Story type: Essay
In now reproducing the three series of notes on the Indian Mutiny written by DE QUINCEY for me in Titan, I must advert briefly to the agony of apprehension under which the two earlier chapters were written. I can never forget the intense anxiety with which he studied daily the columns of The Scotsman and The Times, looking wistfully for tidings from Roorkhee where his daughter FLORENCE was shut up. The father’s heart was on the rack until news arrived that the little garrison was saved.
The following paragraph from a letter written to his daughter EMILY on Sunday, December 1st, 1857, will give some idea of the tension of that terrible suspense:–
‘INDIA.–Up to the last mail but one (or briefly in its Latin form, up to the penultimate mail), I suffered in my nervous system to an extent that (except once, in 1812) had not experimentally been made known to me as a possibility. Every night, oftentimes all night long, I had the same dream–a vision of children, most of them infants, but not all, the first rank being girls of five and six years old, who were standing in the air outside, but so as to touch the window; and I heard, or perhaps fancied that I heard, always the same dreadful word Delhi, not then knowing that a word even more dreadful— Cawnpore–was still in arrear. This fierce shake to my nerves caused almost from the beginning a new symptom to expose itself (of which previously I never had the faintest outline), viz. somnambulism; and now every night, to my great alarm, I wake up to find myself at the window, which is sixteen feet from the nearest side of the bed. The horror was unspeakable from the hell-dog Nena or Nana; how if this fiend should get hold of FLORENCE or her baby (now within seventeen days of completing her half year)? What first gave me any relief was a good firm-toned letter, dated Rourkee, in the public journals, from which it was plain that Rourkee had found itself able to act aggressively.’
Anglo-Indian authorities seem to spell this word in four different ways.–H. ]
DE QUINCEY had reason to be proud of his son-in-law, COLONEL BAIRD SMITH, whose varied and brilliant services, culminating at the siege of Delhi, are written in the pages of SIR JOHN KAYE’S and COLONEL MALLESON’S History of the Sepoy War.
On that fateful day at Delhi, when so much hung upon the decision as to whether the British should hold the ground they had won in the first assault, it is not too much to say that ‘the splendid obstinacy’ of BAIRD SMITH practically saved India.
I throw together a few passages from the thrilling pages where the story is told–sufficient to enable the reader who comes fresh to the subject, to understand what manner of man this gallant engineer was who made his mark on British India.
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Rurki (or Roorkhee) was the head-quarters of the Engineering Science of the country. When the news came of the Delhi massacre, BAIRD SMITH instantly made ‘admirable arrangements for the defence of the great engineering depot, in which he took such earnest and loving interest. Officially, he was superintendent of irrigation in the north-western provinces–a most useful functionary, great in all the arts of peace, and with a reputation which any man might be proud to possess. But the man of much science now grew at once into the man of war, and Rurki became a garrison under his command. Not an hour was lost.’
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His timely express to MAJOR CHARLES REID to bring his men on by the Ganges Canal route instead of by forced marches was an early evidence of his combination of dash and sound judgment. REID said, that it saved the place and the lives of the ladies and children.
From the hour that he made his appearance before Delhi as Chief Engineer, a succession of incidents stand on record which show his skill and courage. On the first occasion of BRIGADIER-GENERAL WILSON consulting him professionally, ‘he threw all the earnestness of his nature into a great remonstrance against the project of withdrawal. He told the General that to raise the siege would be fatal to our national interests. ‘It is our duty,’ he said, ‘to retain the grip which we now have upon Delhi, and to hold on like Grim Death until the place is our own.’ He argued it ably. WILSON listened, and was convinced.
In that supreme moment at the storming of Delhi, when the repulse of two columns, the heavy losses, and the great strength of the place caused the General to hesitate whether to continue the operations, England had cause to feel thankful for the tenacity and daring of two of her sons:–
‘From this fatal determination GENERAL WILSON was saved by the splendid obstinacy of BAIRD SMITH, aided by the soldier-like instincts of NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN…. The General undoubtedly believed that the safety of the army would be compromised by the retention of the positions they had gained. Fortunately, BAIRD SMITH was at his elbow. Appealed to by GENERAL WILSON as to whether he thought it possible for the army to retain the ground they had won, his answer was short and decisive, “We must do so!” That was all. But the uncompromising tone, the resolute manner, the authority of the speaker, combined to make it a decision against which there was no appeal. GENERAL WILSON accepted it…. It is not too much to affirm, that a retrograde movement would, for the time, have lost India.’
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In spite of the sufferings attendant on a severe wound, the indomitable spirit of this brave soldier carried him through all trials until India was practically saved. Then, shattered by his many exertions, the breathing time came too late. His career is thus summed up in the following inscription on his tomb in Calcutta Cathedral:–
‘COLONEL RICHARD BAIRD SMITH of the Bengal Engineers, Master of the Calcutta Mint, C.B. and A.D.C. to the Queen, whose career, crowded with brilliant service, cut short at its brightest, was born at Lasswade on the 31st of December, 1818. He went to India in 1836. Already distinguished in the two Sikh wars, his conduct on the outbreak of revolt in 1857 showed what a clear apprehension, a stout heart, and a hopeful spirit could effect with scanty means in crushing disorder. Called to Delhi as chief engineer, his bold and ready judgment, his weighty and tenacious counsels, played a foremost part in securing the success of the siege and England’s supremacy. The gathered wisdom of many years spent in administering the irrigation of Upper India, trained him for his crowning service–the survey of the great famine of 1861, the provision of relief, and the suggestions of safeguards against such calamities. Broken by accumulated labours, he died at sea, Dec. 13, 1861, aged scarcely 43 years. At Madras, where his Indian career began, his body awaits the resurrection.’
His great work, the Report on Italian Irrigation, published with maps and plans in 1852, remains a monument of his engineering ability. COLONEL BAIRD SMITH also published:–
(1) Agricultural Resources of the Punjab. London:
(2) The Cauvery, Kistnah, and Godavery; being a
report on the works constructed on these rivers for the
Irrigation of the provinces of Tanjore, Guntoor,
Masulipatam, and Rajahmundry, in the Presidency of
Madras. London: 1856. 8vo.
(3) A Short Account of the Ganges Canal, with a
description of some of the Principal Works. 40 pp.
Thomason College Press, Roorkee: 1870. 8vo.–H.
HURRIED NOTICES OF INDIAN AFFAIRS.
From the foundations of the earth, no case in human action or suffering has occurred which could less need or less tolerate the aid of artificial rhetoric than that tremendous tragedy which now for three months long has been moving over the plains of Hindostan. What in Grecian days were called aporreta ([Greek: aporrheta]), things not utterable in human language or to human ears–things ineffable–things to be whispered–things to dream of, not to tell–these things amongst high-caste Brahmims, and amongst the Rajapoots, or martial race of heroes; have been the common product of the passing hour. Is this well? Is this a fitting end for the mighty religious system that through countless generations has overshadowed India? Yes, it is well: it is a fitting end for that man-destroying system, more cruel than the bloody religions of Mexico, which, for the deification of the individual, made hopeless Helots of the multitude. Henceforward CASTE must virtually be at an end. Upon caste has our Bengal army founded a final treason bloodier and larger than any known to human annals. Now, therefore, mere instincts of self-preservation–mere shame–mere fiery stress of necessity, will compel our East India Directory (or whatsoever power may now under parliamentary appointment inherit their responsibilities) to proscribe, once and for ever, by steadfast exclusion from all possibility of a martial career–to ruin by legal degradation and incapacities, all Hindoo pretensions to places of trust, profit, or public dignity which found themselves upon high caste, as Brahmins or Rajapoots. Yes, it is well that the high-caste men, who existed only for the general degradation of their own Hindoo race in humbler stations, have themselves severed the links which connected them with the glory (so unmerited for them) of a nobler Western nationality. Bought though it is by earthly ruin, by torment, many times by indignities past utterance inflicted upon our dear massacred sisters, and upon their unoffending infants, yet for that very reason we must now maintain the great conquest so obtained. There is no man living so base–no, there is not a felon living amongst us, who could be persuaded to repeat the act of the Grecian leader Agamemnon–namely, to sacrifice his innocent daughter, just entering the portals of life in its most golden stage, on the miserable pretence of winning a public benefit; masking a diabolical selfishness by the ostentation of public spirit. Yet if some calamity, or even some atrocity, had carried off the innocent creature under circumstances which involved an advantage to her country, or to coming generations, the most loving father might gradually allow himself to draw consolation from the happy consequences of a crime which he would have died to prevent. Even such a mixed necessity of feeling presses upon ourselves at present. From the bloody graves of our dear martyred sisters, scattered over the vast plains of India, rises a solemn adjuration to the spiritual ear of Him that listens with understanding. Audibly this spiritual voice says: O dear distant England! mighty to save, were it not that in the dreadful hour of our trial thou wert far away, and heardest not the screams of thy dying daughters and of their perishing infants. Behold! for us all is finished! We from our bloody graves, in which all of us are sleeping to the resurrection, send up united prayers to thee, that upon the everlasting memory of our hell-born wrongs, thou, beloved mother, wouldst engraft a counter-memory of everlasting retribution, inflicted upon the Moloch idolatries of India. Upon the pride of caste rests for its ultimate root all this towering tragedy, which now hides the very heavens from India. Grant, therefore, O distant, avenging England–grant the sole commensurate return which to us can be granted–us women and children that trod the fields of carnage alone–grant to our sufferings the virtue and lasting efficacy of a lutron ([Greek: lutron]), or ransom paid down on behalf of every creature groaning under the foul idol of caste. Only by the sufferance of England can that idolatry prosper. Thou, therefore, England, when Delhi is swept by the ploughshare and sown with salt, build a solitary monument to us; and on its base inscribe that the last and worst of the murderous idolatries which plagued and persecuted the generations of men was by us abolished; and that by women and children was the pollution of caste cleansed from the earth for ever!
‘A sight to dream of, not to tell.’–Coleridge. ]
Twenty-three and twenty-eight thousand of these two orders we have in our Bengal army. ]
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Now let us descend into the circumstantialities of the case, explaining what may have been obscure to the general reader. By which term general reader is meant, that reader who has had no reason for cultivating any acquaintance whatever with India; to whom, therefore, the whole subject is unbroken ground; and who neither knows, nor pretends to know, the merest outline of our British connection with India; what first carried us thither; what accidents of good luck and of imminent peril raised us from a mere commercial to a political standing; how we improved this standing by prodigious energy into the position of a conquering state; prospered rapidly by the opposition which we met; overthrew even our European competitors, of whom the deadliest were the French; pursued a difficult war with an able Mahometan upstart, Hyder Ali–a treacherous and cruel prince; next with his son, Tippoo Sahib, a still more ferocious scoundrel, who, in his second war with us, was settled effectually by one thrust of a bayonet in the hands of an English soldier. This war, and the consequent division of Tippoo’s dominions, closed the eighteenth century. About 1817 we undertook the great Mahratta war; the victorious termination of which placed us, after sixty years of struggle, in the supreme rank amongst Indian potentates. All the rest of our power and greatness accrued to us by a natural and spontaneous evolution of consequences, most of which would have followed us as if by some magnetic attraction, had we ourselves been passive. No conquering state was ever yet so mild and beneficent in the spirit of its government, or so free from arrogance in its demeanour. An impression thoroughly false prevails even amongst ourselves, that we have pursued a systematic course of usurpations, and have displaced all the ancient thrones of Hindostan. Unfortunately for this representation, it happens that all the leading princes of India whose power and rank brought them naturally into collision with ourselves, could not be ancient, having been originally official dependants upon the great Tartar prince, whose throne was usually at Agra or Delhi, and whom we called sometimes the Emperor, or the Shah, or more often the Great Mogul. During the decay of the Mogul throne throughout the eighteenth century, these dependent princes had, by continual encroachments on the weakness of their sovereign, made themselves independent rulers; but they could not be older than the great Mogul Shah himself, who had first created them. Now the Mogul throne was itself a mere modern creation, owing its birth to Baber, the great-grandson of Tamerlane. But Baber, the eldest of these Tartar princes, synchronised with our English Henry VIII. In reality, there was nothing old in India that could be displaced by us; at least amongst the Mahometan princes. Some ancient Hindoo Rajahs there were in obscure corners, but without splendour of wealth or military distinction; and the charge of usurpation was specially absurd, since we pre-eminently were the king-makers, the king-supporters, the king-pensioners, in Hindostan; and excepting the obscure princes just mentioned, almost every Indian prince, at the time of our opening business in the political line, happened to be a usurper. We ourselves made the Rajah of Oude into a king; we ourselves more than once saved the supreme Shah (i. e. the Great Mogul) from military ruin, and for many a year saved him and his from the painful condition of insolvency. But all this is said in the way of parenthesis. In another number, a sketch of our Indian Empire, in its growth and early oscillations, may be presented to the reader, specially adapted to the use of those whose reading has not lain in that direction. Now let us return to the great domineering question of the hour–the present tremendous revolt on the part of seventy or eighty thousand men in our Bengal Presidency.
This mutiny we propose to notice briefly but searchingly under three heads–first, in its relation to the mutineers themselves; next, in its relation to ourselves; but, subdividing that question, we will assign the second head to the consideration of its probable bearing on our political credit and reputation; whilst the third head may be usefully given to the consideration of its bearing on our pecuniary interests, and our means of effectual reparation for the ruins left behind by rebellion, and by the frantic spasms of blind destruction.
First, then, let us look for a moment at this great tumultuary movement, as it points more or less obscurely to the ulterior purposes of the mutineers, and the temper in which they pursue those purposes. In a newspaper of Saturday, August 15, we observe the following sentence introductory to a most unsatisfactory discussion of the Indian revolt:–‘The mutiny in India, from the uninterrupted nature of its progress, and its rapid spread through every considerable station, shows a power of combination and determination which has never before been given credit for to the native Indian mind.’ This passage is cited by us, not for anything plausible in its views, but for the singular felicity of contradiction which fortunately it offers to every indication of the true disposable ability that is now, or ever has been, at the service of the insurgents. This, indeed, is rapidly becoming of very subordinate importance; since the ablest rebel, without an army, must be contemptible enough. But with a view to the larger question–What quality of opposition is ever likely to be brought into play against us, not in merely military displays, but in the secret organisation of plots and local tumults, propagated over extensive provinces? Some degree of anxiety is reasonable under any possible condition of the army; and this being so, it is satisfactory to observe, now in 1857, the same childishness and defect of plan and coherent purpose as have ever characterised the oriental mind. No foresight has been exhibited; no concert between remote points; no preparation; no tendency towards combined action. And, on the other hand, it is most justly noticed by a new London paper, of the same date–namely, the People–that it is perfectly dazzling to the mind to review over the whole face of India, under almost universal desertion, the attitude of erectness and preparation assumed by the scattered parties of our noble countrymen–‘everywhere’ (says the People) ‘driven to bay, and everywhere turning upon and scattering all assailants. From all parts is the same tale. No matter how small the amount of the British force may be, if it were but a captain’s company, it holds its own.’ On the other hand, what single success have the rebels achieved? Most valiant, no doubt, they have shown themselves in hacking to pieces poor fugitive women, most intrepid in charging a column of infants. Else, what have they to show? Delhi is the solitary post which they have for the moment secured; but even that through the incomprehensible failure of the authorities at Meerut, and not through any vigour manifested by themselves. Any uneasiness which still possesses the minds of close observers fastens upon these two points–first, upon the disarmings, as distinguished from the desertions; secondly, upon the amount, and probable equipment, and supposed route of stragglers. It is now said that the mutiny has burned itself out from mere defect of fuel; there can be no more revolts of sepoys, seeing that no sepoys now remain to revolt; that is, of the Bengal force. But in this general statement a great distinction is neglected. Regiments once disarmed, if also stripped of their private arms, whether deserters or not, are of slight account; but the grave question is this–how many of (say seventy) regiments have gone off previously to the disarming. Even in that case, the most favourable for them where arms are secured, it is true that ammunition will very soon fail them; but still their bayonets will be available; and we believe that the East India infantry carry swords. A second anxiety connects itself with the vast number of vagrant marauding soldiers, having power to unite, and to assail small detached stations or private bungalows. Yet, again, in cases known specially to ourselves, the inhabitants of such small insulated stations had rapidly fortified the buildings best fitted for defence. Already, by the 18th of May, in a station not far from Delhi, this had been effected; every native servant, male or female, had been discharged instantly; and perhaps they would be able to strengthen themselves with artillery. The horrors also of the early murders at Delhi would be likely to operate beneficially, by preventing what otherwise is sure to happen–namely, the disposition to relax in vigilance as first impressions wear off. Considering, upon the whole, the amount of regiments that may be assumed as absolutely disarmed and neutralised; and, on the other hand, counting the 5000 and upwards of troops intercepted on their route to Hong-Kong, and adding these to at least 25,000 of Queen’s troops previously in the country, counting also the faithful section of the Sikhs, the Ghoorkas, and others that could be relied on, the upshot must be, that at least 40,000 troops of the best quality are scattered between the Hoogly and the Sutlege (or, in other words, between Calcutta and Loodiana). Beyond a few casual outrages on some small scale, we hope that no more of bloody tragedies can be now (August 25) apprehended. But we, that have dear friends in Bengal, must, for weeks to come, feel restless and anxious. Still, this is a great mitigation of the horror that besieged our anticipations six weeks ago.
‘Loodiana:’–The very last station in Bengal, on going westwards to the Indus. In Runjeet Singh’s time this was for many years the station at which we lodged our Affghan pensioner, the Shah Soojah–too happy, had he never left his Loodiana lodgings. ]
But, having thrown a glance at the shifting aspects of the danger, now let us alight for a moment on the cause of this dreadful outbreak. We have no separate information upon this part of the subject, but we have the results of our own vigilant observations upon laying this and that together; and so much we will communicate. From the first, we have rejected incredulously the immoderate effects ascribed to the greased cartridges; and not one rational syllable is there in the pretended rumours about Christianising the army. Not only is it impossible that folly so gross should maintain itself against the unremitting evidence of facts, all tending in the opposite direction; but, moreover, under any such idle solution as this, there would still remain another point unaccounted for, and that is the frantic hatred borne towards ourselves by many of the rebellious troops. Some of our hollow friends in France, Belgium, etc., profess to read in this hatred an undeniable inference that we must have treated the sepoys harshly, else how explain an animosity so deadly. To that argument we have a very brief answer, such as seems decisive. The Bengalese sepoy, when most of all pressed for some rational explanation of his fury, never once thought of this complaint; besides which, it is too notorious that our fault has always lain the other way. Heavily criminal, in fact, we had been by our lax discipline; and in particular, the following most scandalous breach of discipline must have been silently connived at for years by British authorities. Amongst the outward forms of respect between man and man, there is none that has so indifferently belonged to all nations, as the act of rising from a sedentary posture for the purpose of expressing respect. Most other forms of respect have varied with time and with place. The ancient Romans, for instance, never bowed; and amongst orientals, you are thought to offer an insult if you uncover your head. In this little England of ours, who could fancy two stout men curtseying to each other? Yet this they did, and so recently as in Shakspere’s days. To use his words, they ‘crook’d the pregnant hinges of the knee.’ Sometimes they curtseyed with the right knee singly, sometimes with both, as did Romeo to the fiery Tybalt. Many and rapid, therefore, were the changes in ceremonial forms, at least with us, the changeable men of Christendom; else how could it happen that, two hundred and fifty years back, men of rank in England should have saluted each other by forms that now would be thought to indicate lunacy? And yet, violent as the spirit of change might otherwise be, one thing never changed–the expression of respect between man and man by rising from their seats.
‘Utque viro sancto chorus assurrexerit omnis’
is a record belonging to the eldest of days; and that it belonged not to the eldest times only, but also to the highest rank, is involved in a memorable anecdote from the last days of Julius Caesar. He, the mighty dictator–
‘Yes, he, the foremost man of all this world’–
actually owed his assassination, under one representation, to the burning resentment of his supposed aristocratic hauteur in a public neglect of this very form. A deputation of citizens, on a matter of business, had found him seated, and to their immeasurable disgust, he had made no effort even to rise. His friends excused him on the allegation, whether true or not, that at the moment he was physically incapacitated from rising by a distressing infirmity. It might be so: as Shakspere elsewhere observes, the black silk patch knows best whether there is a wound underneath it. But, if it were not so, then the imperial man paid the full penalty of his offence, supposing the rancorous remembrance of that one neglect were truly and indeed what armed the Ides of March against his life. But, were this story as apocryphal as the legends of our nurseries, still the bare possibility that ‘the laurelled majesty' of that mighty brow should have been laid low by one frailty of this particular description–this possibility recalls us clamorously to the treasonable character of such an insolence, when practised systematically for the last eighteen months by a Pagan hound, by a sepoy from Lucknow or Benares, towards his British commanding officer. Shall it have been possible that the founder of the Roman empire died for having ignored the decencies of human courtesy, perhaps through momentary inattention, by wandering of thoughts, or by that collapse of energy which sometimes steps between our earnest intentions and their fulfilment–this man, so august, shall he have expiated by a bloody death one fleeting moment of forgetfulness? and yet, on the other hand, under our Indian government, the lowest of our servants, a mass of carrion from a brotherhood of Thugs, shall have had free license to insult the leaders of the army which finds bread for him and his kindred? That the reader may understand what it is that we are talking of–not very long ago, in one of the courts-martial occasioned by some explosions of tentative insubordination preliminary to the grand revolt, a British officer, holding the rank of lieutenant, made known to the court, that through the last twelve or eighteen months he had been struck and shocked by one alarming phenomenon within the cantonments of the sepoys: formerly, on his entering the lines, the men had risen respectfully from their seats as he walked along; but since 1854, or thereabouts, they had insolently looked him in the face, whilst doggedly retaining their seats. Now this was a punishable breach of discipline, which in our navy would be punished without fail. Even a little middy, fresh from the arms of his sisters or his nurse, and who does not bear any royal commission, as an ensign or cornet in the army, is thus supported in the performance of his duty, and made respectable in the eyes of his men, though checked in all explosions of childish petulance–even to this child, as an officer in command, respect is exacted; and on the finest arena of discipline ever exhibited to the world, it is habitually felt that from open disrespect to the ruin of all discipline the steps of descent are rapid. This important fact in evidence as to the demeanour of the sepoy, throws a new light upon the whole revolt. Manifestly it had been moulding and preparing itself for the last two years, or more. And those authorities who had tolerated Colonel Wheler for months, might consistently tolerate this presumption in the sepoy for a year.
For the sake of readers totally unacquainted with the subject, it may be as well to make an explanation or two. The East India regiments generally run to pretty high numbers–1000 or 1200. The high commissioned officers, as the captain, lieutenant, etc., are always British; but the non-commissioned officers are always native Hindoos–that is, sepoys. For instance, the naik, or corporal; the havildar, or serjeant:–even of the commissioned officers, the lowest are unavoidably native, on account of the native private. Note that sepoy, as colloquially it is called, but sipahee, as in books it is often written, does not mean Hindoo or Hindoo soldier, but is simply the Hindoo word for soldier. ]
‘The laurelled majesty,’ etc.:–A flying reference to a grand expression–majestas laurea frontis–which occurs in a Latin supplement to the Pharsalia by May, an English poet, contemporary with the latter days of Shakspere. ]
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We had, in reliance upon receiving fuller materials for discussion by the Eastern mail arriving in the middle of August, promised by anticipation two heads for our review, which, under the imperfect explanations received, we are compelled to defer. Meantime, upon each of these two heads we shall point the attention of our readers to one or two important facts, First, as regards the sepoy revolt considered in relation to the future pecuniary burdens on the Bengal exchequer, it ought to be remembered, that, if (according to a very loose report) the Company shall finally be found to have lost twenty millions of rupees, or two millions sterling, by the looting of many local treasuries, it will, on the other hand, have saved, upon forfeited pay, and (which is much more important) upon, forfeited pensions, in coming years, a sum nearly corresponding. Secondly, this loot or plunder must have served the public interest in a variety of ways. It must have cramped the otherwise free motions of the rebels; must have given multiplied temptations to desertion; must have instilled jealousies of each other, and want of cordial co-operation in regard to the current plans, and oftentimes murderous animosities in regard to past transactions–divisions of spoil, or personal competitions. Thus far, if nothing had been concerned more precious than money, it is by no means clear that the public service (as distinct from the interest of private individuals, whose property has been destroyed) will be found to have very seriously suffered.
The other head, which concerns the probable relation of this astonishing revolt to the wisdom of our late Indian administration, finds us, for the present, enveloped in a mystery the most impenetrable that history, in any of its darkest chapters, has offered. We have a war on foot with Southern China, or rather with Canton; and what may be the Chinese object in that war, is hitherto an impenetrable mystery. But darker and more unfathomable is the mystery which invests the sepoy insurrection. Besides the notorious fact that no grievances, the very slightest, have been alleged, it must also be remembered that we first and solely made a provision for the invalided and for the superannuated soldier–a thing unheard of throughout Asia. And this golden reversion, the poor infatuated savages have wilfully renounced! The sole sure result, from this most suicidal of revolts, is–that unpitied myriads of sepoys will be bayonetted, thousands will be hanged, and nearly all will lose their pensions.
PASSING NOTICES OF INDIAN AFFAIRS.
An English historian–one amongst many–of our British India, having never happened to visit any part of that vast region, nor, indeed, any part of the East, founded upon that accident a claim to a very favourable distinction. It was, Mr. Mill argued, desirable–it was a splendid advantage–NOT to have seen India. This advantage he singly, amongst a crowd of coming rivals and precursors, might modestly plead; and to that extent he pretended to a precedency amongst all his competitors.
The whole claim, and the arguments which supported it, wore the aspect of a paradox; and a paradox it certainly was–but not, therefore, a falsehood. A paradox, as I have many times explained, or proposition contradicting the doxa or public opinion, not only may be true, but often has been the leading truth in capital struggles of opinion. Not only the true doctrine, but also, in some branches of science, the very fundamental doctrine, that which at this day furnishes a foundation to all the rest, originally came forward as a violent and revolting, paradox. It is possible enough, therefore, that the Indian historiographer may have been right, and not merely speciously ingenious. It is something of a parallel case, which we may all have known through the candid admissions of the Duke of Wellington, that the battle of Waterloo might by possibility have been reported as satisfactorily, on the 18th of June, 1815, from the centre of London smoke, as from the centre of that Belgian smoke which sat in heavy clouds throughout the day upon the field of battle. Now and then, it is true, these Belgian clouds drew up in solemn draperies, and revealed the great tragic spectacle lying behind them for a brief interval. But they closed up again, and what the spectator saw through these fugitive openings would have availed him little indeed, unless in so far as it was extended and interpreted by information issuing from the British staff. But this information would have been not less material and effectual towards a history of the mighty battle, if furnished to a man sitting in a London drawing-room, than if furnished to a reporter watching as an eye-witness at Hougoumont.
This truth, for the sake of making it more impressive, I threw long ago into this antithetic form; and I will not scruple, out of any fear that I may be reproached with repeating myself, to place it once again on record:–‘Not that only is strictly a paradox, which, being false, is popularly regarded as true;’ but that also, and in a prodigiously greater extent, which, being true, is popularly regarded as false. ]
This one Waterloo illustration, if thoughtfully applied, might yield a justification for the paradoxical historian. Much more, therefore, might it yield a justification for us at home, who, sitting at ten thousand miles’ distance, take upon us to better the Indian reports written on the spot, to correct their errors of haste, or to improve them by showing the inferences which they authorise. We, who write upon the awful scenes of India at far-distant stations, do not so truly enjoy unequal advantages, as we enjoy varying and dissimilar advantages.
According to the old proverb, the bystander sees more of the game than those who share too closely in its passions. And assuredly, if it were asked, what it is that we who write upon Indian news aspire to effect, I may reply frankly, that, if but by a single suggestion any one of us should add something to the illumination of the great sepoy conspiracy–whether as to its ultimate purpose, or as to its machinery, or as to its wailing hopes, or if but by the merest trifle any one of us should take away something from the load of anxious terrors haunting the minds of all who have relations in India–that man will have earned his right to occupy the public ear. For my own part, I will not lose myself at present, when so much darkness prevails on many leading questions, in any views too large and theoretic for our present condition of light. And that I may not be tempted into doing so, I will proceed without regard to any systematic order, taking up, exactly as chance or preponderant interest may offer them, any urgent questions of the hour, before the progress of events may antiquate them, or time may exhale their flavour. This desultory and moody want of order has its attractions for many a state of nervous distraction. Every tenth reader may happen to share in the distraction, so far as it has an Indian origin. The same deadly anxiety on behalf of female relatives, separated from their male protectors in the centre of a howling wilderness, now dedicated as an altar to the dark Hindoo goddess of murder, may, in the reader also, as well as in the writer on Indian news, periodically be called on to submit to the insurmountable aggravation of delay. In such a case, what is good for one may be good for another. The same inexpressible terrors, so long as Nena Sahibs and other miscreant sons of hell are roaming through the infinite darkness, may prompt the same fretfulness of spirit; the same deadly irritation and restlessness, which cannot but sharpen the vision of fear, will sharpen also that of watching hope, and will continually read elements of consolation or trust in that which to the uninterested eye offers only a barren blank.
I am not sorry that the first topic, which chance brings uppermost, is one which overflows with the wrath of inexhaustible disgust. What fiend of foolishness has suggested to our absurd kinsmen in the East, through the last sixty years, to generalise themselves under the name of Europeans? As if they were ashamed of their British connections, and precisely at that moment when they are leaving England, they begin to assume continental airs; when bidding farewell to Europe, they begin to style themselves Europeans, as if it were a greater thing to take up a visionary connection with the Continent, than to found a true and indestructible nobility upon their relationship to the one immortal island of this planet. There is no known spot of earth which has exerted upon the rest of the planet one-thousandth part of the influence which this noble island has exercised over the human race–exercised through the noblest organs; and yet, behold! these coxcombs of our own blood have no sooner landed on Indian soil, than they are anxious to disclaim the connection. Such at least is the apparent construction of their usage. But mark the illogical consequences which follow. A noble British regiment suddenly, and for no rational purpose, receives a new baptism, and becomes a European regiment. The apologist for this folly will say, that a British regiment does not necessarily exclude Germans, for instance. But I answer that it does. The British Government have, during this very month of September, 1857, declared at Frankfort (in answer to obstinate applications from puppies who fancy that we cannot tame our rebels without their assistance), ‘that the British army, by its constitution, does not admit foreigners.’ But suppose that accidents of aristocratic patronage have now and then privately introduced a few Germans or Swedes into a very few regiments, surely this accident, improbable already, was not more probable when the regiment was going away for twenty years (the old term of expatriation) to a half-year’s distance from the Rhine and the Danube. The Germanism of the regiment might altogether evaporate in the East, but could not possibly increase. Next, observe this; if we must lose our nationality, and transmute ourselves into Europeans, for the very admirable reason that we were going away to climates far remote from Germany, then, at least, we ought not to call our native troops sepoys, but Asiatics. In this way only will there be any logical parity of antithesis. Scripturally, we are the children of Japheth; and, as all Asiatics are the sons of Shem, then we shall be able to mortify their conceit, by calling to their knowledge our biblical prophecy, that the sons of Japheth shall sit down in the tents of Shem. But, thirdly, even thus we should find ourselves in a dismal chaos of incoherences; for what is to become of ‘Jack’? Must our sailors be re-baptised? Must Jack also be a European? Think of Admiral Seymour reporting to the Admiralty as a leader of Europeans! and exulting in having circumvented Yeh by Her Majesty’s European crews! And then, lastly, come the Marines: must they also qualify for children of Europe? Was there ever such outrageous folly? One is sure, in the fine picturesque words of Chaucer, that, ‘for very filth and shame,’ neither admiral nor the youngest middy would disgrace himself by such ridiculous finery from the rag-fair of cosmopolitan swindling. The real origin of so savage an absurdity is this:–Amongst the commercial bodies of the three presidencies in all the leading cities, it became a matter of difficulty often to describe special individuals in any way legally operative. Your wish was to distinguish him from the native merchant or banker; but to do this by calling him a British merchant, etc., was possibly not true, and legally, therefore, not safe. He might be a Dane, a Russian, or a Frenchman; he was described, therefore, in a more generalising way, as a European. But a case so narrow as that–a case for pawnbrokers and old clothesmen–ought not to regulate the usage of great nations. Grand and spirit-stirring (especially in a land far distant from home) are the recollections of towns or provinces connected with men’s nativities. And poisonous to all such ancestral inspirations are the rascally devices of shroffs and money-changers.
That man–I suppose we are all agreed–who commanded in Meerut on Sunday the tenth day of May, in the year of Christ one thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven, a day which will furnish an epoch for ever to the records of civilisation–that man who could have stopped the bloody kennel of hounds, but did not, racing in full cry to the homes of our unsuspecting brothers and sisters in Delhi–it were good for that man if he had not been born. He had notice such as might have wakened the dead early in the afternoon (2 or 3 o’clock P.M., I believe), and yet, at the end of a long summer day, torchlight found him barely putting his foot into the stirrup. And why into the stirrup at all? For what end, on what pretence, should he ever have played out the ridiculous pantomime and mockery of causing the cavalry to mount? Two missions there were to execute on that fatal night–first, to save our noble brothers and sisters at Delhi from a ruin that was destined to be total; secondly, to inflict instant and critical retribution upon those who had already opened the carnival of outrage, before they left Meerut. Oh, heaven and earth! heart so timid was there in all this world, sense of wrong so callous, as not to leap with frenzy of joy at so sublime a summons to wield the most impassioned functions of Providence–namely, hell-born destroyers to destroy in the very instant of their fancied triumph, and suffering innocence to raise from the dust in the very crisis of its last despairing prostration. Reader! it is not exaggeration–many a heart will bear witness in silence that it is not–if I should say that men exist, who would gladly pay down thirty years of life in exchange for powers so heavenly for redressing earthly wrongs. To the infamous torpor on that occasion, and the neglect of the fleeting hour that struck the signal for delivery and vengeance, are due many hundreds of the piteous outrages that have since polluted Bengal. Do I mean that, if the rebel capture of Delhi had been prevented, no subsequent outrages would have followed? By no means. Other horrors would have been perpetrated; but that first and greatest (always excepting the case of Cawnpore) would by all likelihood have been intercepted.
Here observe there were 2300 admirable British troops, and about 700 men of the mutineers, who might then have been attacked at a great advantage, whilst dispersed on errands of devastation. Contrast with these proportions the heroic exertions of the noble Havelock–fighting battle after battle, with perhaps never more than 1700 or 1800 British troops; and having scarcely a gun but what he captured from the enemy. And what were the numbers of his enemy? Five thousand in the earlier actions, and 10,000 to 12,000 in the last. ]
But perhaps his military means were inadequate to the crisis? He had duties to Meerut, not less than duties of vengeance and of sudden deliverance for Delhi. True: he had so; and he had means for meeting all these duties. He had a well-mounted establishment of military force, duly organized in all its arms. Three-and-twenty hundreds he had of British, suitably proportioned as to infantry, cavalry, and artillery–a little army that would have faced anything that Delhi could at that time have put forward. Grant that Delhi could have mustered 5000 men: these are three propositions having no doubtful bearing upon such a fact:–
1. That cheerfully would this little British force have faced any Asiatic force of 5000 men, which, indeed, it can hardly be necessary to say, in the face of so large and so transcendent an experience.
2. That the Delhi force, could have reached the amount supposed of 5000 only after a junction with the Meerut mutineers; which junction it was the main business of the Meerut commander to intercept.
3. That this computation assumes also the whole of the Delhi garrison to be well affected to the mutineers; an assumption altogether unwarrantable on the outside of Delhi during the 10th and 11th of May.
Such were (1) the motives of the commander at Meerut towards a noble and energetic resolution; such were (2) his means.
Mr. D. B. Jones comes forward to defend the commandant of Meerut. How? The last sentence only of his letter has any sort of reference to the public accusation; and this sentence replies, but not with any mode of argument (sound or unsound), to a charge perfectly irrelevant, if it had ever existed–namely, an imaginary charge against the little army assembled on May 10 at Meerut. The short and summary answer is, that no such imaginary charge, pure and absolute moonshine, was ever advanced against the gallant force at Meerut. ]
Secondly, if it had, such a charge could have no bearing whatever upon that charge, loudly preferred against the commander of that district.
Thirdly, the charge has been (I presume) settled as regards its truth, and any grounds of disputation, this way or that, by the Governor-General. The newspapers have told us, and have not been contradicted, that Lord Canning has dismissed this functionary for ‘supineness.’]
Thinking of that vile lachete, which surrendered, with a girl’s tameness, absolutely suffered to lapse, without effort, and as if a bauble, this great arsenal and magazine into the hands of the revolters, involuntarily we have regarded it all along as a deadly misfortune; and, upon each periodic mail, the whole nation has received the news of its non-capture as a capital disappointment.
But, on steadier consideration, apparently all this must be regarded as a very great error. Not that it could be any error to have wished for any course of events involving the safety of our poor slaughtered compatriots. That event would have been cheap at any price. But that dismal catastrophe having happened, to intercept that bitter wo having been already ripened into an impossibility by the 11th and 12th of May, seven-and-forty days before our thoughts at home began to settle upon India, thenceforwards it became a very great advantage–a supreme advantage–that Delhi should have been occupied by the mutineers. Briefly, then, why?
First of all, because this movement shut up within one ring fence the elite of the rebels (according to some calculations, at least three-and-twenty thousand of well-armed and well-disciplined men), that would otherwise have been roaming over the whole face of Bengal as marauders and murderers. These men, left to follow their own vagrant instincts, would, it is true, in some not inconsiderable proportion, have fallen victims to those fierce reactions of rustic vengeance which their own atrocities would very soon have provoked. But large concentrated masses would still have survived in a condition rapidly disposable as auxiliary bodies to all those towns invested by circumstances with a partisan interest, such as Lucknow, Benares, Cawnpore, Agra, Gwalior, and Allahabad.
Secondly, Delhi it was that opened the horrors of retribution; mark what chastisement it was that alighted from the very first upon all the scoundrels who sought, and fancied they could not fail to find, an asylum in Delhi. It is probable that hardly one in twenty of the mutineers came to Delhi without plunder, and for strong reasons this plunder would universally assume the shape of heavy metallic money. For the public treasuries in almost every station were rifled; and unhappily for the comfort of the robbers under the Bengal sun of June and July, very much of the East Indian money lies in silver–namely, rupees; of which, in the last generation, eight were sufficient to make an English pound; but at present ten are required by the evil destiny of sepoys. Everybody has read an anecdote of the painter Correggio, that, upon finishing a picture for some monastery, the malicious monks paid him for it in copper. The day of payment was hot, and poor Correggio was overweighted; he lay down under his copper affliction; and whether he died or not, is more than I remember. But doubtless, to the curious in Correggiosity, Pilkington will tell. For the sepoys, although their affliction took the shape of silver, and not of copper, virtually it was not less, considering the far more blazing sun. Mephistopheles might have arranged the whole affair. One could almost hear him whispering to each separate sepoy, as he stood amongst the treasury burglars, the reflection that those pensions, which the kind and munificent English Government granted to their old age or their infirmities, all over India, raising up memorial trophies of public gratitude or enlightened pity, never more would be heard of. All had perished, the justice that gave, the humble merit that received, the dutiful behaviour that hoped; and henceforwards of them and of their names, as after the earliest of rebellions, in the book of life ‘was no remembrance.’
Under these miserable thoughts the vast majority of the sepoys robbed largely, as opportunities continually opened upon them. Then, and chiefly through their robberies, commenced their chastisement in good earnest. Every soldier by every comrade was viewed with hatred and suspicion; by the common labourer with the scrutiny of deep self-interest. The popular report of their sudden wealth travelled rapidly; every road, village, house, whether ahead or on their flanks, became a place of distrust and anxious jealousy; and Delhi seemed to offer the only safe asylum. Thither, as to a consecrated sanctuary, all hurried; and their first introduction to the duties of the new home they had adopted, would be a harsh and insolent summons to the chances of a desperate sortie against men in whose presence their very souls sank. On reviewing the circumstances which must have surrounded this Delhi life, probably no nearer resemblance to a hell of apostate spirits has ever existed. Money, carried in weighty parcels of coin, cannot be concealed. Swathed about the person, it disfigures the natural symmetries of the figure. The dilemma, therefore, in which every individual traitor stood was, that, if he escaped a special notice from every eye, this must have been because all his crimes had failed to bring him even a momentary gain. Having no money, he had no swollen trousers. For ever he had forfeited the pension that was the pledge of comfort and respectability to his family and his own old age. This he had sacrificed, in exchange for–nothing at all. But, on the other hand, if his robberies had been very productive and prosperous, in that proportion he became advertised to every eye, indicated and betrayed past all concealment to every ruffian less fortunate as a pillager. Delhi must in several points have ripened his troubles, and showed them on a magnifying disk. To have no confidential friend, or adviser, or depositary of a secret, is an inevitable evil amongst a population constitutionally treacherous. But now in Delhi this torment takes a more fearful shape. Every fifth or sixth day, when he is sternly ordered out upon his turn of duty, what shall he do with his money? He has by possibility 40 lbs. weight of silver, each pound worth about three guineas. In the very improbable case of his escaping the gallows, since the British Government will endeavour to net the whole monstrous crew that have one and all broken the sacramentum militare, for which scourging with rods and subsequent strangulation is the inevitable penalty, what will remain to his poor family? His cottage, that once had been his pride, will now betray him, as soon as ever movable columns are formed, and horse-patrols begin to inspect the roads. But, as to his money, in nineteen cases out of twenty, he will find himself obliged to throw it away in his flight, and will then find that through three months of intolerable suffering he has only been acting as steward for some British soldier.
The private letters and the local newspapers from many parts of India having now come in, it is possible through the fearful confusion to read some facts that would cause despair, were it not for two remembrances: first, what nation it is that supports the struggle; secondly, that of the six weeks immediately succeeding to the 10th of September, no two days, no period of forty-eight hours, can pass without continued successions of reinforcements reaching Calcutta. It should be known that even the worst sailers among the transports–namely, exactly those which were despatched from England through the course of July (not of August)–are all under contract to perform the voyage in seventy days; whereas many a calculation has proceeded on the old rate of ninety days. The small detachments of two and three hundreds, despatched on every successive day of July, are already arriving at their destination; and the August detachments, generally much stronger (800 or 900), all sailed in powerful steamers. Lord Elgin arrived at Calcutta in time to be reported by this mail, with marines (300) and others (300), most seasonably to meet the dangers and uproars of the great Mahometan festival. The bad tidings are chiefly these:–
1. The failure of a night-attack upon the Dinapore mutineers by detachments from two of our British regiments, with a loss of ‘200 killed‘; in which, however, there must be a mistake; for the total number of our attacking party was only 300. On the other hand, there may have been some call for a consciously desperate effort; and the enemy, having two regiments, would muster, probably, very nearly 2000 men; for the sepoy regiments are always strong in numbers, and these particular regiments had not suffered.
2. Much more ominous than these reports, is an estimate of our main force before Delhi at less than 2000 men. This, unhappily, is not intrinsically improbable. The force was, by many persons, never reckoned at more than 6000 or 7000 men; and this, when reduced by three-and-twenty conflicts (perhaps more), in which the enemy had the advantage of artillery more powerful than ours, and (what is worse) of trained artillerymen more numerous, might too naturally come down to the small number stated.
3. The doubtful condition of Lucknow, Benares, and Agra comes in the rear of all this to strike a frost into the heart, or would do so, again I say, if any other nation were concerned.
4. Worse still, because reluctantly unfolding facts that had previously been known and kept back, is the state of Bombay. When retreats on board the shipping are contemplated, or at least talked of, the mere insulated case of Kolapore becomes insignificant.
5. I read a depressing record in the very quarter whence all our hopes arise. In summing up the particular transports throughout July whose destination was Calcutta, I find that the total of troops ordered to that port in the thirty-one days of July was just 6500, and no more. Every place was rapidly becoming of secondary importance in comparison of the area stretching with a radius of 150 miles in every direction from the centre of Allahabad. And the one capital danger is too clearly this–that, being unable to throw in overwhelming succours, those inadequate succours, matched against the countless resources of Hindoo vagrant ruffianism, may, at the utmost, enable us to keep a lingering hold, whilst endless successions of incomparably gallant men fall before our own rifles, our own guns, and that discipline of a cowardly race which we ourselves have taught. We are true to ourselves, and ever shall be so: that is a rock to build upon. Yet, if it should appear by January next that no deep impression has then been made upon revolting India, it will probably appear the best course to send no more rivulets of aid; but to combine measures energetically with every colony or outpost of the empire; to call up even the marines and such sections of our naval forces as have often co-operated with the land forces (in the Chinese war especially); and to do all this with a perfect disregard of money. Lord Palmerston explained very sufficiently why it is that any powerful squadrons of ships, which would else have rendered such overwhelming succour against the towns along the line of the Ganges and Jumna, were unhappily disqualified for action, by the shallows and sand-banks on those great rivers. But this apology does not stand good as regards flotillas of gunboats or rafts with a very light draught of water; still less as regards the seamen and marines.
I conclude with these notices–too painfully entitled to some attention. Would to heaven they were not!
1. Calcutta itself is not by any means in a state of security, either in the English sense of that word (namely, freedom from danger), or in its old Latin sense of freedom from the anxieties of danger. All depends upon the prosperity of our affairs at Delhi, Lucknow, Agra, Cawnpore, and Allahabad. The possibility of a fanatical explosion, such as that which occurred recently at Patna, shows the inefficiency of our precautions and pretended police. I believe that the native associations formed in Calcutta will be of little use. Either the members will be sleeping at the moment of outbreak, or will be separated from their arms. We are noble in our carelessness; our enemy is base, but his baseness, always in alliance with cunning and vigilance, tells cruelly against us.
2. It may be feared that the Governor-General has in the following point lamentably neglected a great duty of his place. It must have been remarked with astonishment, as a matter almost inexplicable, how it has arisen that so many gallant men, at the head of every regiment, should have suffered themselves to be slaughtered like sheep in a butcher’s shambles. Surely five-and-twenty or thirty men, in youthful vigour, many of them capital shots, could easily have shot down 150 of the cowardly sepoys. So much work they could have finished with their revolvers. More than one amongst the ladies, in this hideous struggle, have shot down their two brace of black scoundrels apiece. But the officers, having the advantage of swords, would have accounted for a few score more. Why, then, have they not done this?–an act of energy so natural to our countrymen when thus roused to unforgiving vengeance. Simply because they have held themselves most nobly, and in defiance of their own individual interest, to be under engagements of fidelity to the Company, and obligations of forbearance to the dogs whom they commanded, up to the last moment of possible doubt. Now, from these engagements of honour the Governor-General should, by one universal act (applicable to the three Presidencies) have absolved them. For it cannot be alleged now for an instant, that perhaps the regiments might mean to continue faithful. If they do mean this, no harm will come to any party from the official dispensing order; the sepoys could suffer by it only in the case of treachery. And, in the meantime, there has emerged amongst them a new policy of treason, which requires of us to assume, in mere self-defence, that all sepoys are meditating treason. It is this: they now reserve their final treason until the critical moment of action in the very crisis of battle. Ordered to charge the revolters, they discharge their carbines over their heads; or, if infantry, they blaze away with blank cartridge. This policy has been played off already eight or nine times; and by one time, as it happens, too many; for it was tried upon the stern Havelock, who took away both horses and carbines from the offenders. Too late it is now for Bengal to baffle this sharper’s trick. But Bombay and Madras, should their turn come after all, might profit by the experience.
3. For years it has been our nursery bugbear, to apprehend a Russian invasion on the Indus. This, by testimony from every quarter (the last being that of Sir Roderick Murchison, who had travelled over most of the ground), is an infinitely impossible chimera; or at least until the Russians have colonized Khiva and Bokhara. Meantime, to those who have suffered anxiety from such an anticipation, let me suggest one consolation at least amongst the many horrors of the present scenes in Bengal–namely, that this perfidy of our troops was not displayed first in the very agony of conflict with Russia, or some more probable invader.
4. A dismal suggestion arises from the present condition of Bengal, which possibly it is too late now to regard as a warning. Ravaged by bands of marauders, no village safe from incursion, the usual culture of the soil must have been dangerously interrupted. Next, therefore, comes FAMINE (and note that the famines of India have been always excessive, from want of adequate carriage), and in the train of famine, inaudibly but surely, comes cholera; and then, perhaps, the guiltiest of races will pay down an expiation at which centuries will tremble. For in the grave of famishing nations treason languishes; the murderer has no escape; and the infant with its mother sleeps at last in peace.
* * * * *
P.S.–The following memoranda, more or less connected with points noticed in the preceding paper, but received later, seem to merit attention:–
1. As to the strength of our army before Delhi, it seems, from better accounts, to be hardly less than 5000 men, of which one-half are British infantry; and the besieged seem, by the closest inquiries, to reach at the least 22,000 men.
2. Colonel Edwardes, so well known in connection with Moultan, has published an important fact–namely, that the sepoys did rely, in a very great degree, upon the whole country rising, and that their disappointment and despair are consequently proportionable.
3. A great question arises–How it was possible for the sepoys–unquestionably not harbouring the smallest ill-will to the British–suddenly and almost universally to assail them with atrocities arguing the greatest. Even their own countrymen, with all their childish credulity, would not be made to believe that they really hated people with whom they had never had any but the kindest and most indulgent intercourse. I should imagine that the solution must do sought in two facts–first, in the deadly ennui and taedium of sepoy life, which disposes them to catch maniacally at any opening for furious excitement; but, secondly, in the wish to forward the ends of the conspiracy under Mahometan misleading. Hence, in particular, the cruelties practised on women and children: for they argued that, though the British men would face anything in their own persons before they would relax their hold on India, they would yet be appalled by the miseries of their female partners and children.
4. It is most unfair, undoubtedly, to attack any man in our present imperfect state of information. But some neglects are unsusceptible of after excuse. One I have noticed, which cannot be denied or varnished, in Lord Canning. Another is this:–Had he offered 10,000 rupees (L1000 sterling) for the head of Nena Sahib, he would have got it in ten days, besides inflicting misery on the hell-kite.
SUGGESTIONS UPON THE SECRET OF THE MUTINY.
The first question arises upon the true originators, proximate and immediate, of the mutiny–who were they? This question ploughs deeper than any which moves under an impulse of mere historic curiosity; and it is practically the main question. Knowing the true, instant, operative cause, already we know something of the remedy;–having sure information as to the ringleaders, we are enabled at once to read their motives in the past, to anticipate their policy in the future;–having the persons indicated, those who first incited or encouraged the felonious agents, we can shorten the course of public vengeance; and in so vast a field of action can give a true direction from the first to the pursuit headed by our Indian police. For that should never be laid out of sight–that against rebels whose least offence is their rebellion, against men who have massacred by torture women and children, the service of extermination belongs of right to executioners armed with whips and rods, with the lassos of South America for noosing them, and, being noosed, with halters to hang them. It should be made known by proclamation to the sepoys, that de jure, in strict interpretation of the principle concerned, they are hunted by the hangman; and that the British army, whilst obliged by the vast scale of the outrages to join in this hangman’s chase, feel themselves dishonoured, and called to a work which properly is the inheritance of the gallows; and yet, again, become reconciled to the work, as the purgation of an earth polluted by the blood of the innocent.
‘To hang them:‘–But with a constant notification that, after hanging, the criminals would be decapitated: otherwise the threat loses its sting. It seems to be a superstition universal amongst Southern Asiatics, unless possibly amongst the Malay race, that to suffer any dismemberment of the body operates disastrously upon the fate in the unseen world. And hence, no doubt, it has arisen that the gallows is not viewed in the light of a degrading punishment. Immunity from mutilation compensates any ignominy which might else attend it. Accordingly, we see in China that the innumerable victims of the present rebellion, captured in the vast province of Quantung by the cruel Yeh, were all beheaded by the sword in the blood-reeking privacies of Canton. And two centuries back, when the native dynasty was overthrown by the last Tartar invasion, the reigning emperor (having unlimited freedom of choice) ended his career by a halter: retiring to his orchard, he hanged both himself and his daughter. ]
Who then, again I ask–who are those that, after seven months’ watching of the revolt, appeared, by any plausible construction of events, to have been the primal movers in this hideous convulsion? Individual opinions on this question, and such as could plead a weight of authority in regard to experience, to local advantages for conjecture, and to official opportunities for overlooking intercepted letters, there have been many; and at first (say from May 10 to the end of June), in the absence of any strong counter-arguments, some of these were entitled to the full benefit of their personal weight (such weight, I mean, as could be drawn from the position or from the known character of him who announced the opinion). But now–namely, on the 15th of December (or, looking to India, say the 10th of November)–we are entitled to something weightier. And what is there which generally would be held weightier? First, there are the confessions of dying criminals;–I mean, that, logically, we must reserve such a head, as likely to offer itself sooner or later. Tempers vary as to obduracy, and circumstances vary. All men will not share in the obstinacy of partisan pride; or not, by many degrees, equally. And again, some amongst the many thousands who leave families will have favours to ask. They all know secretly the perfect trustworthiness of the British Government. And when matters have come to a case of choice between a wife and children, in the one scale, and a fraternity consciously criminal, in the other, it may be judged which is likely to prevail. What through the coercion of mere circumstances–what through the entreaties of wife and children, co-operating with such circumstances–or sometimes through weakness of nature, or through relenting of compunction–it is not to be doubted that, as the cohesion of party begins rapidly to relax under approaching ruin, there will be confessions in abundance. For as yet, under the timid policy of the sepoys–hardly ever venturing out of cover, either skulking amongst bushy woodlands, or sneaking into house-shelter, or slinking back within the range of their great guns–it has naturally happened that our prisoners have been exceedingly few. But the decisive battle before Lucknow will tell us another story. There will at last be cavalry to reap the harvest when our soldiery have won it. The prisoners will begin to accumulate by thousands; executions will proceed through week after week; and a large variety of cases will yield us a commensurate crop of confessions. These, when they come, will tell us, no doubt, most of what the sepoys can be supposed to know. But, meantime, how much is that? Too probably, except in the case of here and there some specially intelligent or specially influential sepoy officer, indispensable as a go-between to the non-military conspirators moving in darkness behind the rebel army, nothing at all was communicated to the bulk of the privates, beyond the mere detail of movements required by the varying circumstantialities of each particular case. But of the ultimate purpose, of the main strategic policy, or of the transcendent interests over-riding the narrow counsels that fell under the knowledge of the illiterate soldier, since no part was requisite to the fulfilment of each man’s separate duty, no part would be communicated. It is barely possible that so much light as may be won from confessions, combined with so much further light as may be supposed to lurk amongst the mass of unexamined papers left behind them by the rebels at Delhi, might tell us something important. But any result to be expected from the Delhi papers is a doubtful contingency. It is uncertain whether they will ever be brought under the review of zeal united to sagacity sufficient for sustaining a search purely disinterested. Promising no great triumph for any literary purpose, proving as little, perhaps, one way or other, as the mathematician in the old story complained that the AEneid proved–these papers, unless worked by an enamoured bookworm (or paperworm), will probably be confiscated to some domestic purpose, of singeing chickens or lighting fires.
But, in any case, whether speaking by confessions or by the varied memoranda (orders to subaltern officers, resolutions adopted by meetings, records of military councils, petitions, or suggestions on the public service, addressed to the king, etc.), abandoned in the palace at Delhi, the soldier can tell no more than he knew, which, under any theory of the case, must have been very little. Better, therefore, than all expectations fixed on the vile soldiery, whom, in every sense, and in all directions, I believe to have been brutally ignorant, and through their ignorance mainly to have been used as blind servile instruments–better and easier it would be to examine narrowly whether, in the whole course and evolution of this stupendous tragedy, there may not be found some characterising feature or distinguishing incident, that may secretly report the agency, and betray, by the style and character of the workmanship, who might be the particular class of workmen standing at the centre of this unparalleled conspiracy. I think that we stand in this dilemma: either, on the one hand, that the miserable sepoys, who were the sole acting managers, were also the sole contrivers of the plot–in which case we can look for further light only to the judicial confessions; or, on the other hand, that an order of agents far higher in rank than any subaltern members of our army, and who were enabled by this rank and corresponding wealth to use these soldiers as their dupes and tools, stood in the background, holding the springs of the machinery in their hands, with a view to purposes transcending by far any that could ever suggest themselves to persons of obscure station, having no prospect of benefiting by their own fullest success. In this case, we shall learn nothing from the confessions of those who must, upon a principle of mere self-preservation, have been excluded from all real knowledge of the dreadful scheme to which they were made parties, simply as perpetrators of its murders and outrages. Here it is equally vain to look for revelations from the mercenary workers, who know nothing, or from the elevated leaders, who know all, but have an interest of life and death in dissembling their knowledge. Revelations of any value from those who cannot, and from those who will not, reveal the ambitious schemes communicated to a very few, are alike hopeless. In default of these, let us examine if any one incident, or class of incidents, in the course of these horrors, may not have made a self-revelation–a silent but significant revelation, pointing the attention of men to the true authors, and simultaneously to the final purposes, of this mysterious conspiracy.
Now, it has not escaped the notice of many people that two most extraordinary classes of outrages, perpetrated or attempted, have marked a very large majority of the mutinous explosions; outrages that were in the last degree unnatural, as out of harmony with the whole temper and spirit of intercourse generally prevailing between the sepoys and their British officers. The case is peculiarly striking. No reproach on the character of their manners was ever alleged against their British officers by any section or subdivision of the sepoy soldiery. Indeed, the reproach, where any existed, ran in the very opposite channel. Too great indulgence to the sepoy, a spirit of concession too facile to their very whims and caprices, and generally too relaxed a state of discipline–these features it was of the British bearing towards the native soldiery which too often, and reasonably, provoked severe censures from the observing. The very case which I adduced some months back, where an intelligent British officer, in the course of his evidence before some court-martial, mentioned, in illustration of the decaying discipline, that for some considerable space of time he had noticed a growing disrespect on the part of the privates; in particular, that, on coming into the cantonments of his own regiment, the men had ceased to rise from their seats, and took no notice of his presence–this one anecdote sufficiently exemplified the quality of the errors prevailing in the deportment of our countrymen to their native soldiery; and that it would be ludicrous to charge them with any harshness or severity of manner. Such being too notoriously the case, whence could possibly arise the bloody carnage by which, in almost every case, the sepoys inaugurated, or tried to inaugurate, their emancipation from British rule? Our continental neighbours at first grossly misinterpreted the case; and more excusably than in many other misinterpretations. Certainly it was unavoidable at first to read, in this frenzy of bloodshed, the vindictive retaliations of men that had suffered horrible and ineffable indignities at our hands. It was apparently the old case of African slaves in some West Indian colony–St. Domingo, for instance–breaking loose from the yoke, and murdering (often with cruel torments) the whole households of their oppressors. But a month dissipated these groundless commentaries. The most prejudiced Frenchman could not fail to observe that no sepoy regiment ever alluded to any rigour of treatment, or any haughtiness of demeanour. His complaints centred in the one sole subject of religion; even as to which he did not generally pretend to any certain knowledge, but simply to a very strong belief or persuasion that we secretly meditated, not that we openly avowed or deliberately pursued, a purpose of coercing him into Christianity. This, were it even true, though a false and most erroneous policy, could not be taxed with ill-will. A man’s own religion, if it is sincerely such, is that which he profoundly believes to be the truth. Now, in seeking to inoculate another with that which sincerely he believes to be eminently the truth, though proceeding by false methods, a man acts in a spirit of benignity. So that, on all hands, the hellish fury of the sepoy was felt to be unnatural, artificially assumed, and, by a reasonable inference, was held to be a mask for something else that he wished to conceal. But what? What was that something else which he wished to conceal? The sepoy simulated, in order that he might dissimulate. He pretended a wrong sustained, that he might call away attention from a wrong which he designed. At this point I (and no doubt in company with multitudes beside that had watched the case) became sensible of an alien presence secretly intruding into this pretended quarrel of the native soldier. It was no sepoy that was moving at the centre of this feud: the objects towards which it ultimately tended were not such as could by possibility interest the poor, miserable, idolatrous native. What was he to gain by the overthrow of the British Government? The poor simpleton, who had been decoyed into this monstrous field of strife, opened the game by renouncing all the vast advantages which he and his children to the hundredth generation might draw from the system of the Company, and entered upon a career towards distant objects that for him have absolutely no meaning or intelligible existence. At this point it was that two enigmas, previously insoluble, suddenly received the fullest explanation:–
1. What was the meaning of that hellish fury suddenly developed towards officers with whom previously the sepoy had lived on terms of reciprocal amity?
2. What cause had led to that incomprehensible enmity manifested, in the process of these ferocious scenes, towards the wives and children of the officers? Surely, if his wish were to eliminate their families from the Indian territory, that purpose was sufficiently secured by the massacre of him whose exertions obtained a livelihood for the rest of the household.
This case was entirely misapprehended by a journalist who happened to extract the passage. He understood me to mean that this particular mode of disrespect to their British officers had operated as a cause of evil; whereas I alleged it simply as an evidence and exponent of evil habits criminally tolerated amongst the very lowest orders of our mercenary troops. ]
It was tolerably certain that the widows and their children would not remain much longer in the Indian territory, when it no longer offered them an asylum or a livelihood. Now, since personally, and viewed apart from their husbands, these ladies could have no interest for the murdering sepoys, it became more and more unintelligible on what principle, steady motive, or fugitive impulse, these incarnate demons could persist in cherishing any feeling whatever to those poor, ruined women, who, when their anchorage should be cut away by the murder of their husbands, would become mere waifs and derelicts stranded upon the Indian shores.
These had seemed at first two separate mysteries not less hard to decipher than the primal mystery of the mutiny itself. But now all became clear; whatsoever might be the composition, or character, or final objects of that tyranny which had decoyed the sepoys under its yoke, one thing was certain–namely, that the childishness and levity of the Hindoo sepoy made it difficult in excess to gain any lasting hold over his mind, or consequently to count upon his lasting services. But to this general difficulty there had now supervened one signal aggravation, in a shape hateful to those who encountered it–namely, the attractions of the British service, which service would be no sooner abjured than it would be passionately regretted. Here lay the rock which threatened the free movement of the insurrection. It was evidently determined by those who meant to appropriate the services of the sepoys, that they should have no retreat, no opening for recovering a false step, in the well-known mercy of the British Government. For them it was resolved that there should be no locus penitentiae left open. In order to close for ever that avenue to all hope of forgiveness, the misleaders of the soldiery urged them into those atrocities which every nation upon earth has heard of with horror. The mere fact of these atrocities indicates at once the overruling influence of such men as Nena Sahib, determined to place a bar of everlasting separation between the native army and that government which might else have reclaimed the erring men, had their offences lain within the reach of lawful forgiveness. The conspirators having thus divorced the ruling power, as they idly flattered themselves, from all martial resources, doubtless assumed the work of revolution already finished by midsummer-day of this present year. And this account of the course through which that attempted revolution travelled–according to which, not the sepoys, who could have had no ambition such as is implied in that attempt, but Indian princes and rajahs, standing in the background, were the true originators of the movement–finds an indirect justification of its own accuracy in the natural solution which it furnishes to those infernal massacres, which else, as they must remain for ever without a parallel, will also remain for ever without an intelligible motive. These atrocities were exacted from the sepoys by the conclave of princes as tests of their sincerity. Such doubtless was the argument for this exaction, the ostensible plea put forward to the miserable reptiles who were seduced into this treason, by the promise no doubt of sharing in the fruits of the new and mighty revolution. Such pleas were for the sepoy. But for himself and his own secret benefit the princely seducer needed all that he could obtain of such accursed acts, as the means sure and sudden of making the separation between the soldier and the government more and more irreparable.
So much for the massacre of his officers: but a different reason availed for the more diabolical outrages upon women and their children. The murder of the men was extorted from the sepoy as a kind of sacrifice. With them the reptile had lived upon terms of humanising intercourse; and, vile as he was, in many cases this must have slowly ripened into some mode of regard and involuntary esteem; so that, in murdering the man, oftentimes a sepoy was making a real (if trifling) sacrifice. But for females he cared nothing at all. And in my opinion they perished on a very different principle. The male murders were levied as pledges for the benefit of the princes, and very distinctly understood to be levied against the wishes of the sepoy. But in the female sacrifice all parties concurred–sepoy and prince, tempted and tempter alike. I require you to murder this officer, as a pledge of your real hostility (which else might be a pure pretence) to the government. But the murder of the officer’s wife and child rested on a motive totally different–namely, this:–Throughout Hindostan no feature in the moral aspects of the British nature could have been so conspicuous or so impressive as the tenacity of purpose, the persistency, and the dogged resolution never to relax a grasp once taken. Consequently, had the men of our nation, and they separately from the women, scattered themselves here and there over the land (as they have long done in China, for instance), then, perhaps, the natives, when finding themselves in conflict with this well-known principle of imperishable tenacity, would be liable to a sentiment of despair, as in a contest with fate. And that sentiment would paralyse the Hindoos when entering upon a struggle for unrooting the British from Hindostan. But here suddenly, Woman steps in to aid the Hindoo. For the Briton, it is notorious, would never loosen his hold, more than his compatriot the bull-dog. But that scene which a man had faced steadily upon his own account, he shrinks from as a husband or a father. Hence the sepoy attacks upon women and children.
From hurried writing, it is to be feared that I may have done slight justice to my own views. Let me conclude this head therefore by briefly resuming.
The argument for tracing back the great conspiracy to the discontented rajahs is–that otherwise, and supposing the mutiny raised for objects specially affecting the sepoys, they would not have massacred their officers. They must have desired to leave an opening for pardon in the event of failure. That crime was exacted to compromise the native army effectually with the government. But this in many ways was sure to operate ruinously for the sepoy interests, and could therefore have found a sufficient motive only with the native princes.
But the female sacrifice was welcome to all parties. For no doubt they represented the British officer as saying:–So long as the danger affected only myself, I would never have relaxed my hold on India; but now, when the war threatens our women and children, India can no longer be a home for us.
Another urgent question concerns the acts of the Bengal Government. Many unfounded charges, as in a case of infinite confusion and hourly pressure, must be aimed at the Governor-General: the probability of such charges, and the multiplied experience of such charges, makes reasonable men cautious–in fact, unduly so; and the excess of caution reacts upon Lord Canning’s estimation too advantageously. Lord Dalhousie is missed; his energy would have shown itself conspicuously by this time. For surely in such a case as the negotiation with Bahadoor Jung of Nepaul, as to the Ghoorkas, there can be no doubt at present, though a great doubt, unfairly indulgent to Lord Canning, was encouraged at first, that most imbecile oscillation governed the Calcutta counsels. And it is now settled that this oscillation turned entirely upon a petty personal motive. A subordinate officer had accepted the Nepaul offer, and by that unauthorised acceptance had intruded upon the prerogative of Lord Canning. The very same cause–this jealous punctiliousness of exacting vanity, and not any wish to enforce the severities of public justice–interfered to set aside the proclamation of Mr. Colvin at Agra. The insufficiency again of the steps taken as to Nena Sahib speaks the same language. In this very journal, full six weeks earlier than in the Calcutta proclamation, the offer of a large sum for this man’s head had been suggested. That offer was never kept sufficiently before the public eye. But a grosser neglect than this, as affecting the condition of many thousands, and not of any single villain, was the non-employment of the press in pursuing the steps of the mutineers. Everywhere, as fast as they appeared in any strength, brief handbills should have been circulated–circumstantially relating their defeats, exposing their false pretences, and describing their prospects. Once only the government attempted such a service; and blundered so far as to urge against the sepoys a reproach which must have been unintelligible both to them and to all native readers.
And imperfectly as the offer was advertised, it seems to have had considerable effect. Apparently it has extinguished the Nena’s power to show himself, and to move about with freedom. He is now distrustful and jealous–often no doubt with very little reason. ]
Again, a question even more practical and instant arises as to the modes of public vengeance.
1. If, when finally defeated, and in a military sense destroyed, on some signal field of battle, the mutineers should fly to the hills in the great ranges, or the jungle, the main fear would arise not from them, but from the weak compromising government, that would show itself eager to treat, and make what the Roman law calls a transactio, or half-and-half settlement with any body of sepoys that showed a considerable strength. But, in such a case, besides that the rebels, having now no Delhi, will have scanty ammunition, our best resource would be found in the Spanish bloodhounds of Cuba, which we British used fifty years back for hunting down the poor negro Maroons in Jamaica, who were not by a thousand degrees so criminal as the sepoys.
2. That no wrong is done to the Bengal Government by this anticipation of an eventual compromise, may be judged by the assertion (resting apparently on adequate authority), that even at this hour that government are making it a subject for deliberation and doubt–whether the sepoys have forfeited their pensions! Doubtless, the Delhi and Cawnpore exploits merit good-service pensions for life!
3. Others by millions, who come to these questions in a far nobler spirit, fear that at any rate, and with every advantage for a righteous judgment, too many of the worst sepoys laden with booty may find means to escape. To these I would suggest that, after all, the appropriate, worst, and most hellish of punishments for hellish malefactors, is mortification and utter ruin in every one of their schemes. What is the thrust of a bayonet or the deepest of sabre-cuts? These are over in a few moments. And I with others rejoiced therefore that so many escaped from Delhi for prolonged torment. That torment will be found in the ever-rankling deadly mortification of knowing that in all things they and their wicked comrades have failed; and that in the coming spring, and amongst the resurrections of spring, when all will be finished, and the mighty storm will have wheeled away, there remains for the children of hell only this surviving consciousness–that the total result has been the awakening of our Indian Government, and the arming it for ever against a hideous peril, that might else have overwhelmed it unprepared in an hour of slumbering weakness. Such a game is played but once; and, having failed, never again can it be repeated.