Charles Rathbone Low.

The life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) online

. (page 16 of 40)
Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 16 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

year, marched out and inflicted a signal defeat on the
Dooranee chiefs ; while the latter gallant officer held
Jellalahad against Akbar Khan, who was beaten off
on March llth, 1842, and whose army was dispersed
on April 7th, in a brilliant engagement fought under
its walls. This short resume of the events preceding
General Pollock's advance into Afghanistan concluded,
we will take up the thread of the narrative from
the commencement of this eventful epoch of his

Lord Auckland, on learning the news of the murder
of Sir William Macnaghten, and the beleaguer ment
of General Elphinstone's troops in the cantonments
before Cabul, instead of rising to the height of the
crisis, as would a Warren Hastings or a Wellesley,
gave way to despondency, and, at a time when his
energies might have been employed, ere it was too
late, in pushing forward every soldier he could mus-
ter to relieve their imperilled comrades, wrote to the
Commander-in-Chief, Sir Jasper Nicolls, that it was
not clear to him how the march of a brigade could
produce any influence on the events then passing at
Cabul, and expressed his determination that " if alj.

20 8 Life of Sir George Pollock.

should be lost there, he would not encounter new
hazards for the purpose of re-conquest."

The Commander-in-Chief, who had always dis-
approved of the policy of undertaking the expedition,
coincided with this view of our duties as the para-
mount power of Southern Asia. At length, on the
30th of January, Lord Auckland received the news
of the annihilation of General Elphinstone's force,
and, in a spasmodic fit of energy, issued, on the fol-
lowing day, a notification stating that he regarded
this " partial reverse only as a new occasion for dis-
playing the stability and vigour of the British power,
and the admirable spirit and valour of the British-
Indian army."

In the meantime, early in November, a feeble effort
had been made to reinforce the ill-fated army of
occupation in Afghanistan. On the first intimation
of the outbreak of the 2nd November, two civilians
Mr. Eobertson, the Lieutenant- Governor of the
North- Western Provinces, and Mr. Clerk,* the
Governor-General's agent on the North- Western fron-
tier, nobly seconded by the assistant of the latter, Cap-
tain (afterwards so famous as Sir Henry) Lawrence,
immediately addressed requisitions for troops to Colonel
Wild, commanding officer at Ferozepore, and Colonel
Eich, commandant at Loodiana ; and it was owing
chiefly to the energetic representation of these dis-
tinguished and able civilians, that the 64th Native

* Sir George Clerk, G.G.B., G.C.S.I., late Governor of Bombay, and
at present Member of the Council of India.

Life of Sir George Pollock. 209

Infantry crossed the Sutlej on the 18th November,
the 60th on the 20th, and the 53rd and 30th on the
26th of the same month. These troops marched
through the Punjaub under the command of Brigadier
Wild, and arrived at Peshawur, where the Brigadier
waited for European reinforcements, and more par-
ticularly for guns, of which, though provided
with a few artillerymen, he had not one, as it
was expected that our Sikh allies would furnish the
number necessary for his small force of artillerymen.
On the 3rd January, General Avitabile, the Sikh
commandant at Peshawur, handed over to the British
officer four rickety guns, which had a bad habit of
knocking their carriages to pieces whenever they were
fired. Even these wretched pieces of ordnance were
not obtained without a show of resistance on the
part of the Khalsa artillerymen, who in common with
all their countrymen, bore no love for their white-
faced allies. On the following day one of the gun
limbers went to pieces, and had to be replaced, and
Wild was further delayed by the desertions of his
camel-drivers ; the enthusiasm of the Sepoys for the
forward march through the Khyber also daily waned,
and the Sikh auxiliaries endeavoured, and not without
success, to excite the prejudices and raise the fears of
the Sepoys regarding the possibility of forcing the
dreaded passes of the Khyber.

In the meanwhile, Mr. Clerk urged on the despatch
of reinforcements; and on the 4th of January a
second brigade, numbering 3,034 fighting men, and


2io Life of Sir George Pollock.

consisting of H.M.'s 9th Foot, half of a foot artillery
battery with two 9-pounders and a howitzer, the I Oth
Bengal Cavalry, and the 26th Native Infantry, the
whole under the command of Brigadier McCaskill,
crossed the Su<tlej on its way to Peshawur. This
strong brigade did not arrive at its destination before
the beginning of February ; and, during the previous
month, important but disastrous events had befallen
the Peshawur force. Brigadier Wild had been com-
pelled to refuse the frequent and importunate requests
for reinforcements from General Sale and Captain
Macgregor, respectively the commandant and political
agent at Jellalabad, for the very sufficient reasons *that
his guns were not serviceable, there was a scarcity
of ammunition, carriage was beginning to fail, and his
cavalry consisted of only one troop of irregular horse.
But he was nevertheless compelled to advance into
the Khyber, in order to retain possession of the fortress
of Ali Musjid, which, lying some five miles from the
entrance of the pass of which it was always regarded
as the key, and twenty-five from Peshawur, was on
the point of falling into the hands of the Afreedies,
its garrison, a small detachment of the Eusofzye tribe,
under Mr. Mackeson, (a cousin of Captain Mackeson,
the distinguished political agent at Peshawur,) being
unable to continue the defence. On account of its
situation between Jellalabad and Peshawur, it was
essential that this post should be retained ; and accord-
ingly, on the 1 5th of January, Colonel Moseley, with
the 53rd and 64th Native Infantry regiments, started

Life of Sir George Pollock. 2 1 1

under cover of the night for All Musjid. They
reached the post with hut little opposition, when it
was found that hy some mistake the supply of provi-
sions brought with them was totally inadequate for
their support for a month, being only sufficient for a
few days. Brigadier Wild, who was at Jumrood, at the
mouth of the pass, with the remaining two regiments,
was to have moved forward with them and the Sikh
auxiliaries on the morning of the 19th of January;
but at eleven o'clock on the preceding night, the latter
mutinied in a body, and refused to enter the pass.
These recreant soldiers, who had received among
them one and a half lacs of rupees advanced for
"their pay by Captain Mackeson, marched back
towards Peshawur ; but General Avitabile, the Sikh
Governor, indignant at their treachery, closed the
gates against them, and shut himself up in the fort.
At seven A.M. on the 19th January, the 30th and
60th regiments, with the Sikh guns, commenced their
march for Ali Musjid, but the enemy appearing at
the entrance to the pass, and meeting the advance
column with a heavy fire from their jezails, the Sepoys
at first wavered, then crowded upon each other like a
herd of frightened deer, and commenced firing in a
desultory, ineffective manner. In vain the Brigadier
and his staff called upon them to advance, in vain
their officers strove to awaken them by example to a
sense of duty ; they only huddled together in con-
fusion and dismay. Then the guns broke down, and
the end of the disgraceful business was that the force

14 *

212 Life of Sir George Pollock.

had to fall back on Jumrood ; one gun, after being
spiked, was abandoned, in spite of the exertions of
Captain Henry Lawrence, who endeavoured to bring
it off. The Brigadier was wounded in the face, one
officer was killed, and several were wounded, while
the loss among the Sepoys was severe. On this
becoming known at Ali Musjid, Colonel Moseley, not
being provided with provisions sufficient to enable
him to hold out for more than a few days, determined
to evacuate the post ; and accordingly, on the 24th,
the entire force moved out, and cut its way back to
Peshawur, though not without considerable loss, in-
cluding two gallant officers, Captains Wilson and Lock.
When the second brigade, under Brigadier
McCaskill, was despatched to Peshawur, it became
necessary that a general officer of experience should
be appointed to the command. Early in the previous
November, the Commander-in- Chief had proposed
Sir Edmund Williams as an officer in every way suit-
able for the post, but he had only been two years
in India, and Lord Auckland was anxious that a
Company's officer, one who understood the Sepoy
character, should be placed at the head of affairs, and
nominated Major-General Lumley, then Adjutant-
General of the army, an officer of considerable Indian
experience, and who had served with distinction at
Deig and Bhurtpore. But General Lumley 's health
was broken, and Sir Jasper Nicolls informed the
Governor- General that he could not assume the
command on this account, and again recommended

Life of Sir George Pollock. 213

Sir Edmund Williams, regarding whose fitness lie
wrote home to the Horse Guards in the strongest
terms. On the 15th of December he also addressed
the Governor-General at Muttra. " If, therefore, the
force is raised to six regiments, I shall order Major-
General Sir Edmund Williams to join my camp by
dawk, and push him forward as soon as I shall have
furnished him with instructions, and armed him with
all the information and advice which the known state
of affairs at his departure may seem to require."
But the notion of appointing this officer was aban-
doned by Sir Jasper Nicolls on his finding that it
would be extremely objectionable to all the members
of the supreme Government. The Commander-in-
Chief accordingly once more sent for General Lumley,
and placed in his hand the Governor- General's letter,
offering him the command. " The General," writes
Sir Jasper, on the 24th December, " is willing to pro-
ceed, but requested that his medical adviser should
be consulted as to his ability to undertake such a ser-
vice." But the opinion of his doctor was adverse, and,
with every desire to place his services at the disposal
of Government, General Lumley had the good sense
to avoid the mistake the ill-fated Elphinstone made
in accepting a similar flattering offer.

Some one had to be found, and that speedily, but
it was no easy task to secure the services of a man
who, in the words of the Commander-in-Chief, " should
be also the Envoy a Malcolm, Close, or Ochterlony."

It was at this hour of doubt and disaster, when
not only the good fortune that had ever attended the

214 Life of Sir George Pollock.

arms of Britain in India, seemed to have deserted
her colours, but when the Government knew not
where to look for a general to restore the tar-
nished lustre of her name, it was at this supreme
moment that their choice fell upon Major- General
Pollock as the man who, thoroughly versed in the
peculiar idiosyncrasies of the Sepoy, was> from his
Indian experience and reputation, well calculated to
restore confidence in a/demoralized native army ; and
who, having been associated with the Company's
European Artillery, was not less familiar with the
management of British soldiers.

In this selection the desponding and bewildered Gover-
nor-General and the military authorities * displayed, as
Marshman says, their "solitary instance of wisdom;"
but we ought not, perhaps, to be too censorious, as
this unique display of sagacity on their part retrieved
the almost desperate state of affairs, and saved
British honour, if not British India as well. George
Pollock was at this time the right man in the right
place. In his person he combined the qualities
necessary for a leader of men in a crisis when so many
civilians, and soldiers too of the highest standing,
some " bearing their blushing honours thick upon
them," despaired of planting the British ensign on
the ramparts of the Bala Hissar, while not a few

* The advice of the military always acted upon. General Pol-
member of the Supreme Council, lock was always of opinion that
Major- General Sir William Case- he had been selected by Lord
ment, was generally sound and Auckland, and not by Sir Jasper
sagacious, though it was not Nicolls, as stated by Kaye.

Life of Sir George Pollock. 1 1 5

regarded as lost the beleaguered garrison of Jellala-
bad. The Bengal Artillery officer, however, did
not " despair of the State," but showed himself in
this crisis " equal to affairs."

That Greorge Pollock was eminently fitted for
the post, was allowed by all those who had studied
his character and career, and had observed the
indomitable energy displayed by him in trying cir-
cumstances, and the patience with which he overcame
the most provoking obstacles thrown in his way by
chance and by faint-hearted seniors placed in authority
over him. The testimony of two such observant and
discriminating officers as Captain Henry Lawrence
and Captain Greorge Broadfoot, is convincing on this
point. The former, writing to his wife from Pesh-
awur on the 1st January, 1842, says: "Greneral
Pollock is about as good a Commander as could be
sent ;" and Broadfoot made the following entry in his
diary on the 4th February : " Vigorous and skilful
measures will yet set all right. May Pollock well
support his present character. He has a noble field
before him, and much is expected of him. He is of
an able family too. I hope to see him a Peer ; the
first of our service since Clive." The firmness and
decision that form so necessary a qualification for a
successful general, were largely developed in Pollock's
character. He was not a man who, urged on by
personal vanity, accepted this important task with \
the sole object of winning a flashy reputation, and
glorifying himself at any cost; far other were the


Life of Sir George Pollock.

considerations and motives that swayed him. A sense
of duty towards his country, and a determination, at
all hazard, to fulfil it, alone animated him ; no one
better than he knew the weighty load of responsibility
he was incurring, or felt the gravity of the crisis in
which he had thus undertaken to assume the most
arduous post.*

* Kaye admirably sums up
General Pollock's qualifications
for this important and delicate
command : " The nomination
of this old and distinguished
Company's officer was believed
to be free from the corruption
of aristocratic influence and
the taint of personal favourit-
ism. It was felt that, in this case
at least, the selection had been
made solely on the ground of in-
dividual merit. And the merit
which was thus rewarded was of
the most modest and unostenta-
tious character. There was not,
perhaps, in the whole Indian army
a man of more unassuming man-
ners and a more retiring disposi-
tion there was not one less likely
to have sought notoriety for its
own sake, or to put himself for-
ward in an effort to obtain it.
Pollock's merits did not lie upon
the surface. He was not what is
called a ' dashing officer ; ' he
shrank from anything like per-
sonal display, and never appealed
to the vulgar weaknesses of an
unreflecting community. But be-
neath a most unassuming exterior
there lay a fund of good sense, of

innate sagacity, of quiet firmness
and collectedness. He was equa-
ble and temperate he was tho-
roughly conscientious. If he was
looked upon by the Indian Go-
vernment as a safe man, it was not
merely because he always exer-
cised a calm and dispassionate
judgment, but because he was
actuated in all that he did by the
purest motives, and sustained by
the highest principles. He was
essentially an honest man there
was a directness of purpose about
him which won the confidence of
all with whom he was associated.
They saw that his own paramount
desire was to do his duty to his
country by consulting in every
way the welfare and the honour of
the troops under his command;
and they knew that they would
never be sacrificed, either on the
one hand by the rash ambition, or
on the other by the feebleness and
indecision of their leader. The
force now to be despatched to the
frontier of Afghanistan required
the superintendence and control
of an officer equally cool and firm,
temperate and decided ; and, per-
haps, in the whole range of the

Life of Sir George Pollock. 217

The newly- appointed general was at Agra when he
received the order to proceed forthwith to Peshawur
to take command of the troops assembling there,
an order which was to exercise so paramount an in-
fluence on his future; and he tells an anecdote of
the circumstances under which he received it. At
early dawn of the morning of the 1st day of the
New Year, he was smoking his cheroot,* and enjoy-
ing the fresh air of the hour, when his bearer handed
him an official letter, bound with red tape. The
General had just partaken of the light early repast,
s) universal in India (where it is called "chota
hazree," or little breakfast), and was passing into
his dressing-room ; not having finished his cigar, he
threw the portentous-looking missive on the table,
under the belief that it was an order to despatch H.M/s
31st to Peshawur, that regiment having been warned
for service. Presently he took up the letter, which
was from the Coinmander-in-Chief, and, perusing it,
learnt that he had been selected for the honourable
task of leading the advance into Afghanistan. General
Pollock was ordered to leave Agra as soon as the dawk
was laid, which is effected by placing relays of bearers
at all halting- stations. At the end of three days,

Indian army, the Government Indian associate of the late Sir

could not have found one in whom George Pollock, that to their re-

these qualities were more emi- collection he never smoked. All

nently combined than in the cha- we can say is, that the anecdote

racter of General Pollock." related above was told to us by

* We have been assured by the General himself, who also

more than one intimate friend and perused it when in type.

21 8 Life of Sir George Pollock.

by which time this was completed, and he had made
arrangements for making over the command to his
successor at Agra, he set out for Peshawur, directing
his son Robert, an officer in the Horse Artillery, then
stationed at Meerut, to join him at Ferozepore as
his aide-de-camp.

On George Pollock's arrival at the frontier, he
overtook the 2nd brigade under Brigadier McCaskill,
of the 9th Foot, then making its way through the
Punjaub. He pushed on, leaving the brigade three
marches from Attock, but, on his arrival at the Indus,
found the Sikh troops encamped on the left bank
under Eajah Gholaub Singh, accompanied by Shere
Singh, while the road on the right bank was occupied
by the four Nujeeb battalions, who had so shamefully
refused to advance with Brigadier Wild's force. The
General, who reached Attock on 1st February, was
thus compelled to remain there until the Sikh troops
moved away, which was effected after many urgent
messages from Captain Henry Lawrence, who, true to
his indomitable energy, had joined the Sikh camp
with the object of hastening their advance to
Peshawur. As the British troops arrived on the
day our so-called allies marched, General Pollock
remained with the former to hasten them across the
Indus ; and, notwithstanding very heavy rains, he
transported the whole brigade over the river, and
marched to Akora on the 4th February. The next
morning he again left the camp, and proceeded to
Peshawur with Henry Lawrence, who returned again

Life of Sir George Pollock. 219

to the Sikh camp on the 6th. Brevet-Major (now
Lieut-Geoeral) Matthew Smith, of the 9th Eegiment,
Brigade-Major to General McCaskill, describes the
advent of the brigade into Peshawur, in one of a
series of letters that appeared in the United Service
Magazine in the year 1844. He says :

" The Sikh soldiery stationed at Peshawur, and Mussulman
inhabitants of the city, evinced unequivocal satisfaction at the
discomfiture of our arms. Vast crowds assembled to see us
march through the town to our encamping ground on the 8th.
A sneer was in the expression of many countenances around us,
and not a few of the bystanders were heard to speak of us as
* food for the Khyber.'

"We made intentionally as good a display of our force as
possible. No doubt many were in the crowd of spectators who
would convey intelligence of our coming to the enemy in and
beyond the pass. Near to our place of encampment is a terraced
building, on which we found General Avitabile seated in a
stately manner to see the troops pass by. General Pollock
dismounted and ascended the terrace, and I accompanied him.

"We sat a short time with his Italian Excellency. He
conversed in French, which he speaks indifferently and with
a Neapolitan accent. His countenance is sensual, with large
nose and lips, something of the Jewish cast, of course well
whiskered and bearded. His age probably fifty; figure stout,
and of good height. He wore a laced blue jacket, not unlike
that of our horse artillery, capacious crimson trousers of the
Turkish fashion, and a rich sword. He is said to rule his
province with a stern control; some examples of which we
remarked in sundry triangular gibbets (each constructed for the
accommodation of about a dozen victims of justice) ; some of
which were fully occupied, while others offered a few vacant
situations, for which we understood there was no lack of

" The city of Peshawur is of great extent ; and contains,
among numerous dirty, narrow lanes, some wide streets and

22O Life of Sir George Pollock.

good houses. We passed through two octagonal bazaars of
considerable size, and neatly constructed : these were built by
Avitabile. His own house, built also under his own personal
instructions, forms a conspicuous object from a great distance.
On the day of our arrival he entertained the officers very sump-
tuously at dinner. The repast was succeeded by the usual
Oriental amusement of contemplating the amusements and lis-
tening to the screams (a more correctly descriptive term than
singing) of a troop of Nautch girls. A liberal allowance to
defray the expense of such hospitality is made to Avitabile by
the Sikh Government."

It was during General Pollock's progress through
the Punjaub that the Governor-General received, as
we have seen, on the 30th of January, the first
intimation of the dreadful fate that had befallen
General Ephinstone's force in the passes between
Cabul and Jellalabad. After issuing a vigorous
proclamation on the. 31st of January, to which we
have already referred, he, on the same day, wrote to
the Commander-in-Chief the following instructions
for the guidance of General Pollock. First, reciting
that the General would have under his command, on
his arrival at Peshawur, a force of about 7,500 men,
in addition to Sale's brigade at Jellalabad, and a
second brigade ordered three days previously to pro-
ceed to Peshawur, which would add about 3,000 com-
batants to his army, Lord Auckland proceeds :

" In the instructions of the 15th ultimo, it was stated that the
object of the division was mainly that of demonstration and
strength on the Peshawur frontier ; and that it would rest in
his military discretion to determine whether he could with
safety hold Jellalabad in advance, in dependence of secure com-
mand of the Khyber, and the passes between Jellalabad and

Life of Sir George Pollock. 221

Peshawur. If Major- General Pollock, arriving with, only General
McCaskill's brigade, can safely maintain the position of Jellal-
abad with due regard to the security of the communications
through the Khyber Pass, he will, until otherwise ordered, con-
tinue to do so ; and it will be highly desirable that he should
find an opportunity of asserting our military superiority in the
open country in the Jellalabad neighbourhood. But Jellalabad
is not a place which the Governor- General in Council desires to
be kept at all h; zards ; and after succour shall have been given
to Sir R. Sale's brigade there, and relief shall have been given
to parties arriving from Cabul, the Governor- General in
Council would wish Major-General Pollock, rather than run
extreme risks in that position, to arrange for withdrawal from
it, and the assemblage of all his force at or near Peshawur.
When eventually the last brigade may reach Peshawur, Major-
General Pollock will then have received further directions for
his conduct ; but, in the meanwhile, whether the bulk of his
troops be at Jellalabad, or elsewhere, he will attend strictly to

Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 16 of 40)