If Lahore is saved, the empire is saved
The place now known as a neighborhood of the stately city of Lahore, Mian Mir – (today called Lahore Cantonment) – was, in 1857, a military station of its own. Stationed here were 850 men of Her Majesty’s 81st Regiment, two European troops of HEICo Horse Artillery, the 16th BNI – a famously decorated regiment that had won its battle honors for Mysore, Seringapatam, Ghazni, Kandahar, Kabul, Mudki, Ferozeshur, Subraon – their colours boasted the embroidered star for Seringapatam and the Royal Tiger under a Banyan Tree for Mysore. Raised in 1764 by Captain Alexander Dow, the Scottish orientalist whose renown was less for his fighting skills but for his translations. which consisted of two overwhelming works – “Tales translated from the Persian of Inatullah of Delhi” and the “History of Hindostan, translated from the Persian of Ferishta.” Although Dow had left them shortly afterward, the 16th bravely fought their way through 93 years of history.
The 16th was joined by the 26th BNI who had served distinction in Arracan, Kabul Mudki, Ferozeshur, and Subraon, the 49th, which had seen service in Arracan, Punjab, and Multan. To complete the picture, the 8th Regiment of Light Cavalry, whose fame ranged from Bharatpur, Puniar, Maharajpur, Ferozeshur, Punjab, Chillianwallah, and Gujerat. Of all the regiments in Mian Mir, the 16th was by far the oldest.
As for the officers in Mian Mir in May 1857, Brigadier Stuart Corbett had command of the station in the absence of General Gowan, Colonel Boileau commanding the artillery, and Colonel Smith, commanding the 81st.
On the 12th of May, while fugitives struggled through the countryside around Delhi and Hewitt cooled his heels in Meerut, in Mian Mir, on the night of the 12th, they were holding a ball. Not that they didn’t know what had happened – intelligence of the Meerut outbreak had reached Lahore on the 11th and on the following morning, a telegram brought the shocking news about Delhi. Unlike Delhi however, this was the Punjab.
Following the news about Delhi, Robert Montogomery, Judicial Commissioner of the Punjab wasted no time in ordering together seven senior civil and military officers to a hasty conference – their most pressing subject intelligence received by the station commander, Brigadier Corbett. He had been informed by a Sikh NCO of the Police Corps that the regiments in Mian Mir were ready to mutiny the next day. Their plan was to capture Lahore Fort, release the prisoners in the goal, and without a doubt, massacre every European they could find.
Where such a report might have been brushed off as a rumor and at worst, ignored even a few weeks earlier, Brigadier Corbett did not wait for a confirmation. He did not speak to the native officers; he didn’t harangue his men with speeches about staying true to their salt. He acted – all native regiments were to be disarmed and confined to barracks. He met with very little opposition to what must have seemed like an audacious plan. One civilian official flatly refused to believe the Europeans would be massacred but the military men remained firm – whether a conspiracy actually existed or not was beside the point, they would not be caught off guard as so obviously had happened in Meerut.
Ill in Rawalpindi and desperate to go to the hills to cure his damaged health, was the Chief Commissioner John Lawrence, the less approachable brother of the eminent Sir Henry, but in all ways as capable. He too was not taking the situation lightly. His orders sent to Lahore were clear – every native regiment was to be disarmed and restrained in barracks, the only exception was to be the Sikh Cavalry and the Punjab Police. Like Corbett, Lawrence refused to take any chances. Once again, the civil officers were left ruffled – they trusted their men; if Corbett and Lawrence didn’t, then this really should not be their problem. It was Montogomery who had the final word,
“These men will take up arms if they see us as weak. If Lahore falls, the Empire falls. It is best to disarm them completely. As far as rebels go, no prisoners; we have no time or space for them.”
Grumbling aside, the civil officers agreed.
The brigadier is going to disarm the native troops
“Tonight, too, we all to a Ball hardly one knowing the volcano we are here standing over, none perhaps but the Brigadier, Brigade Major, Wroughton, the Colonels and I, and poor Mrs. Brigadier Major, wild with fright…”
So wrote 2nd Lieutenant of the Bengal Engineers Arthur Moffatt Lang on the 12th of May. A young man of promise attached to the Public Works Department as Executive Engineer, Mian Mir Division. He was 25 years old and although not looking for fame and glory, the next year of his life would see him involved in events he could never have imagined. For him in 1857 Lahore was a pleasent station, his work was interesting and he found himself in excellent company. The news of the mutiny in Meerut came to him in trickles of information, and it is not surprising that his opinion was initially one of disbelief.
“Were I Brigadier, I should draw them up, commend their fine state of discipline, point out the folly and wickedness of their brother sepoys, and confide entirely in their honour and loyalty to stand by their officers and Government. As it is, with this disarming, I expect they will rise. Where is this to end? I can’t believe the Anglo-Saxon is going to be turned out of India, but a feather’s weight more on the scale and down it will go.”
And so we come to the ball. All things told, it was ruse, but as ruses go, it was at least believable.
“The evening passed very pleasently – a perfect sham of smiles over tears. Half the Ladies were not present and those who were there could barely disguise their anxiety while we gentlemen had to give the brightest picture of the case as possible…”
The 81st Regiment of Foot (2nd North Lancashire) had only just arrived in Lahore; it was not unusual to hold a ball for the officers of a newly quartered regiment – and the orders were clear, don’t panic, act normally. Yet Lang and the other officers did manage to hold out until early in the morning, keeping up appearances.
Long before dawn on the 13th,
“Three Companies of H. M.’s 81st fell in and marched off to the fort at Lahore under ColonelSmith . Ten men per company had been also ordered to sleep in their barrackrooms with
“their clothes on. ” At four o’clock in the morning , the remainder of the regiment fell in, and were ordered – to “loosen their ammunition; ” a proceeding which aroused the curiosity of the honest soldiers to the highest pitch…Leaving the barrack guards doubled , six
companies, twenty-four files each , started for the parade ground , and were
formed up in contingous columns..”
Brigadier Corbett then directed to be read out, at then of each regiment, the Governor-General’s directive regarding the disbanding of the 34th at Barrackpore; as colonel of the 16th, Corbett started off by addressing the his own men. He complimented them for their brave service, for their distinguished reputation and “intimated dimly the step which it was his painful duty not to adopt.” He then ordered to native regiments to change from front to rear, “by the wheel of sub-divisions round the center” – in the mean time, the European artillery were loading as they moved; and the the 81st formed a line facing the native regiments.
With the artillery port-fires lighted and the guns loaded with grape, the regiments were ordered to pile arms.
By early morning all 2000 muskets and 500 swords of four regiments were piled into carts, and the men were marched back to their barracks. Not a single shot was fired.
While the parade was happening in Mian Mir, 3 companies of the 81st had moved in Lahore Fort itself, where they swiftly disarmed the sepoy garrison which consisted of a half batallion – with 2 hours after dawn, Lahore was secure.
With the help of the Sikhs, the 81st , guarded, marched and skirmished across the Punjab until the end of 1857, covering an impossibly large territory which today covers Pakistan as well as the state of Punjab in India.
John Lawrence had recognised a problem in the Punjab that officers in other districts had chosen to ignore: – there were 60’000 troops in the Punjab but only 10’000 of them were Europeans – 36’000 were Bengal regiments and 14’000 Punjabi Irregulars.
The Punjab itself had only recently been annexed and he could not take any chances. However, unlike other areas in India which had been annexed, the Punjab was not hot bed of Where ever he could, Lawrence ordered European garrisons to take over all important forts – besides Lahore, they were soon stationed in Amritsar, Multan and Phillaur. Following dissent in Peshawar, he ordered the native regiments to be split into numerous detachments and quickly deployed to the Afghan frontier where they were less likely to rebel and kept more than busy with the hostile tribes; and following the suggestion of John Nicholson, Lawrence ordered the organisation of Moveable Column under the command of Brigadier-General Neville Chamberlain. Lightly equipped and manned by both European and Punjabi troops the the column moved swiftly through the Punjab, quelling any signs of dissaffection they found. While thus engaged, Lawrence never ceased for a moment to harangue General Anson to march as quickly as possible to Delhi. Lawrence believed every day delayed was more blow to company’s prestige; and prestige was at times of mutiny the most valued of currency.
Calling in what favours he had left, John Lawrence approached the Sikh chiefs – with requests upon their honour: they had been dealt with leniently during the annexation of the Punjab, and a little gratitude was now in order. Those that did respond, did so in more than just words. The chiefs of Patiala, Jhind, Nabha and Kapurthala not only professed their loyalty, they offered Lawrence troops and money to fight the mutiny. Lawrence had thus also ensured that the lines of communication between Delhi and Lahore remained unhindered. Later the Nawab of Karnal lent his support to the British.
As for the Sikhs themselves – they had fought 2 wars against the British, in 1845-46 and then again in 1848-1849. After the first war they had lost valuable territory to the HEICo including Kashmir, and the second war saw them annexed completely by the the Company. Although it would serve to reason that they would be the first to rise up against their occupiers, and there were isolated cases of mutiny, a full scale uprising did not happen in the Punjab. In fact, the Sikhs became very strong supporters of the British. Their position was unique – they bore a significant grudge against the sepoys of Bengal who had fought against them in the 2 Sikh wars – and on a whole, the Sikhs could not give their loyalty to men who had willingly participated in the annexation of their kingdom. It was this long standing animosity that John Lawrence and his compatriots were counting on.
“The people of the Punjab were the worst and the most recent sufferers at their hands. In
addition to the Poorbia sepoys who fought against them under the British in 1845-46 and 1848-49, it was the Poorbia soldiers of fortune, Tej Singh and Lal Singh, the Commander-in-Chief and Prime Minister of the Punjab, who had entered into secret agreements with the British and had betrayed the Sikhs in the first Anglo-Sikh War. Again, it was mostly with the help of the Poorbia regiments and Poorbia civilian subordinate officials that the Punjab was being held under British subjection in 1857 when the mutiny took place. As such, the people of the Punjab, particularly the Sikhs, could not have looked upon them as worthy of their support in a cause which threatened them with the re-establishment of Mughal tyranny of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.” “The Indian Mutiny Of 1857 And The Sikhs – Dr. Ganda Singh”
The Sikhs in the army did not face the same problems the men of the Bengal Army did in regards to religion and caste or even privillage and pay; they were also not going to place their loyalty with the Muslim Mughals under whose yoke the Punjab had suffered and they had fought against for two centuries. It wasn’t just the Sikhs who kept themselves out of the Mutiny:
“..not only did the people of the Punjab, the Hindus, the Muslims, and the Sikhs kept aloof from the mutineers, but the people of Bengal, Madras, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Sindh, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and the North-Western Frontier Province also did not join them. Some of them actually opposed them. Not only this. Out of the three Presidency Armies — Bengal, Madras and Bombay — it was only a part of the Bengal Army that had mutinied. The other parts fought on the side of the British Government to suppress it. The Madras and Bombay armies remained quiet and loyal. Evidently, the Poorbia soldiers had failed to win the sympathies of their own class of people in the south and south-west as in the west and north- west”.
And Dr. Singh continues:
“The Sikhs could not volunteer to help these erstwhile enemies of the Punjab, nor could they, for obvious reasons, espouse the cause of the Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II, whom the mutineers had raised to the throne. For over two centuries, the Sikhs had fought against the Mughal tyranny, and they could not now be persuaded to support an alliance which might have resulted in its re-establishment. Moreover, as the mutiny later turned out to be, there appeared to be nothing national or patriotic in it to appeal to the noble sentiments of the Sikhs to attract them to the side of the mutineers.”
Although it is fashionably modern sentiment to blame the failure of the 1857 uprising on the Sikhs it must be mentioned that this is not only unfair it is also inaccurate. They were not the only people in India to oppose the mutiny:
“The Bengalis, the Marathas, the Madrasis and the Malabari… took no part in it. The Rajputs, the Jats, the Dogras and the Garhwalis kept studiedly aloof. The educated communities of Bengal and Madras openly condemned the rising and denounced the mutiny and the mutineers….There were the Punjabi Musalmans, the Bahawalpuri Daudpotras, the Baluchis, and the Frontier Pathans who were deadly opposed to the mutineers.”
It must also be mentioned that although one Sikh regiment did mutiny it was not exclusively made up of Sikhs. The 3rd Sikh Infantry stationed at Dera Ismail Khan of which 50% was Punjabi Muslims, Pathans from the across the Indus, Dogras from the Shivaliks and the rest was Hindus from the “other side of the Jamuna,” and it was later found that the plot to murder their officers was hatched by the Hindus. The HEICo’s efforts to recruit Sikhs into the Bengal Army had been less than successful – and this was because the sepoys themselves opposed it. However those who did participate in the revolt were all stationed outside the Punjab at the time – the Ludhiana Regiment of the Sikhs revolted in Benares in June, and some of them went to Delhi to assist the rebel army. 90 Sikhs of the 23rd Regiment revolted in Mhow and those stationed in Allahabad were held in check by their officers after being collected together and surrounded by gunpowder trains. “Lieutenant Brayser…appealed to their feelings and swore by their gods and then threatened if they did not obey they would be killed by the explosion of the magazine. These soldiers being few in numbers and away from their homes obeyed Brayser…”
On a whole, the mutiny that raged in India in 1857 did not carry much weight with the Sikhs at large. They were not attracted to a cause that was ultimately not theirs. Their history with the sepoys was not one based on any kind of trust or confidence and they were not inspired by their leaders. In other words, this was not their fight.
Disposition of the Troops in the Punjab
John Lawrence and his administrators set up a several measures to keep peace in Punjab, which, besides disarming regiments through out the region, included actively censoring the post and monitoring letters for any signs of sedition, posting guards at all ferries and hill passes, and they also went has far as disarming a sizeable portion of the civil population and arresting anyone who even looked askance. No doubt the very public executions of mutineers sent fear through the population as well.
- Peshawar – HM’s 79th and 87th:
Artillery: 2 Troops of Horse Artillery; 2 Light Field Batteries and 4 Reserve Companies, Europeans; 7th Irregular Cavalry and 18th Irregulars
64th NI and Khillat-i-Ghilzie Regiment remained loyal
5th Light Cavalry – disarmed
21st NI – disarmed
24th NI – disarmed
27th NI – disarmed
51st NI – disarmed – mutinied and were destroyed
- Nowshera – Artillery and Mountain Train Battery, Punjabis, H.M.’s 27th Foot
55th NI – mutinied and destroyed
10th Irregular Cavalry – disarmed and disbanded
- Attock – 1 Company Reserve Artillery, natives disarmed
1 Company Sappers and Miners, natives disarmed
Detachment of the 58th NI
- Shumshabad – 17th Irregular Company
- Murdan – Corps of Guides
- Rawalpindi – 1 Troop Horse Artillery, natives disarmed
HM’s 24th Foot, Kumaon Battalion, Gurkhas, 16th Irregular Cavlary
58th NI – disarmed
- Jhelum – 1 Light Field Battery, natives disarmed;
14th NI – mutinied on attempt to disarm them; destroyed after a severe fight;
39th NI – ordered to Dera Ismail Khan and there disarmed
- Sealkote – 1 Troop Horse Artillery, Europeans; 1 Light Field Battery, Europeans; HM’s 52nd Foot
35th Light Infantry natives disarmed at Phillour
46th NI – mutinied and destroyed at Trimmoo Ghat
9th Light Cavalry – 1 wing mutined and destroyed, the other wing disarmed
- Jullundar – 1 Troop Horse Artillery Europeans; JHM’s 8th Foot;
6th Light Cavalry, 36th NI and 61st NI – these three corps mutinied and and marched to Delhi
- Philour – 3rd NI – mutinied and joined the Jullundar mutineers.
- Hoshiarpore – 1 Troop Native Horse Artillery 4 guns with British force at Delhi, remainder of troop disarmed;
33rd NI – disarmed at Phillour;
9th Irregular Cavalry served with the British force at Delhi, 1 troop deserted and the regiment was ordered back.
- Noorpore – Half Company Native Foot Artillery and Right Wing 4th NI laid down their arms at order of commanding officer without the presence of the troops.
- Kangra – Half Company of Native Foot Artillery and Left Wing 4th NI – disarmed
- Goordaspore – 2nd Irregular Cavalry
- Ferozepore – 1 Company European Foot Artillery; 1 European Light Field Battery; HM’s 61st Foot;
10th Light Cavalry – disarmed and subsequently mutinied; portion escaped to Delhi
45th NI and 57th NI – the first mutinied; disbanded
- Multan – 1st Irregular Cavalry
1 Troop Native Horse Artillery – disarmed
62nd NI – disarmed
69th NI – disarmed
- Amballa – 2 Troops European Horse Artillery; HM’s 9th Light Dragoons
4th Lancers – native portion disarmed and portion employed on service
5th NI – disarmed
60th NI – mutinied on route to Rotak, marched to Delhi
- Juttogh near Simla, – Nusseree Battalion, temporary disaffection, order restored, regiment employed on service
- Dagshaie – 1st Bengal Fusiliers
- Kussowlie – HM’s 75th Foot
- Subathu – 2nd European Bengal Fusiliers
- The Punjab Frontier – guarded by 4 local regiments of Sikh Infantry, besides the Guide Corps at Murdan. Punjab Irregular Force consisting of 4 Light Field Batteries, 5 Regiments of Cavalry, and 6 Regiments of Infantry
- Lahore – 2 Troops of Horse Artillery, Europeans; 4 Companies Reserve Artillery, Europeans; HM’s 81st Foot
8th Light Cavalry – disarmed
16th NI – disarmed
26th Light Infantry – disarmed -subsequently mutinied and destroyed at Ball Ghat
49th NI, disarmed
- Amritsar – 1 Company European Reserve Artillery in the fort of Govindgurh
1 Light Field Battery, natives disarmed
59th NI – disarmed
The Moveable Column
Disarming regiments which comprised of hundreds of men was obviously not an easy task. With some stations boasting but a few European troops and others none at all, it was decided at Peshawar on the 12th of May that strong moveable column comprising of European and Irregular troops, would be needed to take the field at once. The initial discussion was held by no other than 2 of Henry Lawrence’s Young Men – Herbert Edwardes and John Nicholson.
In order to put their plan into action, they needed support – Edwardes immediately sent for Brigardier Neville Chamberlain stationed at Kohat and commander of the Punjab Irregular Force. The next day, upon Chamberlain’s arrival, the men met together in the house of the local divisonal commander Major-General Thomas Reed along with Brigadier Sydney Cotton, station commander. Frederick Roberts took the minutes of the meeting.
Not that there was much to decide. Major-General Reed, at 61 deferred everything to Edwardes and Nicholson and John Lawrence had already approved the plan of the moveable column anyway. It was a mere formality that it was held at all.
Nicholson told the assembly he had been expecting a mutiny for some time;
“Neither greased cartridges, the annexation of Oude, nor the paucity of European officers were the causes. For years I have watched the army and felt sure they only wanted the opportunity to try their strength with us…” They were all in agreement that mutiny needed to be crushed as quickly as possible.
However, the problem facing them was how to secure the Punjab with so few European troops. In every station the majority of the troops were from Bengal regiments, with some boasting but a few Europeans, other stations none at all. The only way to do this would be to put their trust in the local chiefs and their people, actively encourage them to side with the British. Edwardes and Nicholson would also open communication with their friends and allies along the borders who had supported the British during the last Sikh war, rally them against the mutiny, and endevour to encourage all of them to send men. as fresh troops.
The other conclusion drawn was to send Reed away; he was to join Lawrence at Rawalpindi and leave the running of operations in Peshawar solely in the hands of Brigardier Cotton. At 63, he was an active, alert soldier; and Reed, though younger and more experienced in war than Cotton, was no longer in the touch with his faculties – he wisely took himself out of the fray and on the 14th of May was on his way to Rawalpindi with Roberts in tow. He would was now quarter-master general of the Moveable Column, a position given to to him by Brigadier Chamberlain. Little did Roberts know that he would never return to Peshawar again.
Neville Chamberlain was appointed commander of the Moveable Column – a position which would have suited Nicholson but his talents were needed in Peshawar. The meeting left nothing to chance: the column would be formed at Jhellum; the Bengal regiments were to be “scattered as much as possible in order to prevent dangerous combinations,” a detachment of Punjab Irregulars would be sent to to replace the sepoys guarding Attock Fort situtated on the Indus and housing a substantial magazine, and Pathan levies would be dispatched to guard the Attock Ferry, thus ensuring passage would remain secure.
Chamberlain was quick to move. He returned to Kohat to muster his men, the 2nd Punjab Cavalry and met Roberts and Reed at Attock Ferry on the 15th of May. Waiting for them was Captain Henry Daly and 500 men of his Corps of Guides. Shortly after, Edwardes was summoned to Rawalpindi by John Lawrence.
From Calcutta, Governor General Lord Canning had requested that all possible troops be sent to Delhi – even if this meant effectively stripping the Punjab of its force. The only solution was to raise more irregulars in the provice and send every man possible to Delhi – Lawrence agreed the risk was worth taking and the first to march from Rawalpindi on the 19th of May were Daly’s Guides.
By the 21st of May Edwardes was back in Peshawar, met by a dispondent Nicholson who had been unable to raise a single recruit from his Pathan associates who were by now convinced the company rule was over and the Bengal regiments were on the verge of mutiny. The 64th had already been broken up and sent off to join reliable troops of irregulars at various stations along the Khyber Pass – the idea was to keep them out of mischief while allowing another troop to watch over them. This did not however solve the problem with those that remained in Peshawar.
Decisions were swift in coming. The 55th mutinied in Nowshera on the 22nd and 10th Cavalry had refused to act against them; it was now deemed impertive to disarm the rest at Peshawar, namely the 21st, 24th, 27th and 51st Native Infantry and the 5th Light Cavalry. The 51st had already been found complicit in mutiny – they however were not aware that a letter their chief conspirators had intended for the 64th was in fact handed in to their commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Garrett by the sepoys of the 64th themselves. There was no time to waste.
The commanding officers of all nine regiments were summoned at dawn on the 23rd of May to the quarters of Brigadier Cotton where they were informed which regiments were to be disarmed. The commanders for their part were beside themselves, protesting vehmently for the fidelity of their men, with one concluding that if anyone tried to take their arms, his men would undoubtedly mutiny. Their protests were not considered and Brigadier Cotton in his brisk fashion concluded the meeting, “No more discussion gentlemen! These are my orders and I must have them obeyed!”
By mid morning, the regiments in Peshawar had been disarmed without a single word of dissent from the men.
The effect this had on the local chiefs however was astonishing. Barely had Edwardes, Nicholson and Cotton left the parade ground when they were swarmed by men all ready to join the levies – the successful disarming had been the show of strength that was sorely needed to restore the British prestige.
The Moveable Column was organised at Jhellum as planned and was to have consisted of HM’s 27th Foot from Nowshera, HM’s 24th from Rawalpindi, a European troop of Horse Artillery from Peshawar, one Light Field Battery from Jhelum, the Guide Corps from Mardan, the 16th Irregular Cavalry from Rawalpindi, the 1st Punjab Infantry from Banu, the Kumaon Battlion from Rawalpindi, a wing of the 2nd Punjab Cavalry from Kohat and half a company of sappers from Attock. However even the best plans change and first the 27th was recalled, then Guides Corps and the Kumaon Battalion were sent to Delhi, with the Guides covering the entire distance from Mardan to Delhi in marches of thirty miles a day. The 1st Punjab Infantry too were sent for service to Delhi as were the horse artillery. Soon after Chamberlain was promoted to adjutant general and on the 22nd of June, Nicholson took over the Moveable Column. With him came his personal guard of 250 frontier horsemen, men who came out of loyalty and devotion to Nicholson alone. Among them was Muhammad Hyat Khan.
The son of Karram Khan a man who had saved Nicholson’s life many years earlier and upon whose death Nicholson had taken personal responsibility of his orphaned children. Raised and educated by British officers and fluent in Persian, Muhammad Hyat Khan eventually became Nicholson’s orderly and never left his side. He was known to sleep across his door way to prevent others from entering and at meals would stand behind Nicholson’s chair with a cocked revolver. It would be Muhammad Hyat Khan who would care for Nicholson the whole ten days it would take him to die in Delhi.
The 55th Regiment
With Peshawar under control, Cotton could now turn his attention to the mutinous 55th. Although the detachment had been brought back to line by their officers, they had been ordered to rejoin the rest of the 55th at Hoti Mardan. Cotton saw no choice but to disarm them all.
Ordering Colonel Chute of the 70th Foot – a force of three hundred British soldiers, eight guns and 400 irregular horsemen) to proceed at once to Hoti Mardan, they were outside the station by nightfall on the 24th of May. Accompanying them was John Nicholson as political officer.
The news of their approach displeased not just the 55th but the commander, Colonel Henry Spottiswoode. Although he had only been with them for 2 years, his unwavering trust and confidence in his men had led him to write to Brigadier Cotton, pleading on their behalf that they be spared from punishment. The Indian officers of the 55th in their turn had some faith in Spottiswoode since they now demanded to know why the Europeans were approaching Hoti Mardan – in his desperation, Spottiswoode did not wait for the obvious outcome. He returned to his quarters and shot himself.
By daybreak, Chute, the 70th and Nicholson were in sight of the Hoti Mardan Fort. For their part, the 55th loaded themselves up with as much ammunition and treasure as they could carry and beat a hasty but organised retreat, in marching order and with colours unfurled.
Chute’s men were too tired to give chase, but Nicholson and the cavalry were not – receiving Chute’s permission, Nicholson now took charge and sped off after the retreating 55th who turned to face him, their Indian officers ordering them to halt and prepare to receive cavalry. They never completed their manover – textbook as it was, they were still in the act of loading their muskets when Nicholson and the cavalry were on them, sabres flying.
Abandoning their line, the 55th ran off in blind panic into the surrounding countryside, with Nicholson and the cavalry in pursuit. Those that could, stood and fought with as much determination as any man would who was faced with no chance of escape. Nicholson and the cavalry were unrelenting chasing the men out of hiding places in villages, “and grappled with in ravines, and hunted over ridges all that day from Fort Mardan to the borders of Swat, and found respite only the failing light.” 120 men of the 55th were killed, nearly the same number were captured along with the regimental colours and two hundred muskets were retrieved.
Those that made it over the border were sought refuge in the Lund Khaur Hills but the local chiefs soon chased them away. They tried to go to Kashmir in the vain belief that the ruler Maharaja Golab Singh would be sympathetic to their cause, but they were thwarted, this time by Hazara tribesmen. Some of the men of the 55th were taken prisoner, others executed and still others were forced further into the mountains where they died of starvation and exposure. The few who survived being taken prisoner only did so be agreeing to convert to Islam – thus losing the very caste and religion they had sworn to protect.
As for the men taken prisoner by Nicholson, 40 of them would be blown away from guns, the rest were spared as it could be proved they had “allowed themselves to be carried away in a panic by the mass.”
A similar fate awaited the subedar-major and 250 men of the 51st – upon realising that the letter intended for the 64th had been handed in to Garrett, they had fled Peshawar and tried to find refuge in the mountains. However many of them were returned by the Pathan tribesman including the subedar-major who was hung for mutiny on the 29th of May, and on the 30th a further 4 non-commissioned officers and 8 sepoys of the 51st were executed the same way.
The execution of the 40 men of the 55th was carried out in the first week of June. Unlike the men of the 51st they were led out onto the parade ground and summarily tide to the guns and blown to pieces.
Nicholson and the Moveable Column were known for their swift dealings with mutineers. On the 26th of June they confronted the 33rd and the 35th NI, disarming them without a fight. Less than 2 weeks later they took on the 59th at Amritsar and on the same day he marched out to meet the 46th NI and the 9th Light Cavalry at Sialkote.
Narrative of a Cavalry Officer.
On the morning of the 9th, I was fast asleep in my house at Sealkote, when I was awoke by woman running in screaming. This was the wife of our sergeant-major, who was followed shortly by her husband with a wound in his forehead. He said he had five or six shots fired at him by our men.
By the time I had dressed and got my pistols and sword on, the havildar-major came and said that early in the morning the Mussulmans of the 1st troop began saddling their horses and as there was no parade ordered, he asked them what they were doing, when they told him to mind his own business.
I rode to the Brigadier’s and in short time he came out with Chambers, the joint magistrate. Balmain just then rode up and said that when he went down to the lines the Hindoos told him to go and remain in his house or he would certainly be killed. We heard too, that some of our men had ridden to the 46th Native Infantry lines to raise them, and we knew it was all up with Sealkote for so many instances have occurred of cavalry riding down to the infantry lines, and the latter invariably joining them.
Brigadier Brind, Balmain, Chambers and I rode out of the compound, and then we perceived a large body of our men posted so as to cut us off from the fort in the city, who immediately they saw us, commenced chasing and firing at us.
We, first of all, made straight for the cantonments so as to bring them after us, and on then on a sudden, we turned off to the right and rode for a bridge which was between the cantonments and the city. By this manoeuvre I found myself leading and being mounted on a good horse, I could have gone off with coming into collision with the rascals again.
As I was nearing the bridge, Balmain who was close behind me, called out, “Stop and make a stand, or the Brigadier is lost!”
We both turned on the bridge, and I then saw the Brigadier trying to get across a nullah with a number of men after him. The foremost of them, who was a little in advance of the others, as he saw me stop, turned from following the Brigadier and came at us.
I had just time to draw and cock my pistol when he came on me at full gallop, with carbine levelled. I could have almost touched him when he fired, and the bullet whizzed past me. At the same moment I fired, but owing to the pace he was coming, I missed. I was perfectly cool and made up my mind not to fire until he had done so. If I had used my sword instead of my pistol, I must have killed him.
All this did not take half a minute, but it gave time for the Brigadier to cross the nullah, and we rode on to the fort without interruption. It was not till we got there that I discovered the Brigadier had been wounded badly, and it was with great difficulty he got along, but he bore up bravely; he has since, I am sorry to say, died of his wounds.
I though it best to trust my horse, so I rode on to Goojeranwallah, a distanct of thirty miles, where I arrived at about 9 a.m., more dead than alive. My horse could hardly walk in the last five miles and once dropped with me. In an hour or two more, two infantry officers came in who had made a long detour across the country.
Besides the Brigadier, the following are the people known to be killed:
Captain Bishop, 46th Native Infantry;
Dr. Graham, superintending surgeon who was shot in his carriage while seated next to his wife;
Mr Hunter, the missionary with his wife and child. Bushby was supposed to be in the hands of the mutineers, and Prinsep, after running the gauntlet of six or seven of our men, escaped with a shot in his arm. The mutineers after plundering and burning the whole station, made off at 2 P. M. in the direction of Goordaspore; besides which they let all the prisoners out of the gaol loose.
Bushby would later turn up with the Moveable Column.
Sialkote was one of the few stations in the Punjab that would have civilian casualties and it is probably little surprise it was a missionary and his family who fell, victim. The rest of the civilians of the station would find refuge in the fort.
Nicholson would meet the mutineers of the 46th NI and 9th Light Cavalry at Trimmu Ghat as they attempted the cross the Ravi River. Having sent out scouts earlier, the mutineers knew Nicholson was coming and had enough time to draw up in line. Nicholson drew up his nine field guns within 600 yards of the mutineer’s position but before he could fire, the mutineers fired off a volley and charged, bayonets fixed. At the same time, the sowars of the 9th charged the right of Nicholson’s line throwing the Pathan levies into confusion and forcing them to the rear. The men of the HM’s 52nd of Foot quickly formed squares to deal with the cavalry and the 9 guns now thundered out their reply pouring grape into the sepoys as they advanced. John Nicholson could not help but admire the mutineer’s bravery.
“For about ten minutes they stood up very well indeed, many of them advancing boldly up to the very guns. Meanwhile, the cavalry had made several rushes in detached parties on our flanks and rear, but had always been repulsed by the file-firing of our infantry.”
For the mutineers, the situation was soon hopeless. Outgunned and outmanned after 20 minutes they retreated towards the river.
They managed to make their way to a large island but it proved to be a fateful place for a stand – with the Moveable Column on one side, they only then realised the water was too deep on the other, effectively trapping them on the island.
Leaving a guard at the ford, Nicholson left with the rest of his men to await the arrival of boats to take them all across the island – by the next day, the 15th of July, he advanced on the mutineers, though this time they did not have a hope of resistance left. Most of them were killed outright by the Moveable Column, others managed to flee but were cut down on the river bank or forced into the water.
Although this account of the Trimmu Ghat encounter has recently found new light in the book by Dr Kim Wagner entitled “The Skull of Alum Bheg” it is not my intention to present anything else but as close to an objective account as possible. Where it is easy from our side of time to damn the Moveable Column for their part at Trimmu Ghat and it is even easier to condemn John Nicholson as a sadistic butcher, we cannot lose light of the fact that the punishment for mutiny in any army of the time was death. The men of the regiments that mutined knew that and the men of the Moveable Column had been charged to stamp out mutiny at any cost. Although the men of the 46th may have behaved well by not simply killing their officers, they knew perfectly well that as soon as they fired the first shot on that day in Sialkot they would not be met with any overtures of mercy. Harsh as it seems, they had in the eyes of the army, committed the cardinal sin of mutiny.
The next stop for the Moveable Column would be farther afield – by the 25th of July, they were on their way to Delhi.
As for Arthur Moffat Lang, who we left so long ago in Mian Mir, he too would leave the Punjab, and his journey would take him not only to the Siege of Delhi but all the way to Lucknow. We will meet him again later.
The Crisis in the Punjab from the 10th of May to the Fall of Delhi – Frederick Cooper Esq., C.S. (1858)
Annals of the Indian Rebellion – Noah Alfred Chick (1859)
A History of the Indian Mutiny, 4th Edition – T.R.E. Holmes (1891)
The Indian Mutiny of 1857 – Colonel G.B. Malleson, C.S.I. (1891)
The Indian Mutiny Of 1857 And The Sikhs – Dr. Ganda Singh (1969)
The Great Mutiny, India 1857 – Christopher Hibbert (1978)
Lahore to Lucknow – The Indian Mutiny Journal of Arthur Moffat Lang – edited by David Blomfeld (1992)
The Indian Mutiny – Saul David (2003)
Gajrani, Shiv. “THE SIKHS: THE REVOLT OF 1857 IN PUNJAB.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol. 61, Indian History Congress, 2000, pp. 679–85, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44148141.