Although much is written about the siege of Delhi, very little exists regarding the living conditions on the Ridge except in fleeting remarks in the accounts left by the men who served there. It is a mixed blessing that those who did write about Delhi were not the privates who made up the bulk of the fighting force; the Gurkhas are amply described by Major Charles Reid but there are no words from the men themselves. The one narrative we have from a sepoy is left to us by Sita Ram (From Sepoy to Subedar) who did not serve in Delhi but most probably under Lusanda Barrow and that in Oudh. Therefore, we must make do with what we do know, albeit incomplete and fragmented, as described by the officers who served in Delhi between June and September.
From June until September, the camp was pitched in a hollow on the parade ground of the Delhi cantonments of which little remained. Bounded in the rear by a canal and the front defended by the ridge which overlooked it with the right by protected by an old embankment and high mound, the camp itself would remain relatively unchanged for those months.
As for the tents, commanding officers regaled themselves with double-poled tents, measuring some thirty by sixteen feet, besides possessing one or two smaller single-poled affairs of fourteen to sixteen feet square, plus awnings and tents for the servants and horses. As it was they were at liberty to provision themselves as they saw fit: the regular soldier, on the other hand, live in tents that accommodated up to 12 men at a time. Subalterns however lived mostly in hill tents – some ten feet square with a double roof but with single walls with an additional strip of canvas over which hung down the side under which their servants found shelter.
However in the rush to get to Delhi, not everyone was able to pack their tents – the officers of the 1st Fusiliers chummed together in one large double-poled one; other men found themselves happy enough in the small bell tents of the common soldiers if they could get one.
Although not everyone could furnish their tents, those that did resorted to the usual accoutrements of a floor cloth and chicks or reed curtains at the doors which kept out the flies but paradoxically also kept out the air, making the already hot tents some degrees worse with temperatures soaring indoors at 118°F. Wrapping one’s head in a soaking turban helped at least for a moment – the heat dried the cloth within minutes and it was necessary to have it repeatedly drenched to have at least a little relief.
In the first six weeks of the siege, Thomas Seaton recollected that “…night and day no man undressed, except for a few minutes, for the necessary ablutions and change of clothes and this was not always possible. We lay down in our clothes, with arms and accoutrements either on or by our sides ready to slip on the moment the alarm should be sounded..”
Until the first reinforcements arrived, there was little the force could do but defend themselves against the constant attacks by the mutineers – Harriet Tytler (more on her later) recalls the men were so dispirited after the first weeks some threw themselves on the ground and refused to fight; tired and demoralised, leaving it up to the officers to man the guns. All the while, what the barrage of bullets and shells was not able to do, cholera did and before long the hospitals were as full of the sick as the wounded.
The disease was not fully understood in 1857 – the scourge had existed in India for generations but it was not until the British military campaigns in the early 1800s that it became a problem. A connection between “cholera and conquest” first manifested itself in 1817 concurrent with the war against the Mahratas when a frightful epidemic reached such proportions that it shook the foundations of the EICo. Something had to be done, but no one knew what.
John Snow linked it to contaminated water in 1854 during an outbreak in London but the identification of the bacteria itself would not be successful until the work of Robert Koch who studied outbreaks of the disease in Egypt and India in 1883 and 1884. Until 1890, there were two schools of thought regarding cholera, with one side advocating it as a disease spread by person-to-person contact, while the other party believed it was not communicable, but strictly an environmental and atmospheric problem. In India, the second school of thought was predominant. Unfortunately, it fell somewhere between both and Indian medical officers could, through experience make an argument for both causes. The argument that cholera was the result of congestion and filth would come to the forefront repeatedly – contaminated water would later prove to be a conduit for the disease but in the 19th century the idea of miasma or foul air was still considered a principal contaminant – so much emphasis was given to this theory that cholera inevitably became associated with the poor. Not that this helped anyone – since there was no cure.
A globally established method for treating cholera was not established until much later and most of the remedies in the 19th century were of the kill-or-cure variety. In 1838, a concoction of brandy infused with cloves, cinnamon and peppers and liberally laced with laudanum was considered eminently effective, while in Singapore, the chief medical officer preferred to use “hot water emetics and enemata, aided by dry heat to the surface of the body” as a cure. In 1849, Queen Victoria’s physician touted ” mixing equal parts of camphor, laudanum, turpentine and peppermint,” while Lord Ponsonby preferred dissolving “one part camphor in six parts of spirits of wine.” Surgeon Greenhow, (who was in Lucknow during the siege) had his own remedy for cholera, consisting of a pill containing both opium and creosote, which he recommended consuming with congee water and dilute sulphuric acid. He further found treating patients with tea, beef tea, arrowroot, rice, minced meat and sago aided in recovery. Unlike the general school of thought, Greenhow forbid his patients from drinking alcohol which in his estimation was debilitating rather than curative. Dr Fayrer working next to Greenhow seemed completely unable to treat the disease.
Of all these terrifying remedies, the only one which makes sense is that of Charles Perreau who, in 1849, recommended bruised ginger boiled in a pint of water for 10 minutes with two tablespoons of salt. As cholera kills by dehydration this remedy is not dissimilar to the modern WHO recommendation of drinking clean water mixed with sodium and glucose.
In regards to Delhi, it can only be left to the imagination what sanitary methods had been put into place – living in an age where the connection between human waste and disease had not yet been fully established, in regards to how the men relieved themselves and above all, where. Perhaps we should be spared such details. The canal was after all the principal water source for the camp – it was also the bathing place of all the elephants, camels, and horses and was further used to wash clothes. Although there were wells in the cantonments, drawing water from these was thought inadvisable as many officers believed the wells had been poisoned. Without adequate drainage, much of the camp became a swamp during the monsoons and things would only get worse with water collecting ankle-deep. Eventually, the engineers opened drains to carry the water off and a concentrated effort was made to bring about some sanitation in the camp. However very little was done for the animals.
Large convoys of camels and bullock carts were arriving nearly daily on the Ridge bringing much-needed supplies while a considerable number of animals were needed at the ready to follow the enemy as needs be. Officers have been allotted a camel or two to carry their belongings as well – these poor animals were left to their own devices as soon as they reached the Ridge. Without adequate shelter and insufficient food many simply died of exposure and starvation. Removing their carcases was considered a priority but only if they fell in a vicinity where it was practicable to drag them away – at one point, elephants were employed to pile up the bodies for burning. Many animals were simply left to be devoured by jackals and birds of prey.
Humans often did not fare any better. While the British took some consideration to bury their own dead, the same courtesy certainly did not extend to the mutineers, whose bodies unless collected by their comrades, were left to decay where they lay. In temperatures reaching well over 100° F during the day, the incessant rain and the foetid humidity that followed, the sights and smells on the Ridge were, for the want of a better word, sickening. A paragraph describing the Sammy House, in the History of the Bengal European Regiment describes it thus:
“The constant outpost duty, although it was always undertaken with the utmost alacrity and good humour, was found to be very irksome to the soldiers, those of the 1st Bengal European Fusiliers being constantly on duty at “The Metcalf Stables,” “The Mosque,” and “Flagstaff” pickets; but the most resulting and unwelcome outpost was commonly called ‘The Valley of Death.’ It was a small old ruined mosque or shrine in the gorge of the valley, in rear of our batteries, and was under a plunging fire from all the enemy’s missiles that passed over them. There was no cover, as it was impossible to enter the building, owing to its being literally crowded with cobras, and on the road where two of our sentries were posted, there were dead camels lying in the last stage of decomposition. A night on this picket, in the thick, muggy atmosphere of the rainy season in July and August, under a heavy fire, was almost too much for the best-intentioned soldier to bear.”
An inevitable result of the putrid nature of the camp, it is of little surprise the Ridge was soon beset by a plague of flies.
“The heat was insupportable, the thermometer under the shade of my tent marking 112° F.; and to add to our misery there came upon us a plague of flies, the like of which I verily believe had not been on the earth since Moses in that manner brought down the wrath of God on the Egyptians. They literally darkened the air, descending in myriads and covering everything in our midst. Foul and loathsome they were, and we knew that they owed their existence to, and fattened on, the putrid corpses of dead men and animals which lay rotting and unburied in every direction. The air was tainted with corruption, and the heat was intense.” (Griffiths)
Lord Roberts would recall that the inside of his tent was black with flies. While trying to eat he would engage in the curious spectacle of waving one hand in front of his mouth while trying to put food into it with the other, occasionally having to rush from the table as he choked on a fly that had evaded even his best efforts and lodged in his throat. He was not alone.
“The common fly was a cause of painful annoyance, commencing at daybreak and ending at dark, when
the mosquitos commenced their depredations. The flies were in millions; they settled on one’s face, hands, head, neck, and ears. I have seen an officer lying asleep with his mouth open, and the flies walking in and out as complacently as possible. It was necessary to keep whirling one hand vigorously around the other while conveying food or drink to the mouth to prevent flies flying in with it.” (Walker)
However, this led to equally interesting past times, by turning their flying foes into the object of games.
“When several officers happened to be together on a picket, we have played “fly loo,” which was
played as follows: Each player would place a lump of sugar in front of him, covered over with his
pocket-handkerchief, and put one rupee into the pool. At a signal, all the handkerchiefs were taken up,
and on whosesoever lump of sugar a fly settled first won the pool. “ (Walker)
Another entertainment which was only possible with flies was to lay a quantity of sugar on a table or any other flat surface and surround it with gunpowder. Then, when the sugar was sufficiently black with flies, the gunpowder would be blown up. Another officer would catch the flies in a large cup and then pour boiling water on them. As this hardly made any difference to the fly population on the Ridge, the game continued to be played out at intervals until the end of the siege.
Feeding and clothing the Ridge
Before we dive into the grimmer aspects of the Delhi camp a detour is needed regarding food. Provisions, though never lacking, were basic. However, as lines of communication improved and a reasonably stable supply chain was established things improved drastically; that is, at least for the officers in their messes. For the regular soldier, Harriet Tytler very curtly points out,
“Housekeeping.. through the siege was nil. We had our rations like any private soldier, (though paying for the same) and the one servant did his best to make what variety he could out of it. It was a case of mutton curry one day, mutton koftas another say, mutton hash the third and mutton minced the fourth. These with chupattees made our dinner, week in and week out. Breakfast was always dall and chupattees or dall and rice, supper bread and butter, such as there was, hunger made us enjoy them all the same. Officers had their messes and many luxuries which we penniless refugees could not afford..”
There was a substantial civilian population on the Ridge in June which consisted mostly of officers of the customs department, deputy collectors and “others” who had either been hiding in or around Delhi and had made their way to the Ridge with their families as soon as it was controlled by the British. The only one who seemed to have spared them any thought was Reverend Rotton and it was only through his kind offices and the generosity of the soldiers, they did not simply starve to death. It never occurred to anyone to request Captain Thomson of the Commissariat Department to issue them rations.
“During the few days, these refugees remained with the army, they did not know from whence to obtain their daily bread. The British soldier assisted the poor people…such as these brave fellows had, they gave, nothing grudging, dividing all they had, even to a crust and a rag, with those whose wants were real…”
Some had managed to procure some tents and into these, they crowded as best they could, men, women and children all huddled together in profound misery. Rotton notes,
“Some of these refugees died while in camp. One infant, with its young mother sitting and watching beside it with sad countenance and tearful eyes, I fancy I can now see before me; its attenuated limbs, its sunken and glazed eyes, its drawn and pinched features, its convulsive frame: that pitiful sight I shall never forget. The results which I saw before me were attributed to two causes, viz., the heartless desertion by its native wet nurse, and the inability of the child’s system to assimilate other than that natural nourishment which its mother could not give it. The company crowded within this tent, men, women, and children, all seemed paralysed. The men were unmanned, and the women broken-hearted; even the very children themselves had apparently forgotten the gambols and the mischief which characterize their years: there was an unnatural depression here that told its own tale. Those who had the power to think sat brooding over their sorrows, reviewing the past and anticipating the future with a settled gloom, which no cheering word or promise from a stranger’s lips seemed sufficient to break.”
For General Barnard, this scarred small mass of humanity was nothing more than a nuisance – on the 17th of June he ordered them off the Ridge, and under a paltry escort they were sent on their way with some of the wounded, to Meerut. Who they were or what became of them, is anyone’s guess; neither their names nor their escapes are recorded.
The engineers were luckier than others and had occupied from the first a house which had escaped destruction on the 11th of May. By the time Baird Smith arrived on the 3rd of July their mess numbered 22. The house proved to be their best investment – although it only had three rooms, the central one ran the length of the building and there was also a wide veranda. The grounds were large enough for their tents to be pitched around it and nearby stood the park for their stores. A few enterprising officers repurposed a billiard table they had found in one of the ruined bungalows – by sawing off the edges it was turned into a dining table which could sit twenty, and as needs be, could be used as an impromptu bed. With a punkah fan and a capital cook, an invitation to the the engineer’s mess was a step into normalcy when outside those walls, chaos ran the day.
The officers of the 9th Lancers too had set themselves up as best they could. Octavius Anson was appointed Mess President and it would appear one of his chief concerns was supplying the officers with soda water, a consignment of 36 dozen reaching the Ridge in late June. However the run on the soda water was so great he worried the machinery in Ambala would soon be worn out; he found it impossible to get saltpetre or potatoes and to make things worse when the claret ran out, he was concerned they would be reduced to drinking the Commissariat rum. However he did, in June, have “Very pleasant news, considering that I have just been made Mess President, and have sent an order to McDonald to supply the mess with 150 dozen monthly (soda water) and to Crump & Co. to send us every month fifty dozen of beer, twelve dozen of claret, and nine dozen of brandy.”
He complains excessively about how expensive his own mess bill was ruining him but this he puts down to the woes of rank.
“Were I not so high up in the regiment, I would not think it my duty to dine at mess, but holding now rather a conspicuous position it would not do for me to eat alone in my tent and abstain altogether from the society of my brother officers. I am, however, disgusted at the great but unavoidable expense which the mess entails. All I eat, too, is soup, meat, and onions (the potatoes being very bad), and bread and butter washed down with sherry and water.”
Thanks to the rank he appears to hold responsible for destroying him financially, Anson was given certain treats, not readily available to others. A senior officer treated him to a beer of which he had a personal supply of 20 bottles. It was not all gloom – the mess bought all of General Anson’s wine and beer when it came up for auction, spending £400 for it with three avid sweet-tooths taken into consideration.
“We are going to add a filter to our luxuries at mess, and buy all the General’s jams, &c., for F. Grant,
Blair and Jones are great devourers of sweets of that sort.”
Being invited to dine with others too had its advantages. Anson writes in August,
“Hope wrote and invited Upton and myself to dinner, but as Upton would not go, I got leave to take Hunter instead. We had an exquisite little dinner: grouse, soup from P., A. and Co., to remind Hope of the grouse shooting season at home, and a green young goose, with some very good fresh looking peas from a Parsee merchant just come here hash and fricassee, and a nice pudding. We drank a bottle of beer each, and enjoyed our dinner very much, Hope slyly observing he did not know what his wife would say to his extravagance.”
Soon after Anson found Hope’s tiffins of mutton broth and beer did not agree with him, meaning to “avoid the snare in the future,” preferring to stay where he was with his tea and mango fool. By August, he sent his wife a reckoning of the blasted mess bill – “My wine bill for June is Rs.73 14a. up., and mess for July Rs.70 15a. 4p., making a total of Rs.144 14a. 3p.—enormous sum, I think. I can, by screwing to avoid mess
oftener, bring it down to Rs.100; one must live generously.”
By August Anson was obliged to provide his mess with a new tent – the rough monsoon weather had finished it off with only the inner fly pitched and the rain streaming through the holes leaving the officers no choice but to scramble under the table to eat their food.
Meanwhile Colonel Young, of the Artillery, appears to have hardly felt any privations at all. Writing to his wife in June, when he optimistically felt the siege would soon be over,
“It is not very pleasant the prospect of being in tents for another ten days or so, but you would be surprised to see how comfortable we are—with tatties and a punkah. As to our living, we could not dine more luxuriously than we do if we were quietly located at Simla, and I have not seen better gram mutton anywhere; and you will be amused when I tell you that the pastry at the mess is about the best I have come across in India — it seems that the Artillery mess cook or confectioner is famous for his skill. I give you all these little details that you may know we are not utterly miserable! Of our party, Norman, Mactier, and myself always dine at the mess; and Becher sometimes. Our tiffin, Mactier’s and mine, is a biscuit and a glass of wine or brandy and water. We are nearly at the end of the two boxes I got from Anderson’s, but Mactier has picked up another box
somewhere, which will last us, I hope, until we get into Delhi.”
His mess too was well stocked and Young could spare some sympathy for the Rifles.
“The mess to which we belong has plenty of everything, wine and beer included; but the unfortunate Rifles are entirely out of beer and wine, so, as someone remarked yesterday, they make up for it by keeping up the strictest etiquette at the dinner table, and prohibiting smoking till the cloth is removed. They are always
very particular, too, in wearing their green uniforms.” And this from a “luxurious set of fellows” (as some called the Artillery) who engaged in the use of table cloths in their mess.
There were some set backs.
The Fusiliers lost all the grain-fed mutton to the shepherd who herded the flock straight to Delhi; Anson commiserated with the cook of the Lancer’s mess when he reported he could not produce any dinner as the wind kept blowing out the cooking fire while the rain had drowned 3 ducks and 5 fowls. Charles Reid notes another incident at the beleaguered Hindu Rao’s House:
“About a quarter of an hour before our usual breakfast time, Dr Morris’ table attendant came into the portico with a very long face, followed by own khit (table attendant) trembling from head to foot…A 24-pounder shot had passed through the kitchen immediately over the stove on which was placed our breakfast stew. It was not knocked over, our khits informed us, but it was full of plaster and mortar, and sundry pieces of brick. This was a trifle compared with the intelligence that followed; it appeared that before the shot made its exit through the opposite wall of the kitchen it must needs travel through a box which was placed, amongst other articles of use, all the delicacies of the season, and which had just been sent up from Messrs Peak, Allen and Co., from Umballah. Out came a mug in all manners and shapes, then a piece of salmon tin, and so on. All, of course, were in fits of laughter, but the poor khits who had had a narrow escape did not appear to see the fun at all. Several shots had before struck the cook room, but this iron messenger was the one that had done any real mischief…The khits after being laughed into good humour, went back at the stew, which after all, was not so bad, though pronounced somewhat gritty.”
On another occasion, Reid’s grain seller had procured a quantity of flour from the camp which was unfortunately piled into one of the outhouses of the piquet – a ten inch shell, lobbed from the Kissengunge battery thudded into the middle of it, covering everyone in nearby with flour. A similar shell fell into a pile of packed tents and Reid recalled, “it was amusing to see them when they were afterwards pitched; there was certainly no want of ventilation!”
Towards July the camp was beginning to resemble a small town. A few enterprising merchants had ventured to set up shop and a native bazaar had sprung up to the rear of the camp. The camp followers, of which there were thousands had their emcampment by the banks of the river. The Ridge now had a curious appearance.
“The cantonment roads are useful and the native merchants repaired and reoccupied the shops of the old regimental bazaar… the long line of tents, the thatched hovels of the native servants, the rows of horses tied by the heels, the parks of artillery…Outside the camp… a border of filth and rottenness, heaped with dead camels and horses…In the rear are the booths of the native bazaars; and farther out on the plain beyond, the thousands of bullocks, camels and horses that carry our baggage.”
By August, Peake & Allen & Co., had set up shop on the Ridge sending from Amballa two representatives – Mr Allen was something a dandy and was known as the best-dressed man in camp. To give them competition, 2 enterprising Parsi merchants, Jehangeer and Cowasjee quickly established a trade with numerous goods but particularly beer, brandy and soda water. Initially, the merchants all charged exorbitant prices for beer which they sold for Rs 24 a dozen. However when the Artillery mess bought 100 dozen from the entrepreneurs at Rs 15 for their ” best English bottled” they subsequently found better business at the new price. It was tough competition for the Commissariat barreled beer that was said to be first-rate. Dr Ireland asserts the merchants were not allowed to sell alcohol in the camp – a daily allowance of grog was dolled out to not only the European soldiers but the Gurkhas and the Sikhs but the Sikhs in their turn, sold their rations to the Europeans at a small profit. The European soldiers felt their allowance was far too small for the work demanded of them and graffiti appeared on walls close to their piquets written in chalk – “Plenty grog, plenty, work,” “Give us two totts and we’ll go in (to Delhi)” and “Gif us enoffe grog..”
With the dark days of June behind them and reinforcements steadily arriving in the camp, Henry Daly noted,
” I can scarce give you a better illustration of the change which is influencing the country than in the supplies
which reach our camp; on our first arrival the feeling that our rule was doomed and at an end was so
widespread and so thoroughly believed that nobody brought in anything for sale ; sheep, poor and thin,could be had only at the commissariat, and at rupees 5 each! Grain 10 seers the rupee! Fowls unknown.Now sheep are as common as were jackals at Sekrora ; grain is 45 to 50 seers ; poultry of all kinds abundant ; boots, shoes, even macassar oil! These are strong symptoms. The servants in camp have behaved marvellously well.”
Without the servants, the Delhi Field Force and the subsequent reinforcements would have been lost. Ireland notes there were 10 Indians for every European; many of the officers had brought their personal staff along who would share their employer’s trials and tribulations and more often than not without the thanks they deserved.
Alexander Taylor, who arrived on the Ridge from the Punjab with scarcely anything but the clothes he wore, despaired he would see his servants – he had sent his chaprassi to Murree to collect everything he would need in camp in the way of clothes, tents, wine and stores with instructions to pack everything on mules as far as Rawalpindi and then onto camels to Delhi, while Taylor rode on ahead. He half expected his staff would simply abscond with his goods instead of attempting the 500-mile journey to Delhi. Much to his delight, one morning after returning from a five-hour tramp around the camp, he found his khitmatgar, dressed immaculately in white, “standing bowing in the sunshine, and heard the dulcet words, ‘the Sahib’s bath is ready.’ – no allusion to the journey, or the time that had elapsed since they last met – found his tent pitched, grass blinds hung in the doorway, flies driven out, a hot bath steaming invitingly on the ground, and changes of linen lying on his bed…”
One of the commonest sights on the Ridge, at midday and again at sunset, was of servants, moving cautiously along, carrying dishes, glasses and food for his officer. Ignoring the incessant ping ping of the shot around him for a man to whom he bore nothing more than personal loyalty. Regardless of how far he had to go, his officer at least, would not go hungry. They kept some semblance of normalcy in a world that for all intentions had gone mad, never complaining and always on call. Without the solid bravery of the khansamah, the khitmatgars, the syces, the bheesties and all the other domestics, there could have been no force on the Ridge. It is no wonder the 9th Lancers nominated their bheestie for a Victoria Cross.
Clothing was sorely lacking. The weeks of hard fighting quickly told on the garments and the men on the Ridge soon took on a singular appearance. Although the Sirmoor Battalion and the Rifles kept to their green uniforms, no matter how tattered, almost every other regiment turned out in some sort of khaki “it was of so many different shades, puce colour, slate colour, drab, that a delightful variety was exhibited, not only in the uniforms of different corps but in men belonging to the same company.” The officers cared little what their men looked like as long as they could fight. Among the staff and the engineers no two men were dressed alike on all the Ridge. A variety of boots, trousers, breeches and coats of all descriptions, were accompanied by an equally startling array of the headwear that included turbans, helmets, solah topis and wide-awakes. Some men attached flaps to the backs of their caps to protect them from the sun, others took to wearing thin veils which additionally provided some relief from the flies. Anson complained the forage caps were too small to protect his men from the sun and asked his wife to organise padded curtains which could be attached to their cap covers. Wilson, exasperated by what he considered a slovenly state of affairs, insisted that the men should not fight in their shirt sleeves alone and don their uniforms no matter how tattered. As such, many of the women in the hill stations were not idle, providing the men as best they could with clothing: however the ladies of Mussoorie went one step further. On hearing the Gurkhas had been reduced to rags, they got up a subscription to send five bundles of clothes and shoes to the battalion, which were received in August. The new clothes so puzzled the mutineers so much that they believed Reid had received reinforcements at Hindu Rao’s House.
Strangely too, Mr Goud sent two boxes of clothing to Delhi, to Colonel Young, who was more than a little surprised when, on opening them, they contained ladies’ dresses! Unfortunately, Young either did not know Harriet Tytler or it simply did not occur to him that perhaps she might have been happy for the change of apparel – all she had in her wardrobe was 2 petticoats she had bought from her ayah and a single dress. What her French maid, Marie, wore is anyone’s guess.
Some men were very careful in regards to their appearance like “ Little Dr Innes looks as if he had always just jumped out of a bandbox, so neat and clean—very different from the Staff…” while Charles Thomason of the Engineers, who had spent some years working alone on the Western Jamuna Canal during which time he had allowed his servants to design and sew his clothes, was less particular. His only requirement was his shoulders and spine be covered in bright green cloth which he asserted repelled the sun’s rays, a theory he refused to part with, no matter how ludicrous his patchwork clothes looked.
For Harriet Tytler, things were very different.
She had survived the massacre at Delhi, escaping in nothing but the clothes she wore. With her husband, maid and two children, she escaped to Ambala, which should have been the end of her adventures. However, her husband was sent to Delhi to take charge of the treasury and he felt it best to take his family with him, the idea being he could easily send them on to Mussoorie from Delhi. So Harriet bundled her two children and her French maid Marie into a cart and followed her husband to the Ridge.
They arrived lacking in everything, hoping above hope that at least some of the possessions had survived the 11th of May and perhaps their bungalow was still standing. Her husband quickly ascertained there was indeed nothing left and Harriet would have to content herself with living in the cart until he could find a way to send her and the children away. Initially, she was to have joined the refugees leaving the Ridge on the 17th of June but Harriet, in an advanced stage of pregnancy refused to mount the pad elephants that had been made ready, stating it would mean her certain death. Her husband pleaded on her behalf with General Barnard and Harriet was allowed to remain on the Ridge. She gave birth to her son (who was given the rather outlandish name, Stanley Delhiforce Tytler), on the 21st of June in the cart the family called home.
In June, Harriet was by no means the only woman on the Ridge who had accompanied her husband into war. Colonel Laughton of the Engineers had brought his Persian wife and her retinue of 32 elephants while Mrs Holland had initially accompanied the Tytlers to look for her husband in Delhi. When he finally sent her a message he was safe in Meerut, she left them in Alipore and hastened to her husband. Laughton and his wife were soon sent packing – he had found little time to engineer anything being fully occupied with entertaining his wife, it was a relief for the camp when the couple left. However, Harriet stayed.
Until the monsoon rains began in earnest, Harriet lived with her children in the cart. Captain Tytler, distressed in finding his family soaking wet under the leaky roof (he was living in a tent close to the camp treasure) moved them to the nearby bell of arms, which would be their home until September. After Delhi was taken, they found new quarters in the palace grounds, until finally, Tytler was able to send them off in safety to the hills.
“On picquet yesterday Evans caught a venomous snake which had bitten Hutchinson’s small dog. He made the reptile bite his cap, and then seized it by the back of the neck, and holding it tight exposed its awfully sharp and venomous fangs most richly to view. The cool way in which he held it, and poked its mouth about amused me much. He is fond of stalking musk-rats round the walls of the house, pouncing on their necks with his finger and thumb with great dexterity.” (Anson)
Fortunately, not everyone engaged in the same risky amusements as Evans. Anson himself was particularily fond of chess, playing when he could with his young cousin, ascertaining that even his sister could beat most generals at the game. Football, cricket and quoits took up some of the liesure time to be had for the athletically minded. Fishing too was considered an enjoyable past time – seated on camp stools, the men would hold a lottery as to who would catch the first fish, the prize being a bottle of beer. Others ventured down to the racket court at Metcalfe House to engage in a quick game with the added interest of being shot at in the process. Other wise, there was still Evans, who entertained the camp by standing chest deep in water and attempted to catch aligators by the nose. Anson marvelled the man only caught a slight cold. At one point there was even a horse race around the old parade ground.
To raise morale, particualarily after the dreadful news of the Cawnpore massacre, Wilson ordered the regimental bands to play every evening, popular tunes to uplift the sagging spirits. In the evenings men would turn out when off duty in their buggies and palki gharis, as they would have done had there been no war to fight. In August the band of the 8th Regiment played in head-quarters camp, causing a bigger turn out than usual, the street crowded with, as Young put, it “fashionables,” as if it was regular matinee in a normal camp. In the background was the continued booming of the guns – a constant reminder to everyone what they were facing.
Nor was everyone busy during the siege. The “treasureless and powerless” district collectors and other civilians who had made their way to Delhi had precious little to do, while Hervey Greathed, the senior civilian and his assistant Sir Theophilus Metcalfe (brooding at the loss of his house) could not complain of being overworked. They filled their days as best they could – Greathed appears to have spent most of the siege writing letters and Metcalfe, with his knowledge of Delhi and surroundings led Nicholson’s force to Najafgarh.
Letter-writing occupied the men when off duty. They wrote to their wives who were in the hills, in Ambala or in Meerut, to their parents and to their friends. As long as the post was working they were not completely cut off from the world. Not all the letters are as chatty as that of Keith Young to his wife:
He also sent his wife 2 sketches of the rebel, General Bakht Khan, drawn by Captain Maisey.
Some men had brought books with them – Greathed amused himself with the “spicy” biography of Charles Napier and others wiled away a little time with what sundry novels they could get their hands on. However, a finely decorated book of Hindu erotic drawings found in a house during an attack on the mutineer’s positions was promptly torn to pieces by Lieutenant Sanford. An officer lamented the loss of this valuable masterpiece; however Sanford, young and probably less appreciative of art, found it so reprehensible he felt no one, much less his men, should get their hands on it. The Sikhs, in front of whom he destroyed the book, nodded in approval – however one cannot help feeling that morality deprived the world of something most likely very beautiful. As for Henry Ouvry, he set himself the task of conjugating the French verbs.
When it came to morality, the camp had options for both Protestants and Catholics – James Rotton served the latter and Father Bertrand, a Frenchman, held the souls of the former. Both men worked tirelessly in providing some comfort to the men in the hospitals, available day or night to reassure the dying and bury the dead. Rotton appears to have been rather zealous in his work, holding regular sermons on Sundays, which he spent much time contemplating. He did his best to find the right chapters, the most uplifting verses a pastor could think of. No one faulted his perseverance or doubted his abilities, but Greathed found him long-winded and Young could not help thinking Rotton was rather boring. Even Anson, a religious man at heart had a little trouble staying awake during some of Rotton’s sermons. However, admirably, Rotton was in the habit of preaching from memory with the Bible closed before him, able to recite long verses extempore. Mr Ellis arrived from Amballa in August to take some of the work off of Rotton’s shoulders but Father Bertrand continued to soldier on, alone.
A strange incident did occur which shows how some men felt about the dead, particularly if it was one of their own.
Major Henry Ouvery had promised his wife, before parting from her, he would do what he could to do right by her brother, Captain John Weston Delamain (56th BNI), who had been killed at Badli-ki-Serai. Delamain was a young officer of some promise and as brave a soldier as any – after losing his arm (amputated at the shoulder) in the second Sikh War he continued to serve in the army – after his regiment mutinied, he went to Delhi as a volunteer, attached to the 75th of Foot. At Badli-ki-Serai, while leading a party of the 75th, Delamain was shot in the mouth and the bullet passed out through his spine, killing him instantly. He was buried in a shallow grave later that day together with a bandsman. Henry Ouvery moved heaven and quite physically earth to find Delamain, tracking down on the Ridge the man who had buried him and a full six weeks later, rode out to Badli-ki-Serai and had the body exhumed.
He then rode back to Delhi with the remains in a cart and made his way to the churchyard. He then “hunted up the chaplain, and the service for the dead was performed at 10.30 by the light of my lamp…” two other officers attended the funeral. Ouvery managed to get a marble slab for Delamain’s grave which he scrounged from the remains of Metcalfe House – when it is still there today, it is next to that of General Henry Barnard.
Some men engaged in less savoury occupations and would probably have been better off going to one of Rotton’s sermons. Looting dead mutineers was a practice engaged in by the Europeans, Sikhs, Gurkhas and camp followers alike – the officers found it reprehensible but there was little they could do to stop it. The mutineers, on the other hand, behaved likewise. However, it was also common among European soldiers to beat and even kill innocent civilians for no reason at all. Captain Tytler had to stop some men from hanging an old man who they proclaimed a spy; Ireland complains bitterly that the brutish behaviour of the soldiers was too often overlooked and seldom punished. It so appalled General Wilson he finally ordered a court martial for one soldier who had murdered a camp follower. The man was set free – there were simply not enough soldiers to start putting them in jail – but the lesson stuck; Ireland notes that the incidents of violence, though not ceasing completely certainly declined after the court-martial.
There were some men on the Ridge whose families had been killed either at Delhi, Meerut and even Cawnpore – for them, life had taken a different turn. Captain Chambers, though still a fine officer, seldom spoke and often visited Harriet Tytler if nothing else, to see her infant son; his had been killed with his mother at Meerut. Harriet pitied the young man and felt it was wrong his fellow officers had prevented him from killing his wife’s murderer at Meerut – the butcher was hung but Chambers had wanted to do it himself. She felt, had he been allowed that act of vengeance it might have helped him assuage some of the guilt he felt at having failed to save his wife. Wigram Clifford cared little for life and certainly less for entertainment; his heart was fixed on avenging his sister’s murder. 19-year-old Edward Vibart, who had escaped from Delhi in May was apprised of the murder of his father, mother and his siblings at Cawnpore in July – heartbroken, he wasted no time in volunteering his services for Delhi, desperate for active service against the mutineers. Another man, who had lost his family at Delhi, is reported as never speaking at all. He was killed in the assault on the city in September. Most of the men on the Ridge had relatives scattered the length and breadth of India – the war for many of them, was very personal.
hospitals and Burials
For those unlucky enough to be wounded or ill, the Ridge did have a total of 14 hospitals, each treating its own regiment. The men of the 8th and 61st Foot, for example, shared one building – the 8th in the long centre room and the 61st on the two side verandahs. The officers preferred on a whole to be treated in their own tents where they were assured of the kind ministrations of friends and their servants; the Gurkhas stoutly refused to leave Hindu Rao’s House and established their dispensary in an upper room of their post, where they were taken care of by their own men.
A camaradery strong sprang up between the European soliders and the Sikhs and Gurkhas.
“Nothing could have been more satisfactory, and, at the same time, more ludicrous, than the way these men and the European soldiers fraternized together…They were constantly sitting and talking together in the camp; though, as neither understood more than word or tow of the other’s language, how they managed to keep an conversation is difficult to comprehend. A European would come to see one of the native officers, perhaps, who would get up, offer his frend the only stool in his possession, and then sit on his bed. Then the soldier would light his pipe, gravely puffing away, and begin to talk, the other following suit; and each holding forth quite independently of his companion..” (Seaton)
The men of the 75th shared not just their picquet and batteried duties but also their tents with the Sikhs of the 2nd Punjab Infantry with whom they struck up a fast friendship, while the Gurkhas held Hindu Rao’s with the 60th Rifles, and often the Gurkhas were heard exclaiming the 60th were “their rifles,” while the Rifles spoke of the Sirmoor Battalion as “them Gurkees of ours.” Calling each other brothers, the men fought and died together – Charles Reid often saw the Rifles carrying wounded Gurkhas off the field and vice versa.
It was thought prudent, however, to send the sick and wounded to Meerut and Ambala whenever convenient -it not only cleared much-needed room in the hospitals but also gave the patients a better chance of recovering away from the foetid air of Delhi. They were sent in any conveyance possible together with a small escort. A medical officer was detailed to minister to their needs on the road. They would then be sent on to Dagshai and Simla to further aid their convalescence.
Surgeon Innes of the 60th Rifles was well known for not just his personally neat appearnce but for keeping a clean and comfortable hospital for his regiment. He did his utmost to provide the wounded with punkahs to cool them and charpoys to lay on instead of just a blanket or straw on the floor and securing for them as many small comforts as he could. Rotton particularly admired the medical establishment at Delhi – they were not the typical saw and bones men Rotton had seen; they were some of the finest surgeons the army had to offer, skilled and above all sympathetic. Although Rotten believed a Florence Nightingale would not have been amiss on the Ridge (Greathed was vehemently opposed to his wife and other women coming to Delhi to nurse the wounded, saying quite bluntly the surgeons could manage well without them), he felt at least Nightingale’s spirit had somehow imbibed itself on the medical men at Delhi.
In all 28 surgeons of the Indian Medical Service were killed or wounded during the Mutiny and the Army Medical Department lost nearly as many. It is worth noting that these were two separate branches with surgeons either directly employed by the EICo or attached to regiments. Whereas men of the Indian Medical Service had, more often than not, other civilian duties to attend to, the men of the army were there to serve with the regiments and also fought with them. However, one of the men who defended the Arrah house was Surgeon John James Halls, and all the surgeons during the Siege of Lucknow were dab hands with their guns. At Delhi, we have Dr Ireland who accompanied Nicholson to Najafgarh where he received a horrifying wound that cost him his eye and had him listed in dispatches as dead. It took Ireland three years to recover; in 1861 he was declared unfit for service and retired.
Ideally, each regiment should have had its own medical men; unfortunately, they too fell prey to disease and injury. Surgeon Coghlan of the 75th died of cholera; Assitant Surgeon Whylock of the 75th who likewise came down with cholera the same time as Coghlan survived, but not before he had made a perfect nuisance of himself, demanding champagne which the mess of the 75th did not have (although some were procured from the 1st Bengal Fusiliers) and bothering everyone with his constant cries of “Boy, boy,” (to summon his khitmagar) until he was finally sent off the the hills in July having done no work at all since arriving in Delhi.
All the work fell onto Assistant Surgeon Stewart Aaron Lithgow following Coghlan’s death as the only surgeon left to minister to the needs of the 75th.
Lithgow very ably turned the old mess house of one of the native regiments in the old lines into a hospital for his regiment -as the building had a flat roof it could not be burned like those that had had thatch and despite the ruined interiors, was deemed safe. The only piece of furniture left in the building that had escaped destruction was the billiard table which Lithgow used for operations until the end of the Siege. Barter recalls Lithgow worked relentlessly, continuously on duty during the day and at night moving to the 75th picquet in Sabzi Mandi, bolting his meals as he went and sleeping in snatches. He even found time to assist the other surgeons in their hospitals, lending a hand for the most dangerous operations being performed.
Surgeon J.H. Ker-Innes of the 60th Rifles was wounded at Ghaziudinagar on the 30th of May but continued working. Of the civilian doctors, Assistant Surgeon Anthony Dopping was one of those killed at Delhi on the 11th of May and Assistant Surgeon Thomas Hewlett Woodward was killed on the 31st of August.
General Wilson made it a point to mention some of the medical officers in dispatches –
Superintending Surgeon Edmund Tritton (Bengal Medical Service)
Officiating Superintendent Surgeon Campbell Mackenzie (Bengal Medical Service)
Surgeon J.H. Ker- Innes, 60th Rifles
Surgeon Edward Hare, 2nd Fusiliers
Surgeon James Peter Brougham, 1st Fusiliers and Bengal Medical Service
Surgeon David Scott, Medical Storekeeper (Bengal Medical Service)
Assistant Surgeon J.J. Clifford, 9th Lancers
Assistant Surgeon W.F. MacIntyre, Commander in Chief’s Staff
Reverend Rotton further mentions Assistant-Surgeon Alexander Grove Duff and Assistant Surgeon T.J. Biddle “of H.M.’s service” and Assistant-Surgeon Moore of the Carbineers. Moore was severely wounded on the 30th of May at the Battle of the Hindun and died of his injuries on the road back to Meerut.
Lord Canning did not forget the medical officers either, writing in the General Orders of the 5th of November 1857:
“The arrangements made by Superintending Surgeon E. Tritton, for the care and comfort of the numerous patients in the hospital, have been most satisfactory, and the Governor General in Council has pleasure in offering to that officer, as well to the regimental and staff officers of the Medical Department by whom he was supported, this acknowledgement of their good service.”
The numerous patients that Canning refers to would horrify even the most hardened medical man – by August there were over 2000 men sick and wounded on the Ridge, nearly half the fighting force. It is no surprise that Rotton notes the surgeons worked relentlessly, taking little heed of their own health or comfort, snatching sleep and meals when a little time afforded it. Surgeon Edmund Tritton, who had already served in the Sikh war of 1848, was 54 at the time of the mutiny – he never recovered his health fully after Delhi and died, aged 55 on the 15th of June, 1858 in Simla.
J.J. Clifford of the 9th Lancers appears to have been a most obstinant man in Anson’s view – to care for his patients, he demanded from the first, three tents, which Anson saw as unreasonable; but Clifford insisted and got his way – he performed a rudimentary triage in the camp before removing his patients to one of a bungalow in the ruined civil lines. Clifford did not even spare his comfort to look after his patients, as Anson recalls:
“When I got up this morning I saw Clifford, Drysdale, and Wilkinson (who live together), sitting outside without a tent over their heads. They looked like three disconsolate mermaids dripping with dew. On enquiring I found out that the little doctor had run rusty with his colleague, Smith, for striking one of his hospital tents, (Smith, you must know, had orders to take a tent with him, and he must have either taken a hospital tent or the one in which Clifford & Co. lived). Smith did not know that Clifford, sooner than part with one of his hospital tents, was prepared to strike the Government hospital tent he and his friends were using. When he heard that Smith had taken one of his hospital tents, he, Clifford, immediately struck his own and sent it off to replace the one Smith had taken.”
Many men were stuck down with cholera, particularly those of the 8th and 61st Foot. Rotton made it point to visit them as often as he could, but
“It was melancholy to see nearly every man in either of the three wards languishing from that terrible disease cholera; hardly an inmate was suffering from any other cause. It required strong nerves to withstand the sickening sights of these two infirmaries. The patients constantly retching made the place very offensive...So general was this mortal sickness in these hospitals, that at last, I could only hope to discharge my duty by taking up a central position, with a chair for a hassock to kneel on in prayer, and making a general supplication for all the patients; while afterwards, with Bible in hand, I read and expounded extemporaneously some appropriate passage of Scripture.”
The medical officers were at a loss to explain why cholera was so prevalent in these two regiments when it was, fortunately, rare in the rest of the camp. It was generally put down to their having “a long fatiguing march in the height of the rains.” Reverend Rotton however made an interesting connection which might have been useful to the medical officers – he noted:
“Most men were complaining, and acknowledged to a constantly distressing feeling of sickness, especially before and after breakfast. I was a martyr to it myself, and attributed much of this nausea not only to the quality of the food which we ate, and which was at times very coarse and inferior, during the rains, but to the presence also of an overwhelming number of flies, who soiled everything which they came in contact with. As
I have before observed, the misery arising from these creatures only, was something almost intolerable; they sought you out in your tent, at your meals, when occupied in the discharge of duty ; and the only time you could secure rest from this annoyance was during the hours of sleep at night, when they themselves felt the necessity of repose. Whatever might be the dish you selected to feed upon, as soon as it was uncovered, a legion of flies would settle upon it; and even so simple a thing as a cup of tea would be filled in a few minutes, unless you were very watchful, the surface of the liquid presenting a most revolting dark appearance from flies floating thereon, some dead and others dying.”
Perhaps if someone had taken a closer look at Rotton’s observations, they might have concluded, that although the flies did not primarily cause cholera they were certainly the culprits in spreading the disease through the camp – nowadays it is well-known the common housefly can transmit at least 65 diseases to humans, typhoid fever, dysentery, cholera, poliomyelitis, yaws, anthrax, tularemia, leprosy and tuberculosis. R. Knox concluded, in his paper in 1853, “The Cholera Fly” more or less the same.
The surgeons faced a myriad of injuries, many of which are too horrifying to contemplate and ranged from wounds caused by bullets, grapeshot and shells, to lance, sword and bayonet wounds. In the conditions they were working under there was a very high probability of hospital gangrene and secondary infections following the initial treatment and many patients died not so much of the wound but the effects afterwards. . To get an idea of what the surgeons were facing at Delhi I will quote some examples from Williamson’s “Notes on the Wounded of the Indian Mutiny.”
75th Regt.—Sergeant John M’Donald, aged 26, was wounded at Delhi, June 15, 1857, by a musket-ball, in the posterior part of the left elbow-joint. Excision, by H incision, of the fractured parts was immediately performed, and several pieces of bone came away at the time, and several pieces came away afterwards.
July 20, 1858. Wound healed; arm in an extended position, and can be only slightly bent; he cannot open the
little and ring fingers, and the others are also powerless. The arm is about three inches shorter than the right. September 8, 1858, sent to modified duty.
24th. Private Patrick Farrell, aged 30, wounded 7th July, 1857, by a musket-ball which entered on the right side of the third lumbar vertebra, two inches from the spinous processes passed across the back, and made its exit a little below the centre of the crest of the left ilium ; several pieces of bone came
away from the aperture of exit.
August 2nd. Aperture of entrance is healed; that of exit is still discharging, leading down to diseased bone. There is some thickening over the spinous processes of the lumbar vertebras.
75th Regt.—Private Edward Collins, wounded at Delhi, June 8, 1857, by a musket-ball, which entered the upper and outer side of the right thigh, and lodged, fracturing the femur; ball extracted; a piece of bone came away.
July 20th Wound healed; right leg about two and a half inches shorter than left; femur bent; fractured ends of bone overlap, and there is abundant deposition of new bone ; the long splint was used. Has a good useful limb, and can walk a long distance.
September 6, 1858. Sent to modified duty.
9th Lancers.—Private Joseph Twining, wounded at Delhi by a sabre cut on the posterior and under surface of the left elbow-joint, which appears to have cut the external condyle of the humerus and olecranon. No pieces of bone came away, and the wound did not heal completely for three months.
August 2nd. Wound healed. Elbow-joint in a bent position, and completely anchylosed. Cannot pronate and supinate the hand.
September 3, 1858. Sent to modified duty.
There was little the surgeons could do for stomach injuries and most patients invariably died shortly after receiving the wound. Head wounds were often fatal – in the case of one Lieutenant Bannerman, who was shot in the head, a thoughtful young corporal dug a little hole for Bannerman’s brain and buried it with as much reverance as he could. Elkington underwent the disputed process of trepanning after Najafgarh to relieve pressure on his brain but he died five days later without recoving conciousness.
Although some cases mystified even the most experienced surgeon – Lieutenant Blair was shot in the chest and was expected to die; however, it was supposed the bullet had, glanced off a rib, and instead of penetrating his liver as they had imagined, burst an existing abscess on the organ and then came out of his body, leaving him injured but not mortally; another man swallowed the bullet that injured his jaw, along with some of his teeth – the doctor refused to believe him and made his life miserable looking for the projectile. Seaton was not expected to survive his injury – a musket ball in the chest at thirty-five paces, which fractured his rib that in its turn drove down onto his lung before the bullet exited from his back. The remedy prescribed by Dr Mactier was certainly interesting – after three days of continuous bleeding from the lung, it finally stopped and the doctor said that as long as Seaton did not cough or speak he would recover. He was then given over to the care of William Hodson who put an “embargo on his tongue” shooed away all visitors and looked after Seaton himself. By the 1st of September, a few weeks after the initial injury, the wound had healed but Seaton was still not able to return to duty as he “..could not make the least exertion without intolerable pain. To stand or sit in the sun, or to walk, was to thrust a red-hot iron along the course of the ball, and to make the left side of my chest one great pain.” However, he remained on the Ridge and entered the walls of Delhi on the 14th of September.
Medicine had made progress by 1857 and the lessons of Crimea were not lost on the doctors on the Ridge in regard to patient care. However, the methods resorted to such as trepanning for head wounds, cupping and leaches, amputation without anaesthetic for patients who were deemed too weak for chloroform, the application of wet linen to superating wounds might still smack of the Dark Ages to us today from our comfortable seats 165 years later. The surgeons at Delhi were considered some of the best men in their field – just their ability to work under such horrible conditions stands as their best testament; they should not be judged for their knowledge but praised today for their perseverance.
Ministering to the Dying
While Father Bertrand was still on his way down from the Punjab, Dr. Coghlan had to take his last rites from James Rotton. Rotton was not happy ministering to a Roman Catholic and Coghlan asserted he had lived a Catholic he would die one too. Nevertheless, the dying surgeon requested Rotton to read to him from the Bible. Rotton obliged the man and upon concluding his recital, they said the Lord’s Prayer together – Coghlan died shortly after. It appears to have taught Rotton a small lesson in humility – if his choice of sermons is anything to go by, even a Catholic would not have minded his blessings.
Although Rotton and Bertrand divided up their flock along religious lines, one Protestant and the other Roman Catholic, after the affair with Coghlan, Rotton instructed his servants to wake him at night should any injured man who requested his presence; Father Bertrand for his part imparted a blessing on all the regiments going for the final assault on Delhi, saying a prayer from an old man could not harm anyone. The two men remained divided by creed but were not averse to spending time together in what little leisure time they had; often sitting together in the evening outside Rotton’s tent, Bertrand solemnly smoking his hookah. Rotton, in his own fashion, admired the old campaigner –
“Father Bertrand, a pattern Roman Catholic priest, whose services have been justly recognised—not
by the Government, perhaps ; for judging by its acts, the clergy, and particularly that more self-denying
portion of it belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, seem to have been regarded as a necessary
inconvenience; but by his own Vicar Apostolic, Dr. Persico, in terms not by any means too flattering,
considermg his labours in camp – was in this respect in a much worse predicament than myself. He had
infinitely smaller allowances, and infinitely fewer comforts than I enjoyed, but an equal amount of labour. This excellent man—and surely I may venture thus to designate him, without risk of offence to any, except the most bigoted—lived as sparingly as a hermit, while he worked as hard as an English dray-horse. If Government should overlook this good man and his extraordinary services, his own flock never can and never will: those services and that self-denial -will live in the recollections of the army as long as a single man survives to tell the tale.”
What with the short notice he had been given to accompany the force from Meerut to Delhi, Rotton had not thought to bring a saddle horse, much less a saddle with him, opting instead for palki gharry which soon proved too difficult to drive on the camp roads with only one horse to draw it. Therefore Rotton was left with no choice but to walk the entire Ridge, visiting all fourteen hospitals by foot regardless of weather. He would have been a striking figure, though he calls himself decidedly unclerical with a khaki-coloured Indian choga taking the place of a canonical coat. With his uncut black hair and unkempt beard, he looked more like a preacher of retribution rather than the mild-mannered reverand he really was. As discomfiting as he found his own appearance, Father Bertrand was at least quick to point out the Lord did not worry about appearance and for that matter, neither did the men he ministered to. His words, were after all what they needed to hear in their time of need. Rotton and Bertrand had the worst part of the job on the Ridge – they could not retreat to their tents after a battle, nor find distractions in wrestling alligators – they had the worst job the Ridge had to offer -to comfort the sick and wounded, bless and reassure the dying and at night, see them wrapped in sheets and placed side by side in shallow graves. A quick service and all was over until they could do it all again the next day.
The Ridge Today
The Siege of Delhi concluded on the 14th of September, 1857 when the British forces stormed the walled city. What followed will be related in another post – it can however be concluded that little remains today of the Ridge the Delhi Field Force took after Badli-ki-Serai. They left it a stripped, war-shattered ruin, yet today, the Ridge itself is called the lungs of Delhi, a green forest which hides under its boughs all that is left of the siege. The Flagstaff Tower still stands, and Metcalfe House was rebuilt at great expense by Theophilus Metcalfe – today it is an off-limits military facility. Hindu Rao House has been swallowed up in the hospital that bears its name, Ludlow Castle was torn down in the 1960s and Sammy House is gone. On the Ridge the mutiny memorial still stands today, listing the names of all those who died in Delhi, a Gothic-style tower rising up over the place where the guns of Taylor’s Battery once roared.
People say there are ghosts on the Ridge, even a headless horseman, which sounds like the story of Sleepy Hollow. Although over hundred years have passed since the siege concluded, the spirit still linger on, in legend at least.
Letters Written During the Siege of Delhi by H.H. Greathed Esq, -edited by his Widow (1858)
A Year’s Campaigning in India – Julius George Medley (1858)
Extracts from Letters and Notes Written During the Siege of Delhi in 1857 – Sir Charles Reid (1858)
The Chaplain’s Narrative of the Siege of Delhi – John Edward Wharton Rotton, M.A. (1858)
Twelve Years of a Soldiers Life in India Being Extracts from the Letters of the Late Major W.S.R. Hodson, B.A . – edited by his brother, the Rev. George H. Hodson, M.A. (1859)
Notes on the Wounded from the Mutiny in India – George Williamson, M.D., Staff Surgeon (1859)
History of the Siege of Delhi by an Officer Who Served There – W.W. Ireland (1861)
From Cadet to Colonel – the Record of an Active Life – Vol II – Major-General Sir Thomas Seaton, K.C.B. (1866)
Cavalry Experiences and Leaves from my Journal – Colonel H.A. Ouvry C.B. (1892)
With HM’ 9th Lancers During the Indian Mutiny – the Letters of Brevet Major O.H.G.S Anson – edited by his son, Harcourt S. Anson ( 1896)
Forty-One Years in India Vol I – Field Marshal Lord Roberts (1897)
The Sepoy Mutiny as Seen by a Subaltern, from Delhi to Lucknow – Colonel Edward Vibart (1898)
Delhi-1857 – edited by General Sir Henry Wylie Norman and Mrs Keith Young (1902)
Through the Mutiny – Colonel Thomas Nicholls Walker (1907)
A Narrative of the Siege of Delhi – Charles John Griffiths (1910)
The Punjab and Delhi in 1857 Vol II- Rev. J. Cave-Browne M.A. (1911)
“China Jim”- Being Incidents and Adventures in the Life of an Indian Mutiny Veteran – Major-General J.T. Harris (1912)
The Red Fort – James Leasor (1956)
The Siege of Delhi -Mutiny Memories of an Old Officer – Richard Barter, (London, the Folio Society, 1984)
A Englishwoman in India – the Memoirs of Harriet Tytler (Oxford University Press, 1986)
Sketches of Delhi Taken During the Siege – Brevet-Major J.R. Turnbull (1858)
The Campaign in India – Captain George Francklin Atkinson (1859)
Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts https://ignca.gov.in/online-digital-resources/archaeological-sites/delhi/site-of-siege-battery-known-as-the-sammy-house-battery/