Escape from Sultanpoor in 1857

Shortly before the mutiny at Sultanpore, the gallant Colonel Fisher had had the sense to look for the welfare of the station’s women and children. As such he assigned the station’s doctor, Mr. Corbyn and Lieutenant Jenkins the task of escorting the party, some 49 in number to Allahabad. From one of the ladies we have a direct account -Mrs. Mary Louisa Goldney, the wife of Colonel Philip Goldney.

Mary Louisa was the daughter of Colonel John Holbrow of the Bengal Army and his wife Elizabeth, herself the daughter of General Louis Saunders Bird. Mary was born in India in 1815 and married Philip Goldney in Calcutta in 1833. Philip had previously served under her father in the 4th BNI – a regimental romance, it would seem. Mary was a daughter of the regiment, there is no doubt about that and would prove herself as fearless as the upbringing that had in its own way, moulded her.

Philip was considerably older than Mary – he was born in 1802 and at the time of their marriage, Mary was 18 and Philip 31, however, this was not unusual for the 19th century.
Together, they would have 5 children, three of which would be with their mother in Sultanpore at the outbreak of the mutiny. Mary was 42 years old.

The Letter

In a letter to her daughters, Mrs. Charlotte Catherine Sherer and Mrs. Eliza Eleanor Hall both recently married to EICo officers, Mary Louisa Goldney summarized her escape from Sultanpore. We find Mrs. Goldney in late May and June 1857, a worried wife and mother, alone at the station with her children, Freddy, Tommy and Missie, anxiously writing notes to her husband, who was away in Fyzabad. Although neither of them knew it when he left, they would never meet again.

Anxiously, she waited for his return in Sultanpore but the unfortunate Colonel was held up – first by a committee of Examination and then by the trial of the Maulvie of Fyzabad. While at that station, he heard of the mutiny in Delhi.

“However, as many of the Sepoy witnesses were absent on furlough, the trial could not come on, and he was forced to remain in Fyzabad. Your dear Papa had been so poorly before that the doctor forbade his going at all; but a letter from Mr. Cooper, the secretary, saying that Sir H.Lawrence requested he would make every exertion to go, decided him, sick as he was. The Delhi Mutiny he heard of when at Fyzabad, and the increasing disturbances all over the North-West; he thought it more advisable his remaining at the above named place; indeed, in answer to a letter of mine where I urged him to come back or let me join him there, he begged and entreated me not to unnerve him,- that he was at his post, and happen what might, he must stand by it!

Although his letter sounded harsh, Colonel Goldney was not insensitive to his wife’s fears. She had been unnerved by the talk of the servants, all of whom were predicting something was going to happen but they would not tell her what. They had also been urging her to leave Sultanpore and seek refuge with one of the rajas. The rajas in turn, were sending her offers of protection and promised to spirit her and her three children out of Sultanpore in disguise. Her husband’s answer was quite clear, “I do not tell you have no cause for fear, but try and be courageous.” Mrs. Goldney however was losing her patience.

“I heard, about this time, from natives, that the 22nd were outwardly staunch, but there was great dissatisfaction amongst them that the townspeople were determined to rise and murder the Europeans on the “Eed” (25th I think). However, that day passed off quietly and when I got a letter from your Papa, saying that he had expected a rising, but that he was not so foolish as to tell me beforehand, and that he might easily have escaped had he wished it, but as things were turning out should he have not looked so foolish? “Foolish! But what has it caused me!- Dreary and miserable future!” This note was dated the 6th of June and I received it on Sunday the 7th-. On the Friday evening before I was sitting in the dining room alone: the old washerwoman and Mungoo’s wife came in and after a while begged me with tears, to hide myself and children. They said-“It is all very foolish of Colonel Fisher and Mr Block to keep on saying there is nothing to fear; danger is near and nearer than you or they think.”

The same Mungoo’s wife further terrified her – blandly, she told Mrs. Goldney the bazaar people were gathering up their things and their families and moving as far from Sultanpore and the English as they could. Mrs. Goldney reported this to Mr. Block.

“I sat down and wrote a note to Mr. Block and told him all this; he came over to me and sat, had a long talk with me saying how foolish it was to listen to all those tales, and that I was causing the natives to talk, as in his own office his native officers had told him something that must be wrong that the Commissioners Lady was in low spirits, that I sent my meals away untouched etc.- He kept on saying I had nothing to fear, I was listening to foolish tales and that he had enquired of his native officers and that no one had sent his family away and that all the troops were staunch at Sultanpur. He then went away and I tried to rest awhile; but sleep I could not. I had my poor brown rupee box, as it used to be called, near my bed with my shoes and shawls so that in case of an attack we might hide somewhere. I know not how it was but I never feared that they would murder me or the children, I knew they would ‘loot’ everything we had.”

The next day, the 6th of June, Mr. Block came over early to visit Mrs. Goldney. Whether laughing at her fears was meant to be a comfort, it certainly failed as she immediately asked Mrs. Stroyan to come and spend the day. After lunch, the ladies laid down to sleep through the heat of the day but it was a short rest. Woken up by her ayah, Mrs. Goldney was handed a note from Mr. Block.

“Immediately, and as quietly as possible, order your carriage. Give my wife and child a seat and drive down to Colonel Fisher’s.

You have no time to lose, but do it quietly.


This is a Terrible Business

Upon reading the note, Mrs. Goldney woke Mrs. Stroyan.

A pair of lacquer trunks with handles, possibly from Bareilly

I told her to dress quickly and go over with Mr Block’s note to her husband- (they had a carriage of their own) and that they had better go down to Col Fisher’s. I then told the Ayah to order the carriage; that Mrs Corbyn was ill, and I should most likely not come back till morning and that she must put up with the children’s nights etc.

As I passed through the bedroom I dragged out my two pieces of ”Puttoo” that were under the pillow and that striped shawl thinking that if there was rain these would be useful. A storm had just come on. However we walked down the avenue to meeet the carriage and poor Nettle jumped in. We then went to Mr Block’s, he was very busy and excited. I asked him what was the matter. He replied, ”Very bad news indeed and you ladies had better go down to Col Fisher’s where you are quite safe.” The Tussedder of Chana 40 miles off, had written in a report- that 30,000 mutineers were there and that evening they would march on Sultanpur, loot and murder, and proceed to Lucknow!

I went into  Mrs Block’s room, where she was packing up her things hoping she might take one box. We hurried and got into the carriage and drove down to Col Fisher’s. Poor Col! He was always telling me I was too great an alarmist. I met him and said ”Well Col. This is a terrible business.”

”My men are staunch, Mrs Goldney, you have nothing to fear; you are as safe here as you are in London!” Dr Corbyn, who lived in these lines, also ran over from his house to see what was going on, not having heard the reason of all our coming down. He then proposed that we should all go to his house where Mrs Corbyn would make us comfortable as she could. So she went over, and every room was turned into a bedroom. The party comprised- Mrs Goldney and three children, Mrs Block and baby, Mrs Stroyan, Mrs Jenkins and Miss O’Donnell: and all women and children, writers and serjeants; all these were lodged in Mrs Tucker’s house. Some had ordered their beds and bedding down. I was too much alarmed. Col Fisher sent scouts of his regiment (staunch) to enquire and report if all was true that had been reported to Mr Block from Chanda.

We were, as you may imagine, in a dreadful state of mind. Mrs O’Connell and I sat up a whole night, waiting for the return of the scouts. The whole night there was heavy firing but strange to say we could never make out what it was. At three in the morning the scouts returned, saying it was a false alarm: that there had been a large crowd, but it was the wedding of the Rajah Benee Modhoo Sing. A party had passed near Sultanpur a few days before, some 700 men.

Sunday morning came, such a lovely day, yet there was a most extraordinary, quiet, solemn feeling. A soon as Mrs Corbyn could have breakfast for so large a party, we had it, and we all began laughing at our fears. The ladies wished to go back to their homes and their husbands. Mrs Corbyn said, ”You are very nervous and alone, why not stay with us for a few days? You are safe here.” So I decided to run up to the house and get a few suits of clothes for ourselves, leaving the children with the servants.

I drove and just as I had packed a box, a note came from Mr Block. Oh how I dreaded to see them! This was to say that Col Fisher thought it advisable for all the ladies to be sent off to Allahabad, and telling me we could not take more than a bundle each and arranging about our horses to be laid for us on the road, halfway to Petaburgh*(*Pretapgarh) to wait our arrival. Mrs Stroyan was to be with me. Her carriage was lighter than ours so I proposed to take hers and leave mine. Kessen Sing-that fat old pensioned Jemadar of the 4th had been at the house since your Papa left, by his orders had 50 of his men on duty. I called him in and told him we were going to Allahabad. He said, ”I think you are right: women and children had better go to some place of safety!”

He turned round and went through the house with me and asked me what I wanted him to do. What he could do: I told him that my two carts were standing in the compound and if he could save any of my things to do so. He took twenty boxes so it was reported to me. The children gave over charge of their canaries ‘Lallo’ and ‘Mina’ to him. Poor Tommy! He asked me what would become of his pigeons; and Freddy asked if his rocking horse would be saved. You know dear Papa had given them the rocking horse only a short time before.

The Khansama Jungo came and asked me for orders. I told him I was going away, and that he and the rest of the servants must do the best they could. He, of his own accord, sent our plate chest to Luchman Hersaud, the Kotwal, to take charge of. I had sent him, some days before, my two large Bareilly trunks, and three leather boxes. I have since heard that he has these safely hidden, but the plate chest I heard was ”looted” by the Kotwal Chapprasees. You remember that dandy looking fellow our Jemader Chapprasee ”Deenah”. He came up and reported that Kessun had taken charge of 20 boxes.

I went over to Mr. Stroyan’s before going on to Mrs. Stroyan’s, where we were all to congregate, and start this evening at dusk. Poor Mr. Stroyan had fever and was on a sofa. I went to bid him goodbye. With tears in his eyes he said, ”Take care of my wife, Mrs. Goldney, whatever fate befalls, you must be hers. Do not leave her; and if you arrive safely in Calcutta, make her over to my uncle Mr. Hurne.

As we drove down that pretty shady road, I heard myself wishing all goodbye forever! Before I left home, I put up in all your pictures in a box. I had a piece of work, a very handsome cushion I was filling in for a present to poor Mary Troup on her wedding; there it was, standing on the table, and I did think at one time, shall I take it with me?

Mrs. Goldney had spent a lot of time packing already. Expecting the worst, she had already sent of 2 Bareilly large trunks and three leather boxes to the safe keeping of the Kotwal, Luchmun Hersaud and her very own Khansama, of his own initiative had already packed the plate chest and sent it off to the same Kotwal. A further 20 boxes were stowed away with Kessun Singh, a trusted friend.

The last thing Mrs. Goldney took with her as she looked around her home for the last time, was her husband’s dressing gown, hanging where he had left it. Then she walked out of her house – closing the door on her pretty drawing-room with its vases of sweet-smelling flowers – and strode out to meet an uncertain future.

A lady in her sitting room in Berhampore, 1863. Although it is not Mrs. Goldney, the scene would probably been familiar to her.

At the Corbyn’s house, pandemonium was the order of the day and all that was certain, that Mrs. Goldney could make out, was that Dr. Corbyn was to escort them, together with 60 men, specially chosen for the mission by Colonel Fisher himself. The arrival of a harrassed Captain Bunbury only made things worse. He reported that two men of Fisher’s cavalry were “tampering” with his men and “instigating them to rise.” Thoroughly convinced that the 60 supposed faithful were only waiting for a chance to mutiny, the number was drastically reduced to 14. Mrs. Goldney was not convinced it was enough.

“Dr Corbyn seeing me looking so wretched, tried to reassure me by saying there was no fear, and said, “To convince you, we will go and have a talk with these fellows”. There they were, looking so nice, so clean, so well-dressed, leaning on their horses’ necks. They made their salaam when we came up. How bravely and cheerfully I tried to talk with them. How they abused and swore at their own brethren; saying they were not men to injure poor women and children etc. The Doctor turned round and said, “I know you are to be trusted to your charge”, and to which they all swore.”

A Case of Stay and be Murdered or Go and be Murdered – Leaving Sultanpore

Modes of travelling in India. In 1857, only the train was not so common as it would become, replacing many of the transports depicted here.

At 8pm the party, 50 Europeans in all including Lieutenant Jenkins who had just returned from Lucknow – he had been escorting treasure with 2 companies of the 8th Oudh Irregulars started their journey out of Sultanpore. Mrs. Goldney was still in two minds about joining. Shortly before departing the vakeel of Rajah Modoo Singh came – the Rajah had sent for Mrs. Goldney and the children, and conveyances were waiting to take them to his fort.
If this was not disconcerting enough, she was then earnestly beseeched by the Ludhiana jail daroga (police official) who had but lately arrived in Sultanpore, to not join the party – mischief was sure to befall them. Ominous as his words were, Mrs. Goldney decided to take her chances and do as “the rest did.”
It was a sombre start, and “so slowly, quietly we went along,- every now and then stopping to allow some of the back carriages to come up. Dr Corbyn with his wife and child and Ayah, Mrs Block and her baby were in the first carriage. I came next, Mrs Stroyan, and three children, and poor “Nettle”. ( a dog) Poor old Afghan was left in the stables. I had the little mare with my side saddle, and the large horse “Bucha” that Duffadar used to ride near the elephant. The children’s ponies, four Chapprasees came with my coachmen and Syces. I gave the Kitmagars the two horses to ride, and the Chapprasees had the three ponies.

The first stop they made was around midnight at Damah to change the horses; here their cavalry escort informed them a large body of mutineers “were halting part of the 37th Native Infantry, from Benares, and some of the 12th Irregular Cavalry. (Afterwards these men told us that these fellows asked who we were, how many etc. and what was the use of taking us. To turn their backs for Sultanpur, and they, the mutineers, would soon polish us off. Dr Corbyn told me this after we got to Pertaburgh).” Their guard of 14 slowly dropped off, becoming 12, with one of the deserters being a man who had sworn to murder Dr. Corbyn. By sunrise, they had reached Balaghat, three miles outside Pratapgarh (Petraburgh in the text), when they were surprised by the sight of the prisoners, lately escaped from Allahabad; “Some of these prisoners had been in the Sultanpur jail, so they recognised Dr Corbyn, and called out: “Salaam, Doctor Sahib!” Although it was obvious now that going to Allahabad was no longer an option, the party persisted and shortly after dawn, they arrived at the house of Mr. Grant.

A Great Cloud of Dust Before Us… It Must be the Mutineers

Here they met Mr. Grant (poor Mr. Grant, Mrs. Goldney calls him which never bodes well) and Mr. Glynn. The information the gentlemen had was Allahbad was lost and all the European inhabitants had been murdered. There was nothing for it now; Mrs. Goldney and the others dismounted their carriages and proceeded to have breakfast while Mr. Grant went to his office.

Returning shortly after 1pm with a decidedly anxious look on his face, he reported the Allahabad mutineers were on the road to Sultanpore and were expected in Pratapgarh by evening and “would loot and murder us all, and then go on.” His only advise to the party was they should throw themselves at the mercy of the Babu of Pertaburgh (Partabgarh, and today, Pratapgarh). As for Dr. Corbyn’s escort, they would not only have been useless, they were also gone. 12 had turned into 8 and by three o’clock these too had disappeared. So much for Colonel Fisher’s loyal men. Not that Dr. Corbyn saw it that way, his first precept was to blame Mrs. Goldney but she remained adamant. “He was,  I think, vexed that I wanted to trust the Baboo, and said the reason his men had all gone, was on account of me wishing to have the Baboo’s protection.; they said they would take care of us alone. They wanted no doubt the glory of murdering such a number of Europeans to themselves.
At Mr. Grant’s house was a guard of men of Bunbury’s Police and one man of the 8th Oudh Irregulars. “A whispering ran through the house, of some crowd coming. These guards, without any orders from the gentlemen of the party, directly got ready, which attracted our notice. Mr Grant then urged us to leave immediately; but where we were to go was another question. At last I said, “I go to Baboo Golab Sing; those who like can do the same.” I ordered the carriage, elephant and horses; and so we all started.
After a scuffle with some sepoys – a new levy which consisted of sepoys discharged from the 19th and 34th who had recently been re-enlisted – they managed to reach Pratapgarh and the fort of talukdar Babu Gulab Singh. At first he was civility itself, offering refreshments and talking with Mrs. Goldney for a good half hour before he was suddenly called away. When he returned, he begged Mrs. Goldney to leave with all haste and make for another of his forts, some 12 miles away, mutineers were on the road, and he could not protect Mrs. Goldney or anyone else for that matter. Her own servants implored her to stay, if she set foot outside the enclosure she would surely be killed. Everyone else had already made off, leaving the carriages of Mrs. Goldney and Mr. Berrill behind.

 “I told the Chapprasee I must take my chance, and off we started; we had not gone half through the town when the carriage stopped, a great crowd in the street.  The New Levy lined each side of the road, with their spears and their swords. I saw four or five Irregular Cavalry on horseback, accoutred, giving orders to these men. “This carriage is not to go on.” I tried to speak, and address the horsemen; he would not answer till the third time; he then stuck his arms akimbo and looked me in the face, and impudently said, ”we want pay for two and a half months.” I asked him to take us to the end of our journey, and I would be answerable for four months pay. He laughed and called out “Don’t let this carriage move!”

“Mr Glynn then came up and said-“Unless we give these fellows one we shall not get away!” I had a hundred rupees; Mrs Stroyan had a bag in the carriage of 400 rupees. I put my hand to give this bag; she said “They will think you have more, don’t give it!” I told Mr Glynn that I thought Mr Berrill might have some. His carriage was behind ours; he asked him, and he gave him a bag of 300 rupees. Mr Glynn then called out to the rabble, “Here is money, come and divide it!” I too called, and told them the same. A great number immediately left; Mr Glynn walked away a little distance and began dealing out the money. I made a sign to my coachman, and away we went.

Never, never shall I forget that gallop through Pertaburgh. Two of Goolab Sing’s Chapprasees had volunteered their services to take care of me. They laid hold of the carriage and ran too. In turning a sharp corner one poor man was knocked down, and the wheel passed over his legs, luckily only grazing them; I of course, stopped to pick him up, and made him jump on the coach box. My coachman got angry, and abused him for being slow. You should have seen the wretch’s face; he looked like a demon, and laid hold of his sword to my coachman. I begged the latter to be quiet and let the man up. Poor Mr Grant then came up looking so ill and so anxious. “We are lost Mrs Goldney; for God’s sake do not stop; drive coachman, drive; we are late as it is.”

The moment the crowd saw I was off they rushed after the carriage; and such a wild, savage shout they raised, and ran; one devil threw his spear with good aim; it touched the edge of the carriage, and fell; had it been a barleycorn higher, one of the three poor children would have received it on the chest. We drove on at this rate for about two miles, and overtook the rest of the party, who were quite unconscious of our delay. We then tried to get a little into order and march on- we hardly knew where; but of course we knew the further we went, the nearer we were to the mutineers, who were reported by everyone we met on the road to be a couple of miles off. You cannot fancy the horrible sensation we had the whole time. Every now and then the carriages stopped, when those behind enquired the cause,- they were told, “Oh, a great cloud of dust on the road before us; it must be the mutineers.”

In the fort of Ajit Singh

At sunset they arrived at a small mango grove – the horses were exhausted, and the road the party had traversed was so sandy, the wheels of the carriage became stuck. Mrs. Stroyan and Mrs. Goldney tried to turn the wheels by hand to no avail; leaving it where it stood, they walked over to the mango grove and sat down. Enterprising as ever, Mrs. Goldney bribed a few villagers with a couple of rupees to move the errant carriage but that is as far as they got. It was slowly but surely getting dark and there was no way they could proceed to Allahabad. To their horror, a crowd was seen approaching, armed men. Flight was impossible.

 “…however we were told not to fear,- that the man who came was friendly; his name was Unjeet Sing. He came forward and made his salaam, and told me not to fear, but trust myself to his care; and that we could not stay where we then were, but must go to his “Killah” (fort), and about half a mile distant; so again we made a move, and arrived at his village, and to his fort,-such a place of security. It was a place sixty yards square (it might have been a hundred), with a low mud wall, four feet high; in many places there were thorns and brambles put there to prevent the cattle going out; there were two gateways, but no gates. Here we were told we would be safe. I must tell you that at Pertaburgh, everything we had was looted. On the elephant I had my bundle of clothes, some tea, sugar and bread; everything was taken from us; the servants knocked off the horses, and the horses carried off.”

Ghara or clay pot

Mrs. Stroyan had wisely put her bundle in the carriage and Mrs. Corbyn had a little tea, so Mrs. Goldney collected a few sticks to make a fire, and setting an earthen pot of water to boil she  “got a little milk from the Baboo, and sugar and all had a cup of tea, very refreshing after having been out nearly all day in the month of June (8th), and drinking a lot of muddy water. The men got us some charpoys (native bedsteads) five by two and a half. Those who could sleep, lay down and slept; I with Mrs O Donnell kept walking up and down listening to the challenging all night long, hearing firing in every direction and seeing the glare of the burning villages around.”

A charpoy is a bedstead consisting of a light wooden frame with a woven webbing stretched and then knotted across it. Very comfortable, as long as the webbing is tightened regularly.

For the next 5 days and nights, Mrs. Goldney and the party remained under Babu Ajit Singh’s protection. It would have been a novel experience for the ladies; accustomed to cool houses and plenty of servants, they now found themselves washing the children and themselves in turn in a large earthen pan; from a sheet Mrs. Stroyan had in her bundle, they quickly sewed some clothes for the children (Hindoostani trousers) so they could wash their clothes. Without any cutlery and no plates, they soon found eating with fingers was of no consequence; the Babu sent them liberal quantities of dal, chapattis served on leaves and milk. The milk they drank from two cups they all shared…“under any other circumstances we might have laughed at the queer sight we cut..”
Babu Ajit Singh was taking a terrible risk on their part. Constantly badgered by the surrounding villagers and his own relations to set the fugitives loose, he would end up sacrificing all his property to keep them safe saying he would do everything to prevent them from leaving, if they did choose to go, it would be at their risk.
Nor did he change his mind when they left. Babu Ajit Singh joined the British forces, rendering them much valuable service for which he was liberally rewarded. As for Gulab Singh of Pratapgarh, he joined the rebellion and eventually lost not just his estates, but his life.

 “We were Baboo’s Family, Who were Returning from Bathing”

On Friday the 12th, I know not how it was, but we one and all felt (though we did not till afterwards say a word) that that day was to be our last; a feeling unexplainable came over us. In the afternoon a party arrived, and a very respectable man was talking to Mr Grant. I went up to them; Mr Grant turned round and said: “Mrs Goldney, Rajah Madhoosing has sent an escort for you and your children, you are to go to fort Amethie.” This place is 40 miles inland. I cannot say I much liked the idea of being the only one sent for, besides some of our party alarmed me by saying there was treachery in this business, and they would not go.

“I saw Mr Berrill talking to this man, and asked him who he was. He said. “Rajah Madhoosing’s Vakeel”. My mind was easier, and I determined to put myself under his protection; but I said to the Vakeel, “If I come, will you take care of the rest and bring them too?” He promised me that he would; but I have my doubts if he would have saved any others. I asked Mrs Stroyan what she would do. She said, “Go with you!”  Mrs Block’s Chapprasee, with the baby in his arms, came up to me and said, “You are not going to leave my Lady are you?”

I asked her what she would do- “Come,” she said, “with you.”

Dr Corbyn then came up and said, “Now remember, Mrs Goldney, that you are on your own free-will.”

His own opinion was he told me afterwards, that as soon as we were out of the fort, we were to be murdered! The Vakeel said two elephants were ready for us, and that we must be ready by eight o’ clock. Mrs Stroyan was going to take two bundles, but we found we should have no room on the elephants, so she left them; the Rajah’s man said he would have fetched it the next day. We tore up some petticoats of Mrs Stroyan’s, as we wanted sheets to cover our heads with (we were to travel as a native wedding party), and our hats and bonnets were left behind.
The elephant – small enough for Mrs. Goldney to scramble onto its back by grabbing its tail – proved to be rather uncomfortable, having nothing by way of rope stirrups or even a howdah, only a simple pad tied to its back. How they managed to hold on, tired as they were through the whole night, their minds racing every time a challenge was made, and the vakeel only answer was “We are baboo’s family, returning from bathing..” That no one questioned any further showed Mrs. Goldney at least that the Raja Madho Singh had some clout.

A palki. This was not a mode of transport unique to the British. It has its roots in India, the word Palanki (English took this as Palanquin) is derived from Sanskrit, meaning bed or couch. It can be traced back to the Ramayana, approximately, 250 BC. It is a common misconception that only Europeans were carried in palanquins or palkis. They were looked on as a status symbol with very richly decorated palkis belonging to royalty and wealthy noblemen.

They stopped the next day at one of the Rajah’s villages, not just to rest but to tend to Mrs. Block who was rapidly becoming ill, barely able to stand on her own. Mrs. Goldney made her some ginger tea which seems to have done at least a little to alleviate her sufferings, but it was clear she could not get back on the elephant. Mrs. Goldney entreated the vakeel to organise from the Rajah some palkis and a howdah elephant at least.

Lady Canning on a howdah elephant, 1861

By midnight, the transportation, as requested, had arrived. The vakeel urged the ladies to make all haste, they only had another 4 hours ahead of them but they must proceed quickly. Mrs. Block and her baby settled into a palki, the three children in the other, which Mrs. Goldney and Mrs. Stroyan found themselves on the elephant, though this time they had no worries about falling off.

When we had proceeded about four or five miles, the Vakeel, who was riding behind us on the elephant, kept urging the driver to go on as fast as he could; he would stop for a few minutes; then there was great whisperings; and at last I asked the man to tell me what was the matter. After some demur he said, “What can I tell you but that I am fearful for you all; the mutineers from Pursuddepoor are encamped under the walls of the Amethie fort;- their road lays on the one we must cross before we can get in. If they have broken up their camp and gone on, good;- but if not then Gold alone can help you, for we are powerless.”

Picture, if possible, our state of mind. All I thought of was to have the children with me on the elephant, so that if we were attacked, we might all be killed together. The man said, “If you like to have them with you do so; but keep quiet and we may be able to cross over.”

All of a sudden the whole cavalcade stood still, and there was such challenging; for some time no one spoke; at last the man behind us cried, “God be praised we are safe!” One of the Rajah’s men then came up and said, “The mutineers have just rounded the corner; indeed if you listen attentively, you will hear the buzz of voices!” Thankful, you may fancy, we were to proceed, and in another hour we were in the fort. We were conducted to the Rajah’s house, (not the large one that you, Charlotte went to), but to a long building; one part was covered in, the other open, with very high walls, so that we could not look over, in fact we were not allowed to. There we found four nice clean charpoys, or native bedsteads, and right glad we were to lie down.”

Raja Madho Singh of Amethi

“The Rajah sent word to say that he wished to come and see me. He came, and after some talk he begged us to keep quiet; that he would take care of us; and when the country was quiet he would conduct us safely to wherever we wished to go. He ordered us tea, which was most acceptable. We rested for a few hours. The next day he ordered us some cloth and we cut out a petticoat each and underline; we could not afford more;- to the children I gave a couple of muslin ‘Cardias’ ( native jackets) and native drawers. We had the Rajah’s tailors who worked for us. As soon as the new clothes were ready, we had the luxury of a bath and clean clothes..”

Raja Madho Singh of Amethi

“We had our meals sent in to us, plenty of chappatees and dall, rice, beautifully clean and nicely cooked, and delicious buffalo’s milk.  We fared very well indeed. We had no spoons, knives nor plates,- but that was a mere trifle. Our tea was all finished; so the Rajah sent word to say, he was going to send his Scooter-soar camel rider to Lucknow, with some letters to Mr. Gubbins, and if I had a note he would send it. I wrote to Mr. Gubbins, telling him we were at Amethie, and asking him to send us tea, pens, ink and paper, soap, a comb and brush, a little brandy, some medicine and four yards of flannel. Well, these things arrived, and we made the children up some flannel waistcoats, and then had a good washing of flannels. Fancy, wearing all our clothes for twelve days.

As we have seen before, the rajas had been very badly treated during the annexation and Raja Madho Singh was no exception, having had to relinquish most of his lands and property in the divisional system set up by the British. Yet, what was probably a personal favour to Colonel Goldney or a gentlemanly act of kindness, a great risk he sheltered Mrs. Goldney and the other ladies asking for nothing in return. He would eventually join the mutiny, personally taking part in the Siege of Lucknow on the side of the rebel army and later would give Colin Campbell’s army a hard fight but ultimately, Raja Madho Singh would be forced to surrender his fort in August 1858; he was however pardoned of rebellion and made a magistrate in 1860, his estates reinstated. The service he did to Mrs. Goldney at least, was not forgotten.

Now that she had a moment’s rest, Mrs. Goldney anxiously tried to find out any news of her husband’s fate. She had no word from him since leaving Sultanpore and no one seemed to be able to tell her anything concrete. From Frederick Gubbins she heard Colonel Goldney had escaped to Gonda; Mr. Block and Mr. Stroyan too had successfully crossed the river – for a moment the ladies had some comfort.
Mr. Gubbins expressly forbid the ladies from proceeding to Allahabad; they were to stay in Amethi until further notice; whatever his thoughts were of Mrs. Goldney striking out alone in the first place is not recorded, but undoubtedly he was confident enough in the Raja to keep the ladies safe. Mrs. Goldney however, was not impressed with Mr. Gubbins’ news.
As soon as she could, she sent her coachman ( who had followed on from Babu Ajit Singh a day later, with the dog Nettles and some of Mrs. Goldney’s belongings) back to Sultanpore to ascertain what, if anything, was happening in the station. It took him three days to come back, and his news was disconcerting.
All the houses had been destroyed “and that he had seen (describing the very ground) poor Colonel Fisher, Messrs Lewis, and Smith, of the 8th Locals, Dr O’ Donnell, and Captain Bunbury, and a very tall gentleman, whom he could not recognise; (as Captain Gibbons had arrived the day after we left, I thought it must be him, though I heard afterwards that he was short). I asked the fellow two or three times, if he was sure. He got quite vexed and said, “Have I not been in your service more than two years, and do I know these gentlemen?” Of course we were much horrified. What object the man could have in telling us such lies, I cannot tell…” Not that all of it was lies, but Mrs. Goldney must have been relieved to hear from Mr. Lewis, alive and in hiding with the two sergeants who had managed to leave Sultanpore with him – he sent her note, asking, pray, can we trust Babu Ajit Singh?
Raja Madho Singh now did his best to bring in the party of Mr. Grant- his noble intentions were for naught – Mr. Grant had left Ajit Singh some days before and they were all on their way to Allahabad.

Nine days after arriving in Amethi, Mrs. Goldney received word from Mr. Grant, telling her to come to Allahabad, the road was open. The Raja wasted no time in making preparations for their journey, providing them with men of his own guard and dhoolies – the idea was to disguise them as a wedding party.
They started at night – although the darkness provided some relief from prying eyes, it also made the journey slow, by dawn they had barely 10 miles out of the 40 to Allahabad. Sheltering during the day at another of the Raja’s forts, Mrs. Goldney was by now getting quite used to her nomadic existence.
“The Jemadar who was of our guard, was very good and attentive; he proposed we should stop at this fort, as we would not possibly travel during the day…The whole place was full of armed men, and only three or four old women. They screened off a place with their kummer bands, and brought us some charpoys, and we laid down till some time past sunrise, when we went into the hut, Meeahjar got us some tea ready. He asked the Jemadar to get us a kid, which he did, and such a delicious one it was too. Meeahjar roasted it on a modern splint, (a stick run through) and on the stick it was brought in; we had but one knife, so I had to use my fingers and cut a piece for each.
“There we were all seated on the ground, in our extraordinary half-English, half-Hindoostanee dresses. Whilst we were sitting in this fashion, the Jemadar said a Subadar of the 4th wished to make his salaam. I admitted him. I told him to see what his bretheren had reduced us to. Of course he was all loyalty, and said, “Put yourself under my protection, and see if I can take care of you or not!” He brought us some chappatees and onions: these we fried, and thought them so delicious!

That evening, the ladies started again – though the next part of their journey was hardly as pleasant- the road ran through Pertaburgh where but recently they had been treated with far less courtesy by Gulab Singh – he however had been forewarned. “Goolab Sing had a letter sent to him by Rajah Modoo Sing to say we were coming, and as he was supposed to have behaved so ill (and indeed, at his instigation the row took place). the Rajah told him to try and retrieve his character by paying us attention.”
What Mrs. Goldney did on arriving however was somewhat preposterous. Insisting on being taken to Gulab Singhs house as she had heard all of her property was in his possession. “All I found of mine or the children’s was a pair of shoes of my own; they were on the ground and one of the brutes who was with us kicked it across the room, asking if that anything of mine. Mrs Stroyan accompanied me to search; we then returned to our dhoolies. I found here the Jemedar of the place and some of the chapprasees; he told us of the certainty of the fate of both Mr Block and Mr Stroyan, and no doubt was aware too of the awful bereavement I had received, but did not say so.” Perhaps her loss was finally becoming clear to her too.
The Jemadar begged her to leave well alone; the rabble in the town was not interested so much in her property or indeed in what the various rajas thought, as her life – they would surely kill her and the others if they found them in Gulab Singh’s house. Reassured the Jemadar would continue as her guard, Mrs. Gold acquiescing to his wisdom, they proceeded onwards, their next stop was with their first protector, Ajit Singh in Millepore.

“As we neared his fort, a voice called out, “Memsahib!” I did not answer till it was repeated by the Jemedar; he then said a messenger had a letter from Mr Grant for me, telling me that we had retaken Allahabad, and the rebels were driven off, and for us to push on as hard as we could towards Allahabad. The runner too said the country was all pretty quiet. When we arrived at Millepore, Unjeet Sing came to meet me. He got us some charpoys, and milk, and sugar, and we had tea, and he ordered us dinner.”

But she was not that pleased with Ajit Singh either.

She had further reason to be cross with Babu Gulab Singh.
“We expected, as the Baboo said, to start that evening at sunset, for Allahabad. I sent several times to him to know if our dhoolies were ready. He kept on saying, “Yes, all was ready.” I then asked to have them brought. Then the old wretch, (with “one eye”)- told me he did not like our going on that evening; that he had heard there was great disturbances between Millepore and Allahabad. Mr Grant’s messenger declared to the contrary, when he made two or three excuses.

At last I got angry, and told him he was telling me stories, and that I would send a letter to Mr Grant and ask him to send help for us. Poor Mrs Block begged me not to be angry with the wretch, for she was sure that he would revenge himself on us. He offered to take us on, so we waited till next day. Early in the morning back comes Mr Grant’s messenger. (We were twenty-four miles from Allahabad). He seemed so surprised to see me, and said, “Mr Grant is waiting for you at the Ghat.” I told the man I was helpless, and what Unjeet Sing did not wish Madhoo Sing’s Jemedar to go in with us, and I had said I would not stir without him.

The next day, surrounded by a guard of 250 men and disguised again as a wedding party, they proceeded with the same slow pace towards Allahabad. Their last adventure could very well have been an end to their journey but for the bravery of the Jemadar.

 “At one place we halted to drink water, when Mrs Stroyan called out to me to pull down the Purdah (I had put it up to get a little air) as there was strange voices. Some men had set fire to a village close by. We heard bamboos crackling and then seeing a party who called out, and said “Here comes a Buniah’s wedding; let us attack it!” The Jemedar ordered all his men to stand ready. He went forward to meet these men and said. “We are all armed men, and we belong to Rajah Modhoo Sing; if you like to come on do so.” “No, Maharaj, we are only wayfarers, and we will go on.” We proceeded too, and at about ten o’ clock arrived at Papermou Ghat.”

Arriving at the ghat, they expected to find boats – unfortunately, the boatmen had seen them too, this large and rather ferocious looking band of men armed to the teeth – having no way anymore to tell a friend from a foe, the boatmen scarpered, taking their boats to the other side of the ghat. The ladies ended up spending some hours wandering up and down the bank furtively waving their handkerchiefs in the air, hoping someone would see them. “After some two hours waiting, one of our people got over, and then told those on the other side who we were. An old grey headed man, a mussulmann was sitting on the bank when we arrived; I was in my dhoolie, with little Missie, and as I passed this wretch, he uttered most frightful abuse about me; I was so engrossed at the moment with my own thoughts that I never took notice of him, and not till afterwards think of his brutal words.

Safely deposited in Allahabad, the men of Rajah Madhu Singh dispersed back to their own country “Mr Court told me I might make a present to the men who had brought us in, as Unjeet Sing had been handsomely paid for bringing in Mr Grant and his party (2000 rupees). I thought 200 rupees for us was sufficient. To Jemadur Seetul Sing who had taken us from Millepore to Amethie 40 miles; and for bringing us back to Millepore, another 40; and then to Allahabad, 24 miles, we gave 500 rupees.” Mrs. Goldney was left in the ruins of the city. All the bungalows were destroyed, “I never saw, nor may never see such a sight, ladies’ and children’s clothes in heaps, papers, letters, books and music. Here too sat a string of wretched natives, they had been taken up for having stolen property, which was found in their houses, tied with ropes round their waists, in a string, quietly waiting their doom. They were aware that they were to be hung, but they cared not, but they kept on talking and eating their tobacco, and staring at us as we came in, no doubt exulting to think how they had punished us.
Neill, in his frenzy to mop up Allahabad as he had done to Benares, was not going to put with ladies and children in his environs – arrangements had already been made to ship off Mrs. Goldney and the other ladies off to Calcutta without a moment’s delay; her hope to at least get some clothes made up was dashed – she ended up having to scavenge a few things from the piles of clothing she had seen strewn about. She was still carrying her husband’s dressing gown, carefully folded over her arm as she had done so all the way from Sultanpore.

The River

The ghat at Allahabad Fort, 1858

The three ladies, children and all were billeted in one cabin, so small they were obliged to take turns washing and dressing, sleep was impossible indoors due to the heat so they turned their bedding down on the deck at night. Lucky for them, Raja Madhu Singh had made them a present of cotton bedding and Mrs. Goldney had managed to retain her throws from Sultapore. The journey was anything but comforting.
“We went down the river but slowly. Chunar we reached where alas, I left a letter for your poor, dear Papa, having heard from a native that he had said Chunar or Benares he would try to reach.

Chunar Fort

Benares we came to next. Here we heard that several of the parties from Fyzabad had come in. Oh, how eager I was to hear something of your poor Papa; but, alas. No such mercy was for me!
Here we met Mr Catina: Mrs Stroyan’s brother; he came and told me that Captain Bunbury and Dr O’ Donnell, (the coachman had seen dead) were coming to see us.

Benares, ghat 1880

At two o’ clock that night they came. Bunbury told me there was no doubt as to the murder of poor Mr Block and Mr Stroyan. Me, he buoyed up with the hope that poor Papa had escaped (indeed no authentic information had been up to that date received) and that he had heard that he was at Ghazepoor or Dinapoor.
“Mr. Tucker wrote and told Mrs. Block that her husband, with Mr. Stroyan, had both been killed. I wrote and asked him about poor Papa. His reply was- “That nothing authentic had been heard of him; he was last seen with a party of the 17th.” Some reports said he was in the keeping of Maun; fears were entertained that he had been foully dealt with.

The search for Colonel Goldney continued.

Ghazeepoor was our next station. Here we asked too, and heard of some few, (Colonel and Mrs. and Miss Lennox and Mr. and Mrs. Bradford). Mr. Bradford has several times written about your dear Papa, but his accounts were only what he had heard from natives, and not two of them tallied.
We proceeded and arrived at Dinapoor. Captains Orr and Reid came on board. I could glean nothing from them.

Dinapore, 1859

From Captain Orr, Mrs. Goldney received the disturbing intelligence of how he had tried to get Colonel Goldney to join him, Captain Ried and Mr. Thurburn and flee Fyzabad. Obstinant to the last, Colonel Goldney had merely replied, “He had been thirty-six years serving the government and that he must take his chance now”; he had heard, that his wife and children were safe and that he must take his chance.
It must have been horrifying to Mrs. Goldney to hear her husband had been given so many chances to save himself, but had rejected all offers, a man of duty to the last.

“Had he only listened to Orr’s advice. But no, a fatality attended him. He was entreated by Maun Sing who sent two of his servants but would not go. A Sergeant who was one of the party, said, as they were standing in a group on the banks of the river, two armed men came up and asked for Colonel Goldney. Major Mills, thinking threre was treachery, would not answer these men. At last they said, “We come from Rajah Maun Sing and have a message for the commissioner.

“On this, poor Papa was pointed out. He was walking up and down- no one but God to help him- and alas! Though wicked of me to say- He too deserted him in the hour of danger.

“As soon as your Papa saw these men he made signs to them not to come near him armed. They laid their weapons down and salaamed, and delivered their message. “No!” Papa said “I take my chance with my fellow sufferers!” How many escaped and what was his miserable fate?”

Mrs. Goldney, finally realised the man she had loved and followed through India was dead. There would be no grave to mourn at and his body would never be buried.

In Dinapore, Mrs. Orr and her children, Miss Troup and Mrs. Thurburn joined Mrs. Goldney on their weary trip to Calcutta. Stopped only a few hours in Dinapore, Mrs. Goldney was taken in but briefly by her friends, the Birches, Mrs. Birch kindly helped her make some blouses for the children and provided Mrs. Goldney with some much-needed clothes for herself and a bonnet.

Mrs. Goldney’s journey ended on the 9th of July in Calcutta.

“ month and two days since I left my too happy home at Sultanpur. Mr Wood came on board the steamer the moment she was telegraphed, and took me to his house, where he and his brother were as kind as they could be and made us comfortable. Six months ago only Charlotte and I had met you in that very house and room..

How happy was I then and what was I on the 9th July?

Mrs. Goldney and her children left India. She never re-married, dying in St. Leonards on the Sea at the age of 76.

A poem, written by Colonel and Mrs. Goldney’s granddaughter, Lady Aimee Byng Hall Scott, though written for a different war, echoes 1857.

July 1st 1916

A soft grey mist,
Poppies flamed brilliant where the woodlands ben
Or straggling in amongst the ripening corn,
Green grass dew kist;
While distantly a lark's pure notes ascend,
Greeting the morn.

A shuddering night;
Flames, not poppies, cleave the quivering air,
The corn is razed, the twisted trees are dead;
War in his might
Has passed; Nature lies prostrate there
Stunned by his tread.

The primary source for this piece has been
Escape from Sultanpoor in 1857 by Mary Louisa Goldney. Privately published, Jersey, June 9th, 1858.
It has been reprinted in facsimile with notes by Jeffrey Bates of Bates&Hindmarch, Cheltenham, 2020.
The book is available for a minimal cost from