George Lawrence in Rajputana
Rajputana, the land of the Rajputs or Rajasthan, as it is known today, comprised of 18 Native States – Udaipur or Mewar, Jaipur, Jodhpur or Marwar, Bundi, Kota, Jhalawar, Tonk, Karauli, Kishnagarh, Dholpur, Bharatpur, Alwar, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Siroli, Dongarpur, Banswari and Partabgarh. Most of these states had been assigned a political officer who was headed by the Governor-General’s Agent, Colonel George St. Patrick Lawrence, the elder brother of Sir Henry and Sir John. He had many of the qualities that made his famous brothers great – high-spirited, conscientious, a frank and straightforward man with a high regard for truth and justice. He had served as a cavalry officer in the Bengal Army (the 2nd Bengal Light Cavalry) and served with this regiment in 1838 in the Afghan War, and was present at the storming of Ghazni.
Returning to Kabul, George Lawrence was appointed political assistant to Sir William Hay Mcnaghten, the envoy to Afghanistan. Needless to say, Lawrence was present at the retreat from Kabul and was one of the officers, together with the ladies and children, who were held hostage until September 1842.
His subsequent career was no less interesting or adventurous than that of his brothers but would take too long to relate – for our intentions here, in March 1857 George Lawrence had just taken over from his brother, Sir Henry, as Resident for the Governor-General in Rajputana.
Having been stationed in Rajputana since 1850, Lawrence had not come into the position unprepared. Although he was in Mount Abu when the intelligence reached him of the Meerut outbreak, Colonel Lawrence at once understood the importance of the news and what the consequences of the mutiny could be for Rajputana. With a population of some 20 million all subjects of protected kings and an area of a hundred thousand square miles, who, George Lawrence felt would more than happily mutiny at the first favourable opportunity. Except for 20 sergreants attached to the various native regiments, there was not a single European soldier in Rajputana fit for duty. The nearest station with any European troops was Disa in the Bombay Presidency and that was 150 miles away from Mount Abu. His first concern, the 10 million population aside, was the 5000 ill-disposed native soldiers who, presided over by a Colonel in the British army who had 30 officers at his disposal, were now watching the mutiny spread and swell.
His first concern was to secure the arsenal at Ajmer which was housed within the old fort. With enough munitions to furnish a siege train, it was currently under the charge of the 15th BNI whose countenance was anything but gratifying. Interestingly, using the adage, “set a thief to catch a thief” the military authority at Nasirabad, sent the grenadier company of the 15th BNI to “ostensibly reinforce” their brethren in Ajmer. “This may appear a curious arrangement… as, if the protection of the fort was the object aimed at, it could scarcely be attained by doubling the strength of a traitorous garrison; but the grenadier company was generally supposed to be less tainted, or rather, I should say, more free from suspicion than the rest….” The arrangement did not, however, satisfy Lawrence. Realising that everyone, except the British officers of the 15th BNI, understood the regiment to be mutinous to the core, he sent off a message to Disa to requisition a light field force which would allow him to not only assure the safety of the magazine but overawe the 15th BNI if necessary.
“The force was despatched, but before it could arrive, the Commissioner of Ajmir, Lieutenant-Colonel Dixon, acting on the inspiration of a dying man—for he survived but a few days—had made the arscnal safe. This officer, feeling, as Colonel Lawrence felt, that the caste question was a most important factor in the movements of the native anny—that it was the question of the hour—bethought him of the regiment, of which he was commandant, raised for civil duties and appertaining exclusively to Rajputana, composed entirely of low-caste men, men who had no sympathy with the Brahmanical prejudices of the regular army. This regiment was the Mairwara battalion, quartered at Biaur, a little place south-west of Nasirabad on the Disa road. Without the delay of a single day, Dixon ordered Lieutenant Carnell, his second in command, to march at once with a hundred men of his battalion upon Ajmir. Carnell replied by acting with the most praiseworthy promptitude. Making a forced march of thirty-seven miles, he surprised the Sipahis before they had concerted their plans with their comrades at headquarters. The new arrivals at once took charge of the arsenal, and the regular troops were sent back to Nasirabad.”
The outcome was a success – the arsenal was saved and remained under the Mairwara men. To show his appreication for their good service and their staunchness, Lawrence raised on his own authority a second Mairwara battalion and recommended both battalions be given the same privileges as a regular native regiment.
With Ajmer safe, Lawrence in his turn, issued a proclamation. On the 23rd of May, he called upon the Rajput rulers to preserve peace within their borders, to concentrate their troops on the frontiers of their States so they would be available should the EICo require them, and to “show zeal and activity in dealing with any body of rebels who might attempt to traverse their territories.” While thus requesting the cooperation of the native rulers, he wanted the commandants at the various stations to act with “promptness and vigour.” He then requested the Government of Bombay to send any European troops returning from the Persia Campaign be sent to Agra via Gujarat and Rajputana.
Throughout the extent of Rajputana there were two military stations – Nuseerabad and Neemuch. The regiments and batteries at both stations were composed entirely of native troops and Colonel Lawrence had little reason to believe they would stay loyal. It was as much for the magazine at Ajmer as for these two stations that he had requested the field force from Disa – unfortunately, they could not march faster than the rumours of their approach. Before they arrived, the damage was done.
Mutiny at Nuseerabad
The garrison at Nusseerabad was composed of the 15th and 30th BNI, a battery of native artillery and the 1st Bombay Lancers. Although it was widely believed the 15th BNI were of a mutinous bend, their own officers thought this to be “much exaggerated” choosing instead to believe “although their men might follow the lead of others, they would not show the way.” It was a costly mistake.
The 15th BNI had but lately arrived. Their second in command, Iltudus Thomas Prichard, had been away on furlough until February 1857 and upon his return to Meerut, where the regiment was stationed, the order came to march to Nusseerabad, a station that had, on account of their Persian Campaign been severely depleted of men. The 15th BNI would make up the numbers.
The feeling between the men and officers was generally good. They had taken an inordinate amount of effort to ingratiate themselves with the troops, they all spoke their language with varying degrees of fluency and made it a point of attending all the festivals, nautches and celebrations in which their men participated. They regularly took part in wrestling matches with their men, fraternised with the native officers and in all, did what they could to ensure the affection and respect of those under their command. With a light step, the British officers at least, set their sights on Rajputana. At one march past Delhi, they met up with their commanding officer, Colonel Shuldman; until then Pritchard had been the head of the regiment. It became clear that Shuldman was a mistake. A strict disciplinarian who was universally detested by the men he commanded, on the march through Rajputana rumours circulated that Shuldman’s life was not worth a minute’s purchase and malcontents in the regiment had plans to assassinate him.
However, the regiment reached Nusseerabad without incident 10 days before the outbreak at Meerut. The first idea they had that something was wrong was when the mail no longer arrived. Rumours were running rife – no one knew how, as they were cut off from all news for several days. The first confirmation they received that something was wrong in Meerut came from Mr. Courtenay, who happened to keep a hotel in that station. He received intelligence that the Meerut troops had risen, burned down his house and murdered his family. Slowly, more news began filtering through, albeit from indirect routes. The direct roads from the Punjab, Agra and Delhi were closed but the one to the south was still open. Although Nuseerabad was in a remote corner of Rajputana with no European troops within calling distance, Disa being 130 miles away, the officers, with the imperfect information they had received, did not think for a moment that it would be necessary to call on outside assistance. Their men, they believed were staunch.
“As yet, we had no cause for suspecting that our men, who, be it observed, used to express the greatest indignation
at the conduct of their fellow countrymen at Meerut and Delhi, would prove disaffected. The officers of the artillery declared, that let the infantry do what they might, the artillery, the famous Jellalabad Battery, would never destroy its fair fame, and ruin the character this branch of the army had always held. In addition to these fancied sources of
security, we had a more tangible one in the presence of a regiment of Bombay cavalry (Lancers), which could not be supposed to sympathize with the mutinous soldiers of another Presidency.”
Despite the reassurances they received from their men, the British officers were continuously warned by the native NCOs and COs that disaffection was rife among “certain classes” of the regiment,
“…they admitted there were ill-disposed men in the regiment ready and willing to create a disturbance, but they assured us that the well-disposed so far outnumbered them, that there was not the least chance of their committing themselves; and as long as they, the commissioned and non-commissioned officers, remained faithful to their salt, as they were, it was impossible for anything of moment to occur. ‘But,’ added one man, ‘ we are not so sure of the 30th; that regiment we know is mutinous, and planning mutiny.” The men of the 30th spoke in the same strain to their officers, and impressed upon their minds that though they were faithful, there was no doubt that the 15th that had just come from Meerut, was deeply imbued with the spirit of revolt, and had they remained at that station, it was arranged that they were to have taken an active part in the insurrectionary movement there.”
So while the officers of the 30th expressed their firm conviction that the 15th was bound to mutiny sooner or later and the artillery would doubtlessly join them, their men on the other hand, were “ ..stanch, would be sufficient, headed by all the Europeans in the place, to capture the guns and protect life and property.” However, every officer of the artillery and those of the 15th, the artillery and the Lancers, maintained “…not merely that his own men were the only faithful ones, but that the safety of the station, and of our own lines, depended on them. The cavalry officers were, on the other hand, confident that though the whole of the Bengal troops at the place were mutinous, and might break out any day or night, one charge of the invincible Lancers would at once put down any attempt at revolt.” Every officer trusted his men to a fault. The men themselves went along with it. Men of the 15th regularly reported their horror and disgust at the mutinous language of the 30th to their officers and vice versa, and the same occurred. In this strange state, the 10 days passed.
Up to this point, almost every other corps in the service had sent a selected party of men to Musketry Instruction Depot, to receive instruction in the new drill and the new cartridges, relating to the Enfield Rifle. However, it must be remembered it was drill – the men did not receive the rifle. The idea was to teach a sufficient number of men in each corps who would then pass on their training to the others in the regiments – however, the rumours regarding the cartridges had created enough of a stir that all the depots had been closed for the year and the men sent back to their regiments. Shortly before the Meerut outbreak was known at Nuseerabad a small party of men was thus returning from the depot; the officers took it as a litmus test, hoping that as the men “…who had been selected to attend the depots were men of the highest caste, and, as was generally supposed, of the greatest influence in the regiment, we expected that when they came and assured their comrades that they had seen and used these cartridges and that their feelings and prejudices had not been offended thereby, a good deal of the groundless apprehension and excitement that prevailed might wear off.”
The Jemadar chosen for training at the depot was one Gumbheer Singh, who, with his faultless record, was known to be “…a thoroughly good, trustworthy, faithful, and brave man.” The report he gave was satisfactory in every way, declaring the story of the greased cartridge was a fabrication; he and the others in the party had not only seen the supposedly offensive objects but had handled them, and being men of a high caste had not suffered as a result. With his, and the assurances of the others, it was supposed at least one rumour could be quashed but Pritchard could do nothing against the foolishness of the Government.
Following the “silly and injudicious treatment of the Barrackpore mutineers” the proceedings of the courts-martial was sent to every corps to be read out to the men and as if this was not enough, “…they were accompanied by about as absurd and injudicious remarks as could well have been added, the translation and proclamation of which devolved upon me as interpreter; and had I sacrificed my credit as a linguist and made unintelligible translations of them,
I perhaps might have staved off the mutiny for a day.”
It was a terrible mess.
“So, lest the prevalent excitement should flag or die out (and our only chance was in allaying it), the men were repeatedly told how for the gravest crime in the catalogue of military offences, their fellow soldiers in other parts of India had been let off with a nominal punishment, and how the Commander-in-Chief wished to assure them that their religion was not to be tampered with, an assurance which they would argue…, he would never have thought it necessary to give, had not there been some foundation for the supposition that Government intended to do the very thing he was declaring it never thought of doing.” In all the men thought the Government was, by issuing all these orders, attempting to throw sand in their eyes. Nor did it help when the new platoon exercise was released, which now informed the men they no longer had to bite off the ends of the cartridges but could tear them by hand – they reasoned, if there was nothing wrong with the cartridges then there would have been no need for a new platoon exercise.
In his turn, Pritchard tried his best to allay the fears even further. When the party had returned from the depot, he, with the other officers, called together the NCOs of their companies to their bungalows. He told them that the British were aware of the stories regarding the cartridges -“…and I assured them that such was not the case; begged them to use every endeavour to counteract the impression that was abroad; and I guaranteed to them, on my word of honour, that if new cartridges were issued that were viewed with suspicion by the men, they should purchase the materials separately in the bazaar, or I would do so for them, and they should make them up for themselves.” To his surprise he overheard a conversation between the NCOs as they were leaving his compound, “It must be all right,” said one, ” for the Sahib says we may make up our own cartridges…” proving to him they had after all, believed the rumours to be true. His assurances had not fallen on deaf ears.
Pritchard when he finally had the chance to examine one of the offensive cartridges himself, many months later, was forced to acknowledge they actually did look quite suspicious. He did not doubt in his mind that seen from the sepoy’s point of view, they had been right to be doubtful.
Nusseerabad had another problem. The station commander, an old brigadier from the Bombay Presidency, made no bones about his dislike for the Bengal Army, its European officers and men, one and all. Being temporarily disabled with a broken collar bone, he had missed the opportunity to mix with the men of the 15th and spent his time, in his bungalow, listening to his men. “That the Brigadier was deceived there is not much room for doubt, but the deception was not wilfully practised; officers were themselves deceived and deceived others. It was no proof of moral weakness in those days for us to be confident in the fidelity of our men; it was our duty; but if a similar catastrophe occurs again, and similar confidence be shown, he will be a bold man who shall deny the charge of weakness almost amounting to insanity against an officer who allows himself to be duped.”
The cantonment was drawn out in one long line – on the right were the lines of the 1st Bombay Lancers, to the left, the 15th BNI, and to the left of them was the artillery park, containing not just the lines of the men but the barracks of the European gunners; to the left of this, again, were the lines of the 30th BNI. The officer’s bungalows were scattered about to the rear of the sepoy lines, and in an empty space behind the artillery barracks was the church, “…a thatched building, with as little pretence to grandeur or architectural taste as churches usually had that were erected at the same time that the Nusseerabad one was built—a time when it appears to have been desirable to ignore as much as possible, at all events, by any outward manifestation of support, the existence of such a religion as Christianity.” With the news of Meerut, confirmed as far as possible, a picket of 1st Lancers under a European officer was told off on picquet duty to look after the guns in artillery park, where the guns were kept limbered up and loaded with grape. An artillery officer slept at night in the quarter guard and the cantonment roads were patrolled throughout the night by the cavalry. Anyone found out after curfew without an explanation was taken to the guard. As a further precaution, a troop of cavalry was kept accoutred, both horses and men, in their lines, ready to act if called. The measures were only kept up during the night for no one believed the men would mutiny in broad daylight.
It is rare in accounts to find descriptions of sepoys – they are usually brief accounts of some deed or the other but fall short of describing the men themselves. Pritchard, however, gives us an insight into at least one of the men, Bucktuwar Singh, who had already been in the 15th BNI when Pritchard joined and had risen from sepoy to pay Havildar.
“He was a powerfully made man, six feet four inches, at least, in height, and broad-chested and muscular in proportion; indeed, he was almost a giant. The most remarkable thing about him was his voice; it was so powerful, that I believe he could make himself heard to as great a distance as an ordinary bugle. He appeared to have no power of controlling it. When posting sentries in camp he used to roar or scream out the words of command almost as if, to use a common expression, he would wake the dead. If these lines happen to meet the eye of any of my quondam brother officers, they will recall to their recollection many a time when we have sat in the mess tent and roared with laughter at Bucktawur Sing posting the sentries at the opposite extremity of the camp, and yelling at them as if they had stood at one end and he at another, instead of their being but two feet apart. I never heard that deafness was very common in the regiment, but I am sure it is a wonder any man ever went on sentry duty with Bucktawur Sing as his non-commissioned officer and came off it with the tympana of his ears uninjured.”
Sadly by the time the 15th was stationed in Nusseerabad, Bucktuwar Singh was no longer the man with the voice of bullroarer. When he came to Pritchard’s bungalow shortly before the mutiny, he was a shadow of his former self, downcast and his magnificent voice was silent. He informed Pritchard he was cursed – that some men of the regiment had contrived to put a spell on him and the magic was so contrived to see him to his grave. Knowing it was useless to persuade the Havildar that his fears were groundless, Pritchard suggested he consult a spiritual adviser and get himself of a countercharm. Bucktuwar Singh had pre-empted Prichard and he showed him a small talisman he wore on his arm, to which was attached a scroll of paper. Pritchard examined the charm gravely and recommended the Havildar should wear it and put his faith in it as it would doubtlessly protect him from any evil to come. The man went away, reassured and Pritchard believed not a trustworthier NCO existed in the 15th BNI.
On the 27th of May Bucktuwar Singh returned to Pritchard’s bungalow. This time his problem had nothing to do with faith but with rumour. In the lines, he said, the men were saying a detachment of Europeans was marching to Nasirabad from Disa, and the men, he declared were not happy. How the regiment knew Pritchard had no idea – he himself had only recently found out and the orders had been supposedly kept secret.
Taking the high ground, Pritchard confirmed that although the detachment was on its way to Ajmer via Nusseerabad, the Government was not obliged to ask the permission of the sepoys every time they moved their troops – and as long as the men were as well-disposed as they purported to be, there could be no cause for fear. He then quickly acquainted the Havildar with a new order authorising local commandants to promote “on the spot” any man who have information which led to the conviction of a conspirator, and as he had often brought to Pritchard’s attention the names of men who talked treason, he would personally guarantee Bucktuwar Singh’s promotion to Jemadar if he so chose to catch any man in the act.
“He appeared impressed with all I said, and promised to act upon it; but when I went still further to urge the necessity of action, remarking that this was a time when it would not do to shun responsibility and that if in the execution of his duty, he found it necessary, he would be justified in using force to bring a traitor to justice, and added, that the crisis might call for the sacrifice of life, his eyes, generally so unexpressive, literally flashed fire. It was not very long before he acted on my injunction to the very letter, though not in the way that I had intended.”
It was the 27th of May. The next day would be very different.
Heads Full of Murder and Mutiny
It started like any other in a military cantonment. Around noon, Pritchard, his duties done for the day, received a visit from the Moonshee or translator of his regiment, a Muslim named Meer Wakar Ali. He told Pritchard he had passed several sepoys in the bazaar, all very excited, saying the grain merchants were in leaguer with the government to break their caste by mixing bone dust in the flour. Pritchard reported it to his Colonel who had given any interest in Pritchard’s report and would have told the Brigadier. However Shuldman simply said if he brought it to the Brigadier’s notice, he would have to give proof and unless Pritchard could provide it, there was no point disturbing the Brigadier.
Not one to give up, Pritchard took his concerns to the Brigadier-Major. He promised to take up the issue with the Brigadier himself the next day, and that was all Pritchard could get. Shortly after lunch, Pritchard, the Brigadier, Colonel, Brigadier- Major and indeed all the Europeans were startled by the report of a cannon. Whereas one shot might have been considered unusual, the second one which followed it shortly after was decidedly worrying. Pritchard hurried out of his compound to a vacant space which was immediately to the rear of the sepoy lines. The first thing he saw was a crowd of day labourers running as fast as they could away from the lines. At the same time
“… there arose the sound of many voices, a murmur, or buzz, as if a thousand men or more were all engaged in chattering…” Astonishingly, Pritchard returned to his house and told his wife there was nothing to be alarmed about. He then went back to the gate. As he approached, a man named Gopal Singh came running up – he simply said there was nothing the matter. A few sepoys of the 30th had rushed the guns but had been met by a party of the light company of the 15th and been driven away. Pritchard had scarcely digested this highly improbable story when Captain Timbrell, the officer commanding the artillery, galloped up furiously towards the house.
Pritchard called out, ” What’s the matter?” Timbrell answered, ” Those rascals of the 30th have taken my guns; I am off to turn out the cavalry.”
As no one had mentioned the 15th BNI, Pritchard saw no cause for concern, his regiment was not in open mutiny.
Pritchard ordered his charger saddled and called on his wife to go across the road to the house of an officer of the 1st Bengal Lancers. It had been decided that should there be an uprising, the cavalry would undoubtedly not join, thus the cavalry lines were certain to be safe. Without a moment’s hesitation, Mrs. Pritchard put on her hat, and followed by her ayah, crossed the compound to the other house. The buggy and horse would follow as soon as they were ready.
“I had little time for thought, the hubbub outside was increasing momentarily, and the servants were rushing frantically to the compound wall, upon which they climbed to look over. The whole station was alive, and the very air seemed full of excitement, horses neighing, men shouting, children crying, and that everlasting buzz from the lines, growing louder every instant. The effect was perfectly indescribable. It was totally unlike anything I ever experienced before. One’s excitement is wound up pretty high on the occasion of a general action, but this was something totally different...all seemed confusion, hurry, anxiety, and wild excitement.“
Amid the growing chaos, the tailor, who had just been finishing up some sewing for Mrs. Pritchard, calmly folding some cloth. He looked at Pritchard and asked for orders. He was told to make up his bundle and leave. Pritchard quickly put on his uniform and his sword. He was the last to leave the house – as he rode out of the gate, the servants who were looking out over the wall, the tailor among them, beseeched him to stay – if he went to the parade ground he would be killed. “Nevermind,” said Pritchard as he rode away,” it is in the hands of God.”
As the parade ground was beyond the Sepoy Lines, the first men he saw were the rearguard, standing accoutred and looking suitably confused. Pritchard called out the 30th had mutinied and it was now a chance for the 15th to show them what they could do. As many sepoys were leaving their huts and running to the parade ground, Pritchard called out to them, waving his hands about – “..they must have thought me mad, their heads being full of murder and mutiny…”
Arriving on the parade ground, Pritchard found his Colonel and two other officers on horseback, looking grave. The sepoys were crowding towards the bell of arms, some in uniform others only in their red coats and instead of trousers, in dhotis. Pritchard saw they were assembled in “tolerable order” as on a regular parade and he order the column to form line at right angles to the lines, on the light company, which was done. In the background came to the repeated sound of the guns firing, but no one could tell at what. The plan was for the 15th to advance a short distance and charge the guns. Convinced this was the best plan, Pritchard rode to the front of the grenadier company and called on them to do their duty as the brave and loyal soldiers he knew they were. As the cavalry, he knew, had been called out by Timbrell, he expected any moment to see them, in their French grey jackets and lances blazing in the sun to emerge from between the buildings onto the parade ground – they would have charged the mutineers by now. However, as Pritchard waited it became clear the cavalry was not coming.
Pritchard lined the light company to the front and ordered them to skirmish. They followed the command, opening out into extended order from the left and then halted. Pritchard thought they were waiting for the cavalry to act first but after a few moments, the Colonel called out to the officer in charge of the light company, “Why don’t you advance?” “Because the men won’t go,” came the reply. The bugle sounded for the light company to close on its left and again, they obeyed. The grenadiers in the meantime were ordered to the front and to extend. Again, the order was followed but the men refused to advance. The flank companies were then ordered to proceed to the lines and advance in a column – they went to the designated spot but once again, like the others stopped short. Gumbheer Singh, in spite all his urging could not get the men to move – for his pains he was threatened by the men with execution if he did not stop issuing orders. Meanwhile, the Colonel rode up to each company in succession and ordered them to advance, but no one was listening – the 15th BNI was, to Pritchard’s horror, in open mutiny.
As for the cavalry, who no one had doubted, had also refused to act. They had half-heartedly charged the guns but drew up short, allowing themselves to be driven back by the artillery. They sat and watched as men flocked, under their noses, to the artillery park. The cavalry was then formed in the rear of the artillery lines and ordered to charge in squadrons. They charged, but as soon as they were within a few feet of the guns, went threes about and “allowed their officers to go on if they pleased.” Several did, with terrible consequences – Major Spottiswood was mortally wounded, Cornet Newbury was cut to pieces among the guns, while Lieutenants Lock and Hardy barely made it back alive, both badly wounded. Spottiswood was taken to his house where he died shortly after.
As for the 15th, the Colonel ordered them back into the former position – again they obeyed but proceeded to sit down in the ranks. They complained it was hot and they were feeling very thirsty – they asked permission to go and get a drink of water at the nearby reservoir. Pritchard and the others managed to prevent them from taking their arms, but they could do nothing to stop them from leaving. When it became clear as to “the depth to which their treachery, ingratitude, and villainy could go,” the officers left the parade ground.
The only ones who did not need any convincing in regards to villainy, were the ladies of the Nusseerabad Cantonment. They had quietly packed a few things and in their buggies had left the station an hour earlier, in the direction of Ajmer. Pritchard ordered his syce to go back to the house, pack up as much as he could in a bundle and follow the fugitives.
Meanwhile, as the sun was setting over Nusseerabad, the signal gun was fired and to Pritchard’s surprise, the road was suddenly flooded by a band of fifty or more fakirs – from where they came, no one knew and the time to ask had gone. They proceeded down the ranks, carrying brass lotas of water and a quantity of bhang – which they proceeded to distribute to the sepoys. As it was fairly common for sepoys to consume bhang in large doses before a fight, making them “regardless of consequences, and capable of undergoing any amount of fatigue or exertion under its intensely stimulating and exciting effects” Pritchard realised the time for reasoning was over. “It has the power of transforming men into demons, giving them all the energy of madmen with all the recklessness of the drunkard. They began to talk or mutter incessantly, and evince the utmost disrespect for their officers by every means short of open and defiant insubordination.” The Brigadier issued orders for all the officers to leave having been told by the Colonel of how things stood now.
Pritchard beckoned to the only two men he thought would remain true to their salt – Gumbheer Singh and Bucktuwar Singh. He asked the former how many men he thought would remain faithful, at which the man only looked at him in astonishment – he had been as surprised by events as Pritchard had, and although he believed there might be one or two, he soundly responded that no one should be trusted. Pritchard repeated his question to Bucktuwar Singh, who responded, he would go and ask. His answer was enough for the officer.
“I looked at Gumbheer Sing and smiled, it was evident he had no intention of proving stanch. About this time a musket shot or two were fired at us by some man from among the mutineers at the guns, who came to the front and took deliberate aim ; the ball passed harmlessly over our heads. The Colonel, at last, intimated his desire to leave, but wished if possible to save the colours of the regiment.”
Nothing would come of the noble idea. The Colonel asked the officer commanding the grenadier company to ask for volunteers to save the colours – the whole company stepped forward. Once again, an elaborate charade was enacted, they obeyed the order to form up but when the Colonel called, “Quick March!” they stood as if rooted to the spot. Irritated, the Colonel asked them why had they volunteered if they were not willing to move. The men replied, under their breaths, if they marched the cavalry would cut them up. Suddenly from the centre of the column, Pritchard saw a movement – a sepoy snatched the colours from the hand of the man who held them and ran off towards the mutineers. A moment later, a native officer, named Tokey Ram who held the other colour followed, and several others joined him, in single file, running.
I stood up in my stirrups and pointed at them, exclaiming in Hindostanee, ‘ Look at the treacherous villains ;’ but the words were scarcely out of my lips when another movement took place—every musket was raised and levelled at us, and crack, crack, went the reports ; ping, ping, sang the balls as they flew round our ears, heads, and bodies ; in short, we were under as heavy and as good a file firing as ever it had been my lot to witness either with blank or ball cartridge, on the parade-ground or on the field of battle. I turned to P , and said ‘ Come along, we had better go now;’ and we both set spurs to our horses, and galloped ofif as hard as we could. After riding a short distance while bullets were whistling by our ears, and knocking up the dust all round us in front and behind, so that it seemed a perfect miracle we were not riddled with as many holes in our bodies as a sieve, we reached the road that flanked the right of the cavalry lines.
P called out, ‘Left shoulder forward ;’ we turned our horses round, and being under cover, began to rein in our steeds. We reached the top of the road at the rear of the lines, where the cavalry were drawn up awaiting the issue of events;
but P ‘s horse could go no further, he had been struck in the abdomen, but had carried his master bravely out of danger, and there fell.”
As for the Colonel, he came up almost immediately after, his horse shot in three places but he himself was unhurt. One after another and in pairs, came the sergeants and the other officers, each with their own miraculous escapes. One had decided to go to the lines but was fired at by the sentries at the end of each row of huts;
“…till, just as he reached the last, he bethought himself of ordering the men to desist from shooting at him; he
called out and made a sign not to fire, and they obeyed. Another rode between the bells of arms and the lines and was fired at by three Sepoys from each building. What the men could have been doing there it is impossible to say; but there they were, with muskets loaded, and when this officer rode by for his life, took aim deliberately, and all missed.
Another officer, as gallant and brave a man as ever breathed, who afterwards met his death in a melancholy way, having been murdered in the streets of Lucknow Lieutenant Tliackwell, was in charge of a guard of about thirty men over the magazine. When the behaviour of the regiment upon parade rendered it apparent that we should be obliged to leave, an officer, Ensign C , rode off to tell Thackwell to leave also, lest he should remain at his post, which he would be unwilling to desert without orders. C rode up, and not knowing exactly what to tell Thackwell, called out to him the Colonel wanted him, and he was to come away. Just then the firing began upon parade. Thackwell had no idea what it was all about; but the men of his guard had, for no sooner did they hear it than they all levelled their muskets at this solitary British officer and fired; they missed. Thackwell by that time was mounted, but before riding off, levelled an old-fashioned six-barrelled revolver he had with him, (that was never known, I believe, to go off in its life). The coward at whom he levelled this innocent weapon of war actually threw down the musket with which he had the instant before, in common with thirty of his comrades, endeavoured to murder their victim, raised his hands in an attitude of prayer, and begged to be spared! “
Thackwell went to the parade ground still unaware a mutiny had happened. As soon as he arrived, he saw the sepoys were firing their muskets at something but he did not know it was at the retreating officers. Suddenly realising Thackwell’s presence the guns all turned on him – he rode straight to the front for some hundred yards, wheeled right and rode off as fast as his horse could carry him towards the cavalry parade ground, shots being fired from each successive company he passed. The only injury he had was to his scabbard which had been carried away by a musket ball.
Those who had escaped from the parade ground now met at the rear of the Lancer’s lines – the cavalry was drawn up in columns, mounted but doing nothing, while their officers milled about in small groups on horseback. The Brigadier, his arm in a sling, astride a camel sat in the growing dusk, unsure what to do next. To Pritchard’s surprise, the Lancer to whom he had entrusted his wife, ran up to him, saying their wives was safe – that the ladies had left Nasirabad had been, to his shock, just another rumour. His wife was still in the station or at least, nearby. While the party sat, no one issuing orders, or doing anything meaningful at all, the thatched roof of the little church burst into flames.
It signalled the end of rule as anyone knew it and in its place, came chaos. Bungalow after bungalow was set alight and all around them “the yells and shouts of the mutineers grew louder and louder as their ranks were swelled by Sepoys and camp-followers and blackguards of every description, who revelled in wanton mischief, plunder, and incendiarism.”
While the senior most officers argued whether they should make for Ajmer or Beeawr, Pritchard decided he would go and find the ladies. With the help of a bystander, he rode off towards the countryside which started a few hundred yards from the cavalry lines – when he emerged on the plain he saw, to his surprise, nearly the whole of the non-combatant population of the station – men, women and children, some on foot, others in any conveyance possible, some carrying a bundle, others burdened with as much of their household as they had managed to save. They were scattered in a long, straggling line which appeared to have neither an end nor a beginning but they were making, as Pritchard could see, for a scrap of jungle that ran along the foot of the nearby hills. Somewhere in this mass, he found his and the Lancer’s wife. There seemed little point to return to Nusseerabad- indeed several officers had by now joined their families and were heading off towards Ajmer.
The cantonment was first sacked and then burned. Two officers had remained behind – Captain Fenwick of the 30th stayed at the quarter-guard with his men out of a sense of duty. The sepoys had behaved the same as those of the 15th – they had offered their officers no violence but simply told them they had better go, and they, except Fenwick, left. The 15th continuously sent emissaries to the lines of the 30th, first asking and then threatening to join them – when the last message said if they did not come forthwith, the 15th would turn the guns on them. Fenwick, to the exasperation of his men, who did not want to kill him, begged him to leave. Seeing reason would not work, they said they would resort to force, at which Fenwick finally consented to go. They, sent 4 sepoys and an NCO to see him safely to the end of the cantonment, after which he was left to his own devices. He was left alone to wander across the plain and make his way as best he could, to the jungle.
In the station, after the work of plunder was done and the burning had commenced, the ill-gotten gains were brought to the parade ground, where a council of war was sitting, debating what to do next. As soon as the 30th joined the rest of the mutineers, a Brigadier, a Commandant of Corps, Adjutants and other staff were elected who presumed to take order of the chaos. Their attempts were fruitless; there was too much revelry in destruction and no one listened to them. All they succeeded in doing was placing a gun at the head of the bazaar and telling the terrified inhabitants if they did not submit to having their homes plundered, the artillery would open fire. The munshi who would report this to Pritchard was forced to remain in the city the rest of the night – when an opportunity came, he ran from the station, following in Pritchard’s wake. The only other man who stayed behind was in command of an artillery battery – he had stayed in the lines but while trying the keep his men under control the mutiny swept over him and he could no longer flee. His men protected him through the night and the following day until he was able to get away.
On the 29th of May, the fugitives turned up in the compound of the Commissioner’s house in Ajmer, others had made their way to Beewr instead – regardless of where they had chosen to go, Nusseerabad, was at least briefly lost. No sooner had they recovered from their shock, the news of the mutiny at Neemuch told in terse words, the station, “had gone.” It was the 3rd of June.
Located 120 miles south of Nusseerabad, Neemuch was garrisoned by the 72nd BNI, Fourth Troop First Brigade Horse Artillery (Native), left-wing 1st Light Cavalry and the 7th Regiment of the Gwalior Contingent. The station commander was Colonel Abbott of the 72nd. The greased cartridges had never made their appearance in Neemuch and although the outbreaks at Meerut and Delhi had caused some excitement, there was no outward sign of mutiny.
The problems for the officers started on the 28th of May with a rumour the Suddar Bazaar was being plundered. The men of the 72nd and the 7th Gwalior Contingent rushed for their arms, while their officers tried to restore order. They only managed to control their men by having the native officers stand in front of them and remonstrate with the troops that their behaviour was unwarranted. They were then told to take an oath of loyalty to the Government and their officers. Although this stayed the tide, nothing in Neemuch was as it seemed.
On the 2nd of June, it was evident the mutiny at Nusseerabad was already known and the officers, unlike those in that station, were less enamoured with their men than Pritchard had been. As a cautionary move, Abbott called upon the Raja of Kota and the Rana of Udaipur to march some of their troops towards Neemuch for the protection of the station. The request was quickly responded to by not only Captain L. Showers, officiating Governor-General’s Agent at Marwar and by Major Burton, Political Agent to Kotah, while in Neemuch, but Captain Lloyd also laid plans to save the European community. It was decided that without a defensible position in the station, in case of an uprising, they were to make their way 12 miles south of the station to the village of Dharroo on the road to Udaipur from whence the Rana’s troops were advancing.
According to the official report of the outbreak, from Captain Lloyd to Colonel Lawrence, he states,
“Colonel Abbott slept every night in a tent in the lines of his regiment without a guard or sentry, and latterly all officers did the same, even with their families. One wing of the 7th Regiment Gwalior Contingent held the fortified square and treasury, and the other wing was encamped close to, but outside the walls. Captain Macdonald, commanding the corps, resided entirely in the fort, for the purpose of better observing and controlling his regiment.
‘On the morning of the 2nd, Colonel Abbott informed me, in his own regimental lines, that, from the occurrences of the previous night, and from information he had received, he was of opinion that the outbreak could not be delayed more than a few hours.
I left him to secure a few of my most valuable records, and endeavour to secure a line of retreat for fugitives by the Oodeypore road, by means of a detachment of police sowars. Meanwhile, Colonel Abbott undertook to assemble all the native officers of the force, and endeavour to bring them to a sense of their duty, and to remove the distrust in each other which there was reason to believe was one cause of the prevailing excitement. After some discussion, all took oaths, on the Koran and Ganges water, that they now trusted each other, and would remain true to their salt. The commanding officer was requested to swear to his confidence in their faithful intentions, and did so, when the meeting broke up, all apparently being satisfied and loyally inclined. All continued quietly up to the evening of the 3rd.”
On the night of the 3rd of June, around 9.30 at night, five troopers of the cavalry galloped out towards the lines of the 72nd, calling, ” Get ready! Get ready!” The men stormed to the bells of arms and demanded their weapons, ostensibly to defend themselves against an onslaught by cavalry. As all the officers had taken to sleeping in the lines, they were there when the NCOs came and begged the commanding officer to give the men their arms. The request was acquiesced to and all the men retired peacefully to their huts.
Lieutenant Walker, who was with the artillery guns, was not having an easy time of it – his men were far from restive, and were positively mutinous. He managed to restrain them for two hours when suddenly some of them rushed the guns, ald loading them, and fired off two. The signal to rise had been given. The cavalry rushed to join them, followed in quick succession by the 7th BNI. The 72nd came out of their huts, formed into companies in the rear of the respective bells of arms while the cavalry was seen, with lit torches in their hands, heading off to the gaol. They released the prisoners and set the officers’ houses ablaze while the artillery began moving their guns.
“The tumult increased: the commanding officer of the 72nd Regiment was endeavouring to restore order on the right; the companies of the left-wing attempted to join the mutinous artillery by the front, across the parade, but on being
ordered back, they returned; afterwards, however, they went off by the rear. Order was now at an end; a company of the 72nd, led by an old mutineer, Subadar Nuthoo Pattuck, joined the artillery; the cavalry galloped about the road firing off their pistols at everything and nothing, and the only thing that remained to be done, was for the European officers and families to abandon the station. As the cavalry had possession of the centre of the cantonment commanding the road leading from the 72nd lines in the direction of Dharroo, their only plan was to try and reach Jacond, which place was distant ten miles, in a northerly direction, and on the route of the advancing troops of the Kotah Raja. The officers were assembled in the regimental quarter-guard, and the artillery becoming aware of this, brought a gun to bear on it. The native officers assured them their lives would be sacrificed if they remained any longer; so, after making an unsuccessful attempt to get the colours, they determined to leave the station. This was about one o’clock in the morning. Of the fate of the civil officers, of the artillery, cavalry, and Gwalior Contingent officers and their families, they were in total ignorance; but there was no time for inquiry, and no means of making any; so, guided by the flames of the burning houses and the pale light of the moon, they set out on their way to Jawud.“
The fugitives were met 5 miles outside of Jawud by the Assistant-Superindent of Kotah, Charles Burton and his mother and sister – Major Burton had left the Kotah troops at Deekeen, some 25 miles distant and had ridden over if nothing to soothe some frazzled nerves. It was just as well he was there – the next day, a messenger came, stating boldly the Neemuch Brigade had started their march to Jawud – it was deemed wiser to move further back to the camp of the Kotah troops. Finding the Kotah troops disinclined to move against the mutineers, the only choice was to halt until it was deemed safe to proceed to Jawund.
.Meanwhile the 7th Gwalior Contingent, Captain Macdonald was not an easy man to thwart. On the eventful night, he had 200 men accoutred, with their muskets loaded on the walls of the fort, while he himself intended to sleep in one of the bastions, to be on hand if needed. His orderly woke him as soon as the signal guns sounded. From his position, Macdonald could see the cavalry rushing through the cantonment, setting fire to the officer’s houses.
The gates of the fort were that night under the charge of the 3rd company of the regiment, under command of their subedar, Hari Singh. Macdonald, realising the crisis was finally at hand, ordered a messenger be sent to Lieutenant Rose, his second in command, who happened to be in the lines of the left wing of the regiment. Rose was to proceed with haste to the Macdonald’s position. The captain heard Hari Singh repeat the order but he did not see a messenger leave the fort. When he asked, the subedar said the message had been sent – in truth. Rose never received it.
Hearing nothing from McDonald, Rose proceeded with the pre-arranged plan – he was to parade the left wing with the view of joining his commanding officer. While getting his men underarms, a shot was fired by a sepoy of the 4th company, harming no one. He marched his men to the fort – only to find they refused to enter.
Calling on MacDonald, he entreated the officer to come down and talk to them. They hesitated but briefly and obeyed Macdonald’s order. They entered the fort – an additional company was told off to each side of the square, the gate was then closed and the drawbridge raised. Believing the gate would be the first part attacked Macdonald instructed Ensign Davenport (2nd Bombay Lancers, doing duty with the contingent) to join the party at the gate while he sent another party onto the walls, to act as support should the gate need defending.
“Captain Macdonald then went round and visited all the posts, endeavouring to induce the men to remain faithful, and promising a pecuniary reward to them if the treasure, &c., was preserved. He was met everywhere by assurances of loyalty and good behaviour, the only doubt expressed of their making an effectual defence behig in the event of guns being brought to bear upon the place. He then pointed out to them that nothing but heavy ordnance could be of the slightest avail against the fortifications, and this the mutineers were totally unprovided with, the guns of the troops being nothing more than six-pounders. The mortar would be useless in the hands of any but an experienced European officer. The colours of the regiment were unfurled and placed on the bastion, and the men called on to protect them from dishonour.”
The next two hours passed without incident – suddenly Macdonald was aware of movement. Men were quietly leaving the walls on small parties – when Macdonald asked Hari Singh what they were about, he answered they were going to get their bedding. Macdonald ordered them back. Half an hour later the incident repeated itself and at the same moment Lieutenant Gordon and Ensign Davenport came up. The gate had been thrown open on Hari Singh’s orders and they had been forced from their post at the point of the bayonet. Macdonald hurried down – the gate was indeed, wide open and the men were leaving. Entreaties only stopped the flood for a moment – it was soon clear the 7th Regiment of the Gwalior Contingent had no regard left for their officers. In a last-second, almost mad attempt, Macdonald seized one of the colours and Gordon the other – they then tried to call their men back, to rally around the colours but the report of two guns fired by the artillery put an end to that. Macdonald saw, just in time the cavalry was now advancing. He had no choice but to let his men leave.
Only 2 men of the 7th Gwalior Regiment remained with their officers for the first 63 miles of their flight from Neemuch – making their apologies, they returned to their comrades. Sadly for them, their consideration cost them their lives – upon returning to the regiment they were put to death as traitors.
Although both Nusseerabad and Neemuch were quickly reoccupied by the British, they spent several worrisome weeks in their destroyed stations, with barely a force enough to protect themselves, lest stave off a concentrated attack by mutineers. As for the mutinied regiments, they
“… hovered about the neighbourhood, taking first one road, then another, then returning, marching and countermarching, so that we could not tell what their plans were. They carried on their movements, too, with the utmost precision, and showed that they had not forgotten the lessons that had been taught them in the service of the Government. They made a great point of gaining accurate intelligence and had scouts mounted on fleet riding camels scouring the country and always accompanying the brigade at some little distance on each flank. Their camp regulations were conducted in the most approved military style, and they made a point of always halting on Sunday! At last, they made up their minds, after sacking Deolee, to proceed to Agra and Delhi…”
As for the 7th Regiment Gwalior Contingent, whose hastiness to revolt (a full 11 days before the mutiny at their home station) was viewed dimly by their commanders in Gwalior. Having acted against orders, they they threw in their lot with the rest of the mutinious regiments. Meanwhile, for Agra, it would be the end of talking, posturing and deliberating. The mutiny, which so many had tried to pass of as a temporary excitement had finally arrived – in the form of the combined forces of Naseerabad, Neemuch and Gwalior. When they ment Agra Brigadier Polwhele in the field on the 5th of July tt would spell another inglorious moment in the history of Agra in 1857.
As for Rajputana, the mutiny was not quite over and we will return here later.
The Mutinies in Rajpootana – Iltudus Thomas Prichard (1860)
A Missing Chapter of the Indian Mutiny – Liuet. General Charles Lionel Showers (1888)
Kaye’s and Malleson’s History of the Indian Mutiny Vol. III (1889)
The Rajputana Gazetteer Vol. I (1879)