Life in Agra Fort

Agra Fort, Saché, 1860

The building of Agra Fort was started by Emperor Akbar in 1566, on the site of an older one, constructed by Salim Shah Sur, the son of Shere Shah. It took 8 years to complete and is a tribute to Moghul architecture. The walls are 70 feet high and 1,5 miles in circumference within it contains courtyards, palaces, baths, mosques and gardens in 94 acres of land. Emperor Shah Jahan added marble palaces, while Aurungzeb, who we have already noted was not of an artistic bend, further expanded the fort by making an outer wall and a moat. However, after Aurungzeb, the fort began a slow decline akin to that of the Mughal Empire, but it continued a much-disputed catch for nearly 100 years. In 1803 the EICo took control of Agra and the fort fell into their hands.

Modern plan of Agra Fort

Much of Akbar’s original fort which consisted of some 5000 buildings in the Bengali and Gujarati architectural styles,though many had to make way for Shah Jahan’s extravagant marble palaces, while still more were destroyed to construct the British barracks. Today only 30 buildings from Akbar’s reign remain, including the imposing Delhi gate, the Akbari Gate and the Bengali Mahal. Even today the army is not quite done with fort – 75% is occupied by the Indian Army as an ordinance and motor vehicle depot. Thus much of it remains off-limits to visitors, including the Fort Cemetery and several historical buildings including the famed Moti Masjid. Even the main entrance, Delhi Gate is not accessible to visitors and they are obliged to use the south-facing Amar Singh Gateway. However, our concern is not with Agra Fort of the 21st century, it is with the past and we shall explore it, as it stood in 1857.

Amar Singh Gateway, Agra Fort , where Mark Thornhill made his entrance

As Ruth Coopland pointed out, describing Agra Fort was no easy task. It had been built to command the river and the town and with its “strange mixture of buildings some for pomp and others for defence,” and what with the Shah Jahan’s superb marble palaces and the fine architecture of Akbar, it resembled as much a palace from the Arabian Nights as could well be imagined. A beautiful garden with “shady trees of the deepest foliage, paths of white marble and in the centre of the garden, an immense square basin full of water constructed of the same beautiful material. A terrace of marble rose beyond. On it was a white marble pavilion, at the four corners of its roof were gilded cupolas, and on either side of the terrace appeared the golden domes of the other pavilions.” (Mark Thornhill, p. 162-3) – the Fort was so vast it became necessary to designate each of the living quarters with a letter so people could find their way around.

Blocks in the Fort of Agra

A – West of Ummar Singh Gate
AQ – Artificers Quarters, North of Moti Masjid
B – between Block A and Delhi Gate
BS – Bakery Square – between Post Office Square and Four Gates Square
C – either C1: Lower division left of Delhi Gate and C2: Married men’s quarters, European Regt.
CG- Commissariat Godown
DG – Delhi Gate
E – Within the second gateway to F, up the stairs to the left
F – either F1: Gateway to F from Armoury Square or F2 Half wrought godown, black throne of Dewan-Khas Square FG/ FGS – Four Gate Square, East of Meenah Bazar
G- Palace Garden Sheesh Mahal, or Lt. Gov. Quarters – Palace of Glass
H c
H1 – Mr. Ross’ bungalow near Artillery Stables
H2 – between Palace Square and Artillery Stable Square
I – Around Artillery Stable Square
K1 – Tiled Barrack, Bridgadier’s Quarters and tents near
K2 – Canteen Building
K3 – in the rear of the tiled building
K4 – in the rear of the tiled building
L1 – Gunsheds, North Side
L2 – Gunsheds, South Side
L3 Gunsheds, West Side
MM – Moti Masjid
M1 – Armoury Square, West Side
M2 – Armoury Square – Ease Side
OS – Ordnance Square (now lettered R) West of Block H
OQ – Officer’s Quarters
POS – Square to the North of the Post Office
TPG – Tents on Grand Parade
USF – Ummar Singh Face
WGF – Water Gate Face

The closest contemporary map is attached here, from 1902:

The Agra European civilians occupied the most comfortable quarters in the palace gardens with the Dewan-i-Khas turned into an impromptu cutcherry and served on Sunday as a church. The officers and their families lived in tents pitched on a field opposite the Delhi Gate, close to the Moti Masjid. A row of small, tiled houses which had previously served as officer’s quarters when the fort had been garrisoned, was now allotted to the head military officers, amongst them Colonel Grassford and Colonel Fraser, along with their families. Lady Outram lived close by in one of the houses.

Barrack room, Agra Fort, WWI from

The area where the gun carriages had previously been kept was given over to the nuns and the convent school – they turned a storeroom into a chapel to serve those of the Roman Catholic persuasion. The archbishop and his staff had set up some very large tents for their own use in the same area as the officers, while the chaplains, Mr. Hind and Mr. Murray were allotted quarters in the palace gardens. The unmarried soldiers lived in one set of barracks while the other was given over to the married ones and their families.

Drawing of Agra Fort

The majority of the fort population consisted of shopkeepers, merchants, clerks, railwaymen, planters and a whole list of civilians, both European and Anglo-Indian: in short practically every Christian of Agra. In the mix were also fugitives from other stations, a substantial number of nuns with their convent school pupils, American and Swiss missionaries, a wandering French circus, Armenian salesmen and after the 8th of July, Indian and Parsi merchants. Many servants too entered the fort, as did tailors, water carriers and sweepers. The last two were in the employ of the government but the government was not too interested in their accommodation. They, like many others, either lived in the fort or returned to their homes in the city. Passes were issued for Indians to access the fort during the day – it must be remembered this was not a siege like Lucknow if it could hardly be called a siege at all. In Mr. Colvin’s letter to the commissioners of Allahabad and Benares (29th July, Records of the Intelligence Department, Vol. I) the official census showed the total number of people who were sleeping in the fort between the 26th and 27th of July as 5’844.
While some people, like the ranking civilians and members of the military establishment, were assigned (or took) the choicest quarters, and others were given rooms according to their rank and status. much of the population had to figure things out for themselves.

Interior of Agra Fort

The merchants who were left to shift for themselves- they lived on the archways and on the tops of buildings in rude thatched huts, and everyone else, who was not considered part of the European establishment of military or civil service was left to occupy what space they found, be it holes, tyekhanas and stairwells; others crammed into makeshift tents, or built huts from straw or thatch on roofs of buildings or in courtyards. Several large archways and vestibules served as shops for the few merchants who had managed to save their wares – they hastily occupied the upper galleries of the gateways and put up shelves to display their goods. On every gateway or arch were painted large stars as landmarks without which it was impossible to find one’s way around.

View of the old gateway
Interior of Delhi Gate

One almost wondered that the ghosts of the ancient moguls and sultanas did not start from their graves in horror and amazement at the desecration of all their sacred temples and beautiful halls and palaces, which were defiled by being turned into cooking and sleeping places by the cursedKaffir...” (Ruth Coopland, p 174-75).

The vestibule at the opposite side end of the armoury square was designated the post office, the Moti Masjid served as the hospital, and there was a commissariat building. Ample space was given over to the engineers and the military ordnance. A cemetery too had been organised, on the “summit of the ravines before the Ummar Singh gateway.” (Thornhill, 265). As it was commanded by the cannon from the batteries, the dead could still be interred even if there was fighting.

Ruth Coopland initially occupied a piazza on pillars with the other Gwalior refugees, most likely the Diwan-i-Am, which she and the other ladies divided with thatch screens to form rudimentary rooms. As these walls did not reach the full height of the room, she likened them to a long range of stalls. Furniture was scanty and consisted of a narrow soldier’s bed with a hard mattress but hardly any sheets, a small camp table, a chair and a storage box. In one corner of the piazza the ladies piled up the cooking vessels and large clay pots for water, at the other, a small “toilette” was set up, with a brass basin and cracker mirror. They each had a few cups, saucers, plates and cutlery which they shared. Here, in these “dens,” they would perform all the necessary acts of life – cooking, eating, dressing, sleeping and while away the waking hours.

Agra – The Great Court of the Fort with Dewan-iAm to the right and the Moti Masjid in the backgroumd
Interior of Diwan-i-Am

It was a sharp contrast to the accommodation of Charles Raikes and William Muir.
The Muirs occupied “a long, bare stone room on the lower floor of the east side of the Dewan-i-Khas… with windows looking into the square…it served…when fitted with a few simple pieces of furniture, for all purposes during the day. At night the further end, when curtained off for our beds, was suitable enough for ourselves and the children.” Muir had ignored most of what Colvin had said regarding personal belongings and had among the first things he sent to the fort in June was a substantial portion of his personal library. Along with his wife, his family consisted at the time of five children – seven-year-old Charlie, two little girls named Bessie and Katie and infant twins. The Muirs would bury 5 of their children in India – Jimmy died in Fatehpur in 1845, Helen in Mussoorie in 1849, Maggie died in Delhi in 1855, Wemyssie in 1872 and little Katie would be buried in Roorkee. They were a busy couple – 11 children would survive into adulthood. Four were in England at the time of the mutiny.

Group including Sir William & Lady Muir. A group of European men, women and children, including Sir William Muir, the photographer Dr. John Murray and Dr. Farquhar. Named from left: ‘Dr Murray, Mrs Farquhar, Lady M., Dr Farquhar, Sir W.M., Mrs Coldstream, Mrs Lowe’

Charles Raikes was allowed, in his estimation, to occupy “the best quarters in the Fort, in the tiled barracks.” Fortunately for him, two of his sons were in England and four of his younger children were in Landour (by Mussoorie) with the governess where they would remain until November 1857. the Raikes’ had three rooms each some fourteen feet square, without any windows but with a wooden door attached to each and a verandah on both sides. These they shared with Reverend Valpy French with his wife and 2 children, Major Raikes (from Gwalior), Mrs.Raikes and one child, three wet nurses and three ayahs. One room served at night as the gentlemen’s bedroom and was converted to a dining room during the day, while the other two rooms were for the use of the women and children. They had punkah fans – an undoubted luxury, which Raikes paid “little native Christian boys” to pull during the day. Dr. Farquhar managed the hospital but it was Mrs. Raikes who made all the arrangements, organising hospital clothes, pillows and quilts from cloth supplied by the government and sown by her and the other ladies in the fort. She was one of the many ladies who served as nurses, giving the sick and wounded tea, jelly, coffee and soup while assisting with the dressing of wounds. They lived in shifts at the hospital in a small room, with day and night watches to ensure there was always at least one nurse on hand. Yet they could not prevent death, and the little child of Major Raikes, despite all the care lavished on her after the escape from Gwalior, never recovered her strength and died in the Fort.
Not all the civilians were as forthcoming with help as Mrs. Raikes. The Roman Catholic population of the fort, complete with a bishop, nuns and monks, kept to themselves throughout and rarely ventured into the company of others. The nuns would not help in the hospital and would only ever be seen on the promenade, their sad procession headed by two jolly monks.

View of the outside walls of Agra Fort

The Thornhills too had little to complain about where accommodation was concerned. Although Mark, his wife and two children initially shared his brother Cudbert’s room – a small room which was partitioned off by curtains and “so crammed with furniture there was hardly space to move,” Mark, as industrious as ever, found a room above his brother’s apartment which was about the same size and quickly procured it for his family. It was filled with “soldier’s boxes and bedstead” as it had until recently been used as a magazine for commissariat stores, but, undaunted, Mark had the room cleared and cleaned. Keeping two of the beds, he then borrowed a mat, a child’s cot, two chairs and a small table. As for everything else that had been in the room prior to his setting up house, he left it “on the pavement, and in the course of the afternoon different people, who I suppose had need of them, carried them away.” Colonel Fraser would kindly give Mark Thornhill other accommodation – three rooms in a small pavilion, once the quarters of a princess. However the rooms were the “size of closets” and after the birth of her baby, Ruth Coopland occupied the third. While her baby thrived, the Thornhill’s daughter was seized with fever – she survived, but their baby son died.

From their rooms, they could see the Taj Mahal.

Collonade at the Diwan-i-Khas

The other Gwalior refugees were moved to the collonade under the Diwan-i-Khas which would later be called, Gwalior Square.

As for Mr. Colvin, he received not only the finest accommodation but had apparently not taken his own order to heart. He resided in apartments overlooking the river, separated from the garden by a screen built of white marble. Curtains had been hung up and beyond these was a courtyard, paved the white marble which led to a “fantastic looking building, composed of the same material and surmounted by cupolas thickly overlaid with gold.” There were curtains in all the arches and he had at least three rooms. One was a long room which was filled with furniture and books, and the next was Colvin’s office “a large hall, the roof was arched, the walls of enormous thickness and broken by many recesses. The hall was lighted by a single window…(it) had no glass but in its place was a delicate tracery of white marble.” In it was even more furniture and heaps of books. along with a large round table and several chairs. His bedroom was beyond these. What Colvin had would have been seen as a perfect luxury to the other inhabitants – the thickness of the walls acted as soundproofing leaving his apartments silent and private.
Meanwhile, Mr. Reade too, who was next in rank to the Lieutenant-Governor, was assigned very fine quarters he refused to occupy them. As his family was in England and he was quite alone, he gave his quarters to convalescent officers and contented himself with “a shakedown on the floor of marble hall. An old pianoforte cover and a hassock constituted all his bedding.”

Hall of Private Audience and Garden

There had been enough time to provision and equip it for a siege but between Mr. Drummond too afraid to show fear, and Mr. Colvin too worried to be concerned about the future, when the masses descended on the Fort, nothing was ready. Captain Alexander, assigned to the commissariat department, had found himself acting as a shepherd on the 5th of July, to a flock of reluctant sheep that had been left outside the gates. The “constitution of the sheep,” he noted, “strictly forbade them from crossing the bridge.” Although he drove, swore, coaxed and shouted, the sheep remained deaf to the choicest arguments.
“…they had to be got in somehow so taking one by the leg, Captain Alexander dragging him bodily over the bridge. It was a tough struggle, but a merry one, and apparently a lesson to the rest of the sheep, for they all hurried over as if each feared his turn might be next.”
Water was available, but Mark Thornhill could not initially procure a bucket, Lieutenant White, with his pregnant wife and little daughter found themselves sharing an ammunition store room with Mrs. Hawkins and her children (who had escaped from Gwalior), forcing the lieutenant, for decency sake to move outdoors. He moved his bed as close to the door as possible but whenever it rained, half his bed was soaked. He was better off than the ladies and the children – as soon as the door was closed at night, became a furnace, as the room had no windows. Extensive quarters were made over the to 21 the nuns, the priests and convent school girls but it is hard to believe the L1 gunsheds were particularly luxurious.

Nagina Masjid

The defences left something to be desired. At the start of the siege, half the guns were still unmounted and the powder magazine had not been made bomb-proof. When the arrangements were finally in place, 60 guns were in place on the bastions, coupled with a dozen mortars and as trigger-happy a set of soldiers as ever roamed the earth. In the first three days of the siege, they amused themselves firing through the palisade enclosure at Amar Singh Gate – first at a grazing donkey and then at vultures who were gorging themselves on dead sheep. Their shooting was terrible and they hit nothing, on account of their being blind drunk. As it went on however, alcohol became difficult to procure – the officers had to stoop to drinking the soldier’s beer, which quickly soured in the heat, and the men resorted to adding herbs and fruit of any description to it to make it palatable.

Masumman Burj, or the Golden Pavillion

Dealing with the refuse of 5000 or so people and every description of animal – gun bullocks, sheep, horses, dogs – had not occurred to anyone either – in the first few days, the remains of the various meals that had been eaten since the end of June, a few dead sheep and other sundry impurities were simply left rotting in heap. The accumulation of filth, noted Thornhill, was appalling. “The rubbish heap at our archway had reached the dimensions of a small haycock…all over the fort the smells were sickening; it was difficult to walk without stepping in some impurity…” Within days, a plague of flies, not dissimilar to those in Lucknow and Delhi, descended on Agra Fort. Shortly after, fleas attacked the residents of the Fort but no one could figure out how they managed to live in the masonry or on what they subsisted on before the fort was so occupied! That it was related to the unwashed and filthy state of the place did not appear to occur to anyone.
Feeding them too had been organised in a haphazard fashion. The commissariat had been provisioned with 6 months’ worth of fare but at the onset, no one knew where to collect their rations. The Thornhills had brought a number of supplies with them but even they, in the first three days subsisted on rice, lentils and a small piece of cold meat.

Inside Agra Fort
Inside Agra Fort

Obtaining commissariat stores was something of a haphazard affair at the start. At noon on the second day, July 7th, a message was sent around to every block that rations would be available at three in the afternoon, to every head a family. The commissariat was at the very end of the fort, in a large square building. At the gateway, an English officer asked, every person who arrived, his name and how many people were in his group then gave the order to receive the required amount of rice, flour, sugar and lentils.
Having received the order, I passed through the gateway and entered a large enclosure surrounded by arched cells of massive masonry. The doors of some of them were open, displaying heaps of flour, rice and other provisions. Several grain-sellers were seated before the heaps and weighing out the stores on small wooden scales, accompanying the operation with a droning chant very soporific…” (Thornhill, p 171)

A common mess was set up in most of the accommodations, thus allowing families to pool together their resources. Although food was not scarce, the provided stores would remain basic.


In the first three days of the occupation of Agra Fort, things were left to chaos. No one knew where to get supplies, and others did not know where or how they would live. Information was non-existent and it appeared the civil authorities had collapsed into a state of shock. The only news they received from the outside world was from servants eager to enter the fort and persons of higher rank, seeking an audience with the authorities. They all insisted the rebel army had upped and left Agra, something the brigadier should have immediately verified, but didn’t. A column, consisting of English soldiers, volunteer cavalry and a few guns was sent out to reconnoitre on the 8th of July organised by Mr. Drumond. They traversed the city, and the cantonments, reporting back that they could not find any trace of the enemy. For three days they had been guarding against an “imaginary foe” and the fear of this army had kept them behind the walls of Agra Fort. Naturally, many people vented their anger, not on Mr. Colvin who they suspected was insane or Brigadier Polwhele, as he was generally believed to an “imbecile.” Mr. Drummond would bear the brunt of the complaints instead.
The arrangements for protecting Agra had fallen into the hands of Mr. Drummond but as he had held to his policy of showing no fear and thus doing as little as possible besides increasing the police force, he fell foul with the engineers who believed the fort needed to be provisioned in case of a siege. Mr. Colvin was unable to decide who was right and ultimately let both sides have their way, with mixed results. While arming his police force at whim, Drummond ordered that anyone in Agra selling grain or provisions to the Commissariat contractor would be punished. To prove his point, one trader was imprisoned and the others fearing the same treatment, refused to sell. The contractor was forced to get supplies from anywhere but Agra but being a man of some resources, he managed to get at least half the quantity required to provision the Fort.
The military authorities had been barking for some time at Colvin to allow the women, children and non-combatants of Agra to repair to the fort but again, due to Drummond’s policy of showing no fear, they were thwarted. A compromise was eventually agreed but only on the 28th of June. This allowed them to enter the fort but again, their baggage was strictly regulated, with the authorities wasting time in prescribing, in inches, how big the boxes could be. Every article had to be approved by the fort commander and as a result, only those who had the courage to thumb their nose at him saved their property from destruction. Meanwhile, Drummond’s trusty police force was publishing proclamations in the “Police Press” calling for mutiny and was in open communication, not just with Delhi but with the approaching Neemuch Brigade.
It was only when the brigade was at Fatehpur Sikri did the government spring into action. The women, children and civilians were rushed to the Fort. Colvin left Government House and took up his residence with Polwhele. This left them, however, with barely a week to organise the defences of the Fort. The Neemuch Brigade took their time in advancing on Agra which was perhaps the only saving grace Colvin and the civil authorities had left. However, they were still collecting supplies on the 5th of July. Sanitary arrangements had not been thought of and the defences were still not complete.
After the battle of Shahgunj, they population in the fort wanted someone’s head for the fiasco they were now living through, and they chose Mr. Drummond and they wanted him replaced. Everything that had gone wrong was placed on his shoulders – even though it was Mr. Colvin who had had the final say and Brigader Polwhele who had led the attack against the insurgents – it was Drummond, with his blind faith in his police force and his fear of showing fear that had led to the ultimate destruction of Agra. Whether this viewpoint was fair was not relevant in the minds of those who had lost everything. Drummond refused to investigate the Agra riot, would not take action against the instigators and the perpetrators, who mostly came from his police force, nor did he examine the murders of the civilians who had imprudently stayed behind. It was believed Colvin could no longer lead the government but it was Drummond who had to go. In his place, Mr. Alfred Phillipps (ex-magistrate of Etah) temporarily took over as Magistrate and Collector while Drummond was appointed to take up a position as judge in Banda but as the district was in a state of rebellion, he had had to remain in Agra.
Phillipps’ first objective was pacifying Agra. He summoned a council of 25 of the most influential inhabitants of the city, and they were instructed to raise guards, in lieu of Drummond’s mutinied police force, for the preservation of order in the city. Each was entrusted with protecting and policing his own quarter, similar to what had been done by Thornhill and the Seths in Muttra. He then reassured the panic-stricken citizens, whose homes lay close to the walls of Agra Fort, they had nothing to fear – the British were not going to take their revenge for the sacking of Agra, by bombarding and destroying their homes. So while outside the station anarchy continued to reign, Agra slowly returned to normal. After the 8th of July, the inhabitants of Agra Fort were no longer imprisoned in the walls – but as the roads were closed and their homes had been destroyed, the remained where they were. Mr. Philips for one, conducted his daily business outside the fort in a small house nearby which he had turned into his office; Thornhill and other men routinely took their morning rides outside the enclosures and many ventured back into the city to collect what they could of their plundered belongings. However, the pickings were slim and besides a bit of china or a coffee pot, they usually returned empty-handed.

Mr. Grant’s house in Agra

Meanwhile, Colonel Fraser became the unappointed head of Agra Fort. Under his directions, the work the engineers that had started before the 5th of July now continued – they continued opening up embrasures, mounting guns on the ramparts, had ammunition placed for ready use and organised a roster of the different garrisons in the Fort so that every man, in case of an attack, would know where to go and what to do. All the magazine roofs were covered with a thick layer of earth to prevent any possible incendiarism, and anyone who looked even trifling suspicious was sent on their way. European sentries were doubled over the magazines and with good reason – shot and shell had been found to be changed so they no longer corresponded with the guns it was to serve, and some guns had even been spiked. Fraser was universally liked in the Fort, though his reception outside it probably was the reverse. He had ordered the demolition of a series of houses near the fort walls in June, much to the anger of their inhabitants and it was left to Reade to smooth out the differences. He promised that any house thus destroyed would be compensated by the government, though who would actually pay them and when was left somewhat wanting. In the end, with or without their consent, the houses Fraser had ordered demolished, were destroyed. Fortunately, the overly zealous plan to blow up the Jama Masjid was countermanded.

William Muir took over the Intelligence Department and it was left to him to decipher the various messages pouring in from Agra and beyond, and to differentiate gossip and tales from the truth. He also took charge of all correspondence, official and demi-official on Colvin’s behalf, worked up a good network of spies and ensured that letters from Delhi (these were plentiful, mostly from Hervey Greathed), Calcutta and other stations were duly recorded and replied. Mail from Calcutta was only received by the long route via Bombay and even this was not always reliable – as such, there could be weeks without any news from Canning or anyone else in the capital.
Brigadier Polwhele’s fall from grace had been a most ungracious affair – the despatch for his removal was sent from Calcutta and delivered to him by Colvin, in front of other officers. Colvin merely handed the despatch to Polwhele, who after reading it, “turned pale and appeared about to faint; he recovered himself…rose, handed the letter back to Mr. Colvin, bowed and left the room.” He was replaced by Colonel Cotton who was called, somewhat facetiously, “Gun-Cotton” by his friends for his rather cold-blooded approach to combat. Unlike Mr. Drummond, he did investigate the plundering of Agra and anyone who had participated and had not been prudent enough to leave the city was tried – one person was even hung.

All these changes did not stop the quarrelling among the various officials, a veritable plague of which continued to exist in the Fort. Disputes about how the halls were used, about where the Sunday services were held, fights within the military establishment as to the rifle corps and militia, and endless arguments regarding the procurement of intelligence – many thought Muir was madly relying on a blind man from the Agra for his news, whereas Captain Nixon used trained messengers from Bharatpur to gather intelligence. Instead of relying on Nixon who had experience in the work and provided the authorities with reliable information the same authorities did all they could to prevent Nixon from receiving it. There was even talk of removing Nixon altogether but no one knew where to send him to. As it was, the authorities refused to accept intelligence that was not procured by William Muir and Muir refused to accept anything procured by anyone else. His stubbornness in this respect would very nearly lead to a disaster, as shall be related in a later post.

Unfortunately, despite all the efficiency now proceeding around him, with men willing to take responsibility and others ready to step up, there was no respite for Mr. Colvin. Caught in the middle of the intrigues he was unable to prevent and a situation over which he gradually had no control, his health began to give way. Perhaps the misery of the events leading up to the 5th of July, his general unpopularity or just the sheer magnitude of the task before him, it proved too much for him. In August, the doctor ordered him removed for a few days to cantonments to get a change of air but it did little to improve his health. A reprimand from Calcutta, regarding the delay in sending in the 1856 administration report and a long form to be filled in explaining why certain letters had not been answered in the last months, did not help matters. While Colvin was busy in Agra, surrounded by mutinous countryside, Calcutta was worried about administrative reports and lost letters. The letter from Calcutta so disturbed Colvin, who tried his best to answer it (the records had been burned and the post was unreliable, which would have been the easiest explanation) it unhinged him altogether and Colvin let loose a torrent of anger on the head of Cudbert Thornhill – the months of anxiety, the injustice, the fact the power he had as Lieutenant-Governor was in fact no power at all, the danger Agra was in, and the fact that Colvin feared, without receiving succour from somewhere, Agra would soon be another Cawnpore. Cudbert eventually wrote to Calcutta, and in a short letter, told them quite frankly where they could take their complaints. Although the rebuke from Calcutta did not cause Colvin’s death, it left him weak and weary. He was tired of living. While rumours continued to circulate – one day Colvin was better, on the next, he was dying, Colvin sought in his last weeks to make his peace. He bid farewell to his son ( who had survived his boat trip from Muttra) and set his affairs in order. He was so long dying, however, that many people could scarcely believe it when on the 9th of September, Mr. John Russell Colvin passed away at five o’clock in the afternoon. The next morning he was buried, in the spot selected by himself, in the armoury square, where his remains repose to this day. By noon on the 10th of September, Mr. Colvin had become a memory. He had been loyal to the government to the very last and had served them well; as a man he was kind and fair but in a crisis, he simply did not have the required qualities to meet it. Mr. Reade succeeded him as senior civilian and assumed charge of the government in the North Western Provinces.

Meanwhile, life in Agra Fort continued through the months of July, August and September with a dull monotony. Besides the ever-present fear of an attack by the Gwalior Contingent, there was little to disturb Agra. Life in the fort was described as being akin to a long ship voyage, with everyone falling into some kind of routine. Everyone rose early, took a stroll on the ramparts or in the courtyards, those who had horses and even carriages, took their morning rides outside the fort, albeit close to the walls. By 8 in the morning, the fort settled down to a sort of quiet slumber, breakfast was over and most people had nothing to do until the heat of the day was over. Towards sunset, they once again emerged from the quarters to repeat the actions of the morning. After dinner, and with the children asleep, people gathered in groups on the terraces, and they talked, like people on a ship, of everything serious and not so, and following the firing of the 9pm gun, everyone returned to their rooms.

The fall of Delhi was conveyed by messenger to Agra and greeted by them with a 21-gun salute (some civilians, in their enthusiasm, did not agree and wanted a 101-gun salute – this idea was finally considered a little too extravagant and quashed by the more sensible in the fort) – it was heard as far as Dholpur, where the raja, momentarily disconcerted by it, sent a messenger to Agra to discover the reason for all that noise. When he heard the reason, he merely laughed and said that “that sort of device would not impose on him.”
As such, Agra had never been in any immediate danger, except perhaps from themselves, since the 5th of July. That would soon change and it would be precipitated by the men who could not agree on how to gather information.

Agra Fort from the river

Notes on the Revolt in the North-Western Provinces of India – Charles Raikes (1858)
A Lady’s Escape from Gwalior – R.M. Coopland (1858)
A History of the Sepoy War in India 1857-1858 Vol III – John William Kaye (1876)
Anecdotes and Reminiscences of Service in Bengal – A.L.M. Phillips (1878)
Indian Reminiscences – Colonel S. Dewé White (1880)
A History of the Indian Mutiny – T.R.E. Holmes (4th edition, 1891)
A Traveller’s Guide to Agra – Y.A. Chandra Mukerji, Vakil (1892)
Agra in the Mutiny and the Life of W.&E.H. Muir in the Fort, 1857. A Sketch for the Children – William Muir (1896)