On the 5th of January, 1852, Lieutenant Hodson was married, at the Cathedral, Calcutta, to Susan, daughter of Captain C. Henry, R.N., and widow of John Mitford, Esq. of Exbury, Hants. By the first week in March he had resumed his duties at Kussowlee as Assistant Commissioner. On the breaking out of the war with Burmah he expected to rejoin his regiment (the First Bengal European Fusiliers), which had been ordered for service there, but in August he writes from Kussowlee:–
My regiment is on its way down the Ganges to Calcutta, to take part in the war, but the Burmese have proved so very unformidable an enemy this time, that only half the intended force is to be sent on from Calcutta; the rest being held in reserve. Under these circumstances, and in the expectation that the war will very speedily be brought to a close, the Governor-General has determined not to allow officers on civil employment to join their regiments in the usual manner. I am thus spared what would have been a very fatiguing and expensive trip, with very little hope of seeing any fighting.
It was not long, however, before an opportunity of seeing active service presented itself, and in a way, of all others, most to his taste. His heart had all along been with his old
corps, “the Guides,” as his letters show. He had taken an active share in raising and training them originally, and as second in command during the Punjab campaign of 1848-49, had contributed in no small degree to gain for the corps that reputation which it has recently so nobly sustained before Delhi.
The command was now vacant, and was offered to him; but I must let him speak for himself:–
KUSSOWLEE, Sept. 23rd, 1852.
Lumsden, my old commandant in the Guides, goes to England next month, and the Governor-General has given me the command which I have coveted so long. It is immense good fortune in every way, both as regards income and distinction. It is accounted the most honourable and arduous command on the frontier, and fills the public eye, as the papers say, more than any other.
This at the end of seven years’ service is a great thing, especially on such a frontier as Peshawur, at the mouth of the Kyber Pass. You will agree with me in rejoicing at the opportunities for distinction thus offered to me.
Mr. Thomason writes thus: “I congratulate you very sincerely on the fine prospect that is open to you, and trust that you will have many opportunities of showing what the Guides can do under your leadership. I have never ceased to reproach myself for advising you to leave the corps, but now that you have the command, you will be all the better for the dose of civilianism that has been intermediately administered to you.”
KUSSOWLEE, Oct. 7th, 1852.
Here I am still, but hoping to take wing for Peshawur in a few days. It is only 500 miles; and as there are no railways, and only nominal roads, and fine vast rivers to cross, you may suppose that the journey is not one of a few hours’ lounge.
I am most gratified by the appointment to the command of the Guides, and more so by the way in which it was given me, and the manner of my selection from amidst a crowd of aspirants. It is no small thing for a subaltern to be raised to the command of a battalion of infantry and a squadron and a half of cavalry, with four English officers under him! I am supposed to be the luckiest man of my time. I have already had an offer from the Military Secretary to the Board of Administration to exchange appointments with him, although I should gain, and he would lose £200 a year by the “swop;” but I would not listen to him; I prefer the saddle to the desk, the frontier to a respectable, wheel-going, dinner-giving, dressy life at the capital; and – ambition to money!
But though his “instincts were so entirely military” (to use his own words), this did not prevent his discharging his civil duties in a manner that called forth the highest eulogium from his superiors, as the subjoined letter from Mr. Edmonstone, now Secretary to Government at Calcutta, will testify:–
“KUSSOWLEE, Oct. 12th, 1852.
“MY DEAR HODSON, – I am a bad hand at talking, and could not say what I wished, but I would not have you go away without thanking you heartily for the support and assistance which you have always given me in all matters, whether big or little, since you joined me, now twenty months and more ago. I have in my civil and criminal reports for the past year recorded my sense of your services, and your official merits, but our connection has been peculiar, and your position has been one which few would have filled either so efficiently or so agreeably to all parties. You have afforded me the greatest aid in the most irksome part of my duty, and have always with the utmost readiness undertaken anything, no matter what, that I asked you to dispose of, and I owe you more on this account than a mere official acknowledgment can repay adequately. I hope that
though your present appointment will give you more congenial duties and better pay, you will never have occasion to look back to the time you have passed here with regret; and I hope too that all your anticipations of pleasure and pride in commanding the corps which you had a chief hand in forming, may be realised. – Believe me to be, with much regard, yours very sincerely,
“G. F. EDMONSTONE.”
CAMP IN HUZARA, BLACK MOUNTAINS, Dec. 16th, 1852.
I took command of the Guides on the 1st November, and twenty-four hours afterwards marched “on service” to this country, which is on the eastern or left bank of the Indus, above the parallel of Attok. We are now in an elevated valley, surrounded by snowy mountains, and mighty cold it is, too, at night. We have come about 125 miles from Peshawur, and having marched up the hill, are patiently expecting the order to march down again. We have everything necessary for a pretty little mountain campaign but an enemy. This is usually a sine qua non in warfare, but not so now. Then we have to take a fort, only it has ceased to exist months ago; and to reinstate an Indian ally in territories from which he was expelled by some neighbours, only he won’t be reinstated at any price.
My regiment consists of five English officers, including a surgeon, Dr. Lyell, a very clever man. Then I have 300 horse, including native officers, and 550 foot, or 850 men in all, divided into three troops and six companies5, the latter armed as riflemen. My power is somewhat despotic, as I have authority to enlist or dismiss from the service, flog or imprison, degrade or promote any one, from the native officers downwards, always remembering that an abuse of power might lose me the whole. This sort of chiefdom is necessary with a wild sort of gentry of
various races and speeches, gathered from the snows of the Hindu Koosh and the Himalaya, to the plains of Scinde and Hindustan, all of whom are more quick at blows than at words, and more careless of human life than you could possibly understand in England by any description. I am likely to have civil charge as well as military command of the Euzofzai district, comprising that portion of the great Peshawur valley which lies between the Cabul river and the Indus. So you see I am not likely to eat bread of idleness, at least. I will tell you more of my peculiar duties when I have more experience of their scope and bent. ... I am, I should say, the most fortunate man in the service, considering my standing. The other candidates were all field officers of some standing.
Our good friend and guest, Captain Powys, of the 60th, who has spent the first six months of our married life under our roof, is on the way to England. He will see you very soon, and give you a better account of us than you could hope for from any one else.
In a letter to his wife, then staying with Sir H. Lawrence at Lahore, he says:–
I have been much cheered by the arrival in camp of my dear friend Colonel Napier. He is the most lovable man I know in this country, and a Bayard in generosity and courage. I am sure you will like him. I am anxious about your journey, but I am sure that Sir Henry will do all he can to start you comfortably.
Notwithstanding all appearance to the contrary at its opening, the campaign lasted seven weeks, and supplied plenty of fighting. It was afterwards characterised by my brother as the hardest piece of service he had yet seen. One engagement lasted from sunrise to sunset. He had thus an opportunity of displaying his usual gallantry and coolness, and showing how well he could handle his “Guides” in mountain warfare. They suffered much from cold, as
the ground was covered with snow for a part of the time, and from want of supplies.
Colonel (now Lord) Napier, speaking afterwards of this expedition, said:–
“Your brother’s unfailing fun and spirits, which seemed only raised by what we had to go through, kept us all alive and merry, so that we looked back upon it afterwards as a party of pleasure, and thought we had never enjoyed anything more.”
In reply to congratulations on his appointment to the Guides, my brother wrote from –
PESHAWUR, March 13th, 1853.
I have certainly been very fortunate indeed, and only hope that I may be enabled to acquit myself of the trust well and honourably, both in the field and in the more political portion of my duties. It was a good thing that I had the opportunity of leading the regiment into action so soon after getting the command, and that the brunt of the whole should have fallen upon us, as it placed the older men and myself once more on our old footing of confidence in one another, and introduced me to the younger hands as their leader when they needed one. Susie says she told you all about it; I need therefore only add that it was the hardest piece of service, while it lasted, I have yet seen with the Guides, both as regards the actual fighting, the difficulties of the ground (a rugged mountain, 7000 feet high, and densely wooded), and the exposure. You will see little or no mention of it publicly, it being the policy of Government to make everything appear as quiet as possible on this frontier, and to blazon the war on the eastern side of the empire (some 2000 miles away) as much as they can. I am, as you justly imagined, to be employed both civilly and in a military capacity – at least, it is under discussion. I was asked to take charge of the wild district of “Euzofzai” (forming a large portion of the Peshawur province), where the Guides will ordinarily be stationed. I refused to do so unless I
had the exclusive civil charge in all departments, magisterial, financial, and judicial, instead of in the former only, as proposed, and I fancy they will give in to my reasons. I shall then be military chief, and civil governor, too, as far as that part of the valley is concerned, and shall have enough on my hands, as you may suppose. In the meantime, I shall have the superintendence of the building of a fort to contain us all – not such a fortress as Coblentz, or those on the Belgian frontier, but a mud structure, which answers all the purposes we require at a very, very small cost.
PESHAWUR, April 30th, 1853.
I am sorry to say my wife is ordered to the hills, and we shall again be separated for five or six months. My own destination for the hot season is uncertain, but I expect to be either here, or on the banks of the Indus.
CAMP, NEAR PESHAWUR, June 4th, 1853.
... I hope to get away from work and heat in August or September for a month, if all things remain quiet. But for this sad separation, there would be much charm for me in this gipsy life. To avoid the great heats of the next three months in tents, we are building huts for ourselves of thatch, and mine is assuming the dignity of mud walls. We are encamped on a lovely spot, on the banks of the swift and bright river, at the foot of the hills, on the watch for incursions or forays, and to guard the richly-cultivated plain of the Peshawur valley from depredations from the hills. We are ready, of course, to boot and saddle at all hours; our rifles and carbines are loaded, and our swords keen and bright: and woe to the luckless chief who, trusting to his horses, descends upon the plain too near our pickets! Meanwhile, I am civil as well as military chief, and the natural taste of the Euzofzai Pathans for broken heads, murder, and violence, as well as
their litigiousness about their lands, keeps me very hard at work from day to day. Perhaps the life may be more suited to a careless bachelor than to a husband with such a wife as mine; but even still it has its charms for an active mind and body. A daybreak parade or inspection, a gallop across the plain to some outpost, a plunge in the river, and then an early breakfast, occupy your time until 9 A.M. Then come a couple of corpses, whose owners (late) had their heads broken over-night, and consequent investigations and examinations; next a batch of villagers to say their crops are destroyed by a storm, and no rents forthcoming. Then a scream of woe from a plundered farm on the frontier, and next a grain-dealer, to say his camels have been carried off to the hills. “Is not this a dainty dish to set before – your brother?” Then each of my nine hundred men considers me bound to listen to any amount of stories he may please to invent or remember of his own private griefs and troubles; and last, not least, there are four young gentlemen who have each his fancy; and who often give more trouble in transacting business than assistance in doing it. However, I have no right to complain, for I am about, yes, quite, the most fortunate man in the service; and have I not the right to call myself the happiest also, with such a wife and such a home?
At this time he received the following letter from Sir H. Lawrence, dated July 13th, 1853:–
“My DEAR HODSON, – I hope Mrs. Hodson and yourself are alive. Perry informed me of the fact and of your whereabouts, &c. &c.
“By last mail I wrote to Lord Hardinge, and asked him to get you brevet rank. You had better write to Sir C. Napier (but don’t use my name, or it might do you harm), and say that if he moves in your favour, you think Lord Hardinge will agree. If you could get local rank till you are a captain it would be a great matter. Say nothing to any one on the matter. ...
Has the star fort been built yet? We hope Mrs. Hodson likes border life. Give her our kind regards. – Yours, &c.
CAMP, NEAR PESHAWUR, August 1853.
It is very trying that I cannot be with Susie at Murree; but with a people such as these it is not safe to be absent, lest the volcano should break out afresh. Since I began this sheet a dust-storm has covered everything on my table completely with sand. My pen is clogged and my inkstand choked, and my eyes full of dust! What am I to do? Oh, the pleasures of the tented field in August in the valley of Peshawur! It has been very hot indeed, lately. We have barely in our huts had the thermometer under Too°, and a very steamy, stewy heat it is, into the bargain.
MURREE, Sept. 14th, 1853.
I am enjoying a little holiday from arms and kutchery up in the cool here with Susie. Murree is not more than 140 miles from Peshawur. You say that you do not know “what I mean by hills in my part of India.” This is owing to the badness of the maps. The fact is, that the whole of the upper part of the country watered by the five rivers is mountainous. The Himalaya extends from the eastern frontiers of India to Afghanistan, where it joins the “Hindu Koosh,” or Caucasus. If you draw a line from Peshawur, through Rawul Pindee, to Simla or Subathoo, or any place marked on the maps thereabouts, you may assume that all to the north of that line is mountain country. Another chain runs from Peshawur, down the right bank of the Indus to the sea. At Attok the mountains close in upon the river, or, more correctly speaking, the river emerges from the mountains, and the higher ranges end there. The Peshawur valley is a wide open plain, lying on the banks of the Cabul river, about sixty miles long by forty broad, encircled by mountains,
some of them covered with snow for eight or nine months of the year. Euzofzai is the north-eastern portion of this valley, embraced between the Cabul river and the Indus. Half of Euzofzai (the “abode of the children of Joseph “) is mountain, but we only hold the level or plain part of it. Nevertheless, a large part of my little province is very hilly. In the north-east corner of Euzofzai, hanging over the Indus, is a vast lump of a hill, called “Mahabun” (or the “great forest”), thickly peopled on its slopes, and giving shelter to some 12,000 armed men, the bitterest bigots which even Islam can produce. The hill is about 7800 feet above the level of the sea. This has been identified by the wise men with the Aornos of Arrian, and Alexander is supposed to have crossed the Indus at its foot. Whether he did so or not, I am not “at liberty to mention,” but it is certain that Nadir Shah, in one of his incursions into India, marched his host to the top of it, and encamped there. This gives colour to the story that the Macedonian did the same; as in all ages there are dominating points which are seized on by men of genius when engaged in the great game of war. The great principles of war seem to change as little as the natural features of the country. Well, you will see how a mountain-range running “slantingdicularly” across the Upper Punjab contains many nice mountain tops suited to Anglo-Saxon adventurers. If you can find Rawul Pindee on the maps, you may put your finger on Murree, about twenty-five miles, as the crow flies, to the northeast. You should get a map of the Punjab, Cashmere, and Iskardo, published by Arrowsmith in 1847. George sent me two of them. They are the best published maps I have seen. As to the Euzofzai fever, that is, I am happy to say, now over. It was terrible while it lasted. Between the 1st March and the 15th June 1853, 8352 persons died out of a population of 53,500. It was very similar to typhus, but had some symptoms of yellow fever. It was confined to natives.
Poor Colonel Mackeson, the Commissioner at Peshawur (the chief civil and political officer for the frontier), was stabbed, a few
days ago, by a fanatic, while sitting in his verandah reading. The fellow was from Swat, and said he had heard that we were going to invade his country, and that he would try to stop it, and go to heaven as a martyr for the faith. Poor Mackeson is still alive, but in a very precarious state, I fear. I hope this may induce Government to take strong measures with the hill tribes.
He had soon to mourn the loss of a still more valued friend:–
Oct. 15th, 1853
You will have been much shocked at hearing of poor dear Mr. Thomason’s death.
It is an irreparable loss to his family and friends, but it will be even more felt in his public capacity. He had not been ill, but died from sheer debility and exhaustion produced by overwork and application in the trying season just over. Had he gone to the hills, all would have been right. I cannot but think that he sacrificed himself as an example to others. You may imagine how much I have felt the loss of my earliest and best friend in India, to whom I was accustomed to detail all my proceedings, and whom I was wont to consult in every difficulty and doubt.
On the 2nd November he wrote from Rawul Pindee to announce the birth of a daughter. He had been obliged previously to return to his duties; but, by riding hard all night, had been able to be with his wife at the time, and, after greeting the little stranger, had immediately to hasten back to his Guides on the frontier.
The Government, with a view to secure the Kohat Pass, were now preparing an expedition against the refractory tribe of the Borees, one of the bravest and wildest of the Afghan race, in order to prove that their hills and valleys were accessible to our troops.
Accordingly, a force consisting of 400 men of Her Majesty’s 22nd, 450 Goorkhas, 450 Guides, and the mountain
train, marched at 4 A.M. on the morning of the 29th November, under the command of Brigadier Boileau, to attack the villages in the Boree valley.
I must supply the loss of my brother’s own account by a letter from an officer with the expedition:–
“Our party, after crossing the hills between Kundao and the main Afridi range at two points, reunited in the valley at 10.30 A.M., and with the villages of the Borees before us at the foot of some precipitous crags. These it at once became apparent must be carried before the villages could be attacked and destroyed. The service devolved on two detachments of the Goorkhas and Guides, commanded by Lieutenants Hodson and Turner, and the style in which these gallant fellows did their work, and drove the enemy from crag to rock and rock to crag, and finally kept them at bay from 11 A.M. to 3 P.M., was the admiration of the whole force. We could plainly see the onslaught, especially a fierce struggle that lasted a whole hour, for the possession of a breastwork, which appeared inaccessible from below, but was ultimately carried by the Guides, in the face of the determined opposition of the Afridis, who fought for every inch of ground.
“Depend upon it, this crowning of the Boree heights was one of the finest pieces of light infantry performance on record. It was, moreover, one which Avitabile, with 10,000 Sikhs, was unable to accomplish. During these operations on the hill, the villages were burnt, and it was only the want of powder which prevented the succession of towers which flanked them being blown into the air. The object of the expedition having been thus fully achieved, the skirmishers were recalled at about three, and then the difficulties of the detachment commenced; for, as is well known, the Afghans are familiar with the art of following, though they will rarely meet an enemy. The withdrawal of the Guides and Ghoorkhas from the heights was most exciting, and none but the best officers and the best men could have achieved this duty with such complete success. Lieutenant Hodson’s
tactics were of the most brilliant description, and the whole force having been once more re-united in the plain, they marched out of the valley by the Turoonee pass, which, though farthest from the British camp, was the shortest to the outer plains. The force did not return to camp till between ten and eleven at night, having been out nearly eighteen hours, many of the men without food, and almost all without water, the small supply which had been carried out having soon been exhausted, and none being procurable at Boree.
“Not an officer of the detachment was touched, and only eight men killed and twenty-four wounded. When the force first entered the valley, there were not more than 200 Borees in arms to resist; but before they returned, the number had increased to some 3000, tens and twenties pouring in all the morning from all the villages and hamlets within many miles, intelligence of the attack being conveyed to them by the firing.”
Sir J. Lawrence, who witnessed the operations from an opposite hill, says:–
“The Afreedees fought desperately. The way in which the Guides and Goorkhas carried the heights was the admiration of all. These are the right sort of fellows.”
My brother’s services on this occasion were thus acknowledged by the Brigadier commanding (Colonel Boileau, Her Majesty’s 22nd Regiment), in a despatch dated Nov. 29th, 1853.
“To the admirable conduct of Lieutenant Hodson in reconnoitring, in the skilful disposition of his men, and the daring gallantry with which he led his fine corps in every advance, most of our success is due; for the safety of the whole force while in the valley of the Tillah depended on his holding his position, and I had justly every confidence in his vigilance and valour.
(Signed) “J. B. BOILEAU,
Brigadier Commanding the Force at Boree.”
“To Lieutenant W. S. R. Hodson, I beg you will express my particular thanks for the great service he rendered the force under your command, by his ever gallant conduct, which has fully sustained the reputation he has so justly acquired for courage, coolness, and determination.
(Signed) “ W. M. Gomm,
Before Christmas, to his great delight, he was joined in camp by his wife and child. The following letters bring out still more prominently the tender loving side of his character, both as a father and a son:–
To his Father.
CAMP, MURDAN, EUZOFZAI, Jan. 2nd, 1854.
I have been sadly long in answering your last most welcome letter, but I have been so terribly driven from pillar to post, that I have always been unable to sit down at the proper time. My long holiday with dear Susie, and journeyings to and fro to see her at Murree, and our short campaign against the Afridis in November, threw me into a sea of arrears which was terrible to contemplate, and still worse to escape from. I am now working all day and half the night, and cannot as yet make much impression on them.
I wish you could see your little granddaughter being nursed by a rough-looking Afghan soldier or bearded Sikh, and beginning life so early as a dweller in tents. She was christened by Mr. Clarke, one of the Church Missionaries who happened to be in Peshawur.
You evidently do not appreciate the state of things in these provinces. There are but two churches in the Punjab; and there will be an electric telegraph to Peshawur before a church is commenced there, though the station has been one for four years. ... My second in command, Lieutenant Godby, was stabbed in
the back by a fanatic the other day while on parade, and has had a wonderful escape for his life.
You would so delight in your little grand-daughter. She is a lovely good little darling; as happy as possible, and wonderfully quick and intelligent for her months. I would give worlds to be able to run home and see you, and show you my child, but I fear much that, unless I find a “nugget,” it is vain to hope for so much pleasure just now. Meantime, I have every blessing a man can hope for, and not the least is that of your fond and much-prized affection.
To his Wife, shortly afterwards.
Godby is out of danger. I have been all day busy inquiring into the perpetrators and abettors of the deed, and have decided on seizing one of the principal chiefs of Euzofzai and sending him into Peshawur. The murderer was a servant of this Kader Khan, and certainly did not come of his own idea. I shall have plenty of circumstantial evidence at least against him.
A few months later, again apologising for long silence, he says, writing home:–
In addition to the very onerous command of 876 wild men and 300 wild horses, and the charge of the civil administration of a district almost as lawless as Tipperary, I have had to build, and superintend the building of, a fort to give cover to the said men and horses, including also within its walls three houses for English officers, a police station, and a native collector’s office.
Our poor little darling had a very severe attack of fever the other day, but is now well again, and getting strong. I never see her without wishing that she was in her grandfather’s arms. You would so delight in her little baby tricks and ways. She is the very delight of our lives, and we look forward with intense interest to her beginning to talk and crawl about. Both she and her dear mother will have to leave for the hills very soon, I am
sorry to say. We try to put off the evil day, but I dare not expose either of my treasures to the heat of Euzofzai or Peshawur for the next three months. ... The young lady already begins to show a singularity of taste – refusing to go to the arms of any native woman, and decidedly preferring the male population, some of whom are distinguished by her special favour. Her own orderly, save the mark, never tires of looking at her “beautiful white fingers,” nor she of twisting them into his black beard – an insult to an Oriental, which he bears with an equanimity equal to his fondness for her. The cunning fellows have begun to make use of her too, and when they want anything, ask the favour in the name of Lilli Baba (they cannot manage “Olivia” at all). They know the spell is potent.
The following letters from his wife’s pen give a lively picture of “domestic” life in the wilderness:–
“April 15th, 1854.
“You ask for some detail of our life out here, and the history of one day will be a picture of every one, with little variation.
“At the first bugle, soon after daylight, W. gets up and goes to parade, and from thence to superintend the proceedings at the fort.
“By nine o’clock we are both ready for breakfast, after which W. disappears into his business tent, where he receives regimental reports, examines recruits, whether men or horses, superintends stores and equipments, hears complaints, and settles disputes, &c. &c. The regimental business first despatched, then comes ‘kutcherry,’ or civil court matters, receiving petitions, adjusting claims, with a still longer &c. You may have some small idea of the amount of this work, when I tell you that during the month of March he disposed of twenty-one serious criminal cases, such as murder, and ‘wounding with intent,’ and nearly 300 charges of felony, larceny, &c. At two o’clock he comes in for a look at his bairn, and a glass of wine. Soon after five a cup of
tea, and then we order the horses, and in the saddle till nearly eight, when I go with him again to the fort, the garden, and the roads, diverging occasionally to fix the site of a new village, a well, or a watercourse.
“You can understand something of the delight of galloping over the almost boundless plain in the cool fresh air (for the mornings and evenings are still lovely), with the ground now enamelled with sweet-scented flowers, and the magnificent mountains nearest us assuming every possible hue which light and shadow can bestow. On our return to camp, W. hears more reports till dinner, which is sometimes shared by the other officers, or chance guests.
“When we are alone, as soon as dinner is over, the letters which have arrived in the evening are examined, classified, and descanted on, sometimes answered; and I receive my instructions for next day’s work in copying papers, answering letters, &c. And now do you not think that prayers and bed are the fitting and well-earned ending to the labours of the day?
“When you remember, too, that in building the fort, roads, and bridges, W. has to make his bricks and burn them, to search for his timber and fell it, you will not deny that his hands are full enough; but in addition, he has to search for workmen, and when brought here, to procure them food and means of cooking it. Some are Mussulmans and eat meat, which must be killed and cooked by their own people. Some are Hindus, who only feed on grain and vegetables, but every single man must have his own chula or fireplace, with an enclosure for him and his utensils, and if by chance any foot but his own overstep his little mud wall, he will neither eat nor work till another sun has arisen. Then some smoke, while others hold it in abhorrence; some only drink water, others must have spirits; so that it is no easy matter to arrange the conflicting. wants of some 1100 labourers. I shall be very thankful when this Murdan Kote is finished, for it will relieve my poor husband of half his labour and anxiety.
“By way of variety, we have native sports on great holidays –
such as throwing the spear at a mark, or ‘Nazabaze,’ which is, fixing a stake of twelve or eighteen inches into the ground, which must be taken up on the spear’s point while passing it at full gallop, or putting an orange on the top of a bamboo a yard high, and cutting it through with a sword at full speed. W. is very clever at this, rarely failing, but the spears are too long for any but a lithe native to wield without risking a broken arm. The scene is most picturesque – the flying horsemen in their flowing many-coloured garments, and the grouping of the lookers-on, make me more than ever regret not having a ready pencil-power to put them on paper.
“The weather has been particularly unfavourable to the progress of the fort, so that we are still in our temporary hut and tents. Of course we feel the heat much more so domiciled. W. is grievously overworked; still his health is wonderfully good, and his spirits as wild as if he were a boy again. He is never so well pleased as when he has the baby in his arms.”
To his Sister.
ATTOK, June 9th, 1854.
... We are so far on the way to Murree, and here, I grieve to say, we part for the next three months. I hope to rejoin them for a month in September, and accompany them back to our new home, for by that time I trust that my fortified cantonment will be ready, and our house too. This said fort has been a burden and a stumbling-block to me for months, and added grievously to my work, as I am sole architect. It is built regularly, but of earth-works and mud, and as it covers an area of twelve acres, you may believe that it has been no slight task to superintend its construction. It is a sad necessity, and the curse of Indian life, this repeatedly recurring separation, but anything is better than to see the dear ones suffer. I am fortunately very well, and as yet untouched by the unusual virulence with which the hot weather has commenced this year.
To his Father.
MUREE, July 17th, 1854..
I was summoned from Euzofzai to these hills, on the 26th June, by the tidings of the dangerous illness of our sweet baby. I found her in a sinking state, and though she was spared to us for another fortnight of deep anxiety and great wretchedness, there was, from the time I arrived, scarcely a hope of her recovery. Slowly and by imperceptible degrees her little life wasted away, until, early on the morning of the loth, she breathed her soul away, so gently that those watching her intently were conscious of no change. The deep agony of this bereavement I have no words to describe. We had watched her growth, and prided ourselves on her development with such absorbing interest and joy; and she had so won our hearts by her extreme sweetness and most unusual intelligence, that she had become the very centre and light of our home life, and in losing her we seem to have lost everything. Her poor mother is sadly bowed down by this great grief, and has suffered terribly both in health and spirits.
I have got permission to remain with her a few days, but I must return to my duty before the end of the month.
We had the best and kindest of medical advice, and everything, I believe, which skill could do was tried, but in vain. She was lent to us to be our joy and comfort for a time, and was taken from us again, and the blank she has left behind is great indeed.
I dare not take Susie down with me, much as she wishes it, at this season, and in her state of health. I must therefore leave her here till October. It is very sad work to part again under these circumstances, but in this wretched country there is no help for us. Your kind and affectionate expressions about our little darling, and your keen appreciation of the “unfailing source of comfort and refreshment she was to my wearied spirit,” came to me just as I had ceased to hope for the precious babe’s life.
... It has been a very, very bitter blow to us. She had wound her little being round our hearts to an extent which we neither of us knew until we woke from the brief dream of beauty, and found ourselves childless.
CAMP, MURDAN, Sept. 17th, 1854.
I am alone now, having none of my officers here save the doctor. But the border is quiet, and except a great deal of crime and villainy, I have not any great difficulties to contend with. My new fort to hold the regiment and protect the frontier is nearly finished, and my new house therein will be habitable before my wife comes down from Murree. So after two years and a quarter of camp and hutting, I shall enjoy the luxury of a room and the dignity of a house.
FORT, MURDAN, Oft. 31st, 1854.
I can give better accounts of our own state than for many a long day. Dear Susie is much better than for a year past, and gaining strength daily, and I am as well as possible. We are now in our new house in this fort, which has caused me so much labour and anxiety; and I assure you a most comfortable dwelling we find it. Our houses (I mean the European officers’) project from the general front of the works at the angles of the bastions, and are quite private, and away from the noisy soldiers; and we have, for India, a very pretty view of the hills and plains around us. Above all, the place seems a very healthy one. To your eye, fresh from England, it would appear desolate from its solitude, and oppressive from the vastness of the scale of scene. A wide plain, without a break or a tree, thirty miles long, by fifteen to twenty miles wide, forms our immediate foreground on one side, and an endless mass of mountains on the other.
We have just heard by telegraph of the engagement at Alma, but only a brief electric shock of a message, without details. We
are in an age of wonders. Ten months ago there was not a telegraph in Hindustan, yet the news which reached Bombay on the 27th of this month was printed at Lahore, 1200 miles from the coast, that same afternoon.
MURDAN, Nov. 16th, 1854.
As yet, we have only felt the surging of the storm which convulses Eastern Europe. The only palpable sign of the effects of Russian intrigue which we have had has been the commencement of negotiation with the Dost Mahomed Khan, of Cabul, who, under the pressure from without, has been fain to seek for alliance and aid from us. Nothing is yet known of his demands, or the intentions of Government, but one thing is certain, that the commencement of negotiations with us is the beginning of evil days for Afghanistan.
In India, we must either keep altogether aloof or absorb. All our history shows that sooner or later connection with us is political death. The sunshine is not more fatal to a dew-drop than our friendship or alliance to an Asiatic Kingdom.
5. No two troops or companies were of the same race, in order to prevent the possibility of combination. One company was composed of Sikhs, another of Afridis, others of Pathans, Goorkhas, Punjabee Mohammedans, &c., with native officers, in each case, of a different race from the men.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage