Lord Ellenborough who now assumed the reins of Government was a statesman of high repute, and an eloquent speaker; and his style was as clear and vigorous, as that of his predecessor was, for a Governor-General, exceptionally confused and feeble. He had for some years taken a special interest in the affairs of India, and a prominent part in Indian debates, more especially during the discussions of the last Charter. Like Lord Wellesley and Lord Minto he had served his apprenticeship to the government of India at the Board of Control, where he had acquired an ample knowledge of the condition of the country, and the principles and policy of the Company’s administration. He was reported to be a good man of business and a moderate Tory, and his appointment was welcomed with delight in a country where the animosities of political party are scarcely heard of, and the public care about nothing but progress. He was known to possess great energy and decision of character, and the community augured a happy change from the weak and vacillating policy of his predecessor. His address at the entertainment given him by the Court of Directors at the London tavern created great expectations of the beneficence of his administration. He abjured all thoughts of warlike or aggressive policy, and announced his determination to cultivate the arts of peace, to emulate the magnificent benevolence of Mohamedan conquerors, and to elevate and improve the condition of the people.
General Pollock arrived at Peshawar on the 5th February, and found the four regiments
of infantry which had preceded him in a state of total insubordination. This was the first mutiny which had occurred in the native army since 1824, and it arose from the seductions and the example of the Sikh troops, and the dread of service in Afghanistan. Many of the sepoys had deserted their colours, and nightly meetings had been held in the camp at which the mutineers encouraged each other in the determination not to enter the Khyber. Efforts were likewise made to debauch the newly arrived regiments, and brahmins were sent round to bind them to the same resolution by an oath on the water of the Ganges; but the General ordered every emissary found in the lines to be seized and expelled, and acted with such promptitude and energy as to put a speedy end to these machinations. Nor did the officers manifest much less reluctance to encounter the difficulties of the march, and it was openly declared at the mess table that it would be better to sacrifice the whole of Sir Robert Sale’s brigade than to risk the safety of a fresh army. One officer went so far as to affirm that he should consider it his duty strenuously to dissuade the sepoys from moving into the pass. The difficulties of General Pollock’s course were indefinitely aggravated by these demonstrations. Sir Robert Sale was importuning him to advance without delay to his relief, but the General felt that, with a force so entirely demoralized, one half in hospital and the other half in a state of mutiny, he could not move without the risk of a second failure, which would have been fatal to the hopes of the Jellalabad garrison. Being obliged to wait for further reinforcements, he devoted the months of February and March to the task of improving the discipline, recovering the health, and reviving the confidence of his troops, which was strengthened in no ordinary degree by the arrival of a regiment of dragoons and some troops of European horse artillery. Raja Golab Sing had been sent with some of his own Jummoo battalions to assume the command of the Sikh army, and to curb the insolence of the Sikh troops, and Shere Sing, the successor of Runjeet
Sing had given him positive and unequivocal orders to afford every possible assistance to General Pollock. But Golab Sing had been withdrawn most reluctantly from the pursuit of his own ambitious schemes in the regions lying beyond Cashmere, and his feelings were so lukewarm and his efforts so perfunctory as to lay him open to the suspicion of treachery. An effort was therefore made by the British Agent to counteract it by the offer of Jellalabad as an independent principality. At length the masterly arrangements and resolute bearing of General Pollock completely overcame the dread with which the Sikhs regarded the Khyber, and secured the active co-operation of the raja. Major Mackeson, the political agent, had offered the Khyberrees the sum of 50,000 rupees for a passage through their defiles, but they immediately rose in their demands, which were flatly rejected. They then proceeded to block up the entrance of the pass with huge stones and branches of trees cemented together with clay, and covered the mountains on either side with assailants whose matchlocks carried death to the distance of eight hundred yards. But the admirable plan which General Pollock devised for mastering the pass by sending two columns to crown the heights on the right and the left, and clear them of the Afghans, baffled all their efforts to guard this formidable barrier.
At three in the morning of the 5th April, the troops moved out of the camp, without beat of drum or sound of bugle, and clambered up the rugged and precipitous crags with great enthusiasm, and the dawn of day revealed their presence to the thunderstruck Afreedis on the summit of their own mountains. A sharp conflict ensued, but the British troops had the advantage of confidence as well as valour, and the Afghans were soon perceived to fly precipitately in every direction over their hills. Both the columns then descended into the valley, and the defenders of the pass, finding themselves attacked both in rear and in front, deserted their position in haste and confusion, and the pass was opened to the long string of baggage, which, including the munitions of war
and provisions for Sir Robert Sale’s brigade, extended two miles in length. By the evening, the army and the convoy reached the fort of Ali Musjid, five miles within the pass. No further opposition was offered to the advance of General Pollock, who reached Jellalabad on the 15th April and found that the illustrious garrison had already achieved its own relief.
Jellalabad was the capital of Western Afghanistan, selected for the mildness of its climate as the winter residence of the rulers of Cabul, and not inferior in importance to Candahar and Ghuzni. Sir Robert Sale entered it on the 13th November with provisions for only two days. He found that the fortifications were in a state of complete dilapidation, and that rubbish had been allowed to accumulate to such an extent around the ramparts that there were paths over them in many places into the country. Immediately beyond the walls, were ruined forts, walls, mosques, and gardens, which afforded cover for assailants at the distance of only twenty or -thirty yards, and the inhabitants both in the town and the country were as hostile as the Ghilzyes. The day after the occupation of the town, the armed population of the neighbourhood, to the number of 5,000, advanced towards the walls with yells and imprecations on the infidels, when Sir Robert determined to give them a sharp and decisive lesson. Colonel Monteith issued from the gate at the head of about 1,100 men, of all arms; the artillery cannonaded the enemy; the infantry broke their ranks; the cavalry completed their discomfiture, and, in a short time not an Afghan was to be seen, with the exception of those who lay dead on the field. Captain Broadfoot, who had accompanied the brigade with his sappers and miners, was an officer of indomitable energy, and extraordinary resources, with a remarkable genius for war and policy. He was immediately appointed garrison engineer, and commenced the task of clearing and strengthening the fortifications without delay. The whole of the 13th Foot was turned into a working party; a spirit of zeal and emulation
was kindled throughout the garrison, and an indefensible mass of ruins was in a short time converted into a fortress proof against everything but siege artillery. On the 9th January a horseman rode up to the walls with the order which Major Pottinger and General Elphinstone had written at the dictation of the chiefs for the evacuation of Jellalabad. The officers were unanimous in replying that as Akbar Khan had sent a proclamation to the chiefs in the valley to raise their followers and destroy the force, while the Cabul convention provided for their safe escort through the country, they considered it their duty to await further communication from the political and military chief in Afghanistan.
At the close of January a letter was received from Shah Soojah as the ostensible head of the Government in Cabul, demanding the evacuation of Jellalabad, in accordance with the terms of the treaty. It was written in red official ink, but he stated in a private communication that it had been signed under compulsion. A council of war was held, when Sir Robert Sale and Captain Macgregor, the political agent, who had doubtless been informed of the anxiety of Lord Auckland to escape from the country at the earliest moment, advised that the requisition to abandon Jellalabad should be complied with under certain specified conditions. This proposal was vigorously opposed by Captain Broadfoot, who characterized it as detestable; but his opinion was weakened by his impetuosity. The debate was so stormy that the council wisely determined to adjourn to the following day, when Captain Broadfoot produced a paper in support of his views, drawn up by his friend, Captain Havelock, in his usual calm, clear and decisive language. During the discussion which ensued, the political agent endeavoured to support his opinion by the remark, that the Government of India had abandoned the garrison, that no attempt would be made to relieve them after the failure of Colonel Wild, and that it was impossible for them to hold their position much longer. To this Captain Broadfoot replied, that if their own Government
had thus deserted them, the covenant between the two parties was cancelled, but they had a duty to perform to their country, that of upholding its honour at the present crisis, from which nothing could absolve them. The majority of the council, however, determined to adopt the advice of the political agent, but resisted the indignity of giving hostages, which had formed part of the proposal. A reply to this effect was accordingly sent to Cabul, with the understanding that if the communication from the Shah and the chiefs was a simple acceptance of the terms, the garrison would be bound to evacuate the town and the country, but if it were clogged with any conditions, or appeared evasive, they should be at liberty to adopt whatever course circumstances might dictate. The answer from Cabul required the officers to testify their sincerity by affixing their seals to the document. Another council was held, and Sir Robert Sale and the political agent called upon the officers to comply with this request. Captain Broadfoot urged that the suspicion of their sincerity liberated them from any obligation to confirm the treaty, and he proposed that the whole question of capitulation should be reopened. Some of the officers, under the influence of Broadfoot and Havelock, had repented of their former pusillanimity. A recent foray had been successful in supplying them with nearly nine hundred head of cattle; the officers were in fine feather, and the majority voted against any renewal of the negotiations. The next day letters were received from General Pollock conveying the pleasing intelligence that reinforcements were advancing from India, and all idea of abandoning their post was at once and finally dismissed.
On the 18th February, a succession of earthquakes destroyed in a few minutes the labour of three months. The parapets were thrown down, the bastions seriously injured, and one of the gates reduced to a mass of ruins. The effects of this visitation were too severely felt in the country around to allow the enemy to take advantage of the defenceless state to which. Jellalabad was
reduced, and the damage was repaired with such promptitude that the Afghans declared it was impossible the earthquake could have been felt there. Akbar Khan now made his appearance on the scene. If he had been able to advance at once from Cabul with the guns he had obtained in the cantonments, while his troops were flushed with success, the peril of the garrison would have been extreme; but he was happily detained at the capital by differences with the chiefs, and on his arrival found that the defences had been restored, the fosse completed, and a store of provisions laid in. He found also that he had no longer to deal with men like General Elphinstone and Brigadier Shelton, or with a force sunk in despondency, but with commanders and men full of animation and confidence, and he prudently abstained from too near an approach to the ramparts. On the 11th March, however, he was emboldened to draw out his army, and advance to the attack of the town, but the whole garrison sallied forth and assaulted him with such impetuosity as to drive him ignominiously from the field. He resolved, therefore, to turn the siege into a blockade, with the hope of starving the force into submission. This strategy, which had been successful at Cabul, rendered the situation of the garrison extremely critical; the cattle were perishing for want of fodder, the men were on reduced rations of salt meat; the officers were on short commons, and the ammunition had begun to run low. On the 1st April, the troops sallied forth and swept into the town five hundred sheep and goats they had seen from the bastions for several days grazing in the plain, and thus supplied themselves with food for ten days. Akbar Khan had been gradually drawing his camp nearer to the town, in order to cut off foraging parties, and at length pitched it with 6,000 troops, within two miles of the ramparts. Captain Havelock had repeatedly and strenuously urged on General Sale the necessity of a bold attack on his encampment, as affording the only hope of relieving the garrison from its perils, but he had resolutely resisted the proposal.
On the evening of the 6th, the General yielded to the importunity of the officers who entertained the same opinion as Captain Havelock of the necessity of an energetic assault on the enemy’s encampment. The plan of the engagement was laid down by the captain, and provided that the force should move out in three columns, and, without noticing the little forts which studded the intermediate space, make a sudden and vigorous attack on Akbar Khan, and drive his army into the river, which was then a rapid and unfordable torrent. The troops issued from the gate at dawn on the 7th April, but at the distance of three quarters of a mile from it, a flanking fire was opened from one of the forts on the centre column, commanded by Sir Robert Sale in person, and be ordered Colonel Dennie to storm it. The Colonel rushed forward with his usual gallantry, but was mortally wounded in endeavouring to penetrate the fort. This false movement not only entailed the sacrifice of a valuable officer, but had well nigh marred the enterprise. The advance column of 360 men led by Captain Havelock, moved on towards the enemy’s encampment, and was thus exposed, without support, to the impetuous assault of Akbar’s splendid cavalry, 1,500 in number; but they repelled two charges, and drove the assailants back to their camp. Repeated and earnest messages were sent for the advance of the two other columns which had been detained around the fort, and their timely arrival completed the victory. The enemy were dislodged from every point, and pursued to the river with the loss of their guns, equipage and ammunition, and their camp was given up to the flames. Akbar Khan disappeared, and the neighbouring chiefs hastened to make their submission; the villagers poured in provisions, and General Pollock, on his arrival, a week after, found the garrison in exuberant spirits and robust health. One such day at Cabul would have saved the army.
State of affairs at Candahar, 1841-1842.
Immediately after the outbreak at Cabul, the chiefs despatched Atta Mohamed to raise Western
Afghanistan, and General Nott deemed it prudent to withdraw his detachments from the outlying districts, and concentrate his force in Candahar. Major Rawlinson endeavoured to get up a movement among the Dooranees in favour of Shah Soojah, the head of their own tribe, and bound the chiefs by solemn oaths to remain faithful in their allegiance, but their fidelity was shaken by the report industriously spread that he himself was hostile to the continuance of British authority in Afghanistan. The Shah’s cavalry, the Janbaz, who had in every instance proved insubordinate, went into open revolt, murdered their officers, and joined the camp of Atta Mohamed. Soon after, the Shah’s own son, Sufder Jung, decamped from Candahar, and placed himself at the head of the insurgents, who, after having been engaged for some weeks in making preparations, at length moved down to attack the city and encamped within five miles of it. On the 12th January, General Nott marched out with five regiments of infantry and one of cavalry, and in an engagement which did not last more than twenty minutes, inflicted a signal defeat on them. The flame of rebellion however continued to spread through the country, and all the Dooranee chiefs threw off the mask, and openly joined the insurgents. Mirza Ahmed, the ablest man in Western Afghanistan, who had hitherto enjoyed the entire confidence of Major Rawlinson, and had been entrusted by him with large sums, went over to the enemy and assumed the direction of their movements; but the hostile camp was a prey to intestine dissensions. The Dooranee chiefs had always been at feud with each other, and it required all the extraordinary tact of the Mirza to keep these discordant elements from explosion. The British troops, on the contrary, were cheerful in the confidence of their strength, and sustained their health and spirits by games and amusements, while at the same time the General employed himself in improving the fortifications, and laying in provisions for five months. The insurgent chiefs and Sufder Jung at length sent to demand the evacuation of Candahar in conformity with the order which
Major Pottinger and General Elphinstone had signed two months before, under compulsion. General Nott and Major Rawlinson rejected the demand with scorn, and refused to enter into any negotiations for the evacuation of the country till they had received instructions from their own Government, written after the murder of the Envoy was known. It was deemed advisable to make a vigorous effort to break up the Afghan camp which continued to hover round the city. To prevent any insurrectionary movement within, a thousand Afghan families were expelled, after which General Nott marched out on the 10th March to encounter the enemy. Under the subtle advice of Mirza Ahmed, the Afghan leaders contrived to draw him to a distance from the city while they doubled back in the hope of capturing it during his absence. That chief and Sufder Jung arrived at sunset at the Herat gate, where their emissaries had been employed for some hours in heaping up brushwood saturated with oil. It blazed up as soon as the torch was applied to it, and the ghazees, infuriated with fanaticism and drugs, rushed forward with hideous yells, and seemed to court death with the courage of martyrs. The wild confusion of the scene was increased by the pitch darkness of the night, and the post was defended for five hours with great skill and energy by Major Lane and Major Rawlinson. Two guns were brought to bear on the enemy, and a number of grain bags were piled up behind the gate, which fell outwards about nine in the evening, when the ghazees rushed forward and with frantic fury, climbed up the mound of bags, but so vigorous was the defence that all their efforts were rendered vain. Towards midnight their violence seemed to be exhausted and they retired with their wounded, venting curses on Mirza Ahmed and were with difficulty restrained from laying violent hands on him, for having inveigled them into an enterprise which had cost the lives of six hundred true believers.
Soon after, intelligence was received that Colonel Palmer, after holding Ghuzni for four
months with a regiment of native infantry, had surrendered it to the Afghans. There was a general impression that this capitulation was even more disgraceful than that of Cabul, and that under an officer of greater ability and decision, the post might have been maintained with ease till it was relieved, and this opinion was fully confirmed when General Nott subsequently had an opportunity of examining the defences.
Great gloom was also diffused through the garrison of Candahar by the repulse and retreat of General England. He had reached Quettah with a convoy of provisions, ammunition and money, and some additional troops for General Nott, and was strongly advised to await the reinforcements which were then on their way from below to join him. But he persisted in advancing into the Pisheen valley, and on the 28th March reached the village of Hykulzye, where he had been warned to expect some opposition. A body of 500 of his sepoys approached a slight elevation with a breastwork consisting of a mound of earth thrown up from a ditch four feet deep, when the enemy suddenly sprung up from behind it, and poured a destructive fire on them, which brought down a hundred killed and wounded. Their comrades recoiled from this unexpected discharge, but rallied immediately after, and were eager to be led on to the attack. Colonel Stacy thrice volunteered to carry the sunga, or breastwork, with a hundred, or even with eighty men, but the Brigadier would listen to no entreaty, and hastened back to Quettah, where he actually began to throw up entrenchments, as if he expected to be attacked. It was subsequently ascertained that the entire number of the enemy at Hykulzye, who had occasioned this disgraceful retreat did not greatly exceed a thousand. From Quettah, he wrote to General Nott: “Whenever it so happens that you retire bodily in this direction, and that I am informed of it, I feel assured that I shall be able to make an advantageous diversion in your favour.” General Nott’s temper was never remarkable for its suavity at the best of times; but it entirely broke down under the provocation of this unmanly exhibition, and he
ordered the Brigadier to advance without the least delay to Candahar, where the supplies under his charge were imperatively needed. On reaching the scene of his former repulse, the troops rushed forward impetuously to retrieve their honour, and carried the breastworks with perfect ease. The Brigadier soon after reached the defile which leads to the Kojuck pass, and calling for a chair, coolly seated himself in it, and resisted the entreaties of his officers who were impatient to secure the honour of mastering it; nor would he allow his brigade to move till he heard that it was in possession of Colonel Wymer, whom General Nott had sent from Candahar to meet him.
Lord Ellenborough, on his arrival at Calcutta, found himself involved in a labyrinth of difficulties, but he entered on the arduous task bequeathed by his predecessor with becoming dignity and confidence. On the 15th March, a notification signed by himself and all the members of Council announced the course which it was intended to pursue. “The British Government was no longer compelled to peril its armies, and with its armies, the Indian empire, in support of the tripartite treaty. Whatever course we may hereafter take must rest solely on military considerations and regard to the safety of the detached bodies of our troops, to the security of those now in the field from all unnecessary risk, and finally to the establishment of our military reputation by the infliction of some signal and decisive blow upon the Afghans, which may make it appear to them, and to our own subjects, and to our allies, that we have the power of inflicting punishment upon those who commit atrocities, and violate their faith, and that we withdraw ultimately from Afghanistan, not from any deficiency of means to maintain our position, but because we are satisfied, that the king we have set up, has not, as we were erroneously led to imagine, the support of the nation over which he has been placed.” These noble sentiments were received with acclamation throughout India; but after a very brief residence in Calcutta, he left the Council board and proceeded to the north-
west, to be near the Commander-in-chief. During the discussions of the India Bill he had contended for placing some restrictions on the powers of Indian Governors by subjecting them to the wholesome restraint of Council, and he had dwelt with much emphasis on “the peril of leaving too much to the erratic caprice of a single man.” He was now about to illustrate the truth of these remarks. As he proceeded on his journey, he received intelligence of the success of General Pollock in forcing his way through the Khyber, and of the total defeat of Akbar Khan on the 7th April, which he announced to the public in a brilliant proclamation conferring upon the garrison of Jellalabad, the title of “illustrious.” But he was likewise informed of the repulse which Brigadier England had experienced at Hykulzye and of his retirement to Quettah.
This trumpery check unhappily made a more powerful impression on his mind than the important successes of Sale and Pollock; and on the 19th April, he announced to the Commander-in-chief his determination to withdraw the troops of General Nott and General Pollock, at the earliest practicable period to positions where they might have certain and easy communication with India. General Nott was therefore ordered to evacuate Candahar and to retire to the Indus, after blowing up the gateways and demolishing the fortifications. The Commander-in-chief was instructed to direct the withdrawal of General Pollock’s army to Peshawar, but it was left to him “to consider whether the troops, redeemed from the state of peril in which they had been placed in Afghanistan, and it may still be hoped not without the infliction of some severe blow on the Afghan army, it would be justifiable again to put them forward for no other object than that of avenging our losses, and re-establishing our military character in all its original brilliancy.” The Commander-in-chief, who had always been opposed to the Afghan expedition, lost no time in ordering General Pollock to withdraw every British soldier to Peshawar, unless he should have brought the negotiation for the release of the prisoners to
such a point that its happy accomplishment might be risked by withdrawal, or, had equipped a light force to rescue them, or, was in expectation of an attack from Cabul. In other words, if no negotiation was pending for the recovery of the brave officers and tender women and children held in captivity, or, if no effort had been made towards the accomplishment of this object, they were to be abandoned to their fate. Lord Ellenborough would evidently have been more safe by the side of his Council than by the side of the Commander-in-chief.
To this communication General Pollock replied on the 13th of May, that the withdrawal of the force at the present time, construed as it must necessarily be into a defeat, would produce a most disastrous effect, and compromise our character as a powerful nation in that part of the world. The release of the prisoners, he remarked, was also an object which could not be repudiated. The want of cattle however, would effectually prevent his immediate retirement from Jellalabad, and he ventured to hint that he might possibly be detained there for several months through the same difficulty. By this dexterous suggestion, he was enabled to evade the injunction to retire at once from his position, and he trusted to another change in the versatile mind of Lord Ellenborough for more auspicious orders. In reply to this communication he was authorized to remain at Jellalabad till October.
The order to evacuate Candahar and Afghanistan fell like a thunderbolt on General Nott and Major Rawlinson. It was with no small difficulty that the admirable tact of the Major had succeeded in maintaining anything like order and government in the province amidst the reeking elements of revolt and anarchy. He felt that any suspicion of our intention to retire would raise the whole country in arms, and render it impossible any longer to procure cattle without compulsion, and that the perils of the force would be indefinitely multiplied. The political and military chiefs determined to keep the secret of these instructions to themselves; but the
orders they had received to withdraw the garrison from Khelat-i-Ghilzye and to demolish the fortifications, could scarcely fail to open the eyes of the Afghans to the design of our Government. The ferocious Ghilzyes had determined to dislodge the British force from that fortress, and 4,000 of them had recently assailed it with unusual fury; thrice had they clambered up the ramparts, and thrice had they been hurled back by the gallantry of Captain Halkett Craigie and his men, nor did they withdraw till 500 of their number lay killed and wounded on the field. This triumph, which gave additional strength to our authority, rendered the proposal to abandon the fortress the more grievous. But General Nott replied promptly to the requisition of the Governor-General on the 19th May, though not without a heavy heart, that the evacuation of the province should be effected in the best manner circumstances would admit of. Arrangements were immediately commenced for withdrawing the army, but happily they were allowed to occupy two months, and before they were completed, he received a communication from Lord Ellenborough, dated the 4th July, which left him free to march to Cabul.
Lord Ellenborough had enjoined secrecy on the generals relative to the order of evacuation; but it was not possible to conceal it from the public, and it became known throughout the country before it reached Jellalabad or Candahar. Never before had such a burst of indignation been excited in India from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. It was universally felt that this dastardly retirement would inflict a deeper and more galling stigma on the national character than the humiliation at Cabul, which might be considered one of the chances of war. With all the contempt which Lord Ellenborough professed for public opinion, it was scarcely possible that he could be indifferent to this unanimity of reprobation. It is also known that the Court of Directors and his own colleagues in the Ministry had intimated their expectation that an attempt should be made to
vindicate the national honour and liberate the prisoners before we retired from the country. For fifteen weeks he continued to reiterate his determination to withdraw, but there were indications in his official correspondence that his mind was vacillating between the opposite attractions of national honour and personal consistency. At length he discovered an expedient for reconciling them. On the 4th July, Mr. Maddock, the secretary to Government, was instructed to convey to General Nott the official assurance that the resolution of the Governor-General to withdraw the troops at Candahar to India remained without alteration. On the same day Lord Ellenborough wrote himself to the General suggesting that it might possibly be feasible for him to withdraw from Afghanistan by advancing to Ghuzni and Cabul, over the scenes of our late disasters. “I know,” he said, “all the effect it would have on the minds of our soldiers, of our allies, of our enemies in Asia, and of our own countrymen, and of all foreign nations in Europe. It is an object of just ambition which no one more than myself would rejoice to see effected; but I see that failure in the attempt is certain and irretrievable ruin, and I would inspire you with the necessary caution, and make you feel that, great as are the objects to be obtained by success, the risk is great.” This mode of withdrawal, as everyone, not excepting even the Governor-General, could perceive was nothing more or less than an advance on the capital with the view of planting the British standard again on the battlements of the Bala Hissar, and retrieving our national honour. It was unquestionably the duty of Lord Ellenborough, as the head of the state, to have taken the responsibility of this risk on himself, and to have furnished General Nott with distinct instructions, instead of leaving him to encounter the risk and the odium of failure. A copy of this communication was sent to General Pollock, with the suggestion that he might possibly feel disposed to advance to Cabul in order to co-operate with General Nott. Both generals were too happy to obtain permission to move up to the capital and restore our military character, and
liberate the captives, to shrink from the responsibility with which it was clogged.
Before following the march of the armies of retribution, it is necessary to allude to the fortunes of Shah Soojah, and of the hostages and captives. After the retreat of the British army on the 6th January, the Shah continued to occupy the Bala Hissar. The insurgent chiefs acknowledged him as king and paid him an empty homage, but they themselves engrossed all the substantive power of the state, and continued to coin money and to read prayers in the name of Zemaun Khan, who had been elected the supreme ruler after the 2nd November. The Shah sent repeated communications to Jellalabad, declaring his unalterable attachment to the British Government, and asking for nothing but money, though he had contrived to save twenty lacs of rupees out of the sums lavished on him since he left Loodiana. He endeavoured at the same time to convince the chiefs of his unalterable fidelity to the national cause, and he was consequently mistrusted by both parties. To test his sincerity, the chiefs desired him to place himself at the head of the army they had assembled to march on Jellalabad and expel General Sale. It was rumoured that he would be murdered or blinded by the Barukzyes if he left the Bala Hissar, but Zemaun Khan endeavoured to remove his suspicions by an oath on the Koran. With this assurance he descended from the citadel on the 5th April, decked out in all the insignia of royalty, of which he was inordinately proud, but was shot dead on the road by a body of matchlock men whom the son of Zemaun Khan had placed in ambush, without his father’s knowledge. His body was rifled of the costly jewels which he always carried about his person, and thrown into a ditch; and thus terminated his chequered career of five and thirty years. Great doubts have been entertained of his fidelity to his English allies, but the balance of evidence fixes on him the charge of having given encouragement to those feelings of opposition which resulted in the revolt at the beginning of November, inasmuch
as on the departure of Sir William Macnaghten, who had always been his friend, he was to be consigned to the control of Sir Alexander Burnes, who was personally obnoxious to him, as he was to every other Afghan chief. The assassin was condemned to be stoned to death by the doctors of Mohamedan law, but his influence was too powerful to permit the execution of the sentence. The Shah’s son Futteh Jung, a man of weak intellect and dissolute manners, was proclaimed king by one party, and he succeeded in rescuing the body of his father, which, after lying in state for some days, was interred with royal honours. Other parties were opposed to him; a civil war raged in the city, which was bombarded from the guns of the Bala Hissar, and there was fighting from house to house. Akbar Khan returned to the capital after his defeat at Jellalabad, and laid close siege to the citadel, which surrendered on the 7th June. The victorious Barukzyes then fell out among themselves, a battle was fought between the factions, and Akbar Khan’s troops remained masters of the field. Futteh Jung was replaced on the throne, stripped of all the wealth Shah Soojah had accumulated, and reduced to the condition of a puppet, while Akbar Khan became the head of the government.
Of the British officers who were taken over as hostages the greater number were entrusted to Zemaun Khan, the only Afghan chief who never wavered in his attachment to the English throughout these scenes of treachery, and whom they were accustomed to describe as the good Nabob. He treated them with uniform kindness, and not only refused every demand to surrender them to the ferocity of the other chiefs, but raised a body of 8,000 troops at his own expense for their protection; but on the death of Shah Soojah he was constrained by the clamour of the people to make them over to the high priest of Cabul, under whose guardianship they remained till the beginning of July, when Akbar Khan attained supreme power in the city. Having formed the resolution of obtaining possession of the
hostages, he at length prevailed upon the priest to sell them for 4,000 rupees, after which they were lodged in the Bala Hissar. The captives, consisting of nine ladies, twenty gentlemen, and fourteen children, who had been made over to him during the retreat, were conducted through the recent scenes of slaughter, amidst the mangled corpses, which emitted the sickening smell of death, to a fort at Tezeen. Soon afterwards they were conveyed over mountain paths, all but impassable, to Budeabad, forty miles distant from Jellalabad, where they were lodged for three months in the apartments built for the family of Mohamed Shah, the father-in-law of Akbar Khan. No disposition was manifested to embitter their captivity by harshness; they were daily supplied with a sufficient quantity of coarse food, and a sum of 1,000 rupees was distributed among them to purchase sugar and other luxuries. The monotony of their prison life was relieved by correspondence in cipher with their friends at Jellalabad, and by the receipt of books and newspapers. During the absence of Akbar Khan, however, Mohamed Shah did not scruple to plunder them of the few articles of property they still possessed. On the approach of General Pollock’s division to Jellalabad, Akbar Khan deemed it advisable to remove them for greater security to a more distant asylum. After a difficult march over barren bills and stony valleys, they were again lodged in the fort of Tezeen, where General Elphinstone sunk under the accumulation of bodily suffering and mental distress; a noble and brave soldier, endeared to all around him by his urbanity, and beloved by the men for his gallantry, but without any qualification for the anxious post which Lord Auckland had thrust upon him. His remains were conveyed to Jellalabad by his faithful servant Moore, with the permission of Akbar, and interred by the garrison with military honours. On the 22nd May the captives were again removed, and conveyed to a fort three miles from Cabul, where they enjoyed more liberty and comfort than they had yet experienced. They had the free use of an orchard and its fruit; they were
allowed the luxury of a bath in the river, and permitted to interchange visits with their friends in the Bala Hisser. They received letters from Jellalabad, from India, and from England, and there was abundant exercise for the body, and healthy occupation for the mind during the three months of their captivity in this fortress.
For more than three months the camp at Jellalabad had been kept in a state of feverish suspense regarding the intentions of Government. There was a general dread lest the armies should be ordered to retire from the country leaving their cannon, standards, sick and wounded, and their brave countrymen and helpless females and children, in the hands of a barbarous and exulting foe, and the order to advance to Cabul was received with a shout of exultation. Meanwhile Akbar Khan deputed one of the British officers whom he held in captivity, to negotiate with General Pollock for the release of the prisoners, which he agreed to grant on condition that the British force should evacuate the country without marching on the capital; and he threatened if this were refused, to send them into Turkistan and distribute them among the Oosbeg chiefs. The request, as might have been expected, was peremptorily refused, and though the negotiation was subsequently renewed, it never came to any result. Lord Ellenborough had made energetic and unceasing efforts to furnish General Pollock with cattle, to enable him to retire to Peshawar, and his march to Cabul was facilitated in no small degree by these abundant supplies, but he could not venture to advance before he had the assurance that the communication of the 4th July had reached General Nott in time to prevent his marching southwards, in accordance with previous orders. It was not before the middle of August that General Pollock was informed that the General had turned his face towards Cabul; and on the 20th of that month an army of 8,000 men, animated with feelings of the highest enthusiasm marched out of Jellalabad to avenge the national honour. At Jugdulluk, where the
Ghilzyes had eight months before slaughtered our troops without mercy, they appeared again under the ablest of their leaders, and with the flower of their tribes; but they had no longer a dispirited and fugitive soldiery to deal with. The “illustrious garrison” of Jellalabad took the lead in the assault, and drove them from heights which appeared inaccessible, uttering loud cheers as standard after standard fell into their hands. The victory was in every respect complete, and it proved that the triumph of the Afghans in January was the result not of their own superior valour, but of the utter incompetence of the British officers. The rout of the Ghilzyes, and the bold and confident movements of General Pollock, spread consternation through all ranks at Cabul. Akbar Khan put his threat in execution, and sent all the prisoners and hostages to Turkistan, and then advanced with the chiefs of Cabul and their forces, to make one last effort to protect it from an avenging foe. The British soldiers as they moved forward were roused to a state of frantic excitement by the sight of the mangled remains of their comrades, with which the route was strewed, and there could be little doubt of the result of any conflict with the enemy.
The two forces met in the valley of Tezeen, which at the beginning of the year had been the scene of a great massacre. It is surrounded on all sides by lofty hills, and every available height bristled with matchlock men who had poured down from Cabul. The Afghan horse, intent on plunder, were the first to advance to the conflict, but they were routed with great slaughter by the European dragoons and the native cavalry. The artillery then engaged in the assault, and did great execution both in the valley and on the heights, while the infantry clambered up the hills, in the face of a murderous fire from the jezails of the Afghans. The sepoy emulated his European comrade; and with a steady pace and dauntless spirit they united in driving the enemy from crag to crag, and dispersed them like chaff before the wind. Akbar Khan fled from the field into the highlands
north of Cabul, leaving his followers to shift for themselves, and the British army, after a triumphant march through the scenes of their humiliation, encamped on the Cabul race-course on the 15th September, and the British ensign again floated over the Bala Hissar.
Akbar Khan, the leader of the insurrection in Western Afghanistan, who fled to Herat after his defeat, had now returned and assumed the command of the disaffected chiefs, and determined to take advantage of the absence of Colonel Wymer at Khelat-i-Ghilzye. On the 29th May, the whole body of the enemy appeared in the neighbourhood of Candahar; the hills were crowned with masses of horsemen, and the rocky heights covered with their infantry, thick as locusts. Conspicuous in the centre of the front ranks appeared a female figure surrounded by the chieftains, and animating the fanatic ghazees to the conflict. It was the gallant widow of Akram Khan – the rebel, or the patriot – whom the Cabul authorities had ordered to be blown from a gun at the close of the previous year, and who had now abandoned the seclusion of the zenana to avenge his death, and placed herself in the front of the battle mounted on his charger, and unfolded his standard. Under cover of the guns, General Nott’s infantry stormed the heights, and drove the Afghans successively from every position, and the cavalry was then let loose to complete the victory. The next eight weeks were passed in collecting cattle and provisions for the retrograde march to the Indus through the Bolan pass, which Lord Ellen-borough had ordered on the 18th April, but the arrangements were scarcely completed when his auspicious despatch of the 4th July reached Candahar, and General Nott accepted with alacrity the responsibility of retiring to India by way of Cabul, as the Governor-General facetiously termed the march. A portion of the force was sent back with the heavy guns, through the Bolan pass under Brigadier England, and on the 7th August, General Nott evacuated Candahar, leaving the province in the hands of Sufder Jung, the son of Shah Soojah, who had
intermediately abandoned the insurgents, and made his peace with the British authorities. Owing to the admirable discipline maintained by General Nott and Major Rawlinson, there had been no licentiousness on the part of the soldiers to irritate the inhabitants, who were seen to crowd around them and embrace them as they bade farewell to the town. The army reached Ghuzni without encountering any opposition worthy of record, and found the citadel in good repair, but the town in a state of dilapidation. The fortifications were blown up; the wood work was set on fire; and throughout the night the sky was illuminated by the flames of this ancient and renowned fortress, to which a new celebrity had been given by the latest conquerors of India. The request made by Runjeet Sing to Shah Soojah in 1833, to make over the gates of Somnath, which he indignantly rejected, had taken the fancy of Lord Ellenborough, and he determined to attach to his administration the honour of restoring them to India. In his letter of the 4th of July, he instructed General Nott, if he should elect to retire by way of Ghuzni and Cabul, “to bring away from the tomb of Mahmood, his club which hangs over it, and the gates of his tomb which are the gates of the temple of Somnath, which will be the just trophies of your successful march.” Major Rawlinson, the highest authority on questions of oriental archaeology, after a careful examination of the inscription, came to the conclusion that they were only a facsimile of the original gates; but the priesthood maintained a different opinion, and bemoaned the loss of them, and of the rich harvest they derived from the numerous pilgrims who resorted to the shrine. The Hindoo sepoys, on the other hand, exhibited no feeling of exultation, and were unable to comprehend the object of this singular proceeding. Great care was taken to avoid any desecration of the tomb during the removal of the trophies. They were carefully packed up, and accompanied the army to Cabul, which General Nott reached the day after the arrival of the Bengal division.
The first object of General Pollock on reaching Cabul was the recovery of the prisoners whom Akbar Khan had suddenly removed from Cabul on the 25th August, and sent forward day and night, without intermission or rest, several thousand feet above the level of the sea, over the barren wastes and steep ascents of the Hindoo Koosh, to Bameean, where they arrived on the 3rd September. Sir Richmond Shakespeare, the General’s military secretary, was immediately despatched in command of 600 horsemen, to make every effort to overtake them. The day after, Sir Robert Sale was likewise sent forward with a brigade to assist in this noble enterprise. The commander of the Afghan escort with the prisoners was Saleh Mohamed, a soldier of fortune, who had been a native commandant in Captain Hopkins’s local regiment which had deserted to the Dost in the previous year. On the line of march to Bameean, this gossiping Afghan established a friendly intercourse with Captain Johnson, one of the prisoners, who possessed a perfect knowledge of the native language and character, and who endeavoured to work on his cupidity for the release of the captives, but at first with little apparent success. On the 11th September, Saleh Mohamed called Captain Johnson, Captain Lawrence, and Major Pottinger aside, and produced a letter from Akbar Khan directing him to convey the prisoners into the higher regions of the Hindoo Koosh, and transfer them to the Oosbeg chief of Khooloom. Their dismay may be readily conceived at the prospect thus presented to them, of passing the remainder of their lives in dismal and hopeless captivity among these barbarians; but it was speedily relieved when he proceeded further to state, that he had likewise received a message from the moonshee, Mohun Lall, at Cabul, promising him on the part of General Pollock, a gratuity of 20,000 rupees and an annuity of 12,000 rupees, if he would restore the captives to liberty. “I know nothing,” he said, “of General Pollock, but if you three gentlemen will swear by your Saviour to make good to me the offer I have received, I will deliver you over
to your own people.” The proposal was accepted with rapture, and the officers and the ladies hastened to bind themselves by a deed to provide the requisite funds, according to their respective means. The hero of Herat was now in his element. By common consent he assumed the direction of their movements, deposed the governor of Bameean, and appointed a more friendly chief in his stead, hoisted another flag, and laid under contribution a tribe of Lohanee merchants who happened to be passing through the country. He issued proclamations calling upon all the neighbouring chiefs to come in and make their obeisance; and all the decent apparel left with the prisoners was bestowed in dresses of honour on those who obeyed the summons, to whom he likewise granted remissions of revenue. The services of the Afghan escort, consisting of about 250 men, were secured by a promise of four months’ pay on reaching Cabul. After this daring assumption of authority, Major Pottinger deemed it necessary to prepare for a siege, and lost no time in repairing the fortifications, digging wells, and laying in a supply of provisions. On the 15th September, a horseman galloped in from Cabul with the electrifying news that Akbar Khan had been completely defeated by General Pollock at Tezeen, that the Afghan force was annihilated, and the British army in full march on the capital. Major Pottinger and his fellow prisoners determined to return without any delay to Cabul. They quitted the fort on the morning of the 16th, and slept that night on the bare rocks, unconscious of fatigue or suffering. At midnight they were aroused by a mounted messenger with a note from Sir Richmond announcing his approach, and the next afternoon he and his little squadron were in the midst of the band of prisoners, and the sufferings of eight months were at an end. On the 20th, the column sent under the command of Sir Robert Sale joined the cavalcade, and the General was locked in the embraces of his wife and daughter; two days after, the cantonments at Cabul rang with acclamations as the captives entered them. Never since the establishment of British rule in
India had so intense a feeling of suspense and anxiety pervaded the length and breadth of the land as the fate of the prisoners created, and the thrill of delight which vibrated through the community on the report of their safety may be more easily conceived than described.
In the meanwhile, Ameenoolla Khan, one of the most ferocious opponents of British authority in Afghanistan, was collecting the scattered remnants of the Afghan army in the Kohistan, or highlands of Cabul, to renew the struggle, and it was deemed important to break up this hostile gathering. Istaliff, the chief town, was situated on the margin of a valley, which for its genial climate, its lovely aspect, and its luxuriant orchards, was considered the garden of eastern Afghanistan. This fortified town was regarded as the virgin fortress of the province, and deemed so secure against any attack that the Afghans had lodged their treasure and their families in it, with perfect confidence. A force was despatched against it under General McCaskill, but he left all the arrangements of the day to Captain Havelock, through whose admirable strategy, the town was carried by assault with trifling loss. Ameenoolla was among the first to fly, and the whole population, men, women, and children, were soon after seen to stream over the hills, in their white garments, in eager flight. Chareekar, where the Goorkha regiment had been slaughtered, as well as several other towns which had taken a prominent part in the insurrection, were also destroyed.
The object of the expedition had now been fully accomplished. Afghanistan had been re-conquered, our prisoners recovered, and our military reputation re-established in the eyes of India, and throughout Central Asia. Among the ablest of our political officers, there were some who considered that a precipitate retirement might neutralize the effect of our success, and they recommended the continued occupation of the country, at least for twelve months. But although Afghanistan was more completely at our feet than it had been at any period
since we entered it, the increasing complication of Punjab politics, and the growing power and insubordination of the Khalsa soldiery rendered it impolitic to maintain a large army of occupation at an inordinate cost, in a false and perilous position beyond the Indus, and Lord Ellenborough wisely determined to withdraw the whole force before the winter. It was deemed advisable however, to leave some lasting mark of retribution on the capital, and the great bazaar, where the mutilated remains of Sir William Macnaghten had been exposed to the insults of the mob, was selected for destruction. It was the noblest building of its kind in Central Asia, and too substantial to yield to anything but gunpowder; two days were therefore employed in blowing it up. A report was simultaneously spread that Cabul was to be given up to plunder, and though the most strenuous efforts were made to guard the gates, the soldiers rushed in from both camps with an irresistible impetus. Houses and shops were pillaged, the city was set on fire in several places, and subjected for three days to the wild and licentious passions of men maddened by a remembrance of the foul and treacherous murder of their comrades, and by the tokens of our disgrace which met the eye in every direction. The quarter of the friendly tribe of the Kuzzilbashes was with difficulty saved from destruction, but the vengeance wreaked on the rest of the city has no parallel in our Indian history.
The English colours were hauled down from the ramparts of the Bala Hissar on the 12th October, and the two armies turned their backs on Cabul. The old blind king, Zemaun Shah, the brother of Shah Soojah, whose expedition across the Indus and whose negotiations with Tippoo and other native princes, had spread consternation throughout India in the days of Lord Wellesley, returned with the army to close a life of vicissitude under the shade of the Company’s protection. The family of Shah Soojah, and the remnant of that royal family took advantage of the opportunity to return to their former retreat on the banks of the
Sutlege. The force halted at Jellalabad to enable General Pollock to demolish the fortifications, and then pushed on through the Khyber, which he traversed without molestation by adopting the plan he had pursued when he entered it six months before, of crowning and clearing the heights. General Maclaren and General Nott, who commanded the centre and rear divisions, did not deem it necessary to take the same precaution, and they consequently suffered the disgrace of leaving a considerable portion of their baggage in the hands of the hereditary freebooters of the pass. At Peshawar the officers were entertained with splendid hospitality by General Avitabile. The march of the army through the Punjab, owing partly to the friendly disposition of the ruler Shere Sing, and partly to the assemblage of a large force at Ferozepore, was not interrupted by any adverse feeling.
Lord Ellenborough received intelligence of the re-occupation of Cabul whilst residing at Simla, in the house in which Lord Auckland had, four years before, penned the manifesto which ushered in the Afghan war. It fell to the lot of Lord Ellenborough to issue a proclamation announcing its termination, and he could not resist the temptation of giving it dramatic effect, by affixing the same date, the 1st October, to it, though it was not issued till ten days after. The proclamation stated that the British arms would now be withdrawn from Afghanistan, but as he had not at the date of it received any intelligence of the prisoners, except that they had been sent into captivity in the wild regions of the Hindoo Koosh, the public loudly denounced this manifest indifference to their fate. No such document had ever before issued from the Governor-General’s bureau. The policy of the state in times past had been subject to repeated changes, but these changes had been carried into effect without any ostentatious parade of superior wisdom, or any reflection on previous transactions, and the Government of India at successive periods had always presented to its princes and people the dignified and imposing appearance of unanimity. But on this
occasion, the policy of a preceding administration was for the first time officially held up to public contempt. “Disasters unparalleled in their extent, except by the errors in which they originated have in one short campaign been avenged upon every scene of past misfortune. The enormous expenditure required for the support of a large force in a false position will no longer arrest every measure for the improvement and comfort of the people. The combined army of England and India, superior in equipment, in discipline, in valour, and in the officers by whom it is commanded to any force that can be opposed to it in Asia, will stand in unassailable strength upon its own soil, and, for ever, under the blessing of Providence, preserve the glorious empire it has won in security and honour.” Lord Ellenborough had been in such a state of excitement since he assumed the charge of the Government that these inflated expressions excited little surprise, and the community only regretted that with all his fine talent he had so little ballast. The proclamation of the Gates appeared next, but it was at once seen to be a servile imitation of Bonaparte’s Egyptian proclamation. The Somnath gates were to be restored to India with a grand flourish of trumpets. “My brethren and friends,” said the Governor-General in his address to the natives, “our victorious army bears the gates of the temple of Somnath in triumph from Afghanistan, and the despoiled tomb of Mahmood looks on the ruins of Ghuzni. The insult of eight hundred years is avenged. To you princes and chiefs of Sirhind, of Rajwarra, of Malwa, and Guzerat, I shall commit this glorious trophy of successful warfare. You will yourselves with all honour transmit the gates of sandal wood to the restored temple of Somnath.” This gasconade was designated by the Duke of Wellington, “a song of triumph;” but the community in India, native as well as European, regarded it as the triumph of folly over common sense. The gates, even if genuine, had been desecrated by their association with a Mohamedan mosque. The princes and chiefs to whom the address was sent, were partly Hindoos and partly
Mohamedans. To the latter it was an unequivocal insult; to the Hindoos, not one in twenty of whom had ever heard of the legend, the whole transaction appeared an absurdity. There was, moreover, no temple of Somnath to receive them, and it was preposterous to suppose that the Government of India intended to erect and endow one. In the General Order which Lord Ellenborough issued on the occasion, he directed that these trophies of our arms should be transmitted from Ferozepore to Somnath, on the western coast, a distance of 600 miles, with every demonstration of pomp, under the charge of an officer on a salary of 1,000 rupees a month, with an escort of three European officers and a hundred sepoys. They were to receive double batta during the service, and, to give additional importance to the procession, a detachment of his own body guard was to accompany it, under charge of one of his aides-de-camp. The gates were placed on a carriage covered with costly trappings, and brought in the Governor-General’s train from Ferozepore to Agra. At the shrines of Muttra and Brindabun, which he visited on his route, they were unveiled for three days for the benefit of the brahmins and devotees. As the encampment proceeded on its way to Agra hundreds of Hindoos daily prostrated themselves before the car, and made poojah and offerings to it as to a deity. But the gates were not destined to reach Somnath; they never travelled beyond Agra, where they were soon after consigned to a lumber room in the fort.
At Ferozepore to which the divisions of General Nott and General Pollock were now tending, Lord Ellenborough had assembled a large army, partly to overawe the Sikhs, and partly to give a grand ovation to the returning heroes “at the foot of the bridge of the Sutlege.” Two hundred and fifty elephants had been collected for the occasion, and Lord Ellenborough superintended in person the painting of their trunks, and the completion of their gaudy caparisons. They were to be drawn up in two lines and to salute the victorious battalions on their bended knees, but as
the elephant crouches on his hind legs, half the effect of the display was lost. The officers were feasted in magnificent tents, decorated with flags bearing the names of their victories, and the sepoys were regaled, as the Governor-General’s notification ran, “with their favourite metoys” or sweetmeats. Including the regiments from Afghanistan more than 40,000 British troops were assembled on this occasion at Ferozepore, and presented an imposing array of power after our disasters beyond the Indus. An interview between the Governor-General and Shere Sing, the ruler of the Punjab, was prevented by some accidental misunderstanding, but the heir apparent came down with a strong escort of Sikh troops to compliment him. He reviewed the British army and noticed with peculiar interest the veterans of General Nott’s and General Sale’s brigades. The camp was then broken up, to the great relief of Shere Sing, who was haunted with the dread of a conflict with the British force, and on its departure considered himself happy in having escaped a great peril. A court-martial was convened, according to professional usage, to investigate the conduct of the officers who had “abandoned their posts and gone over to the enemy,” and they were honourably acquitted of all blame. Major Pottinger’s proceedings were submitted to a court of enquiry, of which Mr. George Clerk was President, the result of which added fresh lustre to the character of the young soldier who had driven the Persian army from Herat, and resisted the capitulation at Cabul, even in the last extremity. The Afghan prisoners in our hands were likewise released. Lord Ellenborough intended at first that they should present themselves at the durbar at Ferozepore while he was celebrating the triumph of the British arms in Afghanistan, but the universal voice of society was raised against so ungracious and so un-English a treatment of men whom we had torn from their country, and on whom we had inflicted a grievous injury. The more generous feelings of Lord Ellen-borough’s nature overcame his love of display, and Dost
Mohamed was dismissed at a private interview. On taking leave of him the Governor-General enquired his opinion of the English after all he had seen of them in India. “I have been struck,” he replied, “with the magnitude of your power, and your resources, with your ships, your arsenals, and your armies, but what I cannot understand, is, why the rulers of so vast and flourishing an empire should have gone across the Indus to deprive me of my poor and barren country.”
The surprise expressed by the Dost was equally shared by the English community both in India and in England, with the exception of the cabinet of secretaries at Simla and the Whig cabinet in Downing Street. After twenty-five years of calm reflection, the expedition still appears an unparalleled instance of human rashness and folly. The object of the war was to counteract the hostile designs of Persia, by securing a friendly power in Afghanistan. Mr. McNeill advised the Government of India to subsidize and strengthen Dost Mohamed, who was eager for our alliance; but Lord Auckland and Mr. Macnaghten rejected this counsel and resolved to place a puppet on the throne, whom it became necessary to support by British bayonets and British gold. They accordingly took possession of a country of mountains and snow, filled with a turbulent and fanatic population, and we planted our armies in positions separated from all support by the Kojuk and the Bolan passes on one side, and by the Khoord Cabul and the Khyber on the other. Our most easterly post in Afghanistan was distant from the nearest post in India by thirty-five marches, and the intervening space was occupied by the cities, forts, and armies of a powerful and doubtful ally, whose troops were organizing annual revolutions, and whose Government was fast verging into a state of servile subjection to them. The crisis of 1838 came round again in 1856. The King of Persia invaded Herat and mastered the city, and it was deemed important to the interests of the Indian empire to check his career. Time had assuaged the feelings of the Dost, and he had entered into a treaty with us
engaging “to be the friend of the friends and the enemy of the enemies of the Company.” He was liberally supplied with arms and money to oppose the Persians; a military demonstration was likewise made by a British army in the maritime provinces of Persia, and under the influence of these combined movements, the king was constrained to withdraw from Herat and sue for peace. If the same politic course had been adopted by Lord Auckland, we should have been saved the greatest disgrace our arms had ever encountered in Asia, and the loss of fifteen thousand lives, and fifteen crores of rupees.
One of the most mournful episodes of the Afghan war was the tragic end of Colonel Stoddart and Captain Conolly. The Colonel had been sent as envoy to Bokhara at the close of 1839 to promote the liberation of the Russian slaves, and to enter into a friendly treaty with the Ameer. The prince was of a haughty and revengeful temper, and while he claimed the title of Commander of the Faithful, was regarded throughout Central Asia as the incarnation of perfidy and ferocity. He had addressed a letter to the Queen of England, and being irritated by the contempt with which it was treated at the Foreign Office, determined to wreak his vengeance on the only Englishman in his power, notwithstanding the fact of his being a diplomatic agent. A complimentary reply under the royal sign manual to the most powerful chief in Central Asia, with whom we were seeking to establish an alliance, would not have lowered the dignity of the Crown inasmuch as George the third, and the Prince of Wales had corresponded directly with the Nabob of the Carnatic. Colonel Stoddart was consigned to a loathsome prison and repeatedly scourged, and required to turn Mussulman, which he steadily refused. He was soon after cast into a dark pit, the place of torment for the vilest criminals, filled with decomposed animal matter and the bones of the dead, and subsequently exposed at one of the gates of the city to the jeers and the brutality of the faithful, but he
continued resolutely to adhere to his faith. The next day he was again severely beaten, and his grave was dug before his eyes. “The grating of the spades,” as he subsequently recorded, “jarred on my shattered nerves beyond endurance,” and it was in this state of mental and physical prostration that he pronounced the formula of the Mohamedan creed. He was, however, destined to two months of additional suffering, but he endured it with a degree of constancy which excited the admiration even of his persecutors. The continued success of the British arms in Afghanistan induced the Ameer to treat him with some degree of consideration, but the expedition sent across the Hindoo Koosh by Sir William Macnaghten, combined with the deputation of political missions to Khiva and Kokan, raised a suspicion in his mind that the English Government had a design on the independence of Turkistan. He, therefore, adopted the precaution of despatching a mission to St. Petersburg to solicit the aid of Russia. It appears that a fair opportunity was at this time presented to Colonel Stoddart of escaping from the country, through the influence of Russia, but from a high though mistaken sense of honour, he refused to take advantage of it, lest he should appear to owe his liberation to the good offices of a foreign Government. Lord Palmerston solicited the friendly efforts of the Russian Government on his behalf, and Colonel Bouteneff, who was sent by the Emperor on a return embassy to Bokhara in May, 1841, was instructed to persist with greater importunity in demanding his release. Letters from Lord Clanricarde, the British Minister at St. Petersburg were transmitted to him by that occasion, and the Russian Chancellor, in his communication to the Governor-General of Orenberg, expressed a hope that the Colonel would be induced “to waive his feelings of misplaced vanity,” and embrace the present opportunity of obtaining his release. Colonel Bouteneff reached Bokhara in August, 1841, and Colonel Stoddart was permitted to take up his residence with the Russian mission. In October, Captain Conolly, who had been sent on a mission
by Sir William Macnaghten to Kokan, arrived at Bokhara, but he was suspected of having encouraged the ruler of that state in his hostility to the Ameer, and was immediately arrested and his property confiscated. The Ameer had addressed a second letter to the Queen of England, but was referred for a reply to the Government of India. His communications with Russia had always been made directly to the Emperor, who did not disdain to reply to his letters; and he regarded the different treatment he had received from the Foreign Office in England in the light not only of an insult, but of a subterfuge, as the Government of India was universally believed to be hostile to Bokhara. Then came the insurrection at Cabul, and the murder of Sir Alexander Burnes. Colonel Stoddart was immediately removed from the protection of the Russian mission, and subjected, together with Captain Conolly, to a rigid imprisonment. The entire destruction of the British army produced a complete revolution in the feelings of the Ameer regarding the value of any European connection. He no longer considered the Russian alliance an object of any importance, and the mission was treated with great contumely. The envoy was abruptly summoned to his presence as he was setting out on a fresh expedition to Kokan, and dismissed from his court with contemptuous indifference. Colonel Bouteneff, who had for some time been apprehensive of being sent to keep company with the English prisoners, was happy to escape from the hands of this capricious tyrant. On his departure, he demanded the release of Colonel Stoddart and Captain Conolly, in conformity with the promise of the Ameer, but was informed that another letter had been addressed to the Queen of England, and that they would be forwarded direct to England on the receipt of her reply. On the 17th June, however, they were both led out to the market-place of Bokhara and decapitated.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage