Fatehpur – June 6th – 10th, 1857
The district of Fatehpur was situated on the eastern portion of the Doab between the great rivers of the Ganges and the Jumna, lying north-west of Allahabad and south-east of Cawnpore. It was the smallest district in the Allahabad Division and had been formed as a district in 1826. According to the census taken between 1848 and 1853, Fatehpur District was populated by 679,787 people or 417 to the square mile, the majority of them engaged in agriculture. The majority of the towns and villages had less than 1200 inhabitants. Only the towns of Fatehpur and Khajuha could boast of a larger population, but this was barely above 5000. It was, in 1857, under the control of a collector and a magistrate, who in turn answered to the Commissioner of Allahabad.
In 1857, the officials at Fatehpur were Mr. Edmonstone – soon to be replaced by J.W. Sherer, the magistrate and collector, the assistant magistrate Mr. Elliot Macnaghtan, the judge Mr. Robert Tucker, Mr. Anderson the opium agent, a salt agent, Doctor Hutchinson and his wife, and four men connected in railway construction, namely Messrs. Bews, Oswin and Heathcote with the fourth unnamed. The deputy magistrate was Hikmat-ullah. The treasury was supplied with a guard comprising of a small detachment of the 6th BNI – 50 men in all. Their regiment, as we have already seen, was stationed in Allahabad.
Among the Europeans at Fatehpur was John Sherer.
John Sherer arrived in India in 1846 and after a long stay of 2 years in Calcutta finishing up his education, he was sent to Agra in 1848 as Assistant Magistrate. His stay was short; in the same year, he was transferred to Muttra to act as Joint Magistrate. In 1850, the then Lieutenant Governor, Mr. James Thomason whose father had been a close friend of Sherer’s, appointed him Assistant Secretary to his government and then arranged his transfer to Aligarh, as Joint Magistrate.
In 1856, Sherer was sent on an extended tour of the Jumna Canals by the Revenue Board, which took him through Panipat, Karnal, Rohtuk and Najafgarh, finally landing him in Delhi. Although his stay was but of a short duration, he attended the Sunday service, led by no other than Mr. Jennings. The service was over long and instead of bolstering the spirits, it left Sherer disheartened.
“…it was growing dark, and soon a candle had to be sent for. This slender, solitary light in the darkening church, and the loud voice proceeding from a figure partially occupying the small disk of brightness, had a most singular effect. The sermon, which the preacher would not curtail by a syllable on account of the lateness, dwelt, as far as I remember, on the vicissitudes of life, and urged how unwise the postponement of repentance was in the face of the absolute uncertainty of the future. I felt at the time a most unaccountable sinking of spirits; and when afterwards I came to remember how many were present, shrouded in the gloom, whose lives were rapidly drawing to a close, I grew to associate with the scene some sense of forewarning, from which my memory is now unable to disengage itself.”
Sherer would never see Jennings alive again.
Back in Agra, Sherer stayed for a time with his father-in-law, the redoubtable Henry Byng Harrington. Harington had been born in Madras in 1808, the son of Henry Hawes Harington, one of the proprietors of the Carnatic Bank and a successful merchant who had remained independent of the East India Company, apparently trading without a position in the company itself. Into this family, Henry Byng was born. Entering the Bengal Army in 1824 on a recommendation made by his father to the EICo and securing him a position as Lieutenant Interpreter and Quartermaster with the 37th BNI. He was 16 years old.
In 1827, Henry decided that military life was not in his best interests and he changed into the civil service. From here, the young man was unstoppable. it is interesting to see his mercurial progress through the ranks:
30 April 1828 he qualified as a writer
11 June 1828 accepted in service with East-India company
10 February 1829 Assistant to Political Resident and Commissioner of Delhi
8 September 1829 Assistant to Commissioner of Revenue and Circuit, Meerut Division
3 January 1831 Officiating Deputy Collector of Revenue and Customs at Cawnpore
10 January 1832 Assistant to the Register of Sudder Dewanny and Nizamut Adawlut at Allahabad
11 November 1833 Acting Register of Sudder Dewanny and Nizamut Adawlut at Allahabad
3 November 1834 Officiating Joint-Magistrate and Deputy Collector of Banda
16 July 1835 Officiating Register of Sudder Dewanny and Nizamut Adawlut at Allahabad
18 March 1837 Joint-Magistrate and Deputy Collector of Juanpore
10 April 1837 Officiating Register of Sudder Dewanny and Nizamut Adawlut at Allahabad
14 April 1837 Register of Sudder Dewanny and Nizamut Adawlut at Allahabad
19 March 1839 Officiating Civil and Sessions Judge of Goruckpore
30 January 1840 Officiating Civil and Sessions Judge at Allahabad
30 October 1840 Officiating Civil and Sessions Judge at Juanpore
April 1841 Magistrate and Collector of Agra and of Gooragoon and continuing to Officiate as Judge of Juanpore
11 Dec 1841 Magistrate of Azimghur as well as above
7 Feb 1843 Magistrate and Collector of Futtenpore and continuing to officiate as judge of Juanpore
1847 Magistrate and Collector Furruckabad
1853 Judge of the Courts of Sudder Dewanny and Nizamut Adawlut North-West Provinces; Member of Indian Law Commission
Following the Mutiny, Henry would hold the following positions:
1858 Member of the Legislative Council of India
17 June 1859 Member of the Council of the Governor-General until 21 December 1859
11 April 1862 Member of the Council of the Governor-General resigned 26 April 1865
1865 Nominated Lieutenant Governor of North-West Provinces but resigned without holding office. In 1866, Henry Harington was made Knight Commander of the Star of India (KCSI)
It was the career that John Sherer himself was striving for.
Born in 1823 in Nottingham, his family was no less illustrious – his father, John Walter Sherer had arrived in India in 1798 as a financial administrator for the EICo and had risen to the position of Accountant General of Bengal.
While the past generation of Sherers and Haringtons had been fortunate to “shake the pagoda tree” and had gained their laurels during the best (or worst) years of the EICo, John himself would experience a different India to that of his father and his father-in-law. With his report on the canals having met with the approval of John Colvin, he was sent to his next post – Magistrate and Collector of Fatehpur-Hussowa. With his new papers in hand, John packed up his wife Louisa and their two children Gertrude and Lucy, and headed off to Fatehpur.
Travelling in two post carriages, the family travelled mostly at night along the Grand Trunk Road, stopping on their way at Cawnpore. Here they spent a few days with the Magistrate of that doomed station, Mr. Charles George Hillersdon, and his talented wife Lydia. She was an accomplished pianist, a favourite pupil of the composer Joseph Ascher. They too had 2 children, John and Lydia, and third on the way. John Sherer would recall the simplicity of that visit. Lydia delighted the visitors with “some charming music both on her own instrument and on the concertina…She was fond of Mendelssohns Rondo Capriccioso…and I never hear the piece without recollections of the still interior of the Cawnpore house, its accomplished mistress, her husband, her children, her brother-in-law – Colonel Hillersdon – all doomed to speedy and painful destruction.”
Bidding goodbye to the Hillersdons, the Sherers continued their journey to Fatehpur. While his wife looked after the household, John relieved his predecessor Mr. Edmonstone who went off to Allahabad.
Although all the civilians at Fatehpur were men of some merit and standing, it was the judge, Robert Tucker who struck Sherer the most. Describing him as a “tall, large-boned man” with an “exceedingly fine character,” he was directed by “the primitive piety.” What Sherer calls eccentricities, Robert Tucker was a man of hellfire and brimstone principles. In the court he had painted on the wall over his chair the words “Thou God seest me” and if that was not enough to worry the inhabitants of Fatehpur, Tucker had installed at the entry to the town two stone pillars inscribed in Hindi and Persian, the Ten Commandments and John iii, 14-18.
14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
He was undoubtedly a man of prayer, he would read the scriptures out loud in the vernacular every Sunday, having committed to memory all of the words contained in the Gospels. While it is the missionaries who have been justly blamed for the rampant attempts at conversion, it was people like Robert Tucker and Reverend Jennings in Delhi who went largely unnoticed. Their religion was uncompromising and based on Old World principles, it was no less marred with religious bigotry and out of place in India. However, as Rosie Llewellyn Jones points out, “Being Christian was intrinsically bound up with being British, in mid-nineteen-century India, perhaps even more so than at home.” Unfortunately, their beliefs were not always built on the structures of tolerance to others and when they openly pontificated their views as Robert Tucker did, it cannot be any wonder that the Indians feared losing their religion and being forced to adopt Christianity.
His brother was none other than Henry Carre Tucker, who we have already met in Benares. Henry was a prolific writer, publishing 40 titles including such works as “The Bible in India” and the rather curious “The Thoughts of A Native of Northern India on the Rebellion, It’s Causes and Remedies.” In all, there were 5 Tucker brothers in India in 1857. St. George in Mirzapore, William in a “less acutely unsafe position” at Agra, and Charlton who had seen his own colonel shot down, was serving in the Bengal Army. Their cousin, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Tudor Tucker would be killed in Fathegarh.
(As this family deserves a lengthier analysis – which will include the rather sordid history of their father – than that which I give here, it is my intent to present my readers in a future article that shall explore the family relations in 1857).
Sherer’s arrival in Fatehpur coincided with the news from Allahabad that the 6th BNI was considered shaky but there was no immediate cause for concern. Since a detachment of the self-same regiment was guarding the Fatehpur treasury did not seem to alarm anyone. Sherer received his orders to send all the ladies and children away in case of danger – with no way of assessing threats, Sherer relied on the mail carts. As long as they “ran both ways” Sherer thought any action was unnecessary.
One night, however, the mail did not arrive. Sherer waited with some trepidation and the sowar deputed to meet the mail gave him the news. The cart had not arrived. In the morning he broke the news to his wife and his brother-in-law Forbes (he had been ordered home on sick leave and was staying with Sherer, accompanied by his wife and children), that unless the cart arrived by noon, they must be ready to leave. The hour arrived without bringing any mail; Sherer ordered the post carriages and sent off his family under the protection of Forbes to Allahabad with directions to push on to Calcutta.
The party reached Allahabad safely and seeing the road to Calcutta was still open, they proceeded hence...”and the last day there was any post from Allahabad, there came a mere scrap of untidy paper with the words “all safe” written on it, and the Calcutta post-mark.”
Sherer extended his knowledge to the other ladies of Fatehpur and they, having expected the order sooner or later, made their last arrangements and left the station, while Sherer suggested to the other men they should “make a common home on the only place in the station that would accommodate so large a party,” which happened to be his own house.
Before leaving Agra, Sherer who had no practical experience in managing a district had been told he could place his full confidence in the Deputy-Collector Hiqmat Ullah Khan and “lean on him as a man of complete acquaintance with that part of the country, intelligent, tried and entirely to be trusted.” This advice was given by the Government Secretary no less, but Sherer was not convinced.
Upon arriving in Fatehpur Sherer found the deputy collector to be a “tall, but with a rather stooping, invalid figure, of pale, olive complexion, and with reticent eyes – eyes, that is, from which he withheld all expression, till he could form some idea of my character…the impression he produced.. was that of a person astute rather than frank, and whose behaviour would be coloured by his opinion of his official superior.” As it was, after the initial meeting, Hiqmat Ullah avoided Sherer and in the brief moments when their paths crossed, the deputy collector would not admit to there being any disaffection in the army, much less in Fatehpur.
Instead, Sherer held regular discourse with the Subedar of the treasury guard who came personally every morning to deliver his report to Sherer. One morning, after several days of anxiously trying to convince Sherer of his fidelity, the Subedar “…rose from his seat abruptly, opened his coat, and drew out his sacrificial thread, and holding it up in his hand, he exclaimed in a strong voice, “If I am not faithful to the Government (Sircar), Collector Sahib, may Gunga strike me dead !” It wasn’t this open proclamation however that impressed Sherer.
When the Subedar was unable to attend the report, he sent “a pleasant-faced old Jemadar” in his place, and Sherer could see that the old was distressed. His heart was clearly not on mutiny and he continued to ask Sherer what the news was from Allahabad. Asking him if he had his men in hand at the treasury, the poor Jemadar simply replied, “Oh yes, all is right…But the young are obstinate, and if they get the wind into their heads, they won’t listen to advice.” It was enough to convince Sherer that things were not all as they seemed.
The 6th of June broke over Fatehpur – a cloudy and overcast day, the air still. After luncheon, Sherer and the other men sat out on the verandah – looking into the distance they saw “a purple haze, and a sound of guns was distinctly heard. The firing had been going on since mid-day…and every now and then the deep rumble of heavy ordnance came rolling over the fields…” It was the 6th of June, and 50 miles away at Cawnpore, unbeknownst to Sherer, the Nana Sahib had attacked Wheeler’s Entrenchment. U In the evening Sherer received the fateful news from the Sub-Collector, who, posted half-way to Cawnpore, sent a most flamboyant letter.
“What Roostums were these, who, a mere handful, were resisting hordes of their enemies? What courage! What resource! The pen refused to proceed, and bowed itself down before qualities which it would require a Furdoosee to rightly celebrate.”
Sherer saw nothing to celebrate. The storm was closing in on Fatehpur.
On the days preceding the 6th of June, the remaining Europeans in Fatehpur had been restricting their movements – they had tried to continue some semblance of normalcy, attending their various duties and riding out in the evening. However, it was deemed pointless to keep up the show and the rides were dropped. They had also started sleeping on the roof of Sherer’s house – it was only accessable by ladder, at the top of which was door that could be locked. They then started spending the days on the roof the heat notwithstanding.
Rumours ran rife through the town and news seldom. Sherer was apprised of the movements of the 2nd Cavalry, detached to take treasure to Allahabad and who would be soon returning to their station, via Fatehpur. The rumour however persisted that they would join the 6th at Fatehpur and on their passage through the town, stop in to loot the treasury. The Subedar sought to reassure Sherer, asserting if the cavalry came anywhere near the treasury, he would fire into them, without hesitation. Taking but small comfort from this, Sherer obligingly took for his defence a number of matchlock men sent to him by a kindly Zamindar. Sherer had the men posted in a garden close to his house and ordered him, should the Cavalry ride into Fatehpur to let them pass. They were then to close in on them in the rear, thus providing support to the Subedar at the Treasury.
As luck would have it the Cavalry did ride into Fatehpur, and as Sherer had believed, they passed the matchlock men. One of them went out to parley with the men of the Cavalry – within minutes, there was a further sound of hoofs but this time, in the opposite direction. A messenger came to Sherer to report the Cavalry had decided to go to Cawnpore instead.
Not leaving anything to chance, Sherer and the assistant magistrate Macnaghten rode out to the Treasury. Faithfulness had been on their side after all.
“All the Sepoys had their muskets, and the Subahdar was in a glow of self-satisfaction, as he ordered us seats, and exclaimed: ” I told you there was no cause for apprehension.” It seems that some zealous Mahomedans had gone out of the town to meet the Cavalry, and to tell them to beware of an ambush which the English had laid for them in a garden adjoining the road. They rode out of the street, therefore, in the greatest trepidation, and if they ever intended coming to the treasury, gave up the idea, and sent an embassy to the guard, with whom, however, the Subahdar refused to treat.”
As with all things in 1857, nothing was certain and the next day, after what was a peaceful night, Sherer was confronted with more trouble. This time it came from Allahabad.
The prison in that erstwhile had been opened and the convicts were now roaming freely through the district; it was not long before groups of them entered Fatehpur. Their main object was plunder and they made short work of the empty bungalows, stripping them down to the very woodwork and doors. Sherer and the others could only watch, unable to prevent even a screw from being stolen.
Then came the proposal to open Fatehpur goal – something viewed with favour by the Subedar, whose logic was if the prisoners broke out themselves they would probably prove troublesome; if he let them out, he would be able to simply disperse them. What was becoming rapidly clear to Sherer was that despite their prostestations of loyalty, the detachment of the 6th BNI was simply waiting for an opportune moment when they could walk away with the treasury themselves.
As if one worry wasn’t enough, Sherer’s deputy made his appearance. Sword in hand and accompanied by two men with guns, he informed Sherer that “things were getting very awkward..” He further explained that the influential Mohamedans of the town had armed not only themselves but their retainers and although they had now come to pay their respects to the English, necessity had now forced them to take the law into their own hands. Although they were willing to keep the peace as far as possible, the continued presence of the English “was a great source of irritation, and that if we withdrew for a time, he thought the excitement would go down. As for our attempting at present to support the British Government, it was altogether out of the question.” Not easily cowed, Sherer told Hiqmat Ullah that although their movements at present were undecided, he would implicity rely on him and the other Mohamedans to keep order in the town, should he find himself obliged to leave.
“If I go, it will only be for a months leave…” He laughed and replied, “In that case, we shall meet again…” Although they would meet again, the circumstances would be quite different than either of them would expect.
It was now the 9th of June. Mutiny was spreading its tentacles throughout the immediate area – and Sherer, with a sinking heart, started contemplating retreat. The problem was, there didn’t seem anywhere left to go. Cawnpore was lost, Allahabad and Rai Bareilly were up in flames. The only town left for the moment was Banda. The treasury, as he rightly saw it, had long since passed into the hands of the Subadar, and if the rumours were true, the next morning the jail would be opened.
We Drank to a Lucky Excursion
On his last evening in Fatehpur, Sherer took a final walk with Robert Tucker. They strolled together through a little garden, overgrown with flowering shrubs, and in the stillness of the evening, Sherer told him of their plans. Tucker had been spending his time, not cooped up in Sherer’s house, but as his house was close to the main guard, he had slept at night with the sepoys only taking some of his meals with Sherer and the others. He had heard the sepoys, especially the young ones discussing their own plans – their leader, as he saw it was not anyone but the Subdhar, who as long as he remained staunch, the sepoys would follow him. However, it was clear, that holding Fatehpur was useless. What they disagreed on was which way to go. While Sherer intended to strike out for Banda that very night, Tucker resolved to make his way to Delhi. He still believed relief would come from Delhi and the idea of skulking away like fugitives as Sherer intended to do would only lead to harm. Sherer entreated Tucker to join them but the judge stoutly refused. He would not even stay for dinner having made up his mind to go home.
“He shook me by the hand, wished every success to our adventure, said he hoped himself to be soon on the road to Delhi, and we parted, to meet no more in this world…”
Before dinner, Sherer out on clothes “suitable….should a prolonged absence from the washerman take place.” His servants had prepared his bag, and had taken every precaution they possibly could – “elaborate instructions were given as to where the little knick-knacks of the toilet could be found. ” If I put my hand in one corner there would be a comb, and down in another was the shoe-horn…” This was more than just simple concern. They understood the man they had worked for since 1848 would very likely be murdered. With the exception of the groom and syce, none of the servants of Sherer’s household was joining the party on the flight to Banda. For as Sherer rightly understood, they were anxious about their own families and their homes – taking them along would have been cruel in the extreme, and above all, would have endangered lives for no reason. It was no simple leave-taking. Having explained to Sherer all the intricacies of his bag, and expressed their warmest wishes for his safe journey, “they both knelt down, clasped me round the knees, and wept like children, and to speak the truth, I had a good cry myself; short, sharp, relieving, and un- witnessed by the scornful.” It is much overlooked in mutiny narratives, but more often than not, the humblest servants would prove to be the loyalist saviours. They risked their lives to save the children of their murdered masters – take in point the Donald children in Meerut or in the case of Munnea ayah who travelled all the way to Calcutta to deliver Mrs. Larkins’ last letter from Cawnpore. Mr. Thornhill was saved by his manservant who cleverly disguised him as a woman; the Greatheds were saved by their servants who hid them on the roof and refused anyone entrance to the house – these are just a few isolated examples, but they played out over and over again throughout the turbulent times of 1857. It must be understood that the bond formed by the household staff and their employer was not merely of monetary value. It was true faith and mutually reciprocated. In his dying days, John Nicholson trusted no one to tend him but his manservant who had followed him through all his perils since Afghanistan. This formidable man in the past stood behind Nicholson’s chair during meals with his pistol cocked, allowed no one to serve Nicholson but himself and at night slept across the doorway of Nicholson’s tent. Unfortunately, there has been too little written about the devotion of servants and at least Sherer in his account gives us a little glimpse.
Dinner done, the men assembled on the roof of Sherer’s house and for the last time toasted their upcoming ride. At a little after 11 pm, they descended to the verandah and mounted their horses. With their belongings and some money bags safely packed on a dogcart, the party moved off in their darkness.
They were accompanied by a few sowars – not as Sherer says for protection but for proving to prevent the appearance that they had been deserted by their followers. Sherer and his party would reach Banda in safety but their sojourn would be but short.
Parting of Ways
Back in Fatehpur, on the 10th of June, Judge Robert Tucker was now effectively the last European left in the station. As accustomed, he slept among the guard the night Sherer left the station. In the morning Tucker returned to his house. Most likely alarmed at not just his position but by some expressions of the sepoys he had heard during the night, he requested the deputy collector for some horses and an escort to Banda. The reply from Hiqmat Ullah was to the effect that there were none to be had, and no, he could not render the judge any assistance at all. As predicted, the jail had been opened – not just the town but the roads were now full of rough convicts. The judge, mounting his own horse and with a rifle on his back, proceeded into the town possibly intending to visit the unhelpful deputy collector himself. However, the population of Fatehpur by this time was in considerable excitement – Tucker had resort to use his rifle several times if only to clear the way back to his own house.
Climbing up to the roof, from where he had a view of the surrounding area, Tucker waited for the inevitable.
“…a large body of men were seen advancing from the town. They had banners and symbols typical of the Moslem Faith, and a copy of the Koran was carried open before one of the number. They advanced to a space beneath the Judge’s office, and several fire-arms were discharged towards the gaunt figure standing against the sky, deadened in its colour by the heat. There was a sharp return from the roof. Again a silence, broken only by the monotonously-muttered passages from the Koran. Again a discharge. And struck by a bullet in the forehead, Robert Tucker sank to rise no more.”
There is little more to be said. Sherer would be abused for having abandoned Fatehpur and Tucker would be elevated by the Christian Mission to the status of a martyr. However, neither premise is correct. On his part, Sherer saw staying at Fatehpur as tantamount to death and his corpse would benefit neither the government or his own family. Tucker had elected to remain and had refused to leave. He must have known his fate was sealed.
Daily Life During the Indian Mutiny – John W. Sherer, 1910
The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Lady of England, by Agnes Giberne
Fatehpur: a Gazetteer, Vol. XX of the District Gazetteer of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh – H.R. Nevill, ICS, FRGS, FSS; Allahabad, 1906