Three mutinies are so closely linked together so as to be inseparable. These are not places of great importance – barely written about, seldom visited and almost forgotten. One could call it series of misfortunes however, it is more history of inevitability and second chances.
Shajahanpur, May 31st, 1857
We will start this chapter in Shajahanpur, a small station 160 kilometres north-west of Lucknow on the Garra River. It is Sunday, the 31st of May and morning service at the church has begun.
Fortunately for the congregation, it was but a half-hearted attempt at murder and mayhem.
A small party of the 28th N.I., some six or seven men, armed with swords and lathis (long, stout sticks) stormed into the church. The Chaplain attempted to remonstrate with his attackers – but to no avail, Injured in the confusion, he managed to flee to the river with a writer, Mr. Smith, where they remained hidden until nightfall.
Mr. Ricketts slashed by a sepoy, managed to gain access to the outer vestry door. Here he was cut down and slain. A clerk in the Magistrates office, Le Maistre was killed where he sat.
Several of the congregation, somewhat swifter on their feet than others, managed to get to the vestry and barred the doors. The sepoys, realizing, armed as they were, could not smash their way through, returned to their lines to collect their muskets.
It was brief respite, but a vital one.
In Cantonments, Captain James in command of the 28th was shot on the parade ground, as he too tried to reason with his men. “They asserted that they were not such great traitors, for they had served the Government faithfully for 20 years. As he turned away in disgust, they shot him.”1
Dr. Bowling was returning from his morning visit to the hospital, unaware as yet of the outbreak. Finding the regiment in rebellion, he quickly organising an escape with his wife, child and European servant, his idea was to make for the church. Mounting the carriage beside the coachman, he was shot dead by a sepoy as they fled. Another bullet wounded his wife, but she managed to reach the church on time to join the other fugitives on the flight from Shajahanpur.
Fugitives from the cantonment had started assembling at the church, loyal servants came, bringing guns and pistols to their employers. Had the sepoys been able to organize themselves and had returned to the church in any number, the story of Shajahanpur would have ended. But, as has been seen before, they could not make up their minds what they actually wanted to do. Less than a hundred decided to remain loyal and rallying around their officers, safeguarded their escape.
Mr. Jenkins, the Assistant Magistrate, now recommended everyone – those in and those outside the church – should contrive to make their way to Powaine (Pawayan), 27 kilometres distant, just outside the Oudh border. The rajah was thought to be loyal -surely he would shelter them in their plight.
As to the clergyman and Mr. Smith. Waiting until nightfall to leave their hiding place, Mr. Smith went to the house of Mr. Ricketts. Here he was found by the sepoys and murdered. The clergyman, decided to try something different. Seeing some men weeding in a nearby field, thought he might induce them to help him.
“He accordingly left his hiding place and offered them money if they would assist him…No sooner did they see the money than they rushed upon the unfortunate man with their sticks and knocking him down, commenced beating him to death. His cries attracted the attention of a Pathan in a neighbouring village who, armed with sword, rushed up a severed his head from his body…”2
The following made their escape from Shajahanpur:
Captains Sneyd, Lysaght and Salmon
Lieutenants Kay, Robertson, Scott, Pitt and Rutherford
Ensigns Spens, Johnston and Scott
Quartermaster Sergeant Grant,
Lieut. Shiels, Vetenary Establishment
Mr. Jenkins, C.S.
The Raja of Pawayan was not exactly thrilled with their arrival. Claiming he was unable to protect them, he flatly refused to shelter the party. Seeing remonstrances were useless, Mr. Jenkins wrote to Mr. J.G. Thomason , Deputy Commissioner of Muhamdi. It was a quick note, giving Thomason notice of the events at Shahjahanpur and begging him to send any and every kind of conveyance to Pawayan. A runner delivered the note at night fall to Thomason.
Muhamdi – “The Germ of a terrible tragedy.”
Receiving the note, Thomason wasted no time. He quickly organised as many carriages as he could and sent them forthwith to Pawayan. His Assistant Commissioner , Captain Patrick Orr, who had previously commanded one of the Oudh Regiments, made his plans as well. With the Shajahanpur fugitives on their way, and very likely the mutineers of that station as well, it was only a matter of time before Muhamdi too, would fall.
Stationed here were 2 companies of the 9th Regiment Oudh Irregular Force, 2 companies of Oudh Military Police and 50 troopers of the Irregular Cavalry. The 9th Irregulars had been raised by Captain Orr during his service to the King of Oudh prior to annexation – he had also been their commander. Despite their long history together, Captain Orr was not blind to the danger of mutiny.
The same night as the note arrived, Orr sent his wife and child to the care of the Raja of Mithauli, whom he had previously aided and considered a personal friend.
Mrs. Annie Orr Goes to Mithauli
Protected by an an escort of the 9th Regiment of the Oudh Irregular Force, under command of Isuree Singh, Subedhar, Mrs. Orr and her child marched through the night to Mythauli. Unbeknownst to her husband, the Raja would be less than forthcoming. Informed by a servant that the Raja was sleeping, Mrs. Orr contrived to wait for him to awaken. After two hours, the servant came back. The Raja would not see her but he instructed her to proceed immediately to a fort in the jungle. Seeing remonstrances were useless, Mrs. Orr and her escort made their way to Kachauna Fort. Assured by the people there that the Raja himself would come the next day to see to her comfort, she remained.
The next evening he came, and “taking a most solemn oath, assured his guest that he would be most faithful to her and protect her from all danger.” 3 During their conversation, he mentioned he had been requested by Mr. Christian at Sitapur to send all of his elephants thither – but he had refused. The excuse he sent to Christian was that animals had sore backs, but confiding in Mrs. Orr, he stated that although Sitapur had not broken out as yet, it was inevitable and he simply did not want to lose his valuable elephants.
The Situation Worsens
Back in Muhamdi, with Mrs. Orr well on her way, James Thomason and the Captain now resolved that the civil officers and their clerks should withdraw from the station and seek refuge in the fort of Mohamdi. This accomplished, Thomason and Orr went themselves to the fort with the vain hope of protecting the Treasury.
Thomason even hoped to strengthen the fort and would have called on the help of the neighbouring zemindars for assistance – but it turned out the fort would be too dilapidated to be repaired in any haste and hope of defense.
On the 1st of June, the Shajahanpur refugees arrived and from that time,
“the most alarming symptoms showed themselves amongst the men. I used every means in my power to pacify them, but in vain. By the most strenuous efforts, I persuaded them from hour to hour to come back to their alligience, every minute seemed our last. The men were civil to me; be each on said he could not answer for what some of the bad characters would do…”
Captain Orr succeeded in keeping the peace on the a detachment of fifty men from Sitapur arrived on the 4th of June. They had been sent by Commissioner Christian of that place, as an escort to the ladies in Muhamdi, Thomason previously had contrived to send them on to Sitapur.
“These men brought with them a report that the whole of their Light Company at Muchee-Bhawun had been cut up by the Europeans, and said they were determined to take the revenge. Seeing the state of things, I sent for all the Native Officers and told them to let me know at once, like men, what their intentions were; and, if reasonable, I should give my consent…”4
The men told Orr they wanted to march to Sitapur – they swore “that they would spare our lives, and taking Thomason and myself into Seetapore, would allow the others to go away unmolested…”
After swearing a solemn oath on the head of the Jamadar, Lutchmun to spare the lives of the Europeans, the troops then proceeded to secure the treasure and release the prisoners from the local goal.
The party, consisting of Mr. Thomason, Mr. Orr and 2 clerks from Muhamdi, and all of the refugees from Shajehanpur, left the same day , and proceeded on the road to Sitapur escorted by the now openly mutinous troops. After marching through the night, they reached Burwun and then on the 5th of June continued on towards Aurungabad.
Suddenly the halt was sounded.
“..and a trooper told us to go on ahead, where we liked. We went some distance, when we saw a party coming along. They soon joined us and following the buggy which we were pushing on with all our might, when, within half a mile of Aurungabad, a sepoy rushed forward and snatched Key’s gun from him and shot poor old Shiels who was riding my horse.
Then the most fearful carnage ever witnessed by man commenced. We all collected under a tree close by and put the ladies down from the buggy, shots were fired in all directions, amidst the most fearful yells. The poor ladies all joined in prayer, coolly and undauntedly awaiting their fate. I stopped for about three minutes amongst them; but, thinking of my poor wife and child here, I endeavoured to same my life for their sakes..”
Rushing towards the mutineers, Captain Orr begged them to save his life. One of the men called out he should throw down his pistol and then he would save him. Done, Gordeen quickly put himself between Captain Orr and the mutineers – several others followed his example. Saved for now, Orr could now witness what happened to the others.
“In about ten minutes they had completed their hellish work. I was about 300 yards at the utmost. Poor Lysaght was kneeling out in the open ground, with his hands folded across his chest, and, though not using his firearms, the cowardly wretches would not go up to him until they had shot him; then rushing forward, they killed the wounded and the children…With the exception of the drummer boy, every one on the list above given was killed, as were also poor good Thomason and our two clerks….”
The slaughter ended, the bodies were stripped of their clothing and plundered. There was no thought given to burial.
Captain Orr was taken by the mutineers to Aurungabad. Here they offered to put him at the head of the Regiment on its march to Sitapur, even suggesting he send for his family. Evading their entreaties, Orr argued he could do nothing “without knowing what the Native Officers said…Fortunately, these were not brutally inclined, and they explained to the men that it was only by the consent of these 2 companies that I had escaped, and that there was no knowing what the rest of the corps and the 41st and 10th would do or say…”4
Advised to make his way to Mythowlie, Captain Orr was given a horse and some clothes, and with a guard, was brought to Rajah Loni Singh.
Sitapur 30th May to the 3rd of JunE, 1857
On the 30th of May, Mr. Christian wrote to his father-in-law, Charles Raikes in Agra,
“All quiet here, and throughout my division the people seem well disposed, and the regular regiment here, the Forty-first, is quiet; and I have in position nine hundred and fifty men, so that if things go wrong elsewhere, and they are tempted to rise we could crush them in an hour..”5
He was of course talking about the Irregulars and the Oudh Military Police – Sitapur was garrisoned by the 41st N.I., 250 recruits of the 9th and 330 recruits of the 10th Oudh Irregular Infantry, 360 men of the 2nd Regiment of the Military Police – he did not trust the 41st, but the others he trusted completely.
As a precaution, Mr. Christian had chosen what he thought was the best position of defence – his own house. On 2 sides of it flowed the river Surayan- prefect for preventing an attack from the rear – and with the 9th and 10th with 4 guns posted between the bungalow and the lines of the 41st, and a strong guard of the police stationed in the compound itself it would not be difficult to render the position defensible, at least until reinforcements arrived. That the house was located in such a place that there was no way of getting to the main road without going through the military cantonments did not seem to strike Mr. Christian as problematic. Nor the fact that roof was made of thatch. Believing he had done what he could, Mr. Christian now gathered all the civilians of the station and their families at his house. The military families, although invited, refused to leave the lines.
Not once did it occur to Mr. Christian to send the women and children away while there was till time.
Things were not well in Sitapur. On the 27th of May, the vacant lines of the 2nd Regiment of Military Police – under the command of Captain John Hearsey – were set on fire. Hearsey himself did not take much notice of the incident, and no one was punished. The sepoys after all had helped to put out the fire.
On the 2nd of June, a plea was made by the sepoys that the flour they had been given was tainted – this too on purpose, to destroy their caste. Again, the rumours were not investigated. The flour was, on the sepoys insistence, thrown in the river. Emboldened by their success, that same afternoon they raided the gardens of the European residents helping themselves to all any fruit they could find. A short rebuke by the officers quelled the plundering, but the peace was but momentary.
Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Frederick William Birch was an officer of the old Bengal school – an officer who staunchly believed in the loyalty of his men. He has joined the Bengal Army in 1821, at the age of 16. By 1824 he gained the rank of Lieutenant in the 41st N.I. It was a regiment he would return to throughout his career. Though he served in the 1st Burma War with the 1st Grenadier Battalion in 1825, by 1831 he was back with the 41st.
In 1836, Birch was appointed Superintendent of the Calcutta Police, where he stayed on for 10 years. In 1845 he was even magistrate of Calcutta town – but by in 1852, he returned to regimental duties and now a major, he returned to the 41st. In 1854 he gained his Brevet Lieutenant-Colonelcy.
When it came to trust, he had it in abundance almost to the point of infatuation. His men would never mutiny. After all, on receiving the first news of the Lucknow mutineers were heading to Sitapur, hadn’t Birch marched out his men along the Lucknow road and hadn’t they fired on the the advance guard of the mutineers? Wasn’t that proof enough of fidelity? It was the 2nd of June.
A mere 24 hours later things took a different turn.
At sunrise on the 3rd of June, Major Apthorp of the 41st reported to Mr. Christian and the Colonel that the men were ripe for mutiny their insubordination now unmistakable. Still not believing it, Colonel Birch nevertheless called out the 9th and the 10th Oudh Irregular Infantry, had the guns readied and placed a guard of military police around Christian’s house which by now, was full of women and children.
At 8 o’clock the same morning, a company of the 41st marched towards the treasury with the intent of seizing its contents, while others advanced on the guns around Mr. Christian’s house.
Colonel Birch was determined to recall his men to duty. He rode off to the Treasury with four companies and “on the way, the sepoys were beating their breasts and saying, that they would fight to the last for their colonel, and would not permit the rascals of the 10th to do any harm. The poor old colonel, on hearing all this, turned to his adjutant , and said, ‘Is it not affecting to see the devotion of the men?”
Our colonel now formed up the companies at the Treasury, but as there appeared to be no symptom of any disturbance, he was about to return, upon this, the adjutant, Lieutenant Graves, said he did not like the looks of the men; that, in fact, he did not think they would obey the order to march back from the Treasury. Just then, the colonel gave the order, ‘Threes, left shoulders forward,’ and at that moment, a sepoy of the Treasury guard stepped forward, and shot him dead, and he fell from his horse.”6
Not waiting a second longer, Lieutenant Graves turned his horse towards the cantonments – but not before he was wounded in the temple and his poor horse was shot out from under him. Undeterred he started to run – a friendly havildar major of the 41st however gave him his pony and Graves made it back to the lines to warn his fellow officers of what had transpired. Without a moment to lose, they gathered up their families and with an escort of some 20 loyal sepoys and a band of Christian drummers, the remaining officers of the 41st turned their backs on Sitapur and made their way, as best they could towards Lucknow. There was nothing else they could do.
Everywhere else in Sitapur, chaos now reigned.
Thje irregular regiments now turned on the officers. Captain Gowan, Lieutenant Green, Dr. Hiliard, and sergeant major of the 9th were killed on the parade ground, along with Lieutenants Dorin and Snell of the 10th. Snell’s wife and child were killed near their bungalow. Lieutenant Barnes and Quarter Master Morton of the 10th and Quartermaster Abbott of the 9th fled to the commissioner’s house.
A clerk tried but failed to press on Mr. Christian the need to leave the ill-fated house. He writes,
“the firing was increased and the Military Police displayed no inclination to cooperate with us. I besought the commissioner to escape with his family but he declined and went forward,armed with his rifle towards the position occupied by the Military Police. I followed reiterating my conviction of the urgent necessity of escape but the gentleman unfortunately could not divest himself of his firm, yet as the event showed, mistaken confidence in the loyalty of the Military Police, declaring that he feared no danger and could never think of abandoning his post.” 7
Huddling in a corner was the sister of Sir Mountstuart Jackson, Madeline. This was probably not the start to his career the young man had envisioned. As nephew to Sir Coverly Jackson – the predecessor of Sir Henry Lawrence at Lucknow – he had secured a position as a writer in the Bengal Civil Service through his uncle’s connections, and had arrived in India 1856. Sitapur was his first posting. His 2 sisters, 19 year old Georgiana and 17 year old Madelaine had just completed school in Paris and had joined their brother in India at the beginning of the year.
Madeline witnessed Mr. Christian and the other men running back inside the house They were shouting the awful truth: the the police and soldiers had turned.
” Mrs. Christian was crying and my dear sister trying to comfort her. They all came in and our brother had not come. I asked Mr. Christian where he was? Poor man, he could not answer. At last Mountstuart came – the last in. The house was barricaded and they fired through holes, but the natives were breaking in, and we all got out at the jungle side. Everyone had been told to to try and get to the Raja of Mithauli’s palace Well, only half of a French window could be got open, and everyone was forcing their way through, regardless of anyone else…”8
Christian himself now just as resolutely walked out of his house carrying his six month old son , his wife closely behind, holding her daughter Sophie in her arms.
Although he left the house last, it did not take Lieutenant Barnes very long to catch with the Christians. Mrs. Christian cried out to the Lieutenant, “Oh save my child! Who will save my child?” Obligingly, he took the little girl from her mother and carried her off with him.
The Christians struggled across the river, when the mutineers fired a volley at them, instantly killing Mr. Christian and his son. His wife took the baby in her arms and sobbing, sat herself down next to her husband’s corpse. Coming up behind her, a rebel beheaded her with one stroke.
Escape to Mithauli
Mountstuart and Madeline rushed out of the house, hurrying towards the jungle. Realizing that Georgiana was not with them, Madeline made to go back. She saw her sister with Mrs. Christian’s English nurse, trying to comfort a child – it was the be the last time Madeline saw her. The sepoys were in pursuit and the only thing to do was cross the river by means of a narrow walkway. Once across, they kept running towards the jungle.
At the second river they came across Mr. Thornhill, the deputy commissioner with his wife and daughter. Mr. Thornhill would tell the Jacksons he had seen Georgiana cross the other river – but no one had time now to talk.
The Jackson’s continued running – it was painful going. Madeline had lost her shoes in the second river, and shortly after her hat. Her muslin skirt became entangled in thorns, obliging her to remove it. Mountstuart kindly gave his sister his shoes and proceeded along the hard thorny ground with leaves wrapped around his feet. Eventually, even the most desperate spirit gives out – exhausted they collapsed on the ground behind some bushes.
Shortly after they were found by a group of Passis, armed with bows and arrows. Not intent on mischief, they initially helped the Jacksons taking them deeper into the jungle – but the Jacksons ran out of barter. Mountstuart had given them his pistol for some food and then his sword for their fidelity. Madeline, in a moment of recklessness, offered them Mountstuart’s rifle. Gladly accepting this last piece of plunder, the Passis now refused to go any further. The Jacksons were left on their own.
The next day, after managing to get away from a band of heavily armed villagers, one of whom had expressed his interest to make Madeline his wife, they were met a group of “very poor looking men.” These informed the Jacksons that in the next village a group of Europeans was hiding. Hurrying along, they soon found themselves reunited with Lieutenant Barnes, Quartermaster- Sergeant Morton and three year old Sophie Christian.
Continuing onwards they finally arrived in Mithauli.
It was not the warm welcome they had expected but it was better than hiding in the jungle. Raja Loni Singh allowed them to stay a few days in his residence but soon he moved them onto his other fort, that at Kutchiani, the previous abode of Mrs. Orr. She had been reunited with her husband and together with her child, they were now hiding in the jungle close to Muhamdi, the Raja thinking it prudent to keep the groups separate, as a way to easier protect them. Eventually the Orrs returned to the fort.
it was through the Orrs servants, that Madeline received news of her sister. By hiding letters in the soles of the shoes or in quills they were able to pass messages from Georgiana – in hiding with Captain Hearsey. They also got word from Sir Henry, who now entreated Loni Singh to send the fugitives to Lucknow and promising him a fine reward.
In a final letter from Georgiana she feared they had been betrayed. It was August.
This is by far not the end.
1 -3 Annals of the Indian Rebellion, Noah Alfred Chick
4. The English Captives in Oudh A.P. Orr, from a letter by Captain Patrick Orr to his brother Adolphus, June 1857
5. The Great Mutiny, Christopher Hibbert
6. Account of Capt Hearsey in his escape from Sitapur.
7-8 The Indian Mutiny, Saul David