The Escape from Nowgong
In Nowgong, a dusty town in the Bundelkhand, some 100 miles from Jhansi, there was a reasonably large force. Comprising of Artillery – 4th Company, 9th Battalion, 66 men, No. 18 Light Field Battery attached, bullocks, the infantry with the right-wing and headquarters of the 12th BNI with 400 bayonets and the 14th Irregular Cavalry, 219 men. The left-wing of the 12th was in Jhansi. Their officers were men of some standing and others were young with much promise. It was perhaps not the most comfortable station, but as things went, by far not the worst.
Major Henry Kirke felt he had nothing to worry about. The men of the 12th Regiment BNI had been holding up their part well, even as the news of mutiny spread around them, they appeared to be true to their salt. No one really trusted the Irregular Cavalry but the Artillery had not given anyone reason to worry.
The chapattis had circulated in and around Nowgong for most of April but with no ill effect. Between the 23rd of April and the 4th of May, 6 bungalows were burned to the ground; the owners were absent or unknown and the roofs being thatched caught at the smallest spark. Guards were posted but to no avail. The incendiarism continued. The men of the 12th Regiment did not assist in attempts to put out the flames and when they could be induced to do so, put on their feeblest attempts. Nor would they give any information as to who was behind the fires. In the bazaar, wild rumours spread – bone dust had been mixed with the Government flour; the story of the greased paper on the new cartridges was readily believed, and as if it wasn’t enough, a story spread that it was the government distributing the chapattis through the hands of the very lowest caste men, with the intention- either by bribes or by force – to make the headmen eat them and thus lose their caste. All this aside, Major Kirke had nothing but praise for his men.
On the 23rd of May, the news of the massacre of the Christians in Delhi elicited some excitement. Major Kirke and Captain Scot with some astonishment heard of the killings from the Rissaldar of the 14th. He, in his turn, was terribly surprised the officers knew nothing of affairs at Delhi and very openly told them his men were in constant communication with their brethren in Delhi. A few hours after, he deliberately neglected his duties. something Scot eyed with some suspicion but didn’t know what he could rightly do, without causing undue alarm. Even the doctor of the station reported to him the very patients he was treating had suddenly become exceptionally insolent. Erring on the side of caution, Major Kirke took some measures – that night he planted 2 guns under an Artillery sergeant on a long straight road traversing the cantonments from the rear, which, if needed could sweep the expanse of the roads leading to the lines and the bazaar. Two more guns were placed on the left of the 12th’s lines on the parade ground, thus commanding the road leading out of the cantonments. The remaining two guns were at the gun shed, between the lines of the Infantry and the Cavalry, Second-Lieutenant Townsend commanding. Since the fear was the Cavalry might attempt to take the guns, they were placed on picket duty all around the station, thus keeping the men divided and unable to communicate with each other. The suspicion was on the Cavalry alone and as such, should they revolt, the guns could all be brought to bear on them.
Meerut had risen, Delhi was in flames and other stations were facing their troubles, but from Nowgong, the reports continued to be favourable. Yet the clouds continued gathering, albeit slowly.
On the 30th of May a letter was received from Captain Gordon, Deputy-Superintendant of Jhansi that 400 Bundelkhand men had been discharged from the late 34th BNI and it was thought likely they would, on their return to the district, try to get a hold of the treasure. The number of men was rather overblown and Scot rightly surmised it would not have been possible for them to be anywhere near Nowgong in such a short time: but the cavalry could hardly contain their joy at the thought of rebellion. They obeyed all their orders but when the officers visited their pickets and later went to the lines, they were met with a “freezing politeness.”
As for the artillery and the infantry, on the other hand, they showed their pleasure in the positioning of the guns and the picketing of the cavalry, they were most gratified that their officers slept amongst the lines to show their confidence in them. It gave the officers an opportunity to socialise with their men and as much as possible, form as close a bond as they could with those they commanded. The policy was thought to be the best in such troubled times.
Major Kirke relayed his trust in his men and the arrangements he had made, to General Sir Henry Wheeler at Cawnpore, who in turn replied that the report met with his complete satisfaction. Kirke was pleased with himself.
Major Henry Kirke was, at 49, an experienced officer and had served his army well. He was for all intentions, content with his life in India. A keen gardener, he actively collected seeds for the Agricultural Society of India and grew sugar cane on his holding in Dehra Dun. Henry was happily married to Margaret née Blair who had thrown over another man she was engaged to, when she met Henry on the ship that was taking her out to India in 1830. They started life together in Meerut and had six children, one of whom, was 17-year-old Henry Philip who was serving with his father in Nowgong.
Nor was Captain P.G. Scot any less experienced than Kirke himself. He had come out to India in 1841, served with the Army of the Sutlej in 1846 and had been present at the action of Ferozeshur. By 1857, he had been serving with the 12th BNI for 12 years.
Rumours and Actions
The 30th of May should have been disheartening when the pay-havildar of the artillery made his report to Second-Lieutenant Townsend around 5 pm, after having woken up from his sleep, he had heard men of the company conversing about mutiny. Some of the Sikhs of the 12th were with them. Townsend immediately reported to Major Kirke.
The next morning the officers were informed from multiple sources that mutiny had been openly plotted the day before in the artillery lines – the only thing that was preventing them from rebelling was the simple fact the 12th wouldn’t have anything to do with it. The same havildar spoke out more fully as to what he had heard. He was backed up by a private employed as store-keeper in the battery and Subadar Byjnath, a fine old man who had just been invalided out after 50 years of service. He was but one of the many invalided officers that Major Kirke had obliged to keep at their posts; only two had refused to return to duty.
The plot to mutiny, although brought forward by a strong party of men, was still opposed by the most senior men of the company.
“The strongest abuse had been applied to the old subadar, and the havildar had been told
he would be shot, because they were faithful to Government. Four men were named by the subadar as the worst of the mutineers; they were sent for quietly, with other men
who could be trusted. They were told that as they were ill-pleased with the Company’s service, they were discharged from it. They were paid up; a guard was ready, and they were sent off at once to Chutterpoor, to be kept there till further orders, from access to anyone, lest they should work some mischief in the lines if merely told to go home.”
Major Kirke thus dispensed with a court-martial which he felt could have put a match to the tinders so to speak. The move was supposed to intimidate the men who were mutinous and encourage the faithful. Although Scot believed the Sikhs were probably more involved than surmised, their officers trusted them so implicitly that no one dared speak up against them. To drive the point home, Major Kirke moved the whole of the guns of the battery that night in front of the quarter-guard of the 12th BNI. Thus cowed and doubtlessly humiliated by this move, the artillery, at least for now gave up their mutinous intentions. Even the sowars suddenly appeared more solicitous, leading Scot to believe that perhaps the suspicions he had had had of their fidelity had been wrong after all.
The men of the 12th, following the example of other regiments, sent word to their company officers that they were most anxious to serve against the mutineers. Four of the five companies of the wing signed a petition which was delivered to Major Kirke. The fifth company sent in their petition somewhat later.
The native officers of the 12th and the 14th Irregulars were summoned to meeting at the Mess House – the petition was discussed, praise was meted out and they were allowed to “expend all their professions of loyalty and attachment.” Major Kirke expressed his pleasure and said he would report it to the Governor-General himself.
While so engaged, a messenger arrived from Jhansi bearing the following note.
Much dismayed and sincerely distressed by the news, the natives officers “..set to work at once, and drew up a letter to the left wing at Jhansi, telling them of the right wing’s offer to serve against the rebels; that they done very wrong in mutinying, and should at once undo what they had done. The letter was at once dispatched by an express.”
Major Kirke ordered an undress parade, and when all were assembled, he told them of what had happened at Jhansi. He then asked all who meant to be true to their salt and faithful to the colours to come to the front and gather around those very colours. To a man, they all rushed forward and seized the colours, their countenance and gestures were those of honourable men. The Artillerymen embraced their guns and the Irregular cavalry seemed taken aback that Major Kirke even had to ask such a strange question.
In the evening Captain Scot rode through the bazaar, his heart brimming with pride, “I got ten salaams for one I ever got before, and all were profound.”
Two of the most influential men in the corps intimated to Captain Scot, as the wish of the whole, that he should ride over to Jhansi – 100 miles away – and speak to the men of the 12th Regiment who were in the fort. Not particularly thrilled with this idea, Scot ran it by the Major who, fortunately for Scot, was decidedly against it. Scot suddenly felt that if their native allies – the princes, the zamindars and the Rani of Jhansi herself – turned, there would be no stopping a mutiny in Bundelkhand. He could not rid himself of the feeling there was worse to come.
On the 5th of June, two parties of the 14th Irregulars consisting of 40 sowars each commanded by a native sowar were dispatched to Jhansi and Lullutpoor, on request from the superintendent of Jhansi who was acting under the orders of the Lieutenant-Governor at Agra. The Jhansi party was required to relieve one of similar strength under the command of Lieutenant Ryves, 12th Native Infantry.
On the 7th, a report was received from the native officer commanding the Jhansi party that upon halting at Mowranipur some 30 miles from Nowgong, which stated all the Europeans at Jhansi had been murdered. He brought the information back to Nowgong in the form of a letter from the tehsildar of Mowranipur, Tewari Hossein, who in the same instance mentioned he had with him a naick and 4 sepoys of the right-wing of the 12th with some magazine stores. They were to have delivered these to Jhansi – musket ammunition and buff-belts from Allahabad – but the news of the mutiny had caused them to turn back some 10 miles outside Jhansi.
Major Kirke sent word back – his written orders were quite clear. If the cavalry had mutinied at Jhansi then they should all return, if not, then the order was to push on.
In Nowgong the rissaldar of the 14th was most distressed of all at the news from Jhansi. Although there had been no word that the cavalry had mutinied, he very much feared they would – and with so few European officers and the men all young and impressionable, the mutiny was, in his opinion, but a stone’s throw away.
Another 2 days passed.
On the 9th a shepherd of the left-wing mess arrived in Nowgong. He reported Captain Dunlop and Ensign Taylor had been killed on the parade ground at Jhansi on the 5th by the men of the 12th. The right-wing at Nowgong was horrified and that very night men of the artillery stepped forward, volunteering to serve against the rebels. In the bazaar, people were anxiously trying to send away their families, something Major Kirke would not allow, worried it would start an all-out panic.
Rumours were rife: one of these was that the treasury, it was said was being emptied out in small sums, all of which were being sent to the care of the Raja of Gurowli. Captain Scot put it down to the same nameless troublemakers who had burned down the bungalows and were spreading the story about bone dust in the flour in May.
On the 10th, Tewari Hossein of Mowranpuri sent a letter – he had received a missive that all the Europeans in Jhansi were dead. The Rani was now on the throne and he had been ordered by the new regime to carry on business as usual. What he intended to do however was to flee at the next opportunity, (which he did).
All the mail sent towards Jhansi from Nowgong on the 5th and on subsequent days came back in one bag the same afternoon – the dak runners had been too afraid to enter the city.
The 10th of June
Yet how quickly the tide can change. As in Allahabad, where on the morning of the mutiny the sepoys were cheering their officers, hand on heart, bursting with pride at Lord Canning’s praise and by dinner time they were murdering every European in sight.
So in Nowgong.
Throughout the day, neither Kirke nor Scot noticed any appreciable change in their men. Scot had been 10 years with the 12th had he had never before seen them “show so much good feeling as they had at all times since the 23rd of May…I believe that in the majority of the men sincerity and fidelity existed…” Even the Artillery Company was cheerful and well-disposed.
That is, until sunset.
At sunset as the guard was being paraded, a number of men started loading their muskets and three Sikhs stepped forward together. One of them, a man named Kana, a sepoy of No.1 Company shot acting Havildar-Major, Abeem-aun-Singh of No. 4 Company through the head, killing him instantly. The Sikhs then made a rush at the guns, which were drawn up on the parade ground. The Artillery Sergeant attempted to stop them but none of his men would help him and he barely had time to flee for his life.
The Sergeant-Major of the 12th was fired at but saved by the quick actions of a sepoy of No.3 Company, Dursun Singh who pushed the barrel aside. He was one of the few who would stick to the officers to the last. The Sergeant-Major did not need another invitation – he quickly ran to the Mess House.
In the meantime, the quarter-guard started firing at the mutineers but were stopped by Jemadar Moharuck Ali who asked them, most seriously, why were they firing without orders? He then made his way over to the mutineers to take charge.
The mutineers now had command of at least some of the guns. They loaded one with grape and fired it purposely into a tent the officers used close to the quarter-guard. They then took the treasure tumbrils which happened to be in the quarter-guard and placed them between the guns.
Ensign Franks was the first to bring news of the mutiny. He had been in the lines at the time and he saw the guns seized – he immediately went to Major Kirke to report. The rest of the officers were in the Mess House when they were startled from the dinner by the sound of shots from the lines.
Second Lieutenant Townsend was the first to reach the lines, but he found to his dismay, all the guns were now in the hands of the mutineers. Lieutenant Ewart and Captain P.G. Scot were the next. Before leaving, Scot took a moment to survey the situation from the top of the mess house.
Scot and Ewart entered the lines by means of a crossroad to avoid as much attention as possible. A few sepoys joined him from their huts but none of them would move against the mutineers. They had great difficulty moving at all – some of the men held the officers horses by the bridles, preventing them from advancing. Not everyone wanted Scot and Ewart dead – they earnestly pleaded with them to leave. Hints need not be given thrice, so ordering Ewart to follow him, Scot went to the Magazine.
At the Magazine he found all four sentries saddled on their horses. They appeared not to be terribly surprised by the commotion and looked at Scot with some indifference. He watched as some sepoys left their lines while others gathered in panic-stricken groups in the Magazine. Scot tried to rally his men, first by extolling them to advance on the guns and then by calling for a bugler to sound the assembly. The one that came was in no state to perform even this task so Scot grabbed the bugle from him and sounded the assembly himself. After several calls, it became evident to the captain that indeed, no one was listening to him. The sentries around the Magazine would not open it for him – though they did not outright refuse, he understood they were not going to let him in.
“I had been trying for some time to move them, when a leading man came up and made a sign to me to be off, with a wink that shewed me he was in the secret, but that they would not touch me, so I went back to the mess-house ; but before I got far, the mutineers sent a shower of grape over the lines to terrify waverers, by shewing that they had the guns. I saw the vagabonds in the square with the guns drawn up.”
Scot and Ewart had no choice but to return to the mess house.
From around Nowgong, the civilians made their way to the mess house. Dr. Mawe and Mr. Smalley had prudently been staying close to the lines in some sergeant’s bungalows and providentially had kept their buggies at the ready, horses harnessed. With their wives and children, they now hastened to the mess. The son of Major Kirke, young Henry Kirke had returned home, only to find the house surrounded by armed sepoys. A Sikh stepped forward to shoot him, but a naick pushed the barrel down, allowing Henry to run over to the mess.
All the servants were rounded up by the mutineers and taken prisoner, not a single one was allowed to join their employers, many of them induced by no subtle means to disgorge information as to where the officers meant to go and above all, where they kept their money. Mutiny without plunder is after all, unheard of.
Back at the Mess House, a very downcast Kirke explained he and Lieutenant Jackson had not been able to get even one man in 100 to follow them and they had been forced to retire from the lines. Kirke initially insisted they could try to hold out in the mess – after all the building had a flat roof and was made of solid bricks but it was quickly pointed out to him the mutineers had guns and they, the besieged, had besides their personal weapons, absolutely nothing that could withstand a concentrated attack. As if true to their word, a quick glance out the window showed Scot the mutineers intended to do just that; they were rapidly drawing up in the front of the mess house, dragging one gun with them.
In one body the officers and civilians left Nowgong. The sowar orderlies, after a quick salute, galloped off to the lines and only 100 sepoys deigned to follow Kirke out of the station. Mishap is a strange bedfellow – the sergeant major was too fat for Mr. Smalley’s buggy and promptly it broke at the wheel axel; an old camel carriage was brought up but the camels, reticent at best, proved impossible to coax and the carriage remained stuck, prompting the two ladies to scramble into Dr. Mawe’s buggy, each with a child on their lap. Then, Barely 300 yards down the road, a round shot of grape was fired at the party, perhaps deliberately misaimed as no one was hurt.
Dr. Mawe led the party. Their goal was Chutterpore but Dr. Mawe missed the road, leading the party towards Garawli. As mistakes go, it was a providential one. The sepoys who had watched them leave would later concentrate their energies on seeking the party out in that direction. Fortunately, it was a dark night, the moon was late rising and the sepoys were still busy in Nowgong with plundering the station, firing the officer’s bungalows, releasing the prisoners from the goal and generally otherwise occupied to give any active chase thus missing to see the party had turned off from that road and taken another.
Not that they would have found them. The party managed to miss the Chhadarpur road again, ending up before long at the banks of a lake. Lieutenant Jackson promptly roused a boatman who was in his service to show them the way. Under his able guidance, the bedraggled party arrived at daybreak in Chutterpore.
The Rani of Chhadarpur welcomed the party warmly. She, like the other rajas in the area, had been threatened not to give the fugitives any shelter or service but she, ruling for her son, did not take any notice of the messages. Under her kindly attention, the party remained safe for two days.
That isn’t to say the sepoys were not looking for them. A grenadier of the 12th rode out to Chhadarpur, on Lieutenant Becher’s horse, no less and ascertained they were indeed there. Others were scouring the countryside, the chase was still on.
On the 11th in the afternoon, Scot and the party were startled by gunfire from the direction of Nowgong – it turned out to be a salute ere the mutineers commenced their march. A few loyal sepoys used this as a way to get to their officers – turning off the road they hastened to Chhadarpur. By the 12th, all that was left of the 12th BNI was four native officers, five havildars and seventy-eight sepoys. The 100 that had left with Kirke on the 10th had dwindled to 30. A number of Christian bandsmen of the 12th and their wives managed their escape and sought out the Rani of Chhadarpur. Of the artillery, only a Christian bugler and a private came out of Nowgong. The rest had mutinied.
On the 12th, Major Kirke ordered Captain Scot to return to Nowgong to see the state of things. Second-Lieutenant Townsend volunteered to go along.
“On the night of the 12th, Lieutenant Townsend of the Artillery and I rode back to Nowgong, the cantonment having been taken charge of by the Chutterpore Rajah’s men. It was a horrible scene of ruin and plunder. The only thing of mine that I found was a quantity of tea lying on the road. We collected what we could in the way of wine and spirits. Plenty were left of the mess stores, excepting brandy, which the Sikhs delight in; but not a dish or glass was left whole, not a chair or table was left. The billiard table, that cost 1600 rupees, was broken up for the iron and brass. The bazaar men had been beguiled by an assurance that they would be spared, but they were thoroughly sacked.
“We found that all the thatched bungalows had been burnt; three pucka houses were standing, two were very small ones. Of the public buildings only one had been burned, the bungalow of the sergeant-major of the 12th NI. The magazine of the 12th NI had been blown up. The men of the 12th had set fire to their lines…The artillery and cavalry lines were uninjured; so were the bazars of the 12th and the cavalry. A large portion of the main street of the sudder bazar was burned down. One house was still burning, I had no means of putting the fire out…A guard of Chutterpore was in the station for its protection…I fear they have allowed all the public buildings to be deprived of their woodwork and the huts to be stripped of their roofs for the timber….Lieutenant Townsend and myself cleared the station by firing a few shots so as to not hurt anyone. I gave the official in charge of this station particular orders that villagers were to be intimidated, and that failed, shot down to prevent plunder….my orders were listened to, but not carried out.
“I found a sepoy in one hospital in the last stage of sickness, left there to starve or be killed by dogs and an old bed-ridden woman, mother of an invalided naick and grandmother of a sepoy musician, who had left her uncared for to march with the rebels. I entrusted them to the moofedar of the cantonments who resides in the village, Bellaree, close at hand, and gave his servant money for their food. A Hindoo servant to a fine old Hindoo gentleman, named Bausgopal Ditchet, gave us dinner at his house. Bausgopal was one of the old school—a thorough gentleman ; a rich man once, and I hope he may be so again. After dinner we pushed on to Lagassu—a fort belonging to a Bundelcund Rajah, a great friend of the
The station of Nowgong had passed into the hands of the Chhadarpur Rani.
At Lugasi Scot and Townsend were most surprised to find Major Kirke.
“His health had been failing, and now from want of tea, and wine and beer, he was quite gone. He told me, that he had found the Sepoys preparing to shoot him on the march; but when I met the others, they told me that in a sudden fit of terror he had dashed off from them. He was a brave man naturally; but he had become quite incapable, from anxiety and fatigue, and the want of his usual support, as to diet, &c. He passed the night there, imagining all sorts of horrible deeds were being meditated by the Rajah, the Major the poor man, passed the night in great alarm, telling us were going to be shot in the next minute, actually spelling the words, lest the unlettered attendants should understand.”
The Rajah however had no design on their lives and treated the men with every kindness.
The next morning, with the major in tow, the men set off to a place called Sturnuggur, where they hoped to meet up with the rest of the party and the remnant of the corps. The Rana of Nowgong had sent an escort of twenty men armed with spears and matchlocks to guard them on their way.
They had barely travelled 5 miles when a message was received from the Raja of Lugasi that the sepoys had been overheard, plotting to kill them all. This led Scot to believe that the last men who had joined them from Nowgong were in fact mutineers, just waiting for a chance to massacre their officers, prompting Scot to change direction.
They halted around noon near a village under some trees and made a repast of some wine and cheese they had taken from the remains of the mess in Nowgong and waited for sunset. Shortly before setting off, another message came from the Lugasi Raja.
It stated most clearly, the party they were trying to catch up with had been attacked.
Not wanting to lose any more time, they set off at once to Chirkaru, which was in the domains of a powerful Raja. He also wrote a quick note to Captain Ewart, in the hope he was still alive, to make all haste to Chirkaru with the rest of the party. Scot intended, with the help of the Chirkaru Raja, to disarm the sepoys who had joined them last from Nowgong.
This letter was destroyed by the messenger. which proved to be most providential.
Early in the morning on the 15th, they reached the dominions of the Chirkaru Raja; their escort refused to move any further and Towsend, Kirke and Scot had to proceed alone.
They had been told by the Lugasi Raja to seek out the protection of Chirkaru – Mr. Carne, the Collector at Mahoba had taken the habit of sleeping under his protection, proceeding out of doors only during daylight.
To their disappointment when they arrived, Mr. Carne was not there and they had to wait until the Raja saw fit to admit them. He sent them to a “ fine but dirty house, on the edge of a lake..” and they were told to mind they were not seen. His minister, however, for fear the rebels would punish the Raja asked them to leave. This was not the Raja’s orders – he countermanded his minister, and provided they stayed quiet they could remain in the house. A few servants were sent to attend to them, a little food was given and a guard was placed over the door. During the short time they were allowed to stay, Scot managed to get his horse shoed and some clothes made up; at sunset they were sent off in a carriage with four horses and a guard.
They reached Mahoba safely and found the party at Mr. Carne’s house. There had been additions to it – all the bandsmen and their families had escaped Nowgong, a Sergeant Kirchoff and his wife and a Mr. Sturt had made their way from Jhansi. As for the sepoys of whom Scot had imagined every treachery, they were anything but mutinous.
“I was told, when I joined, that the Sepoys had been much disconcerted at my absence and that of the Major. They knew that the Major had gone off through fear of them, and understood that he was somewhat deranged; but they feared that I suspected them too. The men were fond of Kirke; and one of the native officers, seeing that he was not quite right in his mind, quietly told three or four of the men not to lose sight of him. The Major, noticing that they kept by him, thought that they meant to shoot him. The men could hardly be made to march on towards Mahoba under Ewart, wishing rather to go in search of the Major; and a story had come in that we had been murdered, which greatly distressed them, some of them actually weeping. They were, however, quieted, and very glad when we joined them again.”
The kindly Lugasi Raja had sent off his messages to Scot in best faith; little did he know that his very own retainers had lied to him. The party under Ewart had not been attacked and likewise, the sepoys were not plotting to murder anyone. “We all slept among the men. Next morning they shewed me greater attention than they ever did before. Three brothers in my company, Sikhs, had come with us, and the eldest got me water to bathe with, &c. , and the other two saw to my horse. I had no servant, and was dependant on the men for everything. All the officers found them more polite and considerate than
they had ever been before.”
Their idea was to push on to Banda and then onto Allahabad – messages were sent to the latter station and until they received a reply, all they could do was wait. On the 16th they were informed that Banda was preparing for a siege and on the 17th, the depressing news reached Scot that the troops in Banda had mutinied and massacred their officers. So with Banda out of the question, they decided to proceed to the Fort of Chunar, via Callingur. The route took them away from the rebels who the sepoys were most anxious to avoid – if confronted by their erstwhile brethren they might be forced to join them – and thus, they were most grateful for the change of direction. Major Kirke had, in the meantime, agreed to leave everything up to Scot.
Mr Carne who put the party up in his house, was facing troubles of his own: no one would follow his orders and he had given control of his district to the Chhadarpur Rani as a means of keeping some order. On the 17th it was quite clear that remaining in Mahoba was fruitless and they would have to move on.
They had no tents and supplies were limited to what Scot and Townsend had scavenged from Nowgong. They had a cartload of wine and other sundry items and some tea Scot had found scattered behind his house. They had 12 hackeries, one alone for the remains of the mess, and the rest for the women and children (some 40 in number) and for anyone who could not walk. There was no way to keep them together no matter how hard Scot tried and the line extended for more than a mile. If attacked there would be no way to protect them.
Mr. Carne had borrowed 100 rupees from the Chirkaru Raja and the money reached them at their next stop, a village called Banda Johwpur. Their guide had taken them off the road, by mistake or by design.
“A little after sunrise, we came to a village, Banda Johwpoor, at which T halted the party till I should see the way through it. I found crowds of men, with big bamboos, at every corner. They seemed to think us rebels. The road seemed almost impassable, and I went back to tell the party not to come through. Some one had said that I had sent word back to come on, and I found the party so far through, it was better to go on. We encamped under some trees, opposite a pass or cliff, across a range of hills about 250 yards off. Some matchlock men were in the ravine, and on the hills. We thought they were guards, and let them alone; and made the most we could of the bare ground and the mess stores, for rest and refreshment. The 1000 rupees came in from the Rajah, and were distributed. Mr Came, the Collector of Mahoba, came too. The Rajah had declined to entertain him; a nice ally. About noon, a little wretch from the hill, came in to say, we must give him 1000 rupees, or he would not let us pass. I told him to walk his chalks, and the men to get ready to enter the pass at four. To my horror, and that of all the Europeans, about two hours after, one of the native officers proposed that we should pay money to the little wretch we had seen before, for an escort to Callingur. This was
awful; but it was the wish of the men, and we felt they must have their own way, or they would leave us. Moreover, it might be, that this little villain might have power to raise any number of villagers upon us. Mr.Came, who knew the country, and was a wise man, wished the money to be paid. He offered to pay 200 rupees, out of a thousand; so we agreed to give 1000, for an escort to Callingur. It was manifest that we, with so many women and children, must have some escort, and our men seemed little fitted to afford one, so 700 rupees were paid down in advance. The men first paid 300, which shewed what they wanted. The wretches afterwards pretended it was the officers’ doing.”
During the night, they went to sleep after posting guards and Scot, exhausted by the days of travel, lay on the ground, bereft of any coverings.
At 2 in the morning they were startled out of their slumber by a horrible noise. In the dark, no one could tell if it was their bribed friends attacking them or some other foe – the sepoys began firing off their muskets at random in panic, not realising, as Scot quickly ascertained it was only a horse that had gotten loose.
Scot saw the situation for what it was. The men, in their urgency not to become mutineers, were practically beyond control. His worst fears were confirmed in the morning.
“.At daybreak, we looked out for our friend, and sent for him, and the men and camp were getting ready for a move, when bang went a matchlock, and a ball whistled among us. The men began to fire in the air, or at the hill, without any aim, and without seeing any one. I could not stop them, and neither could any one else. The bullets began to come in, and Sepoys to walk off. A few remained close to camp, with Capt. Ewart, Lieutenant Townsend of Artillery, and myself. We stuck to the trees, and fired from behind them. “
“The Major now came to his senses, and was himself, from being a child, who spoke of a mango, or something to eat or drink, as if it were his life, and he and Jackson and Franks did their best to bring up the men to the attack, but they all melted away panic-stricken. Poor Barber never had strength to do anything from the moment we started. Ewart, poor Townsend, and I kept our ground with a few men, 10 or 12, who stood by us, and we fired away at the rascals.
“Off they went, seventy of them from about thirty matchlocks, (I know not how many men besides had spears and swords, etc ) The matchlocks, it is true, told where the musket was of little use ; but this was just a reason for closing, instead of moving off. I stuck to the tree for a good while, till these abominable Sepoys had got a long way off. They slipped past the officers, who rode on ahead, again and again, and tried to make them halt; but off they posted, utterly regardless of the women and children they left behind.”
Death of Second-Lieutenant Towsend and the Party Retreats in Disorder
“While at the tree, poor Townsend suddenly said, ‘I am hit,” and fell on his face, and writhed about, turning over and over twice or thrice. I lifted him up, when he got quiet, and saw that he was shot close to, or in the heart; his head was thrown back, and life was gone. I took his sword away, and left the body, with a prayer that it might rise soon in the resurrection. He was a fine-hearted young fellow, and very brave. He had charge of his battery for more than a year, and had done the duty well, though, when he died, he had not finished his third year’s service. He was an honourable and very agreeable man. He was a member of the 12th mess from the day he came to Nowgong; and we all thought him a great acquisition, and now are very sad over his early death.”
Now started a most dreadful journey.
The mass of sepoys was by now a long way off and the remaining rear-guard too had scuttled, leaving Scot to walk after them. On sepoy remained at the tree some time longer, a show of bravado perhaps but of little use. The matchlock men continued to fire at them every now and then but with no effect. Some of the women and children in 2 carts fell behind, the remaining sepoys refusing to stay with them. Scot was left on his own to bring up the rear – the sepoys clearly disdained the presence of the women, thinking them a nuisance; their only concern was the safety of their officers. Scot ordered the carts abandoned and the women were forced to walk, carrying or dragging their children along as best they could, barefoot for the most part, over the thorny ground.
Scot remained in the rear with the sepoys, occasionally turning around to fire on their pursuers.
After an hour, they came to a pile of rocks, high enough to afford both shelter and protection. Here they stopped. Mr. Sturt went off to a nearby village – it was not clear what he actually expected to achieve but when he came back, he said the villagers had tried to take his pistols and he had lost his horse, though whether he had got off or fallen off, he wouldn’t say. Fairly soon a fire was opened on them. The rocks provided ample shelter but panic had taken hold and some men led the party off. A heated discussion ensued as to whether or not now was the time to shoot the leaders, who Scot called cowards, but it was finally decided that now was not the time.
The dacoits who had started this little shooting match soon let off following the retreating party, refusing to leave their own territory and the villagers had no stomach for a fight, plunder being their only real concern.
Scot now gives a description of the fugitives – and even though he was writing sometime after the fact, his disgust was not tempered with time nor the horror at his predicament.
“I had Townsend’s horse with me—it was a very strong one—and I took up three children on it before and behind me, and made a very fat woman, who would have hidden an elephant under her vast proportions, take hold of my stirrup leather. There was another woman, Mrs Langdale, wife of the writer of the station office; she was about as fat and unfit to travel as the other ; and her husband (once a serjeant of the 14th Dragoons) was not much inclined to help her ; he did very little for her. I had now got among the bandmen’s wives and children, who could not keep up with the main body, and it was most distressing. I could not carry more than three children, and yet there were many, old and young who needed help. The Sepoys who stuck by me, were anxious that I should push on, and abandon those about me. They look on half castes with intense disgust, and the idea of being brought into danger for them was most distasteful. They thought the two English ladies an encumbrance, and these they began to look on with hostility. They wished to save their officers, and were willing to risk much for them; but for the others they cared little.
Of the seven men with me, two were Havildars, one from each of the two companies I had charge of; one, Doorga Miper, a high Brahmin, brother to the two men said to have shot Captain Dunlop—a tall strong fellow, and a forward bold man, that I had some months ago to be continually putting down; the other was a quiet, soft sort of man. The former told me, in a sullen tone, to leave the children and women. He evidently thought it very hard that I should keep him and the Sepoys back, and I half feared they would leave us; but I could not think of leaving any, and, thank God, none of the men left us. I had not long left the rocks, when I came upon a high caste Brahmin native officer, who had been shot in the abdomen. I had put him on my horse long before, and now found him under a bush unable to proceed. A naick and some men were with him and, being a Brahmin, they had only to carry him to a village to ensure his safety, so I passed on.”
The situation only got worse.
Scot sent Captain Ewart to advise they should trace their steps back to Chhadarpur and not Mahoba and to bring back word as to where the rest of the corps was, for they were no longer in sight. Ewart went but he could not get back to tell Scot what he had found out. Villagers told Scot the sepoys had made for Mahoba, and without any other intelligence, Scot decided they should make their way there.
The two corpulent women Scot had so complained of disappeared on this march, one died of sunstroke and the other was abandoned by her husband. Instead of caring for her, when he was unable to get her along, had left her where she was.
They reached Mahoba around 1pm. The first thing Scot found was the accoutrements of some five men; fearing the rest would follow course, but very few did. The sepoys of the Chirkaru Raja were outside and inside Mahoba and they refused them the right to enter, but let them pass by the town. Durga Singh, one of the remaining men to stay with Scot, went and spoke to the guard and was told that Mr. Carne, who had separated himself from the party, had taken a guard of the Raja and pushed onto Chirkaru where it was supposed the Raja had received him.
They now stopped by well next to a mango grove, getting some relief from the water and the fruit. Durga Singh in the meantime was giving Scot rather menacing looks – Scot had got himself in with the bandsmen’s wives and perhaps to soothe the sepoy’s growing ferocity, he quickly brought on the children. The villagers, besides giving them sullen glances, offered them no menace and after ten minutes, Scot pushed the party on.
“After a mile and a-half, I came to the beginning of a long hill which the road skirted, and at that point of the road there was an empty poUce station. I saw the, artillery sergeant ride up from the front to it, on my horse that I had put the wounded soobadar on, and get off and reel into the house. He said he wanted water for Mrs Smalley, who was dying ahead. The serjeant was a strong, active, healthy Scotchman, and the way he reeled off the horse, and staggered into the house, to he down and await whatever might befall, told of awful exhaustion and of great disasters ahead. The vagabond been drunk in the morning, and had galloped my horse backwards and for- wards, in the wildest way, till he got sober and worn out. This I did not know for long. I merely saw the result—the exhausted state the man was in, that led him to take shelter where his death seemed certain. It was a disheartening sight.
There was no water at hand, so I pushed on, and soon found Mrs Smalley by the roadside, lying dead or insensible, and her husband and baby beside her. All the rest had passed on. I had no water to offer. Mr Smalley said she had walked from the spot the carts were abandoned at, till she came to where I found them both, and there she had begun to stagger and reel about the road, and then lost speech and consciousness. A moan escaped Mrs Smalley as I looked at her, so I put down one child, and gave it, I think, to Mr Langdale, my writer, who came up on my horse, which the artillery Serjeant had left, and I took Mrs Smalley up before me, and carried her for some time. It was a difficult job to do so, as the poor woman (if alive) was unconscious, and the body was always slipping off, and most of the weight was thrown on my right arm. At last I thought that death must have come, as the eye-balls were drying, and other symptoms appeared, and I had a consultation about it. It was settled that she was dead, so I took up a child, and left the body by the roadside.”
“The Serjeant-Major’s death was an awful scene. He was a man of the Falstaff order; he had no hat on, only a thin cloth covered his head; he had got on thus far on foot, with the exception of a short ride on a horse, which I am told he was thrown from. I saw him all the way. He was terribly overcome by the heat; but he disgusted me by the spiritless way he behaved. He actually gave his sword to his little girl to carry, and moaned and howled when I told him he should be ashamed of himself, so I took the sword. It would have done for Goliah.”
At 2 pm, the exhausted party came to a village where once again, they were met with hostility but as no one attacked them, Scot felt it was safe enough to risk drinking water at the well.
“We had just reached it, when we saw some of the villagers move towards the road, which passed very near the last-named village, and then came a bellow from the Serjeant -Major, who was hidden from sight by bushes, and screams from Mrs Laing and her two children, who were running away from the road towards us. No one was to be seen hurting them, and no one following. The Sergeant-Major soon emerged from the bushes in great distress and alarm. The woman and children said a villager had struck him. I got off my horse here, I now recollect, and put the bandmaster, and Mrs Tiernay and her daughter on him, and made Mr Langdale, the writer, take Mrs Smalley’s child and Mrs Tiernay’ s boy, and we and others went on. Mr Smalley could walk no further. He had no shoes, and his feet were blistered. I had to leave here two little drummer children to some drummer’s care, to bring Mr Smalley and his little child on. We had not been overtaken by the Serjeant-Major, and I had no intention of waiting for him, for there was no chance of saving him, and there was good hope of saving those about me. His little girl, that he had made to carry the sword, wept and cried for him, poor thing, but we could not wait. Our pace was a slow walk, and not hurried, so that it gave a fair chance to all. We had not gone far ere I saw the poor man fall down an awful thump on the road. He rose and fell again, then rose, staggered, and fell several times. It struck me that blood to the head was the cause; then he could only get up on his knees, and when I last looked he could only raise his head. Poor man, I hope he died soon. It was a horrible sight this, the more so, that we could not even stay with him.”
Scot found a boot of Major Kirkes, big enough to fit on his injured right foot (he had been kicked by a horse days before when proceeding to the Lugasi Raja’s abode) and thus attired he began to walk, so he could give his horse to Mrs. Tierney (the mother of the wife of the sergeant-major) to ride.
Meeting with stragglers on the way, Scot would now learn of the next terrible news. Major Kirke was dead. He had collapsed of sunstroke on the road and his men had buried him in a makeshift grave which they had scraped out of the hard ground with their bayonets.
“His death terribly disheartened the men. Reward for recognition of their fidelity seem bound up in his life, and when both had been much tested, it had passed away. My coming in sight cheered them greatly. I believe several ran out to meet me with water in their hands. Each Sepoy has a little lota of brass, and a string to draw water with. We rested awhile, and then moved at a slow pace. We got the men to form two loose crowds, one in advance of, and one behind the officers and women and children. As to falling in, I could not get them to do that they were thoroughly disorganised, yet they were bent on protecting us. I assured them that I had as much power as Major Kirke to reward them, and they picked up their spirits as we went along. All the officers were kind and glad to see me, as they feared I was lost; and it was a pleasure indeed to be so kindly treated, and to find all but the Major alive.”
The sepoys now hatched a plan – they proposed that should they meet any rebels on the way, they would say that Scot and the party were actually prisoners on their way by order of the King of Delhi to be executed at Banda. Scot and the other officers agreed, handing over their swords to the men, making them hold their horse’s heads and surround them entirely. It was but a poor show at keeping prisoners, but it was enough to satisfy the villages they passed through.
The trials of Captain Scot and the fugitives from Nowgong weren’t over – they had barely begun.
Personal Narrative of the Escape from Nowgong to Banda and Nagode – Captain P.G. Scot (1857)
Further Papers (No.4) Relative to the Mutinies in the East Indies (1857)
Annals of the Indian Rebellion – Noah Alfred Chick (1859)
Major Henry Kirke: https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Kirke-100
Captain Scot: FIBIS: Families in British India Society https://fibis.ourarchives.online/bin/simplesearchsummarycat.php?mode=q