On the 1st of July, the first news Durand received a letter from the 20th of June from Agra. The report of the fall of Delhi was not just premature, it was false. He sat down at his writing desk to pen a telegraph to Lord Elphinstone, it was a quiet morning – there was no word from Mhow or from Holkar. Besides the news from Agra, it looked like at least today would pass by peaceably enough. Durand collected his thoughts and began to write. On the previous evening, one of his servants had warned him an uprising was to be expected – but Durand had ignored him. He as not a man who had time for rumours.
Suddenly a messenger rushed into the room, and in a panic, reported the Durand there was a commotion in the nearby bazaar. Durand laid down his pen and went out onto the Residency steps. As he came out the door, three guns opened fire and a shower of grape flew into the lines of the Bhil Contingent.
The 1st of July arrived, quietly for not only Durand but for Travers and the Shakespear family. Colonel Travers was outdoors, talking to the native officers of the Bhopal Contingent. Some men were cooking their morning meal, and others were bathing. The Shakespear family had finished their breakfast, and Shakespear, like Durand, was sitting at his desk, writing. And, like had happened to Durand, a servant suddenly rushed into the room, announcing there was a commotion in the bazaar.
Shakespear got up, calmly put on his hat and choosing a stout cane went outside. He could hear noise from the direction of the bazaar – as he walked down the road. He could see men of the Bhil contingent congregating, talking excitedly, but he thought nothing of it it. Shakespear walked on. He had not gone 100 yards when he was shocked to see the three 9-pounders, intended to protect the Residency, had been turned around and were now pointing directly at it. Shakespear turned around and ran back to his house. He told his wife to take the baby and then with their neighbours, the Duttons, Shakespear hurried them all off to the Residency. It was not a moment too soon. The three guns opened fire. At the same time, the infantry made a rush at the neighbouring buildings, attempting to cut off the escape of anyone fleeing to the Residency.
The cavalry, at their picquets, had taken the brunt of the grapeshot, came rushing out, mounting their horses as quickly as they could, surprised and wild with alarm. Travers, who had been outside talking to some of his men, reacted quickly. He hastened to the piquet at the stables and ordered the men to turn out – his plan, if he could make it work, was to charge the enemy guns.
Meanwhile, Captain Cobbe and a European sergeant worked the 2 guns of the Bhopal Contingent, and with the aid of the Indian gunners, answered the enemy. At the same time. captain F.L. Magniac, who had ridden straight up to the Bhopal and Malwa infantry with the purpose of bringing them to the residency’s defence, was soundly repulsed. He rode with some haste and reported to Durand the men were mutinous.
Travers was not having it any easier.
“The men, surprised and half-stupefied by the suddenness of the attack, showed at first no hesitation. While they were turning out, Travers caused the men of the picket to mount and rapidly conducted them to a point whence they could most advantageously charge the enemy’s battery. He then attempted to form them up to charge. But here, likewise, treason had done its work. The native officer of the picket had been ” got at.” And though the picket was three times formed for attack, three times did this man break the formation from the rear. This action threw the men into confusion. Two opposite feelings seemed to contend in them for mastery. But to stand still was fatal. Travers felt this, and feeling it strongly, he gave, notwithstanding that success seemed hopeless, the order to charge.” Gallantly leading, Travers reached the guns with only 7 men following him.
” As 1 cast my eye back, and found only six or seven following me, and not in good order, much as I despise the Mahrattas as soldiers I saw we could not by any possibility make an impression. Still, at it I went; to draw rein or turn after giving the order to charge was too much against the grain. I came in for a large share of the most polite attention. My horse was wounded in three places; I had to parry a sabre-cut with the back of my sword; but God, in his great mercy, protected me, and the dastardly gunners threw themselves under their guns. Had I had thirty or forty good sowars at the time, with their hearts in the right place, I would have captured their three guns and cut their 200 infantry to pieces; but what could half a dozen do against so many? The foe then moved into the plain in front…to blaze into the Residency. I instantly moved up with my two guns (the Subhedar Sewlale and the gunners behaving nobly)…the rest of my cavalry now came up, asking to be led to the charge; but I could find no bugler, nor could I get the men in proper order. They seemed uncertain who to trust – and to lead them on as they were then would have been destruction. They have been taken in flank by Holkar’s numerous cavalry and overthrown…so it was all up.”
Travers drove away the gunners and wounded their leader, Saadat Khan.“But not only was he not supported, but he and his five men were exposed to the fire supported, of the enemy’s infantry, now drawn up in order. For a moment, indeed, that infantry seemed inclined to waver; but when they recognised the small number of the men who had followed Travers, they opened a musketry fire against the Residency.” Travers had no chance of holding the guns and he quickly retreated. (Among the men who had attacked the guns with Travers, two, Nehal Singh and Harsa Singh received the Order of Merit and would serve for many years to come with the Central India Horse. Harsa Singh would be killed in 1884 by a tiger in the Goona jungles. Sir M. Gerard would erect a monument in his memory and the coinciding water reservoir was known by his name).
Travers’ charge had given Durand time to make hasty preparations to defend the Residency, had allowed the gunners to place their guns in position, and for the officers to turn out and form up their men. Durand had also had enough time to pen a hasty message to Colonel Platt at Mhow, telling him the Residency had been attacked and Hungerford was to make haste to Indore with the artillery. He gave the note to Travers just as he arrived, with the order to forward it to Mhow. Travers gave it to one of his troopers whom he trusted, but he doubted if the note would ever reach Mhow.
The mutineers had recovered from the shock of Travers’ charge, and now moved their guns round to the left of the barracks, into the open ground, with the hope of taking up a position from which to attack the Residency from the front. Travers quickly countered by pushing his 2 guns forward by two hundred yards to the right front of the Residency and directed the gunners to concentrate their fire on the enemy’s gunners. The order was obeyed with such energy, one of the mutineer’s guns was disabled and the infantry was forced to retreat. Durand now saw an opportunity to counterattack.
The cavalry came up in “excellent formation” but despite the efforts of the officers and Durand’s haranguing, refused to charge. Instead, 30 of them turned around and galloped off towards Sehore, shouting the Europeans were being massacred. The rest stood their ground, “helpless and panic-stricken, afraid of each other.” The Hindus and the Sikhs suspected the Muslims of treachery, while the Muslims proclaimed if they turned their backs, the Hindus and Sikhs would murder them. Instead, they divided up into separate parties and scattered themselves around the residency grounds, each vying with the other for better shelter from the firing, and remained “passive spectators of an assault which with union and heartiness they might have prevented.”
Travers refused to give up. Furious at the behaviour of the Bhopal contingent, he ordered Captain Magniac to try, once again, to rally his men and attack the one battery that was lying defenceless in the open. Magniac obeyed but his men did not. Repulsed once again, he returned to say he men would not follow him. Travers turned now to the infantry, convinced a bayonet charge would set things right. The 200 men of the Mehidpur contingent stared at him blankly and refused to fight. He turned back to the remanents of the Bhopal Contingent and found only 12 were willing to follow him. The rest “levelled their muskets and their officers” and told them to be off.
Meanwhile, the Bhils, the only contingent that had not shown themselves mutinous, but only terrified, allowed themselves to be formed up and brought under cover to the Residency.
“They were accordingly brought to discharge inside the Residency in the hope that they might be prevailed upon to discharge their pieces at the enemy when sheltered by stone walls. But. meanwhile, the rebels, finding that no advantage had been taken of their first check, and rightly conjecturing that the trained Sipahis had refused to fight them, had completed their artillery movement, and were pouring in many directions a fire of round shot and grape. Under the influence of this fire, the Bhils were completely cowed, refused even to discharge their pieces, and abandoning their posts at the outer windows, crowded into the centre rooms. The rebel infantry was forming up, evidently with the intention of taking advantage of the effect of the fire of their guns.”
After this final refusal, there were only 14 Indian gunners, eight officers, two doctors, two sergeants and 4 men of the telegraph department and one postmaster left to defend the Residency but the 5 were useless. The state of their nerves was no better than the Bhils and they were “unable, either from alarm or from being unnerved by the slaughter which they had escaped, to use their arms. They did not fire a single shot.” In their midst were 8 women and 3 children. 39 civilians lay dead in the grounds, killed as they fled for safety.
Outside, the mutineers’ officers were calling on their men to charge assault, and their ranks were rapidly filling up. From the estimation of the men in the Residency, the odds were horrific – without any support, they were 31 men, the Indian gunners included with 2 guns, facing a force of 600 trained sepoys of Holkar’s guard, the entire rabble of Indore and 500 mutinous troops within range of their defences. The insurgents had already taken up positions in the buildings around the Residency and were manning the roads, – all said and done, the Residency would shortly be attacked from all four sides and there was nothing Durand or anyone else could do.
To defend the Residency would have been valiant but impossible – maybe they could hold out until Hungerford arrived from Mhow, if he ever received the note, but he could arrive at the earliest in 2 hours; besides this, the Residency was poorly provisioned, there was not even enough water to see them through the day. Durand could have formed up his remaining men and attempted to cut his way out of the Residency but they would have had to leave the women and children behind, which was impossible.
As for the mutineers, things could not have gone better.
Shortly after eight in the morning, Saadat Khan, an officer in Holkar’s cavalry, followed by eight troopers, had galloped to the lines of Holkar’s troops positioned between the city and Residency, shouting, “Get ready! Come on and kill the sahibs, it is the order of the Maharaja!” A rumour had already got about that Durand and treasury, some £150’000 in silver were about the depart for Mhow. As it turned out, Durand had refused to remove the treasury and if he had intended to, he could not have done so without the help of Major Travers – the treasury, on the 1st of July, was closed. Yet rumours do, as we have seen in other mutinies, serve their purpose.
Holkar’s troops immediately turned out, the gunners (whose guns had been turned the night before to face the Residency) ran to their positions and at Saadat Khan’s orders, opened fire. The infantry in the meantime, had been joined by various rabble-rousers from the city and they attacked the outlying houses of the grounds, killing anyone they found. They mustered 1400 sabres, and 2000 infantry and could, at a moment’s notice bring another 29 guns to bear on the Residency. As for Holkar, he was powerless to stop them. Victory seemed close at hand – without the support of Hungerford, who, even if he arrived on time to prevent the inevitable slaughter at the Residency, would be unable to stop them. In Travers’ estimation, “…no field artillery could drive the enemy from such a position; infantry alone could do this.” But the infantry in the Residency enclosure was most disinclined to assist their officers and might, with a flash, turn on the Residency. Their next move was to move on the Residency with the guns and cavalry and cut off any retreat. Their commandant, Bans Gopal, nor any of the other officers made even the slightest attempt to stop them.
The situation for the besieged was hopeless, or so it seemed. Durand was not a man to give up without a fight, after all, he had blown open the gates at Ghazni and the officers with him were not men to shirk in the face of impossible odds. But even for them, with all their years of experience in warfare, the situation was beyond their control. At this moment in the crisis, when everything seemed lost, a few of the cavalry that had remained huddled together at the back of the residency building, sent a message through Captain Magniac that they were contemplating consulting their own safety (i.e. leave) as any further defence was hopeless, and if they did not move immediately, their retreat would be cut off. They begged that this might be their last chance to save the women and children – and they would escort the besieged anywhere they wished to go.
Not everyone would be leaving Indore.
One of the first areas to be attacked was the Telegraph and Post Office. On hearing the approached tumult, Mr. Beauvais ordered his horse and carriage be brought from the stables to the back of his house and into it, he put his wife, daughter and grandchild. As they drove off, to Beauvais’ and his son-in-law’s horror, they were fired upon and killed. There was nothing for it – the two men ran with all their strength to the Residency, arriving, uninjured but in such a state of shock they were unable to even hold their rifles. The other casualties on that fateful morning were mostly from the telegraph department – they were either killed directly in their homes or as they tried to escape the onslaught of the mutineers. Some of their bodies were so severely mangled, identification was nigh impossible. The loss of life has been estimated as few as 25 and as high as 39. How this discrepancy came about is easily explained. Travers, in his account, mentions 39 Europeans but there are only 22 mentioned on the memorial tablet at Indore – Mrs. Beauvais along with her daughter and her granddaughter were memorialised separately. Who the rest were, in Travers’ account is somewhat mysterious. It must also be mentioned, only 2, Macmahon and Brooks were actually English, the rest of the dead were Anglo-Indians (Eurasians, in 1857) but this author refuses to make this distinction, nor did Travers. They were:
Mr. Alphonso, Bandmaster in Holkar’s employ – he was Portuguese, from Goa
Mr. Avery, superintendent Telegraph Office and his wife
Mrs. Mary Ella Beauvais, aged 36 , wife of E.T. Beauvais
Mr. Bone, assistant, Telegraph Office and his wife
Mr. Butler, assistant, Telegraph Office, wife and one child
Mr. Thomas Henry Brook of the Telegraph Department
Mrs. Elizabeth Angelina Crawley, aged 23 and her daughter, Amelia Frances Mary, aged 3. Her husband was one Mr.T. Crawley, assistant agent to the opium department
Mr. Macbeth of the Veteran Establishment, wife and five children
Mr. MacMahon, Civil Engineer
Two Parsis, unnamed
W. Norris, an engineer, who had been supervising the construction of new barracks near the Residency when the firing started, watched all the labourers dropped their tools and ran off towards the bazaar. He quickly mounted his horse and with two others, Mr. Martin and Mr. Ross MacMahon fled. The rebels pursued the three men, killing MacMahon, and captured Norris. He was taken prisoner and brought before Holkar. Holkar ordered him escorted to his palace and took him under his protection
James M. Knapp, the Central India Agency surgeon, was at the Residency hospital at the time the noise from the bazaar started. He left the hospital on foot. Near the gate, where the Bombay-Agra roads meet, he found 2 sowars of the Bhopal Contingent, idly sitting in front of their barracks. When he asked them what the commotion was, they replied it was nothing, the sepoys and bazaar people were having a row. He continued towards his bungalow and noticed many of the Bhopal sowars, resplendent in their red coats, gathered in groups of two or three over the parade ground. He reached his bungalow just as the 3 guns aimed at the Residency opened fire. He found his house empty – his faithful servant, on his own initiative, had already escorted his wife and two of his guests to the Residency. Knapp had enough time to grab his medicine chest and rush to the Residency to join them.
The Residency Abandoned
Much to his humiliation, Durand was forced the accept the offer of the escort. The mutiny had now lasted 2 hours and it was 10.30 in the morning. Hungerford, if he was coming from Mhow, would not arrive for at least another 2 hours, by which time the mutineers would be so positioned, it would be impossible for Hungerford to do anything if he could get through at all, there was no word from Holkar, who at this point Durand suspected of base treachery and staying was out of the question.
After consulting with the other officers, Durand and Travers organised the little garrison for evacuation. The mutineers had cut off all access to the horses and carriages in the stables, leaving no choice but to pile the ladies and children onto the artillery wagons, drawn by bullocks. With the Bhils and the cavalry covering the rear, the little party moved slowly out of the Residency compound, under fire from Holkar’s guns. As they moved off, with a few parting shots from the guns, and “the pleasure of seeing their property burning before they got clear of the Residency” it was still not clear where they should go. On the retreat, only one man was killed, shot before they left the grounds, his head taken clean off by a cannonball. No one would have missed him if Travers had not seen his horse standing by the corpse.
The logical destination was Mhow, with the chance of meeting Hungerford on the way.
The road to Mhow from the Residency was completely under the control of the mutineers and they covered the bridge over the Khan River. There was the possibility of crossing another bridge, further up, but it would not have served their purpose as their retreat was impossibly slow (bullocks are not known for their speed) and the mutineers would have had ample time to cut them off. Besides, the remaining cavalry was most disinclined to go to Mhow. They wanted to go home, and home was in Sehore, where their families were. However, Durand resolved to push onto Mandelshwar with some idea of a rendezvous with the illusive column of General Woodburn.
As such, Durand and Travers sent notes to Hungerford, explaining they had left Indore and to prevent him from falling into an unfortunate predicament, they were now heading for Simrol. The troopers were dispatched cross country to find Hungerford and stop him from coming to Indore. At this point, Hungerford, who had received the message from Durand, had not even started – he would not leave until noon.
To cross to Mandelshwar they would have to traverse the Simrol pass, which, as Durand soon found out, was occupied by the very cavalry and artillery who he and Holkar had sent off before the mutiny for outstation duty, with the hope of being rid of them. This should have been reason enough to avoid Simrole and the Bhopal cavalry thought so too – they were willing to escort Durand and his party and protect them from an assault on the road but would not risk their lives for them at Simrole or anywhere else for that matter. They would escort them to Sehore and nowhere else. So Durand was forced, once again to change his route. What awaited them in Sehore, was anyone’s guess and it was still over 100 miles away.
The march was brutal.
The ladies were mounted on the gun wagons, sitting on the shot and powder boxes, dragged along at the inhumanly slow speed of 3 miles an hour by bullocks. When the sun was not blazing, they were drenched to the skin by the monsoon rain. Behind them came the officers and the few men of the cavalry who had not deserted them, further behind came the 2 guns they had managed to save. Stops were few and short; as determined as he had been to hold Indore, Durand was just as determined now to push on with all speed. His hope was his friend, Sikandra Begum, would not abandon him in his time of need.
Durand looked at the whole situation as a personal affront.
“I never witnessed such wretched treachery and cowardice as drove us from Indore…The Bhopal and Mehidpore Contingent Infantry would not fire a shot, or obey an order, and threatened to shoot their European officers. The Bhopal Contingent Cavalry never recovered from their surprise, were panic-stricken, and from the first quite beyond the control of their officers. As for the Bhils, as fast as I put them behind pillars, or bays of windows, undercover for the defence of the Residency, the moment my back was turned, or that of their European officer, they used to collect together in the centre room. We could have repulsed the attack if we had had anything that could fight…It was the most painfully disgusting affair I ever underwent…”
“First came the humiliation of being forced to withdraw before an enemy that I despised, and who, could I have got anything to fight, would have been easily beaten back. As it was with only 14 Golundauze who would stand by their guns, we not only held out our own for about a couple of hours but beat back their guns and gained a temporary advantage…we retired unmolested in the face of superior masses, whose appetite for blood had been whetted by the murder of unarmed men, women and children. Of all the bitter, bitter days of my life, I thought this the worst, for I never had to retreat, still less to order a retreat myself, and though the game was up, and to have held on was to insure the slaughter of those I had not the right to expose to such a fate without an adequate hope of object, still my pride as a soldier was wounded beyond all expression, and I would have been thankful had anyone shot me.”
His wife, Annie, was no less displeased. Unlike her husband who bore his humiliation with some fortitude, the staunch daughter of the army, (her father was a general and generations of her family had served in the army). She was disgusted by the conduct of the troops, to be sure, but what truly infuriated this memsahib was the two officers who sorely provoked her as their “one idea seemed not to hold out to the last but to be off and save their wives and themselves with all possible speed…” They had tried to convince Durand to retreat well before any attack had occurred and when it finally did, wasted no time in looking for a way out. As for the redoubtable Annie, she was “…more anxious to remain than go and really did not contemplate our being driven to retreat by the miserable cowardice of our own troops…” She also gives Captain Magniaic and his wife the what for, by stating, besides being terrible alarmists, “….bored me beyond expression with daily and hourly histories of what was going to happen…Mrs. M. was a perfect torment…(her) name should have been spelt without the ‘g’…” When the woman “rushed up from her own room below, when Holkar’s artillery opened fire on us…she half dressed, with her hair streaming about her face…the image of dispair and terror. I cannot comprehend any woman with half a grain of sense exhibiting such desperate alarm….but she had been living for weeks in continual panic, consequentially when danger came, she was unfit to bear it decently, and, really, she was quite a nuisance in the house.”
She further stated,
“One lady was furious with me because I expressed unqualified indignation at the cowardice that had forced us to retreat. She thought I ought to be grateful to the men for saving our lives…I would willingly have remained if Henry could have got rid of the other ladies, rather than have him exposed to the distress and mortification of retreating.”
It is a shame that none of the historians who describe the Indore mutiny bothered to add Annie Durand as one of the defenders of the Residency. She would have shouldered a gun, eight months pregnant as she was, if only her husband had let her. As it was, she was bundled into a wagon and carried away from the Residency, whether she wanted to be saved or not.
They arrived in Ashta on the 3rd of July and were greeted to their horror by the guard drawn up along the river bank and across their road, with an accompanying crowd of townspeople. For the party, who had come so far, it looked like the end of the road – if they must make a last stand, it might as well be here. Before the swords could hit their necks, the ladies and children were hastily dismounted from the limbers and the guns were made ready for action. Before a shot could be fired, a messenger appeared – it was a guard of honour, he said, and they had come to escort them Sehore.
They arrived at Sehore on the 4th of July. The retreat had come to an end but it was not over. From Bhopal Sikandra Begum informed Durand she would do anything to protect him, but his presence in her territories was fraught with danger. Her army was perilously close to mutiny and Major William Henry Rickards, Political Agent to Bhopal, but based in Sehore, had already been advised to flee to Hoshangabad. Fourteen sowars from Indore had arrived in Sehore before Durand without the permission of the Begum and they had been openly fraternising with her troops, instigating her men to rise. She was doing what she could to stop her territory from rising but she could not protect Durand for more than a day. As for the cavalry that had escorted Durand from Indore, many were displeased with the snail’s pace of the party and had simply deserted on the way or rode far ahead of the party, proving themselves, once again, useless. As it was no one molested Durand’s retreat and for that at least he should have been grateful.
The next day, Durand pushed onto Hoshangabad, still determined to meet up with Woodburn’s column. It was here he heard of what had happened at Mhow and for the next three weeks, no one would know what Durand was doing. He vanished. Holkar had said “Not one will stand by me,” when he was speaking to Durand about his troops – it begs to wonder if now perhaps he felt the same way about Durand.
Poor Colonel Platt – The Mhow Uprising
For the events at Mhow, we must now return to the 1st of July.
The message from Durand reached Colonel Platt at 10 o’clock in the morning. It was a hurried note, stating, “
“ Send the European Battery as fast as you can. Wo are attacked by Holkar.” Platt had heard firing in the distance, coming from Indore, but until the note arrived, he had no idea what had happened.
Platt immediately turned the battery out, with two men told off as escorts for each gun and wagon, they were further armed with muskets and mounted on the limber boxes. The affair would have taken longer to organise had Captain Hungerford not turned out his guns earlier and parked them in front of the barracks, and organised a nightly guard of men with their horses harnessed, ready to move out.
Hungerford left Mhow at about half-past eleven. The battery had advanced halfway to Indore and had stopped at Rao when a sowar rode up to him with a note in pencil from Colonel Travers stating, “ We are retreating on Simrolw on the Mundlaysar road from Indore.’’ The sowar hastily added that Colonel Durand and the officers and ladies were with Colonel Travers and Colonel Durand would not retire on Mhow, as Mhow was in Hollkar’s territories, and he anticipated the station would be attacked by Holkar’s troops either that night or the following morning. “There being no road to Simrole which I could follow, the battery was brought back to Mhow as quickly as possible.”
Back at Mhow, Platt dispatched two flank companies of the 23rd NI under the command of Captain Towers and Lieutenant Wesmacott, down the Bombay road. They were to bring back to Mhow two of Holkar’s brass nine-pounder guns, which had passed through the station two hours earlier. A troop of 1st Light Cavalry was sent under Captain Brooke and a subaltern to overtake the guns -. they charged and captured them. By 3pm, the guns were brought into the fort at Mhow, at the loss of a few of Holkar’s gunners who had valiantly protected the guns to the last.
Colonel Platt, still convinced of the loyalty of the 23rd, who he believed were “khoosh and willing,” devoted himself to defending the cantonments from what he supposed would be an attack from Indore. A picquet of Light Cavalry was sent five miles on the Indore road under two lieutenants, and another of 50 sepoys under Lieutenant Simpson was sent to the north of the cantonments, near a ravine.
Captain Hungerford later wrote “Colonel Platt met me on reentering cantonment s I gave him Colonel Travers’ note, and told him what the sowar had said, requesting permission at the same time to take my battery into the Fort, as the Fort could be defended for any length of time. Colonel Platt would not hear of it. At the artillery barracks, all the wives and families of officers and men had taken refuge. The barracks could not be well defended, from their extent and position. I urged repeatedly on Colonel Platt, during the afternoon, the advisability of defending the Fort but only at the very last moment could he be persuaded to allow me to enter it. At half-past 6 pm. Colonel Platt rode down to the artillery barracks and told me to enter the Fort.”
Platt ordered all the officers to remain in the lines with their men through the night, ready to turn them out at a moment’s notice and keep them under arms. He also increased the arsenal guard to 50 men of his own regiment- everything was ready, in Platt’s estimation to meet the rascals from Indore. Not everyone shared Platt’s conviction.
Captain Trower of the 23rd tried to warn Platt something was wrong with the regiment. The men were collecting in groups, muttering, some of them clutching their muskets- Trower went to warn Platt, but the poor colonel, besotted with his regiment as he was, thanked the captain and sent him on his way.
At 9.30pm, the officers of the 1st Light Cavalry, having dined at their mess, went to their lines. Captain Brooke and Lieutenant Chapman, whose tent was pitched close to the main guard, tried to get some sleep. Suddenly at 10 pm, a small bungalow close by burst into flames. Brooke’s companion got up and went to see what was happening. On reaching the guard, he found Lieutenant Martin, the Adjutant, in animated conversation with the guard.
“I joined him, and observed one man in my troop — a villain; he had his carbine and began to cavil with Martin about some men Brooke and I had killed in the morning. I, feeling sleepy said to Martin, ‘ I ’ll turn in,’ but good God! -I had hardly turned my back, and got to Brooke’s side, when an awful shriek arose from the men, and the bullets whizzed round us in torrents.”
Chapman leapt out of his tent and saw Martin running across the parade ground towards him and Brooke. With the thought that their last moment on earth had indeed come, the three men ran for it – the fort was a mile off.
“I led to the fort, a mile off. The men kept following us, and the bullets fell thick. Having got across the parade ground about 500 or 600 yards we came to the hill with the church at the top: and when at the top, Martin caught hold of me exclaiming, ‘ For God’s sake stop! ’ I caught hold of his arm and said, * Only keep up and follow,’ but at this moment I felt I was done. “We parted, as I thought, only to meet in death.” Brooke and Chapman rushed on. “ By this time the infantry had all risen; and as I ran, the ground was torn up with bullets and they fell thick around me. Their lines were in a direct line between the fort and ours so that we poor fellows had to run the gauntlet of both fires.”
Chapman, about a quarter mile from the fort, ran up to a bungalow; two Indians were standing outside it. The subaltern “simply took their hands, barely able to speak, and said, ‘Save me.’ They did – to them, I owe my life. ”
Bundling him inside, the infantry hard on his heels, they hid him as best they could. Some sepoys came to the door but did not see him- when they had passed, his friends disguised him in their clothes and thus attired, Chapman ran the rest of the way to the fort. “ Can I ever make you feel the deep thankfulness that was in my heart as I ran across the open plain -up the hill to the fort. The artillerymen were manning the walls, and the sentry’s call was never more thankfully received; and I cried friend I friend ! and found myself inside.” Brooke and Martin too, and they were soon drawn in over the walls of one of the bastions. Shortly after, the riding master arrived, exhausted but unhurt.
As for the loyal 23rd NI, we shall now see how they behaved.
The officers of the 23rd had dined that night close to the lines in the house of the Sergeant-Major. After dinner, they sat outside, enjoying the cool night breeze for some time and then made off to their beds in their bell tents, positioned in the lines of each of their companies. “As they were moving away, someone said, ‘The report is, the regiment will rise at ten tonight.’ The major answered, ‘Oh, very well; let’s wait and see.'”
The words were hardly said when they heard shots from the cavalry lines. They rushed towards their companies.
“Several of them, thinking an attack was made by Holkar’s troops, rushed to the quarter guard and to their own companies to turn their men out to repel it, but the true state of the case soon became evident. The men were not only deaf to their officer’s orders, but fired at them as they were standing in front of the lines, and soon the whole parade ground was whistling with bullets fired from every direction. Nothing could now be dne, and the officers made their escape to the arsenal, fired on as they went by the men. None of them were however touched.”
All they received were shots, forcing the officers to retreat in haste to the fort. When they arrived, they found Colonel Platt ordered the native guard disarmed and turned out of the fort, and then ordered Hungerford’s battery to turn out. He then called on his officers to follow him back to the lines of the 23rd and try to calm the men. Futility, in this case, can be named Platt.
The colonel was followed by his adjutant, Captain James Fagan, who having already been obliged the run the gauntlet once that night, nevertheless mounted his horse, remarking only that it really was too late. Platt replied, “You are the man I always took you for.” They rode out of the gates to the lines of the 23rd. Hungerford dismissed the guard as Platt had ordered and then organised his battery.
Within half an hour, the battery moved out. The horses were tired from the morning’s exertions, and several drivers had absconded. As it advanced up the infantry parade ground, they sustained some fire, but they could not see where the shots were coming from. As it was, there was not a mutineer to be seen. The bungalows, burning luridly illuminated their way but the sepoy’s huts were quiet and dark. Hungerford halted the battery opposite the centre of the infantry lines, to wait for Platt and Fagan. There was no sign of them, and again, the sepoys opened fire. Hungerford unlimbered his guns and fired several rounds of grape and round shot straight into the lines.
“ There was some groaning and noise, but nothing visible, and in a few minutes everything was perfectly quiet,” he observed. By now, without anyone noticing, after Hungerford had fired on them, the whole of the cavalry had trotted away in regular order and was on the road to Indore; behind them, fleeing in some disorder were the infantry.
Hungerford returned to the fort. There was still no sign of Colonel Platt or Captain Fagan and Major Harris of the cavalry was missing.
The Fort at Mhow
Early the next morning, an officer, who had spent the night hiding in the bazaar, crept up to the fort. On being let in, he told Hungerford that Platt, Fagan and Harris were lying dead. Platt and Fagan had been killed in the lines of the 23rd and Harris on the road, shot by his own men. A detachment, supported by 2 guns with European gunners, escorted by a small party of volunteers and led by Captain Brooke, was dispatched to look for the bodies. It did not take long to find them. He, Fagan and one Indian officer were found laying on the parade ground in front of the bell of arms, next to their dead horses. Brooke was the first to find Platt.
“When we found him … both cheeks were blown off, his back completely riddled with balls, one through each thigh; his chin smashed into his mouth, and three sabre-cuts between the cheek-bone and temple; also a cut across the shoulder and the back of the neck. Two others were killed – one native Indian and one cavalry officer. Total, three. I never saw such mangled bodies in my life, and never wish to see the like again.’” Fagan was cut through and through with bullets. Harris’ body, found moments later, was riddled with shots and he had a sword cut across the throat. No one was sure what had happened.
“It is said by some ten drummers, who made their escape, that the colonel went up to a body of sepoys and commenced haranguing them; and they hearing the guns coming, and thinking he was trying to keep them engaged till they could be opened upon them, let fly a volley at him and the adjutant. Another account says that some cavalry troopers galloped up, saying they had murdered their commanding officer Major Harris, what were the infantry going to do! When just at that time Colonel Platt appeared, a whisper ran amongst them, and before a moment elapsed, he was shot down.”
In any case, it appears, that it was the approach of Hungerford and his battery that had pushed the men to kill their officers and after he showered them with shot, the rebels fled from Mhow. Dr. Thornton, of the 1st Light Cavalry, whose house was too far away from the fort, providentially crept into a drain and stayed there until he heard the guns coming.
The bodies were carried back to the fort and buried in the grounds, later they were disinterred and reburied in the cantonment cemetery at Mhow.
Later that morning, another officer who had been given up for dead, Lieutenant Simpson was escorted to the fort by 2 men of the 23rd who had risked their lives to protect his. Major Cooper promised them promotion to the rank of havildar, but both men, after expressing their apologies, said they could not desert their regiment – they had done their duty by their officer but could do nothing more. Their duty now, they said, lay with their regiment and they left, disappearing towards Indore.
As for Hungerford, he now set about provisioning the fort and, writing in the following days, he reported,
“The officers now formed themselves into a volunteer corps and relieved the artillerymen of their night watches, snatching sleep and food when and where they could. The women most of them of gentle birth, were huddled together and they had to do everything for themselves and employ all their time in sewing bags for powder for the guns, well knowing the awful fate that awaits them if the place is taken; there has not been a sign of fear, they bring us tea or any little thing they can, and would like to keep watch ou tho bastions if we would let them.” He continues,
“From the blown state of my horse in the morning, and the darkness of the night which prevented our seeing anything, it was impossible to follow. the mutineers, and as I had no covering party of any description, I returned to the fort after having fired several rounds of round shot into the lines.
“During the last three days, we have laid in ample stores of provisions for some time, and are prepared to hold our position until relieved; we are threatened by an attack from the rajah of Indore, or the mutineers, and are anxious and quite ready to meet them, but as sudden retribution should reach the scoundrels, who have shown such treachery and ingratitude to their benefactors, I trust that Colonel Woodburn may be ordered to hurry on a portion of his dragoons, by the aid of whom we can amply avenge ourselves for what has been done.
Yesterday and today I have turned out a portion of my battery, accompanied by flanking parties of officers, to destroy the villages surrounding Mhow, in which many of the mutineers have taken refuge, and from whence they have turned out to burn and pillage the houses in the cantonments. Several villages have been burned, much property recovered and sepoys and troops destroyed.”
Of the men of the 23rd, only the Mohammedan drum major and five Christian drummers remained with their officers. The colours were carried away by the troops and the regimental mess house burned to the ground. Captain Hungerford, after securing whatever armaments could be recovered, ordered the regimental magazine blown up. He now had the onerous duty of standing in for Colonel Durand who was nowhere to be found and holding the fort at Mhow until someone could relieve him. At his disposal, he had 91 officers and NCOs. The fort was old but the walls were thick; he had enough ammunition and though they would not live like kings, at least they would not starve. Hungerford declared martial law in Mhow; he now had to wait and hold his position.
The question remains – where was Durand and in all this tumult, what was Holkar doing? The answer is more complicated for nothing in 1857 is simple.
Annals of the Indian Rebellion – Noah Alfred Chick (1859)
Bulletins and Other State Intelligence for the Year 1858, Part IV -T.L. Bevan (1860)
Central India During the Rebellion of 1857 and 1858 – Thomas Lowe (1860)
Last Counsels of an Unknown Counsellor – John Dickinson, edited by Major Evans Bell
History of the Indian Mutiny 1857-58 Vol. I – Colonel G.B. Malleson (1878)
The Life of Major-General Sir Henry Marion Durand – H.M. Durand C.S.I. (1883)
The History of the Indian Mutiny Vol. I – Charles Ball (1892)
Kaye’s and Malleson’s History of the Indian Mutiny of 1857-8 – edited by Colonel Malleson (1889)
A History of the Indian Mutiny Vol. III – G.W. Forrest (1902)
Indore State Gazeteer Vol II – Captain C.E. Luard (1908)
The Revolt in Central India 1857-59, Compiled in the Intelligence Branch – Major R.G. Burton (1908)
The Life of His Highness Maharaja Tukoji Rao Holkar II, Ruler of Indore – Muntazim Bahadur M.W. Burway (1925)
The Revolt in Central India – Malwa – Khushalilal Srivastava (1966)