REMINISCENCES OF A BENGAL CIVILIAN .z
TEE later chapters of this book contain a reprint of Mr. Edwards' interesting narrative of his personal adventures during the Indian Rebellion, and of a pamphlet entitled Facts and Reflections Con- nected with the Rebellion, both which compositions have been for some years before the public ; the earlier chapters supply fresh matter, illustrating the history of India during the twenty years immediately preceding the rebellion. The author went out to India in 1837 as a civilian in the Company's service, and, cherish- ing from the commencement of his career in that country the desire to write in his retirement the memoirs of his own time, he " kept notes of all interesting events as they occurred, and carefully preserved all original letters and manuscripts likely to serve his purpose." One sympathizes with him in the loss of these collections, which were destroyed with the rest of bis property by the mutineers in 1857, for Mr. Edwards has a clear and pleasant style, and tells a story plainly but effec- tively, and his good fortune in holding political appointments, chiefly in the Secretariat of the Government of India, for many * Reminiscences of a Bengal Civilian. By William Edwards, Esq., Judge of Her Majesty's High Court of Agra. London : Smith, Elder, and Co. 1866. Iyears, gave him the opportunity of enjoying familiar intercourse with the leading men of the State, and personally witnessing, even if he cannot be said to have taken a prominent part in, the principal events of the stormy period intervening between the first invasion of Affghanistan and the annexation of the Punjaub to the British Empire. But the Bengal Civilian's memory has stood him in good stead by preserving a store of anecdotes of the warriors and statesmen of that time, which are the more valuable because in India, probably more than in any other country, the peculiarities of character of great men have an influence in deter- mining the course of history.
Mr. Edwards arrived in Calcutta in 1838, having, at the suggestion of Sir J. Carnac, then Chairman of the Board of Directors, travelled overland, undergoing all the discomforts of a voyage up the Nile and down the Red Sea iu native boats, in order to obtain information that might be useful to Sir R. Grant, Governor of Bombay, who was then labouring to establish a mail service by steamers between Suez and India. In 1840 he was appointed Assistant-Secretary to the Goveruor of Agra, with whom he proceeded to Mussoorie towards the close of the rainy season, when all was still quiet in Affghanistan, and Sir William Macnaghten, convinced that the country had been finally pacified, was preparing to leave Cabul to take up the Governor- ship of Bombay. Readers of Mr. Kaye's history know well the name of " George Clerk, of Umballah," and will be glad to be introduced once more by Mr. Edwards to the energetic British agent at the Court of Lahore, whose councils, had they been followed, would have averted the most humiliating disaster that has ever befallen our arms in the East :-
" At the end of September the Governor prepared to march across the mountains of Kumaon to Almorah. One day, just before we started on our journey, Mr., now Sir George Clerk, suddenly appeared at Mussoorie, having ridden up from Umballah, his head-quarters, to confer with the Governor. This was no unusual ride for Sir George in those days, whose powers of locomotion on horseback proved one among many causes of his then unbounded influence with the Sikh chiefs and people under his political charge in the cis-Sutlej States. The Sikhs used to assort that ho kept a hundred horses in his stables, of which some were always ready posted towards every quarter, so it was no use to attempt any disguises with him ; for he was sure to be in the middle of them before they even could get tidings of his leaving his head-quarters. Sir George, no doubt, kept a numerous and a rare good stud, but not quite to this extent. Some of them were well known to the Sikhs of those days ; and it was often quite sufficient to prevent an impending boundary fight between neighbouring villagers, to hear that 'Robin' or the ' White Mare' had been sent out a stage or two to wait for the 'Umballah wallah,' as the agent was universally called, as neither of these animals, according to native expression, ' understood distance,' and would soon bring their master to the spot where his presence was required. This was the first occasion of my meeting Sir George, and in our conversa- tion, I well remember his expressing his fears that the calm then pre- vailing in Affghanistan was unnatural, and merely the prelude to a storm about to break. Rumours had reached him through the Lahore durbar that all was not right, and a messenger to Dost Mahomed had been lately caught with a mysterious letter concealed in a mutton bone, the terms of which had excited the agent's suspicion. So impressed was he that something was impending that ho had risked the ride through the ' Turraio,' the forest belt at the foot of the bills, then uncleared, and at that season most pestilential, for the express purpose of consulting with the Governor and communicating to him his apprehensions. Sir George loft us tho same evening to ride back again with his waistcoat pocket full of loose quinine, to take as he passed through the jungle as a febrifuge. Unfortunately, ho missed his horse at the stage in the middle of the jangle, was benighted, and had to remain in a herdsman's but for the night, and, in spite of the quinine, caught a fever which hung about him for years after."
When the news of the treacherous outbreak in Affglianistan reached the agent, he forwarded the •despatch to the Governor of Agra, urging "the paramount necessity of immediately appearing in considerable strength at Peshawar, for the relief of Jelalabad, if not of Cabul itself :"—
" This he considered quite feasible, if reinforcements of artillery were sent on without delay to catch up by forced marches four regiments of native tit- fantry, which were already nearing Peshawur, baying been ordered, when all was supposed to bo at peace beyond the Indus, to relieve a similar number of corps, whose term of duty having expired were about to return to India. Acting upon his own earnest conviction, Sir George reported that he had, on his own responsibility, ordered the 3rd troop 2nd brigade horse artillery, then available at Ferozepore, to cross the Sutlej, and proceed by forced marches towards Peshawur. The Go- vernor of Agra fully and entirely concurred in Sir George Clerk's views and measures, and determined to support him with all the weight of his position and influence. Mr. Robertson accordingly lost no time in com- municating with the Commander-in-Chief, urging upon his Excellency the vital necessity of immediately deputing an officer of reputation, energy, and ability, to command this force of artillery and native in- fantry, already far on its way to Peshawar, and thence to advance on Telalabad ; and suggesting General Sir Harry Smith (then colonel, adjutant-general in attendance on his Excellency) as a most fitting person for the duty. Most unfortunately, as it appears to me, neither the Commander-in-Chief nor the Governor-General (Lord Auckland) acquiesced in Sir George Clerk's views and measures, supported as they were by the Governor of Agra. The orders directing the ad-
vance of the artillery were countermanded, and neither Sir Harry Smith nor any other general was sent to command the force then at Peshawur, which duty ultimately devolved on the senior officer of the four native corps present. Had the troop of horse artillery, which started by Sir George Clerk's orders on the 4th December, 1841, been permitted to proceed as he intended, it would have reached Peshawur towards the close of that month, where the four native regi- ments must have already arrived. The main body of the Affghan army was then beleaguering our troops in Cabnl, and their attention was fully occupied in that direction. The Shyberees had not then en- tirely declared against us or closed the pass, and the fort of Ali Musjid was still in our hands. It is, therefore, most reasonable to expect that the four native corps, aided by a troop of British horse artillery, and commanded by an able, energetic officer like Sir Harry Smith, would have found little difficulty in forcing their way to All Musjid, in the centre of the pass, and thence advancing to Jelalabad, which they could have reached by the end of December or the early days of January, 1842. Reinforced by these troops, Sir Robert Sale, instead of remain- ing shut up in Jelalabad, would have found himself in a position to move out, and, resuming offensive operations, to advance for the relief of Cabul. Intelligence of this forward movement must in the mean- time have reached our troops at the capital, raised their hearts, and, in all human probability, have prevented the negotiations which resulted in the disastrous retreat of our army, which, it must be remembered, did not commence until the 6th of January, 1842, and which ended in the annihilation of the entire force. Time is everything on these occasions, and an opportunity once gone is lost for ever."
These passages show very distinctly what might have been done, and what all-important service Sir G. Clerk might have rendered to his country at this crisis, had he, like Sir John Lawrence in 1857, been providentially cut off from communication with Calcutta, and left to act on his own responsibility with the resources at his command. But this was not to be. The British army under General Elphinstone was annihilated, the prestige of our invin- cibility was shattered, and the repulse we had suffered was not concealed from the people of India by the second occupation of Cabul, and the return of Pollock and Nott's army bearing the gates of Somnath in triumph.
Mr. Edwards was now, at the conclusion of the Affghan war, promoted to be Under Secretary to the Government of India, and the war with Gwalior soon disturbed the new peace- " Thus it always is in India in my experience," says Mr. Edwards ; " when one cloud disperses, another as dark and ominous succeeds." This war, however, was soon over, though the account given by our author of the battle of Maharajpore (at which he was present in the suite of the Governor-General), goes to show that the victory was, as usual, won more by the valour of our troops than by the skill of the British General, the chief fighting being done by the reserve division, which, according to Lord Gough's original plan, would not have been " called upon to act, or even be under fire." There is, however, just a suspicion of malice prepense in the advice given by the Commander-in-Chief to the Governor-General to take his station with this so-called " reserve," where it was understood that he would be able to gratify his love of military display by seeing the battle without exposing himself to danger, but where in reality his Lordship and party, riding in advance of the column, suddenly became a mark for the concentrated fire of all the Mahratta artillery.
Mr. Edwards thus sums up the results of Lord Ellenborough's administration :—" Under his wise and energetic government his Lordship had extricated the State from its critical position, had recalled our armies within our own territories, had arrested the power of the Mahrattas, and had placed our finances on a satis- factory footing." But his successor had a more formidable task to accomplish than the overthrow of the Gwalior troops ; .he had to contend against the whole power of the Khalsa army. Mr. Edwards, unfortunately for himself, was misled at the onset of the first Sikh war by the confident opinion of Major Broadfoot, and all the other political officers on the frontier except the late Gene- ral Nicholson and Mr. Cust, that the Sikhs would never dare to cross the Sutlej ; and not expecting active service, he left the camp to join his family at the Hills, and so lost the chance of being present at Ferozeshuhur and Moodkee. But, while he was still with Lord Hardinge, before the campaign had begun, an incident occurred which is worthy of note:—
"It happened to fall to my duty to carry in a despatch to the Governor-General, who quietly read it, and then directed me to spread out before him the map of the North-West Provinces, and point him out Delhi. I at once did so, remarking that Delhi was now far in our rear, distant from the frontier, and that its importance, in a political point of view, had long passed away. ' Never mind,' replied his Lordship, want to see all the roads leading to it, for I have just received a letter from the Duke of Wellington, in which he urges me most strongly to look after Delhi, reinforce its garrison, and watch all roads leading to it, for the Sikhs would certainly make for it; and if it fell into their hands the place would, from the prestige attending its name, become at ones a rallying point for the disaffected all over India, and the result might be most disastrous.' How often, long afterwards, while a fugitive in the rebellion of 1857, and while Delhi had become actually the great rally- ing-point of the disaffected and the focus of the rebellion, have I pon- dered over these prognostications of the illustrious Duke, and admired his prescience, while humiliated by my own presumption and ignorance in bolding a different opinion. The result was that Delhi was strongly reinforced, and its safety well cared for, by the measures taken by Sir John Lawrence, then holding the office of magistrate of the place."
Mr. Edwards rejoined the camp after Ferozeshuhur, and his account of the subsequent operations, including the victory of Sobraon, and the immediate advance to Lahore resolved upon by Lord Hardinge, in spite of the urgent remonstrances of persons high in authority, forms one of the most interesting parts of the book. We make room for the Governor-General's own version of what happened on the night of gloom, and for a time almost of despair, that followed the indecisive action of Ferozeshuhur :—
" In the evening Lord Hardinge gave mo a most interesting account of the battle of Ferozeshuhur. The fire was even more terrible, he said, than that at Albuera, for the Sikhs had guns in position of treble the calibre ever used in European warfare. As soon as darkness had closed in on the evening of the 21st, and the firing on both aides had ceased, the wearied soldiery lay down to sleep; his Lordship then, as he informed me, went from regiment to regiment, lying down on the ground for a short time with each 'to feel their pulse,' as he said. Finding the men all in good heart, notwithstanding the terrible struggle in which they had been engaged and the heavy losses sustained, Lord Hardinge made up his mind to retain his position, and recommence the action on the following morning, rejecting the many suggestions made to him to retreat on Ferozepore. While lying down along with the mon of one regiment, a solitary heavy gnu from the enemy was every now and then fired from their entrenchment directly in front. His Lord- ship, annoyed at the repeated discharges, sprang up, saying, My men, this won't do, we must silence that gun ; it won't allow me to get any sleep,' and ordered the regiment to form up to attack it. The regiment happened to be the 1st Bengal Fusiliers, which instantly sprang up to obey the order • but the Governor-General, thinking them too weak for the duty, thinned as their ranks had been by the day's battle, in which they had suffered most severely, called on the next regiment to charge and silence the gun. This happened to be the 80th, of which his own nephew and military secretary, Colonel, now General Wood, was lieu- tenant-colonel. This regiment, with the Fusiliers in support, advanced straight on the gun, took, spiked, and overthrew it, returning in a few minutes with the greatest order to their position, where the men lay down to rest as before. The 80th had several men killed and wounded in the operation; among the latter was Colonel Wood, who was severely wounded in the thigh. Lord Hardinge told me he considered that this brilliant and successful attack, made in the middle of the night and in darkness, was the turning-point of this battle. From that moment the Sikhs, he thought, began to lose heart, and commenced abandoning their position, thinking it useless to continue a struggle with soldiers so brave and so highly disciplined as the English. Next morning, when our troops were about to recommence the attack, it was found that the Sikhs had in a great measure abandoned the field, and were retreating to Sobraon on the left bank of the Sutlej, where a large body of fresh troops was assembled, but who, happily for us, had not advanced to reinforce their brethren at Ferozeshuhur. Had they advanced during the night, the result must have been very disastrous for us, as our European regiments were much reduced in numbers, and our ammunition, Loth. for artillery and small arms, almost expended. It was inexplicable at the time to us why this fresh army had failed to advance and reinforce their comrades. Subsequently at Lahore, however, I was informed that their leaders had restrained the men on the pretext that the day was inauspicious for a battle, it by no means being the intention of the regency that their troops should be successful, but, on the contrary, be destroyed by the British, so as to get rid of them for ever."
In reading such narratives, Englishmen may well pause to wonder how often it will be the fortune of this country to avert, by means of the matchless fortitude of her soldiers, the perils to which she is exposed by her perpetual unreadiness for war and the shameful want of organization of her military resources. In 1816 the empire was within an ace of destruction because the troops had no ammunition, in 1857 because we h3.1 plenty of ammunition, but hardly any troops ; it is hardly conceivable that we shall be permitted a third time to escape so happily as we did on these two occasions the consequences of our own neglect, or to find that, without making fitting preparations to meet our enemies, we can still "out of the nettle danger pluck the flower safety."
As superintendent of the Hill States, Mr. Edwards was able to confer a great boon, not only upon travellers, but upon the labour- ing population of the country, by inducing Lord Dalhousie to grant money for the road from the plains to Simla, which, laid out and constructed under the immediate direction of Colonel Pitt Kennedy, is a model of skilful surveying and good workmanship. The opening of this road accomplished the benevolent purpose Mr. Edwards originally had in view, of putting an end to the system of forced labour in the Hills, where the poor inhabitants were com- pelled, while there was no carriage road, to act as beasts of burden in conveying the baggage of Government servants between the Hill stations and the plains. On a much larger scale, we may mention that the construction of great lines of railway throughout the country has been everywhere instrumental in abolishing forced labour. Formerly, when the annual movements of troops were going on, the colonel of a regiment could Only find the means of conveyance for his men from one station to another by impressing the carts
and bullocks of the peasantry at the very season of the year when these were most needed for work in the fields ; and the conse- quence too often was that the track of the military reliefs was marked by untilled land and scanty crops, if not by the actual deso- lation of wide districts. Now, nearly all the principal military stations are connected by railways, and a political officer of great experience not long ago informed the writer of this paper that old inhabitants of up-country villages, when questioned as to their opinion of the merits of railways, almost invariably ascribe the unexpected popularity of the iron roads not so much to the facilities of quick travelling which they offer, as to their indirect effect in doing away with the hardships of compulsory labour. It is a satisfaction to know that Indian railways have not merely been useful in strengthening our military position in the country and giving English capitalists the opportunity of making profitable investments, but that they have also helped to redress notorious grievances and conciliate the natives of India to our rule.