Daniel Henry MacKinnon.

Military Service and Adventures in the Far East, Vol. II (of 2) online

. (page 1 of 14)
Online LibraryDaniel Henry MacKinnonMilitary Service and Adventures in the Far East, Vol. II (of 2) → online text (page 1 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


E-text prepared by Brian Coe, Graeme Mackreth, and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team (http://www.pgdp.net) from page images generously made
available by Internet Archive (https://archive.org)

Project Gutenberg has the other volume of this work.
Volume I: see http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/55844


Including Sketches of the Campaigns
Against the Afghans in 1839,
and the Sikhs in 1845-6.


In Two Volumes.


Charles Ollier,
Southampton Street, Strand.



The commander-in-chief returns to England - Disastrous
insurrection throughout Afghanistan - Jellalabad holds
out, and General Pollock advances upon Caubul p. 1


Visit to Agra - Journey through Central India via Gwalior
and Indore to Bombay 16


Arrival in Calcutta - Departure for the south-western frontier - Arrival
at Merut - State of affairs on the north-western
frontier - The Sikh military establishment - The British
position 37


The British forces - The Sikh army cross the Sutlej - The
battle of Moodkee - Position and operations considered 65


The army advance to attack the Sikhs in their entrenched
camp at Ferozeshuhur - The actions of the 21st and 22nd
of December - Sikhs retreat behind the Sutlej - Observations 91


Assemblage of the British forces on the Sutlej - Sikhs
threaten to recross - Sir Harry Smith detached towards
Loodiana - Skirmish near Buddewal 133


Sir Harry Smith advances to attack the Sikhs in their camp - The
battle of Aliwal - The enemy defeated and driven
across the river - Observations 163


Sir Harry Smith's division march to rejoin the head-quarters
of the army - Preparations to eject the enemy from their
position on the British side of the river 207


The battle of Sobraon - The enemy defeated and driven
across the river with enormous loss 223


The British forces cross the Sutlej, and are concentrated at
Kussoor - Visit of Ghoolab Singh and Dhuleep Singh to
the Governor-general - The army advance to Lahore - The
Sikh army disperse, and surrender their guns 249


Ratification of the treaty - Observations on the effects likely
to be produced thereby - Conclusion 269





After the breaking up of the army of the Indus, Sir John Keane
proceeded down the Indus, and shortly afterwards embarked for England,
where those honours, titles, and pecuniary rewards awaited him, which
would have entitled him to the appellation of one of the most fortunate
soldiers who ever acquired laurels in India - had he survived long to
enjoy the distinction.

Fortunate, indeed, may Sir John Keane be termed, in having brought to
an apparently successful conclusion a campaign which was founded in
error and injustice, and placed in the hands of the commander-in-chief
with the fullest assurance of the directing arm of Providence leading
the small band through a country of which the little that was known
should have induced a supposition that an army provided with an
insufficient amount of supplies must meet with enormous difficulties.
By some unaccountable fatality, the Afghans neglected the advantages
thus afforded them, and thereby induced a supposition that the warlike
spirit of the tribes who had overrun and conquered Hindostan had
departed for ever; and that a handful of British soldiers would be
sufficient to maintain possession of a country inhabited by a nation
whose hands were fitted at their birth to the cimeter, and whose eyes,
when capable of distinguishing objects with accuracy, were directed
along the barrel of a rifle.

Trusting, doubtless, in the resources of their monarch to repel the
British invasion, no coalition was formed amongst the mountain tribes;
but when the abhorred Feringhee had seized their king and established
himself in the land of their fathers, and when, moreover, they beheld
him, lulled into security, break up his forces and march the greater
portion of his army homewards through the jaws of the tremendous
portals of Afghanistan, the lighted torch flew with resolute speed
from the valley of Quetta to the mountains of Kohistan. The Ghilzie,
whose heel had been bruised, but whose arm was not unnerved, roused
his brethren to vengeance, and the eloquence of Akbar, pleading for
the diadem which had been snatched from his ambitious hopes, found a
responsive echo in the heart of every true Barukzye.

A tribe of insolent plunderers had established themselves in the Khoord
Caubul, and had the audacity to interfere with the letter-carriers.
The gallant Sale, with his brigade, hastened to brush these intruders
from the surface of the mountains, but the band of robbers had swollen
to an army; and though, by desperate valour and unwearied exertion, a
passage was forced through every obstacle, yet the passes closed upon
the isolated brigade, and the communication with the ill-fated garrison
of Caubul was cut off for ever.

Red with the slaughter of their enemies, and faint from their own
wounds, the wearied band of soldiers, under Sale, threw themselves
into Jellalabad. Then burst the startling intelligence over the plains
of India that an insurrection had broken out amongst the far-distant
mountains of Afghanistan, and that our fellow-soldiers were ill
provided with sustenance, short of ammunition, and enveloped amongst
countless swarms of enemies. I will not enter minutely on the details
of that insurrection, which shook the fabric of our Eastern power
to its centre, brought unmerited obloquy on the British name, and
entailed the most harrowing series of disasters on the hapless army in
Afghanistan that England's history can record in her military annals.

The task of recapitulating the succession of horrors which took place
in Caubul has been undertaken by eye-witnesses and sufferers from the
small remnant of the Caubul garrison who escaped.

Amongst that catalogue of miseries and massacre we have the consolatory
reflection that the Afghans found no grounds to assert that the
British, though worn with toil, and pierced by incessant cold,
derogated in aught from their national fame. From the first struggle on
leaving the entrenched camp at Caubul, unto the final catastrophe at
Gundamuk, the Afghans were cautious of meeting our fellow-countrymen
at close quarters. When they tried the experiment, led by the alluring
satisfaction of revelling in Feringhee gore, they found that, although
heart-broken and disorganized, the Briton was ever ready to die facing
his enemy. Peace to the manes of those maligned and hapless warriors,
whose bones are bleaching on every height and valley of that rugged
desolation (fit scene for such a catastrophe) which disfigures the
face of the country, from the gates of the Bala Hissar to the walls
of Jellalabad! And, peace to the ashes of the worthy and amiable
Elphinstone! It rested not with him that, suffering under bodily
weakness and worn by mental anxieties in his arduous command, he should
have lived to end his honourable days in an enemy's camp. The soldier
has no choice but to obey the authority which places him in command,
and those authorities are answerable to their countrymen for the

But the British power fell not with her general and his army. Kandahar
was held with security in the iron grasp of Nott.[1] The little
garrison of Khelat-i-Ghilzie held resolutely their post against the
repeated and determined attacks of their blood-thirsty foe; and the
haughty Akbar, with the bravest of his mountain tribes, was checked in
his murderous career under the walls of Jellalabad. The "illustrious
garrison" maintained their isolated post against cold, starvation, the
overwhelming mass of vaunting Afghans, and against the convulsions
of nature when an earthquake cast down their fortifications and left
no artificial barrier, beyond their weapons, between the hordes of
Afghanistan and Sale's devoted band.

Vain were the efforts made by the Native Infantry Brigade, from
Peshawur, to force the passage of the Khyber, for the spirit of those
savage mountaineers was roused; every hill was watched with untiring
vigilance, and the two regiments which penetrated to Ali Musjid had
little cause to congratulate themselves on their undertaking. At
length, the "avenging army," under the guidance of General Pollock,
having traversed the Punjaub with rapid strides, arrived at the gorge
of the Khyber, and joyfully received the tidings of Jellalabad being
still in the hands of Sale.

Resting awhile to give breath to his soldiers, and to see his army
properly equipped, the gallant general (armed with full discretionary
power from the noble and sagacious Ellenborough, whose strong arm now
guided the helm of India) prepared to advance. From every village
and fastness of the gloomy Khyber the gathering call had gone
forth, and the ready mountaineers hastened to the defence of their
hereditary defiles; but their haste was of no avail, for the Britons
were advancing to save their gallant countrymen, to retaliate on the
authors of the Caubul atrocities, and to rescue their countrywomen from
captivity. Advancing, with his main body in the jaws of the defile,
whilst his two wings spread over the flanking mountains, General
Pollock drove the reluctant Khyberees from hill and sungahe[2] of
their mountain chain, and, with a trifling loss, stood inside the
barriers of Afghanistan, and within a few marches of Jellalabad; but
Sale's daring band of warriors had provided for their own safety.
Their bastions had sunk into dust before the earthquake, which rolled
from the mountains of the Indian Caucasus across the Punjaub and
into the heart of India; but, undaunted in heart and resolution, the
garrison of Jellalabad opposed their breasts to the enemy, whilst the
workmen repaired the damages: and let Akbar Khan (the treacherous
and cold-blooded assassin) and the remnant of his twenty thousand
companions in arms, bear witness to the unimpaired energy and
courage of the garrison of Jellalabad. Heedless of the approaching
reinforcements from India, they sallied, scarce two thousand in number,
from the gates of their fortress, piercing the centre of the Afghan
hosts, where the flashing sabre and deadly bayonet inflicted a partial
retribution on their enemies, still reeking with the blood of the
Caubul Tragedy.

That victory was purchased with the life of the heroic Dennie.[3] But
where, save on the battle-field, should the soldier hope to fall, and
when can the dart of death be more welcome to the warrior's breast than
when, falling in the arms of victory, he feels the immortal laurel
wreath rest lightly on his brow? Maligned by those who were jealous of
his fame and acquirements, he fell in the vigour of manhood, and we may
sadly concur with the panegyrist of Moore, in exclaiming -

"Lightly they'll talk of the spirit that's gone,
And o'er his cold ashes upbraid him;
But nothing he'll reck if they let him sleep on
In the grave where a Briton has laid him."

I can neither envy nor estimate the feelings which must have occupied
the hearts of his invidious traducers, (and one especially, high in
rank and authority, though ennobled only by name,) when the deeds and
fate of the talented and lion-hearted Dennie wrung from the senate of
England, after his death, that well-merited tribute which had not
fallen to his lot during a life of gallant exploits, hardships, and

The simultaneous advances of Generals Pollock and Nott from Jellalabad
and Kandahar, were almost daily marked by the defeat or flight of the
savage tribes who had aided in the massacre of the ill-fated garrison
of Caubul. Ghuzni was not defended a second time, but evacuated on the
approach of Nott, who dismantled its blood-stained fortifications, and
thence moved, unopposed, to unite his army with Pollock's at Caubul.
The tribes under Akbar Khan were more resolute in their defence; but
light mountain troops, without artillery, and ignorant even of the most
simple methods of rendering their passes more difficult of approach,
present but a contemptible barrier to a well-organized and effective
army. Marching over the heights, which were strewn with the mangled
corpses of their ill-fated comrades, peals of British musketry rung a
tardy death-knell to their memories, but wrote the epitaph in the blood
of their assassins.

Leaving Khoord Caubul, the most formidable barrier to the metropolis,
undefended, Akbar and his forces fled from the field of Tezeen, and
left the country again in the hands of the British conquerors.

The capture of Istalif closed the three years' tragedy enacted amidst
the rugged defiles of Afghanistan.

The unexpected release of the prisoners crowned the successes of this
fortunate expedition; and it now remained only to retire, with as
good a grace as possible, from a country where the most extraordinary
vagary which had ever invaded the head of civilized man had originally
conducted the army of the Indus.

As a last memento of the British invasion, the arched bazaars of
the city of Caubul were destroyed, and buried in a confused mass
of blackened ruins. This has always appeared to me rather a wanton
mode of exciting the hostility of the harmless bunneahs[4] of Caubul
against us: for the insurrection and its concomitant disasters arose
not amongst the mercantile community of Caubul, but amongst the
warlike mountain tribes. To punish the unfortunate house-owners of the
bazaars, was not a dignified retaliation for our losses.

In November, 1842, the united forces quitted the metropolis of the
Afghans, leaving the inhabitants of these barbarous regions to their
wonted occupation of cutting each other's throats ad libitum. That
soil can surely never flourish, which is eternally watered with
human blood. The earliest records of Afghan history present to us
the same prevalence of murderous tastes, from the days of Sinkol,
the contemporary of Romulus, throughout the Middle Ages, down to the
year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and forty-two, when the British
Government wisely resolved to have nothing more to do with Afghanistan.

Were the invasion of that country a measure conducive to our interests,
it follows that the occupation thereof must have been necessary,
in order to render it a bulwark against the nations lying to the
north-west, of whom, in 1838, such unnecessary apprehensions were
entertained. As this measure required a large subsidiary force to be
maintained in the country, entailing a consequent augmentation of our
army in the East, which was not convenient to the wishes or coffers of
the Anglo-Indian Government, there cannot exist a doubt of the wisdom
of Lord Ellenborough's administration in correcting the errors of his
predecessor, and withdrawing the army from a country which was never
likely to become a profitable territory.

The question of its advantages as a military position, may form
a theoretical subject for discussion; but practically, the utter
inability of the country to pay and maintain a large subsidiary force,
and the impracticability of the exhausted revenues of India furnishing
the sinews of war, sets the question at rest.

The finishing stroke yet required to be put to the Afghan policy, in
disposing of Dost Mahomed, who had remained for some time in our hands;
but now that his country was no longer an object of interest, of course
the ex-king was less so. The release of that monarch, and his return
to the throne - to hurl him from which had impoverished India, besides
draining it of some of its best blood, was the practical and final
satire on the Caubul campaign.

I have not been diffuse in entering on minute details of the losses
experienced on our march into that country, because I cannot flatter
myself that the subject possesses sufficient general interest; but
should any one have any curiosity regarding the number of men, camels,
horses, bullocks, and asses that died during the first campaign,
together with the minutest particulars, more than the most inquisitive
disciple of Hume could require, let him not languish in ignorance, for
are they not written in the Book of Hough?

Our questionable allies, the Sikhs, having been a cause of some
disquietude, it was thought prudent to assemble a large force on
the north-west frontier, at the close of the year 1842, which was
denominated the "Army of Reserve." This force, encamped on the banks
of the Sutlej, in the vicinity of Ferozepore, awaited the return of
the victorious troops from Afghanistan, and Lord Ellenborough was
present in person to welcome the arrival of the Caubul warriors under
a triumphal arch which he had caused to be erected at the extremity of
a bridge of boats thrown across the Sutlej. The united forces, when
Generals Nott and Pollock had joined us, exceeded forty thousand men;
and thus the nations of the East were shown that Afghanistan was not
abandoned owing to any weakness in a military point of view.

After two reviews of the army on the frontier, at which some of the
Sikh Durbar were present, in the beginning of January, 1843, the army
was broken up, and marched to their cantonments in Bengal.


[Footnote 1: Ghuzni, with its garrison, under command of Colonel
Palmer, fell into the enemy's hands.]

[Footnote 2: The sungah is a stockade of loose stones, thrown up on the
hill-side, or crest.]

[Footnote 3: Colonel Dennie, of H. M. 13th Light Infantry, was killed
by a matchlock ball from a fort which he stormed when this sally was

[Footnote 4: Shopkeepers.]



All chance of active service in India being apparently over, I availed
myself of leave of absence, and began preparations for my journey
towards Bombay. The route through central India, from Delhi or Agra,
was at that time rarely travelled, and presented numerous attractions
from the accounts I had read of its wild country and inhabitants. I
was fortunate enough to find four acquaintances, who were also about
to proceed homewards, and desirous of taking the nearest road, as the
season was now far advanced, and the heat a little later becomes
severe. Having appointed Agra as our rendezvous, I proceeded, with
my valued friend L - - in advance. Our marching establishment to
Delhi consisted of our riding-ponies and three camels, to carry our
baggage, which, on arrival at that city, we agreed to reduce to the
least possible compass. Having traversed the rich tract of country
lying between Kurnaul and Delhi, we arrived on the fourth morning at
that city. We now reduced our baggage to a pair of light boxes each;
and leaving our tents, ponies, and other encumbrances, got into our
palanquins, and at the usual rate of about four miles an hour, were
jolted into Agra, and safely deposited under the verandah of our
hospitable entertainer, Mr. A. Plowden, of the civil service.

During my sojourn in India, I had hitherto had no opportunity of
visiting Agra, much and anxiously as I had wished to see its numerous
objects of interest, but above all, the far-famed Taj Mahal.

The town itself presented little to interest the traveller; and having
ridden through its narrow bazaars, we made a point, during the
remainder of our stay, to avoid their unalluring precincts, even at the
expense of an extra mile or two of ground.

The second evening of our residence, we petitioned our friend to delay
no longer the visit to the Taj; and in accordance with our request,
the dog-cart made its appearance, and I mounted beside our host, while
L - - took up his place behind, to take charge, as he professed, of the
whole concern. As we wound about the rocks in the suburbs of the city,
the Jumna lay winding its tortuous course beneath us, and the summit of
the glorious Taj suddenly opened on our view from amongst its graceful
garland of thick cypress groves.

We had no time to express our admiration of the sight, for L - - ,
who had been, as usual, overflowing with spirits the whole way, now
exclaimed, as we were tearing along towards the monument at a pace
which did credit to our little hack, "It matters more to you men of
weight, physically speaking, than to me; but I do think there ought to
be a linch-pin in the wheels of this uneasy machine."

Our host was turning round to make some rejoinder, when away spun the
wheel in right earnest, and each occupant took involuntarily a line of
country of his own. Fortunately for us, the road was some two feet deep
in very fine dust, and we rested unharmed, though rather bewildered,
on its woolly surface. After a few seconds, we all wheeled about, and
meeting face to face, burst into laughter at each other's ludicrous

In the midst of our merriment, a britzka drove rapidly round the
corner, and pulled up beside us, when we were rejoiced to find that its
fair tenant was our hostess. Having committed the damaged cart to the
charge of two sable attendants, we proceeded to our destination in the
britzka, though not before L - - had carefully inspected the linch-pins
of the carriage.

The shades of evening were thickening fast around us as we drew up
at the archway, where it is necessary to dismount, and proceed on
foot into the gardens of the Taj. Strolling on through avenues of
cypress, speckled occasionally with basins of white marble amongst the
evergreens which surround them, we arrived at the foot of the square
platform on which the monument rests, at each angle of which rose an
elaborately carved minaret.

The Taj itself is built entirely of white marble, and conveyed to
my senses the very poetry of architecture. A good drawing might
convey a better idea of its exterior than any amount of description
could effect; but I have never seen one which at all satisfied me.
The interior of the edifice, which is octagonal, and inlaid with
mosaic of precious stones representing fruits and flowers, no drawing
could ever do justice to. In the centre, surrounded by a screen of
exquisitely-wrought white marble fretwork, stand beside each other the
tombs of Shah Jehan and his sultana, Mumtaza Zemâni. As we gazed with
solemn and mute admiration on the glorious objects around us, feeling
that she who had stood unrivalled amongst the favourites of the East
while living, had prevailed even beyond the grave in tenanting a
resting-place which asserts an easy superiority over the handiworks of
the children of men, a low strain of music arising from the waters of
the Jumna poured its soft melody through the gratings of the edifice,
and echoed in gently-repeated harmony along the roof.

As the last faint notes died away, we gradually awoke to the world
around us, which we had long before quitted for the realms of
imagination, and were almost startled by the tones of a human voice
informing us that the music was of this earth, and had been provided
for the occasion by our considerate host.

Never will be obliterated those happy hours from my memory, which
I passed wandering amongst the groves and terraces of that type of
symmetrical beauty. I have often thought, that should any immoderate
afflictions fall to my lot in after life, I would make a pilgrimage
to this spot; and there, though oblivion might be denied, yet, under
the soothing influence of such a scene, the mind must be rendered more
qualified to ascend from the highest and most perfect works of men to
the throne of Him who controls their destinies.

Never having been a very enthusiastic admirer of architecture, and
cordially admitting that "God made the country, man the town," I
approached the Taj, dishonestly prejudiced against it, especially as I
had heard the united voices of men raised in its favour; but no sooner

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryDaniel Henry MacKinnonMilitary Service and Adventures in the Far East, Vol. II (of 2) → online text (page 1 of 14)