Actions in the Punjab II

Jalandhar, Ludhiana and PhiLloUr

As soon as the mutineers left Jalandhar, marching unmolested on their way to Phillour, the adjutant of the artillery division, Lieutenant Sankey proposed to his shocked superiors it might be prudent to patrol the station – they hadn’t prevented the mutiny but they could prevent the inevitable sacking of the station by roving badmashes. Consent was hastily given and Sankey, with a division of Olphert’s troops, some of the 8th Foot and a few irregular cavalry under Lieutenant Probyn, proceeded into the dark station to restore whatever peace and confidence they could in the terrified population who were expecting and not without reason, to be plundered out of house and home.
At 3 o’clock in the morning, Brigadier Johnstone finally decided it was time to pursue the Jalandhar mutineers. It would take another 4 hours to put the column together – 200 men of the HM’s 8th Foot under Colonel Longfield and 6 guns under Major Olpherts. Captain Farrington assembled 150 of the raja’s cavalry and a few mounted civil police, answerable to him. By this time the Jalandhar mutineers had a 6-hour head start and no one was sure which direction they had gone. As the pursuing force marched out of Jalandhar, the mutineers were already encamped on the parade ground at Phillour and had been peacefully joined by the men of the 3rd BNI.
Johnstone’s force was now marching under the blaze of full summer sun and barely 6 miles out of Jalandhar, Johnstone order a halt, so, in his estimation, to spare his men. By noon, they were overtaken by Nicholson’s 2nd Punjab Cavalry. Nicholson joined ranks with Farrington and Olpherts in haranguing Johnstone to get a move on if he wanted to save Phillour. He resolutely refused to let all of them march, allowing only 2 guns of the European troop, 60 men of the 8th on gun carriages, and the 2nd Punjab Cavalry to advance. They pushed on within 3 miles of Phillour when two Sikhs of the 3rd BNI rode up to Nicholson – their regiment, they said had gone over to the mutineers, but their commander, Colonel Butler and all the officers were safely in Phillour Fort. Butler sent word – the mutineers, having found the bridge of boats broken, had crossed the river 4 miles farther up the river and were, even then, crossing very slowly, as they only had three boats.


The fort of Phillour, on the Punjab side of the Sutlej, in 1846

Phillour Fort, 1858

Early in the morning on the 8th of June, the mutineers reached Phillour (Phillaur, in today’s vernacular) where they found themselves welcomed warmly by the 3rd BNI. This corps was peculiar in more ways than one, performing acts of seemingly unswerving loyalty right to the end. A detachment had escorted a substantial amount of ammunition to Ambala a few days earlier; the whole regiment indeed had volunteered to guard the Delhi siege train when the Nasiri Battalion was having its fit, conveying it without any issues at all, over the bridge of boats, while one company under Lieutenant Chambers and Alexander marched to Delhi where at least for a time, they served without a word of mutiny. Not that Phillour was without problems – the same incendiary fires had occurred in the cantonments, and it was common knowledge, that had the 33rd BNI who were to be sent to relieve the 3rd, the 3rd would have refused to march to their next station, Ferozepore. Mutinous they undoubtedly were, but not murderous.

Plots had abounded between the three stations of Jalandhar, Phillour and Ludhiana for weeks ahead of the mutinies. Messengers had been sent from regiment to regiment and it had been decided all the troops in the Jallandhar Doab were to rise together – a detachment from Jalandhar was to proceed to Hoshiarpur to bring away the 33rd BNI and they would all meet in Phillour. Their arrival was to be a signal to the 3rd BNI to join. Once everything was in place, they would march together to Delhi. The Jallandhar mutineers, unsure of their welcome on Phillour, sent a trooper in advance, intimating their approach thus preparing the 3rd BNI to mutiny. It was not the most sophisticated plot and to some extent would prove successful.

The very morning the Jalandhar mutineers arrived in Phillour, a young civilian, Mr Thornton, Assistant Commissioner of Ludhiana had ridden over to Phillour, some five miles away, to pay the 3rd BNI. Without a murmur, the pay havildars in the fort accepted the money from Thornton. He was making ready to leave when he heard a commotion in the lines; looking out towards the bridge of boats, he saw a party of sepoys approaching the fort. Suspecting mischief, Thornton ordered the pay havildars to return the money, and, without a moment to lose, he galloped off towards the river. He reached the bank before the sepoy, and, crossing over, he immediately turned and cut the bridge, setting the boats adrift. Thornton then put spurs into his horse and made for Ludhiana.

The first news Ricketts received of the Jalandhar mutiny was by telegraph from Ambala, a message sent by G.C. Barnes. It should have come from Phillour but in Ricketts’ estimation the “signaller at Phillour was hopelessly drunk, so he never heeded the signals from Jalandhar…” fortunately he had enough wits about him to send the news to Ambala before the telegraph wires were cut. When Ricketts received the news at 10 in the morning on the 8th of June, he could scarcely believe it, surprised as he was it had not come from Phillour. However what doubts he may have had were soon put to rest by the arrival of Assistant Commissioner Thornton. For Ricketts, Thornton’s report was all the proof he needed that his station was in trouble. Although his station was financially of little interest to the mutineers, the Ludhiana fort had 300’000 pounds of powder stored in it and leather for artillery accoutrements. Phillour on the other hand contained all the ordnance and the prepared ammunition. Had they succeeded in securing these, the mutineers would soon have controlled the road through the Punjab, connecting with as it did, with Delhi. Ricketts sent word the Lieutenant Yorke of the 3rd BNI to do what he could to secure his regiment.

Events now moved swiftly.

At Phillour, the 3rd BNI mutinied “as a matter of course” and, after warning off their officers who, as they fled to the fort, were saluted by their men as if nothing had happened. As soon as the Jalandhar mutineers were ready, the 3rd BNI threw off the last vestiges of loyalty. Joining ranks, the force moved off towards the Sutlej River.

Hearing the Jalandhar mutineers had reached Phillour, the 3rd BNI standing guard over Ludhiana Fort promptly seized it, closed the gates and began dragging up and placing the few working guns it contained along the rampart. They then took over the treasury. As for Yorke, they “…showed him they knew what had occurred and that it was all up with them.” It was to be the end of another gallant regiment which had for 99 years, served the EICo. Sending Yorke packing, they sealed off the fort and levelled their muskets through the loopholes.

For his part, the unruffled Mr Ricketts knew how to help himself. The 4th Sikhs had that morning marched into Ludhiana, with orders to halt at the said station until the arrival of the 33rd from Hoshiarpur, to “overawe” the 3rd if they refused to march to Ferozepore. Lieutenant Williams furnished Ricketts with 3 companies of the 4th Sikhs, while Ricketts requested assistance from the Nabha Raja’s representative, the Raja himself being absent. Ricketts implicitly asked for 2 guns, 50 drilled cavalrymen, 150 drilled infantrymen and as much ammunition as could be spared for the guns. What he did receive, to his surprise, was no ammunition at all, some untrained matchlock men and green cavalry troopers. There was no time to argue with the man: Ricketts placed the motley band under the command of Lieutenant Williams with orders, as soon as he had them organised, to proceed to the head of the Phillour bridge to rout the mutineers should they try to force a passage across the river. Ricketts would now do everything to save his station.
Not expecting any quick relief from Jalandhar – that force was somewhere on their way to Phillour and their brigadier was being cajoled by Lieutenant Charles Nicholson into action; besides, Thornton had destroyed the bridge of boats. In advance of Williams’ force, Ricketts galloped on ahead to the next ferry and crossed over. He then ran up the opposite shore into the Phillour Fort to ascertain for himself what was happening. All he could find out the rebels had eaten their breakfast quietly on the parade ground and then pushed off towards one of the other ferries farther upstream, keeping well out of range of the forts’ guns.
Ricketts hurried back to meet Lieutenant Williams. Williams reported some villagers had seen the mutineers and they were four miles off at Lussara ghat.

Action at Lussara Ghat, 8th-9th of June 1857
The action referred to should read 9th of June and not 19th.

Undaunted, Ricketts pushed on. It took them the rest of the day and most of the night to accomplish the 4 miles, struggling through heavy, knee-deep sand, rough ground and muddy ditches. But arrive they did, at 10 o’clock at night. Their guides after leading them astray had abandoned them at nightfall, but it was too late now to turn back and it was something Ricketts would never have considered. He was going to meet the mutineers.
The mutineers had nearly finished crossing the river – three boats do not carry very many men at once as Colonel Butler had pointed out to Brigadier Johnstone but they had almost managed by the time Ricketts turned up, and had set up camp. 1600 men had crossed the river, and only 400 remained on the opposite bank. Perhaps forewarned or otherwise cautious, they had made sure not to light any watch fires – when Ricketts and his men arrived at the assigned spot, it was dark and deathly silent.
Suddenly a challenge came out of the night, followed by a second and then a third – Ricketts had indeed stumbled into the midst of the rebels.
Ignoring the challenge, Ricketts pushed his men on at the double as the sentries began to fire upon them as they fell back. The guns were ordered unlimbered, but the horses attached to the 6-pounder became unmanageable and bolted in terror straight into the rebel lines dragging not just the tumbrel but the ammunition with them. The 9-pounder was still safe and quickly unlimbered from the camels, it opened fire, showering the rebels with grapeshot the very instant the dim moonlight showed the gunners where to point. The rebels for their part returned fire with their muskets, but the Sikhs rushed up boldly into their line and “delivered two splendid volleys.”
Ricketts’ worse predictions now came true. The men the Nabha Raja’s representative had sent bolted at the first volley, leaving behind their gallant old cavalry commander who stood fast, never leaving his post even though wounded and their brave artillery commander. Ricketts was now almost 200 men short, facing an army of nearly 2000.
Directly the Sikhs had opened fire, and the rebels spread out, right and left, forming a crescent. Lieutenant Williams at once ordered 100 of his men into skirmishing order, betting the dim light would give them at least some cover from the rebel fire. For their part, the Sikhs could see enough to aim their fire directly at the masses of rebels. In the first few moments of the battle, 11 Sikhs fell, wounded or killed.
Hearing the noise in Phillour, the artillery officers of Johnstone’s brigade would later swear they thought there were at least three guns at work – what they were hearing was not a battery of guns, but a single nine-pounder, manned by Mr Ricketts. The mutineers themselves could not have been more surprised.

“At one moment, a volley would come from the opposite side, when round swung the gun as quick a thought, repaying them with interest. This was Mr Ricketts’s special charge; aided by a native officer and two or three gunners, he worked away incessantly – now loading, now sponging, now swinging it round; Lieutenant Williams, ever and anon giving helping hand, but his chief duty lay more in moving about, and regulating his own gallant Sikhs.”

For two hours they battled on, hoping upon hope that someone from Phillour would hear them, that the pursuing brigade from Jalandhar would ride up. No one came. Finally, the ammunition began to fail, the firing of the gun began to flag, the men were tired and the long march they had endured was beginning to tell. At midnight, to Rickett’s horror, the moon suddenly burst out in its full brilliance and the mutineers once and for all could see how few men Ricketts had left. Seeing their opportunity, the rebels’ bugle sounded the “close up”, and drawing in from every side, they poured a murderous volley straight into the Sikhs. At this moment, Lieutenant Williams waving his sword to rally his men for one last effort was shot. One of the Sikhs caught him as he fell and Ricketts ran out from behind the gun, helping to carry Williams to the rear. Placing him on a camel, he sent the lieutenant back to Ludhiana.
It was obvious to Ricketts that now it was over. With Williams seriously wounded and out of ammunition, he ordered a retreat. In exemplary style, managing to bring the gun to safety by seizing the two remaining camels, harnessing them to the gun carriage and leading them off himself.
For their part, the rebels let them go.
Ricketts spent the rest of the night looking after the wounded officers of the Nabha Raja, the only two who had stood by him and they moved on slowly back to Ludhiana. By the time Ricketts made it back, the city was in flames. It would have been madness with what was left of his force, to do anything to stop them – Ricketts called a halt and waited.


The following morning at 11 am, the mutineers arrived in Ludhiana. They were joined by the remaining men of the 3rd BNI in the fort, who now abandoned their post. They had been joined during the night by the treasury guard and the only men who remained of the regiment were one havildar and 2 young Sikhs. With no one to stop them the riotous elements of Ludhiana rose and plundered the station.

Writes Ricketts,

“The houses of the Government officials were attacked; Madho Prashad, Extra Assistant, saved his life by concealment. The Kotwal no sooner showed his portly person than he was fired on and fled; the Police, (excepting 4 men) left the kotwali and concealed themselves. The mutineers confined their depredations to an occasional imperious demand for money, to carrying off flour and grain from the bunniahs’ shops, and all the horses and mules they could lay their hands upon to assist them in their flight; they released the prisoners, though the guard were quite strong enough, had they not been cowardly or corrupt, to have prevented the release, then they made the best of their way after a short rest, in a compact body, on their way towards the south. In the meantime, no troops arrived in pursuit. I sent twice begging the Horse Artillery might advance, and they might have caused them tremendous loss, but they could not be trusted to the 4th Sikhs or the small detachment of Punjab Cavalry and had to wait for the European Infantry..”

Although they did set fire to the church, the school house and the book depot with its library of thousands of volumes, they did not destroy the press besides scattering the type about. One mutineer, on seeing the church in flames, was heard to tell his colleagues, “What did you do that for? Our quarrel isn’t with the missionaries, it’s with the government…” As such, the missionaries were hidden by a kindly disposed of local chieftain and their personal property, after being one good once over, was not consigned to firing.

For their part, the mutineers had made mistakes too. They had left Jalandhar without laying in a supply of ball cartridges and in their hurry to leave the station had amply supplied themselves with blank cartridges so it was not in their interest at all to meet European troops on their way as they had practically nothing to shoot at them with except what was in their pouches. Then, having given the well-stocked Phillour Fort a miss, they hurried onto Ludhiana where they quickly took over the fort and the treasury. They hurriedly planted three guns on the bastions but found the stores in the Ludhiana fort had neither shot nor shell, and although they now had 300’000 pounds of gunpowder, there was no carriage for it. Any attempt to blow it up would have meant their sure demise. As for the treasury, they had that in the power too but the patent iron safe and the lock defied their attempts to get at the coin.
“They, therefore, having done what damage they could with safety to themselves, forced the jail, liberated the prisoners, set fire to all the mission premises, cut up all the buff leather accoutrements in the fort...” and marched off to Delhi. Somewhere behind them was Brigadier Johnstone.

The Non-Pursuit of Brigadier Johnstone

Brigadier Johnstone, for his part, was not having an easy time. His force had lost hours in just leaving Jalandhar. In his defence, wrote a letter to the Lahore Chronicle after the mutiny, stating,

“The pursuit of the mutineers commenced before seven o’clock of the morning following the night of the outbreak. It could not have been undertaken earlier. The direction taken by the mutineers was not ascertained till half-past three o’clock. Preparations had to be made in obtaining carriage for the infantry, providing ration, &c., perfecting the equipment for the guns, horses, &c c., and these after the utmost despatch of offices, as ready and zealous as men could be, were found to be impossible to be completed at an earlier hour. The complaint of one writer, I understand, is that the haste of departure in pursuit was so great, that the Infantry had to march without rations and other comforts, which is true…”

Kaye is a little harsher in his estimation of Johnstone. His extreme consideration for his men “was such that he waited until fierce June sun had risen – waited until the commissariat was not ready – waited until the enemy escaped.” He marched his men six miles out of Jalandhar and called a halt. He could then only be cajoled into moving again by his officers but they were finally no better than the brigadier. With Phillour possibly in danger, Olpherts with two of his guns and a small party of the 8th Foot in their carriages and accompanied by the 2nd Punjab Cavalry pushed onwards only to find the mutiny had already happened, the officers of the 3rd were in the Fort and had no intention of coming out, but Butler helpfully informed them the mutineers were crossing the river, albeit very slowly at Lussara Ghat.
Olpherts did not have enough men to pursue the mutineers so he waited for Johnstone and the main body of the force to arrive and those “who would fain have done something, did not know what to do, and those who knew what should be done were not minded to do it.” No one from the Jallandhar force knew the way from Phillour to the river, and the Phillour officers, refusing to leave the fort, did not send anyone to guide them.
So Johnstone simply bivouacked his men and waited for the next day to dawn. While thus camped on the other side of the river, they listened to Ricketts, Williams and the rest of the force trying to hold back the entire mutineer force on their own. As Johnstone slept in his camp, the mutineers were safely plundering Ludhiana. The next morning, Olpherts, his Horse Artillery and a small party suffered to go through the “ceremony” of forming an advance party to move onto Ludhiana but Johnstone again changed his mind, refusing them permission to move on without adequate support. So while Ricketts sent message after message begging for help to save his station, Johnstone waited. Finally, Olpherts marched off when the mutineers were well away from Ludhiana. It was a march of 5 miles and they reached at sunset. The remainder, under Johnstone, arrived close to midnight.
Early in the morning, after a rest, a small party pushed on with an addition of 300 of Rothney’s 4th Sikhs, with the men of HM’s 8th Foot mounted on camels. Any meaningful pursuit was now in vain. The rebels, lightly equipped had no problems keeping their distance from Johnstone, as they discreetly avoided the Grand Trunk Road, keeping themselves well-clear of Ambala, and by heading out across the country, sticking to by lanes, fields and ditches pursuit by artillery and infantry was impossible. A force was sent out from Ambala to intercept them, but the local populace contrived to deceive that force and they returned to Ambala empty-handed. In all they managed to keep a distance of 20 miles between themselves and Johnstone, a distance so impossible to close, the pursuing force finally gave up. On the morning of the 10th, they returned to Ludhiana and then marched back to Jalandhar.
As for the 400 men who had not managed to cross over the Sutlej the night Ricketts had become an impromptu gunner, they followed the river up to Rupur and crossed at an unattended ghat, making for Delhi along the foot of the hills through the Saharanpur district. They had marched in such good order, causing no mischief on the way, the officers of the districts they passed through actually mistook them for a detachment on Government duty. They were only hindered once – by a squadron of Captain Wyld’s 4th Lancers on the 13th of June, and although they attempted to turn Wyld’s men to their cause the lancers remained staunch and cut a line through the mutineers – it was the only real resistance they faced on their long march to Delhi.

A furious John Lawrence upon hearing of Johnstone’s “miserable failure” wasted no time in pouring his vitriole on the brigadier’s head, ordering him to leave Jalandhar with only a small guard in the cantoments and proceed to Delhi where reinforcements were sorely needed. The HM’s 8th Foot would join Brigadier John Nicholson’s Moveable Column, and assist in disarming the33rd and 35th BNI in Phillour on the 25th of June.

Mr Ricketts returns to ludhiana

As soon as the mutineers were done with Ludhiana, Ricketts sent detachments of the 4th Sikhs and Punjab Cavalry through the streets of the town to “sweep the inhabitants back to their houses and to search out an stragglers from the mutineer force; eight of them were picked up outside the town by Lieutenant Nicholson’s detactment of cavalry without a casualty on his side, and these were all that wer ethen accounted for.

He was joined a few days later by the 1st Punjab Irregulars (infantry) known best as Coke’s Rifles. Ricketts kept them as his closely guarded secret. In the middle of the night, while the citizens of Ludhiana slept, Ricketts ordered them to take up positions in the city. In the morning, Ricketts himself joined them, accompanied by a strong body of police and demanded of the astonished residents that all arms were to be handed over. “Not only did the dreaded burra Sahib, with his police confront them, but every street showed strange and not very prepossessing faces of Beloochee riflemen as if suddenly dropped from the clouds.” It was too much for the citizens of Ludhiana to contend with and within a short time, Ricketts had collected 11 cartloads of weapons, ranging from simple country swords, and crafted Damascus blades to Afghan matchlocks and English rifles. To his surprise Ricketts found among the items thus brought in was a genuine Andrea Ferrera blade dating back to 16th and 17th century Scotland known for its unmeasured excellence. These armaments were quickly distributed among the different levies heading towards Delhi, a welcome supply of free weapons.

Mr Ricketts was not done with Ludhiana yet. Working from information received through townspeople, it soon became clear much of the help given to the mutineers had come from a neighbourhood closely adjoining the walls of the forts whose main inhabitants were Gujars – with the permission of John Nicholson, Ricketts levelled all the houses to within 300 yards of the walls and banished the Gujars from the city. Then he turned his attention to the old cantonment bazaar some 1300 houses and home to “low caste camp followers, breeders of pig and poultry, butchers, sweepers and dealers in goods, tolerated for their usefulness where cantonments exist but intolerable in such numbers when troops are withdrawn…” Although Ricketts does not say how he “dispersed them to their own houses” far away from Ludhiana, he did and the 1300 houses were consigned to history. He did suggest a further proposition for the Gujars, sending them en masse to the Andaman Islands where “they and the natives might improve each other to their mutual benefit” but this, fortunately, remained in his report as an afterthought. No one ever seriously considered it.

But he still wasn’t done.

In an endeavour to make sure no one had even the idea of rising in Ludhiana again, he levelled a fine on the city. This move which he claims was based on an old Punjabi code, was quickly explained by his superiors as Ricketts’ own doing and his alone, just in case any backlash came of it. Based on the village responsibility system, “it enlists all classes on the side of order; the higher classes, whose wants and inclinations do not incite them to join personally in scenes of violence, know that their active cooperation on behalf of Government is essential to prevent their being deemed accomplices in any outrage that occurs; that lower orders know the certain penalty for their license. Thus when all are enlisted in the cause of order, through self-interest and fear of its infraction, the order is maintained without trouble or risk.” It became in everyone’s interest to maintain order but even so, Ricketts levied a fine of 45’000 rupees on the city of Ludhiana.

A sudden wave of violence had broken out following the march of the Jalandhar mutineers as had been seen in other districts, in which old feuds were suddenly rekindled, villages attacking villages, and roving bands of robbers marched through the countryside, pillaging at will. It was the adage, with the ruler gone, a new set of old rules was coming back. Howeve,r as soon as the mutineers were well andtrulyy out of the district the violence stopped.
Ricketts quickly organised a force of his own – the Jagheerdari Horse – comprised of a variety of local forces, which he then deployed throughout his district at each thannah and tehsil and all major roads. The main objective was not so much to pacify Ludhiana as to ensure that no one would have the idea to cross it, mutineers or otherwise. The only ones he did not send on this duty were the men of the Nabha Raja – although he levelled no consequences against the Raja himself, Ricketts no longer trusted his troops and consigned them to maintaining peace in Ludhiana under his watchful eye and sent them to escort treasure from any place where danger appeared imminent. Finding the ferries impossible to guard, Ricketts simply removed all the boats belonging to the main ferry at Phillour, and any boat found concealed was subsequently destroyed.

As for the ringleaders who had instigated the plundering of the station, the following bears out the punishments levelled by Mr Ricketts and subsequently, by Brigadier John Nicholson.

The Crisis in the Punjab (1858) – Frederic Cooper Esq., C.S.
Mutiny Reports including the Punjab Mutiny Report – Punjab Government Press, 1911
Annals of the Indian Rebellion (1859) – Noah Alfred Chick
The History of the Indian Revolt (1859) – George Dodd
The Punjab and Delhi in 1857, Vol I (1861)- Rev. J. Cave-Browne
A History of the Sepoy War in India Vol II (1870)- John William Kaye F.R.S.
Gazetteer of the Jalandhar District 1883- 1884 – Compiled and published on authority of the Punjab Government