Somewhere close to Aligarh, there was an indigo factory, called Mudrock. It no longer exists, as many indigo factories, today have been left to rack and ruin. It was a prosperous business while it lasted but with the advent of chemical dyes, indigo ceased to be as profitable as it had once been. Where Mudrock is today I cannot say. It has been taken over by nature, maybe somewhere out there on the vast plains of India, perhaps a lone wall or a broken building has withstood time but nowadays, no one remembers Mudrock.
Or for that matter, a town called Coel.
The confusion, of course, comes from the Victorian penchant to write down names as they heard them and not necessarily as they should be spelt. So the fanciful Mudrock, which sounds European is in fact Madrak, and Coel is Koil. Not that it really matters. The Madrak Indigo Factory disappeared in 1857 though a town still exists and Koil, well it is still there, somewhere, swallowed up on the swaths of Aligarh.
The outbreak at Aligarh was something of a disjointed affair. As we have already seen, on the 20th of May when the 9th BNI rose in revolt, it took not just Aligarh with it, but Etah as well. The 1st Gwalior Cavalry that had recently arrived in Aligarh escorted the Aligarh fugitives to Hathras from whence some proceeded to Agra.
That is, expect Mr. Connor and Mr. Hine with their families.
Why they were left behind, no one can explain or indeed has tried. Chaos and confusion have a singular effect on people and it is most likely that not everyone was not at the right place at the right time to escape with the rest of the Aligarh fugitives. This would certainly seem to be the case of two clerks and an indigo planter whose story we shall take up in this narrative.
This is not an exceptional tale; nevertheless, it deserves to be told.
The Narrative of Mr. W. Connor
“When mutiny broke out at Coel (May 20th, 1857) I was at dinner, I immediately left the table and told my wife and children to come out. I took with me a small Bible and Prayer Book – two pairs of spectacles – some medicines for two of my sick children, – four rupees which was all I had in cash, and a box of my wife’s ornaments valued at 600Rs., and four loaves.
We went straight to Mr. Watson’s house; on the road my servant cried out that Mr. Hine’s family were coming after us, I instantly halted to enable Mr. H. and children to join us. By this time Mr. Watson and the other gentlemen had left the station in company with the Gwalior contingent cavalry for Hattrass, for on our arrival at Mr. Watson’s house, we found the place deserted, the doors were all open and chairs placed out; there were four police sowars at the wicket in the compound, but they were insolent and were seen a little while afterwards with drawn swords, outside the walls, seeking for plunder. Had we not got out of the compound quickly, they would have fallen upon us.
We gave ourselves up for the worst now, as everything seemed to be against us. Large gangs of chumars and other people from the town were running towards the cantonments. I questioned some of them as to the cause of their running, to which they replied, that there was a disturbance in the cantonment.
Not knowing what else to do, the party made their way to the sweeper’s colony outside the city walls.
Chaos in Aligarh
It soon became evident to Mr. Connor that the men he had seen running had received information from the mutineers that there was plunder to be had in the cantonments – the Europeans who had just left had had to leave their houses standing as they were. By sunset, the Aligarh cantonment had been destroyed, the bungalows and lines burned to the ground. The soldiers, firing their muskets proceeded towards the Post Office to empty the loaded hackeries the contents of which were taken to the treasury. At 7 pm, the treasury itself was attacked, not by the mutineers but by the city people. The thatched verandah was quickly set on fire, the records and furniture consumed in a blazing inferno.
The riot was fueled by fear – the Gwalior contingent and the Europeans were not that far away and rumour ran riot, that they could return at any moment- the work of destruction, therefore had to be completed as quickly as possible. While the town burned, the mutineers loaded up their carts with as much treasure as they could and by 11pm were on their way to Delhi.
An old khansamah himself eager to take part in the plunder warned Mr. Connor not to enter the city at any cost – besides destruction, there was also a price on Christian heads.
Without any real idea of what to do next, the fugitives made their way to a little hamlet, occupied mainly by sweepers: nearby stood the house of an influential Mewati who had built his house just within the city walls but on the outskirts of the little hamlet, settling themselves near to it, the fugitives could watch as Aligarh burned.
Failing to get any sort of conveyance for their families, Mr. Connor and Mr. Hine, to their horror watched as the sweepers disappeared and one by one their own servants deserted them: by 9 pm, they were left utterly alone, hopeless.
“At 12 o’clock at night Mr. Hine told us, that we went on more towards Sasnee, it would be better, for there was every likelihood of our being attacked by the Mewatis, whose house was so close to us, for the sweepers would betray us. We did not know how to act.
Mr. Hine and myself, by a great deal of persuasion got five sweepers, who were villagers, to agree to escort us to Mudrock, a distance of ten miles, on promise of a handsome reward.”
Coel ka Velatee!
Throwing away their clothes and disguising themselves as best they could as Hindu pilgrims the group set out on the road. The darkness helped them on their way; only twice did they pass by some policemen whose words they could plainly understand – “…all appeared quite inveterate against Christians and were talking in most disrespectful terms of Europeans…” Their disguises seemed to be convincing enough however and Mr. Connor allowed himself to think they would arrive at the Madrak Indigo Factory by daylight unharmed.
“…when to our great surprise, were charged by a gang of men, who sprang on us, a little below the walls of the Mudrock factory; these men were inhabitants of Mudrock, and were lying in wait to to kill and plunder those who came to the factory from Coel, they called out “Coel ka velatee!” or the Coel Europeans. One of the men aimed a thick iron bound club at my head which would have killed me, but providentially I happened to slip at the time, and escaped. Another man, made a cut at my wife but missed his blow. I though she was killed; the men now surrounded us on all sides threatening to kill us.”
Pleading hard for their lives, Mr. Connor beseeched their attackers to take everything they had but spare their lives. Accepting the invitation the band took Mr. Connor to his word and stripped them of all their belongings and then ran off. In a lamentable condition, the fugitives found their way to the factory.
Run and owned by Mr. Nichterlein for some 34 years, it was a substantial factory and Mr. Connor expected it was their safest option. That is if they could get in. At the gate, the guards refused the party admittance. Asking if he could at least give them some water, the men pointed Mr. Connor in the direction of a cattle trough. Despite the gravity of the insult, Mr. Connor persisted in asking for admittance and eventually the guard relented and opened the gates, taking them straight to Mr. Nichterlein himself.
They found their host in a state of uneasiness. After treating them with kindness and providing for their needs, Mr. Nichterlein explained he himself was troubled: some of the Zamindars of Muadrak, whose rights he had brought up at an auction sale, were still sore at the proceedings and were rather pleased the district was falling into chaos. It was their chance to get even with Mr. Nichterlein.
He had tried his best to appease the Zamindars, having done everything he could to provide for the wants and needs of the villagers, improving their conditions at some considerable expense, resorting finally to bribing Zamindars themselves with handsome rewards and acquiescing to anything they asked for. It was not enough – the Zamindars believed British rule was well and truly over and everything the factory contained belonged to them, might, was, after all right.
The Dirty Business of Indigo
It must be understood, that no matter what Mr. Nichterlein did or did not do for the villagers, the cultivation and production of indigo was in and of itself, terrible. The planting of the crop was usually done by nefarious means – indigo planters persuaded farmers to plant indigo instead of food crops on their own lands, providing them with loans at interest. As soon as the loan was accepted by the farmer he essentially indebted himself and his successors. Farmers who refused to plant indigo were forbidden then from planting anything else resulting either in starvation for the farmer or forced cultivation. For the farmers there was no profit in indigo as the planters who bought the crop did so at 2.5% of the market value. Any farmer who did not meet the planter’s demands faced seeing his land mortgaged and his property destroyed. Wages in the factories in many cases verged on non-existent, resulting in conditions that bordered on slavery. Indigo was a dirty business.
The government was not particularly worried about the farmer’s rights at all – in 1833 an act was passed allowing the planters to deal as they would with the farmers. The Zamindars were not entirely blameless – they profited from the indigo trade and as a result, sided with the planters. With no recourse and no protection, in 1859, the indigo farmers of Bengal rose in revolt. Starting in the villages of Bihar and what is now Bangladesh, the revolt spread rapidly, with some planters given a public trial and then executed, forcing others to flee. The factories were attacked with everything possible from swords and spears and by women armed with pots and pans. In the Pabna district in Bangladesh, the farmers vehemently refused to grow indigo. However, although there were outbursts of some violence, this uprising itself was largely passive. Unlike 1857, the Indigo Revolt was successful and in 1860, the government set up the Indigo Commission to address the issue. (As this is straying away from our current narrative, I would like to redirect my readers to this very interesting link: https://indianculture.gov.in/stories/indigo-revolt-bengal – it is worth taking the time to read, although it does not mention Mr. Nichterlein at all, there is no doubt his factory was run on very similar if not the same lines as other factories in India).
We now return to Mr. Connor.
As Mr. Nichterlein’s bungalow stood on a slight elevation, Mr. Connor was able to watch, throughout the day a sad spectacle. Everyone who passed along the road was attacked and plundered, if not by one band of marauders then by the next one waiting but a short way up the road. With the rule of law gone, the district was slowly sinking into singular savagery. After watching for some time, Mr. Connor decided to persuade Mr. Nichterlein to come to his senses and leave the factory, they should make their way to Sasnee while they still could. A servant of Mr. Connor who had but shortly found them out at the compound advised Mr. Connor to leave the place, the villagers, he said, were intent on attacking that very night and no one was to be left alive.
Stubbornly, Mr. Nichterlein refused – maybe he still thought he had paid enough to secure the loyalty of the Zamindars but he relented to post additional guards around the factory.
“At 9 pm we all retired. Suddenly a hue and cry was made that the factory was set on fire. We immediately opened the door, and saw a great blaze where there was a pile of firewood; as the fire was to windward, it spread quickly throughout and set the whole factory at once on fire. We all got out of the factory, which we did with difficulty as the compound was now full of men with drawn swords. In the confusion, my eldest girl was left behind. I returned to the factory to look after my child and providentially, I saw her safe, standing in a hut with another child. I took her out and we collected in one body outside in a small garden.
The bungalow was now on fire, and the conflagration was so great, owing to the wing being then very high, that the flames spread on all sides, and the hot ashes were thrown to a very great distance in our direction.
The villagers now commenced breaking open all the doors, and the factory was surrounded by a host of these bandits that had hitherto benefited by Mr. Nichterlein’s kindness. Finding no safety now, and dreading an attack by these men, and Mr. Nichterlein’s old and faithful servants gradually deserting him, we resolved to march under cover of the night to Sasnee. I had a sick child in my arms and my wife had another. Mrs. Hine was so bad with blisters on her feet that Mr. Hine was obliged to carry her on his back all the way.”
Sawamye and Mr. Joseph Paish
A little before dawn the tired and frightened party arrived in the village of Sawamye and the residence of Mr. Joseph Paish. There is no information available about this particular location or who Mr. Paish was – however as the narrative unfolds, stopping at his bungalow was not the best choice. Unfortunately, in their state, they had no options left.
Like Mr. Nichterlein’s bungalow, the one of Mr. Paish stood on a hill allowing for observation of the surroundings. The would-be host however was not home but the party availed themselves regardless, of his absent hospitality and fell asleep on the verandah.
Mr. Nichterlein took the opportunity of a little peace to write a letter to his agent Punahloll at Sasni, asking him to send an escort to Swamye with all haste. Storm clouds were brewing but the messenger set off regardless.
Sometime after, as the storm burst in all the violence nature can offer, an alarm suddenly came up that armed men were preparing to attack the bungalow – Mr. Paish’s men and Mr. Nichterlein’s son Samuel went out to meet them, firing on them as they went. It transpired that the men they had shot at were the very ones sent by Punahloll to take them to Sasni. It was most unfortunate – they immediately ran off back to Sasni, leaving the fugitives trapped in Mr. Paish’s bungalow.
As the rain subsided, the danger of an attack, this time real, finally came. A large body of men arrived at the compound, demanding the speak to the party inside.
“We now resigned ourselves into the hands of the Almighty, opened the doors and came out two by two. These men behaved very treacherously, they said that they would not molest us, but directly we had come down the steps, they attacked us; one of the men laid hold of my beard, and was very nearly cutting me down. Another stripped me of the clothes I had received from Mr. N. at Mudrock. A third, a young man, threatened repeatedly to cut me to pieces and brandished his sword before me. Every one of us were now stripped of everything. The party also commenced breaking open the bungalow, and plundering all the property. Books were torn, and the fellows amused themselves by offering us some leaves to read; they did the same with the smashed crockery holding out bits of plates to us.
Nir Nichterlein’s men before the attack were preparing some breakfast for us, the whole of it was stolen, and some chapattees and doll (dal) were given to us with the most abusive language imaginable.”
All this time, the party had been sitting in a large granary near the cattle house, the only place still intact. Not however for long. Beset by a gang of armed Mewatis who proceeded to loot the granary, Mr Connor was mistaken for Mr. Nicherlein.”Two persons, apparently zamindars, with drawn swords, who it is evident, bore ill-feelings towards Mr. Nichterlein, took me for him, and were bent on cutting me down, saying, that I was John Sahib, a name by which Mr. N. was called in the villages. I told these men that I was not, but a traveller from Coel; they said, then point out where John Sahib is – I pleaded my ignorance. “ Mr. Nichterlein would have been unrecognisable – he was indeed nearby, sitting close to Mr. Connor, stripped of all his clothes.
The Situation Worsens
“The place was crowded with these ruffians; one of the Mewatees pointed a matchlock at Mr. N. and was on the point of setting a match to it, when a servant of Mr. N.’s pushed it aside and interceded for his master. Just at this time news was brought that Mr. N.’s son (the only son he had) was killed and lying outside on a dunghill. The poor young man was mistaken, it is supposed for Mr. Paish. Had he remained along with us, he would most likely had escaped, but we do not know how he managed to get out of Paish’s bungalow with his mother, wife, eldest son and servants, this whole party was attacked by the villagers on the road and young Nichterlein was killed; he received three cuts, one it is said was from a phursah or chopper which cut his head in two and he instantly fell and expired. A young servant shared the same fate – a severe blow from the phursah split his skull also. Mrs. Nichterlein received a bad wound over her face, and the rest of the party was more or less wounded.”
Their troubles were only just beginning.
With a sword drawn, one of the men approached Mr. Connor, asking him where Mr. Paish was. Upon answering he had not seen him, Mr. Connor asked what his intentions were towards Mr. Paish? “…he said, why, to kill him, that he would never spare him…”
Not everyone in the gang of Mewatis was hell-bent on murder. Two elderly zamindars tried their best to control their fellows but to little avail. Within earshot, the younger ruffians spoke loudly of killing the men and making off with the women. To push the point home one of them proceeded to beat Mr. Connor on the back with an iron-bound club, injuries he would carry with him for some time to come. The two old men interceded, at least to stop the violence, and opened up negotiations of sorts with the fugitives. They had nothing to bargain with but desperation had long since set in.
“Mr. Nichterlein offered a thousand rupees for his family to be conducted safely to Sasnee; Colonel Cecil, (Lieutenant Colonel George Cecil, retired list) a retired officer and relation of Mr. N.’s offered a thousand rupees for himself, the Mewatees wanted a similar amount from myself and Mr. Hine, but as we had no money to command, nor any interest at Sasnee to obtain so large an amount in our present condition, we submitted ourselves to the disposal of divine Providence…” Fortunately for them, the gang was still so busy sacking the granary to kill anyone just yet – if only once in time, plunder proved to be a godsend.
“It was now about 2 pm. We were all sitting quietly when a strong party sent by Punahloll of Sasnee made its appearance suddenly. We were much alarmed at seeing another band and thought they were going to attack us, but it was the mercy of divine Providence alone that had sent these me: they came to escort us to Sasnee. We could hardly be persuaded that they were sent by Punahloll, till they shewed us a Persian and Hindi letter from him. The jemadar of Thanna Sasnee, named Meer Khan, a resident of Mozuffurnuggur district, commanded this party, he was a very brave and excellent man, he at once attacked the whole body of Mewatees sword in hand, and took us all out of the cattle shed. He behaved very kindly to us, there were several thannah burkundazes also in this party. The whole body amounted to about three hundred men or more, for many of the Sasnee people armed, and came to our rescue.”
They did not have very far to go, Sasni was only a quarter of a mile away. Their saviours brought them straight to Punna Lal’s house, where they were received with much kindness.
Sasni however was not the refuge they had hoped it would be. The town was crowded with armed men going about in gangs in all directions, lawlessness reigned with everyone now a law unto themselves. The thannadar complained bitterly to Mr. Connor the villagers had set aside his authority – he had no control over anything or anyone at all. Throughout the day the air was rent with the sound of musket fire. As Punna Lal was known to be a banker, their safety was ensured only as long as his own was.
Towards evening the body of Samuel Nichterlein was brought in on a charpoy from Sowamye. With the disturbances in the town and the genuine danger of being attacked, no one dared venture outside to attend the corpse, much less bury it. For the whole of the next day, his poor father had to endure the sight of his son laid down on the charpoy outside the window.
Towards evening they finally ventured outside to bury the body. He was laid to rest in a garden near the tombs of two other young sons, that of Mr. Thomas Bird and of Mr. Delmedicks – though gone from their mortal coils a long time ago, their tombs were still standing, joined now in their repose by Samuel Nichterlein. His memorial ran thus and perhaps, it is still there today.
“Sacred to the memory of Samuel Anderson Nichterlein, much lamented, and the only son of John Nichterlein of Mudrock Factory, who was massacred by a band of rebellious villagers at Savamaee village during the Mutinies of 1857-58 on the 21st of May A.D. 1857, aged 33 years.”
He was the only man murdered in Aligarh during the mutiny.
On to Agra
Their repose in Sasni was but short – Mr. Connor sent off a letter to the ex-magistrate of Aligarh, Mr. W.C. Watson now in Hathras. Perhaps to atone for his mistake of leaving Connor behind in the first place, Mr. Watson wasted no time in sending off an escort to Sasni composed of men of the Gwalior Contingent and four European officers. There was little time to lose – the very same evening, the party arrived in Hathras and Mr. Watson urged them to move on with all speed to Agra. Wanting at least one day of rest, Mr. Connor refused to go – by Sunday a mere 48 hours later, he was more than willing to leave. Half of the Gwalior Contingent had mutined and had left Hathras for Delhi. The other half remained with their officers – Mr. Connor was only too glad now to accept their escort in to Agra.
It was an uncomfortable journey. Thirty people crammed themselves as best they could into two hackeries with no cover from the sun and everyone was clothed in nothing but a sheet. Although they met with violence on the way, villagers stood outside their huts as they passed, brandishing their arms. Only the presence of the Gwalior Contingent held them back from anything worse than a little insolence.
In this dismal state, the party proceeded towards Agra, stopping only briefly to drink some water. The pace was relentless. Marching through the night, they arrived in Agra at the pontoon bridge the next morning.
“At the bridge, we got the loan of some shirts from the Serjeant Pope, the toll-collector, who very kindly gave them to us. Our party now moving in the heat of the sun in the streets of Agra, drew the attention of all whom we passed, and enquiries were made who we were.” In their sad state, the stares must have been nearly intolerable.
Lieutenant- Colonel George Cecil died at Agra in September 1857, aged 49. As for the rest of the party, Mr. Hine and his family are listed in the Agra Fort Directory according to the Census taken on the 27th July 1857 as is Mr. J. Nichterlein with his wife and 2 grandchildren. Mr. Connor, who left us this exciting narrative is listed, oddly enough as Mr. W. Conlan, (wife and 5 children, so it would appear that 1 had died after all) – and although we can say for sure he must have been alive somewhere in India for Chick to record his words in Annals of the Indian Rebellion in1859, he leaves us no clue what happened to Mr. Connor (or Conlan) and his family. As for the mysterious Mr. Joseph Paish of Savamaee, he disappears completely, existing in this narrative in name only. Who he was, where he went or what he did subsequently, is but known to him alone. Like so many others, he leaves us here and passes out of history
Mr. W. Connor’s Narrative of the Outbreak in the City of Coel in the Allyghur District – Annals of the Indian Rebellion: Noah Alfred Chick (1859)
Kaye’s and Malleson’s History of the Indian Mutiny of 1857-8, edited by Colonel Malleson, C.S.I. Vol III, Cabinet Edition (1889)
Aligarh: A Gazeteer, being Vol. VI of the District Gazetteers of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh – H.R.Nevill, I.C.S., F.R.G.S., F.S.S., M.R.A.S. (1909)
List of Inscriptions on Christian Tombs and Tablets of Historical Interest in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh – E.A.H. Blunt, I.C.S. (1911)
Agra Fort Directory according to the Census taken on the 27th July 1857 by Asst Surgeon JP Walker MD – transcribed by volunteers for FIBIS https://www.fibis.org/agra-fort-directory-according-to-the-census-taken-on-the-27th-july-1857-by-asst-surgeon-jp-walker-md/