The chapters, “The North Western Provinces,” In Rohilkhand” and “The Final Escape” have been left incomplete – in order to understand events, not just in Rohilkhand but in surrounding areas, we must now return to the narrative which starts, not in Rohilkhand but in Muzuffernagar in the Meerut district.
Muzaffernagar, May 14th
In Muzaffarnagar, the treasury guards were men of the 20th BNI a regiment that had mutinied at Meerut but unlike the rest of the regiment, had until then given no cause for alarm. However, the magistrate, Mr Berford, was unwilling to take his chances. Believing they would mutiny, Mr Berford suddenly closed all the public offices on the 14th of May. There was a feeble attempt to save the treasury but when the sepoys refused to hand over the chests, Berford simply left them to their own devices. They quickly helped themselves to as much as they could carry and left the rest to the townspeople, native clerks and Berford’s servants. The sepoys triumphantly marched off towards Moradabad.
“Overcome by unmanly fear for his personal safety” Berford determined to strengthen his own bodyguard and withdrew the guard at the Goal. To save the prisoners the trouble of breaking down the doors, he simply opened the jail and then quickly retreated to a house in the town, surrounded by his impromptu guards. His action resulted in the destruction of the jail and joined by the townspeople, the convicts burned the government offices, and the European bungalows and laid waste to Muzaffarnagar. The Europeans, in the meantime, had fled the town, while Berford scarped off towards the safety of the nearby jungle. Unfortunately, his inaction had set a series of events into motion – and the idea that British rule had come to a definite end.
The effects of this would be seen at Sahuranpore.
Sahuranpore, May-June-July 1857
Only 80 miles from Meerut, the Sahuranpore district found its isolation at the beginning of the mutiny to be one of its most practical features. Bounded on the east by the Ganges and the west by the Jamuna, a range of uninhabitable mountains provided security from the north, while the Siwalik range bound the district to the northeast – its only weak point was the southern boundary with Mozuffernagar. Before the outbreak, Sahuranpore was essentially a civil station, with three military officers, one man in charge of the government stud, two engineering officers working on the budding Eastern Jamuna Canal, a doctor who devoted his time to the botanical gardens and a few missionaries. With the hill station of Mussoorie close by, many of the residents were on leave in early May and at the most, only seven Europeans were left in Sahuranpore, including the clerks. The guard over the treasury consisted of 80 sepoys commanded by a subhadar and they were regularly relieved every three months by similar detachments of the 29th BNI from Moradabad. A small local guard stood watch over the jail while throughout the district the ordinary police force did their duties.
The nearest station was Roorkie, just 25 miles distant, the headquarters of the sappers and miners.
“It was in this position then, with nearly a million of inhabitants in the district….were launched into a rebellion where for long out only really reliable force consisted of a few gentlemen, canal overseers and clerks…“
However, the importance of Sahuranpore was far-reaching. Before long the army before Delhi would be supplied from the canal establishments at Roorkie with other parts of the district sending men and material to the siege, while supplies of provisions and money would be sent from the Sahuranpore district to Mussoorie and Landor, ensuring the “hill stations..with their helpless occupants, chiefly composed of women and children, or, what was worse, old women in uniforms..” would survive the rebellion.
On the 14th of May Mr H. Dundas Robertson, magistrate at Sahuranpore heard of the Meerut mutiny and the next day the outbreak at Delhi was hotly discussed following a semi-official statement received in the morning, which besides giving some details of the city, included a statement of the “general mutinous tone of the whole army.” It seemed only logical then, taking the desperate news into account, Robertson was requested to vote if Sahuranpore should be held or if they should all retreat. Surprised by the sudden request, he pointed out the treasury guard had not mutinied and there was no reason to leave.
Only one man, Lieutenant Barlow “heartily welcomed” Robertson’s decision to stay – but to be sure of their safety, the remaining ladies and children were swiftly packed off to Mussoorie taking the northern road through the Sewaliks. With them went two gentlemen, defecting under the pretext of accompanying their wives and then simply not returning.
On the 15th, Robertson received word of the mutiny of the treasury guard at Mozuffernagar and the flight of the magistrates, Berford and Grant. Stepping into their place was the Patiala Raja who took it upon himself to deal with the guard, arresting as many as his men could find – for a time it staid the events at Sahuranpore, but the southern portion of the district was now lost to roving bands of insurgents and plunderers, forcing some of Robinson’s police to abandon their posts. Yet at the station itself, Sahuranpore was quiet.
The remaining Europeans received word that Meerut was holding its own – news which was hardly a surprise since it had the largest contingent of European troops outside Lucknow and Agra combined – Robinson’s “respect for the dignitaries at Meerut was hardly increased” when he was informed there would be no help coming to him from the said station. The problems at Mozuffernagar had been increased by the obvious want of action from Meerut – when Berford had requested 50 Europeans be sent to him to secure the treasury, he was refused. It is hardly surprising the man acted then as he did – he was, quite entirely left to his own devices.
The problem however that Meerut faced was not mutinous Sepoys – they had long since left – but large bands of Gujars plying their profession of plundering and murdering, throughout the Meerut district. As such, Hewitt would not risk anyone leaving the relative safety of Meerut to help anyone at all.
On the 19th of May, with no assistance imminent, Robertson determined to hold Sahuranpore, come what may.
For mutual protection, the Europeans and the Anglo-Indians determined to live in one house and divided their horses, arms and ammunition amongst each other so that at least those who had neither a gun nor a horse now would have one. They then settled down to protect their station.
Robertson was not one to sit quietly. After persuading the subhadar of the 29th to give him 20 men of the treasury guard he began small excursions into the surrounding countryside, following any rumour of insurrection, and more notably, keeping the northern road open.
On the 23rd of May, barely 10 miles out of Sahuranpore, he came upon a band of men actively plundering a mail cart and then, as if his day was not busy enough, he was able to apprehend a band of another 26 heavily laden with plundered property which belonged to travellers and villages near the road. Most of these men belonged to villages of the Gokuwalla zamindars who had lately, on realising British rule was shaky at best started exerting their power along the road.
Realising he could not let the prisoners go, but having no way of controlling them, Robertson handed them over to another local zamindar on the promise to send them to Sahuranpore. It then struck him, his force of 20 men and his clerk, Mr Hyde, he had no chance of actually securing the road or for that matter dealing with the Gokulwalla zamindars – he decided, to approach the other Kheree zamindars for assistance and retiring young man, Deedar Singh a feudal chief descendent of a tribe from the Punjab.The zamindars and Deedar Singh agreed – and by nightfall, Robinson had a force of 150 men, sufficient to arrest the Gokulwalla zamindars and at least put an end to the plague of pillaging around Sahuranpore.
The zamindars of Kheree, “being poor men, and knowing it would please them, I doubled the strength of all the police stations by enlisting their men, and we never subsequently received any trouble from this part of the district.”
Still, Robertson was under no illusions.
As reinforcements started coming down from the Punjab, Sahuranpore was beset by regiments on the march to Delhi – the 4th Lancers, several companies of the 5th BNI had marched from Ambala but only three officers elected to stay in Sahuranpore and assist in the defence. Meerut continued to be too alarmed to send him any men at all. While the 4th Native Lancers and the 5th BNI were at Sahuranpore however, Robertson decided to use them in a venture of his own and from the 26th of May until the outbreak of the 5th BNI on the 2nd of June, he regained some control of the southern boundary of Sahuranpore.
The Nasiri Battalion of Gurkhas from Simla arrived in Sahuranpore on the 3rd of June – they had been sent by the Punjab authorities for the implicit purpose of protecting the station and regardless of their behaviour that had caused such an unpleasant panic at Simla, Robertson was glad to have them. The men of the 29th BNI would remain loyal in Sahuranpore long after their compatriots at Moradabad had mutinied – on the 11th of July, they simply walked off, leaving the treasure and most of their private property behind.
“When the headquarters of this regiment mutinied, they behaved extremely well; they had secured a safe retreat, not only to their own officers, but also to all the European residents at Moradabad who chose to depart within the time granted.”
Robertson was relieved they had left of their own accord – he did not have men enough to either disarm them or guard them if he did; in this way, he was rid of one problem he had no means of containing. With the Nasiri Battalion and ably assisted by the Khakee Ressalah – a volunteer force that patrolled the area around Meerut, he would continue holding the Sahurapore district, attacking and dispursing rebels and insurgents until the fall of Delhi in September.
Moradabad and Budaon, May and June 1857
On the 18th of May, intelligence was received that the detachment of the 20th BNI but lately mutined at Muzaffarnagar, had taken up residence in the vicinity of the town, armed, equipped and laden with treasure. They had set up a camp in the jungle on the left side of the Gorgun River, five miles outside Moradabad.
The Magistrate and Collector of Moradabad, Mr C.B. Saunders, who recently arrived in Moradabad wisely left arrangements to deal with the mutineers to the judge, John Cracroft Wilson. Wilson knew the district well, having served as a magistrate before Saunders; above all he knew and trusted the men of the 29th BNI.
Not wanting to be caught out in crisis by swathes of red tape, Wilson put a muzzle on Calcutta – when the news of Meerut arrived in Moradabad, he quickly sent a request to Colvin at Calcutta to grant him special magisterial privileges, essentially, allowing him to do what he thought was fit. Colvin acquiesced and Wilson sprang into action.
Under Wilson’s guidance, Saunders assembled a party of 30 sowars of an irregular regiment, a company of the 29th BNI (stationed at Moradabad), and sending the civil surgeon with a few men to guard the bridge, he headed out with this small force. accompanied by judge and 2 officers to confront the mutineers. Shortly before midnight, they came upon the sleeping sepoys. Taken by surprise, the fight was short and victory was with Wilson. The sentries were quickly overpowered, one man was killed, eight were taken prisoner and Wilson not only captured all their arms and horses, he even made off with the treasure, some 10’000 rupees in coin. The rest of the mutineers ran off without putting up a fight. The prisoners and the treasure were sent to Meerut while the bulk of the detachment returned to Moradabad carrying with them the body of the dead mutineer.
The next morning several sepoys of the 20th BNI who had escaped the night attack, strode boldly into the station and went straight to the lines of the 29th. If they thought they would have friends, it was their turn to be mistaken. One of their number was immediately shot by a sepoy of the 29th, and the rest were taken prisoner and put in the local jail. With them went the corpse of their slain comrade.
Unfortunately, the man who had been shot the night before – a havildar – had a relative in the 29th BNI who, shocked and angered determined to storm the jail to retrieve his relative’s corpse and when possible release the men of the 20th BNI. Inciting a number of his colleagues on the 29th, they proceeded to the jail. The guard stood aside as the gaol doors were flung open, releasing not just the men of the 20th imprisoned there but some 600 other prisoners. Then instead of laying waste to Moradabad, they fled into the jungle.
The remainder of the 29th, still true to their salt, turned out and offered to bring the prisoners back without hesitation. Wilson raised a small levy of his own, no more than ten sepoys and a few Irregulars; the joined forces went off in pursuit of the prisoners. By mid-day, they had succeeded in arresting 150 of them.
After lodging the prisoners back in the gaol, Wilson rode through Moradabad. He found the town silent, shops closed and the streets deserted. In the sepoy lines, no food was being cooked despite the lateness of the hour – the whole town was waiting and watching. Undaunted, Wilson first tried to enlist the help of some influential townspeople to secure the confidence of the inhabitants but they held back so he decided instead to address the sepoys directly. He rode back to the Lines.
Passing in front of the artillery he saw the golundazes had laid their guns and lit their portfires. Fearlessly, Wilson rode towards the guns and then without wavering waved his hat at them as a challenge. Luck was on his side that day; the gunners slunk away back to their huts. Then, undaunted, now accompanied by a few officers, he went to the Quarter-Guard. Not a man was on parade, seemingly holding back to see what the Europeans would do next. Wilson did what he thought fit. He ordered ball cartridges to be served out to the 29th and they were ordered to assemble with their arms. Thus drawn up, Wilson rode out into the midst of the square and addressed them.
“He told them they had committed a great crime in the morning, but that only a portion of the regiment had been implicated, and that it was not right that he had others who had grown grey in the service should be ruined by the excesses of several unruly boys; but that if they would swear to behave loyally for the future, he would recommend the Governor-General to forgive them.” Then, asked by the native officers to swear on the Bible to fulfil what he promised, Wilson readily consented. The shops in the town reopened and for a time, Moradabad was saved.
The regiment, obviously horrified by the behaviour of their comrades, wasted no time in trying to redeem the reputation of the 29th and lost no opportunity to regain the confidence of their officers.
On the 21st of May, the green standard of the Muslim fanatics, who had marched down from Rampur on behest of the Moradabad maluvie, was seen waving on the left bank of the Ram Ganga river, opposite Moradabad, the men showing every sign of attacking the town. Realising his only response could be to attack, Cracroft Wilson sent out a company of the 29th under Captain Faddy, and taking some sowars with him, they went off to meet the jihadis. It was a quick meeting and the fanatics fled, their leader who had managed to reach Moradabad was shot dead later that night by the local police force.
On the 23rd of May news arrived in Moradabad that 2 companies of sappers and miners from Roorkee were close to the station, armed and laden with loot. Captain Whish immediately ordered up two hundred men and 2 nine-powder guns, loaded with shrapnel, and as many sowars and civilians as possible, they marched out, Wilson at the head.
Fairly soon, they were in front of the advanced body of the mutineers – Wilson sent the sowars into them, to persuade them to lay down their arms. The guns were laid and ready to fire but no order was given – the mutineers threw down the guns and surrendered to the 29th. It was not possible to take them prisoner and as the events at Moradabad had shown, it was not wise to imprison them there in any case, so Wilson ordered them deprived of the arms and ammunition, their money, plunder and most of their clothes. Thus stripped and “beggared,” he set them adrift into the countryside – unbeknownst to him, most of them flee to Bareilly.
Disturbances around Moradabad continued and Wilson continued to deploy the 29th who “behaved well…” doing their work ” like soldiers and cheerfully.” The news of their successes spread far and mutineers were suddenly giving Moradabad a wide berth but some continued arriving in stealth, always trying to tempt the men of the 29th to mutiny.
Then something happened that no one had foreseen.
On the morning of the 1st of June, no letters arrived from Bareilly but rumour both in the lines of the sepoys and in the town that the brigade had mutinied. At 2 in the morning on the 2nd of June, Wilson was roused from his sleep and a letter from the Nawab of Ranpur was put in his hands. It confirmed that the Bareilly Brigade had indeed risen and the Europeans had been massacred – if Wilson was on inclined, the Nawab continued, he should consider fleeing Moradabad. That was the last thing on Wilson’s mind – honour and duty forbade it. Instead, he went to the adjutant of the 29th and at dawn, he assembled all the main European and native officers. His speech was short. Stating the information he had received, Wilson explained “the only honourable course…was to hold the district until the Bareilly Brigade came to a distance of 20 miles of them, and that then they should march to Meerut with colours flying, taking guns and treasure with them.”
Accompanied by the European and native officers, Wilson went to the Lines and explained his plan to the sepoys. Instead of a rousing cheer, he was met with derision. The sepoys firmly believed if they went to Meerut they would be murdered and Wilson planned to lead them not to honour but to their deaths. Wilson and his men were allowed to leave the parade ground unharmed.
There was nothing for it but to leave Moradabad. The treasure, Wilson knew was already lost – he did not have the means to take it to Meerut so he decided instead to remove it from the treasury and place the money bags in tumbrils anyway, leaving the treasury guard intact who he knew would hand it over to the sepoys but at least this action “would remove all temptation to the Budmashes of the city to come out and join the disturbance.” So Wilson went to the Treasury with Charles Saunders – after forcing the locks as the Indian treasurer was slow to produce the last key, Wilson handed out the bags while Saunders destroyed the stamped paper. Outside, the sepoys waited, impatient and excited. It turned out to be less than they expected. Wilson describes the scene:
“When all the treasure was placed on the tumbrils, the Collector, myself and the Native Treasurer, came out into the eastern verandah and then began murmurs as to the amount of treasure. The artillerymen forcibly carried off the Treasurer towards the guns and were in the act of tying him up to one of them, when Captain Faddy, who is deservedly a favourite of his men, rescued him. By this time the Collector and myself had mounted our horses when four young sepoys of the Treasury guard levelled their muskets at us. At this instant, Bohwanee Singh, Soubahdar, and Baldeo Singh, pay-Havildar of the grenadier company stepped between the muskets and our persons and the former raising his hand, said, in an authoritative tone, `What! do you wish to use the flesh to rot from your bones? Did you not take solemn oath not to hurt a hair on their heads, and you are now firing on them?` The muskets were lowered and Collector and myself rode off. ”
With nothing to save of Moradabad the two men rode back to the house, they had lived in since the first news from Meerut and commenced making arrangements to proceed to Meerut. There were four civilians, including the surgeon and their wives already assembled. An escort of the Irregular Cavalry was ready and with their guard, they set off for Meerut. The European officers of the 29th had made arrangements of their own – they went off to Naini Tal instead. It was closer, the road less difficult and a hill station was far more attractive than a dusty military station in the Plains. No one, however, spared a thought for the clerks and lesser staff, mostly Anglo-Indians who, unlike the transient Europeans, were settled in Moradabad. They owned property and many of them had large families – leaving at a moment’s notice was well near impossible. Perhaps they thought, being Anglo-Indians, albeit Christians, they stood a better chance remaining in Moradabad, that perhaps, they would thus be spared. As such, those who could made ready to defend themselves, the house of pensioned officer named Warwick (who was just as settled in Moradabad as they were) being chosen as their gathering point. The defence was short, brutal and unforgiving. Those that tried to escape were killed, and others, quickly declaring themselves Mohamedans, were carried off as captives to Delhi where some of them would be killed in September by the British at the fall of the city.
As the events in Bareilly have already been explored in “In Rohilkhand”, we will now proceed to Budaon and for a brief moment, back to Etah to finish tracing the steps of one Alfred Phillips and his cousin, Willliam Edwards.
Around the 19th of May, the “spirit of disorder” showed itself in the Budaon district in Rohilkhand. Bands of marauders had started terrorising the countryside, plundering travellers and pillaging villages. Rightly alarmed, the magistrate and collector of Budaon, Mr William Edwards packed his wife and children off to Naini Tal – not a moment too soon – they passed safely through Bareilly a week before the mutiny there, arriving with no adventures at the safety of the hill station.
Edwards had done all he could to protect his district – he doubled the police force both horse and foot but he was unable to contain the lawlessness. He was still in contact with his cousin, Alfred Phillips in Etah. However, communication with Agra, Calcutta and the south had been cut and the dak runners were unable to carry messages along any of the principal roads but an ominous message from the joint magistrate of Moradabad, Mr Campbell did reach Edwards. He was informed that one of the liberated convicts was a “notorious villain” named Nujoo Khan who Edwards had personally arrested (having hunted for him for 2 years) after the man had tried to murder Mr Court, the previous joint magistrate. As he had succeeded in maiming Court for life, Khan was sentenced to transportation – now that he was free, he was intent on murdering Edwards and, according to Campbell, was on his way to Budaon. As the only European in a district of just over 1 million people, Edwards was more than overjoyed, when, on the 27th of May, as Edwards sat down to his lonely dinner, his cousin, Alfred Phillips rode up to his house.
Although he was no longer alone, the state of affairs in Budaon went from bad to worse. While rebels attacked the town of Bhilsea, Edwards, who had no force at his command except a few policemen and no officer to trust the treasury too, sent an impassioned letter to Bareilly requesting assistance. There was no reply. Budaon remained restless and Edwards found, no matter how much he wanted to, duty prevented him from leaving. Saving his own skin, for the moment, was the last thing he could do. As long as his office remained open, Edwards hoped his presence would be enough to stave off an uprising.
On Sunday, the 31st of May, Edwards assembled his “little congregation” of Christian converts for what he felt was the last time on earth. As he closed the service, a note arrived for Phillips – the Joint Magistrate of Fatehgarh, one Mr Bramley, was to be at Patealee, in the Etah district, the next day. He was bringing with him 2 regiments to restore peace in the district. Overjoyed by the prospect, the two men decided Phillips should proceed immediately to Patealee, and as soon as he was done with punishing the rebels in his district, he should send the regiments to help Edwards deal with his.
The news only seemed to get better. A letter was received during the night from Bareilly, a company of the native infantry was coming to Budaon under command of a European officer. Edwards was busy thanking providence his station would be saved – he sent off a horseman with a note to the commanding officer of the detachment begging him to push on with all haste while he organised carts to bring the men the last half of the so they would not have to march through the night and would be fresh and ready to proceed to Bhilsea without any delay. Phillips, content he was not leaving Edwards completely in the lurch, arranged to depart Budaon at 3 in the morning.
Williams woke early, intending to see Phillips off. Yet a note brought in from a chaprassi shortly after 2 in the morning, changed everyone’s plans. The horseman Williams had sent out to meet the Bareilly detachment had just returned with the worst news possible – the road from Bareilly up to eight miles of Budaon was crowded with escaped convicts and the brigade was in full march on Budaon.
The excited rider and his exhausted horse were soon standing in front of Edwards. The Bareilly brigade had mutinied on Sunday morning, massacred the Europeans, destroyed the station and broken open the jail. They intended now to do the same to Budaon, and the few men Edwards had guarding the treasury, were going to help them. Edwards immediately woke Phillips.
Phillips called for his horse and mustered the followers he had brought with him from Etah. In ten minutes, he was flying down the road hoping to reach the ghats across the Ganges before the mutineers or convicts who would otherwise prevent his return to Etah. Edwards chose to stay in Budaon, a case of duty over life.
He gave instructions to the town policemen to keep the convicts out of Budaon as long as possible at least in any case until the Bareilly Brigade showed up. After that, Edwards knew the town would be lost.
At 10 a.m., Edwards was suddenly joined by Mr Donald and his son, indigo planters. They had come to Budoan seeking protection – their factory and lives had been considerably threatened, forcing them to fly. Mr Gibson too, of the Customs Department and on temporary duty in the district put in his appearance as di Mr Stewart, a clerk of Ewards’, with his wife and family all came Edwards entreating his protection. Edwards grudgingly let them into his house.
The situation now was different – alone, Edwards knew he could rely on his Indian friends in the district to protect him, and unencumbered, he was at will to flee or stay at his recognisance. Impeded as he was now by not just planters and clerks, he had women and children to consider. The group, in his estimation, was too large and none of his well-disposed friends would now be willing to give all of the shelter. On the 1st of June, after collecting his guests in the drawing room, he “earnestly advised the 2 Donalds, Gibson and the Stewarts to leave me and make for the hills, while there was yet time, pointing out that our safety was far more endangered by remaining together and attracting attention than by separating.” Edwards tried to impress on them he was obliged to stay at his post as long as he could but they were not and could leave at will to consult their own safety. Unfortunately, no one was willing to listen to Mr Edwards. To his infinite irritation, not a single one chose to leave, paralysed as they were, by fear and seeking strength in numbers.
Towards sunset, the treasury guard broke into an open mutiny. The first objective was to open the gaol after which they sent word to the Bareilly Brigade that Budaon was theirs if they wanted it. At the same time, all of Edwards’ policemen threw away their badges and joined enthusiastically in the ensuing destruction. For the moment no one thought about William Edwards.
Realising his ship had indeed sunk, Edwards mounted his horse, and followed by the indigo planters and Mr Gibson, he rode away from Budaon.
The road to Moradabad and the passage to the hills lay through the town of Budaon, now in a blaze and full of mutineers – the road around the town was full of convicts. His hope lay with the influential chief of Shikapura – a personal friend – who advised Edwards to forget either route and come straight to his house. Leaving the Stewarts behind in the care of a friend in the town who promised to protect them, Edwards rode on. Only his orderly, an Afghan named Sultan Mohamed Khan and Wazir Singh a clerk in Edward’s office went willingly with him – his groom disappeared taking the only spare clothes Edwards had with him.
Their stay in Shikapura, as Edwards had imagined, turned out to be nothing. The brothers of his friend refused him entrance to the house, saying a party this large would bring the mutineers down on their heads, and bid him be off to one of their villages further off. The chief accompanied the little party for their safety but “he was obliged…to send men ahead to each village as we approached it, to prepare the people for our coming, and prevent any attack on us.” As they travelled on, their way was lit, not by the stars, but by the lurid orange glare of the houses of Budaon burning behind them.
Reaching the village, as promised the chief hid the men on the roof of his house, entreating the to remain hidden and quiet – the next morning, before dawn, they were back in the saddle and escorted to an old fort called Kadirchowk in the Etah district.
The owner, an influential Mohamedan, took charge of the men. His reception was kind and he organised his retainers to guard over the room he was obliged to confine them in – not as prisoners but as guests and for their own safety. On the other side of the river, large bands of marauders were assembling and the fort was preparing for an attack. Edwards managed to get a message off to Phillips in nearby Patealee – still hoping above hope that Bramley had indeed brought 2 regiments with him.
Phillips wrote back, but it was not the message Edwards had wanted. Bramley had men but only 60 sowars of irregular cavalry, conscripts from different regiments, and even the Bombay army, who happened to be on leave at the time of the outbreak in the neighbouring Fatahgarh district. Under the command of an old rissaldar, their objective was not to help Edwards but simply to restore peace in the Etah district.
Edwards, under cover of darkness, reached Patealee later that night and he found Phillips and Bramley dejected and miserable. There should have been more men to assist Bramley, they said, but the body of Oudh cavalry, sent out by Henry Lawrence from Lucknow to join them, had mutinied on the way and murdered all their English officers, save one, just outside Mynpoorie. The reinforcements were now marching to Delhi while the men Bramley did have under his command were mostly a seditious lot, waiting as it was, to dispatch Bramley and Phillips at the first opportunity.
On the 5th of June, Bramley sent off over half the force under the pretence of guard duty, to a treasury some 20 miles away. As he had suspected, the men, within days of arriving, helped themselves to the contents and while most went home, others galloped off to join their compatriots in Delhi.
The same afternoon Phillips received intelligence that 200 sepoys barely 10 miles away, intended to attack Patealee the next morning, having been misguided into thinking the district officers hiding there were carrying the contents of their treasuries with them. There was nothing for it but to leave Patealee and try to reach Agra.
“We set off, the sowars with the old risaldar led, several half-armed Thakoors, furnished by the friendly zamindars, followed next, and we ourselves brought up the rear. We marched without interruption all night, only halting once or twice to rest the men and horses.”
At dawn, they entered a small fort, the owner of which, a zamindar, was a personal friend of Bramley’s. They then sent out information to ascertain if the road to Mynpoorie was clear – the answer when returned led to a serious change in plans. A body of mutineers, on their way to Delhi, were currently encamped just outside Mynpoorie and had command of the road. The zamindar, fearing an attack on his abode, immediately turned Bramley and his force out of the fort.
Their situation worsened when news came that the mutineers who had intended to attack Patealee had changed their minds and were now on the same road as Bramley. There seemed to be only one thing for it – head off cross country and return to Patealee, circumventing the sepoys who were now coming up behind them. This was a little too much for the sowars of Bramley’s force. Exasperated, they were becoming insolent – too insolent for Bramley and he called up the old rissaldar and told him the services of the Irregulars were no longer required. They were free to go home.
Continuing their journey without the irregulars, they finally halted in the late afternoon in a small village to rest.
“There, an old soldier, a pensioner of our Government, who had served in Afghanistan, greatly commiserated our position, and in answer to our request for water, brought us milk and chuppaties. We rested here an hour, and on going away, I offered the old man a little money in return for his hospitality. He flatly refused to take it, saying, with apparently real sorrow, ‘You are in far greater need than I am, who has a home, whereas you are wanderers, but if ever you Raj is restored, remember me, and the little service I was have been able to render you.'” (Edwards)
They reached Patealee at nightfall after 20 hours in the saddle.
Parting of Ways
From here the narrative changes considerably.
William Edwards contends that he chose to separate from Bramley and Phillips as he was still encumbered with the Donalds, Gibson and his retainers – Bramley and Phillips on the other hand, had no one and Edwards
“felt I had no right add to Bramley and Phillips’ risk by imposing ourselves upon them; I determined to leave the latter to go on to Agra by themselves, and with my party, endeavour to get back to Budaon, and if possible push my way through that district to the hills.”
Besides, Edwards had received a message from Budaon – the station had been thoroughly plundered but the mutineers had left: it was his duty to return.
Phillips and Bramley on their part tried to reason with Edwards. Far from having no one, they still had 18 police sowars and their jemadar at their command, who were loyal to a fault; while Edwards was the one with no one – his party was small and above all, practically unarmed. The journey he proposed to attempt was dangerous to the point of recklessness and his chances of reaching the hills were, in Phillps’ estimation, none.
They were a day’s ride from Agra; Bramley and Phillips knew the country well and had arranged a halt for the night at the house of a friendly zamindar who they completely trusted. Edwards was obstinant and refused to go to Agra.
“The two Messrs Donald, Mr Gibson, and myself, therefore started from Putealee about 11 am on the 7th of June, to return to Kadir Gunge. Phillips, as I was leaving him, said in so marked a manner,’ I feel certain and confident that we shall meet again,’ that I felt quite cheered about him and myself.”
Reaching the first stop of their journey to Budaon, Kadirgunge, at 4 in the morning, they were met grudging courtesy by the local zamindar – although he offered to find them a boat to take them and their horses (and Mr Gbson’s camel, as he could not ride) across the river, it came to nothing. A cry of an attack by a marauding band of badmashes delayed the supposed boat so long, that by the time the news came it was a false alarm, all chances of crossing the river under cover of darkness were lost. They were further disabused from making another attempt by intelligence brought by a traveller that the mutineers had not pushed off to Delhi as Edwards had surmised but were actively hunting the neighbourhood for him and were in fact, on the other side of the river. Edwards now refused to leave, writing a note to a person in the town he considered staunch, to find out the real situation in Budaon. By nightfall, the host, exasperated by their long stay, insisted the boat had been found and, whether they agreed or not, they had to leave.
Whether it was luck or not, the boat proved to be too small and the party turned back. The zamindar, by now at his wit’s end, told Edwards to forget going to Budaon but he should proceed to Faruckabad instead – a station, he promised, was still in English hands. It was only 60 miles away and the road was safe. At the same time, he told Edwards the note he had received in Putealee was a trick to get Edwards to return to Budaon;
“They had sent the horsemen to the bank of the river, in expectation of my crossing, to await my arrival and destroy me on landing. They had been greatly exasperated against me and determined to have my life, in consequence of finding only one lakh and half in my treasury instead of seven as they were led to expect…”
They left the zamindar and found themselves, a few hours later on the road to Farrukabad. The guides thoughtfully provided, left them at this juncture so Edwards and his party proceeded on alone.
It was by no means a simple journey. Forced to rely on the aid of a local Nawab to get across the river who subsequently betrayed them – in the ensuing fracas, Gibson was murdered. “I passed close to poor Gibson: I shall never forget his look of agony, as he was ineffectually trying to defend himself from the ruffians who swarming round him..” Edwards and the Donalds could not help him and only saved themselves by putting spurs to their horses fleeing.
They eventually reached Farruckabad and the station of Fatehgarh, just in time to witness the mutiny. This time Edwards listened to reason and joined George Probyn with his family under the protection of Hardeo Baksh. The Donalds on the other hand chose to take their chances and remain in Fatehgarh. They would subsequently be murdered in Cawnpore in July.
For the rest of the story of Mr Edwards, my readers can now turn to The Final Escape.
Phillips rides to Agra
The day after Edwards left Patealee, Phillips, Bramley, the 18 sowars and the jemadar started for Agra, estimating the journey would take, at the most 3 days.
On the first afternoon, they arrived at the small fort of an Englishman, an adventurer of the old East India days, one Stewart Gardner, a thoroughly “orientalised European” as Phillips notes. A relative of Colonel James Gardner then in the service of the Nawab of Awadh, Stewart had come out to India as an infantry cadet in the service of the EICo. Although he was the son of Rear-Admiral Francis Farrington Gardner, Stewart Gardner was a zamindar in Munowta, in the Etah District when Phillips met him, better known as the Englishman nearly hung for fraud by Sir Henry Lawrence.
They stayed at the Gardner for two days, recouping from the strains of the past days and gathering much-needed information – Gardner had confronted a body of mutineers scarcely two days before Phillips and Bramley arrived but their attack on the fort had been fruitless. Since then there had been no sign of renewed aggression. Travelling to Agra was certainly less fraught with danger than the suicidal ride of William Edwards to Budaon.
Halting for one more night, this time under the protection of Raja of Awah. Their journey proceeded without any molestation or adventure of any kind – a rare occurrence in 1857 – save a sandstorm under the darkness of which three of the 18 sowars disappeared. After spending one night at a police station in the Agra district, on the 11th of June, they arrived in Agra itself, still escorted by 15 of the 18 sowars. Phillips tried to induce the men to stay but after receiving their back pay up to the date of arrival and a present from the government, they took their leave. Etah, they said, was their home and their families needed protecting.
As for Phillips, now safely ensconced in the house of his father-in-law, Mr Harrington who had long given up Phillips as dead. His adventures were far from over – a brief respite and then Phillips would be catapulted into one of the oddest sieges 1857 would witness. The Siege of Agra.
Personal Adventures During the Indian Rebellion in Rohilcund, Futtehguhr and Oude – William Edwards, Esq, B.C.S., 3rd Edition, Revised (1858)
Service and Adventure with the Khakee Ressalah – Robert Henry Wallace Dunlop (1858)
District Duties during the Revolt in the North-West Provinces in 1857 with Remarks on Subesequent Investigations during 1858-59 – H. Dundas Roberson, Bengal Civil Service (1859)
A History of the Sepoy War in India 1857-1858 Vol III – Sir John William Kaye (1876)
Anecdotes and Reminiscences of Service in Bengal – Alfred Lisle March Phillips (1878)
History of the Indian Mutiny 1857-1858 – Vol I – Colonel G.B.Malleson (1878)
HIndustan Under Freelances – H.G. Keene (1907)