“..the floors of the room were still covered in congealed blood, littered with trampled, torn dresses of women and children, shoes, slippers, and locks of long hair, many of which had evidently been severed from the living scalps by sword-cuts…” ( The Relief of Lucknow, Forbes-Mitchell, p.24)
It was September 1857 when William Forbes-Mitchell of the 93rd Regiment arrived in Cawnpore. His regim ent had been detailed for duty in China but were diverted, arriving in Calcutta in August. Too late to save the garrison, too late to rescue the women and children in the Bibighar. Although the massacre had been perpetrated in June, the remains of horror were still evident 3 months later.
“The first place my party reached was General Wheeler’s so-called entrenchment, the ramparts of which at the highest place did not exceed four feet, and were so thin that at the top they could never have been bullet-proof! The entrenchment and the barracks inside of it were complete ruins, and the only wonder about it was how the small force could have held out so long. In the rooms of the buildings were still lying strewn about the remains of articles of women’s and children’s clothing, broken toys, torn pictures, books, pieces of music..”
As a relic, Forbes- Mitchell picked up a New Testament written in Gaelic, without a name in it. All the blank pages had been torn out, most probably used as gun wadding during the most desperate days of the siege.
It is this that describes the siege of Cawnpore – desperate.
Unlike Lucknow, where there was always a chance of rescue and eventual relief, where supplies, though monotonous were still available, drinking water procurable and shelter provided for, Cawnpore had nothing.
Over a 1000 people entered the entrenchment early June 1857 – only 450 walked out again 3 weeks later and only a handful survived at all.
The hospital, Wheeler’s Entrenchment
Dragoon barracks, Wheeler’s Entrenchment
From the start, everything went wrong. Whether it was Sir Hugh Massey Wheeler, because of his age or lack of foresight, made all the wrong decisions, whether it was the persuasive powers of the Nana Sahib working against the garrison or just a series of unfortunate events that led to the eventual destruction of the garrison, is a subject that has examined repeatedly with no satisfactory conclusion. Cawnpore ended up serving as a battle cry for vengeance and later, as an excuse to exact horrific retribution.
Ill-equipped, in half-built barracks under the tortures of June sun, the garrison fought as best it could against overwhelming odds. A rumor that the British had surrounded the entrenchment with buried gunpowder might have deterred the troops of the Nana from attacking directly. Because the British fought so well and so doggedly, it might also have been difficult to tell how well armed and how many of them there actually were.
The British force, as it was, comprised of 300 fighting men – the rest were civilians, and many were were women and children. But for the women and children, the garrison probably would have chosen to fight their way out, but encumbered as they were, attack was impossible. Their only option was to do their duty and as fate would have it, die trying.
Reinforcements were unable to reach the city, Supplies were meager from the onset, and as the siege progressed, impossible to procure from outside. Lucknow was besieged and unable to send any help, all the messages from General Wheeler were rejected as impracticable.
The final message from General Sir Wheeler to Sir Henry Lawrence on the 24th of June 1857 read thus
“Since the last details, we have had a bombardment in this miserable position three or four times daily; now nineteen days exposed to two twenty-fours, and eight other guns of smaller calibre, and three mortars. To reply with three nines is, you know, out of the question; neither would our ammunition permit it. All our gun-carriages are more or less disabled; ammunition short. British spirit alone remains; but it cannot last forever. Yesterday morning they attempted their most formidable assault, but dared not come on. And after above three hours in the trenches, cheering on the men, I returned to the Fort to find my favorite darling son killed by a nine-pounder in the room with his mother and sisters. He was not able to accompany me, having been fearfully crippled by a severe contusion. The cannonade was tremendous.. I venture to assert such a position, so defended, has no example; but cruel has been the evil. We have no instruments, no medicine; provisions for ten days at furthest, and no possibility of getting any, as communication with the town is cut off. Railway men and merchants have swollen our ranks to what they are (we had but two hundred and twenty soldiers to begin with), and the casualties have been numerous. The railroad men have done excellent service, but neither they nor I can last forever. We have lost everything belonging to us, and have not even a change of linen. Surely we are not to die like rats in a cage.”
Ruins of the entrenchment
Two days later, the garrison surrendered to the Nana Sahib and were summarily put to death at the Satichaura Ghat.
So what made Cawnpore so different?
The four regiments at Cawnpore, the 1st, the 53rd, the 56th Native Infantry and the 2nd Bengal Cavalry remained staunch until the beginning of June when a series of events unfolded that led to the mutiny. They had weathered the cartridge issue and disaffection was considered minimal. There were the usual grumblings in the ranks regarding the British attitudes towards their men and especially the younger officers treated the sepoys with contempt. Into the simmering pot the British threw a cashiered lieutenant who in a drunken rage had fired on his native guard. A hastily convened court acquitted him, furthering the impression of the sepoys that the British believed themselves to be above the law. Fear was also a factor: upon hearing of the mutiny at Fattehgarh and other stations, the Europeans families began trying the leave Cawnpore, others drifting into Wheeler’s entrenchment. It was for the troops, an outward sign that the trust in them was wavering. General Wheeler had been in constant contact with the troops and believed them to be faithful, his beliefs reinforced by the behaviour of some of the sepoys who gave up a man of the 56th for plotting rebellion. It appeared, on the surface that Cawnpore would weather the storm.
General Wheeler, with his implicit trust in his troops, did everything he could to show them they had his faith. He refused to set up the entrenchment in the infinitely better equipped Magazine, he left the treasure under native guard and did not empty the contents of the Magazine – all to show that he still believed in his troops. It is hard to say if this faith was misplaced as it is unsure as to how many men were truly rebels and how many just swept up in the tide.
The outbreak came on the 6th of June 1857 in the cavalry ranks. The 1st Native Infantry quickly followed and the 56th joined them in the morning. The 53rd held staunch but by now the European ranks were probably in a panic – an order was given by General Wheeler to fire into their ranks, causing an otherwise loyal soldiery to run for their lives. There was no reason for this order.
“The only signal that had preceded this step was the calling in to the entrenchment of the native officers of the regiment. The whole of them cast in their lot with us, besides a hundred and fifty privates, most of the belonging to the Grenadier company. The detachment of the 53rd posted at the treasury held their ground against the rebels about four hours….It ought never to be forgotten that although the influences of this mutiny spread with all the impetuosity of a torrent which sweeps everything less stable than mountains before it, there were amongst the sepoy regiments not a few who remained true to their salt, and who deserve as much gratitude as the revolters have obtained execration….” (The Story of Cawnpore,Thompson, pp 39-40)
The 53rd were left on their own – their European officers were entrenched and there was no praise for their fidelity. They looted the treasury and took as much munition as the could from the magazine and followed the other regiments on the road the Delhi.
Here the story of Cawnpore should have had an end. The mutineers upped and left heading to join their compatriots in the siege of Delhi. However on their way they met the Nana Sahib.
The Nana Sahib is a pivotal character in the story of Cawnpore. The disaffected adopted son of the Rajah of Bithur, the Nana had been deposed by the annexation of his territory by the British whose expansionist policy refused to recognize adopted children as legitimate heirs of deceased rulers. His appeals were rejected and his emissary, one Azimullah Khan who he sent to the court of Queen Victoria, was not even given a fair hearing. Disgruntled and doubtlessly angry, the Nana played a double role – on one hand, he offered his hand in friendship to the British, on the other hand he fed sedition in Cawnpore.
The Nana Sahib met the Cawnpore regiments on the road at Nawabganj. He distributed money and munitions the them and forthwith assumed command. Convinced of his leadership and promises of pay he was able to lead them back to Cawnpore.
Cawnpore was systematically plundered, stores were looted, houses burned and anyone who was considered to be sympathetic to the British were killed. Anyone unwise enough to have remained in Cawnpore after the initial outbreak was hunted down and murdered.
In the entrenchment, from the very beginning, nothing went to plan.
” A mud wall, four feet high, was thrown up round the buildings which composed of the old dragoon hospital, and ten guns of various calibre were placed in position round the intrenchment, by which name the miserable contrivance was dignified. Orders were given to lay in supplies for twenty-five days. The stock of rice, butter, salt tea, sugar, rum, beer and preserved meats looked well enough on paper…The tangible results of a fortnights labour and supervision, at a time when every hour was precious and every day priceless, consisted of a few cart-loads of course native food and a fence not high enough to keep out an active cow…”(Cawnpore, Trevellyan, pp 67-68)
When the bombardment of the entrenchment began it was quite clear from the beginning the besieged did not stand a chance. Building after building was reduced to rubble, the women and children were left exposed to the scorching June sun, scrambling around for what ever shelter they could find in the ruins or hiding in the trenches. Care for the wounded was minimal at best and the dead were not buried – their corpses were disposed of in an unused well. There was not enough water to go around – the only well with drinkable water was in an exposed position and the water had to be drawn up hand over hand by bucket as the crank had been destroyed by shot early in the siege. It was dangerous work by day or night, and the water was often tainted with the blood of the men who drew it.
The situation rapidly deteriorated – the hospital caught fire, causing the loss of what little medical supplies were available and valuable shelter against the sun. With the loss of this building, the siege, which was to rage on for 21 days in all, became hopeless.
Wheeler’s Entrenchment, after the siege
The Probett and Walsh Families
The real tragedy at Cawnpore was the human toll. Entire families were destroyed. Such an example is the Probetts. Here I take up the story as told by their descendant, Mark Probett, who has researched his family’s history in detail.
The story of the Probetts begins with William. He joined the Honourable East India Company at the age of 16 as and artillary gunner, 3rd troop, 3rd Brigade, sailing for India in 1830. He served with the company until purchasing his discharge in 1844. Remaining in India, William was employed by the DAK Inland Freight Company where he stayed until 1852, loosely based in Cawnpore. He is also mentioned in the Gazette as being the proprietor of “The Golden Horse DAK” which ran doolies in Bengal while in the freight business. He became a horse vet and manager with the DAK Inland Transport Company until the outbreak of the mutiny 1857.
William married twice – his first wife died in Cawnpore in 1852 and shortly after he married Ellen Walsh. She was 15 years old at the time of her marriage – not uncommon for this era. William had had three children with his first wife, only two were alive at the time of the Mutiny – Charles Thomas and Amy Ruth. With Ellen, William had 6 children in quick succession all of whom were to die in the mutiny along with their stepsister, Amy Ruth.
Apart from Bridgette Walsh, just 17 and with two small children of her own and married to Garret Roche, previously of Fatteghar and Margaret Walsh married to John Young, residing in Jhansi with the Revenue Survey when the mutiny at Cawnpore broke out, the Probett family, like so many others, went into the entrenchment. William Probett and the baby of the family, Kate, died in the entrenchment. Ellen and her remaining children were preserved for a far worse fate.
Being linked by marriage to the Walsh family, the roots of the tree are widespread – in Lucknow, facing their own perils were William’s son Charles Thomas and the 2 Walsh boys,John William and Henry, brothers of Ellen, all, until the outbreak of the Mutiny, safely ensconced at Martiniere College as boarders.
We can never know for sure what the Probett family endured in the entrenchment during those dreadful days in June 1857. There are some descriptions available:
“The sun never looked before on such a sight as a crowd of women and children cooped within a small space, and exposed during twenty days and nights to the concentrated fire of thousands of muskets and a score of heavy cannon. At first every projectile which struck the barracks was the signal for heartrending shrieks, and low wailing more heartrending yet: bet, ere long, time and habit taught them to suffer and to fear in silence. Before the third evening every window and door had been beaten in. Next went the screens, the piled up furniture and the internal partitions; and soon shell and ball ranged at will through and through the naked rooms. Some ladies were slain outright by grape or round-shot. Others were struck down by bullets. Many were crushed beneath falling brick-work or mutilated by the splinters which flew from shattered sash and panel.”(Cawnpore, Trevellyan, p. 117)
End of the Siege
After ten days of siege, Thompson describes the scene as such:
“Tattered in clothing, begrimed with dirt, emaciated in countenance, were all without exception; faces that had been beautiful were now chiseled with deep furrows; haggard despair seated itself where there had been a month before only smiles. Some were sinking into the settled vacancy of look which marked insanity. The old, babbling with confirmed imbecility, and the young raving in no few cases with wild mania, while only the strongest retained the calmness demanded by the occasion.” (The Story of Cawnpore, Thompson p. 88)
Somewhere in this chaos, the Probett family clung to hope. On the 23rd of June, the Nana Sahib sent an envoy to the entrenchment in the form of Mrs Jacobi, the wife of a Cawnpore merchant (or Mrs. Greenway, depending on the account one reads) and one of the Nana’s prisoners. She brought the following message:
“The the subjects of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria:
All those who are in no way connected with the acts of Lord Dalhousie and are willing to lay down their arms, shall receive a safe passage to Allahabad.”
The note was unsigned but it was generally agreed it had been written by Azimullah Khan. A council was formed consisting of General Wheeler and the captains Moore and Whiting and Mr. Roche, who deliberated as to the best course of action.
With supplies dwindling, guns becoming useless, the heat and destruction, it is no surprise then that on the 26th of June the garrison surrendered to the Nana Sahib. The men had fought bravely and without reproach and would have continued even with such reduced numbers, but there was no relief for the women and children. For them, it was deemed prudent to trust their fate to a man who had proved himself unutterably treacherous. General Wheeler was not in agreement with the other men of the garrison and he took some persuasion to finally relent to giving up the entrenchment:
“But the scruples of the old man at length yielded to the arguments produced by Moore and Whiting:- and they were no drawing room soldiers; for the one throughout those three weeks had never left a corner on which the converged the fire of two powerful batteries and the other other had so borne himself that it might well be doubted whether he knew what fear was. They represented that, if the garrison had consisted exclusively of fighting people, no one would ever dream of surrender as long as they had swords wherewith to cut their way to Allahabad. But what could be done with a mixed multitude, in which there was a woman and a child to each man, while every other man was incapacitated by wounds and disease? “(Cawnpore, Trevellyan p. 182)
It was further argued that as soon as he rains broke, as they were bound to do, the paltry mud wall would dissolve and what remaining shelter there was for the women and children would crumble. There was no where left in the entrenchment to keep powder dry and the guns were quickly becoming useless. Moore and White argued that they would soon be left with nothing to defend themselves with but bayonets and hog spears.
The surrender of the garrison
On the 25th of June, young Lieutenant Masters of the 53rd wrote to his father, then at Lucknow:
“We have now held out for twenty-one days under tremendous fire. The Raja of Bithoor has offered to forward us in safety to Allahabad and the General has accepted his terms. I am all right, though twice wounded. Charlotte Newnham and Bella Blair are dead .I’ll write from Allahabad. Gob bless you. Your affectionate son, G.A. Master.”
It was the last hopeful note to be received from Cawnpore.
The Nana Sahib promised to provide transport for the women and children and boats enough to send the garrison by river to Allahabad. The boats were to be provisioned with enough food and water for everyone and they were to be able to sail unmolested to their destination. The men of the garrison were allowed to keep their arms and a supply of sixty rounds of ammunition. On the 26th of June the garrison left the entrenchment and made their way to the Satichaura Ghat where boats were waiting to take them to Allahabad.
The Nana Sahib had no intention of allowing the garrison to leave Cawnpore. Whether the decision to murder them was his alone is or if he had been unduly influenced by others, is disputed, depending on which account one reads. That discussion is left to others and has no place in this writing. Ultimately he was the leader of the rebels and it was his voice they listened to so the burden of the killings can be placed squarely on his shoulders.
The boats, as promised, were waiting just off the shore at the Satichaura Ghat. The garrison embarked in silence with no help from the boatman or the hundreds of onlookers who stood on the shore. The boats were moored in the shallows but as this was before the rains, the river was low and many of them were stuck fast in the sand.
Satichaura Ghat, 1880’s
“As soon as Major Vibart had stepped into his boat, “Off” was the word,; but a signal from the shore, the native boatmen, who numbered eight and a coxswain to each boat, all jumped over and waded to the shore…” (The Story of Cawnpore, Thompson, p. 166)
The men on the boats opened fire on the fleeing boatmen. Once again it has been argued that the British were the ones who started the massacre at Satichaura Ghat by firing at the boatmen. However, it was at a designated signal from the shore that the boatmen jumped over board and not before, and the British were at this point ready to accept the worst.
The boatmen had concealed burning embers in the thatched roofs in some the boats – these now began to burn. The boats had turned into death traps.
Simultaneously with the departure of the boatmen, the troops stationed along the shore opened fire on the boats. In the confusion, some men jumped out of the boats and tried to push them away from the shore into the deeps but many were stuck fast in the sand and completely immovable. The full weight of the treachery was now revealed: thousands of guns opened fire on the boats and four nine pound cannons were brought out into play from the shore. As Thompson writes:
“The scene which followed this manifestation of the infernal treachery of assassins is one that beggars all description, Some of the boats presented a broadside to the guns, others were raked from stem to stern by the shot. Volumes of smoke from the thatch somewhat veiled the full extent of the horrors of that morning. All who could move were speedily expelled from the boats by the heat of the flames. Alas! The wounded burnt to death, one mitigation only there was to their horrible fate – the flames were terrifically fierce, and their intense sufferings were not protracted. Wretched multitudes of women and children waded out in the deeper water and stood up to their chins in the river to lessen the probability of being shot…” (The Story of Cawnpore, Thompson, p.168)
Massacre at Satichaura Ghat
Three boats out of an estimated 24 managed to set sail in some way or form – two drifted to the opposite shore and were immediately set upon by waiting sepoys and villagers. The third, badly crippled, floated down the river into the main channel. From this boat there were 4 survivors. From the other boats, those who had not been killed were returned to Cawnpore.
At Satichaura Ghat, after twenty minutes when the number of dead had begun to outnumber the living, the firing slackened and the cavalry entered the water, armed with swords and pistols to kill who ever was left. Some 125 women and children who had escaped the fire and the shooting, were herded to the shore and taken prisoner. Among these was Ellen Probett and her children. From the boats came some more women and children, swelling the number to around 146. The survivors were taken to Savada House where they joined another group of 60 Christian women and children who were also survivors of another massacre nearby at Fattehgarh, a small missionary station 70 miles further up the Ganges.
It would have been in the power of the Nana to spare the women and children of Fattehgarh and Cawnpore. He could have kept them prisoner and at a opportune moment traded them for his own neck. But whether he was motivated by pure hate or complete fear of retaliation, he chose murder.
From Mark Probett’s family history:
“After a few days at Savada, all of the hostages were relocated by bullock cart north west about a mile or so and placed into the custody and at the disposal of the infamous ‘Begum’ and secured in the Bibighar compound (The House of the Ladies). This Begum by the way, was equal to any snarling brute that had walked the face of the earth and was thought to be a disgruntled prostitute who had been manhandled too many times by the infantry and wanted revenge for such sundry abuse. And so it became this woman’s mission in life, to provide for the most miserable existence imaginable, a further living hell for those poor dear women and children whom had already suffered so much grief, anguish and loss.
Here in the Bibighar and clinging to life were 214 souls, that included women, orphaned children and little infants, along with 4 men and a young 14 year old boy. All barely kept alive on a scant ration, which included only one miserable meal each day. These rations were meager by any standard in India and designed to prolong an agonizing existence. Consisting largely of a single chapatti with a few lentils and tepid water, all the while secured in an almost airless building of less than 2,000 square feet and with few openings for fresh air. Conditions here were hardly any better than in the entrenchment and although the guns had fallen silent, the ever present threat of death hung over each and every soul, with life expectancy only at the pleasure of the Nana Sahib, or as nature willed.
Furthermore, those poor dear souls really had it much the same as during the end days of the siege. Here they had no furniture or utensils, not even a clean change of raiment and were certainly reduced to sleeping on the hot rough-cast flooring, or if they were fortunate, on top of the course moldy bamboo matting left by others. And so it came about that while still subject to the same extreme heat, flies and mosquito’s, and with virtually no sanitation, more than a few now began to concede all hope; succumbing to illness, infection, grief, heat stroke, the ever present dysentery and sheer breakdown of spirit….
And now having endured two weeks in this cramped prison, time and life had finally run out for our dear Ellen, her sister Bridget, Mrs Jacobi, their combined 11 children and their fellow hostages. The day of tears and desperate anguish was finally upon them all and arriving in the form of late afternoon on a Wednesday, the 15th July 1857. Firstly, the 4 older European male officers from Fatteghur, along with young Master Greenway, were taken out and marched some 50 yards from the Bibighar to a corner in the road where the Nana and his entourage were seated and shot in the back, along with the old Bengali Doctor and one or two female staff, who were technically prisoners also and could not be left to speak as witnesses to the atrocities of the mutineers.
Following along in short order, these same miscreants who had earlier promised that very same morning to safeguard the woman and children no matter what, now returned and acted on a new imperative from the Nana Sahib and his Generals, who were waiting and seated in splendid comfort and not more than 40 paces distant at the bend in the road. Linking arms and refusing to leave the comparative safety of the Bibighar, the soldiers proceeded to open fire at point blank range with their muskets and through the limited window openings, into the helpless women and children cowering in the semi gloom. A single volley paring firstly those in front and some a little beyond. It is said that the heartrending cry’s of those injured and dying put paid to any further murderous action and that now, they unanimously refused the order to fire a second volley.”
The Begum, a consort of the Nana Sahib had been in charge of the Bibighar during these weeks and had shown herself to be merciless. She showed no pity to either woman or child – when the sepoys flatly refused to continue the killing, she quickly organised 2 butchers, 2 menials from the town and a 5th man who was part of the Nana’s personal bodyguard and said to be her lover. They entered the Bibighar with tulwars in hand and went to work, hacking to death everyone they found in the enclosure.
“With day now broaching twilight, history records an astonishing moment; a rare and profound act of desperate courage displayed by 3 women of outstanding valour. It is now that Mrs Jacobi, Mrs Probett and an unnamed Burra Memsahib, desperately struggled with their assailants in defence of their children and friends. Sadly, it appears that not one of those poor dear woman remaining, had any spirit or strength left to endure anything further, save only to beg for their lives and that of their little ones. With all fight and emotion in them totally exhausted, they were now only mere fragments of their former selves and totally broken.
Many of those dear woman it is said; knelt down and hugging the legs of their butchers, sobbed piteously, begging for life. But sadly to no purpose, for mercy it would seem had abandoned Cawnpore forever.”
Massacre at the Bibighar
It took a few hours to kill the women and children in the Bibighar, the butchers coming out to replace their broken swords as necessary with new ones, always returning to their grim work without any sign of remorse. When their work was done they walked out into the night, closing the door on a scene of horrific slaughter. Witnesses said the moaning and cries continued through the night, becoming fainter as the night went on – in the morning, when the doors were opened, the sweepers who had been engaged to clean up, made a dreadful discovery. Several women and as many children, were found huddled together under the dead, in a side room. They had survived the night in spite of horrific injuries – some of the women could still speak and begged to be put out of their misery. Instead, the sweepers dragged them out of the Bibighar and dumped them on the ground near the well where they waited to be killed. Their bodies, as with the other dead, were quartered and thrown into the well.
The few remaining children, uninjured but out of their minds with terror, were not spared. There was, as an eyewitness said “… none to save them. No, no one said a word and tried to save them.”(Deposition of John Fitchett, drummer 6th NI, The Indian Mutiny, 1857-58, Vol.3 Lucknow and Cawnpore, G.W. Forrest). It can only be hoped they too were killed before being thrown into the well. The well was 60 feet deep but could not contain all the grisly remains- what bodies were left after the well was filled were probably dumped in the river.
So ended the siege of Cawnpore. The work of destruction that had started 40 days earlier at the entrenchment came to a brutal end at the Bibighar. There was no happy end for anyone and when the scale of the horror finally became known, many families who had hoped that their loved ones had been spared were faced with the horrible truth that there was no one left. The Probett Walsh family lost 22 members, Charles Thomas and the Walsh brothers left the Lucknow Residency orphans.
The Survivors of Cawnpore
Captain Mowbray Thompson, Mr. Delafosse, Private Murphy, and Private Sullivan, survived Satichaura Ghat and after a series of incredible adventures, made it to safety. Captain Thompson and Mr Delafosse left accounts of their survival. Private Murphy later became keeper of the memorial grounds at Cawnpore. Private Sullivan succumbed to his wounds and to cholera a fortnight after reaching safety.
Mr. Shepherd, who left the entrenchment with the intention of getting help, was imprisoned by the Nana. His family, some nine in all, were killed at Cawnpore.
Elizabeth Spiers, her mother, brother, and little sister Isabella survived. She also left the following deposition:
“I saw several ladies taken away, amongst them Mrs. J of the 67th, Mrs B of the 2nd cavalry, and Miss G the sister of Mrs B of the 53rd. I knew these ladies, as they had been living in the same barracks in the entrenchment. I don’t know what became of them afterwards..”
She later states that Mrs B and Mrs J were taken to Savada House but she could not verify it other than that she had been told by Kodha Buksh of the 56th who had also been imprisoned at the Savada House.
Mrs. Eliza Bradshaw, Mrs. Elizabeth Lett with four children and their daughters-in-law. These women, with the Spiers family, owed their escape from the massacre at the Satichaura Ghat because they were able to mingle with the crowds on the bank, thus effecting their escape.
Miss Wheeler, Sir Hugh’s youngest daughter, a girl of nineteen, was carried away by troopers at the Satichaura Ghat from whence, Miss Wheeler disappeared. Her story became legendary but the truth was probably less heroic. Taken by a trooper, she was held in captivity, and eventually married the man who had saved her. It was rumoured in Cawnpore that a Eurasian woman lived in the bazaar but no one knew of her origins though the story abounded that she was Wheeler’s daughter. This was only borne out when on her deathbed some 50 years after the mutiny, she asked for a priest and confessed to her identity. What her life was life after Satichaura Ghat is hidden from history.
Amy Horne was taken by a trooper from the Satichaura Ghat and spent 10 months in captivity and finally found her way to her uncle’s home. She later married and became Mrs. Bennett. She lived in Calcutta for the rest of her life and died in Simla. Her accounts are some of the most gripping of the survivor stories. Her family, consisting for 5 siblings aged 1 to aged 10, her pregnant mother and step-father, John Cooke (who was an agent for the North-West Dak) were killed at Cawnpore. Amy never learned of their true fate. The last person she saw of her family at Satichaura Ghat, was her little sister who had suffered at broken leg in the entrenchment, as she screamed out for Amy while the boat she was on burned.
There is also an unverified account of a family, who survived the Satichaura Ghat and made their way to Allahabad. Should anyone know their name and their story, I would like to include it in this account.
The Past and the Present
As a memorial to the slain, the British dismantled the Bibighar and turned the area into a memorial garden. Until partition, the well stood in a marble enclosure with a statue of an angel watching over it.
Today the angel stands in the garden of All Soul’s Church and well is now a part of the Nana Rao Park.
The memorial tablets to the victims of Cawnpore in All Souls Church (Picture by Mark Probett)
Nothing remains of the entrenchment except the water well which cost so many lives.
Water well, Wheeler’s Entrenchment (Picture by Mark Probett)
Silence has fallen on the Bibighar. Over the well, there stands now a plinth and a memorial to Tantya Tope, a “hero of the First War of Independence” and instrumental in the slaughter at Satichaura Ghat. He sits serenely on the grave of 200 women and children who now lay permanently under his gaze. The Bibighar is gone, but the well remains, albeit nearly forgotten.