In another part of this history143 I have recorded the gallantry of a young midshipman of the Indian navy, Arthur Mayo – a gallantry which was rewarded by the bestowal of the Victoria Cross. This display of courage and conduct was emulated by very many of the profession to which Mayo belonged, and I feel that it is only due to the members of a service which no longer exists, but whose bright and brilliant deeds form an important part of the story of English adventure and English rule in India, to devote a short chapter to the more prominent of those services.
The gallant service of Lieutenant Lewis, Mr. Mayo, and their comrades at Dhakah, has been already related. It has been truly remarked144 that “if the Indian naval detachment had been repulsed in their attack on the mutineers’ position, and had been obliged to retreat, a general massacre would probably have ensued, for in their rear lay the city of Dhakah with a large fanatical Muhammadan population in a very excited state.” The gallantry of the sailors was thus mainly instrumental in saving eastern Bengal from pillage and slaughter.
The same officers, accompanied by others, took a very leading part in an expedition against the Abor hillmen in February 1859. This operation, though occurring before the Mutiny had been finally crushed in central India and in Oudh, cannot properly be brought within the range of its events. I refer to it here only to mention that the officers who were prominent at the Dhakah affair in 1857 were again well to the front on this occasion, and, with Lieutenant Davies, Indian navy,
were most favourably mentioned by the military officer commanding.
In the Jagdispur jungles, Lieutenant Carew, Indian navy, rendered excellent service. I have related145 how, on the 23rd of April, 1853, Captain Le Grand of the 35th Foot had been defeated in those jungles by Kunwar Singh with the loss of two guns; how this disaster had thrown the district once more into disorder; how the safety of Arah was threatened, and how a panic had reigned at Chapra. I have recorded, also, how for the time the arrangements made assured the safety of these stations, and that a few days later Sir E. Lugard and Colonel Corfield had beaten the rebels continuously. In these contests Lieutenant Carew, serving under
Corfield, took a prominent part. Carew, after making several most earnest requests, had been allowed to serve in that part of the country in command of a battery which he had formed himself. His battery was supplied with two 9-pounders and two 5½-inch mortars, and was manned by a hundred and ten sailors. Serving under him were two midshipmen, Brownlow and Cotgrave. In Corfield’s action with the rebels on the 11th of May at Hetampur, Carew’s battery took a very prominent part. They “worked their guns admirably146.” And yet that very day they had marched fourteen miles, and before they had time to take a meal had to march against the rebels under a sun which struck dead seven men of the 6th Regiment marching with them. Though the Indian navy sailors were more acclimatised than their brethren of the royal army, yet even they lost three of their comrades that very day from the effect of exposure. The same cause compelled, a little latter, Carew to resign his command to Mr. Midshipman Cotgrave.
Lieutenant, afterwards Commander, Batt did splendid service in the same district. Batt had distinguished himself by his activity in the Ganges between Allahabad and Kanhpur, in July and August 1857, by shelling the rebels out of their position in the fort of Kali Kanki.
Subsequently he commanded at Baksar where he repaired the fort, made gun-carriages, and trained his men. Later on, in the autumn of 1858, he assisted in the measures taken to drive the followers of Kunwar
Singh from the jungles of Jagdispur, being always to the front.
On one of the many occasions in which he was in action, an officer serving under him, Acting-Master George Chicken, gained the Victoria Cross. The force to which Chicken was attached was engaged with and had driven back the rebels near Piru on the 4th of September, 1858. In the pursuit Chicken suddenly came alone upon a group of twenty preparing to rally and open fire on their scattered pursuers. He at once charged them. Surrounded on all sides, Chicken fought most desperately and killed five of the rebels. He would, however, have succumbed had not four native troopers arrived, in the nick of time to his rescue. He escaped with a severe wound.
In the western Bihar division, Lieutenant Duval, Midshipmen Wray and Scamp, and later, Lieutenant Barron, rendered good service after the mutiny of the Sipahis at Danapur had introduced disorder there.
In the repression of the mutinies in Chutia Nagpur147, Captain Burbank, of the Bengal Marine, and Lieutenant Windus, Indian navy, and the seamen under them, were most efficient and useful. The latter received the special thanks of the Government, and. it is clear that he was a man who was equally at home when at work in the field and when engaged in organising arrangements for that work. There was nothing he could not turn his hand to. Captain Burbank’s services with Mr. Yule in pursuit of the Dhakah rebels have been already recorded148.
On the western coast the services of the Indian navy in the suppression of the Mutiny were invaluable. “In the months of July and August,” writes Mr. Low, “though in the height of the south-west monsoon, the Berenice, Lieutenant Chitty, and the Victoria, Lieutenant Sweeny, were engaged carrying troops from Bombay to Karachi, and landing them on that, open and storm-beaten coast, sixteen miles below Jargarh, near Ratnaghari, and at Goa. ... These officers made several voyages with troops, including portions of the 33rd and 86th Regiments and the 2nd Bombay Europeans149.”
The services of Griffith Jenkins have been previously referred to in connection with the despatch by Lord Elphinstone to the Cape and to the Mauritius for reinforcements, but it is due to that gallant sailor to add that he possessed all the qualifications necessary to ensure the success of a delicate negotiation, and that Sir George Grey and Governor Higginson alike expressed their sense of the admirable manner in which he discharged his duties.
Captain Jenkins had the gratification of receiving from the highest quarter an official acknowledgment of his services. “I have been commanded,” wrote Sir C. Wood to him from the India Office, “to convey to you the gracious approbation of Her Majesty of your conduct during that critical period.”
With regret I confine myself to this short notice of the services of the officers of the Indian navy. Those officers knew well, when in Bengal they gave their fullest energies to a service which was not properly their own, that they were serving under the cold shade of officialism; that though the brows of their brethren in the army might be crowned with laurels, their modest deeds would remain comparatively unnoticed. Knowing this, they yet vied with the bravest in daring, with the most zealous in energy and devotion, and when the Mutiny came to an end they had the satisfaction of knowing that they had deserved well of their country. They had little more. Besides the war medal, which the detachments engaged with the rebels received in common with the army, and two Victoria Crosses gained by personal valour, not a decoration was bestowed upon any one of them. Shortly after the Mutiny, the noble service with which they had been connected was abolished, the survivors were pensioned, and nothing remained but the consolation of heroes – the conviction of duty performed, of honour unsullied, of great services rendered to their country!
With one episode, alight though it may be as compared with others recorded in this history, yet reflecting, in the story of one officer, the conduct of many placed in circumstances not altogether dissimilar, this chapter will fitly conclude.
When the Mutiny broke out at Mirath on the 10th of May, 1857, two companies of the 53rd Native Infantry, then at Kanhpur, were on detached command duty at Urai, on the right bank of the Jamnah, about eighty miles from Kanhpur. The officers commanding these companies were Captain Alexander and Lieutenant Tomkinson. The native regiments stationed at Kanhpur surpassed all the other regiments of the native army in the cruelties and barbarities they perpetrated; but the men of the detachment at Ural, free from the contamination produced apparently by the close vicinity to the wronged province of Oudh, displayed a spirit far more amenable to reason. Everything remained quiet at Urai till the end of May. On the 3rd of June. however, the deputy Commissioner of that station received orders to send to Gwaliar the money he had in the treasure-chest. The Sipahis, on hearing of this order, evinced a great inclination to dispute it.
However, they did not do so, and on the 4th Tomkinson started for Gwaliar with the easure and a detachment of his men. Leaving him for a moment, I may mention that on the 6th of June the regiments at Kanhpur mutinied. When this news reached the men stationed at Urai, they provided Captain and Mrs. Alexander with a camel, and recommended them to make the best of their way to Agra, which they eventually succeeded in doing.
Meanwhile Tomkinson and his men arrived safely with the treasure, on the 12th of June, in the vicinity of Gwaliar. At that time the troops at Gwaliar were very shaky; it was known that Tomkinson’s regiment had mutinied at Kanhpur; fear and distress were in every man’s mind. Major C. Macpherson, then the political agent at Gwaliar, on hearing of Tomkinson’s approach, sent out a party to relieve him of the treasure, but at the same time forbade him to enter Gwaliar, and directed him to proceed to Agra.
Tomkinson would have obeyed had it been possible, but meanwhile Mr. Colvin had been communicated with at Agra, and Mr. Colvin, as distrustful as Macpherson, had telegraphed that no native troops were to proceed thither.
Left to himself, Tomkinson stayed with his men until the state of the country forced them into action. They made no
attempt on his life; on the contrary, they expressed on parting with him the greatest regret that they were forced to take the line they were about to follow.
Left alone, it would seem that the villagers, intent on plunder, deprived him of his horse and his gun, and it would have gone hard with him but for the kindness of a native. Hungry and destitute, having nothing but the clothes on his back, he was seen by a Muhammadan villager wandering in the fields in apparent distress. The poor man took him to his home in the village of Amain, and concealed him there till the mouth of October. A man of substance in the village supplied him with clothes and paid for his food. Tomkinson apparently chafed under this life, and longed for active work; but the country around him was in revolt. He persuaded his host on one occasion to take a letter into Kanhpur, but the news that met the poor man on the way so frightened him that he destroyed the letter. At length, towards the end of October, an opportunity of rendering service to his country seemed to offer. Information reached the village that a body of rebels, with a large quantity of ammunition, was about to pass in its vicinity. If he could only explode the ammunition, Tomkinson thought, he would perform an act which would paralyse their movements. He resolved to attempt to explode it. Accordingly, on the 23rd of October, he crept out, reached the rebel camp, and made the effort. He was, however, discovered and killed.
I hope that a story which paints the devotion to duty of an Englishman, and the kindness and fidelity of a Muhammadan, may be considered as an episode not unworthy to take a place in the History of the Indian Mutiny.
143. Vol. IV. page 293.
144. Low’s History of the Indian Navy.
145. Vol. IV. pages 335–40.
146. Corfield’s despatch.
147. Vol. IV. pages 304–8.
148. Vol. IV. pages 297–303.
149. These were the troops landed on the coast referred to on pages 27–9 of the fifth volume, whose opportune arrival disconcerted the mutineers of Kohlapur. Lord Elphinstone specially thanked Lieutenants Chitty and Sweeny for the “good services they rendered in carrying the different detachments of European troops down the coast at the height of the monsoon, by which movement, under Providence, the peace of the southern Maratha country and of the presidency was preserved.”
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage