Monday, 7 October 2013

Sentiments and other Mutinies


The Siege of Lucknow is by far, one of the most documented events of its time. A flurry of journals, books, stories, articles, poems, music and even a play enthralled  the Victorian public with their tales of hardship, horror and above all a morally Christian heroism, which was perfectly fitting for their times. A hero was not just brave, his morals needed to be pure. It is where heroes like Henry Lawrence triumph and others fail.

Henry Lawrence, General Hewitt and General Sir Hugh Wheeler      




Henry Lawrence was undoubtedly a gifted administrator. He had the ability to move freely at all levels of society, something which many colonials of their time (and their wives, no less) were unable, or unwilling, to do.   He followed his intuition, rationally assessed the situation he was facing and made the necessary preparations, thus, in effect, saving the Lucknow garrison from starvation and ultimate defeat. It is hard to see how the actions of this sensitive and above incredibly sensible man could be construed as heroic, when it seems, from our modern point of view, it is nothing more than anyone else in his shoes would have done. Yet what sets Henry Lawrence apart from his contemporaries, like General Wheeler of Cawnpore, or General Hewitt at Meerut, is when faced with an impossible situation, they are remembered for what they did not do. 

Henry Lawrence was not the only leader faced with a crisis in 1857. From Meerut to Cawnpore, from Jahnsi to Gwailor, Seetpore to Allahabad, the Indian countryside was in flames, burning under the might of a furious population. The revolt spread swiftly - not everyone had the time to plan and prepare as Henry Lawrence had done, however had others been following the signs and portents, as Henry Lawrence had done, the damage might have been better controlled.

Meerut

At the extreme end of the scale, in Meerut, where the mutiny originally broke out on the 10th of May, the station’s commander did nothing at all to counteract the initial outbreak. As his station burned and the Christian community was hunted down and murdered, he, in the words of Fitchett,
 “..had neither the energy or the resolution. He had drowsed and nodded his way through some fifty years of routine service, rising by mere seniority. He was now old, obese, indolent and notoriously incapable. He had agreeable manners and a soothing habit of ignoring the disagreeable. Lord Melbourne’s favourite question, “Why can’t you leave it alone?” represented General Hewitt’s intellect…In General Hewitt’s case, the familiar fable of an army of lions commanded by an ass, was translated into history once more.” (Fitchett, The Tale of the Great Mutiny, 1904, p. 24) 
General Hewitt failed not only as a commander, but as a man -an unpardonable sin.  Comparatively speaking, Meerut was the station in the Bengal Presidency where the mutiny was most likely to fail  as it had some 2,028 Europeans against 2,057 natives soldiers– but Meerut did not have a Henry Lawrence, they had what many stations had in 1857, a General Hewitt.
In his defence, Hewitt said,
 “As soon as the alarm was given, the artillery, carabineers, and 60th Rifles were got under arms, but by the time we reached the native parade ground, it was too dark to act with efficiency in that direction; consequently the troops were retired to the north of the nullah, to cover the barracks and officers lines of the artillery carabineers and 60th Rifles, which were, with the exception of one house preserved!”
What it came down to finally, was a matter of red tape. Hewitt explained that while he was responsible for the district, Archdale Wilson was in fact commanding the station. However, Wilson believed he was under the directions of Hewitt, and since Hewitt ordered nothing, he, in consequence did nothing. Hewitt’s masterly inactivity was complete; he did not even send a warning to the city the mutineers were heading to next: Delhi was taken completely by surprise. 

Destruction of  bungalow at Meerut
Illustrated London News, 1857

If Meerut had been commanded by young and clever commander, could the course of the mutiny have been changed? Perhaps it could have been stayed for a while but most likely, it would have come to an outbreak in the end anyway. Lord Roberts (of Khandahar fame) believed that a pursuit of the mutineers by the Meerut force would have been futile and nothing that the commanders could do would ultimately have saved Delhi.

Cawnpore
Another spectacular failure during the Mutiny was Cawnpore (Kanpur). The commander at Cawnpore was General Sir Hugh Wheeler. At 75, he was no longer fighting fit 

 “(and a man) no matter how brave, in whose veins ran the chill and thin blood of old age, was tragically handicapped in a crisis so fierce.” (Fitchett, p. 86).  
General Wheeler, unlike Hewitt, did plenty. He set up his defences, albeit inadequate and severely lacking in common sense. Instead of choosing the Cawnpore magazine as the place to make his last stand, where he would at least have had strong buildings, a huge supply of guns and ammunition and 3 acres of space to shelter  the civilian population, he chose a patch of ground 6 miles away, with practically no water supply. Around it he built a thin wall of dirt and into it, he crowded the British population of Cawnpore. The outcome was predictably disastrous.

Plan of the entrenchment at Cawnpore


Where did General Wheeler fail? Unkindly, many of his contemporaries believed it was his close associations with “natives” that was his downfall -  his wife was a Hindu. In reality, he took too many things for granted. Like many other commanders at the time, General Wheeler did not believe the entire force would mutiny and in the same effect, he also believed that if they did, they would march immediately to enforce their brethren in Delhi. He also had implicit faith in Nana Sahib. Of course, he wasn’t the only one – the Nana had convinced many in Cawnpore of his fidelity and loyalty to the British, but it was Wheeler who was in charge. After 21 days of siege and catastrophic losses, the British at Cawnpore surrendered to the Nana Sahib, who had proved himself to be as vengeful an opponent as they come.  His name became synonymous with the ultimate massacre of the garrison at the Satichaura Ghat, and the infamous slaughter at the Bibighar but it is General Wheeler who has been held responsible for all history.
Sir Hugh Wheeler
However, General Wheeler has been described variously as heroic, and as a man, gallant. His main problem was not his leadership, it was argued, but that he was encumbered with some 700 hundred civilians, many of whom were the wives and children of the men of the 32nd, stationed at Lucknow.  He only had 300 fighting men to face down a highly trained army of thousands. So was the downfall of Cawnpore really his fault alone? Had he been without the civilians, as outnumbered as he was, it is unlikely he would have fared any better. However, the garrison of Cawnpore could have made a noble last stand and would have gone into the Victorian mind as valiant men grimly facing adversity to the bitter end comparable perhaps to the last stand at Gandamak. Their ending was finally only horrifically tragic and served to feed the public’s growing lust for macabre tales of the mutiny.

Remains of the Wheeler's Entrenchment
Felice Beato

Cawnpore Memorial Well
Samuel Bourne, 1860
The Well and Monument, Slaughter House, Cawnpore, 1858Murray Collection: Views in Delhi, Cawnpore, Allahabad and Benares'  Dr. John Murray.

While the mutiny played out in the midst of generals, in battles hard fought, lost and won, another siege has gone wholly unnoticed. 

The Siege of Arrah

Sketch of the fortified house at Arrah
The city of Arrah (Ara) is situated in Bhojpur district in the state of Bihar, India. It is the district headquarters of Bhojpur district, located near the confluence of the Ganges and Sone rivers, some 24 mi. from Danapur and 36 miles from Patna.(Wikipedia). It is an ancient city that was even known in Greek geographical works, but in 1857, it was hardly noticed.
The Siege of Arrah commenced on the 25th of July and lasted until the 3rd of August – comparatively short and somewhat unspectacular: no great generals were present here, no great garrison of fighting men. The entire defending party consisted of 16 civilians, 50 Sikhs and three servants. They were besieged by the forces of three revolted native regiments, led by a Zemindar named Kur Singh. Vastly outnumbered, the besieged took up their position in the house of Mr. Boyle, the district engineer to the railway company. In anticipation of an uprising, Mr. Boyle had fortified his house, stocked up on provisions including fuel and entrenching tools, some ball cartridge, gunpowder and even lead in order to make more cartridges, if required. He also provisioned the house with enough water to last 50 men for two weeks. What happened next is the stuff of legend. 67 men held out for seven days – attempts were made by the attackers to burn them out, cannon them out and even bribe them out, and every attempt failed. The held their position and never considered defeat. On the seventh day they were relieved by the army of General Eyre and Arrah was saved.

So why has Arrah all but disappeared from the annals of the Mutiny, appearing occasionally more as an afterthought than as an actual event?
The siege of Arrah does not fall into the classic mould of mutiny stories – there were no suffering women and dying children, in fact only one member of the garrison, a Sikh soldier, was severely injured in the entire seven days and that by flying splinters of wood, no less. The daring of the besieged at Arrah is strictly a man’s domain, what men can do when faced with the impossible and are willing to do everything to save their necks. Unlike soldiers, they approached their dilemma as engineers. Unable to ascertain how many rebels were actually in area and thinking it unadvisable to abandon the station when there might in fact only be a few rebels around, they doggedly decided to stay put. So on the night of the 26th of July, with mutual agreement, the officers and residents of the station, along with the Sikh soldiery, occupied their house and dug in their heels. When water began to run short, a well, eighteen feet by four, was dug in less than 12 hours, thus solving one of their pressing problems.  When the rebels raised a barricade on top of a house opposite, the garrison built theirs up in proportion. When shot was directed at the weakest point in the defences, the spot was immediately fortified and made stronger. The made a sortie out of the defences to fetch some sheep when hunger began to tell, and dug a countermine to stop the one the enemy were digging. There was no stoic suffering at Arrah – only determination and obviously plenty of practicality. Three or four of the best shots were generally on the roof  who were disciplined enough to weigh out an advantage by waiting until the enemy were within a hundred yards of the defences and then made every shot count.  Why the mutineers did not just storm the place and have it done with cannot be explained in any simple terms.  Mr. Wake, who wrote a diary during siege on a wall in the house, put it down to, 
“nothing but cowardice, want of unanimity, and only ignorance of our enemies prevented our fortification being brought down around our ears.” 
It must have been a bitter moment when the rebels realised there were never more than 67 men in the Arrah garrison.

With no lurid tales of horror and suffering, and the very fact that the siege of Arrah was fought voluntarily by a group of men who throughout had a very possible path of escape available, the story fell far short of what the Victorian public wanted and were quick to turn their attentions elsewhere. Only Rudyard Kipling thought they were worth more than an afterthought and in that sentiment, wrote his short story, "The Little House at Arrah."

Popular Christian Sentiment and the Mutiny: Arthur Marcus Cheek

Marcus Cheek
The Martyr of Allahabad

One story which quickly captured the imagination of the public was that of Ensign Arthur Marcus Hill Cheek. The book, “The Young Martyr of Allahabad” first appeared in 1857 and was written by the Reverend Robert Meek. In his hands, the story is turned into one of heroic Christian suffering, the perseverance of faith in the face of adversity and the 16 year old ensign turns into a martyr with all the trimmings.

Fate was decidedly unkind to Arthur Marcus Cheek. 

On the 20th of March 1857, 16 year old Marcus (as he was called by his family) left Southampton and reached Calcutta on the 28th of April. He received his appointment as an ensign in the 6th Bengal Native Infantry. He was allowed three weeks to visit his uncle and relatives who were residing in India, after which he travelled to Allahabad to join his regiment.  On the 19th of May he reached his destination.  On the evening of the 5th of June, the 6th Bengal N.I. broke out into open mutiny. Anyone who could, escaped to the fort and remained besieged there until the 11th of June when the forces of General Neill arrived. However, what happened to Marcus?

On the night of the mutiny, Marcus had left the mess-room early and had returned to his rooms.  It was a short respite. The violence which accompanied the outbreaks was no different in Allahabad and the same scenes were acted out here as in the other stations. In the mess room alone nine ensigns were murdered. The next part of Marcus’ tale is based more on probability than on solid fact – on hearing shots fired,  Marcus left his rooms and went outside. It did not take long before a sepoy had spotted him, cut him down with a sword and left him for dead. Severely wounded, Marcus managed to escape and hid in a ravine on the banks of the Ganges.  For four days he remained hidden, in spite of his injuries, he had even tried to climb into a tree. On the fifth day, he was found by a band of sepoys and taken to the Moulvie, the leader of the Allahabad insurgents. He was held captive until the 17th when the Moulvie fled Allahabad. Marcus was found and brought into the Fort but he was beyond saving and died shortly afterwards from his wounds and dehydration.

The Fort at Allahabad
London Illustrated News, 1857


Although Marcus, in moments of consciousness, did attempt to give an account of his escape and subsequent capture, his story was too “confused” and has not been recorded in his own words. What we do have are the accounts of people who saw him shortly after his rescue up to the point of his death, after which they wrote letters to his family giving their versions of events.  It is here that Marcus slips into the beau ideal of a Christian hero.

During his captivity, Marcus had been kept in a room with the Reverend Gopenauth Naundy with his family, and Conductor Coleman and his family. The reverend was severely tortured, and had been admonished by his tormentors to give up his faith and convert to Islam. On the verge of breaking, it was Marcus who “saved” the reverend with the words, “Padre Sahib! Hold onto your faith! Don’t give it up!” Or alternately, “Oh my friend - come what may, do not deny the Lord Jesus Christ!” Whichever phrase he used, it had the effect of restoring the reverend’s faith, and gave him the strength to resist his tormentors.

Marcus’ last words, however, were not addressed to his Saviour or reserved for noble ideas. At the very last, he wanted to write to his mother.

In the aftermath of his death, a flurry of letters arrived at the door of his parents, some from exalted personages but also from strangers - each extoling the virtues of Marcus and his unshakeable faith. The Honourable and Reverend Baptist W. Noel, M.A., went as far as composing a poem in Marcus’ memory (though in all fairness, he does dedicate it not only to him but to the other ensigns murdered at Allahabad). The Essex Herald published “An Incident in the War” an equally tumultuous poem in Marcus’ honour written by someone calling themselves Alpha.  We can only hope that somewhere, in all those words was at least a few that gave some measure of comfort to his poor, grieving parents.

It is equally touching however, that in one of the letters, written by Mrs. E.B. Lanzeen, although there is mention of Marcus at first, she had concerns of her own. Her nephew, 18 year old Thomas Lane Bayliff had arrived in Allahabad the day before Marcus and had been killed on the 6th of June. She ends her letter with the sad words, “He too, was a jewel; but few find grace early or late to shine with lustre such as your dear lost son’s.” Poor Thomas Lane Bayliff – had he had the presence of mind to utter the right words at the given time, there might have been two martyrs of Allahabad.

Marcus was held up to the awed public as a “shining example of Christian fidelity, to stimulate other young persons to cultivate by prayer and diligence those Christian graces which can arm the unprotected sufferer with the same courage to bear affliction, even captivity and torture, without giving up their trust in the power and love of their Saviour.” According to the Reverend Meek and many others of the day, Marcus died not in vain, but upholding the very ideals of spirited Christianity, and with all these virtues embodied in the soul of a young boy, nonetheless! It is Victorian heroic sentiment let loose in grand style and far from reality or in effect, from the truth. What Marcus Cheek represents is the true face of the mutiny. Away from the heroics and the posturing of men doing their duty, here was a boy, one of the many at the wrong place, at the wrong time, who had no idea finally, why he had to die. This is not martyrdom, it is grim fury of war.