We have already seen how events in 1857 were inextricably linked to one another. Mutiny in one cantonment meant an uprising in the next.
On the 5th of June, as we have already seen, the mutiny of the Ludhiana Sikhs in Jaunpore, precipitated by the mutiny in Benares, (which can be argued, was made infinitely worse by the heavy-handed actions of General Neill) would set a series of events in motion. On the 8th of June, the uprising in Fyzabad (which had been hastened by the events at Azimgarh) would lead to the evacuation of Fatehpur by Mr. Sherer and his companions on the 9th. Simultaneously, on the 9th, the mutiny in Sultanpore would set yet even more events into motion, in effect, the mutinies at Salon and Pershadeepore.
All irregular regiments before 1857 had started as units initially called Local Horse, raised by Europeans from local volunteers who owned their own horses and equipment and were prepared, above all, to provide for themselves in the field. It would also happen that a sirdar would bring his own troop of horsemen and volunteer his services while he himself would act as their officer. Their uniforms differed from the regular regiments and were not necessarily of military norms. Only the colour of their kurta, turban and cummerbund was regulated so they could be distinguished from the other cavalry in battle. These regiments appealed to Europeans who preferred a less strict code of soldiering and had in themselves a free spirit. Following the mutiny, when regular cavalry regiments vanished, the irregulars would form the core of the new cavalry. The irregular cavalry units raised in 1857 were modelled on similar lines but have different histories altogether.
The Oudh Irregular Infantry and Cavalry however were a recent development. Raised after the annexation of Oudh in 1856, these regiments were modelled on the Punjab Irregular Force and their main objective was to keep Oudh quiet by acting as a de facto police force. Their officers were young, promising and hand-picked, enthusiastic at the opportunity to make their names. Their soldiers were mainly men who had previously served in the army of the King of Oudh. The king himself had employed Europeans in his court, notably Hearsey and Orr – upon annexation, their regiments were taken over as they stood. However, a legacy like that of Haider Hearseys did not prevent the military police at Sitapur – commanded by his son – from mutiny.
The officers and their new corps were marched off to different stations throughout Oudh, and quickly established themselves as the new force in their respective districts. Some had, shortly after formation been employed against dacoits and other bandits in the district – skirmishes they had pulled off with elance, much to the satisfaction of the officers who elicited confidence in their men with as much fervour as in the regular army. Their men would weather any storm.
The events in Sitapur unfortunately, changed much of that confidence when the irregulars joined the call of the 41st BNI to murder their officers. By the 10th of June, all three Oudh Irregular Cavalry and the ten irregular infantry regiments would mutiny. For the most part, they only rebelled when the regular forces led the way, but that would not be any comfort to their officers.
At this juncture, it is worth mentioning that the modern city of Sultanpur is in essence, not the Sultanpore of 1857. That city was abandoned and destroyed – not just by the British but by the enormity of the fighting, and by the city’s residents themselves. A new city was built south of the river Gomti and stands today as Sultanpur. Although the new city continued to have a military force, it was withdrawn completely in 1861 and Sultanpur ceased to be a cantonment. The cantonments themselves were razed to the ground in 1869. For this purpose, I will continue to use the old spelling, Sultanpore. The old city of 1857 lay on the right bank of the river Gomti “almost in a direct line between Faizabad and Allahabad.” (Kaye’s and Malleson’s)
In 1857, the station was commanded by Colonel Samuel Fisher and the garrison consisted of the 15th Bengal Irregular Cavalry (whom Fisher commanded) – raised in 1846, the regiment had gained itself the battle honour, Punjab -with Captain Gibbings as 2nd in Command, the 8th Oudh Irregular Infantry under Colonel W. Smith and the 1st Regiment of Military Police which was commanded by Captain Bunburry. The Deputy Commissioner was Mr. Adam Henry George Block and the Assistant Commissioner, Mr. Stuart James Stroyan. Mr. Block had only been in India for 6 years.
Colonel Fisher himself was not an EICo officer – he served in the King’s Army. Born in Knaresborough in Yorkshire in 1807, Samuel served as a volunteer with the 11th Dragoons at the siege of Bhurtpore in 1825; commissioned as a cornet in the 3rd (King’s Own) Regiment of Light Dragoons in 1827, he made Lieutenant in 1831 and Captain in 1846. In August 1850 he transferred to the 29th Foot. Interestingly, in 1857, he was Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel of the 29th Foot and in command of the 15th Irregular Cavalry.
Colonel Fisher and Mr. Block were men of some substance and neither of them underestimated the danger of the mutiny at Meerut. Earlier than most, they started making plans.
On the 10th of May, Mr. Block sent out Sheikh Emambux, then jailor of Sultanpore to institute certain enquiries regarding a recent dispute between some zamindars, in the vicinity of Chandar, some 18 miles south of Sultanpore. He would remain at this rather lonely post for the whole month, sending back reports regularly to the deputy commissioner- it was from Emambux that Mr. Block learned, on the 5th of June of the Jaunpore mutiny.
On his own initiative, Emambux sent out spies to Jaunpore who in their turn reported the station had been plundered and, joined by troops from Benares, were marching towards Sultanpore. The news dispatched, Emambux collected as many chowkidars (watchmen) as he could to guard Chandar while Mr. Block sent him 40 Rajkumar Rajputs from Sultanpore. No sooner had this been done, that Emambux was informed the mutineers were barely 3 miles east of Chandar and had halted at Koeripore.
Not able to trust the spies as they had forgotten in their last report to mention this salient fact, Emambux took it on himself to go to Koeripore. The sight that met him was disturbing.
“On my arrival there, I saw 500 or 600 men, sepoys; they had evidently been marching in great haste, they wore their native clothes, and had converted their uniform broadcloth pantaloons into bags, having filled them with rupees. They had their belts and muskets. The Buneeahs at Koeripore had fled, and the sepoys succeeded with difficulty in obtaining sugar for sherbet, by paying one rupee per seer for it. As I was disguised as a common ryot, I easily mixed amongst them, and asked them if any other troops were coming in the same direction. They told me that a few more would join them, and that one regiment of infantry and one of cavalry had gone from Juanpore towards Fyzabad, and one regiment of infantry towards Pertabgurh, and they themselves were en route to Sooltanpore. They also said that they had killed some officers at Juanpore, taken possession of the treasury, &c. &c., adding that Benares and Allahabad were both in the hands of the sepoys, and that it was now the ‘ Telinga Raj.”
The mutineers further informed Emambux that the 8th Oudh Irregulars had turned “Christian” as they had handled the dreaded cartridges, but the 1st Regiment Military Police and the 15th Irregular Cavalry were their brothers in arms. Alarmed by this news, the intrepid jailor returned with haste to Chandar to inform Mr. Block.
“I was now in hourly expectation of the arrival at Chandah of the rebel troops, and had sent spies to give immediate notice of their approach. One spy returned after a long delay and told me that the rebels at Koeripore had asked him how many men were at Chandah. The chowkedar answered that taking into account chowkedars, Gooraits, Police, &c. &c., there were at least 500 men at Chandah. They then gave him three rupees (which he showed me) to conduct them by an indirect road, so as to avoid Chandah, towards Sooltanpore.
I again dispatched this chowkedar with two or three others, and on their return was informed that the rebels had, on their arrival at a village three miles south of Chandah, separated into two parties, one party was to cross the Goomtee at Bhuppass ghat‘(about twenty miles east of Sooltanpore) and the other party was to proceed towards Meerapore-Kuturat, eight miles south of Sooltanpore. The spy could not discover the reason for this separate move. I again forwarded this information to Sooltanpore.”
On the 7th of June, Mr. Block sent Emambux orders to return to Sultanpore as he wanted him to resume his post at the jail. Waiting until noon to hand over his post to the chief of police of Chandar, Emambux hurried to return to the station.
On the way he heard th sound of musketry behind him – shortly afterwards he was informed that Chandar had been plundered by another body of Jaunpore mutineers. They were plainly now on his heels.
Whatever Has to Happen, Will Be
Fourteen miles south-east of Sultanpore, Emambux saw “large bodies of troops proceeding towards Sooltanpore; these halted at Lumbooah. I continued my road and reached Sooltanpore at four o’clock p.m.—before reaching the station,I met successively several sepoys of the 8th Regiment Oude irregular force and of the military police, who each told me that things had gone wrong, and that on the following day (9th June) ‘ whatever was to happen would happen’ (‘jo kooch hona hai, hoga‘).
Thoroughly alarmed, Emambux quickly made his way to Assistant Commissioner Stroyan’s house, where he also happened to find Mr. Block. Repeating everything he had seen and heard to the two men (Stroyan was ill and in bed), Mr. Block wrote urgently to Colonel Fisher. It was the 8th of June.
Colonel Fisher had evidently been following Emambux’s reports and on the night of the 7th he had sent off all the women and children in the station to Allahabad under the escort of Lieutenant Jenkins and Doctor Corbyn. (The same Lieutenant Jenkins who would shortly be saved by sepoys of the 47th BNI and brought to Allahabad).
After speaking to Emambux himself, his first thought was to send out a force of horse and foot to meet the mutineers at Lumbooah – Emambux repeated again to Fisher that his own men were no longer trustworthy, taking them out would be folly. He then begged the gentlemen to leave Sultanpore – their lives were worth more than the station they commanded. Block and Stroyan refused and Fisher returned to his lines at Badshahgunge, 2 miles out of Sultanpore.
The 9th of June dawned, and the prophecy of the men of the 8th played out in all its murderous horror.
Early in the morning, Colonel Fisher paid another visit to Mr. Block. After a short talk, Fisher mounted his horse and rode off in the direction of the lines of the Military Police. His idea had been to bring them back to order but after some moments of haranguing the men, he turned his horse to return to his own lines. Shortly after, the sounds of musketry broke the silence. As he had ridden past the men, they had opened fire and shot Colonel Fisher in the back. A keen sportsman and an excellent horseman, Fisher managed to remain on his horse and rode with what strength he had left back to his lines.
Emambux upon hearing the shots mounted the bastions of the jail – from his post he could see the bungalows of the officers of the 15th Irregular Cavalry, one after the other, consumed in flames. Not waiting for a moment, he hurried over to inform Block and Stroyan – on his way he was told that Fisher had been shot and killed.
Mr. Block and Mr. Stroyan appeared perplexed by the news. As two men who had until the day before been probably the best-informed men in the district, they suddenly took their time in making arrangements for their own departure. By the time they were ready, the sepoys and sowars from Badshahgunge had entered the station.
“The two gentlemen accompanied by a Hindoo writer boy and myself walked towards the river which runs under Mr. Block’s garden. Here Mr. Stroyan, who was, as already stated, ill, mounted Mr. Block’s horse; we went along the riverside under the high bank, and crossed it a little to the eastward of Captain Bunburry’s house. After crossing, we were guided by one Mowla Buksh, jemadar of chaprassees, who, it appeared, promised Mr. Block to conceal him. He took us to a small house, close to the town of Sooltanpore and to its eastward near the river—it was a very small place. Arrived here, Mr. Block urgently asked me to return to the station and see what was going on there. I did so and found that the prisoners had been released, the bungalows all in flames, and the property being plundered. I endeavoured to persuade Gungadeen, a jemadar of chuprassees, with some of his men, to accompany me back to the spot where the gentlemen had taken refuge.”
Returning to the house, Emambux found to his horror, one Yaseen Khan seated by the door but the house was empty. Asking where the gentlemen were, “He answered in a ferocious manner, abusing me at the same time; he would doubtless have murdered me, had not a friendly person, by name Soobhan Khan made me a sign to move on. I did so…”
Emambux took himself down to the river, keeping as much as possible to the high grass to avoid detection. A young boy he met on the way told him the two men had been murdered.
Emambux found them, with the help of the boy, a mile north-east of the town.
“The body of Mr. Block was in deep water, I saw the mark of a ball on his right temple. Mr. Stroyan’s body was on the dry ground at some distance from the bank of the river, it was dreadfully marked with deep sword cuts. He had evidently advanced from the riverside to face the enemy, one of whom he had succeeded in wounding. Whilst I was looking at the bodies, a Mahomedan zemindar came up to the spot, and I begged him to assist me in bringing Mr. Stroyan’s body. He consented and called out to some men, who were working in a field hard by; with the assistance of these men, I dug the ground deep enough to admit of the body being placed within, I covered it with as much earth as circumstances would allow me to scrape together. I would also have buried Mr. Block’s body, but owing to the depth of the water in which it was floating, I could not reach it.”
They had, as Emambux found out, been betrayed by the very man who had offered them protection.
“…shortly after the arrival of the gentlemen in his house, cried out “ the people of Sooltanpore are threatening to attack me, because I have given refuge to Europeans, but I shall defend them with my life.” This ruse of the wretch succeeded, for on hearing this boast more than once repeated, Messrs. Block and Stroyan thought naturally that it would be advisable now to leave the place, which was no longer one of concealment. They consequently marched in an easterly direction, along the bank of the river which is excessively high and deep. They were soon followed by Mowla Buksh and others running along the top of the bank and firing upon the fugitives; the latter were however protected by the high bank; at length the bank slopes into the plain, and here with nothing to protect them from the balls of the assassins, they soon fell. It would appear that Mr. Block on receiving his first wound rushed into the river, hoping to cross, but a second ball deprived him of life.”
As Sultanpore was razed to the ground, there are no memorials to either Mr. Block or Mr. Stroyan in Sultanpur. They both left behind wives – and in Mr. Block’s case, a young son, who would later be Sir Adam Block – whose own career would carry him into the murky world of finance in the First World War. A successful diplomat, Block would hold the position of Interpreter at the British Embassy at Constantinople from 1894 to 1903, then as Representative of the British and Dutch Bondholders on the Council of the Ottoman Public Debt, 1903; President of the British Chamber of Commerce from 1907 to 1914. As he does not feature in this writing but was an interesting person nevertheless, caught up in intrigue and war of a different nature, I can only recommend my readers to follow his path at http://www.flamboroughmanor.co.uk/straits/start.htm
As for Sheik Emambux – after burying Mr. Stroyan as best as he could, left Sultanpore, crossing the river and, travelling via Durriabad he reached Lucknow several days before the disastrous affair at Chinhat. He immediately reported himself to Martin Gubbins, who took down his statement of the affair at Sultanpore.
Lieutenant Tucker Flees
The drama in Sultanpore however, was not quite over.
Colonel Fisher made it back to the lines of the 15th. Here he was met by his second in command, Captain Gibbings and Lieutenant Charlton Tucker.
The two officers had only just returned from what Lieutenat Tucker thought was a most successful venture – the day before they had ridden out to meet with a wing of the 15th Irregular Cavalry, in an attempt to gauge the temper of the men. Tucker was a popular officer and his overtures of pacification appeared successful – late at night on the 8th of June they had all returned to Sultanpore feeling quite optimistic they had staid the mutiny of the 15th Irregulars.
It was but a short respite.
Tucker and Gibbings, upon hearing the musket fire the following morning, immediately rode out to their lines, only to find Colonel Fisher collapsed on the ground. Tucker managed to persuade some of the men to put the colonel into a doolie but no one was willing to carry him. Tucker removed the ball from Fisher’s back and gave him some water but Fisher told him he was dying. Tucker’s narrative is told by his wife:
“He then tried to persuade the regiment to come near their Colonel, but no one would obey any order. A party of them then made a rush at Captain Gibbings who was on horseback at a little distance, and killed him; and then the men shouted to Charlie to go away. He found it was all over then, and so rode off. Three men rode after him about a mile, and then returned. He rode some distance, and, then got into a jungle, where he stayed a great part of the day; but he had first gone into a village with one of his grooms who had got his mare, and who said he would take care of him; but Charlie found out that he meant to betray him; so he rode off. Only fancy, how dreadful it was for him to be wandering about in the heat of the day, not knowing where to go, and getting people to give him water to drink at wells, and at last drinking it out of little streams—he was so terribly thirsty.”
Exhausted and barely able to ride his tired horse, Lieutenant Tucker finally asked for help from a villager who had obliged to give him some water. The man took pity on the young lieutenant and took him to the fort of Rustam Sah. The place was well protected and located deep in the ravines of the Gomti river, surrounded by jungle. The fort had never been taken though more than one army had tried.
Rustam Sah of Dera was according to Martin Gubbins, “a fine specimen of the best kind of talukdars in Oudh…” Although he had lost much in the annexation of Oudh, losing half of his former holdings had little to be thankful to the British for. In January 1857 Martin Gubbins fought his case in front of the authorities and had managed to secure an order for the reinstatement of his lands that had so wrongfully been taken.
The next day, Tucker received a surprise. From being the only man left alive from Sultanpore, Captain Bunberry, Captain Smith, Lieutenant Lewis and Dr. O’Donel had all found their way to the Rustam Sah’s fort. Information was sent to Benares of their providential escape; Henry Carre Tucker lost no time in organising an escort to bring the men in and shortly after was reunited with his brother, the very lucky Lieutenant Tucker.
There is of course, the issue of Lieutenant Jenkins. He and his sizeable party had managed to leave Sultanpore safely and had gotten as far as Pertebgarh (Pratapgarh), no great distance from the city. It was here they were set upon by the villagers and for their own safety, the party was broken up into two. While Jenkins and one group proceeded to Allahabad, the other was sent off to the fort of Raja Madho Singh of Amethi. In this party were three women – Mrs. Goldney, Mrs. Block and Mrs. Stroyan with their children. The Raja treated the ladies with much kindness and pity. He “…sent us in their letters to Lucknow, furnished them with such comforts as he could procure himself and took charge of the articles we wished to send…” (Martin Gubbins). After sheltering them for several days, he was finally able to send the ladies safely to Allahabad.
The talukdars of Oudh, Dirg Bijay Singh of Balrampur, Lal Madho Singh of Amethi, Rustam Sah of Dera and Hanwant Singh of Kalakanakar were not essentially loyal to the British. They had all been badly treated during the annexation of Oudh, they had lost not just their prestige but their power and their lands. They had looked on as the sepoys rallied in rebellion, taking initially no real stance at all and without question, helped all the fugitives that wandered over their domains. As the eminent historian, Rudrangshu Mukherjee writes in his book, “Awadh in Revolt, 1857-1858, A Study in Popular Resistance”-
“Theirs were not acts of loyalty per se…They preferred to lend a helping hand to the British out of gentlemanly pity or out of a romantic and feudal sense of honour and chivalry. Their action was was in no way an act of collaboration and alliance…” (pp.80)
All the talukdars of Oudh (barring the Raja of Balrampur, Rustam Sah and Raja Man Singh) who had offered assistance at the beginning of the mutiny would end up joining it. Lal Madho Singh would be no exception.
An Account of the Mutinies in Oudh and the Siege of the Lucknow Residency – Martin Gubbins, 1858
The History of the Indian Mutiny, Vol II- Charles Ball, 1858
Annals of the Indian Rebellion – Noah Alfred Chick, 1859
The History of the Indian Revolt and of the Expedition to Persia, China and Japan, 1856-7-8 – George Dodson, 1859
Kaye’s and Malleson’s History of the Indian Mutiny of 1857-8 Vol III – Edited by Colonel Malleson, Cabinet Edition, 1889
Sultanpur – A Gazetteer, Vol. XLVI of the District Gazetteers of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh – H.R. Nevill, I.C.S., 1923
Awadh in Revolt, 1857-1858: A Study of Popular Resistance – Rudrangshu Mukherjee 2002
Aftermath of Revolt – India 1857-1970 – Thomas R. Metcalf, 2015
Jstor: Notes on the Armies of India, Part I, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research https://www.jstor.org/stable/44222916
Jstor: A Lost Legion; The Story of the Oudh Irregular Force, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research https://www.jstor.org/stable/44220624
Biographical information on Colonel Samuel Fisher – provided by glosters.tripod.com. Many thanks to Steve.