Tantia Topi, accompanied by Rao Sahib and the Nawab of Bandah, had fled from the field of Jaura Alipur on the 22nd of June. The information which had induced Brigadier Showers to send a detachment to cover Bharatpur was perfectly correct, for Tantia, as soon as he had ascertained he was no longer pursued, had turned his steps north-westwards. On reaching Sartmathura, however, be learned the dispositions made by Showers.
Foiled on one side, he pushed on directly westwards, hoping to gain Jaipur, in which city he believed a strong party was prepared to rise in his favour.
On this route I propose to leave him, whilst I trace the positions taken up by the several British columns upon which the pursuit of him was to devolve.
I have already shown how on the 29th of June Sir Hugh Rose made over the command of his force to Brigadier-General Robert Napier, and proceeded to Bombay to assume command of the army of that presidency.
The season for active military operations on the black and spongy soil of central India had now passed away, and Napier hoped before the country should harden he would be able to afford some rest to his overworked soldiers. With this object he made arrangements for comfortably housing a portion of them at Gwaliar itself. Hero he quartered three squadrons of the 14th Light Dragoons, Meade’s Horse, a wing of the 71st Highlanders, the 86th Foot, the 25th Bombay
Native Infantry, a company of Bombay Artillery, a company of the Royal Engineers, and a Light Field Battery.
To rest at and to hold Jhansi he detached a squadron of the 14th Light Dragoons, a wing of the 3rd Bombay Cavalry, the 3rd Bombay Europeans, the 24th Bombay Native Infantry, a company of Bombay Sappers, and three guns of the late Bhopal Contingent.
Brigadier Smith’s brigade – which, it will be remembered, took an active part in the operations against Gwaliar – consisting of two squadrons of the 8th Hussars, two of the 1st Bombay Lancers, the 95th Foot, the 10th Bombay Native Infantry, and a troop of Bombay Horse Artillery, marched to occupy Sipri, whilst Mayne’s Irregular Cavalry took up their position at Gunah.
But these were not the only troops which in the month of July 1858 occupied positions overlooking the area on which only it was likely Tantia Topi would act. In a previous page I have recorded how General Roberts, commanding the Rajputana field force, had detached a column under Brigadier Smith to cover and to aid in the operations of Sir Hugh Rose. Roberts’s force, diminished by the departure of that column, still consisted of the 83rd Foot, a wing of the 72nd Highlanders, wings of the 12th and 13th Bombay Native Infantry, two squadrons 8th Hussars, two of the 1st Bombay Lancers, three hundred Biluchi Horse, a light field battery, and a siege-train of six pieces.
At the end of June Roberts lay with this force at Nasirabad.
Upon him it fell to strike the first blow against the fugitive leader. On the 27th of June Roberts learned from Captain Eden, the political agent, that Tantia Topi had sent emissaries to the disaffected party in Jaipur assuring them that he was marching on that place, and begging them to be in readiness to join him. Roberts took his measures accordingly. On the 28th of June he set out from Nasirabad, and marching rapidly, reached Jaipur before Tantia.
Tantia again foiled, turned southwards, and made a raid on Tonk, followed by a light column under Colonel Holmes148.
The Nawab of this place, Wazir Muhammad Khan, was by no means disposed to submit to the dictation of a Maratha fugitive with English troops at his followed by heels. He, therefore, shut himself in his citadel with the men he could depend upon. The remainder of his force, with four guns, he left outside with orders to face the rebels.
But, instead of facing them, this force received them as brethren, and made over to them the four guns. With this addition to his army Tantia started off southwards to Madhupura and Indragarh, forty-five miles north-cast of Rota, still pursued by Holmes, and at a longer interval by Roberts.
The flight and the pursuit were alike retarded by the rains, which fell during this month with remarkable force, so much so that the river Chambal, swollen to a torrent, barred Tantia’s passage from Indragarh to the south-eastward. Changing his course, then, he took a south-westerly course to Bundi, capital of the native state of the same name. The Maharao of Bundi, Ram Singh, had more than once displayed a disposition to strike for independence, but even he was not prepared to link his fortunes with those of Tantia Topi. He shut, therefore, the gates of Bundi in the face of the fugitives.
Tantia, pursued, as he thought, by Holmes, had no time to stop to use force, but marched a few miles southward, then, making a sudden tour westward, crossed the Bundi hills by the Kinah pass, and made for the fertile country between Nasirabad and Nimach, a country which had already been the scene of warlike operations, and the larger towns in which had more than once shown a disposition to favour the rebellion. Tantia was able to change his course without fear of being disturbed by Holmes, for on leaving Bundi he loudly asserted his intention to continue his course due south, and he counted that information thus disseminated would deceive his pursuers.
Pushing on, then, Tantia took up a position between the towns of Sanganir and Bhilwara, both in the Udaipur state, on the Nasirabad and Nimach road149. Roberts, meanwhile, had been obliged, in consequence of the continuance of the
heavy rain, to halt at Sarwar, an elevated plateau about thirty miles from Ajmir.
On the 5th of August, however, the roads having been reported passable, Roberts broke up and marched towards Nimach. On the 7th, when at Dabla, ten miles from Sanganir, he received information regarding the position taken up by Tantia close to that place.
The town of Sanganir is on the left bank of the little river Kotaria. On the other side, and more than a mile up the stream, is the town of Bhilwara, in the front of which Tantia lay encamped150.
Roberts was well aware that all his cavalry and a portion of his infantry under Holmes were following on the track of the rebels. He himself was in front of them. The opportunity was too good to be thrown away. He resolved, though he had no cavalry, to attack.
The rebel infantry and guns had taken up a position in front of Bhilwara. Their horse, however, were thrown forward on the left, across the Kotaria up to Sanganir, and on the right to the other side of that town, the whole forming a horseshoe figure of about a mile and a half, connected by skirmishers. Their elephants and baggage were in the rear on the line by which they must retire if beaten.
Roberts advanced his infantry, covered by skirmishers a short distance in front, cleared Sanganir of the few rebels who had penetrated within it, forced the rebel horse across the river, and, bringing his guns to the river-bank, opened on the enemy’s right. Under this fire his infantry, played upon by the rebel batteries, crossed the river, and took up a position on a rising ground, their right on a village, their left on a small tank. The guns then were sent across.
Seeing this, Tantia attempted no further resistance; he withdrew his guns and infantry, massing his cavalry on the intervening plain to cover the retreat. He retired unscathed, except by the guns, for Roberts had no cavalry to send after
him151, and proceeded to a village called Kotra in the Udaipur country.
The next day Roberts was joined by his much-required cavalry, which had made a march of thirty miles. He then set out in pursuit of the rebels, doing twenty miles daily till, on the afternoon of the 13th, he came up with their advanced guard at Kankrauli152, a town seventy-nine miles to the north-west of Nimach and a hundred and seventy-one to the north-east of Disu, situated on a lake not far from and the Aravali hills.
On driving in the rebel outposts, Roberts learned from prisoners and villagers that their main force was occupying a position on the Banas river, seven miles distant.
Tantia Topi, who was, according to his light, a religious man, had devoted that 13th of August to a visit to the shrine of Nathdwara153, reputed one of the most sacred in India. On his return at midnight he heard for the first time of the close vicinity of the English. Dreading an attack, he determined to decamp at once.
But his infantry refused to move. They said that they were worn out by the long infantry marches, and must rest; that they would march in the morning, and the guns should march with them; that the cavalry might act as they pleased. Under
these circumstances, Tantia had no other alternative but to fight.
At daybreak, then, he ranged his men as skilfully as the nature of the ground would allow. His position was strong. In front of him flowed the Banas, which, covering his centre, then made a bend which protected his right; his left rested on some steep hills. The ground he occupied was a low, steep ridge, which formed the bank of the river. Before him, on the opposite bank, was an open plain, eight hundred yards wide, across which his enemy must march.
At 7 o’clock on the morning of the 14th Roberts marched across it. In vain did Tantia’s four guns, well protected by a natural parapet, sweep that plain. In spite of the effect they produced – and it was considerable – the British and Native infantry reached the left bank, forded the river, and scaled the heights on the enemy’s left and centre.
The right, where the guns were posted, being thus left unsupported, abandoned the pieces under a volley from the 13th Bombay Native Infantry. The cavalry, led by Colonel Naylor, then dashed across the stream, and came upon the rebels scattered over the plain. Naylor pursued them for two miles, his men dealing and receiving death. He then formed up his men, and, under orders from the general, kept up a steady and orderly pursuit for fifteen miles, killing numbers of stragglers, and capturing three elephants and a quantity of baggage.
Two miles further on, the rebels, having reached a village surrounded by jungle, determined to make a stand. Naylor, finding that the number of men whom he could then muster amounted only to a hundred and fifty, and that the country was quite unfit for cavalry, upon this abandoned the pursuit154.
Tantia Topi, having shaken off his pursuers, pressed, now without guns, eastward, hoping to find the Chambal fordable, and to place that river between himself and the English. Roberts, divining his intention, followed in the same direction, and the fourth day
after the action reached Puna, a town north of Chitor, not far from the high road between Nimach and Nasirabad.
Here he met Brigadier Parke, commandant of the Nimach brigade, who, some days before, had started from that place in anticipation of orders to cut off Tantia from the south. Roberts now made over to him the 8th Hussars and the Baluchis, and begged him to continue the pursuit.
Parke set out at once, but, some of the horses of the 8th Hussars being knocked up, he deviated from the exact course followed by Tantia to proceed to Nimach, where he knew he could obtain about fifty to fresh horses. Here he was met by conflicting news regarding the fugitives. On the one side he was assured by experts that it was absolutely impossible that Tantia could cross the Chambal at that season of the year, and that he was bent on pushing southwards; on the other, Captain Showers, the political agent at Udaipur, who was then at Nimach, had received information from the spot that Tantia was determined to cross the river.
Unfortunately, Parke believed the experts. Proceeding to Morasa, fifteen miles from Nimach and thirty from the Chambal, he halted there a few hours to obtain more exact information. When it came it told him that the informant of Captain Showers was right, and that Tantia was attempting the Chambal.
Parke hurried after him, reached the river after a hard march, only to find it just fordable, but rising rapidly, to see “a few disabled ponies standing on the left bank, and the rebels disappearing among some mango-trees in the west horizon.” Tantia had escaped. Parke returned to Nimach to refit155.
Tantia, meanwhile, having crossed the Chambal, pushed for Jhalra Patan, thirty miles distant. Jhalra Patan is a handsome town in the Jhalawar State, ninety miles to the cast of Nimach and two hundred and sixteen to the north of Sagar, built on the model of Jaipur.
The Rana of that state, Prithi Singh, great-grandson of the famous Zalim Singh, the founder of the principality, was loyal to his British overlord.
He had no idea of yielding without a struggle; but his troops, when drawn up to repel the Maratha invader, behaved precisely as Sindhia’s troops had behaved at Gwaliar on a similar occasion – they fraternised with the rebels.
Tantia at once took possession of the Rana’s guns, more than thirty in number, his ammunition, bullocks and horses, and surrounded the palace. The next morning he visited the Rana, and demanded a contribution in money. The Rana offered five lakhs; but, this sum not being deemed sufficient, Rao Sahib, acting as representative of the Peshwa, sent for him and demanded twenty-five. Ultimately the Rani agreed to give fifteen. Of these he actually paid five, but, having been insulted and ill-treated, he escaped that same night and fled to Mau, leaving some barrels of powder handy for his wife and family to blow themselves up if threatened with insult156.
Tantia, freed by the rising of the Chambal from all chance of immediate pursuit, halted five days at Jhalra Patan. He states that he employed the money taken to issue three months’ pay to his troops, at the monthly rate of thirty rupees to each trooper, and twelve rupees to each foot soldier. Whilst so halting, he and his comrades, Edo Sahib and the Nawab of Bandah, conceived a very bold idea. This was no less than to march on Indar, and summon Holkar’s troops to join the representative of the liege lord of the Marathas. Could he succeed in reaching the capital of Holkar before the small body of troops which the news of his approach would probably bring to the same spot from Mau, the fraternisation would be certain, and the result would wend to all Holkar’s subjects.
Impressed with this idea, Tantia marched with his army, now reinforced by the Jhalawar levies and all the Rana’s guns157, nearly direct south to Rajgarh158.
But, whilst Tantia had been resting at Jhalra Patan, the officer commanding in Malwa, Major-General Michel, had, as if reading his thoughts, despatched from that place a force159, under Colonel Lockhart, to cover Ujjen, due north of Indur. Lockhart, proceeding further northwards, reached Susnir, a place about seventeen miles to the west of Rajgarh. Not believing himself strong enough to attack Tantia, he intrenched himself, to await the arrival of a small reinforcement, under Colonel Hope, coming from Mau. He met this reinforcement at Nalkerah, about three miles to the south of Susnir. At the very time of this junction Tantia was marching on Rajgarh, within a few miles of him.
At this period, the end of August 1858, a change took place in the personnel of the British command. Major-General Roberts, who had up to that time commanded in Rajputana, was transferred to the military control of the Gujrat division. His place was taken by Major-General Michel of the Royal army, commanding in Malwa, a command which he was now to hold in conjunction with that in Rajputana. Michel was a zealous, active, resolute, and capable officer, thoroughly impressed with the necessity of pursuing the fugitive chieftain without cessation.
Michel joined the united columns of Lockhart and Hope at Nalkerah. He had no information regarding Tantia Topi, but a vague rumour prevailed that he was moving in a north-easterly direction. Marching was, in every sense of the word, difficult. Although the month of September had arrived, heavy rain, the precursor of the break-up of the monsoon, was falling, and the saturated cotton soil of Malwa resembled a sea of black mud. Still it was necessary to move, and Michel moved in the right direction. With great difficulty he transported his little army to Chapaira, about midway to Rajgarh. The following day, the rain having ceased, Michel pursued his march towards that place.
The heat was so great and the sun’s rays were so terrible that some of the artillery horses dropped dead in the traces.
Still Michel pushed on, and, about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, halting on a rising ground, he had the gratification of beholding Tantia Topi’s army encamped near the walled town of Rajgarh.
To traverse three miles of black soil and then, at the approach of night, to attack with a tired army a fresh body of men in the position they had chosen, was not for a moment to be thought of.
Michel, then, waited for the morning; but, when morning dawned, Tantia and his men had disappeared. Michel at once sent his cavalry on their track. This track was distinguished, first, by the marks of the gun wheels and the elephants, then, more decidedly by three guns lying abandoned on the road.
A little further on the rebel force was descried, drawn up in two lines, the second on higher ground than the first, and the guns on ground above both. The cavalry then halted to await the approach of the infantry and guns.
The infantry and guns did not let Michel wait long. As soon as they came up the action began with an artillery fire from both sides. Then the English infantry, deploying, went at the rebels. The latter did not wait the conflict, but gave way and fled. Getting entangled in intersecting roads, they fell into inextricable confusion. The British horse artillery, galloping forward in alternate divisions of two guns, kept up a fire on the retreating masses, whilst the cavalry, threatening their left flank, forced them to incline towards the north160. In the pursuit, twenty-seven guns were taken.
Tantia, driven towards the north, wandered about for some time in the jungly country on both sides of the Betwa, and eventually made for Sironj – in an easterly direction. But, whilst thus seeking a place of security, new enemies were gathering round him.
To Brigadier Parke, who had left Nimach on the 5th of September, was entrusted the duty of covering Indur anal Bhopal, thus leaving Michel’s force to follow Tantia from the west, whilst Smith’s brigade should advance from the north, and the Jhansi column under Colonel Liddell from the north-east.
With this disposition opens a new phase of the pursuit. The defeat of Tantia Topi near Rajgarh almost coincided in time with the conclusion of the rainy season; for, although rain continued for some days to fall, further operations had become possible. We are now entering upon the cold weather campaign. In this new actors appear upon the scene. The Central India field force once more invites the attention of the public. It seems fitting, then, that before describing the events of that cold-weather campaign I should trace the operations of General Napier and of Brigadier Smith from the period when we left them up to the middle of September. Meanwhile we must suppose Tantia Topi to be making the best of his way, by circuitous paths, from Rajgarh, to Sironj.
At the beginning of July we left General Napier’s division at Gwaliar and Jhansi, Brigadier Smith’s brigade at Sipri, and Mayne’s Irregulars at Gunah, all resting after the extraordinary fatigues and exposure of the Central India campaign. To the superficial glance, order had been restored in Sindhia’s dominions. The Maharajah, grateful to the English, more fervent than at any previous period in his desire for their success, was doing his utmost to forward the views of the army administrators for the success of the troops. Sir Robert Hamilton, located at Gwaliar, was engaged in re-establishing political relations with the petty states around. The situation was full of promise; anal yet, all the time, it was hollow and unsound.
During the whole of July the European troops had rest. The comparatively trifling matters which required attention in the districts were easily disposed of by the employment on detached duty of the men of Meade’s Horse, a regiment daily rising in estimation.
But on the 2nd of August an incident occurred which led to very serious complications. A chief of Sindhia’s territory, named Man Singh, Rajah of Narwar, had quarrelled with his liege lord. To avenge the wrong which, he conceived, had been inflicted upon him by Sindhia, and which will presently
be related, and encouraged possibly by Tantia’s action in the south, this chieftain, summoning his followers, twelve thousand strong, surprised on the 2nd of August the strong fort of Pauri, eighty-three miles by the Sipri road south-west of Gwaliar, and eighteen to the northwest of Sipri, but recently supplied with six months’ provisions and ammunition. Now, Smith’s brigade was at Sipri. On the 4th he learned of the act of rebellion perpetrated by Man Singh.
On the 5th he started from Sipri with a force composed of two squadrons of the 8th Hussars, two of the 1st Bombay Lancers, a wing of the 95th, and three field guns; and, marching as rapidly as the roads would permit, reached the vicinity of Pauri early on the morning of the 7th. On approaching the place, Man Singh sent a messenger with a flag of truce to the brigadier, to assure him that he had no quarrel with the English; that his contention was with the Maharajah alone, and to supplicate earnestly for an interview.
Smith granted the request and saw the chief that day. In an earnest manner, totally devoid of pretension, Man Singh told his story to the brigadier. He and his family, he said, had ever been loyal servants to the Maharajah. During the lifetime of his father, nothing had occurred to mar the good feeling which had previously existed.
But, on his father’s death, the Maharajah had insulted and robbed him by refusing to recognise his right to succeed to the principality of Narwar161 and the estates adjacent. It was to recover these, or, at all events, to avenge himself on the Maharajah ,that he had drawn the sword and seized Pauri, which formed a part of his ancestral possessions, but, he added earnestly, “I have no connection with the rebels, and no quarrel with the English.”
The plea, though true, and Smith convincing the listener of its truth, was not of a nature which, in those times, could be accepted by an English commander. Smith was responsible for the peace of the country near Sipri; that peace had been violated by Man Singh, and Smith had but one plain duty,
to see that the violators were punished and that peace was maintained. He informed Man Singh of this necessity. Man Singh was obstinate, and expressed his determination to resist.
Pauri was strong, well supplied with provisions and ammunition, and its garrison, originally only two thousand, had been increased during the few days since the capture to nearly double that number. Amongst the new-comers was a chief, Ajit Singh by name, uncle of Man Singh. Smith’s force amounted only to eleven hundred men of all arms, and his three pieces were field-pieces. He was thus far too weak to undertake a siege; and the place was too strong to be carried by a coup-de-main.
Under these circumstances he deemed it prudent to maintain his position near the place, while he sent to Gwaliar an earnest request for reinforcements. On receiving this requisition Napier felt the enormous importance of settling the matter with as little delay as possible. Examples of that sort in a country long under Maratha rule are apt to be contagious, and there was every probability that, if Man Singh were allowed for any length of time to parade his defiance of the British, chieftains more powerful than he might follow his example. Napier, then, determined to take the matter into his own hands. He started accordingly on the 11th with five guns and four mortars, escorted by six hundred horse and foot, reached Sipri on the 17th, and joined Smith on the 19th of August. He began operations the next day. For twenty-four hours he poured a vertical fire into the fort from his mortars, and then began to use his breaching batteries. This demonstration quite satisfied Man Singh. On the night of the 23rd he, Ajit Singh and their followers evacuated Pauri, and made their way southwards through the jungles. Napier entered Pauri, the following morning, then equipped a light column under Robertson, 25th Bombay Native Infantry – an officer whose gallantry and soldierlike conduct have often been mentioned in these pages – and sent him in pursuit of the rebels. Napier himself having destroyed the fortifications of Pauri and burst the guns, retired to Sipri to make arrangements for the further pursuit of Man Singh should Robertson fail to capture him.
That zealous officer left Pauri on the 26th of August, on the track of Man Singh. He had with him a squadron of the 8th Hussars, a squadron of Meade’s Horse, two 9-pounders, one 6-pounder, one 5½-inch howitzer, a hundred men of the 86th, a hundred and twenty of the 95th, two hundred 10th Bombay Native Infantry, and two hundred 25th Bombay Native Infantry.
Pushing on by forced marches through the jungles, crossing difficult rivers, and conquering every obstacle, Robertson on the 3rd of September ascertained that the rebels were at Bijapur, near Gunah, twenty-three miles distant. His determination was instantly taken. Leaving the bulk of his troops to guard the camp and baggage, he mounted on elephants and camels seventy-five men of the 86th, ninety of the 95th, and a hundred each of the 10th and 25th Native Infantry, and with these and fifty men of the 8th Hussars, and a hundred and fifty of Meade’s Horse, he set out that night. At daybreak the following morning he came in sight of the rebels occupying a rising ground on the opposite bank of the Parbati river. They had no scouts, and, the light being still grey,
Robertson was able to cross the river unperceived and to send his cavalry round to take up a position in rear of the rebel camp. These movements were executed with so much care and precision, that, when the cavalry were taking up the position indicated, the rebels were actually stripping to bathe in the river, preparatory to their morning meal.
The surprise was complete. Of organised resistance there was none; but the casualty list showed that the rebels, though taken unawares, defended themselves bravely. Lieutenant Fawcett, 95th, was killed; Captain Poore and Lieutenant Hanbury, 8th Hussars, and Lieutenants Stewart and Page, of Meade’s Horse, were wounded. The remaining casualties in killed and wounded amounted to eighteen.
It was discovered after the action that it was not Man Singh’s but Ajit Singh’s land which had been routed. The astute Man Singh, on learning that he was pursued, had divided his partisans into three divisions, with instructions to traverse separate roads and to combine at an appointed place. It was one of these divisions, six hundred strong, and composed, as was ascertained after the action, of men from the Maharajah’s bodyguard, from the
Gwaliar contingent, and from the 3rd, 40th, 47th, and 50th regiments native infantry which had been encountered. They were all dressed in red, and had percussion firelocks. About three-fourths of them were killed162, but Ajit Singh escaped.
Robertson marched from the scene of action to Gunah, where he arrived the middle of September. With this march may be said to terminate the campaign of the rainy season in the districts to the west and south-west of Gwaliar bordering on Rajputana. It is now fit that we should follow the various columns in the cold-weather campaign against Tantia Topi and his allies. Of these that against Tantia Topi demands precedence.
I left that chieftain making his way about the jungly country on both sides of the Betwa towards Sironj. He duly reached that place about the middle of September, he and his men utterly exhausted. A rest of eight days, made sweeter by the absence of all fear – for the heavy rain that was falling would, they well knew, make the roads impassable to their enemy – set them on their legs again, and even restored to them their former audacity. On the conclusion of that period, the rains having ceased, Tantia led his men, with the four gnus he had taken at Sironj, against Isagarh, a town with a fort, belonging to Sindhia, in the hilly and difficult country south of Sipri.
Here he demanded supplies; but, the townspeople refusing them, Tantia stormed and plundered the place, and took seven guns. He and his associates halted there for a day to consider their further plans. Their deliberations then culminated in a determination to divide their forces, Tantia proceeding with the bulk of them and five guns to Chanderi, the Rao Sahib with six guns and fewer followers making his way to Tal Bahat by Lalatpur: this plan was carried out.
What Chanderi was, the reader will recollect who has followed the history of Sir Hugh Rose’s central Indian campaign163. It was now held for Sindhia by a loyal soldier, a man who had no sympathy with
rebels. He repulsed, then, Tantia Topi’s appeals, and when the Maratha chief attempted to storm the place he repulsed his attacks.
Tantia wasted three days in an attempt to gain a place the possession of which would have been of incalculable use to him, and then, baffled though not dispirited, made for Mangrauli, on the left bank of the Betwa, about twenty miles south of Chanderi. He was marching, though he knew it not, on defeat, for the English were to meet him there!
I must now return to his pursuers. I have already stated the position of the several English columns; how Brigadier Parke was covering Indur and Bhopal; how Colonel Liddell with the Jhansi force was covering the country to the north-east. I have now only to add that Brigadier Smith, released by the capture of Pauri, had taken up a position north of Sironj. In the inner part of the circle, the outer rim of which was occupied by these columns, General Michel was acting.
Enabled at last, towards the end of September, by the cessation of the heavy rains, to act freely, Michel, believing he should find Tantia in the Betwa valley, went in pursuit of him in a north-easterly direction. As he marched, he heard of the various depredations committed by the fugitives, and he felt sure he should find him. On the 9th of October, marching towards Mangrauli, information reached him that Tantia had occupied the high ground near the place, and was waiting for him.
Tantia had arrived there that very morning. He had not sought a battle, but as the ground was favourable he resolved to risk one. His position was strong, and the five guns he had placed in the front of his line commanded the ground along which the English must advance. When, then, Michel sent his men forward, Tantia’s guns opened a destructive fire.
Grown bolder by despair, Tantia at the same time sent his cavalry to menace both flanks of the few assailants. For a moment the position of these seemed critical, the more so as some of the out flanking horsemen penetrated between the main body and the rear-guard. But whilst they still hesitated to come on, to risk a hand-to-hand encounter, the British troops advanced steadily, and, gaining the crest, charged the guns.
Then all was over. Tantia and his men abandoned their guns and fled. The want of sufficient cavalry did not allow Michel to pursue them164.
Tantia crossed the Betwa and fled first to Jaklaun, and then, next day, to Lalitpur, where he rejoined Rao Sahib, who, it will be remembered, had six guns. Tantia remained here, but Rao Sahib, with the bulk of the troops and the guns, set off the following day, and marched in a south-easterly direction. Michel meanwhile, ordering Smith to watch the left bank of the Betwa, followed Rao Sahib, and, making his way with great difficulty through the dense Jaklaun jungle, came suddenly upon him at Sindwaha, about thirty miles east of the Betwa. Warned by the inopportune sound of a bugle in the British camp, Rao Sahib had time to draw up his men on a rising ground, with the guns in front.
Then followed a scene almost similar to that at Mangrauli. The English, threatened on both flanks, advance and capture the guns, when the rebels flee. In their flight, however, they were, on this occasion, less fortunate than at Mangrauli. Michel had his cavalry handy; the ground, too, was unfavourable for rapid flight. In a pursuit which covered twelve miles, the rebels then suffered severely.
Rao Sahib, however, escaped. The English lost five officers and twenty men in killed and wounded.
Rao Sahib rejoined Tantia at Lalitpur, and again the two held counsel as to the future. The country north of the Narbada seemed about to close on them. The circle was gradually lessening, and in a few days they would be in the folds of the destroyer. They the saw this clearly, saw that their only chance was to break through the circle and march to the south, putting the enemy, if possible, on a false scent. This was the difficult part of the programme, but they laid their plans to attempt it.
It is impossible to withhold admiration from the pertinacity with which this scheme was carried out.
Leaving Lalitpur, Tantia and the Rao, whose design was to escape southwards, marched to Kajuria, with the intention of recrossing the Betwa near that place and turning thence southward. But, the ford being guarded by Colonel Liddell, Tantia turned north-eastward, and made once more for Tail Bahat. There he halted to rest his men. The following, day, moving direct southwards, he penetrated into the Jaklaun jungles, still to the east of the Betwa. He halted one day at Jaklaun, and the next at Itawah (in the Sagar district). There he heard that the English army was on his track, so he at once broke up and pushed on towards Kurai165.
Whilst he is making that march I must return to General Michel. From the field of Sindwaha that general had marched to Lalitpur, keeping always to the westward of Tantia with the view of baulking the intention he believed he might entertain of breaking through to the south. On reaching Lalitpur, however, a messenger from Brigadier Smith reached him with the information that Tantia had been met marching southwards, and had probably gained the west side of the general. No time was to be lost.
Michel, sending off an express to warn Parke, and pressing southwards by forced marches, came upon Tantia by a cross road just as that chief was approaching the village of Kurai. Instantly the battle joined. The British cavalry separated front one another the two wings of the rebels’ forces.
But, whilst the British were engaged in annihilating the left wing, the right, with which were Tantia and Rao Sahib, favoured by the jungle, managed to escape westward. Not that the left wing fought to save their comrades: they had fled in the direction from which they had advanced, and the whole of Michel’s force had pounced upon them, leaving the other wing to escape. Tantia and Rao Sahib, in fact, purchased their retreat with the sacrifice of one-half of their followers166.
This happened on the 25th of October. Tantia pushed on to Rajgarh, molested on his way, four miles from Bagrod167, by
Colonel Charles Becher, one of the most gallant officers of the Indian army, who, at the head of a newly-raised regiment168, did not hesitate to attack his whole force.
Becher inflicted considerable loss (upwards of forty men killed), but Tantia pressed on, and, proceeding via Rajgarh, crossed the Narbada into the Nagpur territory at a point about forty miles above Hoshangabad.
Thus in the dying agony of the mutiny was accomplished a movement which, carried out twelve months earlier, would have produced an effect fatal for the time to British supremacy; a movement which have roused the whole of the western Presidency, have kindled revolt in the dominions of the Nizam, and have, in its working, penetrated to southern India. It was the movement to prevent which Lord Elphinstone had adopted the policy of aggressive defence till then so successful, which Durand had exerted all his energies, had used entreaties of the most urgent character with the Government of India, had stretched to the utmost the powers entrusted to him, to hinder. And now it was accomplished! The nephew of the man recognised by the Marathas as the lawful heir of the last reigning Peshwa was on Maratha soil with an army!
I have said that, had that event occurred but fifteen months previously, British authority in western India would, for the time, have succumbed. As it was – the event happening in October 1858, when the sparks of the mutiny in every other part of India, Oudh excepted, had been extinguished, and when, even in Oudh, they were being surely trampled out – the event caused alarm of no ordinary character to the Governments of Bombay and Madras. Although Lord Elphinstone had shown, to a remarkable degree, a true appreciation of the character of the rebellion and of the manner in which it should be
met, even he could not view without grave concern the arrival of Tantia Topi and Rao Sahib in the country of the Bhonslas, that country the annexation of which but a few years previously had moved the Maratha heart to its core. He could not but remember that a large proportion of the population of the Bombay Presidency was Maratha, and he could not foresee –
who, indeed, could foresee? – the effect which might he produced on the easily kindled minds of a susceptible people by the presence of the representative of the man whom many amongst them regarded as their rightful ruler.
Nor could Lord Harris, who, throughout the trying times of 1857-58, had shown himself prompt to meet every difficulty, listen with an indifferent ear to the tidings that the Maratha leader had crossed the Narbada. True it was that the Madras Presidency was separated from the country now chosen by Tantia as his campaigning-ground by the vast territories of the Nizam. True it was that the Nizam, guided by his able and far-seeing minister Salar Jang, had displayed to the British a loyalty not to be exceeded. But the times were peculiar. The population of the Nizam’s territories was to a very considerable extent Hindu. Instances had occurred before, as in the case of Sindhia, of a people revolting against their sovereign when that sovereign acted in the teeth of the national feeling. It was impossible net to fear lest the army of Tantia should rouse to arms the entire Maratha population, and that the spectacle of a people in arms against the foreigner might act with irresistible force on the people of the Dakhan.
Fortunately, these fears were not realised. Six years’ experience of British rule had produced a remarkable effect upon the feelings of the Central Provinces. Whatever might be the feelings of the landowners, of the courtiers, and of those Brahmans who, by means of their influence in a court where Brahmanical influence was supreme, were able to live a life of luxury, of intrigue, and of pleasure without having recourse to industry and toil, this at least is certain, that the peasantry had no desire to recur to their old masters. In this respect the Central Provinces presented a remarkable contrast to Oudh and Bundelkhand. With all its faults, the people of this part of India preferred the substantial justice of the rule of their alien lords. It is, indeed, a remarkable fact that whilst, in the dominions of Sindhia and in the principalities governed by Rajput princes, Tantia and his followers enjoyed the sympathy of the villagers, and always obtained from them, without pressure and without payment, supplies in abundance, in the Maratha country beyond the Narbada the peasantry regarded them as pests in whose face the door was to be closed and the gates were to be barred,
who were to receive no supplies without payment, and, if it could. be managed without injury to themselves, no supplies at all.
To return to the story. Tantia, crossing the Narbada forty miles above Hoshangabad, proceeded via Fathpur to Multai169 in the direction of Nagpur, but, learning that a British force from that place had anticipated him, he turned sharp westward, hoping to penetrate to the country southward by an unguarded pass in the hills.
He found this impossible, for Brigadier Hill of the Haidarabad contingent was watching at Melghat and Asirgarh; further westward, Sir Hugh Rose had made preparations to prevent Tantia from crossing into Khandesh, and further westward still, General Roberts was bringing up troops to bar Gujrat against him. Nothing could have been more tantalising, for south of the Tapti river, from the banks of which he was separated only by the narrow Satpura range, lay the country to which Nana Sahib laid claim as his rightful inheritance170. Across this, under the circumstances. Tantia dared not venture.
Shut out, then, from further progress west or south, Tantia made a turn north-westwards into Holkar’s possessions, south of the Narbada, hoping to recross the Narbada unperceived and to penetrate thence into the territory of the Gaikwar. On the 19th November he reached Kargun, a decayed town in Nimar. Here was stationed a detachment of Holkar’s troops, consisting of two troops of cavalry, a company of infantry, and two guns. These Tantia forced to join him, and then pushed on westward. On the 23rd he crossed near Than, the great high road from Bombay to Agra, just as it was being traversed by carts laden with mercantile stores for the use of the English. Plundering these, taking with him natives who had been escorting the carts, and destroying the telegraph wires, he pursued his course, feeling confident of success if only he could reach the Narbada before the English, whom he believed he had outmanoeuvred, should molest him.
But Fortune did not favour him. Michel, indeed, after defeating Tantia at Kurai, had pushed on in pursuit, though not on the same track, and, with his cavalry, had reached Hoshangabad on the 7th of November. There he joined Parke, whom he had previously ordered to meet him.
Leaving Parke at Hoshangabad, Michel crossed the Narbada and found himself in the wild country about Betul, with no accurate maps, no information of his own regarding the movements of the rebels, with no prospect of obtaining tiny from the local authorities.
Left thus to the resources of his own intelligence, Michel came to the conclusion that the roads to the south and due west would certainly be barred to Tantia, and that, although there was but little prospect of his attempting to recross the Narbada, yet that it would not be wise on his part to move too far from that river.
Impressed with this idea, he ordered Parke to cross the Narbada at Hoshangabad, to march in a direction south-west by west, and take up a position at Charwah, eighty miles south-east from Indur, a town forming the angle nearest the Narbada of a triangle of which Melghat and Asirgarh, both occupied by British troops, formed the other angles. In that direction, though more slowly, he moved himself.
Whilst General Michel was making these preparations south of the Narbada, the British authorities at Mau, to the north of it, were receiving disquieting rumours regarding the continued and persistent movements of Tantia westward.
Dreading lest that chief should get possession of the grand trunk road, intercept supplies, and destroy the telegraph wires, Sir Robert Hamilton and Brigadier Edwards, who commanded at Mau, deemed it advisable, before Tantia had pillaged the carts in the manner already related, to post two small infantry detachments to watch or the watch the fords above Akbarpur. A day or two later, when intelligence was received that the westerly movement was being prolonged, Major Sutherland, who commanded one of these detachments, consisting of a hundred men of the 92nd Highlanders and a hundred of the 4th Bombay Rifles, received instructions to cross the river at Akbarpur and keep clear the grand trunk road. Sutherland obeyed his orders, and passing through Than – the village
already spoken of – seventeen miles from Akbarpur, proceeded to Jilwanah, thirteen miles further on, nearer to Bombay.
There he was when, on the afternoon of the 23rd of November, Tantia and his troops passed through Than, plundered the carts and cut the telegraph wires, as already described.
Tantia having taken the precaution to carry off with him all the men accompanying the carts, Sutherland remained for some hours ignorant of this occurrence. He had been reinforced on the morning of the 23rd by fifty Europeans, sent on camels from Mau. The-evening of that day, the report regarding the plundering reached him.
The next morning, taking with him a hundred and twenty Europeans and eighty natives, riding alternately on camels, Sutherland proceeded to Than, and inspected as far as possible the damage done171. Learning there that the rebels had taken a westerly direction, he followed hastily and came in sight of them as they were passing through the town of Rajpur, nearly midway between Than and the Narbada.
Pushing on, his men in advance still riding camels, disregarding the enemy’s stragglers and the quantities of abandoned baggage and baggage-animals, Sutherland, in half an hour, had approached near enough to force a battle. He ordered, then, his men to dismount; but the delay thus caused gave Tantia an opportunity, of which he availed himself, to retire. Before Sutherland could set out in pursuit, he had the satisfaction of being joined by his rear-guard – the men who had not been mounted, and who, in their desire for combat, had marched at a great pace.
Keeping the whole of his force dismounted, Sutherland resumed the pursuit, and after marching two miles came up with the rebels, formed in order of battle on a rocky ridge, thickly wooded, with their two guns, the
guns of Holkar found at Kargun, pointing down the road. Tantia had with him from three to four , thousand men. Sutherland had just two hundred. After a little skirmishing, the smaller number charged the larger.
Dashing up the road under a shower of grape, they captured the guns, Lieutenant Humfries, adjutant of the 92nd, receiving a sword-cut from their commandant, who was killed at his post. The rebel infantry then fled. The casualties on both sides were trifling172. Sutherland, whose men were too tired to pursue, encamped on the ground he had gained.
The presence of the two guns with Tantia’s force had necessitated that slow march over rough ground which had had allowed Sutherland to overtake him. Now that the guns were lost his men were able to display that capacity for rapid marching in which the natives of India are unsurpassed, I might almost say unequalled, by any troops in the world. So quickly did they cover the ground that, when at sunset the following day Sutherland reached the banks of the Narbada, he beheld the rebel force comfortably encamped on the opposite bank.
Between him and their camp flowed the waters of the Narbada, at that point five hundred yards broad, its banks high and difficult. To cross it in the face of an enemy twenty times his strength would have been an impossibility even for the troops he commanded.
That Tantia had been able to cross the Narbada can only be accounted for the fact that he had marched the previous afternoon, and the whole of the night, and had thus at least twelve hours’ start of his pursuers.
It was well for him that he had that start. When he reached the left bank of the Narbada Tantia had beheld on the bank opposite a party of a hundred sawars under an officer173. Under other circumstances the sight of these men might have made him hesitate. But he knew that Sutherland
was behind him. He, therefore, plunged boldly in. The sawars then took to flight.
At midnight Tantia, having plundered a village called Chikla, broke up his camp on the Narbada, and marched in the direction of Barodah. It was his last chance, but it was a great one could he but arrive before the English. Barodah was the seat of a Maratha dynasty, and it was known that a large party at the court sympathised deeply with Nana Sahib. There were in the city only one company of Europeans and two native regiments, besides the troops of the Gaikwar, who were almost sure to join the rebels.
Full of the hope raised by the prospects before him, Tantia pushed on rapidly, marching from the banks of the Narbada thirty-four miles straight on end.
He halted at Rajpura, took three thousand nine hundred rupees and three horses from the chief of that place, and marched the next day for Chhota Udaipur174, only fifty miles from Barodah and connected with it by a road. Could he arrive at and quit that place unmolested, his future, he thought, would be assured.
But his pursuers were too many. I left General Michel and Brigadier Parke, in the second week of November, at Charwah, south of the Narbada, confident that Tantia’s progress to the south was barred, and that he would endeavour to seek some means of recrossing into Malwa. Some days elapsed before an accurate account of his movements reached Michel. That able officer displayed then not a moment’s hesitation as to the course to be followed.
Recrossing the Narbada at the Barwani ford, he marched himself on Mau, while he despatched Parke with a flying column of cavalry, mounted infantry, and two guns, to pursue, with the utmost speed that was possible.
Parke carried out these instructions to the letter. Marching, in nine days, two hundred and forty-one miles, for the last twenty of which he was forced to thread his way through a dense jungle, he came up with Tantia on the morning of the 1st of December, at
Chhota Udaipur, just an hour or two after he had reached that place. Considering the climate, the nature of the country, and the other difficulties of the route, this march must be considered as rivalling any of which history makes record.
The force commanded by Parke consisted of two 9-pounder guns Bombay Artillery, fifty men 8th Hussars, fifty of the 2nd Bombay Cavalry, a party of the Maratha horse under Kerr – which, after having disarmed the southern Maratha country, had been sent from the west to join Michel – Moore’s Aden Horse, a hundred of the 72nd highlanders, mounted on camels, and a hundred and twenty-five Gujrati Irregular Horse. For the last twenty miles before reaching Chhota Udaipur, this force had, as I have stated, threaded its way through a dense jungle, skilfully piloted by Moore with his Aden Horse.
On emerging from the jungle Moore perceived the rebels. He instantly surprised their outlying
picket. The ground beyond the jungle was covered with large trees, brushwood, and tents still standing175, and was so broken as to be very difficult for cavalry and artillery.
As Parke’s troops debouched on to it, he deployed his force, placing some of the 8th Hussars, of the Maratha Horse and the Aden horse on his right; the rest. of the Maratha horse, under Kerr, on his left, the 72nd highlanders flanking the two guns in his centre; the remainder of the cavalry in the rear. His whole front scarcely covered two hundred yards. The rebels meanwhile, roused to action, had formed up about six hundred yards distant. They numbered three thousand five hundred men and outflanked the British force on both sides.
Tantia first endeavoured to turn the British left, but Kerr, changing his front, charged with great impetuosity, and, driving the rebels from the field, pursued them for a considerable distance, laying sixty of them low. A similar attempt on the British right was met with equal success by the cavalry stationed there, Bannerman, of the Southern Maratha horse, greatly distinguishing himself and killing four men with his own hands. In the pursuit a standard of the 5th Bengal Irregulars, borne by the rebels, was captured. Whilst the wings were thus engaged, the two British guns had kept up
a heavy fire on the centre. But it was not long needed.
With the repulse of the flanking attacks the action terminated. A pursuit along the whole line then followed.
This engagement was fatal to Tantia’s hopes regarding Barodah. Leaving his route to the westward, he fled northwards into the jungles of Banswara, the southernmost principality of Rajputana. These jungles, extremely dense in their character, are inhabited principally by Bhils, a wild and uncivilised race, much given to plunder. Hemmed in on the south by the Narbada, now for ever abandoned, on the west by Gujrat, now completely guarded by General Roberts, and on the north and east by difficult ranges which separate it from Udaipur and Sirohi, and the passes across which are few and difficult, Tantia might have been excused if he had despaired of escape. But he did not despair.
Rao Sahib was now his only companion, the Nawab of Bandah having in November taken advantage of the Royal Proclamation to surrender176. But these two men were, in this hour of supreme danger, as cool, as bold, as fertile in resource, as at any previous period of their careers.
And yet the British commanders had done their utmost to hem in Tantia. They really believed that at last they had him.
The troops of Roberts’s division were echeloned along the roads and paths and passes leading from Banswara to the west. On that side escape was impossible. A force detached from Nimach under Major Rocke guarded the passes to the north and north-west. Another column sent from Mau, under Colonel Benson, commanded at the moment by Colonel Somerset, watched the passes leading eastward and south-eastward, whilst Tantia was cut off from the south by his recent pursuers, greatly strengthened by flying detachments, from Burhanpur and from Khandesh. To add to his difficulties, the Bhil inhabitants of the jungles of Banswara, far from aiding him, followed his track as the vulture follows the wounded hare, anxious for the moment when she shall lie down and succumb.
But, undaunted, Tantia pressed deeper into the jungles. On
reaching Deogarh Baria177 he found that but a small portion of his force was with him. He halted there two days, to allow his men to reunite. This result having been obtained, he, on the 10th of December, entered Banswara. Here he halted a day, his men plundering sixteen or seventeen camel-loads of cloth from Ahmadabad. He probably would have halted here longer but that information reached hint that Colonel Somerset’s brigade was closing up from Ratlam178.
Disturbed by this information, he marched in a nearly north-westerly direction to Salumbar, an isolated fort belonging to the Rani of Udaipur, encircled by hills, in the heart of the Aravali range. It was a strong position, commanding the approaches to Udaipur. Here Tantia obtained some supplies, of which he was greatly in need, and set off the following day in the hope of surprising Udaipur.
But the British had received information of his movements, and Major Rocke’s column had taken up a position at Bhansror, whence it would be easy for him to cover Udaipur or to fall on Tantia as he emerged from the northern passes. Discovering this obstacle before he had committed himself too far,
Tantia turned sharply to the north-east and took up a position at the village of Bhilwara179, in the densest part of the jungle. Here, it is said, Tantia and his followers debated the advisability of surrendering.
But the intelligence which reached them during their deliberations that Man Singh was at hand, and that Prince Firuzshah was advancing to their assistance, induced them to persevere in their resistance, to give one more chance to Fortune.
Tantia halted two days at Bhilwara then made for Partabgarh, the capital of the Rajah of the state of that name. His probable line of route had been well divined by the English general. But he, too, had received information of Firuzshah’s movements, and it was necessary to arrange to meet him also. For this purpose, Somerset had been despatched with
a light column to Agra, Locke had been moved to take his place at Partabgarh, whilst Parke, plunging into the jungles from the westward, was rapidly following on the track of the fugitives.
It thus happened that when, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon of the 25th of December, Tantia and his followers emerged from the jungles close to Partabgarh, he found himself face to face with Major Rocke. That officer, not having a sufficient number of men at his disposal to close the three passes, had taken up a position about two miles from the jungles, whence he could march to any point at which the rebels might threaten to debouch, provided he had any information of their movements. On this occasion he had no such information. His force, too, was, as I have said, small, consisting only of two hundred infantry, two guns, and a handful of native cavalry.
He had no chance, however, of assuming the offensive. Tantia marched straight at him, and kept him engaged for two hours, a sufficient time to enable his elephants and baggage to clear the pass.
Seeing this result gained, Tantia, who had thus, in spite of his many foes, escaped from the trap, marched in the direction of Mandesar, and halted for the night within six miles of that place. Thence he marched very rapidly – in three days – to Zirapur, a hundred miles east-south-east of Nimach, thus returning to the part of the country almost directly south of Gwaliar.
But the English were at his heels. Benson, who had resumed command of the Mau column, had received excellent information regarding Tantia’s movements from Captain Hutchinson, one of the assistants to Sir Robert Hamilton. He pushed on after Tantia, then, marching thirty-five miles a day, caught him up at Zirapur the very day he had arrived there. Tantia, completely surprised, fled without fighting, leaving six of his elephants behind him, and pushed northwards to Barod. Here another surprise followed him. Somerset had reached Zirapur the morning after Tantia had left it.. He had two horse artillery guns with him. Taking fresh horses from the ammunition wagons, he attached them to Benson’s two guns. With these four guns, and the ammunition contained in the limber, Somerset started at once, and, marching seventy miles
is caught there by Somerset and beaten
in forty-eight hours, came upon Tantia at Barod. After an action fought in the usual Tantia Topi style, the rebels fled to Nahargarh in the Kota territory. Hero Tantia was fired at by the Kiladar180. Moving out of range, he halted for the night. Rao Sahib then sent a messenger to summon Man Sing, the chief to whom I have referred in an earlier portion of this chapter as having rebelled against Sindhia, who had appointed to meet him at this place.
On Man Singh’s arrival the rebels moved to Paron, where they halted two days. They then pushed northwards towards Indragarh. On reaching the banks of the Chambal, Man Singh, for some unexplained reason, left them.
On the 13th of January they reached Indragarh181, where Firuzshah, with his bodyguard and the mutinied 12th Irregulars, met them. To ascertain how this had been possible, I must return to the movements of General Napier and the Central Indian force.
I left General Napier just after he and his lieutenants had, at the end of September, expelled Man Singh from the Gwaliar territory. His detached parties still continued to operate in the districts to the west and south-west of Gwaliar, bordering on Rajputana, and the work which those parties accomplished was of a most useful character. In this manner passed the months of October and November, but in December Gwaliar was invaded by a new enemy.
The pseudo-prince, Firuzshah, already mentioned in these pages, had, after his expulsion from Mandesar by Durand in November, 1857, proceeded with his followers to Rohilkhand to try conclusions with the British in that quarter.
Expelled from Rohilkhand by Lord Clyde, he entered Oudh, and cast in his lot with the irreconcilables who, to the last, refused submission to the paramount power. It was only when the native cause was absolutely lost in that province that Firuzshah, reading the glowing accounts of his achievements which Topi regularly transmitted from the
Chambal and the Narbada, determined to march to the assistance of one whom he could not but consider as a worthy ally.
At the time that he arrived at this resolution he was at a place called Bisuah, not far from Sitapur. Marching rapidly from that place, he crossed the Ganges on the 7th of December, cut the telegraph wire on the grand trunk road, and spread the report that he was about to proceed north-westwards.
Instead of that, he took the road to Itawah, baffled a gallant attempt made by Lieutenant Forbes182, accompanied by Mr. Hume and Captain Doyle – who lost his life – to stop him at Harchandpur, outmarched a column led by Brigadier Herbert from Kanhpur to pursue him, crossed the Jamnah on the 9th, and moved off in the direction of Jhansi. He marched with such speed that on the 17th he had arrived in the vicinity of Ranod, a large town fifty miles north-cast of Gunah. It was here he encountered his first check.
General, now become Sir Robert, Napier, had received timely intimation regarding the course pursued by Firuzshah, and he had sent out detachments to watch the roads which that chieftain would probably follow. On the morning of the 12th of December he received from the commander of one of these, Captain McMahon, 14th Light Dragoons, located near the confluence of the Jamnah, Chambal, and Sind rivers, information to the effect that the rebels had passed into the Lohar district of Kuchwaghar, a tract of country often under water. Believing, from this, that their course would be up the jungles of the Sind river, Napier marched at 2 o’clock that day with a lightly-equipped force183, intending to proceed to Dabra on the Jhansi road, thence, according to the information he might receive, to intercept the enemy.
Napier halted that evening at Atari. At 2 o’clock the following morning, however, he was roused by an express message from the political agent at Gwaliar, Charters Macpherson, to the effect that information had received led him to believe that the rebels would pass by Gohad, north of Gwaliar. Instead, then, of pushing on to Dabra, Napier halted till the post should arrive with letters containing the grounds for the belief expressed by Macpherson.
He did well not to act upon it without due caution, for at half-past 10 o’clock the tahsildar of Antri came to him to state that he had just ridden in from Dabra, and had seen there the smoke of the staging bungalow which the rebels were then burning, and that they were taking a south-westerly direction. The express from Gwaliar had just come in time to baffle the accurate conceptions of Napier’s brain, for, had it not arrived, he would have caught them at the very spot he had selected.
There was nothing for it now but to march southwards. Leaving Atari, then, immediately, Napier proceeded with great rapidity in that direction. At Bitaur, which he reached on the 14th, he learned the rebels were only nine miles in front of him. He pressed forward, then, and at that place, the Gwaliar Maratha Horse, for the first time under fire, came in contact with the rear-guard of the enemy, and greatly distinguished themselves.
Napier continued the pursuit through Narwar, and leaving there the greater portion of the infantry and all the artillery, who could not keep up with him, took with him only thirty-eight men of the 71st Highlanders on camels, all his cavalry, including twenty-five of the Balandshahr horse he found halted at Narwar, and, proceeding with the utmost speed, reached Ranod on the morning of the 17th before the rebels had arrived there. His divination that they would make their way through the jungles of the Sind river had proved to be perfectly accurate.
Firuzshah, indeed, had preferred the more circuitous and difficult road through the jungles to the easier but more open route followed by Napier. Naturally he wished to make his way unseen, and thus to effect, with an unbeaten force, the contemplated junction
with Tantia Topi. As it was, he had marched on a line almost parallel to that followed by the English leader, and it was only the temptation to leave the jungle cover to sack Ranod which had saved him from an attack the previous day. But Napier had now reached Ranod before him, and the sacking of the place was likely to be more difficult than he had anticipated. Full, however, of confidence, and utterly ignorant of the arrival of the English, Firuzshah marched on that eventful morning against Ranod, guided by a zamindar of the locality, his army forming an irregular mass extended in a front of nearly a mile.
Napier had scarcely time to form up the 14th Light Dragoons, when the rebels were within a few yards of him. The Gwaliar Maratha horse had been impeded in crossing a deep ravine by the riding-camels, and were a little behind. The force actually engaged consisted of a hundred and thirty-three 14th Light Dragoons under Major Prettijohn, sixty of the Maratha Horse under Captain F. H. Smith, and thirty-eight of the 71st Highlanders under Captain Smith, mounted on camels, and guided by Captain Templer.
As soon as the rebels had arrived within charging distance, Prettijohn and his hundred and thirty-three light dragoons dashed into their midst. The blow completely doubled them up. Though individuals amongst them fought bravely, the mass made no stand whatever. Their one thought seemed to be to try and escape.
They were in full flight before the Maratha Horse could come upon the scene, in time only to participate in the pursuit.
That pursuit was continued for seven miles, the rebels losing six elephants, several horses and ponies, and many arms. They left a hundred and fifty dead bodies on the ground before, Ranod, including those of some native officers of the 12th Irregulars, the murderers of the gallant Holmes. Prettijohn having been severely wounded before the pursuit began, the command of the dragoons devolved on Captain Need, and that officer estimated the loss of the rebels in the pursuit at three hundred. On the British side the wounded amounted to sixteen; one of these died subsequently of his wounds.
Firuzshah led the fugitives in the direction of Chanderi.
Learning, however, that one British force184 had moved towards Ranod from Jhansi, and another185 from Lalitpur to Chanderi, he suddenly turned westward, passing Isagarh and Puchar, and made for the jungles of Aroni. Passing near Rampur, between Gunah and Sironj, he came suddenly upon forty men of the 1st Bombay Lancers, under Lieutenant Stack, escorting clothing and remounts to Brigadier Smith.
He at once attacked the leading files of those forty men. His followers had in fact captured the clothing and made prisoner of one trooper, when Stack gallantly brought up the rest of his men, and, skirmishing with the rebels, carried the remainder of his charge to Gillian. The rebels then pushed on to Aroni.
Meanwhile, Captain W. Rice, 25th Bombay Native Infantry, a noted tiger-slayer, had been ordered with a small column186 from Gunah to intercept their retreat. At Barod, on the 22nd of December, he learned from a horse-dealer, who had been robbed by them, that the rebels were encamped near the village of Sarpur, eleven miles distant. Leaving his camp standing under charge of forty-two men, Rice set off that night, and, outmarching the guns with his infantry, surprised the enemy at 11 P.M.
The surprise was so complete that the rebels made no resistance, but ran off at once, leaving a hundred horses, several camels, many arms, and much clothing.
From this point Firuzshah made the best of his way, unmolested, to Rajgarh, hoping to meet there Tantia Topi. He lingered there for a few days waiting for his ally, but, learning that Brigadier Smith was on his track, he made for Indragarh, where, on the 11th of January, he effected the junction in the manner already related187.
I left Brigadier Somerset at Barod, having, after his march of seventy miles in forty-eight hours, driven Tantia from that place. Brigadier Smith, who had been posted at Sironj, had, after Napier had driven Firuzshah southwards, moved in pursuit of him from that
place, and had been near Barod when Somerset beat Tantia there. He was now moving on Indragarh in pursuit of Firuzshah. General Michel was at this time – early in January 1859 – at Chapra, ten or twelve miles due north of Barod. Thence he directed Colonel Becher to join him with all the cavalry under his command. He had previously ordered Brigadier Honner, commanding the Nasirabad brigade, to march in a north-easterly direction towards Indragarh, watching whilst he did so the fords between that place and Kota. To complete the investment of the rebels, Brigadier Showers, moving with a light column from Agra, had taken up a position at Kushalgarh, north-east of the Banas river.
Escape now seemed absolutely impossible. Hemmed in by Napier on the north and north-east188, Showers on the north-west, Somerset on the east, Smith on the south-east, Michel and Benson on the south, and Brenner on the south-west and west, how was it possible for the man who had so long defied pursuit to break through the net closing around him? It did, in very deed, seem impossible. It will be seen, nevertheless, that the resources of the rebel leader were not yet entirely exhausted.
Tantia had joined Firuzshah at Indragarh on the 13th of January. But Indragarh was no safe resting-place. He had sure information that two English columns were marching on it. Strange it was. however, that, whilst he received the fullest details regarding the movements of the various columns which had so long pursued him, and of Napier’s troops, he had heard not it word of Showers’ movement.
Believing, then, that a way of escape in a north-westerly direction lay before him, he made a forced march to Dewasa, a large fortified town about midway between Jaipur and Bharatpur.
Showers heard of Tantia’s arrival at Dewasa as soon as the speed of his scouts could convey the news. A message to the same effect was conveyed over a longer distance to Honner. Both brigadiers set out
immediately; but Showers, starting from Kushalgarh and having the shorter road to traverse, arrived first. Showers entered the town on the morning of the 16th, just as Tantia, Rao Sahib, and Firuzshah were holding a council of war. How they escaped was a miracle – they were completely surprised. “The English force surprised us there,” writes Tantia in his journal. About three hundred of his followers were killed or disabled, the remainder succeeded in escaping.
Whither? Every pass seemed closed to them. But the English columns from the south-west closing too rapidly on Dewasa, had just left one opening – the opening which, turning as it were the Jaipur territory, led into Marwar. Of this Tantia and his followers availed themselves, and marched with all the speed of which they were capable towards the city which gives its name to the principality.
Passing by Alwar they turned. westwards, and reached Sikar on the 21st.
They were encamped there that night when Holmes, who had been sent from Nasirabad with a small party of the 83rd and the 12th Bombay Native Infantry and four guns, fell upon them, after marching fifty-four miles through a sandy country in twenty-four hours. The surprise was complete. The rebels abandoned horses, camels, and even arms, and fled in the utmost confusion. A few days later six hundred of them surrendered to the Rajah of Bikanir.
This defeat inaugurated the break-up of Tantia’s army. On that very day Firuzshah and the 12th Irregulars separated from him. Since his wanderings in the Banswara jungles, Tantia had been on very bad terms with Rao Sahib, and the day after the defeat their quarrel came to an issue. “I told him,” writes Tantia, “that I could flee no longer, and that, whenever I saw an opportunity for leaving him, I would do so.” Some Thakurs related to Man Singh had joined Tantia that morning, and with them left the force to proceed in the direction of Paron, having as followers only “two pandits to cook his food, and one sais189 (groom), two horses and a pony.” In the Paron jungle Tantia met Rajah Man Singh. “Why did you leave your force?” asked the Rajah. “You have not acted right in so doing.” Tantia replied, “I was tired of running
away, and I will remain with you whether I have done right or wrong.” In fact, after the long chase, he felt that he was beaten.
Meanwhile, Rao Sahib, still with some three or four thousand followers, pushed first westwards, then to the south, and reached Kushani, west of Ajmir, about eighty miles east of Jodhpur, on the 10th of February. But the avenger was on his track. Honner, who had arrived too late for the rebels at Dewasa, had, after some inevitable delay, discovered the route they had taken. He set out in pursuit on the 6th, and, marching very rapidly, reached Kushani on the morning of the 10th, having accomplished a hundred and forty-five miles in four days. Finding Rao Sahib there, he attacked and defeated him, killing about two hundred of his followers. Rao Sahib fled southwards to the Chhatarbuj Pass and reached it on the 15th. Somerset, coming from the east, arrived within a few miles of it the same day. Unfortunately, no one with him knew the country, and many precious hours were spent in reconnoitring, hours which the Rao utilised in threading the pass. Finding, however, that the British were still close to him. the Rao turned down to the Banswara jungles, closely pursued. Finding the passes leading to the south and east closed, the Rao then moved to the north-east and passed by Partabgarh, where Tantia had encountered Major Rocke only a few weeks before.
As he fled before Somerset, who followed closely on his track, there occurred a great diminution of his followers. Like Tantia, these were “tired of running away.” The majority of them fell out of the line during the retreat, threw away their arms, and quietly took the road to their homes. Some of them, Muhammadans from Kanhpur and Bareli, about two hundred in number, gave themselves up. The chiefs and the other irreconcilables made their way to the Sironj jungles, where, sometimes disguised as mendicants, sometimes acting as marauders, they tried to obtain food from the villagers. Organised opposition to the British Government had disappeared. Of the chiefs of this long campaign, five still remained in whose fate the reader is naturally interested. These five were Rao Sahib, Firuzshah, Man Singh, and Ajit Singh, and last and greatest of all, the leading spirit of the drama, the Maratha Tantia Topi.
Rao Sahib wandered from place to place till the year 1862. In that year he was arrested in the hills north of the Panjab, disguised as a pilgrim
and was sent down to Kanhpur. There he was tried and found guilty on four separate charges of instigating, and having been accessory to, the murder of Europeans, and on a fifth of having been a leader of the rebellion. He was hanged on the 20th of August of the same year.
Firuzshah was more successful in eluding the vigilance of his pursuers, for he fled, in the disguise of a pilgrim, to Kurbehla, where, ten years ago, he was still living. The fate of the other two differed in some respects from theirs; their case constitutes in itself an episode.
The Paron jungles, in which Topi and Man Singh were hiding, constituted a portion of the large family estates of Narwar, of which Sindhia had unjustly deprived the latter. Here they were safe, safe absolutely, so long as each should remain true to the other, for no mere retainer of Man Singh would betray his master or his master’s friend.
The clear and acute intellect of Sir Robert Napier had recognised this fact the moment he received the report that the two chiefs in question had separated themselves from their army and taken refuge in the jungles. He had at once felt certain that to capture Tantia Topi the preliminary step was to gain Man Singh. No star of lesser magnitude would suffice. Now, there were strong grounds for believing that it might be possible to gain Man Singh. He was a chief of ancient lineage, of lofty birth, born to great possessions. To avenge himself on Sindhia for confiscating a portion of those possessions, he had lost everything except the affection of his dependants and the ground on which he slept; he had imperilled his head. Thenceforward, so long as he remained unreconciled to his liege lord, there was no prospect in the present – no hope in the future. On such a man, driven to desperation, became from a feudal lord an outcast, what might not be the effect of an offer of free and absolute pardon, with the prospect of intercession with Sindhia for the restoration of some portion of his property?
Impressed with this idea, Napier resolved to try the experiment. It happened that on the 27th of February Sir Robert had directed Meade, of Meade’s Horse, who then commanded a detachment190 at Bijraon, to
finally proceed to Sirsimao, to dislodge thence any party of rebels in the vicinity, to keep open his communications with Gunah, and, in conjunction with Major Little’s force at Parawant, to clear the roads to Amroa, Agar, Thanah, Rajgarh, and Sipri.
Napier further instructed him to attack Man Singh and Tantia Topi, then wandering in the jungles, whenever opportunity should offer.
Meade reached Sirsimao on the 3rd of March, found the place deserted, opened a communication that evening with Little, and, in co-operation with him, was engaged from the 5th to the 8th of March in clearing a roadway up the rugged and densely-wooded pass. But, before leaving Sirsimao, Meade had ascertained that the old thakur who held that village, Naraiyan Singh by name, was connected with Man Singh, and possessed much influence in the neighbourhood. On the morning of the 8th this man and his followers came to a village some four or five miles distant from the pass up which the English troops were working, and showed an evident desire to communicate with Meade. Meade, feeling the great importance of obtaining the submission of so influential a personage, proceeded to the village, reassured the old man, who was at first nervous and alarmed, by his tact and kind manner, and induced him to return to Sirsimao with his followers. He saw the thakur again that evening at the village, and drew from him a promise to bring the diwan or confidential agent of Man Singh to him within two or three days, and to do all in his power to induce Man Singh himself to surrender.
The old man kept his word. On the 11th Meade had a long interview with the diwan. Through him he offered to Man Singh the conditions he was empowered to offer – a guarantee of life and subsistence.
He further requested the diwan to find out the Rajah’s family and household, to invite them to come to his camp, to promise them, should they comply, to do everything, in his power for their comfort, to assure them that they should not he molested by the officials of the Gwaliar Durbar or by any one else. With the diwan he likewise sent one letter addressed to the family, reiterating his invitation and his promise, and another addressed to Rajah Man Singh himself, inviting him to surrender. He Impressed, moreover, upon the diwan the primary necessity of
bringing in the ladies first, feeling sure that the Rajah would follow.
It is at this point of the story that the action of Sir Robert Napier comes in. That officer, acquainted with Meade’s proceedings in the matter just described, and fully approving of them, had become naturally impatient when day followed day and no result issued from a beginning so promising. He waited a week after the interview with the diwan, and when, at the expiration of that time, no tidings had been received regarding the Ranis or the Rajah, he determined to put greater pressure upon the latter.
He wrote, then, on the 18th of March to Meade, directing him to leave his road-work, as “it is of great importance that the pressure upon Man Singh should not be relaxed till he comes in. Your letter of the 11th inst. gave hopes of certain parts of Man Singh’s family in, but, as your letter of the 13th makes no allusion to the subject, the Brigadier General concludes that the proposals have not been renewed.”191
Sir Robert added that, notwithstanding that Meade had no information on the subject, he had grounds for believing that Mein Singh had frequently been in the vicinity of the British force; that he had frequented places called Garla, Hatri, Bhirwan, and Mahudra; that he had been supplied with provisions from the last-named place.
He accordingly directed Meade to move on Agar, and to make a road up the Mushairi pass through the jungles from that place by Garla and Hatri to Mahudra; and at the same time to exercise pressure upon the diwan at Sirsimao by threatening to quarter his force there.
In conformity with these instructions Meade marched to the Mushairi Pass. He found the people in that part of the country extremely hostile to the British. Not a man would give him information.
His surprise was great, then, when, on the 25th of March, the Rajah’s diwan and his own confidential servant conducted into camp the ladies of the Rajah’s household and their attendants, some seventy persons. Meade received them kindly, and sent them on to one of the Rajah’s villages near Sipri. His servant likewise informed him that he had seen Man Singh four times, and
that he had expressed his intention to give himself up in two or three days – a statement which was confirmed by the diwan.
Meade continued his march to Mahudra, sending a party of horse in front of him with the Rajah’s diwan and a munshi192, whom he instructed to open at once a communication with Man Singh. On the 31st he received at Mahudra the Rajah’s final offer to surrender on certain conditions. To some of these Meade declined to agree. Finally he induced him to come in on the following conditions:– 1st, that he should be met at some distance from the camp by a native of position – a ceremony the omission of which is, to a native of rank, an insult; 2nd, that he should not be made over to the Gwaliar Durbar, but should remain in the English camp; 3rdlv, that, after staying two or three days in camp, he should be allowed to proceed to his home at Mauri, near Sipri, whither the females of his family had gone, to re-equip himself in a manner befitting his rank. On the 2nd of April Man Singh entered the British camp.
Tantia Topi was still at large; but Tantia, without Man Singh, Man Singh reconciled to his enemies, was assailable. Now had arrived the time to play upon the more selfish instincts of the Rajah. He had life, and security for his life; but what was life to a born feudal chieftain without consideration, without esteem, without position? What was life to a vassal lord of Sindhia, disowned and hated by his sovereign? The first feeling of satisfaction at escape from death passed, and life to such a man in such a position would become a burden. But could not the position be ameliorated? Yes – a signal service – a deed for which men would be grateful – that would remove the still remaining obstacles to a return to his position among the nobles of his country.
On feelings such as these Meade worked with tact and skill. In many conversations which he had with the Rajah during the 2nd and 3rd of April he urged him to perform some service which should entitle him to consideration. His reasoning had so much effect, that when, at 11 o’clock on the night of the second day – the 3rd –
information reached Meade that the uncle of Man Singh, Ajit Singh, already mentioned in these pages, lay, with a band of men, fifteen miles distant, in the jungle, Man Singh volunteered to accompany the force of a hundred and fifty men, at the head of which Meade immediately started. The little force reached at daybreak the place where Ajit Singh had been marked down, only to discover that he and his band had moved off during the night. Meade pushed on in search of him, some seven miles further, to a place where the jungle was so dense that cavalry were useless. Ajit Singh and his men were actually in this jungle, but, before Meade could surround them, they became aware of the presence of enemies, and succeeded in getting away193.
No one was more mortified than Man Singh. Ajit Singh was his uncle; Ajit Singh had been his comrade on the battlefield, his abettor in his revolt against Sindhia, and, although in his fury at Man Singh’s apostasy, as he regarded it, in surrendering to the English, he had threatened to take his life, yet he stood to Man Singh in a relation than which there can scarcely be a closer between man and man – friend, comrade, uncle, – and yet Man Singh grieved bitterly that this man had not been captured by his enemies.
It was a first step in moral debasement – a prelude to one still lower!
During the three days which followed, close observation satisfied Meade that Topi was in the Paron jungles, and, working daily on Man Singh’s lunging desire for restoration to his former position194, he persuaded him to acknowledge that he knew where Tantia was. From this moment he had made up his mind to betray him. His only anxiety now was lest Tantia should slip through his fingers. At that very time, to his knowledge, Tantia was debating whether or not he should rejoin Firuzshah. Tantia had
even sent his emissaries to Meade’s camp to consult him on the subject. Were Tantia to go, the chance would be lost.
No thought of old comradeship, of the ties of honour, weighed with him for a moment. He would at once betray him, if –
Yes, – if he could himself recover his position. That was his one thought.
“In the course of this forenoon” (the 7th of April), wrote Meade, “I learnt from Pribhu Lal that he thought Man Singh would do as I wished, but that he was desirous of having Sir R. Hamilton’s general assurance of ‘consideration’ for such a service reduced to some specific promise, and that his ambition was to have Shahabad, Pauri, or some other portion of the ancient raj of Narwar, guaranteed to him in the event of his efforts to apprehend Tantia Topi being successful.”
It was quite out of Meade’s power to make any such promise; he could only assure him that he “might rely on any claim he might establish being faithfully considered by Government.” Unable to extract more, Man Singh clutched at the prospect which this vague promise offered, and consented to betray his friend.
Then came Meade’s difficulty. To seize such a man as Tantia Topi great caution was required. Tantia had many spies in the British camp, and to have sent a European on such a duty would have been sufficient to warn the victim. Eventually Meade decided to send a party of the 9th Bombay Native Infantry on the service, under an intelligent native officer. The orders he gave to this native officer were simply to obey the directions of Man Singh, and to apprehend any suspicious characters he might point out. The name of Tantia Topi was not mentioned, and the men had no idea of the actual duty on which they were proceeding.
Whilst Meade was thus negotiating with Man Singh, Tantia Topi had lain quiet in the Paron jungles. Shortly after his arrival there, and some days before Man Singh had surrendered, Tantia had with the approval of that Rajah, sent to obtain information regarding the position of his old comrades. The reply brought to him was that to the number of eight or nine thousand men they were in the Sironj jungles; that Rao Sahib had left them, but that Firuzshah, the Ambapani Nawab, and
Imam Ali, Wirdi-major of the 5th Irregulars, were there. The last-named also sent him a letter begging Tantia to join them. It was on the receipt of this letter that, on the 5th of April, Tantia sent to consult Man Singh as to the course he should adopt. Tantia was well aware that Man Singh had surrendered, yet he trusted him implicitly. He had placed himself quite in his power, and had chosen his actual hiding-place on the recommendation of the retainer to whose care Man Singh had consigned him with these words: “Stop wherever this man takes you!”
To Tantia’s message Man Singh replied that he would come in three days to see him, and that then they would decide on the action to be taken. Man Singh more than kept his word. At midnight on the third day, the 7th of April, he came to the hiding-place – followed at a distance by the Bombay Sipahis. Tantia was asleep.
Asleep he was seized, roughly awakened, and conveyed to Meade’s camp. He arrived there by sunrise on the morning of the 8th.
Meade marched him into Sipri and tried him by court-martial. He was charged with having been in rebellion and having waged war against the British Government between June, 1857, and December, 1858, in certain specified instances. No other charge was brought against him.
His defence was simple and straightforward. It ran thus: “I only obeyed, in all things that I did, my master’s orders, i.e., the Nana’s orders, up to the capture of Kalpi, and, afterwards, those of Rao Sahib. I have nothing to state, except that I have had nothing to do with the murder of any European men, women, or children; neither had I, at any time, given orders for any one to be hanged.”
The defence displayed the existence of a feeling very common among the Marathas. To many of these men the descendant of the Peshwa was their real lord: they knew no other. Tantia Topi was born and bred in the household of Baji Rao, who had been Peshwa of the Marathas. From his earliest childhood he had been taught to regard the adopted son of Baji Rao, Nana Sahib, as his master, his liege lord, whose every order he was bound to obey. Of the English he knew nothing, except they were foreigners who had robbed
his earliest master of the country he had ruled, and his son of the pension guaranteed to his first master in lieu of his ancestral dominions. To them he was bound by no ties. The English Government, by depriving the heir of the Peshwa’s of the income that had been allotted to his father by adoption, had forced that heir to be a conspirator, and had compelled all his dependents to be free-lances.
Notwithstanding this reasoning, which was not put before the court, and which probably did not present itself to the minds of any of its members, Tantia Topi was sentenced to be hanged. The sentence was carried into effect at Sipri on the 18th of April.
Public opinion at the time ratified the justice of the sentence, but it may, I think, be doubted whether posterity will confirm that verdict. Tantia Topi was no born servant of the English rule. At the time of his birth – about the year 1812 – his master was the independent ruler of a large portion of western India. He was under no obligation to serve faithfully and truly the race which had robbed his master. When that master, unbound equally by any tie to the English, saw the opportunity of recovering the territories of the Peshwa, Tantia Topi, who was his musahib, his companion, obeyed his orders and followed his fortunes. He declared that he committed no murder. He was not charged with committing any. He, a retainer of the ex-Peshwa’s family, was charged with fighting against the English195.
On that charge alone he was convicted and hanged. Surely, under the circumstances of the case, the punishment was greater than the offence. The clansman had obeyed his lord, and had fought with fair weapons.
Posterity has condemned Napoleon for causing Hofer to be shot. There is considerable analogy between the cases of Hofer and Tantia Topi. Neither was born under the rule of the nation against which he fought. In both cases the race to which each belonged was subjugated by a foreign race. In both cases the insurrection of the subdued race was produced by causes exterior to its own immediate interests. In both eases the two men cited rose to be the representatives of the nationality to which each belonged. In both – Hofer in the one, Tantia Topi in the other – they resisted the dominant race in a manner which necessitated the calling forth of extraordinary exertions. In both cases the leader was a hero to his own countrymen. The one, the European, is still a hero to the world. The other, the Maratha – well – who knows that in the nooks and corners of the valleys of the Chambal, the Narbada and the Parbati, his name, too, is not often mentioned with respect, with enthusiasm, and with affection?
One word, before we dismiss him, regarding his character as a general. For nearly nine months, from his defeat at Jaura Alipur by Sir Robert Napier, to his capture by an officer serving under that general, Tantia Topi had baffled all the efforts of the British. During that period he had more than once or twice made the tour of Rajputana and Malwa, two countries possessing jointly an area of a hundred and sixty-one thousand seven hundred square miles, had crossed the Narbada, and had threatened the more vulnerable parts of western India.
The qualities he had displayed would have been admirable, had he combined with them the capacity of the general and the daring of the aggressive soldier. His marches were wonderful; he had a good eye for selecting a position and he had a marvellous faculty for localities.
But, when that has been said, everything has been said. Unable to detect the weak points of his adversaries, he never took advantage
of their mistakes or their too great daring; he never exposed himself in action, and he was the first to leave the field. On many occasions a judicious use of his cavalry, always superior in numbers, would have so crippled the English that further pursuit by them would have been impossible. With a little more insight and a little more daring he could, whilst retreating before them, have harassed the flanks and the rear of his pursuers, have captured their baggage, and cut up their camp-followers. But he never attempted anything of the sort. Provided he could escape from one place to harass them in another, with the chance of striking at Indur, at Barodah, at Jodhpur, or at Jaipur, a blow similar to that which he had struck successfully at Gwaliar, he was satisfied.
Then, again, the fact that the enemy marching against him were English sufficed, no matter how small their numbers, to scare him. A striking proof of this occurred when Major Sutherland attacked him with two hundred men, three-fifths of whom were Highlanders. Tantia had a strong position, two guns, and three or four thousand men. Had the natives been well led, their numbers must have prevailed. But fighting was repugnant to Tantia. He did not understand it. He was a guerilla leader, content to fire at his enemy and then to run away. For the lives of his followers he cared nothing.
Too much praise, on the other hand, can scarcely be awarded to the English generals and officers who conducted the pursuit. Sir Robert Napier, first defeating Tantia, drove him into Rajputana and then shut him out from the north. Roberts, then in Rajputana, and later, Michel, in Rajputana and Malwa, pursued him in a circle, bounded on the south by the Nizam’s territory or by Khandesh, and on the west by Gujrat. His attempts to break the rim of that circle were baffled by General Hill, by Sir Hugh Rose, and by General Roberts. Finally, all but surrounded as the circle became smaller, he broke away to the north and penetrated once more into the territories guarded by Sir Robert Napier.
The English officers who pursued him showed, on more than one occasion, that they could march as quickly as he could.
Witness the remarkable performances of Brigadier Parke, two hundred and forty miles in nine days; of Brigadier Somerset, two hundred and thirty
miles in nine days, and, again, seventy miles in forty-eight hours; of Holmes, fifty-four miles through a sandy desert in little more than twenty-four hours; and of Honner, a hundred and forty-five miles in four days.
Becher’s daring, too, in assailing Tantia’s whole force with a newly-raised regiment of troopers, and driving it before him, was a glorious act, vying in daring with Sutherland’s attack above referred to.
But these acts, daring as they were, do not stand out markedly from the achievements of other officers engaged in this pursuit. Where all did nobly it is impossible to draw a contrast. The historian, however, is bound to call attention to the skilful strategy which gave to the pursued no rest, which cut them off from the great towns, and which forced them to seek the jungles as their hiding-place.
This result General Michel accomplished in Rajputana and Malwa, by distributing his forces in lightly equipped columns at salient points in those two divisions, with orders to pursue the rebels without intermission196. It has been calculated that the whole distance they were pursued between the 20th of June, 1858, and the 1st of March, 1859, exceeded three thousand miles; that Michel himself marched seventeen hundred and Parke two thousand197. There can be no doubt that this system, thoroughly well carried out, was the cause of the break-up of the rebel army. When Honner beat it at Kushani on the 10th of February, and the pursuit was taken up at once by a fresh force under Somerset, the campaign was virtually over. The rebels lost heart, abandoned their standards, and crept to their homes. It will be understood that these rapid pursuits were made without tents. These followed in the rear under charge of a small guard. They did not often come up for days, during which time the troops had to bivouac under trees.
To return. Tranquillity was restored. With the surrender of Man Singh the rebellion collapsed in Central India. So long as he was at large and hostile, the entire population held aloof from the British. The rebels could always find security in
jungles in which they could not be tracked. The sense they had of security was so great, that at one time Tantia Topi and Man Singh remained for days within five miles of the English army, then searching for them, their position known to the natives, not one of whom would betray them. But with the surrender of Man Singh an entire change was inaugurated. The people of Central India surrendered with him198.
148. Consisting of cavalry and horse Artillery, some native infantry, and two hundred of the 72nd Highlanders.
149. Singanir is seventy-four miles north of Nimach, sixty-nine south of Nasirabad. and eighty miles south of Ajmir: Bhilwara is more than a mile from it.
150. Blackwood’s Magazine, August 1860. This number contains an admirably written account of the operations of Generals Roberts and Michel against Tantia Topi. It is difficult to exaggerate the obligations under which the author lies to the writer of this article, himself an actor in the scene.
151. Tantia merely records of this action: “We were there” (Bhilwara) “attacked by the English force, and I fled during the night accompanied by my army and guns.”
152. The excellent information obtained by General Roberts enabled him, in more than one instance, to traverse the chord of a circle whilst the rebels had gone round by the arc. The method employed by Roberts to obtain this accurate information is thus succinctly described by the author of the article in Blackwood, already referred to. “The method which General Roberts adopted for obtaining information was to have about twenty cavalry in advance, close to the rebels. They left connecting links of two or three men every few miles, so as to keep up the chain of communication. The advance party was composed, half of Baluch horse, who had no sympathy with the rebels, but could not communicate very well with the villagers, and half of horsemen belonging to the Rajah of Jaipur, who were supposed, as Rajputs, to be on good terms and able easily to communicate with the villagers, but not to be very warm partisans of the British. By this mixed party correct and immediate intelligence was constantly supplied.”
153. Nathdwara is a town in the Udaipur State, situate on the Banas river, twenty-two miles from Udaipur. The shrine there attracts countless multitudes of pilgrims.
154. Blackwood’s Magazine, August 1860. Tantia Topi writes thus of this action: “The next morning we moved towards Patan, and, after proceeding about one mile, the English army arrived and an action took place. We left our four guns and fled.”
155. Blackwood’s Magazine, August 1860.
156. This account is taken mainly from Tantia’s memoirs. The writer in Blackwood states that the war contribution amounted to sixty thousand pounds, whilst forty thousand pounds more was collected from Government property. As Jhalra Patan was a very rich town, this was very likely the case.
157. Tantia says eighteen, but as be had no guns when he arrived, and as three were abandoned and twenty-seven captured few days later at Rajgarh, he must have taken all.
158. There are thirteen well-known towns of this name, and probably many more. The Rajgarh referred to in the text is in Malwa.
159. Three hundred and fifty 92nd Highlanders, four hundred and fifty 19th Bombay Native Infantry, one squadron Bombay 3rd Light Cavalry, and two guns Le Marchand’s battery Bengal Artillery.
160. Of this action, Tantia writes: “On reaching Rajgarh the English army came up and attacked us. We left our gums and fled.” It would be incredible, were it not true, that a force so large, numbering at least eight thousand, with thirty guns, should allow itself to be defeated by less than one-sixth of its number in men and guns, without drawing a drop of blood. Yet so it was. It is the more strange, as about half the rebels had been trained and disciplined by Europeans; their guns were effective pieces of larger calibre than the English 9-pounders, their muskets bore the Tower mark, and their swords were excellent, yet not one man of the British force was killed or wounded’
161. Narwar is a very important place, with an interesting history. It lies forty-four miles south of Gwaliar. In 1814 Narwar, with the lands pertaining to it, was assessed by the Gwaliar Government at 2,250,000 rupees annually. Little wonder, then, that the despotic ruler of the native State in which it lay should covet it.
162. The number of killed is often exaggerated, but on this occasion between four and five hundred dead bodies were actually counted on both sides of the river.
163. Pages 103-5.
164. Of this action Tantia writes: “On our march to Mangrauli we met the English army. Shots were fired for a short time, when we left all our guns and fled.”
165. Itawah lies thirty-eight, Kurai thirty-two, miles to the north-west of Sagar.
166. Tantia writes of this action: “The English force came up in the morning and our army became separated, I accompanied the Rao Sahib,” &c. Not a word about the sacrifice of the wing.
167. Bagrod lies thirty-nine miles to the north-west of Sagar.
168. Now one of the regiments Central Indian Horse.
169. Multai is a town in the Betul district, twenty-eight miles east of Bednur. Its chief attraction is a large tank which is reverenced by the natives as the source of the river Tapti.
170. Blackwood’s Magazine, August 1860.
171. “The road for eight miles was strewed with articles, taken by the rebels the previous day from some merchants carts on the main road; several carts had been brought on and abandoned when the bullocks got tired. The soldiers filled their water-bottles with port or sherry, of which there was enough to have stocked a large cellar, but not a man got intoxicated. A cart-load of books had been opened by the rebels during a halt – the contents were torn up and strewed in a circle, with a Walker’s Pronouncing Dictionary left intact in the middle.” – Blackwood, August 1860.
172. Regarding this action, Tantia writes (after referring to the capture of the carts): “We then left the high road and proceeded westward. The next day we were surprised by the English force, and, leaving our two guns, we fled and reached the Narbada.”
173. So states Tantia himself, and I have usually found his statements corroborated by other writers. But I have been unable to ascertain who were the troopers or who was the officer. Probably he was a native officer.
174. Chhota Udaipur is a state in the Rewi Kantha district, the chief of which pays an annual tribute to the Gaikwar. It possesses an area of about eight hundred and seventy-three square tulles
175. Tantia admits that he was surprised on this occasion.
176. To be hereafter referred to.
177. Deogarh Baria is the capital of a state of the same name as Rewa Kantha, in the province of Gujrat.
178. Ratlam lies fifty miles to the west of Ujjen.
179. Not the town of the same name on the road between Nimach and Nasirabad
180. Kiladar – the commandant of a fort.
181. Indragarh is a fort and town in the Bundi state, forty-five miles north east of Kota.
182. For his services in the Itawah district Lieutenant Forbes received the thanks of the Governor-General, published in General Orders. At the close of the war he was gazetted to be major if as soon as he should attain the rank of captain.
183. Two Bombay light field battery guns, Capt. G. G. Brown: a hundred and fifty men 14th Light Dragoons, Major Prettijohn; a hundred men 2nd Guitllr Maratha Horse, Captain Smith; a hundred and seventeen men 71st Highlanders, Major Rich; fifty men 25th Bombay Native Infantry, Lieutenant Forbes; forty camels, Gwaliar Camel Corps, Captain Templer.
184. Under Brigadier Ainslie.
185. Under Colonel Liddell.
186. Two 9-pounders, ninety Royal Engineers, fifty-five 86th Foot, a hundred and fifty 25th Native Infantry, a hundred and forty Meade’s Horse.
187. Page 250.
188. Amongst those who penned him in was a flying column under Colonel Scudamore, consisting of two guns, one squadron 14th Light Dragoons, fifty men of Meade’s Horse, and a hundred men of the 86th, commanded by the daring Brockman. This column scoured the jungles for three weeks, chasing, but never coming up with, Tantia Topi or Man Singh.
189. “The groom,” adds Tantia, “left me and ran off after coming two stages.”
190. A hundred men 3rd Bombay Europeans, a hundred men 9th Bombay Native Infantry, a hundred men 24th Bombay Native Infantry, fifty men Meade’s Horse.
191. From Assistant Adjutant-General to Captain Meade, dated 18th March, 1859.
192. A “Munshi” is, literally, a writer or secretary. It is often used in India to signify a tutor, an instructor. Here it is used in its literal sense.
193. Ajit Singh and his band were so terrified by their narrow escape, that they marched seventy or eighty miles on end, not Calling till they joined the other rebels near Sironj.
194. “I have done all I could by kind and encouraging counsel to urge him to establish by so signal an act of service” (the betrayal of Tantia Topi), “his claim lo the consideration of Government, promised him by Sir R. Hamilton in his telegram of the 27th ultimo.” – Major Meade to Sir R. Napier, the 8th of April, 1859. Sir R. Hamilton’s telegram was to the effect that, if Man Singh surrendered, his life would be spared and his claims would receive consideration.
195. Since the first edition appeared, Mr. G. Lance, late Bengal Civil Service and formerly Magistrate of Kanhpur – himself a distinguished actor in the mutiny (pages 215-6) – has written to inform me that in the records of the Magistrate’s Court at Kanhpur there exists ample evidence to show that Tantia Topi was one of the most bloodthirsty advisers of Nana Sahib. and that, if he did not first plan the massacre of the garrison. He assisted in it by posting his men in ambush at the Sati Chaora Ghat, or by giving orders to that effect to Jawala Parshad. Further, that by his presence on the spot he excited the ardour and fanaticism of the assassins. Although the fact stated by Mr. Lance is sufficient to prove that Tantia Topi fully merited the penalty that was meted out to him, it yet does not justify the sentence referred to in the text. No charge relative to the massacre of the Europeans at Kanhpur was brought against Tantia Topi on his trial. He was simply charged with waging war against the British. On that charge alone he was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. And it is this sentence, which, I believe, posterity will not confirm. But little evidence regarding his participation in the Kanhpur massacres existed at the time. “Though there was some,” writes Mr. Lance, “more was afterwards elicited by me when trying numerous cases connected with the Kanhpur atrocities.” That eventually he would have been hanged seems certain. But it would have been better that he should have been punished for being a murderer than that, by a premature and scarcely merited sentence, he should have gained the martyr’s crone.
196. Blackwood’s Magazine, August 1860.
197. Captain Flower’s troop, 8th Hussars, was with Parke the whole time.
198. For Tantia Topi’s diary of the events of the campaign, vide Appendix B.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage