The oudh Irregulars
In a previous post I have alluded to the Oudh Irregulars and their rather short history. As it is important to understand the distinction between regular and irregular units (they will come up over and over again in 1857), we shall take a closer look at the ill-fated Oudh Irregulars.
Following the Annexation of Oudh, the province was thrown into chaos. To contain it, a decision was made to form a new army – The Oudh Irregular Force.
Consisting of three batteries of artillery, 1 garrison battery, 3 regiments of cavalry and 10 regiments of infantry the intention was, as soon as they were fully kitted out, to form the garrison for the whole Oudh province.
However, putting together such a force takes time. Prudently, the then called “Army of Occupation” was not altogether withdrawn but remained in Oudh. This substantial force was to be complemented by the new Irregulars.
However, there was a small problem with the Army of Occupation – of the 21’000 men, there were barely any Europeans, save the 32nd Regiment of Foot (some 800 strong) , His and one battery of artillery.
Below, according to Colonel Bonham from whom the following chart is taken, the troops in Oudh were as follows:
Like the Punjab Irregular Force, which was created in 1851 and proved a complete success, the Oudh Irregulars were modelled on the same lines. Being outside the control of the regular army (hence the term, Irregular), the soldiers were not subject to parade ground drills. The idea was, like in Punjab, to have a force that was versed in swift tactical warfare in small detachments; they were placed under the direct control of the civil authorities, represented by the Chief Commissioner.
Some of the brightest young officers were enrolled to take on the creation of this ambitious force. As such, they were responsible for recruitment, buying up horses, training and clothing their men- in short, “everything connected with the complete organisation of the batteries – was left entirely in the hands of the battery commandants.”
How to Raise a Regiment – Henry Daly
One such man recruited for this position was Henry Daly.
Henry Daly did not start in the cavalry – he started his career in 1840 as a cadet in the Bombay Infantry. He served with the Bombay Column in the Punjab Campaign of 1848-49 and would be one of the last young men to be recruited by Sir Henry Lawrence.
Henry Daly had luck. A steady soldier who did not have any outward ambitions for leadership or advancement, he appears to have always been in the right place and more pertinently, at the right time.
Given the choice of a safe assistant post to the Adjutant General of the Bombay Army or the chance to raise his own cavalry corps in the Punjab Daly decided the Punjab was a far more exciting prospect. He had not been the first choice for this post – Neville Chamberlain had been, but he turned it down “on account of the wholly insufficient pay offered to the men.” What was Chamberlain’s loss ( and loss indeed as he regretted it wholly), was Daly’s gain.
He was given the duty of raising the 1st Punjab Cavalry, subsequently known as Daly’s Horse (which became 21st Prince Albert Victor’s Own Cavalry (Daly’s Horse) and later still the 11th Prince Albert Victor’s Own Cavalry (Frontier Force)).
“..unshackled by bank and, unaided by the Government advance”, Daly recruited, raised and equipped his cavalry corps, a regiment consisting of 4 British officers, and 6 troops,“each with its complement of native officers nearly 100 men, so that the corps is almost 600 strong…” The British officers themselves were a mixed bag, including Daly himself -a lieutenant from the Bombay Army to act as commandant,a captain from the Madras Army as 2nd in command and a cornet from the Bengal Cavalry as adjutant, with the fourth officer a surgeon.
The process of establishing the corps was unique.
“Here a native of good birth and character was (sic) to command his troop, in which, of course, a number of his own dependents and followers would be. His pay is nearly £300. He is allowed to mount a certain number of friends and followers on his own horses, otherwise the horse must be the property of the rider, who draws pay from the Government for the service and support of himself and his horse. The men arm, dress and mount themselves under the orders and responsibility of their commandants. Government provides nothing but pay and ammunition. The drill and discipline are the same as in the line. In almost every one of these corps are men of noble birth, whose fathers in former times were chiefs and rulers. I have several and more gallant soldiers no army contains.”
Daly went home on leave in 1852, 1 year earlier than allowed, thus forcing him to lose his regiment. Sir Henry Lawrence who appointed Sir William Hughes to succeed Daly’s position, wrote, “I give to the Governor-General’s words – I should be glad if it could be managed that Daly should return to the corps when he recovers.”
Fate had something else planned for Henry Daly. Returning to India in 1854, he needed to wait out two years with his original regiment of Bombay Fusiliers – on regular duties in Bombay and then in Karachi when his regiment was transferred – before receiving word from the Viceroy’s Private Secretary, “Go to Agra..” and “You are to command the Oudh Cavalry”. Daly had been recommended to Sir James Outram – Resident of the Court of Oudh – by none other than Lord Dalhousie to “have the organisation and command of three regiments of his own” in the soon to be formed Oudh Irregular Force.
Although, due to questions of seniority, and red tape (“As soon as Daly had obtained his Captaincy (1854), he was recommended for a Brevet Majority on account of his services at Multan, and Lord Dalhousie specially interested himself in the case. Some technical difficulty arose, and the step was not granted. A further reference home was then made on the subject, and the matter was still undecided when the Mutiny broke out.”). And yet, Daly still received command of the 1st Regiment of Oudh Irregular Cavalry.
Captain W.T. Johnson who had served with the 20th Regiment of Foot in the Crimea was to serve as Daly’s 2nd in command, Adjutant-Lieutenant Hope-Johnstone and Surgeon Greenhow of the Mhairwarra Battalion made up the rest of the complement.
Leaving his wife in Karachi – (she followed him shortly after), Daly hastened to Lucknow, arriving just as the Annexation was officially announced. With his previous experience at raising an irregular force, he wasted no time with arrangements and above all, recruiting. His wife left behind a very picturesque account.
“Every morning men and horses come to be selected for the regiment; they assemble on the open space before our house. The horses, wild-looking creatures, neighing and prancing, covered with all sorts of bright-coloured saddle-cloths and scarves from their noses to their saddle-girths; men from all parts of India: Afghans and Pathans, with their large loose trousers, loose white linen coats, and curious erections and scarves on their heads : fine- looking Sikhs: Hindus and Muhammadans. Many of the men of Henry’s old regiment have come down seeking service. He would like to raise his regiment of north country men, but the order is to enlist men of the King of Oudh’s regiments. An hour or two is occupied by Henry in inspecting these candidates, making them put their horses through all manner of evolutions to prove that they can ride; listening to their tales, reading their papers, etc.”
Initially restricted by James Outram to recruiting men from the old Oudh cavalry, who in Daly’s opinion were “a miserable lot,” he managed to persuade Outram to look a little further afield. “At my intercession he opened the door a little to allow half a dozen non-commissioned officers to be brought from other cavalry. I have Ghulam Mohi-ud-din, Ram Singh, (he would remain faithful to the end, long after the irregulars mutinied, dying of wounds at Lucknow) and two or three old friends now on their journey. Sundil Khanf wishes much to come, and I will gladly take him, if he can get leave. I have about 300 men now; some very fine: they move tolerably well even now. I have parade every morning at daybreak, drilling and parading them en masse directly they have learnt right from left. Burnett is selecting Sikhs for me. I will have a troop of them.”
Daly was convinced they would be the finest force India had ever seen and he was determined that even their equipment would be exceptional.
Writing to his friend, Captain Ross of the 1st Punjab Cavalry who was on leave in England, Daly had some very specific requests.
“Now you must help in a business matter. First the leathern accoutrements. Ridgeway shall supply them as before, and I want them begun without delay. Will you see whether patent leather would not be better. The pouches were too large before; we had to cut them down. Put this afloat at once. About carbines I will write more fully next mail._ I incline to think Sam Browne’s method of slinging preferable. There are two great advantages arising therefrom: the barrel up and the length increased without inconvenience in carrying, and with much advantage to the weapon. I would go to Westley Richards. He has a wider repute, and can afford to turn them out cheaper than Greener.” Then in another letter, he wrote,
“I wrote you a line about carbines in March. Subsequently Outram told me to wait until the matter had been referred to the Government as to whether they would provide them. Of course the Government expressed astonishment, and now I have drawn up a paper for you which I think will enable you to form an opinion what you should do, as I leave all with yourself! This Pritchett rifle-carbine is a beautiful weapon, and would enable us to go anywhere and hold any post; 10 a troop, the best shots in the corps. Look at the belts; there must be a small cap bag, which I have not ordered, and which before we were obliged to get from Cawnpore.”
In July, with obvious pride, Daly wrote,
” The regiment is now nearly full. Sundil Khan is to be transferred; Ghulam Mohi-ud-din and three or four others are here. I have made our old friend Ghulam Mohi-ud-din a jemadar, Salar Bakhsh, from the Guide Corps, comes as 2nd resaldar. I tried to get him in 1849 with Sobhan Ali, but Lumsden would not let him go. He is a fine, handsome-looking, soldierly fellow, up to his work. All the native officers I have here command troops well. The regiment begins to move in excellent order; 3 strong squadrons. I shall make a good corps. I have the same uniform as before. Scarcely any alterations worthy of remark. The clothing is now being made up in Bombay; it will be shipped to Calcutta for about Rs. 30, and in addition to being superior in quality will be cheaper than anything I could get here.”
By September, he was positively ecstatic.
“The regiment will be first-rate: it is finer as a whole than the ist Punjab Cavalry. The men I have taken by single files, and all have passed the ordeal. Horses good. I mean it to be the finest irregular cavalry in India, and so it will be.”
In March 1857, the 1st was declared fit for service and sent to their new post at Secrora.
The Beginning and the End
By spring 1857, under Brigadier Grey, the new Irregular Force was complete.
The Regular Garrison was distributed as follows:
Lucknow and environs:
Mariaon: the 13th, 48th and 71st BNI, Simons’ Bullock Battery
Mudkipore: 7th Light Cavalry
Fyzabad: 22nd BNI; Mills Field Battery
Sultanpore: 15th Bengal Irregular Cavalry
Sitapore: 41st BNI
The Irregulars went further afield:
In and around Lucknow: 2nd (Gall’s) and 3rd (Hardings) Cavalry (also known as the Sikh Horse, but the men were recruited from the old Oudh Service and not from Punjab), 4th and 7th Oudh Infantry; Ashe’s and Alexander’s Batteries, Irregular Garrison Company
Fyzabad: 6th Infantry
Gonda: 3rd Infantry
Secrora: 1st (Daly’s) Cavalry; 2nd Infantry; 1st Field Battery
Durriabad: 5th Infantry
Salon: 1s Infantry
Sitapore: 9th and 10th Infantry
Sultanpore: 8th Infantry
“The Irregulars jaunted out to their new stations happily enough. Sport was likey to be good and the stations…pleasant enough, although the hot weather was beginning and station amenities were but slightly developed…The men had run up their own lines and the Government contractors were at work on such details as bells of arms, magazines and quarter guards...Free from the most of the routine worries of the Regular Service, with youth at the helm and, often enough beauty at the prow, the boat of that Irregular Force sailed forth happily enough to the waters lulled before the storm..” Many of the officers had their families in tow (Daly had 2 children, one still quite an infant) and their wives, like their husbands, were steeling themselves for the rough and tumble life ahead. The new stations were also populated by specially selected civilians, each one with his own talent, and ready to inaugurate “…the shirt-sleeve Government of a non- regulation province...” what had worked in the Punjab, would certainly not fail in Oudh.
In March 1856, Sir Henry Lawrence arrived in Lucknow to take over a Chief Commissioner. The appointment should have happened earlier -as it was, Sir Henry arrived a little too late to undo the damage left behind by his predecessors.
Sir James Outram had left shortly after annexation, ordered home due to ill-health and in his place came Colville Coverley Jackson. The man who should have come out instead was Henry Ricketts, but Ricketts was needed of all things, to furnish a report “on the best means of extracting from the officers of Government the same amount of good public service for a less amount of public money.” While a highly qualified civilian was basically pushing paper and calculating figures, a volatile man, Colville Coverley Jackson was chosen. A civilian from the North-West Provinces and an expert revenue officer, Jackson, unfortunately, came with an infirmity of temper. Lord Canning was so worried about the appointment, he went so far as to warn Jackson to play nicely in Oudh be it with the people of the province or those civilians he would work with. Although Jackson, in the finest terms promised he would behave, there is no evidence in his favour that he even tried.
In Martin Gubbins, the Financial Commissioner at Oudh, Jackson met his match. Gubbins and the magistrate Mr. Ommanney, both had a far better understanding of the consequences of annexation on Oudh than Jackson did; they had taken time and great pains to remain on good terms with what was left of the old court, Gubbins had made extensive tours of the province to better establish a picture of what annexation meant to the people – neither it appears were particularly fond of Dalhousie’s Doctorine of Lapse, but duty was duty. Unfortunately, Mr. Jackson refused not only advise from the two men who could have helped him the most, he positively developed a near hatred of Martin Gubbins. In his turn, Gubbins gave as good as he got.
Within a few months, Jackson and Gubbins had commenced a war of their own,
“Jackson overstrained his authority, and unwisely and unkindly expressed his displeasure in language calculated to excite irritation and resentment, or whether Gubbins was the first to display an insubordinate spirit, and to provoke the censure of his chief by the attempted usurpation of his powers…. The sharp contention that grew up between them was soon made known to the Governor-General, who deplored and endeavoured to arrest it. How wisely and calmly he conveyed to the Commissioner an expression, less of his displeasure than of his regret, his correspondence pleasantly illustrated..”
Canning was powerless to stop the two men who had seemingly forgotten Oudh altogether and were “wasting their time and expending their energies in personal conflicts and criminations. Had Coverley Jackson taken half as much pains to see that the pledges of the British Government were fulfilled, and the annexation of Oudh rendered as little ruinous as possible to all the chief people of the province, as he did to convict his subordinates of official misdemeanours, it would have been better both for his own character and for the character of the nation. But whilst Jackson and Gubbins were in keen contention with each other, covering reams of paper with their charges and counter-charges and their vehement self-assertions, the generous nature of the Governor-General was grieved by complaints and remonstrances from the King, who declared, or suffered it to be declared for him, that the English officers in Lakhnao were inflicting grievous wrongs and indignities upon him and upon his family, seizing or destroying his property, and humiliating the members and dependents of his House.”
True or not, the story circulated as far as Calcutta – the stately palaces of Lucknow had been requisitioned by officers to house animals and the ladies of the zenana who had remained behind had been set adrift, penniless as beggars into the streets of Lucknow. Treasure of immeasurable value had been plundered and private property of the ex-King’s family had been auctioned off. And all this, while Jackson was furiously writing nasty letters about Martin Gubbins. Whether the stories were true or not was not important – what was, however, the very name of the government that had forced their hand in Oudh now looked like the very evil the people of Oudh feared. When Canning asked Jackson to investigate the allegations, he either ignored Canning completely or sent back evasive replies. Even Canning’s patience was wearing thin but he tried again to rope in his Chief Commissioner.
“I will not conceal from you,” he wrote to Mr. Jackson, “my disappointment at the manner in which from first to last you have treated this matter. Instead of enabling the Government to answer distinctly and categorically every complaint which the King has preferred, you have passed over unnoticed some upon which you must have known that the Government were without materials for reply. Upon placing your answers, now that all have been received, side by side with the King’s letters, I find myself quite unable to say whether any buildings such as he describes have been pulled down, and if so, why? – although one building, the Jelwa Khana, had been especially mentioned to the King, as in course of demolition – whether clogs or horses have been quartered in the Chatar Manzil, and especially whether a stoppage of the allowances to the King’s descendants has been threatened, a statement to this effect being pointedly made in the King’s letter of the 14th of September. You tell me that you have delayed your answers in order that they may be more complete. I can hardly think, therefore, that these matters have escaped you, and yet I do not know how otherwise to account for their being passed by. Be this as it may, the result of your course of proceeding is that the Governor-General is placed in an unbecoming, not to say humiliating position towards the King of Oudh. The King brings complaints, which, whether true or false, are plain enough against the officers of Government, and the Governor-General, after assuring the King that as soon as reference shall have been made to the Chief Commissioner, satisfactory explanation shall be given, and relying, as he has a right to do, that that officer will obey his instructions and do his duty, finds himself altogether mistaken, and defeated upon points which, however unworthy of notice they may appear to the Chief Commissioner at Lakhnao, cannot be slurred over by the Government in Calcutta. It matters nothing that these charges are instigated by disreputable hangers-on of the King, or that they are wholly or partly untrue, or even impossible. There they are in black and white, and they must be answered. It is surprising to me that you should have failed to appreciate the necessity.”
To make the Punjab model work, the EICo needed a man at the helm willing to proceed with a firm but fair hand. James Outram, due to ill-health was still out of the running, Ricketts was buried somewhere in bureaucratic reports, Windham of Crimea fame was a name that came up but Canning feared a man of the Queen’s army would strike a bad note with the men of EICo service and as he had no experience in India at all, he would most likely be overwhelmed with Oudh, no matter how popular he was in England.
So the last choice, which should have been the first, was Sir Henry Lawrence.
By the time Lawrence arrived in March 1857, too much damage had been done and all he could do was try and smooth it over as best he could, but time was against him. He had been against the Annexation Policy and when he arrived in Lucknow, he found to his sorrow, he had been right all along. Writing to Sir John Kaye in July 1856, Sir Henry pointed out the problems he soon would be facing.
“The appointment must be one of the pleasantest, unless, indeed, you feel as I do, that Government is going too fast, and that we are losing our good name among the Native States. I confess that I do not like the present system, and that I would gladly give up salary to change to a purely civil or military berth. When I read the tirades of the Friend of India, I half think myself (with many better men, including Elphinstone, Munro, and Clerk) a fool. The doctrine now is that it is wicked not to knock down and plunder every Native prince. My views are exactly what they were when I wrote the articles for you on the Marathas and on Oudh. My paper on Oudh would serve as a guide to present doings in all points save the disposal of the surplus revenue, which assuredly ought to be spent in Oudh. Nor, indeed, do I think that we should materially lose, or fail to gain thereby. Is it nothing that we should make a garden of the nursery of our Sipahis, and open out the resources of a province bordering for a thousand miles on our old ones? … But I repeat, that my taste for politics is gone. There is no confidence left in the country; and one does not feel that the people about Government House care one straw about one’s exertions on behalf of the Native States.“
In essays to the Calcutta Review, Sir Henry had pointed out many months earlier, “How unmindful we have been that what occurred in the city of Kabul may some day occur at Dehli, Mirath, or Bareli…What the European officers have repeatedly done (i.e. mutinied) may surely be expected from Natives. We shall be unwise to wait for such occasion. Come it will, unless anticipated. A Clive may not be then at hand.”
In all the bickering, no one had taken the army in hand, and when Sir Henry arrived, not only the regular army but the new irregulars were already teetering on the brink of mutiny.
With Jackson out of the way and Gubbins put in his place, Sir Henry started the tedious work of smoothing out the terrible mess the two men had managed to create. The rumours of the cartridges arrived in Lucknow, shortly after reports of incendiary incidents at the various stations leached into Oudh; finally the horrible news of the uprising at Meerut and the very fall of Delhi; there was Moghul king on the throne once more.
Sir Henry wasted no time putting down the mutiny in Lucknow – he took prompt action but it was not enough. His problem was two- fold – a new corps that owed him no loyalty and a regular corps who were ready to throw off that self-same loyalty and personally did not know anything about Sir Henry.
When the regular troops mutinied on the 30th of May in Mariaon Cantonments, Sir Henry went out personally to disperse them. Although they did shoot their officers, Brigadier Handscombe included, they left Lucknow largely untouched and a portion of the corps secured their colours and marched back to Lucknow to join the European troops, doing service later in the Lucknow Residency.
In Sitapur on the 3rd of June, the events were precipitated by the men of the 41st BNI, who, on hearing the news from Lucknow and by the rumour the 10th Irregulars were coming to take the treasure, guarded by a company of the 41st. Colonel Birch was shot; and the men of the Irregulars, hearing the shots responded by shooting three officers along with a woman and a child.
Barely four days later and in quick succession, Fyzabad, Sultanpore and Salon fell. In a week, not only Durriabad, but Gonda, Bairatch and Secora were in flames, their officers either dead or scattered, fleeing to Lucknow, Allahabad and Dinapur or to Naini Tal. Ironically, many of the officers who had so proudly marched out at the head of their brand new corps would end up fighting in rag tag forces of volunteers, not dissimilar to the irregulars they had raised a year earlier. Instead of leading their own men to glory in battle, they would end up facing them on opposite sides of the field.
Henry Daly was not there when his regiment – Daly’s Horse – mutinied. He had been scooped up for another, far more interesting position, leading the Corps of Guides. With the Guides, Daly would traverse India, from Punjab, up to very walls of Delhi and beyond. The only men of the Oudh Irregulars who did not mutiny and remained fighting for the British were the 75 Pathans and Sikhs had been recruited by Daly – the very same ones he had fought to bring to Oudh in the first place. One, a man named Sundi Khan, joined Daly at Delhi and another, Mohiuddin would be killed at the Siege of Lucknow. Of another, Salar Baksh, Daly wrote,
”There are a few pleasing traits of fidelity, and his is one of the best I know. He ought to have gone wrong, and there would be little blame attachable to him had he done so. He came to our officers after the outbreak—I mean officers at another station-—and asked them what he should do; they gave him cold comfort; sent him off and told him to go
down and join his regiment!! He went, was stripped and plundered by some mutineers of the 7th Cavalry; still he went on, and, I believe, joined Sir Henry in Lucknow.”
The difference was they were not men from Oudh, they owed the ex-King of the province no loyalty; Daly himself believed his regiment had been mishandled by their officers after he left. Had he stayed, the 1st Oudh Irregular Cavalry at least would not have mutinied, or so Daly conjectured, but there were too many officers in 1857 who paid for such loyalty with their lives.
On the 30th of June at Chinhat, it was a blazing force of 7000 men who routed the paltry 700 sent out from the Lucknow Residency to meet them – in their ranks were the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 8th and 9th Irregular Infantry, the 15th Bengal Irregular Cavalry, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Oudh Irregular Cavalry, and the 1st Battery, Light Field, Oudh Irregular Artillery. Many of them would then stay on to besiege the Residency for 5 gruelling months.
The Oudh Irregular Force appeared in but one edition of the army lists before 1857 swept them out of existence. They were not the first to mutiny, but they were quick to follow when the drum of uprising called them. Their homeland of Oudh needed her sons to return and the Oudh Irregular Force vanished out of existence, never to be reformed, or seen again.
An Account of the Mutinies in Oudh and of the Siege of the Lucknow Residency -Martin Gubbins, 1858
Narrative of the Mutinies in Oudh, Compiled from Authentic Records – Captain G. Hutchinson, 1859
Memoirs of General Sir Henry Dermot Daly – Major Hugh Daly, 1905
Oudh in 1857 Some Memories of the Indian Mutiny – Colonel John Bonham, 1924
A Lost Legion- The Story of the Oudh Irregular Force – George MacMunn