The conflict at Chillianwalla had so seriously crippled the British infantry as to constrain the Commander-in-chief to wait for the capture of Mooltan, and the accession of General Whish’s force, and the army was withdrawn to an entrenched camp at a little distance from the position of the enemy at Russool. It was by no means a pleasing reflection that this course, if it had been adopted at an early stage of the war, would have saved the army the loss and the disgrace attending that engagement. To the second siege of Mooltan we now turn. On the defection of Shere Sing on the 15th September, General Whish retired to a fortified position at Sooruj-koond, which possessed the advantage of being safe from all the attempts of the Sikhs, and open to the reception of supplies by water. By the unfortunate turn affairs had taken, all the advantages gained by the spirited exertions of Lieutenant Edwardes were lost, and Moolraj regained possession of the province and its resources, and laid in so abundant a store of provisions as to be under no necessity during the siege of indenting on his original stock for a single bag of rice. He was also enabled to
strengthen the fortifications so effectually as to render the second siege of the town and the citadel, notwithstanding the unexampled appliances commanded by the besiegers, more arduous than any in which a British army had ever been engaged in the plains of India. General Whish was doomed to more than three months of inaction, owing to the dilatoriness of the Bombay authorities, which has never been explained. Their troops did not reach Roree on the Indus before the 18th December, but no time was lost in marching them up to Mooltan, and it was accomplished within a week. The accession of the Bombay column, consisting of 9,000 men, raised General Whish’s force to 17,000, with sixty-four heavy guns. The siege was reopened on the 27th December, and pushed on from day to day with uninterrupted vigour. To obtain a position for breaching the walls of the town, it was necessary to clear the suburbs, which was not, however, effected without the loss of 300 men and seventeen officers. The British batteries were then advanced against the town, and the discharge from cannon, howitzers, and mortars never ceased, day or night, for five days. A bold sally of 2,000 of the finest Sikh soldiers was driven back by Lieutenant Edwardes’s levies, after a long and arduous conflict, in which Sir Henry Lawrence, who had just returned from England, bore a prominent part. On the third day, after a fierce cannonade from the batteries, to which Moolraj returned shot for shot, the fury of the combatants was suddenly arrested by a terrific convulsion. A shell from a mortar struck a mosque in the city which had been turned into a magazine and stored with 400,000 lbs. of gunpowder. It blew up with a tremendous explosion which shook the earth for many miles round, and darkened the air with smoke and fragments. After a pause of a minute or two, however, the firing recommenced with redoubled earnestness, the Bombay and Bengal artillery vying with each other, and the enemy vying with both. The breach was at length pronounced practicable, and the city, which had been defended with extraordinary resolution,
was stormed on the 2nd January. It presented a melancholy picture of desolation; the buildings had crumbled under the storm of shot and shell which had never ceased for a hundred and twenty hours. Of the wretched inhabitants, numbering 80,000 at the beginning of the siege, no small portion had been swept away by our cannon, or cut down by the cavalry as they endeavoured to escape destruction, and the streets were covered with dead and dying Sikhs. Notwithstanding the strictest injunctions of the generals, the capture was tarnished by the excesses of the troops, and by disgraceful plunder. After the fall of the town, no time was lost in pushing on the siege of the citadel, which Moolraj continued to defend with about 3,000 men. The howitzers played on it for several days with such fearful effect, tearing up the earth and brickwork of its massive walls, that on the 5th January Moolraj endeavoured to open a negotiation with General Whish, but was informed that no terms would be granted short of unconditional surrender. He resolved, therefore, to defend his stronghold to the last extremity, and for another fortnight he and his brave soldiers sustained the most awful fire of ordnance, direct and vertical, ever discharged in India within the same narrow compass. At length, when not a roof was left standing in the fort except in one bomb-proof gateway, and the incessant volleys from our batteries became insupportable to the troops, they demanded that he should either put himself at their head and cut his way through the ranks of the besiegers, or give up the fortress.
The garrison surrendered at discretion on the 22nd January, and Moolraj rode out into the English camp, his soldiers and chiefs prostrating themselves before him in passionate devotion as he passed along. Mooltan was placed in charge of Lieutenant Edwardes, and the army moved up to join the Commander-in-chief.
The English and Sikh forces lay encamped within a few miles of each other for twenty-five days, the one at Chillianwalla and the other at
Russool. On the 6th February it was reported in the British camp that the whole of the Sikh army had marched unperceived round the British entrenchments, and was moving down upon Lahore. Lord Gough immediately despatched General Gilbert to ascertain the truth of the rumour, and he found the formidable encampment at Russool, the attempt to storm which, it was evident to him, would have entailed no ordinary sacrifice of human life, deserted by the enemy. This manoeuvre of the Sikh generals has been variously attributed to the increasing deficiency of their supplies, to the exhaustion of their military chest, and to the eagerness of their troops for the excitement of action. It may have been dictated by the hope of fulfilling their boast of “cooking their food at Lahore,” and then crossing the Sutlege, and, in combination with the protected Sikh states, rushing down on the British territories. Lord Gough, finding that the Sikhs had completely circumvented him, marched back to Lassoorie, and sent peremptory orders for the prompt advance of General Whish’s force. Shere Sing, having thus turned Lord Gough’s right, established his head-quarters at Guzerat on the 14th February, and the next day despatched a portion of his troops across the Chenab at Wuzeerabad. It was the opinion of a high military authority, that if he had kept his forces well together, and advanced rapidly across the Chenab, and fallen upon the troops marching up from Mooltan, he might have gained such advantages, in succession, over one or two of General Whish’s brigades, as altogether to change the fate of the campaign; but he lacked the skill and energy for so masterly a strategy. To counteract the movement of Shere Sing, a European and a native regiment, with a corps of irregular cavalry and Colonel Blind’s battery were pushed forward towards Wuzeerabad, but it was found that in consequence of some indication of danger, he had recalled the troops sent across the Chenab. Colonel Brind obtained the command of all the fords, and the advantage Shere Sing had gained by turning the flank of the British army was lost through hesitation and delay. On the appearance
of the British column, he retired to Guzerat, which, in the palmy days of the Khalsa, was considered a place of good omen, and there awaited the attack of the Commander-in-chief. The last brigade of General Whish’s division joined the headquarters on the 20th February, and Lord Gough moved up to the enemy’s encampment with 20,000 men and a hundred pieces of cannon.
Brigadier Cheape, of the Bengal Engineers, who had conducted the siege of Mooltan with that professional talent and personal energy which ensured its success, joined the camp of Lord Gough a week before the battle of Guzerat, and assumed charge of the engineering department. With unwearied industry he applied himself to the task of obtaining the most accurate information of the position of the enemy, and the British army thus enjoyed the inestimable advantage, – the want of which produced the most lamentable effects at Maharajpore, at Moodkee, and at Chillianwalla, – of a thorough knowledge of the ground on which it was to deliver battle. The army of Shere Sing, estimated at 50,000 men with sixty pieces of cannon, was planted in front of the walled town of Guzerat, in the form of a crescent. The deep dry bed of the Dwara, which protected the right of the Sikh force, encircled the northern and western faces of the town, and then, taking a southern direction, bisected the British camp. The left of the Sikh force was supported on a streamlet, narrow and deep, flowing southward into the Chenab. Between the dry water course and the rivulet was a space of about three miles, with two villages, near Guzerat, denominated the greater and the less Habra, which were loopholed and filled with troops. On this ground were ranged the Sikh regiments, the remnant of Runjeet’s disciplined battalions, now reorganized under the rebel leaders. Major Lawrence, who had been brought down a prisoner from Peshawar in the train of Chutter Sing, was treated with much consideration, and enjoyed great freedom of intercourse with the Sikh leaders. In the course of conversation they had
repeatedly expressed their surprise that the British commander should persist in neglecting to use his artillery, which the Sikhs considered formidable, and in thrusting his infantry, of which they made comparatively little account, up to the muzzle of their guns. He was permitted to visit his brother, Sir Henry Lawrence, on parole at Lahore, and communicated the remark to him. It was immediately transmitted to Lord Dalhousie, then encamped on the banks of the Sutlege, who is supposed to have urged it on the attention of the Commander-in-chief. The same valuable advice was earnestly and emphatically pressed on him by the able engineer officers of the force, and, under their guidance, it was laid down as the order of battle, that the artillery, in which no British army in India had ever been so strong, should be brought into full play, until the consistency of the Sikh ranks had been broken, and that no attempt should be made to charge with cold steel before this result had been secured. It was the inexorable persistence in this novel strategy to which the great victory is to be attributed.
The infantry divisions and brigades advanced in parallel lines, with the cavalry on the flank and the guns in front. Eighty-four cannon, of which eighteen were of heavy calibre, were formed in two divisions in the centre, and opposed to the cannonade of sixty Sikh guns. The army, fresh from rest, and invigorated by food, advanced to the combat in the most complete order, at half-past seven. The morning was clear and cloudless, and the sun shone brightly on the extended line of bayonets and sabres. The Sikhs, ever ready with their batteries, opened them at a long range. The British infantry was halted beyond their reach, and the artillery, protected by skirmishers, pushed boldly to the front, and commenced a cannonade, of which the oldest and most experienced soldiers in the army had never witnessed a parallel for magnificence and effect, and the results of which exceeded the most sanguine expectations of those who had advocated the movement. Notwithstanding the rapidity with which the Sikhs fired, it was
manifest that neither human fortitude, nor the best materials could withstand the storm which for two hours and a half beat on their devoted artillery. Many of their guns were dismounted, and before a single musket had been discharged, the fire of their formidable line had slackened. The British infantry then deployed, and commenced a steady advance, supported by their field batteries. Right in the path of Sir Walter Gilbert’s division lay the larger village, the key of the Sikh position, flanked by two batteries, and crowded with Sikh soldiers. The brigade, which under Brigadier Godby had played so conspicuous a part at Chillianwalla, now under General Penny, rushed among the houses with resistless energy. The enemy fought with desperation, seizing the soldiers’ bayonets with the left hand, while they dealt sabre cuts with the right; but they were eventually overpowered. The smaller village was carried chiefly through the gallantry of Colonel Franks, and the ardent courage of his brave 10th. When the villages were won, which was not effected without serious loss to the assailants, the whole Sikh line gave way, and was pursued round the town by the four divisions of infantry. Later in the day a body of the splendid Sikh horse, together with 1,500 Afghan cavalry under Akram Khan, the son of Dost Mohamed, advanced against the flank and rear of General Thackwell, in command of the cavalry, who put in array against them that regiment of Sinde horse which had been disciplined under the eye of Sir Charles Napier, and had long and ably contributed to the defence of the province. It was now under the command of Captain Malcolm, and, with the aid of the 9th Lancers, bore back with a noble ardour, the Afghan and Sikh horse. While the Sikh army was thus pursued by the infantry battalions, the cavalry, which had been restrained at first, was let loose. Onward they rushed, dispersing, riding over, and trampling down in their resistless career, the flying and scattered infantry of the Sikhs, capturing guns and waggons, and converting the discomfited enemy into a shapeless mass of fugitives. It was not till half-
past four, when they had advanced fifteen miles beyond Guzerat, that they drew rein, by which time the army of Shere Sing was a wreck, deprived of its camp, its standards, and fifty-three pieces of cannon.
Among the noblest achievements of our Indian generals, the battle of Guzerat stands out in bold relief, not only in reference to the magnitude of the forces engaged, and the confidence with which previous events had inspired the enemy, but, also, to the importance of its result, the utter extinction of the formidable power and spirit of Runjeet Sing’s great armament, terrific in the death throes of its expiring wrath. Throughout this campaign the Sikhs fought better than in the campaign of the Sutlege. Their cavalry had greatly improved in daring and combination, and an inferior artillery was as rapidly and effectually served. In the former struggle, their leaders were intriguing with the British authorities, and all but traitors to the national cause; in the second war, they were all in earnest in setting their lives and fortunes on the cast of the die. The battle of Guzerat, of which the occult history has not yet appeared in print, was won by the judicious use of the arm in which the British army had a preponderating power, and has justly been described as the “battle of the guns.” The stress of the action fell on the two brigades which assaulted the villages; the other portion of the force had no struggle to maintain, and one brigade neither fired a shot nor lost a man. The cavalry had only one exploit to record, the daring charge of the Sinde horse.
Sir Joseph Thackwell and his cavalry bivouacked for the night on the ground he occupied, proposing to renew the pursuit the next morning, but he was recalled to the camp, and the enemy was thus enabled to escape across the Jhelum with impunity. Lord Dalhousie had declared that the war must be prosecuted to the entire defeat and dispersion of all who were in arms against us. One column under Sir Colin Campbell was, therefore, sent to sweep the districts in the north, while Sir Walter Gilbert, the first rider in India,
whom Sir Henry Lawrence had particularly recommended to Lord Dalhousie to lead the chase, left the camp the day after the battle with infantry, cavalry, horse artillery, and light field guns, in all about 12,000 men. He pursued the relic of the Sikh army, now reduced to about 16,000, along the great high road of the Indus with such rapidity as to give them no breathing time, and to allow his own men little leisure for cooking. Major Lawrence, who had been permitted to proceed to Lahore on parole, before the battle of Guzerat, returned to the Sikh camp after the victory, where he was received with shouts of admiration of his good faith, and was requested by Shere Sing to negotiate the best terms he could obtain from the British commander. He passed repeatedly between the two camps, but the pursuit was continued without intermission. On the 6th March, the Sikh chiefs restored all their prisoners, and two days after entered into terms with General Gilbert. On the 12th, Shere Sing and Chutter Sing delivered up their swords to him at the celebrated monument of Manikylah, once considered a trophy of Alexander the Great. Thirty-five subordinate chiefs laid down their swords at his feet, and the Khalsa soldiers advanced one by one, and, after clasping their arms for the last time, cast them on the growing pile, with a heavy sigh. Forty-one pieces of artillery were also surrendered, which, with those captured at Mooltan and Guzerat, raised the number to one hundred and sixty, the greater portion of which had been buried after the battle of Sobraon, to be disinterred for a future struggle. It remained only to dispose of the Afghans, and the veteran Gilbert, with the speed and buoyancy of youth, followed on their track, crossed the Indus on a bridge of boats which he was just in time to save, and pursued them in their ignominious flight up to the portals of their barrier range; and, as the natives of India sarcastically remarked, “those who rode down the hills like lions, ran back into them like dogs.”
The battle of Guzerat decided the fate of the Punjab, and finally quenched the hopes of the
Khalsa. It was no ordinary distinction for that noble army to have met the conquerors of India at Moodkee, at Ferozeshuhur, at Alliwal, at Sobraon, at Chillianwalla, and at Guzerat, with indomitable courage, and on more than one occasion to have shaken their throne. But, after six such conflicts, they resigned themselves with a feeling of proud humility to the supremacy of the power which had exhibited military qualifications superior to their own. The Punjab was now by the indefeasible right of conquest at the disposal of the British Government. Such a consummation had not been expected in England, and Lord Dalhousie was not in possession of the views of the Court of Directors regarding the disposal of it; but he wisely adopted the vigorous policy of annexing the dominions of Runjeet Sing, on both sides the Indus, to the Company’s territories. In communicating this resolution to the India House, he alluded to the sanction which had been given to the annexation of two districts after the last unprovoked war, and he expressed his confidence that the absorption of the remainder of the country, after the unprovoked aggression which had entailed a second war, would be equally approved of. In a brief and forcible proclamation, issued on the 29th March, 1849, he stated that after the death of Runjeet Sing, the Sirdars and the Khalsa army had, without cause or provocation, suddenly invaded the British territory; that their troops had been again and again defeated; that the Maharaja Duleep Sing had tendered his submission to the Governor-General at the gates of Lahore, and solicited his clemency; that the Governor-General had generously spared the kingdom which he had a just right to confiscate, placed the Maharaja on the throne, and concluded a treaty of friendship between the two states. The British Government had scrupulously observed every stipulation contained in it, while the Sikhs had grossly violated the promises by which they were bound. The army of the Lahore state and the whole Sikh people, joined by many of the Sirdars who had signed the treaty, had risen against us and waged a fierce and
bloody war for the proclaimed purpose of destroying the British and their power. The Government of India had no desire for conquest, but was bound in duty to provide fully for its own security and for the interests of those committed to its charge, and, as the only sure mode of protecting itself from the perpetual recurrence of unprovoked and wasting wars, was compelled to resolve on the entire subjugation of a people whom their own government had long been unable to control, whom no punishment could deter from violence, and no acts of friendship could conciliate to peace. He, therefore, proclaimed that the kingdom of the Punjab was at an end, and that all the territories of the Maharaja Duleep Sing should henceforth be a portion of the British empire in India. To offer any vindication of a measure which even the most prejudiced of Lord Dalhousie’s opponents have not ventured to impugn, would be altogether redundant. The Punjab was the last province within the boundaries of India, which fell to us by the arbitrament of war, and our title to it stands upon the same basis of right as our first acquisitions of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, by the same issue, a century before.
On the 29th March, the young Maharaja took his seat for the last time on the throne of Runjeet Sing, and in the presence of Sir Henry Lawrence, the Resident, and Mr. Elliott, the foreign secretary, and the nobles of his court, heard Lord Dalhousie’s proclamation read in English, Persian, and Hindostanee, and then affixed the initials of his name in English characters to the document which transferred the kingdom of the five rivers to the Company, and secured to him an annuity of five lacs of rupees a-year. The British colours were then hoisted upon the ramparts, and a royal salute announced the fulfilment of Runjeet’s prediction that the Punjab also would “become red.” The Koh-i-noor, which he had destined to the great idol of Orissa, was set apart for the crown of England. The jageers of the leaders of the rebellion were confiscated, and they retired to their native villages on small stipends. Moolraj
was brought to trial before a special court, composed of three European officers, as an accessory to the murder of Mr. Agnew and Lieutenant Anderson, and found guilty, but recommended to mercy in consideration of extenuating circumstances discovered in the course of the inquiry; he was sentenced to imprisonment for life, but died within a short time. Lord Dalhousie was elevated to the dignity of a Marquis, the fourth marquisate bestowed on the Governors-General, who had repudiated the “beautiful theory” of Mr. Dundas, and added provinces to the Company’s dominions. The reproach of Chillianwalla was forgotten in the triumph of Guzerat, and Lord Gough also obtained a step in the peerage. Generals Gilbert and Thackwell were rewarded with the Grand Cross of the Bath, and Generals Campbell, Wheeler, and Cheape with Knight-Commanderships; but Brigadier Tennant, who had commanded and worked the artillery which won the field of Guzerat, was passed over, and received only an inferior reward, which reflected discredit on those alone who had withheld the recommendation of his claims. Lieutenant Edwardes obtained a brevet-majority, and Lieutenants Lake, Taylor, and Herbert were duly rewarded for deeds of no ordinary merit, but the gallant Abbott, who had defended the fortress of Nara against fearful odds, down to the close of the campaign, was invidiously refused the honour due to his distinguished efforts and success.
The battle of Guzerat closed the period of war, which began with the expedition to Afghanistan in 1838, and continued with little intermission for more than ten years. During this decade the three independent armies of Sinde, Gwalior, and Lahore, numbering more than 120,000 brave soldiers, were broken up, and their formidable artillery, consisting of more than 600 pieces of cannon, the object of their adoration as the tutelary guardians of their strength, was transferred to our own arsenals. The importance of these events was not fully perceived till the arrival of the time, a few years later, when the whole of the Bengal
army rose in mutiny and wrested the north-west provinces from our authority. If, at that critical period, these military organizations had existed in full vigour, ready to take advantage of the shock our power had received, we should in all probability, have had the whole continent to re-conquer. By the incorporation of the Punjab, the Company’s dominions were expanded from Cape Comorin to the Khyber, distant from each other more than two thousand miles. Within this range there still remained more than a hundred and fifty native principalities, of greater or less extent, but they occupied only a subordinate position, and not a shot could be fired on the continent of India without the permission of the Governor-General. The establishment of our permanent authority throughout India, which was affirmed at the beginning of the century by Lord Wellesley and the Duke of Wellington – then General Wellesley – to be the only means by which the peace and tranquillity of the country could be secured, was now consummated. The erection of this magnificent empire, reckoning from the battle of Plassy to the battle of Guzerat, was the work of little less than a century. At every successive stage of its progress it was reprobated as an atrocious crime by one party in England, while another party saw in it only the inevitable result of the contact of civilization with comparative barbarism. To the hundred and twenty millions of people whose interests were affected by it, it was an inestimable blessing, and it was dolorous only to the princes whom it deprived of the power of oppressing their subjects. It was invariably honoured with the thanks of Parliament, and it was rewarded by the Crown with seven new peerages, and eight steps in the peerage.
The fortune of war had thus thrown upon the Government of India the task of administering a new kingdom, comprising 50,000 square miles and containing a population of four millions, of which one million consisted of Sikhs. It was a fortunate circumstance for the Punjab that at this juncture the supreme power in India was
lodged in the hands of one who combined great resolution and untiring industry with an extraordinary governing faculty. For the full exercise of that faculty the country of the five rivers afforded an ample field. It was not encumbered with any of the decrepit institutions of the older provinces. There was nothing to demolish, and everything to create. A favourable opportunity was presented of constructing an administration exempt from previous errors, and embodying the experience of half a century. Contrary to his general principle, Lord Dalhousie tried the experiment – which soon failed – of committing the management to a Board consisting of three, who were entrusted with supreme authority in all matters, civil, fiscal, and criminal, even to the power of life and death, as well as with the superintendence of every moral and material improvement. At the head of the Board was Sir Henry Lawrence, one of the great men of the Company’s service, and a fit successor of Ochterlony, Munro, and Metcalfe. His name was one of auspicious omen in the Punjab, where, in popular opinion, the rebellion arose on his departure, and was quelled on his return. His only failing, and in a conqueror it was more than half a virtue, was an excess of sympathy with the feelings and prejudices of the native aristocracy, which it was not always easy to reconcile with the general interests of the community. With him were associated his brother, Mr. John Lawrence, now Governor-General of India, and Mr. Mansel, who speedily gave place to Mr. – now Sir Robert – Montgomery. A more efficient Board it would have been impossible to construct, even in India. The subordinate administration was entrusted to fifty-six covenanted officers, one half of the civil and the other of the military branch, who filled the offices of Commissioners, and Deputy and Assistant Commissioners. They were the flower of the service; men of mature talent, or youths of noble aspirations for an honourable career, and there was no little truth in the remark that the other provinces of India had been robbed of administrative skill to enrich the Punjab. The system of government
was admirably adapted, by its simplicity and vigour, to the wants of a country where, under the Sikh ruler, the only officers of state had been soldiers or tax-gatherers, and the only punishment, fine or mutilation, and where no civil court existed but at the capital. For the voluminous regulations which sat like an incubus on the older provinces, a clear and concise manual suited to the habits of a people who respected justice but dreaded law, was compiled by Mr. Montgomery and comprised in a few sheets of foolscap.
The conquest of the Punjab removed the boundary of the empire from the Sutlege to the mountain ranges beyond the Indus which formed a radius of many hundred miles. They were inhabited by various tribes of highlanders whose vocation, from time immemorial, had been war and plunder, and who had kept the Mogul emperors in a fever of anxiety even after they were masters of all India. The inhabitants were able to bring down 100,000 bold, brave, and lawless men at arms upon the plains, and Lord Dalhousie considered it his primary duty to protect the frontier from their inroads. A series of fortifications was established along the whole line, provisioned and provided with the munitions of war for three months, and connected with each other by a line of roads. An especial force, consisting of five regiments of infantry and four of cavalry, and composed of all classes, was organized for the protection of the marches. For the security of the Government and the safety of the people, Lord Dalhousie resolved to disarm the Punjab; within six months of its annexation an edict was issued to every town and village between the Beeas and the Indus to surrender all arms, and the manufacture, sale, or possession of them in future was prohibited. The weapons thus given up amounted to 120,000 and presented every variety of form and character, many of them being of very costly material and curious workmanship. Permission was however, granted to the inhabitants of Peshawar and to the districts bordering on the robber clans beyond the Indus, as
well as to the people of Hazara, living on the left bank of the river among marauding tribes who had never been subdued by Greek, Mohamedan, or Sikh, to carry arms for their own defence. The effect of this disarmament was speedily visible in the diminution of crimes of violence. The police force was partly civil and partly military. The latter, which furnished guards for treasuries and jails, and orderlies for the civil functionaries, and patrolled the roads, consisted of six regiments of foot, and twenty-seven troops of horse, in number about 7,000. A detective police was likewise introduced. The ancient institution of the village watch was revived and placed on an efficient footing. The watchmen were selected from the community; they were paid by the people, and acted under the salutary influence of the village elders, and the control of the native collectors, as well as of the European magistrates. By these admirable arrangements the Board were enabled within three years to report that no portion of India enjoyed greater peace and security than the Punjab.
The vital question of the land assessment, on which the happiness, and, to a great extent, the loyalty of the people in the East depends, was dealt with in a spirit of great liberality, and the blunders which had marred the system introduced into the older provinces, were carefully avoided. The settlement was not formed till after a minute and detailed investigation, corresponding with that which Mr. Robert Bird had carried out in the north-west provinces. The land tax which Runjeet Sing had fixed at about one-half the produce, was reduced, on an average, by one-fourth, and leases were granted, at first for short periods, but eventually for ten, and in some cases, for thirty years. The security of the tenure, and the moderation of the state demand, gave no small encouragement to cultivation; of the Khalsa soldiery, more than 30,000 exchanged the sword for the plough, and these circumstances, combined with favourable seasons, gave such exuberant harvests as to reduce the price of grain. The agriculturists, who were required to pay their rents in coin
and not in kind, began to exhibit feelings of discontent, and the Chief Commissioner lost no time in proceeding through every district with his financial assistants, minutely examining every cause of complaint on the spot, after which a further reduction of rent was made to the extent of ten per cent. Lord Dalhousie was anxious to avoid the boundless irritation which had arisen in the Gangetic provinces from dallying with the subject of rent-free tenures, and, under his directions, the Board took up the question with promptitude and earnestness. Every case was assiduously examined with a sincere desire to do justice to the interests, both of individuals and of the state, and a satisfactory adjustment was speedily concluded. The duties on the transit of goods and merchandize from district to district and from town to town had been contrived with great ingenuity by the financiers of Runjeet Sing, and the country was covered with a network of custom houses which stifled commercial enterprise. Within nine months of the incorporation of the province they were entirely swept away, and the trade of the Punjab and of Central Asia was allowed to flow free and unfettered in every direction. The loss of revenue which this liberal policy entailed was more than compensated by the scientific imposition of new taxes, four of which were found to yield as much as forty-eight of the clumsy taxes of the Khalsa government, and with less vexation and inconvenience to the people.
The Board of Administration likewise directed their attention with eminent success to the extinction of domestic slavery; the sale of children, which had been openly practised under the old Government, was prohibited, and the market ceased to be supplied by kidnappers. With equal vigour the Board assailed the system of dacoity which was in full vigour, notwithstanding the summary proceedings of Sikh despotism. But the fact was, that while Runjeet Sing seized upon entire provinces, his chiefs, with whose proceedings he rarely interfered while they paid their revenue and maintained their contingents,
were permitted to attack and plunder villages with perfect impunity. Armed bodies of Sikh outlaws, moreover, rendered the roads unsafe for travellers. With that energy for which there is always a larger scope in the non-regulation than in the regulation provinces, the Commissioners took the field against these criminals, inflicted prompt and condign punishment on all those who were captured, and hunted the rest out of the country, with such earnestness that before the Punjab had been five years in our possession, it was more free from the crime of dacoity than Bengal, after it had been eighty years under our management. It was likewise found that the practice of thuggee, from which the efforts of Colonel Sleeman had relieved Hindostan, had found its way into the Punjab, and was still practised. Runjeet Sing executed the man who introduced it, and Shere Sing hung or mutilated every one convicted of it. The increasing disorders of the state, however, and the weakness of the Government gave fresh courage to the thugs, and murders were often perpetrated without any effort to conceal them. The task of eradicating the crime was committed to Mr. Brereton, of the civil service, and he entered upon his duties with all that animation which commonly distinguished the proceedings of the Punjab officials. The cases of assassination which were fully substantiated amounted to 1,300. A roll of the thugs, whose names and residences had been furnished by approvers, was sent to each station; no less than 550 men arrested, the greater number of whom were executed; the gangs were broken up and the practice disappeared.
Another crime with which it was the mission of the British Government in the Punjab to deal was infanticide, and the vigour of Lord Dalhousie and of the Board was rewarded with more decisive success than had attended the efforts of Government for thirty years in Hindostan. It was most prevalent among the proud and wealthy Bedees, the descendants of the first Sikh prophet, Nanuk. Occupying, as they did, the highest rank in society, they disdained to bestow
their daughters in an unequal alliance; to allow them to remain unmarried was an indelible disgrace; the female infant was therefore consigned to death at the dawn of her existence. Other castes, not excepting even the Mohamedans, had been led to adopt this inhuman custom, in consequence, chiefly, of the insupportable expense of weddings. As soon as the existence of the practice was ascertained, Lord Dalhousie determined to bring the whole weight of Government, by menaces and promises, to bear upon its suppression. He felt that coercion would only tend to defeat its own object, and that to ensure success, it was necessary to obtain the concurrence of the nation. The first step towards the eradication of the crime was justly considered to be a reduction of the cost of weddings. It was swelled, as in Rajpootana, by the clamorous demands of the bhats and minstrels, who flocked to them like vultures attracted by the smell of carrion; and it was at once determined to deal with them as vagrants. A large durbar was then convened at Amritsar, at the most popular festival in the Sikh calendar. It was attended by all the aristocracy and hierarchy of the Punjab, by the hill chiefs, by the Mohamedan nobles, by wealthy merchants, and by learned pundits. It was the most august conclave, and for the noblest object, which had ever been held in that holy city, or indeed, in any part of India. The British officers in the Punjab repaired to it almost without exception, and met delegates from every tribe and class. Under a spacious awning erected for the occasion, the Chief Commissioner addressed this large assembly, and entered upon a calm and temperate discussion of the subject. He urged the enormity of the practice, which they readily admitted; he dwelt on the anxiety of the Governor-General to suppress it, and he pointed out the means by which, in the opinion of the British Government, that object could be most effectually secured. All the assembled chiefs, Hindoo, Mohamedan, Rajpoot, and Sikh, entered into a solemn covenant to abide by the propositions of Lord Dalhousie and the Chief Commissioner. Committees were appointed to establish
a scale for the expense of weddings; the sumptuary rules which they drew up were universally accepted and ratified, and one of the principal motives for the murder of infants was removed. Other meetings were held in the chief towns and villages, with the same happy result. The most important aid in this noble cause was rendered by Raja Golab Sing, the ruler of Cashmere, who directed all his nobles and chiefs to meet the Commissioner, and to adopt his proposals regarding the retrenchment of wedding expenses, and he set the example by remitting the tax which native rulers had always levied on them.
The Romans considered the subjugation of no country complete until it was pierced with highways. In like manner, Lord Dalhousie did not consider the conquest of the Punjab fully accomplished till it was intersected with military roads. Of these works, the most important was that which united Peshawar with Lahore, and which extended over 275 miles. It presented the moat formidable difficulties to the engineer. It passed over more than 100 great bridges, and 450 of smaller dimensions; it penetrated six mountain chains, and was carried by means of embankments over the marshes of two great rivers; but every obstacle was overcome by Colonel – now Sir Robert – Napier, to whose skill and energy the Pun jab was indebted for all those great material improvements which gave it the appearance of a Roman province. Other military roads were constructed to connect the most important towns and strategical positions with each other, and to facilitate the transport of troops and munitions of war. Roads were likewise laid down as highways of commerce, both domestic and foreign. These great works were happily placed under the direction and the responsibility of a single energetic officer, and in the course of five years the Board were able to report to the Governor-General that the length of road completed, and under construction, amounted to no less than 2,200 miles. The importance of irrigation in developing the agricultural resources of the country had not been overlooked by the former rulers of the Punjab.
There were few districts which did not exhibit tokens of their labours in the construction of canals and waterworks, some of which were still in existence, while others were extinct. The canals of Mooltan, which contributed to the fertility of the province, had been greatly improved by Sawun Mull. The Huisi canal, constructed under the orders of Shah Jehan, was a work of imperial luxury, designed to convey the waters of the Ravee over more than a hundred miles to the fountains and conservatories of his palace at Lahore. Lord Dalhousie, who considered that “of all works of public improvement which could be applied to an Indian province, works of irrigation were the happiest in their effects on the physical condition of the people,” directed all these canals to be repaired. No rate was levied for the water, as the state was considered to be repaid by the increase of cultivation. In some cases, the example of Runjeet Sing was followed, and advances were made for repairing or improving them to the zemindars, who regarded the debt as a debt of honour, and refunded it with strict punctuality. The greatest work of irrigation constructed under the auspices of Lord Dalhousie and the directions of Colonel Napier, was the canal of the Baree dooab, the populous district lying between the Ravee and the Chenab. It tapped the Ravee as it issued from the mountains, and after a course of 247 miles, delivered its waters again to that stream a little above Mooltan. Three branches conveyed a supply of water to Kussoor, Lahore, and Sobraon. This magnificent undertaking, which, with its branches, extended to the length of 465 miles, was equal, if not superior to the noblest canals in Europe, and formed the worthiest monument of British supremacy in the Punjab.
The Government established in the Punjab was emphatically Lord Dalhousie’s own creation. Rarely has a greater amount of administrative and executive talent been brought to bear upon the improvement of an Indian province, but it was his genius which animated the whole system. He was in constant and direct communication with the
chief authorities, and, by the aid of his counsel and the influence of his position, enabled them to prosecute their labours without embarrassment or delay. Few Governors have ever seen so much of their dominions as Lord Dalhousie saw of the Punjab. From east to west, from north to south, he crossed its rivers, rode over its plains, and threaded its defiles. During this personal inspection, no evil remained without a remedy, no want was unsupplied. Nothing was too minute for his attention; he did not overlook even the conservation of the grass preserves for the cavalry, or the protection of the remaining forests, or the planting of trees on every road and watercourse, or the establishment of nurseries, or the introduction of ninety varieties of exotic plants. The Christian character of the administration of the Lawrences was ever one of its most distinguishing features. Innovations and improvements foreign to the traditions and the prejudices of the chieftains, the priesthood, and the people, were introduced with a bolder hand than the public authorities had ventured to use at the other Presidencies, and in the course of seven years the Punjab presented a more Anglicized cast of government than the north-west provinces. The administration embodied the maturity of our experience in the science of oriental government, and rendered the Punjab the model province of India. It was the greatest triumph achieved under the Company’s rule, and did honour to European civilization. By these wise and beneficent measures, the nation which had recently been the great source of political anxiety, became one of the chief elements of our imperial strength. The brave soldiers who had shaken our power at Ferozeshuhur and Chillianwalla, enlisted under our banners, assisted in re-conquering Delhi from the rebel sepoys and in restoring our sovereignty, marched up the Irrawaddy to fight the Burmese, and, to crown the romance of their history, aided in planting the British colours on the battlements of Pekin.
There was peace for three years after the conquest of the Punjab, and then came the unexpected
and unwelcome Burmese war. The treaty of Yandaboo, concluded with the King of Burmah in 1826, stipulated for the residence of a British representative at his court, and the commercial treaty of Mr. Crawfurd at the close of that year, provided that the Governments of both countries should give “the utmost protection and security to merchants.” Colonel Benson and Colonel Burney were sent in succession as Residents to Ava, but they were treated with great contempt. One of them was denied the means of obtaining provisions, and directed to take up his residence on an island in the Irrawaddy, which was inundated on the rise of the river, and he was constrained to retire from the country. The British traders at Rangoon were subject to perpetual extortion. In 1851, the master of a vessel was seized, on his arrival at Rangoon, and placed in confinement on the false accusation of having murdered his pilot, who had run the ship ashore, and then jumped overboard. The charge was dismissed as frivolous, but he was nevertheless subjected to a fine. Another commander, thirty days after reaching the port, was charged by a deserter with having put to death one of the crew, who had died at sea. The case was investigated by the Burmese authorities, and the captain acquitted on the unanimous testimony of the ship’s company, but he did not escape without a fine, and the detention of his vessel. On the 27th September, the European merchants at Rangoon transmitted a memorial to the Government of India, in which various cases of oppression were enumerated. They asserted that those who refused payment were subjected to torture, that robberies and false charges were of daily occurrence, and that unless protection could be obtained, they must quit the country and sacrifice their property. On the receipt of these representations, the Supreme Council came to the conclusion that British subjects had a right to expect that they should be protected by their own Government from such injustice, oppression, and extortion.
The absence of any accredited British agent at
the court or in the territories of Ava, rendered it difficult to deal with the case; but the difficulty was diminished by the arrival of Commodore Lambert, in H.M. ship “Fox,” and it was resolved to send him to Rangoon with a communication from the Government of India. Lord Dalhousie has been censured for despatching a naval officer on a mission of peace, but it was considered, and with great reason, that in dealing with a Government like that of Burmah, unrivalled in Asia for conceit and arrogance, nothing was more likely to secure attention and to avoid an eventual conflict, than the appearance in Burmese waters of an envoy in command of a vessel of war, – “one of Cromwell’s ambassadors which spoke all languages, and never took a refusal.” The instructions of the Commodore were limited to the investigation of the complaints of the merchants, and to the demand of adequate pecuniary compensation, if they were substantiated. If this reasonable request was refused, he was directed to transmit the letter which the President of the Council of India had addressed to the king and entrusted to him. In that communication the two cases of “gross and unjustifiable ill-treatment of British subjects by his Majesty’s servants” were enumerated, “in the full conviction that he would at once condemn their conduct, order compensation to the parties aggrieved, and recognize the wisdom of removing the Governor of Rangoon. If these just expectations should be disappointed, the Government of India would feel itself called on to take such immediate steps as should protect the interests of its subjects and vindicate its own honour and power.” The Commodore anchored off Rangoon on the 26th November, and the Governor immediately threatened with death any who should venture to communicate with him. Some of the Europeans at length succeeded in escaping to the frigate, and submitted to the Commodore a long roll of injuries they had sustained. On perusing it, he concluded that it would be more proper to seek redress from the sovereign than from his subordinate, and transmitted the President’s letter to Ava,
through the Deputy Governor, who had come on board. It was accompanied with one from himself to the ministers, in which he stated that he should await a reply for five weeks. It was delivered to him on the 1st January, 1852: “The great ministers of state, bearing continually on their heads the two golden feet, resembling the germs of the lotus, of his most glorious and excellent Majesty,” complained of the purport and style of the letter, as “not being in accordance with friendship.” They promised, however, that the offending Governor should be displaced, and, “in regard to the merchants who have been unjustifiably insulted and ill-treated, that proper and strict inquiry should be instituted, and in accordance with custom it should be decided.” The communication appeared to be so friendly and pacific as to lead the Commodore to congratulate the Government of India on the prospect of an early and satisfactory settlement; but he was speedily undeceived. The real intentions of an oriental court are to be gathered, not from glozing despatches, but from the conduct of its officers, and on this occasion they were altogether unfriendly. The old Governor quitted Rangoon, not in disgrace, but in triumph, and with ostentatious parade. His successor did not condescend to notice the British representative, who was obliged to open a communication, and request him to appoint a day to receive a deputation. The Governor replied that any day would suit his convenience.
On the morning of the 6th January, Captain Latter, the interpreter of the mission, sent a messenger to him to announce that the officers would arrive at noon, with an official communication. At the appointed time, Captain Fishbourne and other officers, including Mr. Kincaid, proceeded on the ponies they had been able to procure to Government House, but found great difficulty in making their way through the crowd to the courtyard. No officer came forward to receive them, nor were they permitted to enter the house, but were detained in the sun by the menials, who affirmed that the Governor was asleep and must not be disturbed, whereas
he was all the while gazing at them from the window, and enjoying their mortification, while exposed to the jeers and insults of the mob. The patience of Captain Fishbourne was at length exhausted, and he returned to the frigate to report the treatment he had received.
Commodore Lambert had been instructed by the Government of India, in case the communication from Ava was not satisfactory, to blockade the ports. He considered that the deliberate insult inflicted on the officers who were sent on a diplomatic commission to the Governor expressly appointed by the Court to adjust all differences, was equivalent to an unfavourable reply from the king, and, in conformity with the tenor of his instructions, declared the Burmese ports in a state of blockade. He likewise took possession of a ship lying in the river, which the king had built for trade, and resolved to retain it till the claims of the merchants were satisfied. The Governor of Dalla, who had always been friendly to the British, visited the frigate the day after, on a conciliatory mission, when the Commodore informed him that in addition to the compensation to the merchants, which had been fixed at 10,000 rupees, it was necessary for the Governor of Rangoon to come on board the “Fox,” and express his regret for the indignity offered to the gentlemen of the deputation, after which he would restore the king’s ship and honour the Burmese flag with a royal salute. The Governor refused to comply with this requisition, but gave the Commodore to understand that any attempt to remove the royal vessel would be resisted. The Commodore then proceeded down the river to establish the blockade at the mouth of it, with the Government vessel in tow, when a heavy fire was opened from the stockades below Rangoon, on both sides the river, which the guns of the “Fox “demolished in a few moments. Instead of offering the apology which the Commodore required, the Governor of Rangoon addressed a letter to the Government of India in reference to these transactions, in which he stated that four subordinate officers, who had been
drinking, came riding into his courtyard with the American missionary Kincaid; that he himself was asleep at the time; and that the officers on their return made a false report to the Commodore, who “unlike a man of the world, carried off the great ship belonging to the all powerful lord of the universe and the master of all white elephants.” In his reply to this communication, the President in Council repeated the demands which the Commodore had made, and engaged, after they were complied with, to depute an officer of rank to conclude a final settlement. The Governor rejoined that the officer of rank must be sent in the first instance, before he would attend to any further communications.
During these transactions, Lord Dalhousie was in the north-west provinces, and, apprehending from the aspect of circumstances, that the Government was drifting into a war, hastened down in the most uncomfortable of vehicles, with only a single servant, and reached Calcutta on the 29th January, intent on preventing hostilities. Those who were in communication with him at the time will bear testimony to the fact, that, so far was the annexation of Pegu from being a foregone conclusion before he reached Calcutta, that no Governor-General ever manifested a greater or more sincere repugnance to a war than Lord Dalhousie did on this occasion. It has again been surmised that he took possession of that province to prevent its falling into the hands of the French or the Americans, and it may be instructive to dispel this misconception by tracing it to its source. The United States frigate, Susquehana, happened at this time to be in the Hooghly, and it was reported that the Washington Government contemplated the establishment of a consulate at Rangoon for the protection of American subjects, not excluding missionaries, inasmuch as both the French and the American Governments, unlike the English, consider their missionary subjects as much entitled to protection as their commercial agents. One of the leading journals in Bengal, thinking the Government of India dilatory in attending to the memorial of
grievances, remarked that “if John Bull was so slow to redress them, we must invoke the aid of brother Jonathan, and send the Susquehana to Rangoon.” But it was not until the third application for redress had been rejected by the Burmese authorities, that Lord Dalhousie came to the conclusion that no alternative was now left to the Government of India but to seek reparation by force of arms. On the 12th February, he recorded his views in a Minute, in which, after a summary statement of previous transactions, he affirmed that to send an envoy of rank, as the Governor requested, to supersede the officers who had been employed in the negotiations, would be to admit the offensive accusations made against them, and that the British Government having thus relinquished the demands it had peremptorily advanced, and abandoned the officers it was bound to uphold, would unquestionably be regarded by the Burmese nation, as well as by every eastern people, as having submitted to humiliation and avowed defeat. “The Government of India cannot,” he said, “consistently with its own safety, appear for one day in an attitude of inferiority, or hope to maintain peace and submission among the numberless princes and people embraced within the vast circuit of the empire, if, for one day, it give countenance to a doubt of the absolute superiority of its arms, and of its continued resolution to maintain it.” At the same time, he addressed a letter to the king reciting the oppression of British subjects, the demand for compensation, the insult offered to the deputation, and the refusal of any apology, and stating that large preparations were now in progress to enforce the rights and vindicate the power of the British Government, but that the king might yet avert hostilities by acceding to the former demands, and paying down, by the 1st of April, ten lacs of rupees as a compensation for the expenses incurred in preparations.
Finding a war all but inevitable, Lord Dalhousie threw his whole soul into the work, and never since the time, sixty years before, when Lord Wellesley brought five armies into the field with matchless speed, and in
four months crushed the power of Sindia, and of the raja of Nagpore, had such a display of superb energy been witnessed in India. The Commander-in-chief was in Sinde, Lord Dalhousie was obliged to become his own minister of war, and he astonished India by the singular genius he exhibited for military organization. The task before him was one of no ordinary difficulty. It was the 10th February before the preparations for the expedition commenced, and it was of the last importance that Rangoon should be occupied before the end of April, when the rains might be expected to set in, and military operations would become perilous. It was necessary that two expeditions should be despatched, one from Calcutta, and the other from Madras, for the latter of which, steamers were to be brought round from Bombay. Neither the telegraph nor the rail, which annihilate time and distance, were then completed, and the orders were transmitted to both Presidencies by the ordinary mail. At Bombay, the steam flotilla was ready for sea within three days, but the expedition was delayed at Madras. The Governor, Sir Henry Pottinger, who was far more a fortunate than a great man, took offence that his superlative merits in China had been overlooked and that he had not been consulted about the arrangements of the war, and refused to allow a single soldier to embark except under the direct responsibility of the Governor-General. The difficulty was overcome by the resolution of Lord Dalhousie, but the expedition was nevertheless retarded. The 88th Bengal Native Infantry refused to proceed by sea to Burmah with the expedition from Calcutta, when he determined to try the experiment of supplying its place by a regiment of Sikhs. They marched down without hesitation to the port and embarked with their accustomed hilarity. By this expedient, the perplexity which the Government had felt for eighty years through the repugnance of the sepoys to the “black water” was at once and finally removed. The forethought and vigour of Lord Dalhousie left nothing to chance, or to dilatory subordinates. From the day when the preparations for the campaign commenced,
he superintended every arrangement himself, and his aides-de-camp were incessantly employed in moving about from place to place to ensure punctuality and efficiency in every department. The Tenasserim provinces were drained of live stock and provisions; bakehouses were erected on the coast to ensure a constant supply of bread, which was to be conveyed with the meat by steamers to the camp. In the first war, the encampment at Rangoon had become a charnel house after the rains had set in; to prevent the recurrence of this mortality, the framework of houses was constructed at Moulmein, under the eye of the Commissioner, Colonel Bogle, and sent with the expedition, to afford the soldiers shelter when the monsoon set in. A convalescent hospital was established at Amherst, on the sea coast, thirty miles below Moulmein, and steamers appointed to convey invalids thither.
The land forces of the expedition amounted to 5,800 men, and comprised three European regiments. The command was entrusted to General Godwin, who held a command in the former war, but had lost little of his military ardour from age. Steam power had been so greatly multiplied in India since the expedition of 1826, in which only one small vessel of sixty horse power was available, that the Government was enabled to employ nineteen steam-vessels carrying 159 guns, and manned by 2,270 sailors and marines. The Bengal column reached the Rangoon river on the 2nd April, and a flag of truce was sent up by the “Proserpine” steamer to receive the reply of the king to the letter of the Governor-General. At the third stockade in the river a fire was opened on her, and the last hope of a peaceful solution of differences was extinguished. While awaiting the arrival of the Madras column, the Commodore employed his vessels in levelling the stockades on the river, and the General sent an expedition against the town of Martaban, lying opposite the British settlement of Moulmein, which was captured in an hour, with the loss of only seventeen men killed and wounded. On the arrival of the Madras force, the whole of this imposing
fleet proceeded up the river, and on the 11th April took up a position in front of Rangoon. A brisk fire was opened simultaneously from the great Pagoda, on one side, and from Dalla on the opposite bank of the river. A party of seamen and marines landed with the Royal Irish at Dalla, and carried all the fortifications. Another detachment proceeded up the river against Kemmendine, where the steamers set the stockade on fire, but the Burmese extinguished the flames eight times, and it was not surrendered without a resolute defence.
The troops landed on the morning of the 12th to proceed against the great Pagoda, which was the citadel, as well as the pride of Rangoon, and which had been fortified with such skill as to create the belief that the Burmese must have obtained the services of a European engineer. General Godwin’s force had not proceeded above a mile when a heavy fire was opened on it from a battery concealed in the jungle, and it was found necessary to bring up the twenty-four pound howitzers. The stockade was carried by storm after a brisk cannonade, but not without serious loss from the weapons of the enemy, and still more from the insupportable heat of the weather, which struck down the bravest. The General now found that the Burmese had made no inconsiderable progress in the art of war since the former campaign; they had become bolder in their operations, more skilful in selecting their ground and covering their movements, and did not hesitate to quit their stockades, and assail our flanks; they had moreover become good shots. His own troops were completely exhausted by fatigue and heat, and he resolved to halt for the day. On the 13th, the troops did not alter their position, but the steamers kept up such a continuous cannonade on the town, that the governor was fain to abandon his palace and cross the river, after which he was no more heard of. At daybreak on the 14th, the whole force was under arms and marched towards the Pagoda. The Burmese, expecting that the General would attack the southern gate, had fortified it with a hundred guns, and collected 10,000 men for its defence,
and were confounded when they discovered that he was proceeding to attack their weakest point on the eastern vestibule. The heavy eight-inch howitzers were dragged with incredible labour through the long grass and brushwood into a position opposite the gateway, and opened a terrific fire upon it, to which the Burmese replied with such effect that Captain Latter observed to the General, that we were losing ten men for every one which an assault might cost. A storming party, consisting of 800 men drawn from the 80th Foot, the Royal Irish, and the 40th Native Infantry, was immediately formed, and advanced to the attack under his guidance and under the command of Colonel Coote. As they moved towards the gate they were assailed from the three terraces which rose in succession one above another in the Pagoda, by an incessant discharge of missiles of every variety, links of chain, bags of broken metal, bottles of nails, and boxes of hammered bullets. It was defended with extraordinary gallantry by the elite of the Burmese army, styled the “immortals,” but nothing could arrest the fiery valour of the British soldiers, who rushed up the broad stairs which led from one platform to another, and planted the British ensign on the gilded dome of the noble Pagoda.
The town of Rangoon was entirely deserted by the inhabitants on the arrival of the expedition in 1824, and Sir Archibald Campbell was totally deprived of the resources of the country, and isolated from communication with the inhabitants. On the present occasion, however, no sooner was the Pagoda captured and the Burmese army dispersed, than the people returned to their houses and shops, and resumed their usual occupations. Provisions poured into the town; carpenters from Pegu hastened to offer their services to erect the wooden houses for the troops which the forethought of Lord Dalhousie had provided. The river was crowded with boats and shipping, and Rangoon became a busy mart of commerce. The municipal regulations laid down and rigidly enforced by the General, established order
and security to such an extent that the women of the country moved freely through the encampment without fear of insult. The natives of the province of Pegu, who had been severely oppressed by their Burmese conquerors, had flocked to the standard of Sir Archibald Campbell, whom they regarded as a deliverer; but they were cruelly abandoned to their fate at the close of the war, and their adherence to the fortunes of the strangers was visited by their former masters with tortures too revolting to be mentioned. With a lively recollection of those barbarities, and a full appreciation of the blessings which the provinces of Aracan and Tenasserim had enjoyed under British rule, they welcomed the arrival of General Godwin, and it was the one hope of their hearts that they should not again be delivered up to the vengeance of their oppressors, but obtain the inestimable blessing of British protection.
Compared with the great battles of the Sutlege and the Punjab, the incidents of the war in Burmah appear tame and uninteresting. On the 17th May, General Godwin and Commodore Lambert captured Bassein, the western port of Burmah, with a trifling loss, though it was garrisoned by 5,000 men. While the force lay at Rangoon the steamers scoured the Irrawaddy, and the “Proserpine” proceeded up the river, levelled the various stockades, and seized a large fleet of boats laden with grain. Captain Tarleton soon after started with five steamers for Prome, which was abandoned by the Burmese troops, and, with the aid of the townsmen, he transferred some of the guns to his own vessels, and pitched the remainder into the river. Four days more of easy steaming would have taken him up to Ava, but though the magnificent fleet of steamers had the complete command of the river, General Godwin hesitated to advance to Prome with his limited force, leaving Rangoon open to attack from the Burmese army which was said to be hovering about it. This inactivity was attributed to senility rather than to military discretion, and reprobated by the press. Lord
Dalhousie proceeded to Rangoon in September to examine the state of affairs with his own eyes, and to afford counsel and confidence to the General. He fully concurred with him in the conclusion that it would be injudicious to remove the troops from quarters where they enjoyed comparatively good health, and to expose them to the severities of the climate, without absolute necessity, but he advised the earliest practicable movement on Prome. It was captured on the 9th October with the loss of only one man. Towards the end of November a detachment was sent to the relief of Major Hill, who had been left in charge of the town of Pegu on its first capture in June, with 400 men, and was besieged by 6,000 Burmese. With the succour of this garrison all military operations ceased. The object of the expedition was to exact reparation for injuries inflicted on British subjects, not to break up the kingdom. Lord Dalhousie was confident that if the army were pushed on to the capital, the king would abandon it on our approach and retire to the northern portion of his dominions, where he would be inaccessible among the wild tribes of mountaineers, and eight hundred miles of unprofitable territory would thus be thrown on our hands; he determined therefore to remain content with the occupation of Pegu.
The Government had now to consider the course which was to be taken to “confirm the vindication of our power, to obtain reimbursement of the expenses of the war, and to provide a security against its recurrence.” Lord Dalhousie recorded a Minute on the subject, in which he stated; “In the earliest stage of the present dispute I avowed my opinion that conquest in Burmah would be a calamity second only to the calamity of war. That opinion remains unchanged. If any adequate alternative for the confiscation of territory could have been found by me, or had been suggested to me, my mind would most readily have adopted it. If conquest is contemplated by me now, it is not as a positive good, but as the least of those evils before me, from which we must necessarily select one. But, after constant and anxious
reflection through the months during which hostilities have been in progress, I can discover no escape from the necessity. I have been driven most reluctantly to the conclusion that no measure will adequately meet the object which in my judgment it is absolutely necessary to secure, – the establishment of our superiority now, and its maintenance hereafter, – except the seizure and occupation of a portion of the territories of the Burmah kingdom. In like manner as in 1826 it was felt to be necessary to deprive the Burmese of the provinces of Tenasserim, Aracan, and Assam, so now, for stronger reasons, and with better effect, the occupation of the province of Pegu appears to me to be unavoidably demanded by sound views of general policy.” He then proceeded to enumerate the political and commercial advantages which might be expected from the annexation. The Court of Directors concurred with him in thinking that extension of territory was not in itself desirable, and that the annexation even of a province possessing so many advantages as Pegu, was to be looked upon rather in the light of a choice of evils than a positive and unmixed good. “We entirely agree with the Governor-General in his estimate of the important bearing which the occupation of this fine province with reference to its position, its climate, and its adaptation in a commercial and maritime point of view to the interests of this country, may have upon the security and advancement of our Indian empire. We therefore convey to you our authority, under the sanction of the Queen’s Government, to consider the permanent occupation of Pegu, and its final annexation to the dominions of Her Majesty as the just and necessary result of those military operations which you have been driven to direct against the Burmese empire.” A Proclamation was accordingly issued on the 20th December, declaring that in compensation for the past, and better security for the future, the Governor-General in Council had resolved, and hereby proclaims, that the province of Pegu is now and shall be henceforth a portion of the British territories in the East. Lord Dalhousie likewise drafted a treaty of peace and
cession, which was to be conveyed to Ava by General Godwin and Captain Phayre; but before they took their departure, a revolution occurred at the capital, the king was dethroned, and his brother reigned in his stead. By him commissioners were despatched to treat with the British authorities, but they were unable to come to terms. The army was therefore broken up without the conclusion of any treaty, which Lord Dalhousie ceased to regret after he had been assured “that all Burmah would consider it an absurdity to observe a treaty, if it could be disregarded with profit.”
It has been truly observed that the inhabitants of Pegu annexed themselves to the Company’s dominions before Lord Dalhousie determined to incorporate the province. For three quarters of a century they had suffered the extremity of oppression from their Burmese conquerors, and they hailed with rapture the prospect of passing under British rule. Their expectations have not been disappointed. Since the first establishment of the Company’s Authority in the East, no province has ever exhibited so rapid and extraordinary a development of prosperity. The staple produce of the country is rice, the exportation of which was little known under the Burmese Government, but has been steadily on the increase under our flag; the total exports of this article from British Burmah, including the Aracan and Tenasserim provinces, has reached the sum of two crores and a- half of rupees a-year, of which one half comes back in treasure. Its export and import trade has risen from a very insignificant sum, to the almost incredible amount of nine crores of rupees, or nine millions sterling a-year. Rangoon, the Calcutta of the Irrawaddy, which contained only a few thousand inhabitants when Lord Dalhousie visited it in 1852 now numbers 66,000. The old town was the grave of the army in 1824; the new town, laid out by our engineer officers, is one of the most healthful in our Asiatic dominions. The great want of the valley of the Irrawaddy was population, which had crumbled away under Burmese oppression. It has been
gradually increasing, and the province of Pegu now contains a population little short of a million and a-half, while the fertility of the soil would support ten times that number. The entire population of British Burnish, according to the last census, amounted to two millions and a quarter; and it is a notable fact, that the quantity of British manufactures annually absorbed by it exceeds a crore and a quarter of rupees; one Burmese customer would thus appear to be more valuable to the looms of England than four Bengalees. The system of civil and criminal judicature and of police introduced into the province is exactly adapted to the wants of the people, simple and inexpensive in its character, and prompt and vigorous in its operations. All those improvements, which, though totally unknown in native states, follow as a matter of course on the establishment of British rule – facilities of intercourse by land and water, postal and telegraphic communication, plans of education, sanitary rules and appliances – have been bestowed on the province in profusion, and one-fifth of the revenue is devoted to public works. The people are happy and contented, and have not the least desire for any change in the Government. Indeed, so firmly seated is the British authority in Pegu, that in 1857 it was considered perfectly safe to leave it without European troops, which were withdrawn to quell the mutinies in the older provinces. The revenue has steadily increased without any undue pressure on the people. When Mr. Cobden, soon after the conquest, published a pamphlet to denounce its iniquity, Lord Dalhousie remarked to a friend, “the British nation will one day find that Pegu pays, and the crime of having placed it under British protection will be condoned.” Whether the crime has been condoned or not, is a matter of indifference; but Pegu pays, not only the whole of its civil list, which has been fixed with a view to efficiency rather than economy, but the entire expense of its military establishment. The revenues amount to a crore of rupees, the expenditure to about five per cent less. The happiness which the people enjoy under our institutions
is paid for by themselves, and the province is no burden on the finances of India. It has been singularly fortunate in having, almost from the commencement of our rule, enjoyed the services of Colonel – now Sir Arthur – Phayre, one of the Company’s great administrators. It is to his talent and energy that the province owes the system of administration which forms the basis of its prosperity. Equally free from the hauteur of our national character, and from the pride of place, his intercourse with all classes has been unrestrained and genial. The people have come to regard him with the affectionate reverence which is paid to a parent, and long will his name continue fresh and fragrant in their recollections.
During the last year of Lord Dalhousie’s administration, the peace of Bengal was disturbed by an outbreak of the Santals, the tribes inhabiting the hill ranges of Rajmahl. They were the descendants of those among whom Mr. Cleveland had laboured to introduce the blessings of civilization, seventy years before. At a later period, Mr. Pontet, the magistrate, a man of kindred benevolence, endeavoured with indefatigable zeal to implant habits of agricultural industry among them. These half civilized mountaineers were harassed, like the Coles in 1833, by the processes and the bailiffs of the courts, and by the enforced demands of Bengalee money-lenders who had found their way among the villagers. They suddenly rose in rebellion in the month of July, and armed with pickaxes and poisoned arrows, poured down by thousands on the peaceful plains, spreading desolation in all directions. Every European dwelling within their reach was sacked, and seven Europeans were put to death. Their course was marked by the blaze of villages, and the inhabitants fled before them, as they had done a century earlier from the Mahrattas. Nothing was less to have been expected than such an insurrection in a district where for seventy years the presence of a soldier had been unnecessary. The Government was taken completely by surprise; the rains had set in with their usual violence, and
no troops were available except the corps of hill rangers, composed of men of the same tribe. They were driven back by the insurgents, who also derived fresh courage by the slaughter of an officer and twenty sepoys. It was on this occasion that the military utility of the rail was for the first time exhibited, by the conveyance of a body of troops in a few hours, who saved the important station of Raneegunge from pillage, and the surrounding country from devastation. The Governor-General was at Ootacamund, and the Governor of Bengal, Mr. Halliday, was urgent for the proclamation of martial law, but the scruples of the legislative member of Council delayed the passing of the Act till the beginning of November. As the cold season advanced troops were brought up from various directions; the rebels were hemmed in on every side, and hunted through the country with as little tenderness as they had shown to their victims; the cholera likewise made great havoc among them. The rebellion was at length extinguished, and the field force broken up, on the last day of the year. The insurrection was not however without some countervailing advantage. The same boon was conferred on the Santals which had been bestowed on the Coles; the district was converted into a non-regulation province and placed in charge of a Commissioner.
Under the military division of Lord Dalhousie’s administration, it only remains to notice the acts of insubordination manifested in the Punjab, as in Sinde, from the withdrawal of extra allowances to the native troops, when it became a British province. In July, 1849, the men of the 13th and 22nd Native Infantry refused their curtailed pay at first, but subsequently consented to accept it. Courts-martial were held, and one native officer, and four men of the 13th, and an officer and six men of the 22nd were dismissed the service, while seventeen of the delinquents in both regiments were imprisoned for life. The next case of insubordination occurred in the 41st at Delhi, where, after the order of reduction had been read, the men returned to their lines and
piled arms, but refused to take off their accoutrements. The Commander-in-chief happened to be on the spot at the time, and sent to announce to the regiment that insubordination would be punished by dismissal, after which, it marched off to Mooltan, upon the reduced scale of pay. At Wuzeerabad, in the Punjab, the sepoys of the 82nd hesitated to receive their pay; the first four who declined it were seized, tried, sentenced to imprisonment, and marched off in irons in the presence of the brigade, and not a man refused to accept it afterwards. A native officer of this regiment was subsequently brought to a court-martial for having concealed this feeling of insubordination from his superiors, and five men were sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment for having fomented it. Sir Charles Napier ordered their sentence to be revised, when they were condemned to death, but he commuted the punishment to transportation for life. The 66th marched from Lucknow to Govindgar, but the commanding officer, from a feeling of timidity, culpably neglected to explain the retrenchment of pay to the regiment before it started, and contented himself with announcing it to some of the native officers. It was for the first time made known to the men on their arrival at the fort on the 1st February, 1850, when they exhibited symptoms of mutiny. One sepoy endeavoured to close the gate, but he was felled to the ground by a blow from the sword of Lieutenant Macdonald, and a small squadron of cavalry under Colonel Bradford marched in and restored discipline. The men piled arms, and quietly marched out at the command of their Colonel. Their correspondence was seized at the post office, but not a single expression of disaffection could be discovered in it. Sir Henry Lawrence, the Chief Commissioner in the Punjab, denied that there was any attempt to seize the fort, or that a spirit of mutiny pervaded the corps, or the army, although, as he admitted, there was a general feeling of disappointment at being deprived of a high rate of pay, and partial and individual mutiny. Sir Charles Napier took upon himself to disband the regiment and replace it by a Ghoorka corps.
This was the assumption of an authority which belonged only to the Government, but, in the absence of the Governor-General, it was overlooked by the Vice-President in Council, and the order was confirmed. But the interference of the Commander-in-chief with the allowances of the native army, was too grave to be overlooked. On the 15th August, 1845, Lord Hardinge had established the rule that, whenever the price of provisions forming the aggregate of the sepoy’s diet exceeded three rupees and a-half a-month, the difference should be made up to him in money. Sir Charles Napier declared the rule to be unjust and impolitic, and ordered a previous scale of compensation, which had been superseded, to be revived. The benefit it gave to the sepoy did not exceed an ana a-month, but it was an infringement of the constitutional prerogative of the Government. Sir Charles endeavoured to justify this act by the assertion that he was surrounded by a hostile population, that the whole army of the Punjab, numbering 40,000 men, was infected with a spirit of mutiny, that the empire was in great peril, and that he was constrained to act with promptitude and decision. Lord Dalhousie maintained that although mutiny did exist, it was partial, inconsiderable in degree, and comprised only a few. He denied the existence of a spirit of mutiny among 40,000 native sepoys in the Punjab, and quoted a letter written by Sir Charles only four days before he penned this sweeping condemnation, in which he affirmed that he had seen most armies in the world, but had never seen a more obedient and orderly army than that of India; and in reference to the mutiny, stated that he “would not allow a few malignant and discontented scoundrels to disgrace their colours and their regiments by an insolent attempt to dictate to the Government what pay that Government should give its soldiers.” Lord Dalhousie officially informed him that “the Governor-General in Council would not again permit the Commander-in-chief, under any circumstances, to issue orders which should change the pay and allowances of the troops serving in India.” Sir Charles immediately placed his resignation in the
hands of the Ministry. The question was referred by them to the Duke of Wellington, who had selected Sir Charles for the command in India, and he performed what he called “the painful task of reviewing the whole transaction” with a stern impartiality. He came to the conclusion that although there were murmurings and complaints at Wuzeerabad, there was no mutiny. There was no evidence that a general spirit of mutiny pervaded 40,000 troops in the Punjab. The 66th having mutinied at Govindgur, piled its arms under the orders of its officers, was marched out, disbanded, and sent into the Company’s provinces in this very month of January, 1850, with the knowledge of the whole army, and there had not been a sign of any movement in favour of the mutinous regiment. There was no sufficient reason for suspending the rule of compensation of the 15th August, 1845. The Governor-General was right, and did no more than his duty in expressing his disapprobation of the act of the Commander-in-chief, and could not with propriety have acted otherwise. This decision of the great Duke settles the historical merits of the question.
This collection transcribed by Chris Gage