the Lahore Gate. The orders were "on no account to allow soldiers, either European or native, nor camp-followers without passes, to enter or leave the city." My post was constantly at the gate, where I examined passes; and while thus occupied some thirty troopers of the Mooltani Horse--wild, truculent-looking fellows, armed to the teeth--rode up demanding entrance. I explained to them what my orders were, and refused admission. Whereupon they commenced talking among themselves, and presently had the audacity to move towards the sentries with the intention of forcing their way. I was exasperated beyond measure, and turned out the guard, at the same time telling the Mooltanis that, if they did not at once retire, I would fire upon them without more ado. They then at once changed their threatening attitude, contented themselves with swearing at the Gore log, and rode away, saying that now Nicholson was dead no one cared for them, and they would return to their homes. These men had been newly raised, were scarcely under proper discipline, and were certainly horrible-looking bandits and cut-throats--very different from the Sikh and Punjabi Horsemen, who were in manner and discipline all that could be desired. I knew that the Mooltanis only desired entrance into the city to participate in the looting which was still going on; and had they been allowed to indulge in a work for which by their evil countenances they seemed well adapted, collisions would have taken place between them and the English soldiers and others, and bloodshed would have been the result.
Shortly after the Mooltani Horsemen rode away I saw a party of Goorkhas coming towards the gate. They were strolling along quite unconcernedly, laughing and chatting together, with their hands in their pockets and quite unarmed, not even carrying their favourite kukri. Coming to where I was standing just outside the gate, they laughingly asked me to allow them to take a stroll down the Chandni Chauk and through a part of the city for a short time. My orders were imperative, and I told them so; whereat they said they belonged to the Sirmoor battalion--the gallant regiment which, in conjunction with the 60th Rifles, had defended the right of our position throughout the siege. The corps was still stationed at their old quarters at Hindoo Rao's house, and not one of them up to this time had entered Delhi. Naturally, they said they wished to see the city, promised most faithfully that they would refrain from looting, and return to the Lahore Gate in an hour's time. I found I could not resist the importunities of these brave little fellows, and, trusting to their honour, at last consented, though contrary to orders, to grant them admission. We watched them walking along the Chandni Chauk, staring in wonder at all they saw, till lost in the distance. Punctual to the time mentioned the Goorkhas returned, and, thanking me for my courtesy, made their way to their old quarters on the ridge.
During my tour on duty on this occasion at the Lahore Gate upwards of 500 of the Delhi populace were turned out of the city. They extended in a long string up the Chandni Chauk, decrepit old men and women with groups of young children. It was a pitiable sight, drawing forth exclamations of sympathy even from the rough soldiers on guard.
It had been brought to the notice of the General that some of the former inhabitants of Delhi, including sepoys, were in the habit of entering the city for the purpose of carrying away valuables, being drawn up by ropes held by confederates on the walls, and that many had also escaped in the darkness by the same means. Several captures had already been made, a strict watch was ordered to be kept at the several gates, and patrolling parties to march at intervals outside the walls. The day I was on guard at the Lahore Gate Hodson rode up to me from the outside, and said he had seen some natives on the walls close by, evidently attempting to escape into the country. I immediately sent round a corporal and four soldiers in the direction indicated, who presently returned with six natives--carrying bundles--whom they had made prisoners. All men thus captured were sent to the Governor of the city at the Kotwalli, who disposed of them as he thought fit, having the power of life and death in these matters. The Governor had the repute of being over-indulgent with regard to the disposal of the captives, being considered too merciful in his treatment of men who, for aught he knew, had forfeited their lives in joining the armed rebellion against our authority.
A striking instance of the feeling which animated officers and men in the troublous times took place some time afterwards at Delhi. An officer of my regiment was on guard at the Ajmir Gate, and on one occasion sent to the Governor some men whom he had captured while they were in the act of escaping from the city. These men were released; but on a second occasion three men were taken, and the officer, deeming it useless to forward them for punishment to the usual authority, called out a file of his soldiers, placed the prisoners in the ditch outside the Ajmir Gate, shot them, and then, digging a hole, buried them at the place of execution.
For a long period after the capture of Delhi executions by hanging were of common occurrence in the city, and the hands of the old provost-sergeant were full. Disguised sepoys and inhabitants taken with arms in their possession had short shrift, and were at once consigned to the gallows, a batch of ten one day suffering death opposite the Kotwali.
In the beginning of October two more reputed sons of the old King were shot by sentence of court-martial. They had commanded regiments of the rebel army, and were foremost in the revolt, even joining in the massacre of our people. The 60th Rifles and some Goorkhas formed the firing party, and took, strange to say, such bad aim that the provost-sergeant had to finish the work by shooting each culprit with a pistol. Nothing could have been more ill-favoured and dirty than the wretched victims; but they met their fate in silence and with the most dogged composure.
September 28.--Accompanied by our Adjutant and some other officers, I rode out to Taliwarra and Kishenganj on September 28. These suburbs were a mass of ruins, but enough was left intact to show the immense strength of the enemy's position at the former place. Batteries had been erected at every available spot, strongly fortified and entrenched, and one in particular which had raked the right of our position was perfect in every detail, and was guarded by a ditch, or rather nallah, forty feet deep.
We passed through the large caravanserai, the scene of the conflict during the memorable sortie of July 9, and when in the course of our inspection in the enclosure a ludicrous event occurred. An officer who had been shot through the leg on that day, recognizing the place where he had received his wound, dismounted from his horse, and stood on the very spot. He was in the act of explaining events, and describing his sensations when shot, when suddenly he made a jump in the air, uttering a cry of pain, and commenced rubbing his legs, first one and then the other. We burst into laughter at the antics of our friend, who, we imagined, had been seized with a fit of madness quite at variance with his usual quiet demeanour, and jokingly asked him what was the matter. Still writhing with pain, and engaged in his involuntary saltatory exercise, he pointed to a swarm of wasps which, roused from their nest, on which he had been standing, covered his lower extremities, and had made their way inside his pantaloons, stinging him on both legs, and crawling up his body. The pain must have been intense, and fully accounted for his gymnastics and frantic efforts to crush the insects. It was some days before he recovered from the wounds he had received, far more painful--as he averred--than the enemy's bullet, I intimated at the time to my friend that the wasps probably were the ghosts of the sepoys who had been killed in the serai, their bodies, by the transmigration of souls, having taken the shape of these malignant insects in order to wreak vengeance on their destroyers. He, however, did not seem to relish my interpretation of this very singular event, and, in fact, was inclined to resent what he called my ill-timed jesting; but the story spread, and our poor friend became for some time afterwards the butt and laughing-stock of the regiment.
From Kishenganj we rode through the Sabzi Mandi Gardens, visiting our old pickets there and at the Crow's Nest, and then proceeded up the slope of the ridge to Hindoo Rao's house. This was still garrisoned by the Sirmoor battalion of Goorkhas, some of whom escorted us round the place, pointing out the different positions they had so gallantly defended. The house was knocked to pieces, the walls showing evidence of the enemy's fire, and revealing to us the truth of the saying in camp that these hardy little fellows, with the 60th Rifles, during more than three months, had been constantly exposed night and day to shot and shell, there not being a single part of their quarters where complete shelter could be found.
The Observatory, close to Hindoo Rao's house, had also felt the effect of the enemy's shot, while midway between the Observatory and the Flagstaff Tower, the Mosque--the only other building on the ridge--was also in ruins. Our batteries, nine in number, lay in a comparatively small compass, extending about three-quarters of a mile from the Crow's Nest in the right rear to Wilson's battery opposite the Observatory. The rest of the ridge was unprotected by guns in position, it being at so great a distance from the city and also free from the enemy's attacks; the only danger and annoyance arose from occasional shells, which reached the camp and exploded amongst the tents, from round-shot and from rocket fire.
Passing by the Flagstaff Tower, we rode through the old camp, now desolate and silent, visiting the graves of our poor fellows at the cemetery, and then, retracing our steps, entered Delhi by the Kashmir Gate, and returned to our quarters.
Cholera still continued its ravages among the small number of troops left in Delhi. The reaction from a life of strife and excitement to the dull existence we were now leading had its effects on the men, and we each day lamented more and more that we had not gone with the Movable Column, leaving the noisome smells, the increasing sickness, and the monotony of Delhi behind. Two thousand sick and wounded had been moved into the Fort of Selimgarh, where the pure air and open situation of the place soon made a marked change in the number of invalids: but disease was rife among the regiments quartered in the city, and convalescents from Selimgarh were soon replaced by men suffering from cholera and fever ague.
In the beginning of October, to our intense delight, we moved from the Ajmir Gate, that sink of corruption, and took up our quarters in the magazine. The officers here occupied a fine roomy building of two stories, while the men were housed in comfortable sheds round the enclosure. We still furnished guards at the Ajmir and Lahore Gates, the term of duty, through paucity of men for relief, extending over three days. The officer on guard at the former gate visited detachments and sentries at the "Delhi" and "Turkoman" Gates, a distance of a mile and a half through streets in which dead bodies in the last stage of decomposition were still lying. While one day engaged on this duty, I passed a carcass on which some pariah dogs were making a meal. Disgusted at the sight, and weak in stomach from the putrid air, I returned to my tent at the Ajmir Gate at the time when my servant arrived with my dinner from the magazine. I asked him what he had brought me, and was answered, "Liver and bacon." The nauseating sight I had just witnessed recurred to my memory, visions of diseased and putrid livers rose before my view, and, unable to control myself, I was seized with a fit of sickness which prostrated me for some time after.
Nothing of importance occurred during the month of October. We settled into a very quiet life at the magazine, varied by eternal guard-mounting at the different gates of the city and regimental drill. My health had been failing for some time, and, now that there seemed no immediate prospect of employment on active service, I gladly acquiesced in the doctor's advice that I should proceed to Umballah on sick leave.
November 8.--Accordingly I left Delhi on November 8, my destination being Umballah, a station in the Cis-Sutlej provinces. A palki ghari, or Indian carriage, drawn by two horses, awaited me that evening at Selimgarh, and, bidding adieu to our good doctor, who had nursed me with unremitting attention during my sickness, I entered the carriage. Just before starting, an officer of my regiment handed me two double-barrelled pistols--revolvers were at a premium in those days--saying they might possibly come in useful during my journey, and I little thought at the time that their services would be brought into requisition.
The country around Delhi swarmed with goojars, the generic name for professional thieves, who inhabited the numerous villages and levied blackmail on travellers, though seldom interfering with Europeans. My baggage, consisting of two petarahs (native leather trunks) containing uniform and clothing, was deposited on the roof of the vehicle under charge of my bearer, but the loot I had acquired, I had safely stowed in a despatch-box, which was placed under my pillow in the interior of the carriage. A bed, comfortably arranged, occupied the seats, and on this I lay down, closing the doors of the ghari when night came on.
Some two stages from Delhi, after changing horses and proceeding on the journey along the pucka road, I fell into a doze, and at last into a sound sleep. From this I was rudely awakened by shouts of "Chor! chor!" (Thief! thief!) from my bearer and the native coachman. Starting up, I seized the pistols, and opening the doors of the ghari, saw, as I fancied, some forms disappearing in the darkness at the side of the road. I fired two barrels in the direction and pursued for some distance, but finding that my shots had not taken effect, and fearful of losing my way--for the night was pitch-dark--I returned to the carriage. My bearer then told me that some robbers had climbed up the back of the ghari, taken the two petarahs between which he was lying, and made off into the country. We had been driving at the usual pace, about six miles an hour, and it proves the practised skill and agility of the goojars, who, with such ease, had abstracted the boxes from under the very nose of my servant. There was nothing for it but to continue my journey regretting the loss of my personal effects, but still fortunate in one respect--that the loot was safe under my pillow.
November 9.--At the next stage I questioned the horse-keeper, acquainting him with the robbery, and learned that a village inhabited by goojars lay off the road not far from the place where the robbery had been perpetrated. In the morning I arrived at the civil station of Karnal, and drove to the residence of the Commissioner, to whom I reported my loss, giving the name of the village where it had occurred. He told me to make out a valuation of the things stolen and to send it to him on the first opportunity. This I did on reaching Umballah, fixing the value of the different articles in the boxes at 250 rupees. A month afterwards, when the affair had almost faded from my memory, I received a letter from the Commissioner stating that he had visited the village near the spot where the robbery had taken place. The headman had been summoned to his presence, and warned that, unless the thieves were given up and the boxes returned with their contents intact, he would confiscate a certain number of cattle, and sell the same to indemnify me for the losses I had sustained. These orders being unfulfilled, the cattle were sold, and an order for 250 rupees was enclosed to me in the letter. The boxes, quite empty, with the exception of my journals, were found afterwards at the bottom of a well and were forwarded to Umballah. The ink had run in the journals from immersion in the water, but the writing was little defaced, and these papers--to me the most precious part of my luggage--I was glad to recover.
The change to Umballah was at first beneficial, but later on I suffered a relapse; and after appearing before a medical board, was granted a year's leave to England.
From Umballah I journeyed to Ferozepore, where I met several of my brother-officers and others who, like myself, had been invalided home.
January 10, 1858.--After a short stay there--the time being principally taken up with chartering boats and providing necessaries for the passage down the river--we all, to the number of about fifty persons, occupying twenty-two boats, which had to be specially fitted up with straw-built houses with sloping roofs, set off on January 10, 1858, under the protection of a guard of Sikhs, and, after what may on the whole be regarded as a pleasant trip, reached Tattah on February 11. Thence I went on to Karachi and Bombay and Marseilles, and, after a pleasant tour on the Continent of Europe, arrived in the Old Country in May, 1858, after an absence of rather more than six years.
[Illustration: "HOMEWARD," NEAR JERRICK, ON THE INDUS]
[Footnote 1: Since the above was written, especial honour has been shown to those who participated in the hardships and glories of the campaign by His Majesty King Edward VII., who received the surviving officers at a levee at St. James's Palace on June 3, 1907.
A public dinner was also given by the proprietors of the Daily Telegraph in the Albert Hall on December 23 of the same year to all the surviving veterans who had taken part in the suppression of the Mutiny in 1857.]
[Footnote 2: White people.]