Lord Auckland was sworn in as Governor-General on the 20th March, 1836. He entered upon his duties with the most pacific and benevolent intentions. At the farewell entertainment of the Court of Directors at the London tavern he assured them that “he looked with exultation to the new prospects before him as affording him an opportunity of doing good to his fellow creatures, of promoting education and knowledge, and of extending the blessings of good government and happiness to millions in India.” For such labours he was eminently qualified by his clear and enlightened views of domestic policy, as well as by his amiable disposition and his active habits. But before he had been six months in Calcutta he perceived a storm gathering in the north-west, and expressed his apprehensions that we might at no very distant period be involved in political, and possibly in military, operations on our western frontier. The complications which arose brought on a great political crisis with which he was not qualified to deal, either by his previous experience, or his mental calibre. He had little reliance on his own judgment, and acted for the most part, under the influence of those who surrounded him, and so the vessel of the state rapidly drifted among the breakers. His administration is almost exclusively comprised in the fatal expedition to Afghanistan, the inception of which may be dated in July, 1837, while the catastrophe occurred in January, 1842, a few weeks before his return to England. To form a correct idea of this momentous transaction which has exercised a powerful influence on the interests and progress of the British empire in the east, it is necessary to trace the convergence of events in Afghanistan and the Punjab, in
Persia and in Russia to the point at which it was determined to despatch that ill-starred expedition.
Shah Soojah, the exiled monarch of Cabul and the British pensioner at Loodiana, was encouraged by the treachery of Dost Mohamed’s brothers to make a second effort in 1833 to recover the throne of Afghanistan. He endeavoured to raise funds by pawning his jewels, but the bankers demanded extravagant security for a very inconsiderable advance. He then applied for aid to Lord William Bentinck, who replied, “My friend, the British Government religiously abstains from intermeddling with the affairs of its neighbours when it can be avoided; to afford you assistance for the purpose you have contemplated would not consist with that neutrality which on such occasions regulates our conduct.” The only aid he was enabled to obtain was the payment of his pension four months in advance, to the extent of 16,000 rupees. He invoked the assistance of Runjeet Sing, who proposed various conditions which appeared preposterous and impracticable; and among others the restitution of the sandal-wood gates of the ancient temple of Somnath, which were attached to the tomb of Mahmood at Ghuzni. The Shah replied that the removal of them would cover him with eternal disgrace in the eyes of the faithful, and he referred, likewise, to a current prophecy that whenever the Sikhs obtained possession of them, their government would immediately be overthrown. The surrender of them was not pressed. The ruler of the Punjab was at length induced to countenance the undertaking on condition that the Shah would guarantee to him all the possessions he had acquired in the provinces beyond the Indus. He started on the expedition in February 1833, crossed the Indus without opposition, and reached Shikarpore, where, in the following January, he defeated the Ameers of Sinde, and constrained them to make an immediate payment of five lacs of rupees, and to enter into an engagement to pay an annual tribute for that town. He then pursued his route without interruption to Candahar, and
maintained his position before that fortress for a few months, till Dost Mohamed marched down from Cabul, and crushed his army and his hopes. In July, 1834, he fled from Afghanistan to Belochistan, and, in the extremity of his distress, received a generous hospitality from the ruler, Mehrab Khan. He then retraced his steps to his old asylum and his pensionary position at Loodiana in March, 1835. While the Afghans were occupied in repelling the invasion of Shah Soojah at Candahar, Runjeet Sing availed himself of the opportunity to send a large army across the Indus, and definitively incorporated the province of Peshawar with the Sikh dominions, placing it in charge of General Avitabile.
It has been stated in a former chapter that the design on Sinde which Runjeet Sing had long cherished was thwarted by the resolution of Lord William Bentinck to open the navigation of the Indus to commerce, which required the establishment of a preponderating British influence on its banks. At this juncture, a wild and predatory tribe on the right bank of the river made repeated inroads into the Huzara districts which Runjeet Sing had conquered, and his son, Khurruck Sing, and his gallant grandson, Nao Nihal, were sent with a large force to chastise them. But as these attacks were traced to the instigation of the Ameers of Sinde, two of their forts were occupied by the Sikh army, which had been largely reinforced with a view to the conquest of Shikarpore, and the entire subjugation of the province. The Ameers organized their forces for the conflict, and it required all the tact and energy of Colonel Pottinger at Hyderabad, and a strong pressure on the part of Captain Wade at Lahore, to prevent a collision between the two powers which must have resulted in the discomfiture of the Ameers, and the extension of Runjeet Sing’s authority throughout the country down to the sea. Captain Wade was obliged to enforce his representations by a prominent allusion to the risk which Runjeet Sing would incur if he pursued these designs in opposition to the wishes of the British
Government. On the other hand, his own gallant officers importuned him to resist, at all hazards, the restrictions which were thus imperiously placed on the extension of his territories by the British authorities, but he shook his venerable head and asked them where were now the two hundred thousand Mahratta spears which had once bid defiance to the Company. The feeling of awe which he entertained of the strength and resources of the British Government had recently been heightened by a circumstance which enabled him more fully to appreciate them. Lord William had determined to adopt the policy of substituting English for Persian as the language of diplomatic correspondence with the various native courts in India. Runjeet sent the son of one of his chiefs to Loodiana to master the English language, and on his return to the court caused the map of India one day to be spread out before him, and required the lad to point out the position and boundaries of the Lahore dominions. But what, he asked, are all these red circles which I see spread over the map from the Himalaya to Cape Comorin. They mark the British possessions, replied the youth. In a fit of vexation Runjeet kicked the map away, exclaiming, “it will all become red.” On the present occasion, he bowed to the majesty of British power, and relinquished his designs on Sinde; and had the magnanimity to invite the Governor-General and the highest British functionaries to Lahore to the nuptials of his grandson whom he had destined as the conqueror and the ruler of that province.
The loss of Peshawar rankled in the bosom of Dost Mohamed, and he determined to make an extraordinary effort to recover it. For this purpose he assumed the character of a ghazee, or champion of the faith, and proclaimed a religious war against the infidel Sikhs. The Mohamedan world in Central Asia was immediately in commotion, and from the regions of the Hindoo Koosh, from the wilds of Toorkistan, from the orchards of Kohistan, and from the remote recesses of the mountains
thousands poured down on the plain of Peshawar to join the standard of the Prophet, some on horseback, others on foot, promiscuously armed with sword and shield, with bows and arrows, with matchlocks and with spears. The spirit of Runjeet Sing appeared to quail before this host of infuriated fanatics, and, while he advanced to the defence of the province with a large army, he determined also to try the effect of intrigue, and despatched one Harlan, an American adventurer, ostensibly on a mission to Dost Mohamed, but in reality to sow dissensions in his camp. “I divided the brothers,” said the unscrupulous envoy, “against the Dost, excited their jealousy of his growing power, and induced one of them, Sultan Mohamed, to withdraw himself suddenly from the encampment with 10,000 of his soldiers. ... This unexpected desertion threw the Afghan camp into a state of inextricable confusion and dismay, and resulted in the total defection of the Dost Mohamed’s army, which melted away in the stillness of night. At daybreak not a vestige of the Afghan camp was to be seen where six hours before 50,000 men and 10,000 horse were rife with the tumult of wild emotion.” Dost Mohamed returned with deep chagrin to Cabul. On hearing of the arrival of Lord Auckland in the spring of 1836, he addressed a letter of congratulation to him, and in allusion to the unhappy state of his relations with Runjeet Sing, begged him “to communicate whatever might suggest itself to his mind for the settlement of the affairs of the country.” Lord Auckland returned a friendly reply, and announced his intention shortly to depute a gentleman to the Ameer’s court to discuss questions of commerce, but in reference to the Sikh quarrel remarked, “My friend, you are aware that it is not the practice of the British Government to interfere with the affairs of other independent states.” The truthfulness of this declaration was singularly exemplified two years later by the expedition which Lord Auckland sent to Cabul, in conjunction with Runjeet Sing, to dethrone Dost Mohamed. Despairing of any aid from the British Government, the Dost applied at the beginning of 1837 to the
Shah of Persia as the “King of Islam,” or head of Mohamedanism. In the language of oriental compliment he stated that “his country belonged to the kingdom of Persia, yet disturbance and misery were caused throughout it by the detestable tribe of Sikhs; the misery or welfare of these countries cannot be separated from the interests of the Persian Government. If I am unable to resist that diabolical tribe I have no choice but to connect myself with the English, who will thus obtain complete control over the whole of Afghanistan.” Impatient to wipe out the disgrace inflicted on him by the cowardice of his troops at Peshawar, the Dost soon after sent his son, Akbar Khan, with a large army through the Khyber to Jumrood, where a battle was fought on the 30th of April, 1837, in which the Sikhs were completely defeated, and their ablest general, Huree Sing, was killed. Runjeet Sing was at the time engaged at Lahore in celebrating the nuptials of his grandson, and in instituting an order of knighthood, which he styled the order of the Auspicious Star of the Punjab, and of which the first decoration was conferred on Sir Henry Pane, the Commander-in-chief, who had accepted the invitation to be present at these magnificent festivities. They were rudely interrupted by the disaster at Jumrood, but Runjeet Sing made every effort to retrieve his loss. Reinforcements were pushed forward with a degree of promptitude and speed which had never been witnessed before. Colonel Steinbach, one of his European officers, marched with a large body of troops three hundred miles in twelve days, and it is affirmed that field guns were actually dragged from Ramnugur on the Chenab to Peshawar, a distance of two hundred miles, in twelve days. The Afghans gained little by their victory; they were unable to master either Jumrood or Peshawar, and after ravaging the country around returned to Cabal on the approach of the Sikh force. It was at this critical juncture that Lord Auckland’s envoy, Captain Burnes, made his appearance at the capital to discourse about trade and manufactures, but the fermentation in Central Asia soon gave a character of political importance to his mission.
The Russians, like the Romans, have systematically devoted themselves to the extension of their dominion and power, and for more than a century have prosecuted schemes of aggrandizement in Europe and in Asia, without any relaxation, and without a single failure. “In the course of sixty-four years, dating from 1772,” as Mr. McNeill remarked, in the memorable pamphlet he published at this time, “she has advanced her frontier in the west eight hundred and fifty miles towards Vienna, Berlin, Dresden, Munich, and Paris; she has approached four hundred and fifty miles nearer to Constantinople; she has possessed herself of the capital of Poland, and has advanced to within a few miles of the capital of Sweden; and the territories she has acquired during this period are greater in extent and importance than the whole empire she had in Europe before that time.” Peter the Great, the founder of Russian greatness, was the first to contemplate the establishment of a great empire in the east. During his reign the old Russian boundary eastward was defined by the celebrated line, called the Orenburg and Siberia line, stretching from Orenburg on the Ural liver up to the borders of China, a distance of 2,200 miles. South of this range down to the Jaxartes, or Syr, the steppes of the nomad race of Kirghis Cossacks extended 2,000 miles in length and 1,000 in breadth, through a region impassable except to well-appointed caravans, and at particular seasons of the year. It required a hundred years to bring these hordes in some measure into subordination to the imperial authority, and it was not till the year 1830 that the Russians in their progress southward took up their position on the Syr. On that river they have gradually established a chain of forts, extending from the estuary of the liver in the lake Ural, to Fort Vernoe eastward along seven hundred miles. The truth of the assertion made by Sir Robert Peel in 1844, “that when civilization and barbarism come in contact the latter must inevitably give way,” has been fully verified in the progress of Russian power in Asia. The same irresistible impulse which
has carried the English standard, in the course of a century, from the Bay of Bengal, over subverted thrones, through fifteen hundred miles of territory, up to Peshawar, has brought the Russians down from Orenburg to the Jaxartes and the Oxus, both of which must at no distant period become Russian rivers, navigated by Russian steamers, and subservient to Russian interests. Already are the resources of Khiva, Bokhara, and Kokan, the three kingdoms of Toorkistan, within the grasp of Russia, and her influence must inevitably be extended to the Hindoo Koosh, which is evidently destined to be the snow-clad boundary of the two great European empires in Asia.
Before the development of Russian power in the north along the line of the Jaxartes had been completed, an attempt was made by the ambition of her diplomatic agents to take advantage of the ascendency she had acquired at the court of Persia and push her influence in another direction, up to the banks of the Indus. At the beginning of the century the Russians wrested the province of Georgia from the crown of Persia, and although the political relations of the two powers were for many years as pacific as could be expected where the one was domineering, and the other impatient of control, there was a latent feeling of irritation among the Persians which only required a spark to kindle the flames of war. It was reported that the Russians had done violence to the religious feelings of the Georgian Mohamedans. The Persian mollahs, or priests, raised the cry of a religious war, and the Russians in the garrisons and outposts were indiscriminately massacred. Under the threat of forfeiting his seat in paradise, the king was constrained by the fanaticism of the priesthood to send his son Abbas Mirza with 40,000 men into the field to combat the Russians. The fourth article of the treaty of Teheran, concluded in 1819, pledged the British Government in case of a war between Persia and any European power to aid the Shah with a force, or to grant him an annual subsidy during its continuance. It was mainly
in reliance on this engagement that the Persians embarked with eagerness in this war with a superior power. But a strong pressure of male, and more especially of female, diplomacy in London was brought to bear on the British Ministry, and hints were conveyed that any attempt to carry out this article of the treaty would lead to a rupture with Russia. All assistance was therefore refused under the convenient pretext that Persia was the aggressor, though she had been goaded into the war by the constant encroachments of her imperious neighbour. The Persian army, though a portion of it had been disciplined by English officers, was completely routed, and the Shah was obliged to submit to the humiliation of ceding two of his finest provinces to Russia, and indemnifying her for the expenses of the war. The Persian court was driven to extremity by this pecuniary mulct when the English Ministry came to its relief with a large ready money payment on condition that the inconvenient article in the treaty of 1814 should be abrogated.
The Persians sought to indemnify themselves for these losses by the conquest of the province of Khorasan, lying to the east of their dominions, which they were enabled to accomplish in 1832 by the aid of English and Russian officers. The next year Mohamed Shah, the grandson of the reigning prince, proceeded on an expedition to Herat; but he had made little progress in the siege before he was obliged, to his great chagrin, to return to Teheran, in consequence of the death of his father. Futteh Ali, the old king who had welcomed Captain Malcolm in 1802, and had always been favourable to an alliance with England, died in the following year. Mohamed Shah, who now ascended the throne, evinced a strong disposition to fraternize with Russia, more especially as the result of the late war had inspired him with a lively dread of her power. Since the first mission of Captain Malcolm, the British Government had expended a sum of no less than ninety-three lacs of rupees in embassies and subsidies to Persia. British officers had been sent to discipline her armies, and her arsenals had been filled
with the munitions of war by British treasure, with the object of establishing a preponderant sway at the court which might serve as a bulwark of the British empire in India. The Ministry had now the mortification of seeing this expenditure and labour neutralized, and British influence completely overpowered by that of Russia. The expedition to Herat, which was the favourite project of the young and impetuous monarch, became the test of the strength of these rival influences at Teheran.
Kamran, the ruler of Herat, had openly violated the treaties subsisting between him and Persia, and had, likewise, made repeated inroads into the territories of the Shah, and kidnapped his subjects to the number, as the Persians affirmed, of 12,000, and sold them into slavery. In the opinion of the British Minister, Mr. – now Sir John – McNeill, these atrocities fully justified the Persians in resorting to hostilities; but he did not fail to represent to the Ministry that, in the present state of the relations between Russia and Persia, the advance of the latter into Afghanistan, of which Herat was considered the gate, was tantamount to the progress of the former towards the Indus, and ought to be counteracted by the British Government to the fullest extent which the obligations of public faith would permit. He affirmed that the influence and intrigues of Russia would thus be extended, through the conquests of Persia, up to the threshold of India, the public mind in the north-west provinces unsettled, and the tranquillity of the British empire disturbed. Mr. McNeill used every argument to dissuade the Shah from the prosecution of the enterprise, which he affirmed would compromise him with the British Government, and advised him to seek a redress of grievances by an amicable arrangement with Herat. At the same time, he recommended Kamran to avoid the risks of a second invasion by making suitable concessions to the Persian monarch. A conference was accordingly held, but the Persian representative made the most arrogant demands, claiming the whole of
Afghanistan up to Ghuzni as Persian territory, and Herat as a Persian province. The attempt to reconcile differences proved abortive, but Mr. McNeill did not the less endeavour to dissuade the Shah from the expedition, while, on the other hand, the Russian minister, Count Simonich, encouraged him to persevere, and offered him every assistance. The question was then referred to the Ministry in London, and a remonstrance was addressed to the Russian authorities at St. Petersburg, who replied that the Count had exceeded his instructions, and that the Emperor entirely disapproved of the expedition. The Count was not recalled, and his proceedings at Teheran were so completely in unison with the national feeling in Russia, if not likewise with that of the public functionaries, that the Moscow Gazette threatened to dictate the next treaty with England in Calcutta.
The Shah set out for Herat in the month of July, with 50,000 troops and fifty pieces of cannon, dwelling with delight on the facility with which his disciplined infantry and artillery would overturn the Sikhs, and pursue the course of Nadir Shah to Delhi. The expedition was regarded as the triumph of Russian over British influence, and created an extraordinary impression in Central Asia. Throughout India the sensation was greater than had been felt since the invasion of Zemaun Shah at the beginning of the century. The native princes again began to speculate on the downfall of the Company’s supremacy. Threats of invasion were muttered in Nepal and in Burmah. The native journals fanned the excitement to such a degree as to bring in question the wisdom of having bestowed freedom on the press, but happily no attempt was made to bridle it. Inflammatory papers which were traced to Persian agency were diligently scattered through the country. The Mohamedans looked for the advent of a countless host of the faithful, backed, it was believed, by two hundred thousand Russians, to wrest the country from the hands of the Company. The country was agitated with the report of great movements in Central Asia,
the cradle of revolutions for eight centuries, and men in the remote districts of the Deccan began to bury their money and jewels in the earth. The fall of Herat under these circumstances would, in the opinion of Mr. McNeil, have inflicted a blow on the prestige of the Indian Government which would be felt throughout the east.
At this juncture Lord Auckland left Calcutta and proceeded towards the sanitarium of Simla, with Mr. Macnaghten, as the public secretary in attendance on him, and Mr. John Colvin as his private secretary. The north-west provinces were at the time visited with a more severe famine than had been known since they came under British authority, and which was calculated to have swept away half a million of the inhabitants. The Governor-General’s camp consisted, as usual, of more than 20,000 men, and its progress tended to aggravate the general distress. On reaching Cawnpore, Mr. Macnaghten advised Lord Auckland to return to Calcutta, and if the advice had been followed, the Government would probably have been spared the disasters of the Afghan war, but it was determined to push on to Simla. Mr. William Hay Macnaghten had been for several years a cavalry officer in the Madras army before he entered the Bengal civil service. In the college of Fort William he had carried away the highest prizes, and he was one of the most profound oriental scholars in India. After having risen to great distinction in the judicial branch of the service, he entered the political department during the administration of Lord W. Bentinck, who formed a high estimate of the soundness of his judgment and the sobriety of his opinions. Mr. Colvin, the private secretary, was a man of considerable abilities, and lofty bearing, with a spirit of greater resolution than his master, over whom he exerted a paramount influence. On these two officers, but more especially on Mr. Colvin, devolved the duty of giving advice to the Governor-General at this momentous crisis, when he was separated from the constitutional advice of his Council. The under-secretary, Mr. Henry Torrens, whose
influence in the Simla cabinet, was altogether secondary, was an accomplished scholar, a man of great parts and versatile genius, but too volatile to be a safe political guide. The home Government, seeing in every direction the indication of a restless and aggressive spirit, directed on the part of Russia and her political agents, against the security of the British empire in India, had instructed the Governor-General to adopt vigorous measures for its protection. Mr. McNeill, who had already sounded the note of alarm in his pamphlet on the progress of Russia in the east, which produced a profound sensation in England, advised Lord Auckland to meet the crisis by raising up the barrier of a friendly power in Afghanistan, and recommended that Dost Mohamed should be subsidized and strengthened.
It was at this period of fermentation that Captain Burnes made his appearance at the court of Cabul, to work out the policy of opening the Indus to commerce, but he found himself at once in the very vortex of political complications, and his character of mercantile agent was speedily merged into that of diplomatist. Native courts are accustomed to measure the esteem and respect in which they are held, and the importance of a political mission, by the character of the presents which accompany it, and the Afghans had a vivid remembrance of the magnificent gifts brought by Mr. Mountstuart Elphinstone thirty years before. Captain Burnes was escorted to the durbar by Akbar Khan, at the head of a fine body of Afghan cavalry, on the 20th September, and honoured with a splendid reception, but when he came to exhibit the presents with which he was charged, a pistol and a telescope for the Dost, and some pins and needles for the ladies of the zenana, he and his embassy sunk at once into contempt in the eyes of the court. The first glance at the state of affairs convinced him that Afghanistan was ready to throw herself into the arms of Persia, and he considered it fortunate that he should have arrived at the nick of time to counteract the hostile projects of the Persian court. The
brothers of Dost Mohamed at Candahar, partly from hatred of Kamran, the ruler of Herat, with whom they had a blood feud for the murder of their father, and partly from a dread of his aggressions, had made proposals for an alliance, offensive and defensive, with the Shah of Persia. These overtures were heartily encouraged by the Russian minister, who did not fail to perceive that the extension of Persian influence in Afghanistan would essentially promote the views and interests of Russia. The Persian envoy who was sent to complete the negotiations arrived at Candahar as Captain Burnes entered Cabul, where he learnt that the Shah had readily responded to the advances made by Dost Mohamed after he had met with a repulse from Lord Auckland, and that an ambassador with robes and presents had arrived at Candahar.
In his intercourse with Captain Burnes, the Dost dwelt exclusively on the subject which had led him to open communications with the courts of Persia and Russia, the loss of Peshawar and the encroachments of the Sikhs. He was ready, he said, to break off all connection with Persia, and to dismiss the envoy with his presents from Candahar, if he were permitted to entertain any hope of assistance for the recovery of the province from the British Government. But Lord Auckland entertained a morbid dread of giving offence to Runjeet Sing, whom he termed our ancient and faithful ally, and was loth to entertain any proposal regarding Peshawar. Yet that province had always been a source of anxiety to him, and not only a burden on his treasury, but an object of insuperable aversion to his troops. Before Captain Burnes’s mission to Cabul, he had offered to restore it to the Afghans, on condition of their paying tribute; but Dost Mohamed disdained the idea of a Mohamedan becoming tributary to an infidel. This feeling was, however, eventually overcome by his passionate desire to recover the province, and he at length assured Captain Burnes that if Runjeet Sing would restore it, he was ready to hold it as a fief of the Punjab, and to transmit the customary presents. There can be little doubt that if Lord Auckland had
boldly faced the question, and entrusted the solution of this difficulty to Captain Burnes at Cabul, and to Captain Wade at Loodiana, it would have been brought to an early and satisfactory issue. The overtures of Persia and Russia would in that case have been definitely rejected, and Dost Mohamed, secured as an ally, would have become an effectual barrier against any encroachments from the west. But, from first to last, there appears to have been a fatal infatuation in our Afghan policy, and the whole transaction stands forth in the annals of British India, as that in which it is difficult to discover a single step that was not marked by folly. Soon after his arrival at Cabul, Captain Burnes endeavoured to dissuade the Candahar chiefs from the Persian alliance, and threatened them with the severe displeasure of the British Government if they persisted in it. This communication produced a salutary result, and induced them to dismiss the Persian envoy without the usual ceremonies. But on farther reflection, they began to entertain an apprehension that the Shah would take vengeance on them for the rejection of the alliance, and endeavour to annex Candahar to his dominions, which, indeed, he had from the first fully intended to do. Captain Burnes therefore despatched an officer to Candahar in December, to assure them that if the province should be invaded by the king of Persia, he would proceed thither himself, and support them by every means in his power, even to the extent of paying their troops. Lord Auckland severely reprimanded Captain Burnes for having thus exceeded his instructions, and directed him to inform the chiefs of Candahar that he had held out expectations which his Government was not prepared to sanction. Yet the measure which Lord Auckland now reprobated was pronounced by the Ministry in England to be the wisest which could have been adopted. The Candahar rulers, finding that the engagements of the British envoy at Cabal were not to be depended on, immediately entered into a treaty with Persia, which was guaranteed by Count Simonich, who engaged to defend Candahar against an attack from whatever quarter it might come.
After the receipt of Lord Auckland’s unfavourable reply in 1836, Dost Mohamed despatched an envoy to St. Petersburg to solicit the interposition of the Emperor. He alluded to the dissensions between his own tribe and the Suddozyes, and stated that the English were rather disposed to give their support to Shah Soojah. He expressed a hope that his imperial majesty would permit him to be received, like the Persians, under the protection of Russia, and would condescend to arrange matters in Afghanistan, and protect him from Sikh encroachment. Captain Vitkewich, an officer on the staff of the Governor-General of Orenburg, was sent to Cabul with presents of considerable value, and a reply from the Czar, the authenticity of which has been questioned, but never disproved. His credentials, like those of Captain Burnes, were ostensibly of a commercial character, but in both cases were doubtless intended to cover political negotiations. He arrived at Cabul on the 19th December, and the Dost immediately visited Captain Burnes, and assured him that he desired no connection except with the British Government, and was prepared to turn the Russian officer summarily out of Cabal; but Captain Burnes succeeded in dissuading him from this imprudent measure. In communicating to Lord Auckland the fact that a Russian envoy had arrived at Cabul with the most tempting offers to Dost Mohamed, Captain Burnes urged the necessity of immediate and decisive action, in this neck to neck race between Russia and England in Afghanistan. But Lord Auckland persisted in refusing the Dost any hope of his good offices with Runjeet Sing, and intimated that he must waive all claim to Peshawar, and remain content with any arrangement the Sikh ruler might think fit to make with Sultan Mohamed regarding it. The Post .replied that he bore no enmity to his brother, notwithstanding his incessant treachery and his rancorous hostility, but he could never consider himself secure at Cabul, if Sultan Mohamed held Peshawar. In subsequent interviews with Captain Burnes, he went so far as to say that his fears would be allayed if Peshawar were made
over conjointly to him and to his brother. Captain Burnes importuned Lord Auckland to give a favourable ear to these representations, stating, that while he himself had been in constant and friendly communication with the Dost, the Russian envoy had been kept aloof, and the Emperor’s presents had been contemptuously left at Candahar, and that he himself entertained the fullest confidence in the sincerity of his declaration of attachment to the British alliance, so long as there remained any hope of securing it.
This hope was effectually quenched by the letter which Lord Auckland was advised to address personally to the Dost in the month of February, in which the refusal of his request was wantonly embittered by the supercilious tone in which it was conveyed. He was told that Runjeet Sing, whom the Afghans regarded as the incarnation of evil, had from the generosity of his nature acceded to the wish of the Governor-General for the cessation of strife, if the Dost would engage to conduct himself with propriety; that it was British interference which had hitherto protected the Afghans from the continuance of the war which must have ended in their ruin; that the hopes he cherished, which could never be realized, must be abandoned; that he must seek a reconciliation with the Maharaja, who was the firm and ancient ally of the English, and that the establishment of peace would give him a degree of security in the territory actually under his government to which he had long been a stranger. The British Government would labour to secure this object, but only on condition that he abstained from forming any connection with other powers without their sanction. Every sentence in this scornful communication was calculated to kindle a flame of indignation in the Afghan nobles and chiefs, and Captain Burnes’s mission became hopeless from the day it was delivered. In the last resort, Dost Mohamed addressed a friendly letter to the Governor-General imploring him in language bordering on humility “to remedy the grievances of
the Afghans and to give them a little encouragement and power.” Lord Auckland and his Simla cabinet of secretaries were deaf to every representation. They demanded the largest concessions from Dost Mohamed and required him to reject the alluring offers which other powers were pressing on him, while they themselves offered him nothing in return but political sympathies, and their good offices to protect him from the further encroachments of Runjeet Sing in Afghanistan, when it was well known that the mere mention of the Khyber pass, as General Avitabile affirmed, gave his soldiers the cholic, and that Runjeet Sing had no more idea of marching to Cabul than to Pekin. Lord Auckland required him to break with Persia, with Russia, and with Turkistan, but would not engage to protect him from the hostility which he must inevitably have incurred thereby. After the Government had thus treated him with studied indignity, and addressed him as though he had been some petty dependent Indian raja, and extinguished every hope of a British affiance, it was no matte of surprise that he should have welcomed the Russian envoy, who was accordingly conducted through the streets with great parade, and received with distinction at the court. Captain Burnes continued to linger at Cabul for another month, and did not take his departure till the 26th of April. The Russian envoy promised everything which the Dost was most anxious to obtain, and immediately opened an official correspondence with Runjeet Sing, but met with no encouragement to visit Lahore. He then proceeded to Candahar and completed the treaty with the chiefs, which was soon after ratified by the Russian minister at the Persian court, though it contained stipulations hostile to the British Government, with whore Russia was at peace.
The object of the public authorities both in England and in India at this difficult conjuncture was the same as that which had led to the despatch of Mr. Mountstuart Elphinstone’s embassy in 1809, “to interpose a friendly power in Central Asia between us and any invading
power from the west.” Mr. McNeill and Captain Wade, the political agent at Loodiana, though they differed on several points, concurred in recommending that this object should be pursued by strengthening the actual rulers of Cabul and Candahar, and binding them to British interests. Captain Burnes on his return from Cabul enquired why we could not act with Dost Mohamed. “He is” he said “a man of undoubted ability, and has at heart a high opinion of the British nation, and if half you would do for others were done for him, he would abandon Persia and Russia to-morrow;” but Lord Auckland and his advisers appear from the first to have regarded the Dost with feelings of mistrust as well as aversion. They were evidently chagrined that, instead of submitting with grateful humility to whatever terms they might think fit to dictate, he should be sitting at the gate of India, apparently debating whether he would accept their offers, or those of their opponents. They may also have considered it a point of national honour to secure a footing in Afghanistan by their own swords rather than by subsidizing the Dost, and they determined, therefore, to depose him. On the 12th May, 1838, Lord Auckland drew up an elaborate Minute in which he reviewed the whole question, and enumerated three courses as being open to us. The first was to confine our defensive operations to the line of the Indus and abandon Afghanistan to its fate, but this, he remarked, would be absolute defeat, and leave a free opening for Persian and Russian intrigue on our frontier. The second was to secure Afghanistan by granting succour to the Post and to his brothers at Candahar, but this would be giving power, as he thought, to those who would probably employ the means placed at their disposal against our allies the Sikhs. The third alternative and that which Lord Auckland resolved to adopt was, to permit, or to encourage, the advance of Runjeet Sing.’s armies on Cabul, under control and restriction; and, as subsidiary to this movement, to organize an expedition, headed by Shah Soojah, to enable him to establish his authority in eastern Afghanistan,
and to aid him by contributions in money, and by the presence of an accredited agent, together with a sufficient body of officers to discipline and command his troops.
Mr. Macnaghten was despatched to Lahore to obtain the concurrence of Runjeet Sing in this project. His instructions, dated three days after the Minute, were drawn by Mr. Torrens in a very bombastic style; and embraced a far more extended and a more perilous scheme than that which was contemplated in the Governor-General’s Minute – that while the Sikhs advanced cautiously on Cabul, a division of the British army should accompany Shah Soojah across the Indus, and occupy the town of Shikarpore, for a time. Mr. Macnaghten entered the Punjab on the 30th May, and was received with great cordiality by Runjeet Sing, then in the last year of his existence, who tottered through the whole length of the audience chamber to embrace him, and then hastened to inspect the trays of presents with a feeling of childish delight. When they met to discuss the object of the mission; Mr. Macnaghten asserted, with diplomatic assurance, that the failure of Captain Burnes’s mission to Cabul arose from the unwillingness of the Ameer to break off negotiations with other powers. He then launched out into a transcendental panegyric of the resources of the British empire, and affirmed that 200,000 soldiers could at any time be brought into the field to resist an invasion from the east, west, north, and south. There was nothing, he said, of a palpable character to be apprehended from the movements of Persia and Russia, or the hostility of the Sirdars at Cabul, or Candahar, but as they must tend to unsettle the minds of men, it was desirable to concert measures to suppress all disturbing influences. He then alluded to the treaty which Runjeet Sing had entered into with Shah Soojah in 1833, and enquired whether it would be agreeable to his wishes that it should be revived, and that the British Government should become a party to it, assisting Shah Soojah with money and officers. “That,” replied Runjeet,
“would be adding sugar to milk.” But he demanded that Shah Soojah should confirm his right to the territories he held beyond the Indus, and that, if he were required to renounce all claim to Sinde, he should receive one-half the sum which the Shah might succeed in extorting from the Ameers. He also hinted a wish to be put in possession of Jellalabad, but as he well knew that his own troops were not to be trusted in the passes, the request was evidently advanced to cover a demand for more money, and it was eventually arranged that the Shah should pay him an annual subsidy of two lacs of rupees. The treaty to which Runjeet Sing affixed his seal, was in fact a simple revival of the compact concluded five years before between him and Shah Soojah and to which the British Government now became a party, with the addition of four articles, none of which, however, created any obligation to send a British force across the Indus. Mr. Macnaghten then proceeded to Loodiana to obtain the concurrence of Shah Soojah in these arrangements, and, as he had everything to receive, every difficulty was speedily removed. It was clearly understood by both parties in the conference at Loodiana that the assistance to be given by the British Government was to be limited to the appointment of a representative at Cabul, and officers to discipline and command the Shah’s army, and an advance of money to pay it; and he repeatedly expressed his fervent hope that the immediate operations for regaining his kingdom should be conducted by his own troops.
Mr. Macnaghten returned with the tripartite treaty to Simla on the 17th of July, and found that during his absence there had been a further development of the expeditionary project. It was argued – and nothing could be more palpable – that unless the British Government engaged as principals in the expedition it must end in a disgraceful failure. It was therefore resolved to send a large British army across the Indus into the unexplored regions of Central Asia, and to plant it in the centre of Afghanistan. To reach that isolated position all convoys
of provisions and munitions of war were required to traverse the states of doubtful allies, and to thread long and dangerous mountain defiles, beset with wild and plundering tribes. This perilous expedition was undertaken by Lord Auckland without the concurrence of the Supreme Council, then sitting in Calcutta. The Whig Ministry did not, however, shrink from sharing the responsibility of it with their colleague in India. Sir John Hobhouse, the President of the Board of Control, when interrogated on the subject by a Committee of the House of Commons, said, “Alone I did it,” which simply signified that he had authorized it without any reference to the Court of Directors. He affirmed that Lord Auckland was not to bear the blame of this measure; it was the policy of the home Government, and he might mention that his despatch stating his opinion of the course which ought to be taken to meet the exigency which had arisen, and that written by Lord Auckland informing him of the arrangements made for the expedition, crossed each other on the road. Sir John Hobhouse’s communication has never been permitted to see the light and appears still to be considered a state secret, and it is therefore difficult to estimate its bearing on the movements of the expedition. But beyond the ministerial circle in Downing Street, and the secretaries at Simla, this preposterous enterprise was universally condemned as soon as it was announced. Mr. Elphinstone stated that, “if 27,000 men were sent up the Bolan pass to Candahar, and we could feed them, there was no doubt that we might take Cabul, and set up Shah Soojah; but it was hopeless to maintain him in a poor, cold, strong, and remote country, among a turbulent people like the Afghans.” Lord William Bentinck considered the project an act of incredible folly. Lord Wellesley regarded this wild expedition, eight hundred miles from our frontier and our resources, into one of the most difficult countries in the world, a land of rocks and deserts, of sands and ice and snow, as an act of infatuation. The Duke affirmed with prophetic sagacity that the consequence of once crossing the Indus to settle a
government in Afghanistan would be a perennial march into that country.
With the exception of the brief campaign of a week in Coorg, the Company had enjoyed the unexampled blessing of repose for twelve years; but India now resounded with the din of preparation for a war in Central Asia, hundreds of miles beyond the Indus, which was not even yet our geographical boundary. The expedition was not more remarkable for the region into which it was to be launched, than for the people against whom it was to be directed. For five centuries the barren mountains of Afghanistan had poured down a continued stream of needy adventurers on the rich plains of India, who had established powerful principalities and kingdoms in every part of the continent from Rohilcund at the foot of the Himalaya to the banks of the Kistna in the Deccan. They had founded two imperial dynasties at Delhi, and their aristocracy had taken root in India, which was dotted with Afghan colonies in every direction. The tables were now to be turned upon them, and the new masters of India were about to roll back the tide of invasion, and assail them in their own mountain fastnesses. The general feeling of the European community in India, both lay and official, inclined rather to the able and gallant Dost Mohamed, than to the imbecile Shah Soojah, who had twice been ignominiously expelled from the country he was about to enter for the third time with the aid of British troops. There was also a strong English feeling against the deposition of the Dost, who was considered the victim of an unjust policy; but there was, on the other hand, the charm of romance associated with an expedition to the scenes of Mohamedan glory, renowned by the exploits of Mahmood and Jenghis Khan, of Timur and Nadir Shah.
On the 1st October Lord Auckland issued a declaration from Simla, setting forth the grounds of the expedition. It is one of the most remarkable state papers in the records of British India, whether considered
with reference to its glaring misstatements, the sophistry of its arguments, or the audacity of its assertions. It affirmed that the army of Dost Mohamed had made a sudden and unprovoked attack on our ancient ally, Runjeet Sing, whereas it was Runjeet Sing who had made repeated and unprovoked attacks on the Dost. It stated that he had urged the most unreasonable pretensions with regard to his misunderstanding with the Sikhs, whereas the only proposition he had made was one which Runjeet Sing himself would have been readily inclined to accept. It accused the Afghan ruler of having avowed schemes of aggrandizement and ambition injurious to the peace and security of the frontiers of India, and of having openly threatened, in furtherance of those schemes, to call in every foreign aid he could command, and ultimately given his undisguised support to the designs of the King of Persia on Afghanistan; but it withheld the important fact that he had accepted the Persian alliance only after the most strenuous efforts had been made for five months without success to obtain a British alliance, and that he was driven into the arms of Persia, against his own will, solely by the perversity of the Indian Government. It affirmed that the orders for the assemblage of a British force were issued in concurrence with the Supreme Council, whereas the Council, when required to place the manifesto on the public records, remonstrated against the consummation of a policy of such grave importance without their ever having had an opportunity of stating their opinions regarding it. The general object of the expedition was described to be to secure on our western frontier an ally who was interested in resisting aggression, in the place of chiefs ranging themselves in subservience to a hostile power; the immediate object was “to succour the besieged garrison of Herat, who had behaved with a gallantry and fortitude worthy of the justice of their cause.” To that memorable siege we now turn.
The territory of Herat is the only route by which a large and fully equipped army can
advance towards India from the north-west, and the city is therefore considered the gate of Afghanistan. So exuberant is the fertility of the plain in which it is situated that it is usually styled the granary of Central Asia. All the materials for the organization of an army and the formation of depots are to be found in the neighbourhood in great abundance. Its mines furnish lead, iron, and sulphur, the surface of the country is covered with saltpetre, and the woods afford abundance of charcoal. The population is hardy and docile. The king, Shah Kamran, was one of the worst specimens of an oriental voluptuary and despot. His minister, Yar Mohamed, though not devoid of courage and abilities, was justly described by Lieutenant Pottinger as “the greatest scoundrel in Central Asia.” The government was an execrable tyranny, and derived its chief support from the sale of the wretched beings who had been kidnapped and reduced to slavery. The King of Persia sat down before the city on the 23rd November, 1837. The fortifications were crumbling to pieces, and it might have been carried by a vigorous and scientific assault on the first day. The practice of the Persian artillery which had been trained by British officers was superb, but the ignorance of the Persian officers in charge of it completely neutralized its value. A few days before the commencement of the siege, Lieutenant Eldred Pottinger, a young officer of the Bombay Artillery,. who had been sent by his uncle, Colonel Pottinger, the Resident in Cutch, to make researches in Central Asia, entered the city in the garb of a syud – a descendant of the Prophet – and took up his residence at the caravansary in common with its other inmates. In the true spirit of English adventure, he resolved to remain and take a share in the approaching struggle, though not also without the hope of promoting the interests of his country in the defence of the city. His services were offered to the king and his minister and readily accepted, and the natural ascendency of genius speedily gave him the chief direction of operations. The garrison was animated by a spirit of great resolution and
perseverance, and under his guidance succeeded in baffling for five months the repeated assaults of the Persians, though aided by a regiment of Russians, who were styled deserters to save appearances. Mr. McNeil, the British minister at the Persian court, joined the royal encampment on the 6th April, to the great annoyance of the Shah, who considered that his presence would not fail to give encouragement to the Heratees. He was received, however, with due ceremony, and lost no time in making an effort to reconcile the belligerents. He found both parties inclined to accept his mediation. The Shah was disheartened by the protraction and the expense of the siege, and authorized him to offer whatever terms he might consider reasonable, and Kamran was equally prepared to accede to any conditions he might recommend. He proceeded to the city and opened negotiations with every prospect of a favourable issue; but the Russian minister at Teheran followed him in all haste, and, having met with an accident, drove in his carriage from Teheran to Herat and reached the camp during Mr. McNeill’s absence. His arrival completely changed the aspect of affairs. He urged the continuance of the siege, advanced funds for the Persian army, and engaged, if Herat were captured, to remit the whole of the instalments still due by Persia to Russia. Mr. McNeill met with a cold reception on his return from the city, and the Shah not only rejected the amicable arrangement he had made, but announced his resolution to renew the assault, The redress Mr. McNeill continued to demand for a wanton outrage committed on one of his messengers some months before, who had been stripped naked and scourged, was persistently refused, and he himself was treated with great contumely. The influence of England was completely prostrated, and he found it necessary to break off all diplomatic relations with the Shah and retire to the Turkish frontier.
The siege was prosecuted with new vigour. The 24th June was fixed for a general assault, and it afforded a fresh opportunity for the display of Lieutenant
Pottinger’s courage and genius. Count Simonich personally undertook the direction of the attack, and Russian engineers superintended the operations. The city was attacked at five points, but the assailants were repulsed from four of them. At the fifth, however, they succeeded in making a practicable breach, but were thrice repelled by the gallantry of the Heratees. Their courage began at length to droop, and they recoiled from the onslaught of the enemy. Yar Mohamed, with all his bravery, was paralyzed by the energy of the Persians and seated himself in despair at a distance from the scene of action. The fate of Herat trembled in the balance, and the city was on the point of being lost, when it was saved by the indomitable spirit of Lieutenant Pottinger He went up to Yar Mohamed, conjured him, threatened him., reviled him, and at length, seizing him by the arm, dragged him to the breach, where he fell like a madman on his own troops as they drew back from the weapons of the Persians. The effect was magical; they rushed forward with infuriated zeal; the Persians were seized with a panic, when on the point of gaining their object, and fled in dismay to their camp, with the loss of more than 1,700 men, among whom was the Russian General Berowski. Herat was saved and the siege was turned into a blockade, during which the inhabitants suffered the extremity of wretchedness from the scarcity of provisions, and the unabated extortions of Yar Mohamed. The Persian army was likewise suffering from want of food. The Shah had lost many thousand men in the various conflicts, and a still larger number from desertion; his communications with Persia, from which he drew his supplies, were interrupted by the increasing boldness of the marauding tribes on the route, and he only wanted a decent pretext for raising the siege. Meanwhile, two steamers were sent by the Government of India with 500 sepoys to occupy the island of Barrack in the Persian Gulf, a description of which has been given in a former chapter. The force was too insignificant for any influential effort, but its strength was magnified by rumour, and in the camp before
Herat it was confidently announced that a large British fleet had destroyed the ports on the coast, and that a British army was marching on Shiraz. Mr. McNeill availed himself of the consternation created by this expedition, and deputed. Colonel Stoddart to the Persian camp with a peremptory message to the Shah. He was instructed to state that the occupation of Herat, or of any part of Afghanistan, would be considered an act of hostility to England, that a British armament had already arrived in the Persian gulf, and that if the Shah desired to avert the measures which the British Government would adopt to vindicate its honour, he must immediately retire from the city. The king received Colonel Stoddart with cordiality, and at the first interview said, “The fact is, if I do not leave Herat, there will be war.” “There is war,” replied the Colonel, “everything depends on your Majesty’s answer. God preserve your Majesty.” Two days after, he was again in the royal presence, when the king informed him that he had made up his mind to consent to all the demands made by the British Government, and that he gave up the siege simply from his desire to maintain its friendship. He broke up his encampment on the 9th September and returned to Persia, having lost no small portion of his army and a large amount of treasure, besides incurring the disgrace of failure in an enterprise which had been the talk of Central Asia for ten months. The memorable defence of Herat against 40,000 Persian troops, aided by the skill of Russian engineers, stands side by side with the defence of Arcot by Clive, and reflects equal credit on the Anglo-Saxon youth by whose sole energy and genius it was rendered successful, though he had never seen service, and had no knowledge of the art of war except that which he had derived from study.
The grand projects of Persia which had for two years agitated the minds of men from the Caspian sea to the banks of the Ganges were quenched in the trenches of Herat. The dangers which were supposed to menace the British empire in India from the ambition of Persia and the
intrigues of Russian agents, were at once dispelled. The hostility of the rulers of Cabul and Candahar had ceased to have any political importance, and it was naturally expected that under this new aspect of circumstances the expedition would be relinquished. But, a large army had been assembled, and all the preparations for a grand enterprise completed, and it required more decision of character than the Governor-General possessed to resist the importunities, and to disappoint the expectations, of the ardent spirits around him. Accordingly, on the 8th November he announced in Orders that while the relinquishment of the siege of Herat was a just cause of congratulation, he should “still continue to prosecute with vigour the measures which had been announced with a view to the substitution of a friendly for a hostile power in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan, and to the establishment of a permanent barrier against schemes of aggression on our north-west frontier.” This resolution to persevere in the expedition has justly been considered more obnoxious to censure than even the original design. The Governor-General endeavoured to justify it by affirming that it was required of us “alike in observation of the treaties entered into with Runjeet Sing and Shah Soojah, as by paramount considerations of defensive policy.” But there was no allusion whatever in the tripartite treaty to the despatch of a British army across the Indus, and the Shah was particularly anxious to avoid the appearance of being carried to Cabul on the shoulders of infidels, which he considered would be detrimental in the highest degree to his popularity and his interests. He wanted British gold, not British bayonets, and it is an open question whether “the paramount considerations of defensive policy “would not have been more effectually promoted had he advanced through the country with his own army, and with a liberal supply of money, to buy up the mercenary chiefs.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage