The Letters of Robert Bartrum, M.D.

We have seen the mutiny at Gonda from the viewpoint of the rather tiresome Mr. Wingfield and from Mr. Edgar Clark – both accounts were published in Noah Alfred Chicks’ “Annals of the Indian Rebellion.” However, there are gaps in the narrative – fortunately for us, Kate Bartrum published the letters and parts of her husband’s diary in her own book, which give us a clearer picture of what Robert did after the uprising in Gonda. These writings also present a clearer picture of Robert Bartrum – doctor, soldier, husband and father. Away from the formality of scholarly works, we can focus for a moment on the man.

His letters begin shortly a few days after Kate and Bobbie had left for Lucknow. Gonda was lost and he, like everyone else from the station had fled to Balrampur.

“Bulrampore, June 12, 1857.
” My dearest K.,
” I trust this will find you well and in safety. We left Gonda yesterday morning, having made up our minds the day before to leave, the tone of the sepoys and native officers being so changed that we considered our lives in great danger. In the morning, the Secrora officers who had escaped arrived at Gonda.
We travelled all day, although the heat was very great, and arrived here at night, just before dusk. The sepoys at the last seemed very well inclined, many accompanying us on our way, shedding tears; the native officers made their salaams, but none desired us to stay; indeed the havildar major came to us at dawn and showed us a letter just received from Secrora, desiring the regiment to stop the officers and treasury; so this was our only chance: the sentries were watching us, and their manner warned us that we should not be safe in remaining. We left for the protection of the Rajah of Bulrampore, thirty miles distant, without anything but our horses and the clothes on our backs. In a day or so, we start most probably for Goruckpore to a friendly Rajah there: we are uncertain of anything further, but shall act as circumstances direct; though so far safe, we do not, feel at all secure; a short distance from here, five Europeans have been killed by a Jemindar and his people, and there is daily chance of a disturbance at Goruckpore ; but I am now dead to a sense of danger, as I expected to be killed the last night we were at Gonda. . . . .

I have received no news of your safety, but I trust to God you are so, and also the dear little one. Let us be very thankful to our Almighty Father for having so far spared us.
” Ever your attached Husband.”

From Balrampur it would now appear that Robert joined the other officers in making for Gorakhpur directly, leaving Mr. Wingfield to his own machinations.

” Ghazeepore, June 26, 1857.
” My dearest K.,
” I wrote to you from the other side of Goruckpore, and also on two other occasions, in the hope that one of the number would reach you and relieve you from anxiety regarding my fate. We have all arrived here in safety, not having been molested on the road in the least. We have been marching or rather flying, ever since the 11th, going thirty or forty miles a day. We start to Benares tonight, and hope to reach the day after tomorrow.
I trust you have heard of our safety by some means. I hope so, for my principal anxiety has been that you should not be in any alarm on my account. We have stayed at different places, and marched as accounts of the state of the country led us to think the safest route. Until we arrived at Goruckpore, we had to undergo all kinds of hardships in the way of food and rest, and we always travelled at night on account of the heat of the day: none have really suffered, though one or two shewed symptoms of giving way under it: were I not a great deal stronger than when I left England, I could not have stood it. . . . All our property is lost, I did not save a thing; hut I am thankful to God that we have been so far spared to each other. Oh ! dearest K., I do so long to see you, and baby, my own dear little boy; but whatever may take place, keep up your spirits, it will not be long before all things are settled.
“We were in Goruckpore on the 19th, and took up from there the ladies of the station; by the kindness of the people we were supplied with wearing apparel, &c. We travelled by torchlight in dreadful confusion: a tremendous cavalcade was formed, with an escort of Sowars and armed men belonging to the Rajah of Bansee. Seventeen of the Fyzabad officers were slaughtered on the river by the 17th regiment : a serjeant, the only survivor, has joined our party. Mrs. Mill, the wife of Captain Mill, commanding the artillery of Fyzabad, was last heard of on this side the river begging for food from village to village, surely she cannot escape death. Is it not a mercy that we have been saved from so dreadful a fate?
“On the 23rd we reached Azimghur, a pretty civil station: it has been plundered, the houses burnt and destroyed in such a manner that could you see it you would think it the work of demons rather than men. The sepoys were content to plunder the Treasury, but the villagers around destroyed the furniture and broke whatever was useless to themselves, dismantling the whole place even to the public gardens, baths, &c. The prison was opened, admitting to the world about 800 characters of infamy. An indigo planter whose property in the neighbourhood has suffered in the same degree, remained concealed until assistance arrived, and is now reclaiming the district from disorder so far as he can. He goes out to administer retribution in burning villages, and rescuing people and property: his name is Venables, and he deserves the highest praise. So timid are these infamous scoundrels that having conducted themselves as fiends when they had no one to oppose them, they now fly in all directions from a small hand.
“We march tonight on our route to Benares: if we meet with opposition I hope we shall be able to defend the ladies and children. Our native escort we look upon as useless, composed of nothing but sepoys, who may be as atrocious fiends as those we have fled from. I look forward to soon marching up the country again by Cawnpore to Lucknow. It now threatens rain, very fortunate has it been for us that it has not come on before, for our hed has been always on the ground, usually at the foot of a tree, sometimes on the hank of the river which we were about to ford : we have passed the Kuptee and Goghra, now the Goomtee remains, and then we meet the Ganges.
“I am so disturbed at thinking of the straits you and dear baby must he put to for clothes. I look upon all at Gonda as lost, but I am only too thankful that we have been so far spared to each other, and that we may soon meet is my most earnest hope.
” Your ever attached Husband

Robert reached Benares safely, and from there he wrote to Kate again. Little did he know his wife did not receive any of his letters and by this time she was invested with over 1000 souls in the Lucknow Residency.

Benares, July 18, 1857.
“My dearest K.,
” This morning we have received news of General Havelock’s having arrived at Cawnpore on his way to Lucknow, so I thought that now there might be some chance of a letter reaching you. I hope that the Lord has preserved you and our little one in all safety and health. We have news from Lucknow of 30th June, which told us of an unsuccessful sally on the part of the English. I cannot tell you the dreadful anxiety it caused me. I do trust that you and the little baby are well and strong, and that the hardships you must have undergone have not been too much for you. What dreadful times these are! I don’t know how things are to end, or when they are to come right: may God quickly give us success against our enemies. . . .
I have written to you several letters, but fear none have reached you; my last was from Azimgurh. On the road to Ghazeepore, a European soldier, a Colonel and his wife, joined us; they had escaped from Fyzabad, and had passed through the greatest horrors. The fatigues and dangers undergone by many poor ladies in escaping from the blood-thirsty villains, of sepoys is perfectly heart-rending to hear of, so horrible has it in many instances been: very thankful am I that we have been spared the sufferings that have fallen to the lot of so many others. I have not received a letter from anyone, for I don’t know how long, as of course they have been lost. I suppose you have not heard the bad news of Dr. Spilsbury’s death: I know what your grief will be at losing such a friend.
“I have been at Benares some time. The officers with whom I was have returned to Goruckpore to join the Goorkhas from Nepaul, who are coming down to hold some districts for us. I had volunteered to accompany them; but on the way from Goruckpore here, I caught a fever, and on recovering from this, from accompanying a party into the district against some rebels, I took fever again; and bad news coming from Lucknow, anxiety and illness, made me so weak, that I was not fit for anything.
In a few days I shall be employed again, either in going to Calcutta to bring up European troops, or to Allahabad to assist there. I don’t care where I am sent to so that I am employed; being without hooks, I have nothing whatever to do. Unfortunately, there will soon be large hospitals; the fatigues of the troops, though endured for a time while the excitement lasts, will be followed by a reaction attended with a frightful mortality.

In August, Robert was still in Benares, awaiting orders. With his regiment gone over to the mutineers, he was currently unemployed and restlessness was beginning to tell.

“Benares, August 9th, 1857.

“My dearest K.,
“I trust to God that He has hitherto preserved you from all harm and that He still keeps for us our little child. For my sake bear up against all the trials that await you. Trust that however hard they may be, everything is ordered for our good; cheer up then, dearest K., until we can meet again, which I hope maybe soon. I know how hard must have been the sorrows, anxieties, and alarms which you have had to bear. You do not know how anxious I have been about you. The daily rumours, the false reports, and the news we have received have been quite torturing.
“For four days we have received no intelligence respecting Lucknow, though each day we have been looking for it. Could I bear all your trials a thousand times to save you, I should be happy. General Lloyd, at Dinapore, has allowed the three native regiments to leave the station without opposing them: they are about forty miles from here, but have been defeated by a small force that was sent against them. If this had not occurred you would have been relieved ere this; they have been using the force which should have joined and assisted General Havelock in your rescue.
“We do not know for how long you have provisions; the safety of you all is discussed amongst us, I cannot tell you with how much anxiety on my part. May the Lord spare you all in his mercy: but you know how both in security and danger, to look to Him who alone can be our help in time of need. After the anxieties, the fearful alarms, and the hardships you have undergone, I fear your health will be much shaken, but do not despond. If God has spared us to each other, we must be content; everything else is as nothing.
“May He give you strength to bear any more trials which may await you: and may He pour every blessing upon you and our dear child until we meet, is the prayer of

” Your attached husband.”

His next letters are a series of diary entries, addressed to his mother in England. He was now attached to the artillery under Major Eyre. Robert Bartrum was no longer just an assistant surgeon – he had evolved into a battle-hardened soldier.

“Camp between Allahabad and – Cawnpore, Sep. 7.

“My dear Mother,
“The address tells you that I have been ordered from Allahabad to Cawnpore; I now only think of getting with all haste into Lucknow. The reinforcements which were on the river with General Outram have joined. I am attached to a battery of Artillery under Major Eyre, with which I shall probably serve for some time. The best news of Lucknow has been received, and that they are able to hold out for some time longer; so much has this news relieved us, that instead of making forced marches to Cawnpore, we are to do it leisurely: with our detachment there are 700 men, and General Outram is in the rear with a larger number. We expect to have some trouble in crossing the river at Cawnpore, and indeed on the whole route thence into Lucknow: we usually start at midnight, and the nights being moonlight the effect is -very striking of artillery rumbling along the ground, the din being diversified by brass bands, fifes and drums.

“September 11. — At daybreak, we came to a village where rebels were posted. A party of infantry and cavalry was sent in pursuit of them; we marched day and night and came up with them just as they had taken to their boats to escape from us; the boats and their occupants were destroyed without any serious loss on our side: one boat blew up after it had been boarded by us, and several men with camp followers were severely burnt; we returned the same night and joined General Outram and Queen’s 90th camp. The weather is wet, and the heat oppressive, but there is not much sickness.
“Yesterday I accompanied another party to attack a rebel village: the inhabitants had fled, the place was destroyed, and prisoners executed; all prisoners now are deliberately shot or hung, indeed the irritation of officers and men is so great that any other course would be out of the question. At first, I loathed the idea, but now t have become so callous to it, that I feel a pleasure in seeing those creatures revenged upon.
“By this day week, or at the latest in ten days, we expect to be in Lucknow; no doubt is entertained of success: we shall cross the Ganges 2,700 strong, with eighteen guns and, if necessary, heavy artillery; should we not be successful, few of us will be heard of more; but that I do not think of, but only of the pleasure of entering the city and rescuing my beloved wife and child, with her companions from their dangers and privations I trust that everything may be as I could wish, but I dread to think what may have happened, their hardships and misery must have been extreme, and it will be almost with fear and trembling that I shall enter Lucknow. God grant that they may all have been preserved in safety.
“September 18. — Our troops are crossing the river at Cawnpore. The Sikhs, when across, were fired upon, and there has been a desultory firing kept up all day. — A partial eclipse of the sun for half an hour.
“September 21. — Went with a reconnoitring party to within a short distance of the enemy’s battery.
“September 24. — Slept at night in a doolie; Firing from early in the morning from guns in the woods, answered by our heavy guns. They threw shot across the camp and into the garden; a halt was ordered, and heavy guns to silence their fire. — Several 98th men killed, also one officer and several men of the 90th. Our battery was engaged the whole day, but no one was wounded.”

This is the last entry in the diary: at ten o’clock on the morning of the 26th “he had fought the good fight, he had finished his course.” Kate would only receive news of his death a full day later.

The First Relief of Lucknow

Havelock’s Column attacking the Mutineers before Cawnpore’

Havelock had succeeded in recapturing Cawnpore on the 16th of July, one day too late to save the ladies in Bibighar. What was left of course, was to relieve Lucknow as quickly as possible.

Information as to the state of the garrison was vague – some reports claimed they were starving, others said they were holding out but had barely enough food to last another month – the spies who left the Residency, if caught were put to death by the mutineers and anyone attempting to get in had to run the gauntlet. However, messages did get in, albeit few and far in between.
On the 20th of July, Havelock decided to attempt to relieve Lucknow but the rains had broken and the Ganges was swelled with water. Cooperation from the locals was not exactly forthcoming and it took six days to ferry 1500 men across the river.
On the 29th of July the force did win a battle at Unao but the losses after the fight, not just in casualties but including disease and heatstroke had reduced his force to 850 men. As a consequence, Havelock fell back on Cawnpore.

This left many thinking Havelock was not up for the job and it certainly did not help his position to have a bristling Brigadier James Neill, whom he had left in charge of Cawnpore, becoming more insolent by the minute. Havelock had to make a move – with a reinforcement of 275 men and some guns, he tried again to advance. Once again, he won a victory near Unao on the 4th of August but considering his force still too weak to advance, he drew back.

Havelock now maintained that by remaining on the north bank of the River Ganges inside Oudh, he could prevent a large force of rebels from joining the siege on the Residency. However on the 11th of August, Neill sent a report that Cawnpore was under threat – this forced Havelock to march on Unao once again to prevent an attack from the rear. Winning a third battle he then fell back across the river and destroyed a newly built bridge, thus making it difficult for the rebels to proceed. On the 16th of August, he attacked Bithur, defeated the rebel forces and thus secured Cawnpore once again.

This however did not solve the problem that was Lucknow. Havelock did not have enough troops to take on the thousands of rebels who had swarmed to the beleaguered city, their numbers exponentially swelled by help from the various landowners of Oudh who were contributing forces to the rebellion. The situation in the Residency was dire; but they would have to hold out.

Notice came that Havelock would be superseded by Major General James Outram – this appears to have given Havelock the conviction to relieve Lucknow before Outram arrived. In this scope, he sent a letter to Inglis on the Residency, suggesting Inglis muster his men and cut his way out of the Residency; Havelock would meet him on the road to Cawnpore.
Inglis probably would have done it if he did have a garrison full of women and children. It was the same predicament that faced the men in Cawnpore.
Many of his fighting men were sick and wounded and the rest were simply too few to attempt it. He replied to Havelock in the negative, adding the garrison required urgent assistance – with the incessant shelling, many posts were becoming untenable, and although through a steady offensive of counter-mining, sorties and counterattacks they were still holding their own yet the garrison was weakening and above all, food was running short. Inglis could not and would not leave the Residency.

Outram arrived at Cawnpore on the 15th of September. It was with this force that Robert Bartrum arrived, one of 3179 men. Composed of six British and one Sikh infantry battalions, three artillery batteries and 168 volunteer cavalry (mostly made up of men who had lost their regiments due to mutiny and some civilian volunteers), they were divided into 2 brigades under Neill and Colonel Hamilton (78th Highlanders). Outram permitted Havelock to lead the relief force while he would remain a volunteer until Lucknow was reached.

Inside the Alam Bagh

The force advanced on the 18th of September. They did not meet with any serious opposition from the rebels in open country and Havelock would be surprised to find the rebels had not even destroyed any of the vital bridges on the way, making it less tedious to proceed to Lucknow. Havelock drove out the rebels from the Alambagh on the 23rd of September. Leaving the baggage with a small force there, he began the final advance on the 25th of September. There were now only 4 miles between him and the Residency.

What with the rain, much of the open ground around Lucknow was under water forcing Havelock to make a direct advance through the city. This could have gone better.
Without any reliable guides, Lucknow was a veritable rabbit warren of small streets, closely built houses and dangerous alleyways. They met heavy resistance trying to cross the Charbagh Canal – a forlorn hope of ten men stormed the bridge, of which nine were killed, but the bridge was taken. While most of the force now turned right to follow the canal, the 78th Highlanders, in the confusion went the other way. However, their mistake cost the rebels a battery near Qaisarbagh Palace. The Highlanders then found their way back to the rest of the force.

One of the men to take part in this melee was Assistant Surgeon William Bradshaw.

“We marched about eight next morning, and at a quarter of a mile from our camp were fairly in action. The shot passed over us in a perpetual hum or scream. Luckily they were mostly high; as it was, no human beings could live in it and advance, so the column lay down till the artillery had silenced them, and we then got amongst some gardens with the walls loop-holed. We were here shot down like so many sheep, till one man broke through the wall. On every side of me, men were falling.

Lieutenant Havelock and the Madras Fusiliers carrying the Charbagh Bridge at Lucknow

“We had now overcome the first opposition, and in a little time we stormed the bridge over the canal, and found ourselves at the entrance to Lucknow. We skirted the suburbs for five miles, shooting great numbers of the insurgents, and losing many of our own men. By this time it was two o’clock, and we had arrived at about a mile from the Residency.
“Now commenced the hardest part. The enemy had possession of a bridge which we had to cross. On this bridge was a battery of three guns, and there were at different points three other batteries all bearing upon us. The houses, gardens and buildings all about us were full of the enemy, and we were in such a fire! I was with the wounded of the 90th, about 300 yards from the bridge battery. They fired a round of grape at us from one gun, and killed eight of my doolie-bearers
Of course many wounded soldiers were killed in the palanquins. All around me people were falling, and the shot tearing huge branches off trees, throwing mud up in our faces. About four in the afternoon the 90th, now become the rear-guard, got into comparative safety in a large building. There we passed the night, and a night of great horror it was, for the wounded of nearly all regiments were here, remember our whole force was but 3,000: and we had at the very lowest calculation opposed to us 40,000 men fighting behind loop-holed walls, with great numbers of guns; whilst we were in the streets of a very large town, and were being shot down by unseen enemies. I consider our achievement that day the rashest in history, at the same time the most wonderful. At daybreak the enemy got our range in the building, and kept pouring their shot and shell into us, killing numbers.

One poor fellow, an assistant-surgeon of the artillery, was anxious for me to assist him in an operation. I was on my way with him to do it, the shots were whistling all about us, and I said, ” ‘Well, Bartrum, I wish I could see my way out of this!” ‘ Oh,” he said, “there is no danger whatever:” next minute he was shot dead beside me; two minutes before he had been speaking of the pleasure he expected in rejoining his wife and child at Lucknow.

Robert was left where he lay, there was no time to bury the dead.

Machchhi Bawan

After heavy fighting, the force reached the Machchhi Bawan by nightfall. Outram proposed a halt and had the idea to contact the Residency, interestingly, by tunnelling and mining their way through the intervening buildings. Havelock was not having any more delays. He insisted on an immediate advance.
The last rush was brutal and cost Neill his life, shot just outside the Residency by rebel musket fire – it cost the force 535 men, the majority of them were killed in this last push. Nor did Havelock manage to lift the siege of the Residency. He did however manage to reinforce it.

All around Kate as the the garrison cheered Havelock’s force, she searched the crowd for her Robert.

Although the extra mouths to feed were something of a burden as they had come without their baggage or supplies (these were still in the Alam Bagh) the garrison was not facing starvation as yet; the clever Sir Henry Lawrence had put in an extra stock of grain, which in the confusion of the siege was forgotten about and found by chance in a disused swimming bath, enough to feed them for another 2 months.
The most positive outcome of Havelock’s reinforcement was the position was now enlarged. Under Outrams’ overall command, Inglis maintained control over the Residency, while Havelock occupied and defended the Farhat Baksh and Chuttar Munzil palaces along with the buildings to the east of the Residency.

The Residency and the extended position

This did not stop the rebels from continuing with the siege, knowing full well that Outram was too weak to abandon the position, they continued their relentless attacks for another six weeks until the final relief in November by Sir Colin Campbell.

A Widow’s Reminiscence of the Siege of Lucknow – Katherine Mary Bartrum (1858)