The secret alliance of Mir Jafar with the Dutch had been one of the consequences of Plassey. That battle had given the new Nuwab, bound hand and foot, into the hands of the English. They were thenceforth his masters. Mir Jafar was in all external affairs but a pageant ruler. To satisfy the demand of his allies he had pledged his credit and oppressed his people. The alliance with the Dutch was an attempt to shake off a galling yoke. How, thanks to the prescience of Clive and the skill and valour of Forde, it failed, I have described. Thenceforward Mir Jafar gave up the secret struggle. He resigned himself to his fate.
Very soon after the attempt of the Dutch to replace the English in Bengal had been foiled at Biderra Clive quitted India. For the moment he made over charge of his government to Mr. Holwell; but a few months later the real successor, Mr. Vansittart, selected by Clive himself, came round from Madras and assumed the reins of office. A very few days after his arrival Mr. Vansittart was called upon to decide in Council an important question vitally affecting the immediate future of Bengal. The decision at which the Council arrived, and the policy which
followed that decision, imperilled, and went very far towards undoing, the great work of Clive.
Almost immediately after Clive had quitted India the provinces ruled by Mir Jafar were assailed by a formidable army under the prince who had previously invaded it as Shahzadah, but who had just become, by the death of his father, King of Dihli and titular Emperor of India. This change in the position of the invader made the attempt far more formidable than that which had preceded it. The Nuwabs of Tirhut and of Purnia, and many lesser nobles, discontented with the existing rule, declared in his favour; and, to add to the danger, a considerable body of Maratha horsemen joined him.
But, formidable as seemed this invasion, the skill and decision of the English officers, Major Caillaud, Captain Knox (distinguished at Machhlipatanam and Biderra), and others, and the valour of their men, sipahis as well as soldiers, completely foiled it. Hostilities were begun in February 1760. Before the end of July the Emperor and his allies had been twice defeated on the field, whilst an attempt made by the former to take Patna by storm, though aided by a body of Frenchmen under M. Law, had been decisively repulsed. The campaign would have been still more fruitful of results but for the supineness and refusal to advance displayed by the young Nuwab, Miran, only son and declared heir of Mir Jafar, who commanded the Bengal forces on the occasion. Towards its close it had become evident that Miran was in communication with the Emperor, and a strong opinion prevailed that he was awaiting only a favourable opportunity to-betray his allies.
For him the opportunity never came. On the night of the 2nd July 1760, a day following many in which the young Nuwab and his followers had shown extreme reluctance to follow up the retreating enemy, Miran was struck dead by lightning. His death raised primarily the question of the succession. Mir Jafar had other sons, but they were illegitimate and of
tender age. The opening of the question of the succession led, it will be seen, to the consideration of another question, still more fruitful in consequences.
Three weeks after the death of Miran, Mr. Vansittart arrived in Calcutta to assume the government of Bengal. The gravity of the crisis, which had been minuted upon by his acting predecessor, Mr. Holwell, and by his colleagues in Council, forcibly impressed him. He at once summoned Major, now Colonel, Caillaud from the army to add the weight of his advice as to the proper course to be followed.
In the discussion which followed the arrival of Colonel Caillaud opinions were divided. That officer supported the policy recommended by Mr. Holwell, to the effect that the opportunity should now be seized to reduce the Nuwab of Bengal, Bihar, and Orisa from his quasi-independent position to his proper status of Subahdar, subordinate to the Court of Dihli; that the Company should become the Diwan of the Emperor with complete financial control; that the monetary transactions between Calcutta and Murshidabad should be settled, the Company receiving certain districts in lieu of the money due; and that the Nuwab should be made to discharge the large rabble army which consumed his revenues. This opinion was not without its recommendations in the eyes of the Council, and, but for the opportune arrival of an envoy from the Nuwab, a man of great tact and ability, charged to congratulate the new governor, it might have prevailed. The envoy from Murshidabad, admitted to the secret deliberations of the Council, managed, however, to bring its members to a decision beneficial alike to his own private interests and to their own.
The new envoy was Mir Muhammad Kasim Khan, generally called Mir Kasim, son-in-law of Mir Jafar. Mir Kasim had become, by the death of Miran, the most prominent personage in the three provinces. The Nuwab had not seen more than sixty summers, but he was older than his years, for the worries
of the preceding four years had told upon a constitution which, since his accession to power, had been tried by dissipation. His eldest surviving son had seen scarcely thirteen summers. Under these circumstances Mir Kasim, forty years old, a man of iron will, quick decision, large views, and free from scruples, stepped naturally into the place to which his relationship to the Nuwab entitled him. Once in that place, he determined to use it to his own advantage.
Mir Kasim had, in common with many other nobles of Murshidabad, recognised with intense dissatisfaction the fact that the battle of Plassey had bound the Nuwab, hand and foot, to the English alliance, and that the English alliance meant the transference to Calcutta of the secret rule over the three provinces. Every transaction since Plassey – the suppression of the risings within, the repulse of the two invasions from without, the crushing of the Dutch – had confirmed and strengthened the predominance of the English. Mir Jafar had become simply a tool in their hands, an unwilling tool, it is true, but a tool whom the circumstances of every year forced to be more submissive. Against the position the whole soul of Mir Kasim had revolted. But up to the time of the death of Miran he had been powerless. The jealousy of his weak, vicious, and dissolute brother-in-law had excluded him, latterly, from all influence. A thunderbolt, however, had removed that obstacle from his path, and Mir Kasim, on the steps of the throne, without a rival, resolved at once to stretch out his hand to clutch the sceptre falling from the grasp of his enfeebled father-in-law, and, having secured it, to take such measures as, in a short space of time, would restore the lost power of the Nuwabs, and make him, in very deed, ruler as well as governor of the best portions of the three provinces.
Such was the man who, in September 1760, came to Calcutta to congratulate Mr. Vansittart on his assumption of the office of governor. Admitted to the deliberations of the English councillors, Mir Kasim, feeling his way carefully, soon came to the
conclusion that there was not one amongst them who could not be bought. His father-in-law had bought their predecessors: he would ascertain their price and buy them. Bringing, then, to bear on the discussions the arguments, at once skilful and temperate, of an accomplished man of the world; admitting and condemning the laxity displayed by Mir Jafar with regard to his monetary engagements; insinuating, gradually even asserting, how, by the pursuance of a different method, it would be easy for a ruler of the three provinces to carry out engagements still more onerous, and to gratify to the full any personal aspirations, Mir Kasim at length won over the Calcutta Council. They came at last to the conclusion to discard the scheme propounded by Major Caillaud, and to accept in its stead one which had been shadowed out in the course of the discussions by the clear-headed but unscrupulous envoy of Mir Jafar. On the 27th September they signed with that envoy a treaty in virtue of which it was arranged that all the real power in Murshidabad should be transferred at once to Mir Kasim, the title and its honours, with a considerable income, being secured, during his lifetime, to Mir Jafar; that a firm friendship should exist between the English and Mir Kasim, his enemies being their enemies, and his friends their friends; that, whenever required, the English would be ready to support Mir Kasim in the management of his affairs, with troops; that for all the charges of the Company, of their army, and of provisions in the field, Mir Kasim should assign them the districts of Bardhwan, Midnapur, and Chatgaon (Chittagong), and should grant sanads for the same; that certain advantages in the purchase of chunam in the Silhat district should be secured to the English; that the jewels pledged by Mir Jafar should be redeemed by cash payment; and that no agreement should be made with the Shahzadah (then titular Emperor) without the joint counsels of the contracting parties, those counsels to be directed to the point of preventing him from gaining a footing in
the three provinces. Such were the open stipulations. Those of a private nature were advantageous only to the members of the Calcutta Council. In fact, as the price of the foregoing treaty, Mir Kasim had promised to pay, as soon as possible after his installation, the following sums: – To Mr. Vansittart five hundred thousand rupees; to Mr. Holwell, two hundred and seventy thousand; to Messrs. Sumner and MacGuire, each two hundred and fifty-five thousand; to Colonel Caillaud, two hundred thousand;26 to Mr. Culling Smith and to Captain Yorke, one hundred and thirty-four thousand each. He pledged himself likewise to advance five hundred thousand rupees on loan to the Company for the expenses of the war on the coast. Three days after the signature of this treaty Mir Kasim set out for Murshidabad to prepare for the part which would soon devolve upon him. Mr. Vansittart followed two days later to break the decision to Mir Jafar.
In the interviews which took place on Mr. Vansittart’s arrival at Murshidabad, 15th, 16th, and 18th September, Mir Jafar showed a not unaccountable disinclination to relinquish any portion of his authority, and to accept Mir Maim as chief minister. Mir Jafar was, in fact, in the hands of the Hindu financiers, and these, divining the ambitious schemes of his Bon-in-law, had resolved at all hazards to baffle them. Mr. Vansittart appears to have been touched by the pleadings of the old Nuwab, and under their influence to have been more than half inclined to leave matters as he had found them. But Mir Kasim was at his elbow to remind him that he had gone too far to be able to retrace his steps, to insinuate that the promise of the stipulated douceurs was based upon the performance of a
defined contract, and to declare that if there were any alteration in the scheme which was to invest him with absolute power, he must withdraw from Murshidabad to provide for his own safety. These considerations decided Mr. Vansittart to adhere to the compact.
Mir Jafar had been, on the 18th, granted only twenty-four hours to consider the proposals which the English governor had made him, to constitute Mir Kasim as virtually mayor of the palace. When, on the expiration of that period, Mir Jafar had vouchsafed no reply whatever, the English troops and the division commanded by Mir Kasim surrounded his residence. Well, indeed, on that eventful morning, might the thoughts of the old man have carried him back to a period little more than three years distant, when, on the field of Plassey, he too, in secret compact with these same English, had betrayed his kinsman and master to obtain the seat which another kinsman was now by similar means wresting from him. What to him had been the power thus basely and dishonourably obtained? All the agonies of the preceding fifty-eight years of his life paled before those which he had suffered during the three years he had ruled as Nuwab in the usurped palace of Siraju’d daulah. He could not but contrast his position, threatened by the men to whom he had sold his country, with that which he would have occupied if, at Plassey, he had been loyal to the boy relative who had, in the most touching terms, implored him to defend his turban. With the prestige of having been the main factor in the destruction of the insolent foreigners who had since dictated to him, and who now threatened to dethrone him, he would have wielded a real power; his name would have been honoured; his country would have been secure. But now:– a glance from the window of his palace showed him the red-coated English soldiers rallying round the standard of his kinsman in revolt against himself. Would Mir Kasim show him more mercy than he had shown to Siraju’d daulah? The
recollection of the fate to which he had abandoned his kinsman and master must have passed through his mind when, after having first threatened to resist, he declared to the English Commissioners who waited upon him, that under no circumstances would he place his life in the power of Mir Kasim. As the only possible alternative he declared his readiness to resign the administration entirely, and to retire to live, as a private gentleman, in the territory of the Company. The alternative was at once agreed to. Declaring that he would not trust himself to Mir Kasim for a single night, the Nuwab then and there placed himself under the protection of a European guard, and started the following morning for Calcutta.27
Mir Kasim had now attained the height of his ambition. He was ruler of Bengal, Bihar, and Orisa. But he had not enjoyed his new authority many days before he, too, experienced the enormous difficulty of having to satisfy from an empty exchequer the demands of a grasping ally. Mir Kasim found the treasury of Murshidabad exhausted; the accounts in a state of inextricable confusion. The demands upon him were at the same time most pressing. He had, above all things, to satisfy his own army, then greatly in arrear; to pay the English troops engaged, at Patna, in showing front to the Emperor; to furnish the English with at least a portion of the promised loan. It must be admitted that he displayed, under these circumstances, considerable energy and a great force of character. He made the Hindi financiers, who had fattened on the absence of control in the time of his predecessor, disgorge their gains; and he introduced a simple and rigorous system into the treasury department. By these means he was able, in a very brief period, to pay his own and the English troops, and to remit to Calcutta half the promised subsidy.
Into the details of the contest which followed between the
allied troops of the English and the Nuwab and those of the Emperor, and which terminated by the peaceful investiture of Mir Kasim by Shah Alam at Patna as Nuwab of the three provinces (March 1761), and by his subsequent withdrawal to Dihli, I do not propose to enter. It will suffice to say that the brunt of the fighting fell upon the English, and that the conduct of his own troops whenever they were brought under fire convinced Mir Kasim of the necessity of a reform in his army as stringent as that which he had introduced into his treasury.
Mir Kasim was a man of a stamp very different to that of his father-in-law. The pliant disposition which had caused the latter to bend on every decisive occasion to the will of his European masters, did not belong to his nature. He had from the very first resolved to be master in his own house. He had used the English to procure him power; but he never trusted them as Mir Jafar had trusted them. In a short time he came to hate them with all the intensity of bitter and brooding hatred. He had full reason to do so, for the annals of no nation contain records of conduct more unworthy, more mean, and more disgraceful, than that which characterised the English Government of Calcutta during the three years which followed the removal of Mir Jafar. That conduct is attributable to one cause, the basest and meanest of all, the desire for personal gain by any means and at any cost. It was the same longing which has animated the robber of the northern clime, the pirate of the southern sea, which has stimulated individuals to robbery, even to murder. In point of morality, the members of the governing clique of Calcutta from 1761 to 1763, Mr. Vansittart and Mr. Warren Hastings excepted, were not one whit better than the perpetrators of such deeds.
On the 20th October 1759, Colonel Clive, writing to Mr. Vansittart, then his destined successor, used the following words: “The expected reinforcements will, in my opinion, put Bengal out of all danger but that of venality and corruption.” Clive had
reason to write thus. After his departure, a venality and corruption such as he, even, had never dreamt of, came almost to destroy the work which he had founded. I will briefly state how.
I have already mentioned that Mir Kasim had covenanted to pay certain sums to the members of the Calcutta Council to support his ambitious plans. Mir Kasim performed his covenant. But he had scarcely done so when the majority of the members of Council whom he had bought either retired or were removed, and their places were filled by men greedy of gain, careless how they obtained it, and deeming that the shortest road to their end lay in compassing the ruin of Mir Kasim, in order to make a market of his successor.28 These men were at the end of 1761 in a majority in the Council, and controlled its policy. Mr. Vansittart had but one steadfast supporter, Mr. Warren Hastings. The policy which led to the crisis I am about to describe was not the policy of those two gentlemen.
Before describing that policy I must trace in a few words the earlier measures taken by Mir Kasim. His first resolution was to be master in his own domains. As soon, then, as peace had been concluded with the Emperor, he removed Ramnarain, Governor of Patna, a staunch adherent of the English, but who had amassed enormous wealth by plunder and peculation. Then, to strengthen his own position, and to be further from the English, he removed his capital to Munger,29 a place on the right bank of the Ganges, three hundred and seventy-one miles by the river route from Calcutta, and containing a fort regarded in those days as of great strength. To this strength Mir Kasim made additions. His next task was to pay off all his obligations to the English, the failure to do which had, he well knew, proved the bane of his predecessor. This, by strict financial control, by insisting upon regular payments, and,
as I have already stated, by compelling those to disgorge who had taken advantage of the disorder of the State to fill their pockets, he accomplished. At the close of 1762, he had not only paid off all the debts of the State, but his revenue returns showed an excess of income over expenditure. Free on this point, he next turned his attention to the formation of an army on the European model. He had witnessed the point of excellence to which it was possible to bring the sipahis by submitting them to the European system and the European discipline, and he well knew that without such training no native army would ever stand against the English. To bring about such a result amongst his own troops, he set to work to re-form a large portion of his army on the model which had excited his admiration. He sought out everywhere European adventurers, especially Frenchmen and foreigners whose dislike to the English he could not doubt. To these adventurers he entrusted the remaking of his army. He bestowed upon them high grades, and assigned to them large salaries. Amongst the wandering outcasts, eager for service and adventure, came the Alsatian Reinhard, better known as Sombre or Samru, and the Armenian, Markar; both of them men of ability, but in both of whose natures the love of life and the love of gain had quenched every noble aspiration. For the moment, however, these men and their associates applied themselves to their task with an assiduity which promised the best results. Before the close of 1762 Mir Kasim had, ready for action, armed, trained, and disciplined in the European fashion, a force of twenty-five thousand infantry, and a regiment of excellent artillery-men. Provident in all things, he had during the training of these men set up a large foundry for casting cannon, and this foundry had provided him with guns as serviceable as any which could be brought against him.
These preparations, his move to Munger, his repairing and strengthening of the fortifications of that place, the reform of his revenue system, had been inspired by one motive – distrust
of the English. Good reason had Mir Kasim for that distrust. Less than two years after the departure of Clive, the Council of Calcutta had become a hot-bed of “venality and corruption.” Those two kindred vices, which Clive had with prophetic insight denounced as the only two evils which could undermine the British edifice in Bengal, reigned there supreme, unchecked by all save by Vansittart and Warren Hastings, and checked inadequately for all practical results even by them. The cheek of every honest Englishman must burn with shame as he reads the account of the policy adopted by the leading men amongst their countrymen in India a hundred and twenty years ago, towards the native ruler who had bought from the Calcutta Council his position, and whose only subsequent fault in their eyes was his endeavour to protect his subjects from European extortion. The sad story may be summarised in a few words.
To enrich themselves and the Company the Council of Calcutta had passed an enactment in virtue of which country goods supplied with European passes should be allowed to descend the river free of transit duty, whilst goods unprovided with such passes should pay a heavy tax. The English flag flying over a boat or a fleet of boats, and the appearance on board of natives dressed as English sipahis, were sufficient to exempt the boats from the search.
This system, originally intended to enrich a few high-placed Englishmen, had been so abused that the whole system of trade had become disorganised. It had been bad enough when the civil servants of the Company had practically in their own hands the monopoly of the trade. But, in course of time, these sold their rights to others, until matters had arrived at such a point that it was impossible to discover who had, or who had not, the right to use the British flag and employ men dressed as English sipahis. Whenever the revenue officers of the Nuwab made an attempt to stop the traffic, however illegal it might be, they were seized by the nearest English agent and
punished. The results of this shameful and oppressive system were that the respectable class of native merchants were ruined, whole districts became impoverished, the entire native trade became disorganised, and the Nuwab’s revenues from that source suffered a steady and increasing declension. In vain did Mir Kasim represent, again and again, these evils on the Calcutta Council. In vain did Mr. Vansittart press upon that Council the necessity of reform. Supported only by one member, he was powerless to repress the rapacious instincts, already whetted by enjoyment, of his colleagues. The evil at length reached a height when it was necessary to do something. After many stormy discussions it was agreed that Vansittart should visit the Nuwab at Munger, and agree to a compromise which should meet the views of both parties.
Armed, as he believed, with full powers, Vansittart visited the Nuwab at Munger. It should be borne in mind that although the conference which ensued took place between two men both honest in their intentions, both convinced of the radical vices of the existing system, and both anxious to arrive at a compromise which should at least contain the elements of fairness and equity, yet that one, the Englishman, was heavily handicapped by the knowledge that the views of the majority of his Council went far beyond his own. It is not, under these circumstances, surprising, that the compromise which was arrived at contained provisions not only greatly, but unduly, favourable to the English. The high contracting parties, after much discussion, agreed to terms, beyond which Mr. Vansittart would not – possibly, with the knowledge of the Council behind him, could not – yield. They agreed that whilst the English should pay nine, the natives should pay twenty-five per cent. on all goods passing the borders of the Nuwab’s dominions; that, to prevent abuses, the English passes should be signed by the English agent and countersigned by the revenue officer of the Nuwab through whose circle the goods should pass. It is but
fair to add that the Myra acceded to this compromise with great reluctance. He considered its provisions quite inadequate to check the evils. At the earnest request of Vansittart, however, he promised to give it a fair trial, warning him, at the same time, that if it should fail he would have no choice but to throw the whole trade open and give his own subjects an equal chance with the servants of the Company.
But the Council of Calcutta would not allow the scheme even a fair trial. Greedy of gain, careless of the public interests, they refused to ratify the agreement, insisting that the trade carried on by and for the English should – the article of salt alone excepted – be subjected to no duty whatever. Upon salt they expressed their willingness to pay a duty of two and a half per cent., but they declared that in all disputes which might occur between their own people and the Nuwab’s officers the English agents should hear and decide. Mir Kasim, incensed at the nature of the English demands, well aware that compliance with them would bring ruin upon his own subjects, replied by a decree which put into action the alternative of which he had warned Vansittart. He abolished all import duties whatever, and established free trade throughout his territories.
This bold and prudent measure – for, even if judged by the result, defeat and ruin in a righteous cause were preferable to the lingering torture to which the policy of the Calcutta Council would have subjected Mir Kasim – roused all the worst passions of the corrupt clique ruling in the English capital. Declaring that their own trade was affected by the edict, and that the action of the Nuwab was tantamount to a declaration of war, they made preparations to resist it.
Prominent in urging a decided course, in treating the Nuwab as though he had no more title to a fair consideration than an underling caught in an act of flagrant disobedience, was Mr. Ellis, one of the new members of Council, a man of violent
passions, who had recently been appointed to the agency of Patna. But if Mr. Ellis took the lead, other members of Council – Mr. Amyatt, Mr. Hay, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Verelst were not slow to follow. These, one and all, had come to the conclusion that when an independent Nuwab of Bengal should dare to move in a direction contrary to that which had been urged upon him from Calcutta, there was but one remedy, and that remedy was force.
For the moment, however, it was determined, in deference to the strong representations of Vansittart and Warren Hastings, to endeavour, in the first instance, to persuade. A deputation, composed of Messrs. Hay and Amyatt, proceeded accordingly from Calcutta to wait on the Nuwab. They found him, whilst firmly resolved to adhere to the policy which he declared with the most perfect truth was the only policy capable of saving the industrial classes of his dominions from absolute ruin, yet anxious, almost painfully anxious, to avoid hostilities.
Whilst negotiations were yet pending, information reached the Nuwab that Mr. Ellis was making preparations to seize his city of Patna, and that a fleet of boats laden with ammunition and other stores to enable him to effect that purpose was just then touching at Munger. Under these circumstances Mir Kasim pursued the only course which, in his position as Viceroy of the three provinces, under no bond of service to the English, was open to him. He refused to allow the hostile convoy to proceed; he required that the two English members of Council should not leave Munger; and he sent an envoy to Calcutta requesting the Governor to disavow the conduct of Mr. Ellis, and to direct the removal of the detachment of English troops and sipahis from Patna to Munger, at Which place, in the presence of his own army, they would not be prepared to commit any sudden act of hostility.
The Council at Calcutta not only refused to comply with this request – they treated the making it as an act of hostility.
They sent instructions to Messrs. Hay and Amyatt to leave Munger forthwith, and either to return to Calcutta or to proceed to Patna, as they might find practicable. They decided, further, that as soon as the safety of these gentlemen had been assured they would employ their only remedy.
But, before these instructions had reached Munger, Mir Kasim, still anxious for peace at any price short of sacrificing his own independence and the happiness of his people, had requested Mr. Amyatt to proceed to Calcutta to represent to the Council the cruel position in which the open and undisguised warlike preparations of Mr. Ellis had placed him; that he was still anxious for peace, but that if war were forced upon him he must defend himself and his people. Pending the return of Mr. Amyatt, Mr. Hay and the subordinate members were detained as hostages for the safety of the officers of the Nuwab then in Calcutta. They were treated with great civility and respect.
Before, however, Mr. Amyatt could reach Calcutta, Mr. Ellis had precipitated the crisis. Believing that Messrs. Hay and Amyatt had left Munger, and inferring that their departure permitted him to avail himself of the permission to take aggressive measures should he find the Nuwab bent upon making war, that gentleman marched from the English factory with all the British troops he could collect, early on the morning of the 25th June, hoping to surprise the city of Patna before the reinforcements, which he knew to have been sent from Munger, could reach it, and whilst its people and its garrison were sleeping the sleep of profound trust and confidence. He so far succeeded that he gained possession of the city, with the exception of a large building, built of stone, within it, and of the citadel. The English troops, flushed with their easy success, dispersed to plunder, whilst Mr. Ellis, equally delighted, returned to his camp to breakfast, and to pen the usual magniloquent despatch, announcing a great victory over men who had not fought.
Far differently did those whom by his action he had made enemies employ their time. Whilst some of the Nuwab’s troops, recovering from their surprise, were using every means to strengthen their position, their leader, Mir Mehdi Khan, hastened towards Munger to represent in person to the Nuwab the outrage to which his city had been subjected. On his way thither Mir Mehdi met, at Fatwa, the advanced-guard of his master’s troops, of the trained brigade, in fact, commanded by Markar, the Armenian, to whom I have already made allusion. Fatwa lies only eight miles from Patna, and Markar, learning that the two strong places in the city still held out, and that the English had dispersed to plunder, determined to hasten up his men, then to push forward and recover the city. He carried out his plan with great gallantry, charged and captured the English guns posted at the gate of the city and bearing on the road by which he advanced, drove his panic-stricken enemy out of the city, and, pursuing his advantage, laid siege to the English factory. Mr. Ellis and the officer commanding the troops, Colonel Carstairs, finding, after a few days’ experience, that it would be impossible to defend the factory against a determined enemy, evacuated it on the night of the 29th June, and, crossing the Ganges, commenced a movement towards Chapra in the hope to gain Awadh (Oudh). They had defended the factory, however, just long enough to render their escape impossible. The Nuwab had no sooner heard of the re-capture of Patna by Markar, than he had despatched his other trained brigade, under Samru, to Baksar, to cut off retreat in case the English should retire. With an enemy in front pursuing – for Markar followed them on the 30th – and another enemy barring their retreat, the case of the English force, harassed moreover by the severe rainy season, was desperate. The resources to which they might have trusted with any hope of success, those of daring and energy, appear to have been conspicuous by their absence. They had but one chance of escape – that was to
make a daring onslaught on one or other of the divisions of the enemy’s army. Looking at the subsequent events of the campaign, it is not too much to say that such an attack, ably planned and energetically carried out, must have succeeded. The detachment, however, preferred to await the attack of the enemy. The result was never doubtful. Though, on this occasion (1st July 1763), the men individually displayed their wonted bravery, they fought without plan and without cohesion, and when their commander, Colonel Carstairs, and eight other officers had fallen, the survivors, hopeless of a successful resistance, laid down their arms.30 They were conveyed by the victors prisoners to Patna.
In anticipation of the capture or defeat of the English party, the Nuwab had prepared a protest, dated 28th June, the accusing character of which was the more galling because the allegations it contained were absolutely true, against the conduct of Mr. Ellis. This protest, as soon as his anticipations were realised, he forwarded to Calcutta. In it Mir Kasim charged Mr. Ellis with having attacked his city of Patna like a robber in the night; with having plundered the bazaars, robbed the merchants, and slain the unoffending citizens. For this – sarcastically observed the Nuwab – Mr. Ellis himself had personally given him satisfaction by supplying him with the arms and ammunition of which he stood in need. But that satisfaction still left the Company his debtor. From it the Nuwab demanded a reparation similar to that which Calcutta had claimed for the treatment accorded to it in 1756. Passing from that single action, he next reviewed the policy of the
Company, as represented by the Calcutta Council, towards himself. He charged upon that Council that, after having made with him a treaty, “to which they had pledged the name of Jesus Christ,” by virtue of which he had made over to them three districts for the avowed purpose of paying the expenses of an army which should support him and promote his affairs, they had used that force for his destruction. He called upon them, therefore, to return to him the three years’ rents which they had misapplied, to restore the three districts, and to make compensation, likewise, for the violences and oppressions exercised during the same time by the English agents within his territories.
This letter reached Calcutta on the 7th of July. A day or two prior to its arrival the air had been filled with rumours to the effect that a great disaster had befallen the British arms. Mir Kasim’s allusion to the fate of Mr. Ellis went far to confirm those rumours. The Calcutta Council then proceeded to put into action the arrangements which they had been, during the few days preceding, been negotiating with the late Nuwab, Mir Jafar Khan.
The terms upon which Mir Kasim had bought the Subahdar of the three provinces from the Company’s agents have been stated in a preceding page. It was his misfortune that some of the members of Council who had profited so largely from his liberality and punctual payment had left the country some twelve months after he had been installed, and had been succeeded by men whose love of gain had been whetted by the sight, almost, of transactions in which they had had no share. These men looking about for plunder, and gauging the character of Mir Kasim, had clearly seen that the only chance which could possibly occur to gratify their ravenous instincts during his lifetime was to provoke him in such a manner as to afford them the opportunity of selling his office to another. This was the instinct which had animated
them from the very first. It was to provoke a contest which could only have such a result that Mr. Ellis had attacked Patna.. It was to attain it that the Calcutta Council had refused to ratify the liberal concessions which the Nuwab had made to Mr. Vansittart. One strong proof of these assertions is to be found in these two facts; one, that in the middle of the preceding April they had given instructions to the commander of their forces how to act under certain circumstances, all connected with hostilities against the Nuwab; the other, that so far back as that date, when the only question between the Company and Mir Kasim was the question of commercial duties, which Messrs. Amyatt and Hay were then discussing at Munger, they had begun to enter into negotiations with Mir Jafar.
That veteran intriguer was found to be ready once again to betray his country. The three years’ miserable experience he had had of office without authority had not sickened him. He had still children, and for them, in his eyes, a degraded inheritance – also probably to be purchased – offered greater attractions than the repose of an every-day life. Mir Jafar, then, clutched at the offers which were made him. He agreed to confirm the cession of the three districts made by Mir Kasim; to levy the ancient duties on all but the English traders, who were to be free of all duties excepting one of two and a half per cent. upon salt; to maintain a force of twelve thousand horse and twelve thousand foot, and pay thirty lakhs of rupees for the expenses of the war; further, to make a donation of twenty-five lakhs to the army and half that sum to the navy; and, finally, to indemnify private individuals for all losses they had suffered.31
Having obtained from the low ambition of Mir Jafar the advantages which the patriotism of Mir Kasim had refused to them, the Calcutta Council on the 7th July – the date on which they received the protest I have referred to – issued a declaration of war against Mir Kasim, and invited all his subjects to return to their allegiance to Mir Jafar. From that date it was a war for existence between Mir Kasim and the English. Victorious, he would extend to them neither mercy nor consideration; defeated, he knew he could expect neither. Let us pause for a moment to consider the chances of the combatants.
On the one side was Mir Kasim, wielding the resources of three rich provinces, possessing a well-stocked treasury, an army forty thousand strong, trained to a great extent on the European system, and large supplies of ammunition and materiel. He was ready for war, his troops were flushed with the first victory gained in the open field in Bengal by purely native troops over Europeans. Added to this, he was a man of a clear head and strong character, who thoroughly understood his position, who knew full well that not to be victorious was to be beaten, and that defeat meant utter and absolute ruin. On the other side the English began the war under a demoralised Government; a Government each component part of which cared a great deal for itself, very little for the general weal. Thus, whilst the senior members of the Government were rich, the Government treasury was empty. When the war broke out, it was found difficult to furnish the military chest even with the insignificant sum of ten thousand rupees. Though the army had been placed on a war footing the preceding April, the force ready to take the
field in July did not number more than eight hundred and fifty Europeans and fifteen hundred natives. Though it possessed abundant supplies of ammunition and small arms, yet in guns it was far inferior to the enemy. It will be seen, then, that whilst the force with which the English began this campaign was smaller than that which fought at Plassey,32 that of the enemy was far stronger, far better trained, and far more united, than that which had succumbed, less to English arms than to treason, at that memorable fight.
The comparison between the rival combatants would not be complete if I were to omit from consideration the generals on both sides. Here the English had an advantage which compensated for every other deficiency. Mir Kasim Khan, clearheaded though he was on the political scene, had no genius for leading an army. Some writers have even questioned his personal courage. Others,33 again, have recorded their opinion that policy dictated his leaving the command to his generals. If that were the case, I cannot help thinking it was a mistaken policy. In more than one contest in the war, the presence on the field of a great personage would have produced a unity of action, the want of which was fatal. After a careful study of all the evidence, I dismiss as utterly unworthy of credit the charge of want of courage. Having regard to the great talents and clearness of vision of Mir Kasim, I cannot think that any consideration would have kept him from the place where he believed his presence would be useful. I am forced, then, to the conclusion that, like many other men of supreme ability in the cabinet, he had no genius for war, and felt that his presence on the field of battle
would interfere with the independent action of his generals. It was a misfortune – as the result proved, a fatal misfortune.
The leader of the English army, Major John Adams, was, on the other hand, a man possessing supreme capacity as a leader. Trained in the school of Clive, Adams had succeeded to the command of the united forces of the Crown and the Company in Bengal on the departure of Major Caillaud (1762). No one could have been more fitted for the position. To calmness and coolness on the field of battle, Adams united great decision of character, a clearness of vision not to be surpassed, a power of impressing his own will upon others. He could plan a campaign and lead an army. He knew how to maintain the strictest discipline and to win the love of his men. It is not too much to say that never has the British army produced a soldier more capable in all respects. Had he lived he would undoubtedly have risen to the greatest distinction. In the few years of his active life he illustrated the art of war by a campaign which has been placed by a military writer34 on a level with the most famous campaigns of antiquity, and which will not lose from comparison with any in the world.
Such were the leaders under whom the war began. On the 5th July, acting under orders from the Council, Major Adams had directed the detachments forming the component parts of the force I have enumerated to march from their several cantonments in the Mednipur and Bardhwan districts, so as to form a junction at or near Murshidabad. But long before they could reach that city, Mir Kasim’s irregular troops had forced the English troops occupying the factory there to surrender. The victorious army, reinforced immediately afterwards by a trained brigade which had marched upwards from Birbhum under the command of Muhammad Taki Khan, one of Mir Kasim’s best generals, had marched then on the village of Palasi, and had taken up a position there with the view of intercepting the detachments of
the English force as they should arrive, or, if need were, of the entire English force.
Major Adams, meanwhile, marching slowly, reached Katwa – famous in the story of Clive’s march six years before – with the bulk of his force, on the 16th July. The next morning he crossed the Bhagirathi, and took post at the village of Agardip. There, on the 17th, whilst waiting for a convoy under Lieutenant Glenn, he was joined by the newly re-installed Nuwab, Mir Jafar.
On the same day, the first encounter, subsequent to the declaration of war, took place. Glenn’s detachment, which was escorting a convoy of cattle, grain, and treasure, and which was composed of a battalion of native troops and six guns, was attacked on the morning of the 17th, near the banks of the Aji river, by a large force of irregular troops, mostly cavalry, despatched for that purpose by Muhammad Taki Khan. Contemporary historians35 rate the number of the attacking party at seventeen thousand men. Fortunately, they bad no guns. Glenn, who, besides his European sergeants and a small detail of gunners, had no Europeans, offered to this attack a most determined resistance. Again and again did the enemy, eager for the plunder, charge home. The ground was not favourable for them, and his sipahis behaved with the most splendid courage. Three times, however, did the enemy capture the guns and treasure, but three times did the sipahis, returning to the charge, force them to let go their bold. At length, after a fight which lasted four hours, the enemy drew off, repulsed and baffled. Glenn’s loss had been severe, but theirs had been enormous. Glenn did not content himself with merely repulsing the enemy. He marched straight from the field of battle on Katwa, only to find the town evacuated by Adams and the fort occupied by Mir Kasim’s troops. Without the smallest hesitation he attacked and carried the latter, the garrison making only a feeble resistance.
The next day he joined the main force, bringing with him not only the convoy he had escorted, not only grain and cattle found in the fort of Katwa, but the prestige of the first victory.
Meanwhile, Muhammad Taki Khan had advanced from Palasi towards Agardip, and had taken up a position on the left bank of the Bhagirathi, nearly opposite Katwa, barring the road to Adams. Owing to some jealousy on the part of their commanders, the irregular troops, which had been so maltreated by Glenn on the 17th, refused to join him, but took up a position in rear of his left flank, too far off to render him support. Major Adams, on the morning of the 19th, advanced to attack him. The battle which followed was one of the bloodiest and best-contested of the whole war. Muhammad Taki himself and the Robilahs and Afghans, of whom he had formed a chosen corps, behaved with unsurpassed courage. Long the issue was doubtful. At one time it seemed as though the English were about to succumb. Muhammad Taki, who possessed just those qualities in which Mir Kasim was deficient, perceived, or thought he perceived, a wavering in their ranks, and, to confirm it, charged their flank with his chosen horse. At the very point selected, however, Major Adams had placed a party in ambuscade. A timely volley from the men so placed, just as the hostile leader was making a charge which he believed would give him victory, decided that day. That volley laid low, with a bullet through his brain, the gallant Muhammadan leader and many of the brave band which followed him. Victory was then assured to Adams. He captured the enemy’s camp, all their guns, their cattle, and their stores. He bivouacked that night on the field of battle, within sight of the shooting-box so famous in the story of the battle of Plassey. The irregular horsemen, who had fought Glenn the day before, and who might have decided the victory, and with it the war, in favour of Mir Kasim, took no part in the action, and retired after it had
been decided. The history of India abounds in instances of such unpatriotic conduct. Indeed, it may be affirmed that few things have more contributed to the success of the English than the action of jealousy of each other of the native princes and leaders of India.
Adams halted for three days on the field of Katwa – for such was the name given to the battle – then, following the route which Clive had pursued in 1757, marched on Murshidabad. The remnants of the beaten army had, however, taken up a strong position two miles south of that city, their front covered by a large tank called Motijhil. But, well posted as they were for defence, the troops of Mir Kasim were still under the influence of the defeats on the A’ji, and of Katwa. When vigorously attacked they gave way, and hastened to join the army which, comprehending the brigades trained so carefully on the European model, Mir Kasim had caused to assemble at Ski. The day following Adams escorted Mir Jafar, more than ever a pageant Nuwab, in triumph into Murshidabad.
The town of Suti lies thirty-seven miles from Murshidabad, on the direct road from that place to Danapur. It was at this place that Mir Kasim had resolved to fight his decisive battle – a battle which should drive the English into the sea, or be the certain precursor of his ruin. The position had been extremely well chosen. Strong by nature, it had been rendered still stronger by art. Intrenchments covered his whole front, whilst the nature of the country guarded it from being easily turned. To it Mir Kasim had sent his best troops. The brigades Samru and Markar were there; the trained cavalry of Assad’ullah was there; the rocket-men of Mir Nasir Khan, fresh from the recovery of Patna, were there; the survivors of the men who had fought so bravely at Katwa were there, eager now to wipe out the recollection of their defeat. Altogether, there were assembled in that camp of Suti twenty-eight thousand fighting men of a good stamp, eight thousand of whom were
infantry.36 This force was supported by a powerful artillery, manned in a great measure by Europeans and Eurasians. It wanted but one man, a skilful leader, such a man as the Muhammad Taki Khan, whom they had lost at Katwa, to make success, humanly speaking, absolutely certain. It had not that man; it was not even inspired by the presence of the prince for whom it was fighting. Mir Maim, who might have calmed the jealousies of rival commanders, and have directed a decisive movement on the field of battle, remained, throughout this important part of the campaign, at Munger.
Perhaps it was owing to the absence of Mir Kasim, perhaps to the confidence of his generals, who wished, probably, to engage on a plain in which the enemy might not only be repulsed, but annihilated, that the decisive battle was not fought at Suti. The English army, strengthened to a thousand European and nearly four thousand native troops had, marching northwards, just crossed the Bansli, near the point where that river joins the Bhagirathi (2nd August), when it found itself in face of Mir Kasim’s troops drawn up to oppose them. The position chosen by the latter betokened alike over-confidence and stern resolution to achieve a decided result. For whilst it allowed the English the advantage of having their flanks covered by the two streams, it ensured their destruction in case of defeat. The streams which guarded their flanks would equally bar their flight. This, doubtless, was the reason which decided the enemy to quit the intrenched camp; from that they might have repulsed the enemy, here they hoped to annihilate him.
The position taken up by the Bengal army barred the road to the English. In the centre were the trained brigades of Samru and Markar; on the right was Mir Assad’ullah Khan with his trained cavalry and twelve thousand irregular infantry; the rocket-men were on the left of the trained brigades, and on
their left again was a small brigade commanded by Shir Ali Khan, flanked on his left by the river. The village of Gheriah, about a mile distant from the scene of action, gave its name to the plain.
Major Adams had no sooner recognised the presence of the enemy in force, than he formed his line of battle and advanced. He placed his Europeans, composed of the 84th and Bengal European Regiment,37 in the centre, with three battalions of sipahis on each flank, the guns in the intervals, and one battalion of sipahis as a reserve. The action began with a discharge of artillery from both sides. Under cover of this, the infantry advanced, and the European troops in the centre were soon engaged with the trained brigades of Samru and Markar, slightly, at first, to the advantage of the former. No sooner, however, had Mir Assad’ullah observed the battle joined in the centre, than he hurled his cavalry against the left wing of the English. So well-directed was the charge, so impetuous the onslaught, that the English wing was rolled up and broken. Their sipahis fought well, but the force of the shock had been too great; the wing was forced back, and the men of the left portion of it were cut to pieces, or driven into the Bansli. Major Adams had noticed the charge and its result without being able to avert the evil which he foresaw. He had hastened, however, to take measures to repair the mischief by ordering to the spot the reserve and two guns, under Major Carnac. But before this reinforcement could arrive, the leading division of the enemy’s cavalry, led by a very gallant officer, Badru’din Khan, had, pursuing its victorious career, made an intervention to favour Samru and Markar, by attacking in the rear the troops with whom they were maintaining an almost equal combat. Charging with the same impetuosity as when they broke the left wing, the enemy’s horsemen captured two of the English guns, and caused great confusion in their ranks – a confusion which was augmented
by a simultaneous attack made on their front by the rocket-men of Mir Nasir Khan. Although, whilst this was happening in the centre, Carnac had, with the reserve, succeeded in rallying some of the remnants of the broken left wing, and in restoring the semblance of order, the position of the English was now extremely critical. Their left wing was virtually gone, their centre was in extreme danger, their reserves were exhausted. One vigorous attack on their right, and all was over with them. Fortunately for them, however, the commander of Mir Kasim’s left wing, Shir Ali Khan, possessed neither the dash, the intuition, or the knowledge when to strike, which had characterised the other leaders of the army. He made his attack so cautiously and so feebly, that Adams, divining how he could be dealt with, left half a battalion to oppose him, and moved the remainder of his right wing, with great rapidity, to support the endangered centre. This timely aid, and an opportune movement made simultaneously by the rapidly-recovering left, enabled the 84th and the Company’s regiment to disengage themselves. In a timely charge they recovered the two guns, wounded Badru’din, and so imposed upon Assad’ullah Khan, who was advancing, as he believed, to complete his victory, that he wavered and fell back. Major Adams took advantage of the first retrogade step which this leader took to order an advance of his whole line. This charge decided the day. The enemy’s cavalry fell back before it with increased rapidity. In vain did Mir Nasir Khan, placing his rocket-men in the bed of a small nala, attempt to check the progress of the pursuers; he was driven from his position. Samru and Markar, the leaders of the trained brigades, had fought fairly well as long as victory seemed inclined to shine upon them; but they were evidently deeply imbued with the principle that it was better to live to fight another day than to sacrifice themselves and their men, for, as soon as the English centre had shown a disposition to rally, they had begun to withdraw from the field. They withdrew,
however, in good order, and their attitude imposed a check on the ardour of the pursuers.
The victory, however, was gained. Seventeen guns and a hundred and fifty boats laden with stores fell into the hands of the conquerors. They bought their triumph dearly. Their actual loss in numbers I have not been able to ascertain, but it is stated to have been greater than on any previous encounter between the Europeans and the natives of India. Certainly, never was a battle more fiercely contested; never at one period of its duration did defeat seem more assured; never were native cavalry better led; never did men show greater courage. The coolness of Adams and the steadfastness of the Europeans combined with the want of vigour of Shir Ali Khan and the selfish instincts of Samru and Markar to snatch victory out of the fire.
The battle of Gheriah was a battle which well deserves to be remembered. It inflicted a blow, a very heavy blow, on the enemies of England. But it was not decisive. The enemy quitted the field, but not in disorder; they quitted it to take up a stronger position, well prepared to receive them, and already occupied by men whose numbers would do more than fill the gaps already made in their ranks.
This position was called the Undwah Nala, a small stream giving its name to a strong pass leading into the hilly districts of Rajmahal. In the plan of campaign he had drawn up, Mir Kasim, whilst calculating on the preponderating chances of a decisive victory at or near Palasi in the first instance, or, in case of a reverse there, at Suti, had not forgotten that the chances of the field of battle were uncertain, and that it might be necessary, for a third time, to grapple with his foes. But regarding the issue of the third contest there should, he was resolved, be no doubt whatever. He had, then, carefully selected a position of amazing strength, which could be held by a few against many, which could not be turned, and which it would be necessary
for his enemy to attack in front. Undwah Nala offered such a position. The rivulet, which at that season of the year, July and August, was swollen to the dimensions of a river, drained a deep morass to the right and left of the road, which formed a sort of narrow causeway across it. This road was entirely commanded by the pass. In the view of a possibility of a defeat at Sidi, Mir Kasim had fortified this pass in a manner so as to render it all but impregnable. In front of the rivulet and on the extreme left of the position, he had thrown up an intrenchment, which, resting on the Ganges, and running thence in a south-westerly direction for about a mile, abutted upon a steep isolated hill which he had likewise strongly fortified; from this point the intrenchment branched in a more southerly direction across the road and round the main spur which formed the right side of the pass, and terminated amid ravines and scarped precipices far beyond it. He had made the ramparts of this intrenchment sixty feet high and ten feet thick; he had surmounted them by a parapet eighteen feet high and seven feet thick, and along the entire front on the plan he had caused to be dug a ditch sixty feet wide and twelve feet deep. To reach this ditch the morass had still to be traversed. Under his instructions batteries had been erected at convenient intervals, and upon them he had mounted more than a hundred pieces of cannon. Some distance to the rear of this intrenchment was the old line of works – which it had in a measure superseded – and the Undwah Nala, the steep banks and swollen waters of which formed a natural defence. This nala was crossed on the line of the road by a stone bridge, to guard which a strong detachment had been told off. Such was the position, between the rivulet and the new intrenchment, to which Mir Kasim, on learning the result of the battle of Gheriah, had ordered his reserves, composed of a brigade four thousand strong, trained in the European fashion, commanded by an Armenian named Aratoon, and three irregular brigades, mustering in all about twelve thousand men, infantry, cavalry,
and artillery, commanded by the best officers who still remained to him, Mir Najaf Khan, Mir Himmat Ali, and Mir Medhi Khan. As a measure of security, and to be ready for every emergency, he despatched his family and treasures to the strong fortress of Rotasgarh, on the San, but he himself still remained at Munger.
Gheriah had been in a certain sense a surprise to Mir Kasim. He had fully counted upon victory; but the battle, fought in the open and in a position more favourable to the English than to his own troops, had only just been lost. At Undwah Nala he could oppose to them a stronger position, a greater number of troops, and a far more numerous artillery. There did not seem a single flaw in his arrangements. If the small body of English and English-trained natives could force that pass in the face of the forty thousand men who, on the arrival of the army beaten at Gheriah, would be there to defend it, no strong places, no opposition, no army in the world could stop them. On the other hand, repulse to them would mean destruction. On the battle about to ensue, then, he deliberately placed the issue whether the three provinces should belong to a Nuwab ruling independently of the English, or to the English. If he were beaten he could offer no resistance that could possibly avail; if the English were beaten the result of Plassey was undone, the labours of Clive were rendered fruitless.
Two days after the battle of Gheriah, the beaten army of the Nuwab joined, behind the intrenchments of Undwah Nala, the reinforcements he had sent thither from Munger. Meanwhile Adams, indulging his troops with a two days’ halt, marched on the 4th, and on the 11th arrived at Palkipur, a small village about four miles from the enemy’s position. In front of that village, and in a line nearly parallel to that position, Adams formed his camp. Here he remained about three weeks, busily engaged in constructing fascines and gabions, in erecting batteries, in landing heavy guns, and in repulsing the harassing
attacks of the enemy. Even when, on the twenty-fourth day, he opened fire from the three batteries he had constructed, the nearest of which was about three hundred yards from the enemy’s intrenchment, he found, that though manned with siege guns, the fire produced little or no impression on the massive ramparts which Mir Kasim had thrown up. A very small breach had, indeed, been effected close to the gateway near the river, but it was very imperfect. Nearer he could not advance his guns, nor on the other face could he move his infantry, for the morass, saturated at that time of the year, covered the position. The difficulties which presented themselves on all sides were, indeed, sufficient to make the bravest despair. Not even Massena, before the lines of Torres Vedras, felt more acutely than did, on this occasion, the English leader, the hopelessness of his position.
But a chance, denied to the Prince of Essling, was granted to Adams. In the brilliant novel of Coningsby38, Sidonia lays down the aphorism that an individual, even against a vast public opinion, is divine. The aphorism is true, although the conditions under which it operates are sometimes startling. It was the act of a single individual which converted the despair of the English into confidence; it was the consequence of that act which changed the confidence of Mir Kasim’s army into despair.
The individual who on this occasion performed the divine function for the English army was a repentant deserter. This man, originally in the service of the Company, had, for some unknown reason, deserted to Mir Kasim, and now, either from a desire to reingratiate himself with his old masters, or from a love of treachery for its own sake, he prepared to betray him. Creeping out of the defensive position on the night of the 4th September, he made his way to the English camp and offered, on condition of pardon, to point out a ford in the morass by which the troops might cross and attack the
rampart defending the isolated hill which commanded the enemy’s position. Adams, persuaded that the representations made by the deserter were correct, resolved to take advantage of them without delay, and fixed the following morning for the purpose. That night he made the necessary preparations, told off the assaulting parties, arranged the signals to be made under all eventualities, and prepared for every possible misadventure. Three hours before daybreak the storming party, composed of the grenadiers of the 84th and the Company’s European regiment, and of two battalions of sipahis, the whole commanded by Captain Irving, set out to cross the morass; at the same time the bulk of the remaining force, led by Captain Moran, moved into the trenches for the purpose of distracting the enemy by a false attack, to be converted, if necessary, into a real one. Another portion of it, formed into a reserve, under Major Carnac, was held in readiness to move rapidly on any point where its presence might seem desirable, whilst a fourth, and much smaller party, was left to guard the camp. I propose first to follow Captain Irving and the stormers.
The deserter had correctly represented that the morass might be forded, but neither he nor the English leader had sufficiently appreciated the difficulties which fighting-men carrying their muskets and ammunition would experience in the operation. So deep was the ford that the men, moving through it with difficulty, were compelled to carry their muskets and pouches on their heads, whilst the scaling-ladders necessary to effect their purpose were similarly conveyed by the native followers. Had but one of the defenders been on the alert, the entire storming-party must have been destroyed. Fortunately for those who composed it, not a sign of life appeared in the enemy’s works, and the storming-party succeeded in reaching the base of the rampart without being discovered. Irving had given strict orders to move as silently as possible, and to use only the bayonet. A few of the enemy were found asleep under
the parapet. To despatch these with the bayonet, to plant the ladders, to begin the ascent, was the work of a few seconds. Before, however, the leading files could reach the summit the alarm bad been given, and the enemy rushed in confusion to ascertain the cause of the disturbance. But before they could collect their ideas the stormers had gained the rampart, and, driving the enemy before them, had taken possession of the stockade on the summit of the isolated hill! The history of war cannot show an achievement more ably planned, more effectively carried out!
The light of a torch suddenly kindled and held aloft in the centre of the most important position of the enemy gave the signal to Moran in the trenches that the first act in the drama had been successfully played. It was for him now to make his attack a real one. Preluding it with a heavy fire from the guns in the advance battery, Moran, under the cover of its smoke, moved as rapidly as possible towards the imperfect breach of which I have spoken. At length he reached, and with great difficulty crossed, the ditch. Even then he seemed at first to have gained little, for the breach was found to be very steep, and wide enough only for one person. Had the enemy displayed the smallest conduct, or the faintest courage, the attack on this point must have failed. But it is a peculiarity of the Oriental nature that surprises, sudden attacks, and attacks made in the night, so completely discompose it, so interfere with the power of thought, that for a long time after the shock one instinct, and one only – that of self-preservation – is able to assert itself. On this occasion the combined suddenness and daring of the shock added to the mental confusion which the sight of the burning torch on the summit of the isolated bill had caused. The enemy were in no real danger had they kept their heads. But utterly distracted, they allowed the English, baffled at the breach, to plant scaling-ladders against the rampart. By these a few men
entered and opened the gate to their comrades. Then all was over; Moran’s party, feeling to the right, gave their hand to Irving’s party descending from the hill, and the two, combining, swept all before them with irresistible fury. The enemy’s troops were incapable, by circumstances, of flight; by mental paralysis and confusion from making an effective resistance. Flight was denied them, because a guard of their best troops, posted on the bridge crossing the nala (stream), had received positive instructions to fire upon any troops who should attempt to cross it. This order, issued with the design of forcing the native troops to fight to the last, was carried out to the letter. The result was most disastrous to Mir Kasim’s army. Attacked in front by the British, fired upon from the rear by their own men, and suffering, as I have said, from moral and mental paralysis, his troops were shot down in hundreds. The passages which might have served as an issue were speedily blocked up by the dead. In despair many threw themselves into the river and were drowned. Some tried to cross the Undwah, but the steepness of its banks barred their flight. Many threw down their arms and begged for a quarter which was not refused them. But the loss of life was terrible. It was computed at the time that fifteen thousand men perished either during the attack or from its consequences. Those who did escape from the assailed points stole away in twos and threes, skirting the hills and hiding in caverns. The reserve in the old lines, composed of Samru’s and Markar’s brigades, attempted a show of resistance, but it was only a show. They soon sought safety in flight, the only portion of the splendid army of the previous day that was not absolutely broken!
Such was the battle of the Undwah Nala – one of the most glorious, one of the most daring and most successful feat of arms ever achieved. It was, in every sense of the word, a most decisive battle. Adams did not merely defeat the army of Mir he destroyed it. The blow had been so great that 14
rally thenceforth was impossible. In one morning, with an army five thousand strong, of whom one fifth only were Europeans, Adams had stormed a position of enormous strength, defeated forty thousand and destroyed fifteen thousand men, captured upwards of a hundred pieces of cannon, and so impressed his power on the enemy that they had no thought but flight. They made no attempt to stop at Rajmahal, which was fortified, or to defend the passes of Sikrigali and Tiriahgali, both of which were naturally as strong and as defensible as that from which they had been driven. Mir Kasim, on whom adversity had the effect of developing the cruel side of his nature, had shown his resentment at the result of the battle of Gheriah by consigning to death the native noblemen whom he held in confinement. He displayed his passionate rage at the total defeat of Undwah Nola by threatening the slaughter of the English prisoners he still retained at Patna. He carried out this threat as soon as he heard of the surrender of Munger.
A few lines yet to show how decisive had been that morning’s achievement. Marching from the field of battle, Adams captured Rajmahal on the 6th September, occupied Munger, which, though strongly fortified, made no resistance, on the 1st October, and recovered Patna on the 6th November. On the fall of Patna Mir Kasim quitted Bihar, and proceeded, with the followers who still remained to him – the most important had submitted to the English – to implore the protection of the Nuwab of Awadh (Oudh).
One word more with respect to the hero of the war. In little more than four months Major Adams had begun and brought to conclusion a campaign which did more than confirm the advantages which Clive had gained for his country by the victory of Plassey. Contending with a comparatively small force against a prince whose soldiers had been drilled after the European fashion, who was served for the most part by officers of tried ability, who was well furnished with cannon manned by
Europeans, and with supplies; who, moreover, was supported by the sympathy and affection of his people – Adams, in the short period I have stated, defeated him in three pitched battles, drove him from his dominions, virtually reconquered Bengal and Bihar, the capital of which he stormed, captured four hundred pieces of cannon, and carried the Company’s arms to the banks of the Karamnasa. Regarded as a military achievement it can compare with any in the history of the world. It was possible only on the condition of the display of military conduct of the highest order, of gallantry, devotion, and tenacity on the part of the troops. All these qualities were displayed to a degree which never has been surpassed. Whether we look at the genius of Adams, the tenacity of Glenn, the conduct of Knox, who again greatly distinguished himself, of Irving, of Moran, and the other officers, and of the men who served under them, we fail to find a flaw; we can see only that which is worthy of admiration.
Nor were the political results less important. If Plassey made the Subahdar of the three provinces a pageant ruler under the influence of Clive, the campaign of Major Adams gave those provinces to the English. Thenceforward there was only a titular ruler possessing no real power – a prince who, until he was still further to be despoiled, was, to repeat the expressive language of Mr. Scrafton, “no more than a banker for the Company’s servants, who could draw upon him as often and to as great an amount as they pleased.” The campaign concluded by Adams at the Karamnasa, subsequently continued by Carnac, and victoriously concluded by Munro against the Nuwab-Vazir of Awadh, assured more than the predominance, it assured the absolute supremacy, of the English.
It is painful to add that the great soldier who had produced the results I have recorded did not live to return to his native land. The climate, the fatigues and anxieties of the campaign, had so told upon him that after the expulsion of Mir Kasim
from the three provinces he made over his command to Major Carnac, and proceeded to Calcutta. He died, unhappily, just as he was about to embark for England, 16th January 1764, leaving behind an unsurpassed reputation as a soldier. Those who may study the history of his great achievements will, I am confident, endorse and confirm this verdict of his contemporaries.
26. It is but just to the memory of Colonel Caillaud to state that he had adhered to his own proposal, had voted against the treaty with Mir Kasim, and had left India before he was aware that any sum had been stipulated for on his behalf. The money was paid to Mr. Vansittart, and Colonel Caillaud first learned from his agents in England that a sum to that amount was standing at. his credit. It may be presumed that he then accepted it.
27. Here he took up his residence at Chitpur, two houses in that suburb having been provided for himself and his suite by the Company.
28. This actually was done in 1763 and again in 1765.
29. Incorrectly spelt “Monghyr” by many Englishmen, though whence they derive the letter “h” it is hard to say. The superfluous introduction of this letter is, however, a common failing with some classes of our countrymen.
30. Colonel Broome, in his History of the Bengal Army, states that “judging from two official returns of the force shortly prior to its destruction, it appears that nearly three hundred Europeans and upwards of two thousand five hundred natives must have been killed or surrendered on this occasion, and that seven officers of artillery and twenty-nine officers of infantry were slain on the field, died of their wounds, or were made prisoners, or subsequently perished.”
31. It was stated at the time this clause was agreed to that the amount would not exceed five lakhs of rupees. Eventually it amounted to fifty-three lakhs. “So strong,” writes Colonel Broome, “was the prevalence of personal interest over public duty, that although” (at the conclusion of the war) “the claims of the Company were still undischarged, more than half these amounts for compensation were extorted from the Nuwab, and the money immediately lent to Government at 8 per cent. interest by their own servants, who – however regardful of private advantage – were rapidly sinking the pecuniary affairs of the Company into a state of ruin. According to Mr. Scrafton, the Nuwab was in fact no more than a banker for the Company’s servants, who could draw upon him as often and to as great an amount as they pleased.” – History of the Bengal Army, page 497.
32. At Plassey, the English had nine hundred and fifty European and two thousand one hundred native troops.
33. The able writer of Transactions in India from 1756 to 1783, himself a contemporary, states that Mir Kasim was inured to the hardships of the field, “that he united the gallantry of the soldier with the sagacity of the statesman,” but that “he did not hazard his own person in any engagement where his officers might have made a merit of their treachery in betraying him.”
34. The late Colonel Arthur Broome, History of the Bengal Army.
35. Caraccioli’s Life of Clive; the Sayar-ul-Muta’akhkhirin.
36. Many writers have placed the number higher, but the contemporary evidence of the author of Transactions in India seems decisive on the point.
37. Now the 101st Fusiliers.
38. By Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage