Copyright
Charles Rathbone Low.

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

. (page 23 of 40)
Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 23 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


directed to retire, which, without some demonstration of our
power, he will find some difficulty in doing. I have less hesita-
tion in thus expressing my opinion, because I could not, under
any circumstances, move in less than eighteen or twenty days ;
and your reply might reach me by express in about twenty-two
days. The difference in point of time is not very material, but
the importance of the subject is sufficient to justify the delay of
a few days. In the meantime, I shall endeavour to procure
carriage cattle as fast as I can, to move either forward or back-
ward as I may be directed ; or, if left to my discretion, as I
may think judicious. Under any circumstances, I should not



Life of Sir George Pollock. 303

advocate the delay of the troops either at Candahar or on
this side beyond the month of November ; and in this arrange-
ment advertence must be had to the safety of the Khyber,
which I consider the Sikhs would gladly hold if they were
allowed to take possession of Jellalabad.

I have the honour to be, &c.,

GEORGE POLLOCK, Major-General."

There is a singular history attaching to this letter,
so spirited in its matter, and forming so important
an element in any estimate of George Pollock's
character and pre-eminent services during this event-
ful year. It never found its way into the volume of
correspondence relating to the military operations in.
Afghanistan published by order of Parliament, and
its existence was only to be inferred from the fact of
a reference to it in another letter of General Pollock's,
dated 20th May, the receipt of which was acknow-
ledged, though no reference to the missing letter was
made therein. It was at last brought to light by
the inquiries of Lord Palmer st on, and the late
Marquis of Lansdowne, whose speech in the House
of Lords, in which he refers to this missing docu-
ment, we will dwell upon a little further on. The
letter, or a copy of it, was to be found nowhere in
England, but a copy was at length brought from
India. The Governor- General, feeling himself some-
what discredited by the supposed suppression of a
document of the highest public importance, and one
tending to establish the fame of an officer to the



304 Life of Sir George Pollock.

prejudice of himself, placed on record the following
explanation :

" The original despatch of the 13th May never reached the
office, and must have been lost in transit. The duplicate was
received and acknowledged on the llth of July. It is the
practice of the Secretary's office to keep the unreported papers
on all important subjects for each month together, and to for-
ward copies of them to the Secret Committee by the monthly
overland mail. The despatch in question was inadvertently put
up in its proper place in the May bundle of reported papers,
instead of being left for a time, as it should have been, among
the unreported papers of July. Hence, when the July papers
were copied for transmission to the Secret Committee, this
despatch was omitted."

As the historian of the war well observes :

" Nothing less explanatory than this was ever offered in the
way of explanation. It does not appear whether the original
letter miscarried altogether on its way to Lord Ellenborough, or
whether it miscarried only on its way to the office. There is an
equal obscurity about the history of the duplicate which was
' received and acknowledged on the llth of July.' It might be
inferred from this that it was received on the llth of July, and
acknowledged on the same day. But it happens that the
duplicate was despatched on the 30th of May, and ought surely
to have come, not among the July, but among the June papers.
In this letter of the llth of July, the Secretary says, ' I am
directed to state that the original letter has never reached me,
and that the duplicate has only lately been received and laid
before the Governor- General, whose previous instructions to you
appeared to render any special reply to this communication
unnecessary.' "

Greneral Pollock was eager to advance on Cabul,
and, grasping at the faintest indication of willingness
on the part of the Governor-Greneral to place any



Life of Sir George Pollock. 305

discretionary power in his hands, expressed his in-
ability to retire on Peshawur, owing to want of car-
riage. Cattle in sufficient numbers could not be had
in this poverty-stricken country, and he was therefore
obliged to remain at Jellalabad. In the meantime,
provisions flowed in in abundance. The peasantry,
being encouraged to bring their grain for sale by
liberal prices and good treatment, and finding no
Afghan soldiers in the way to interfere with so
unusual an opportunity for fleecing the unbeliever,
flocked into the town with supplies of all sorts. But
to retain a continuance of this plentiful supply, it was
essentially requisite that a belief should be enter-
tained throughout the country that the General in-
tended to make a forward movement. Writing to
Mr. Clerk, on the 6th May, he says :

" We are all quiet here, grain coining in in abundance, at least
in as great quantities as we could expect after the dreadful
alarm into which this force seems to have put the whole
country. Every village was deserted. I did my utmost to
protect them from plunder, and in most cases succeeded ; and
the consequence is that we, in a measure, command the re-
sources of the country."

And on the llth of the same month, writing again
to Mr. Clerk, he said :

" While I remain here I can command supplies, and I have no
doubt that I shall be able to do so as long as the natives suppose
that we intend remaining in the country ; but if they thought
otherwise, our supplies would be stopped."

Soon after General Pollock's arrival at Jellalabad,
news was received of the death of Shah Soojah, at
Cabul, on the 5th April. This ill-iated monarch, the

20



306 Life of Sir George Pollock.

source of all our disaster, was murdered by the orders
of his godson, Soojah-ool-dowlah, son of the Newaub
Zemaun Khan, while he was proceeding in regal
state ta his tent at Seeah-Sungh. Futteh Jung, the
second son of the deceased king, was proclaimed in his
stead ; but, being a weak-minded prince, was wholly
unable to cope with the lawless nobles around him,
in whose hands he became a mere puppet. Opinions
have ever been conflicting as to the part played by
the deceased monarch in the memorable events pre-
ceding his death. Mackeson and Macgregor were both
of opinion that he was deeply implicated in them ; not
so George Lawrence and Eawlinson, who took a more
favourable view of his character, and acquitted him of
all treachery and double dealing. The point is of
little interest now, though it has been much debated.
On the 22nd of April, the intelligence was received
of the surrender of Ghuznee by Colonel Palmer, who,
together with those of his officers and men who
escaped massacre at the hands of the perfidious
Afghans, were made prisoners, the officers subse-
quently joining their fellow-countrymen in captivity
near Cabul. These latter, on the news of Sale's
victory, and the approach of Pollock's army, had
been moved from Budeeabad, a fort not far from
Jellalabad, to Tezeen, then to Zandah, and ultimately,
on the 23rd May, by Akbar Khan's orders, to the
capital. While they were at Zandah, an almost
inaccessible place, many thousand feet above the level
of the sea, Akbar Khan sent Captain Colin Mac-



Life of Sir George Pollock. 307

kenzie to Jellalabad to confer with General Pollock
about terms regarding their release. He arrived at
the British camp on the 25th April. Major Smith
thus speaks of the unexpected visit of this gallant
officer, who still survives without having received
any adequate reward for his sufferings and services :

" About dusk, I was standing near my tent door, conversing
with Ponsonby, when three Afghans rode up. We looked at
them with some curiosity, and the foremost, accosting us, said,
to my astonishment, in a very gentlemanly tone, ' Will you be
good enough to direct me to General Pollock's tent ? ' He
proved to be Captain Colin Mackenzie, one of the prisoners sent
on parole by Mahomed Akbar with some propositions regarding
their release. You will judge how eagerly we questioned him.
Poor General Elphinstone, he told us, worn out with sickness,
fatigue, and anxiety of mind, had closed his melancholy career.
He died at Tezeen on the 23rd, and when Mackenzie left,
Akbar Khan desired him to say he would send the General's
body to our camp. Mackenzie set out on his return to Tezeen,
under escort of his two Afghan attendants, on the 28th, carrying
with him as many newspapers and articles of comfort for his
companions in captivity as he could manage to convey. He
conceals his face, and passes very well for an Afghan traveller.
On the 30th, the remains of General Elphinstone arrived,
brought down the river on a raft. On the first attempt to send
the body (by land) it was intercepted by some Kojees, who
threw it out of the chest in which it was enclosed, upon the
ground, and pelted it with stones. A chief interfered, and
Mahomed Akbar's people returned with it to Tezeen. On the
1st of May the funeral took place, and the poor old General was
buried, with due honours, by the side of Dennie, under the
' long-necked bastion,' in the fort of Jellalabad."

The following was the purport of the proposals
brought by Colin Mackenzie from Major Pottinger,
the chief British political officer in the hands of

20 *



jo 8 Life of Sir George Pollock.

Akbar Khan, in whose behalf the message was
sent. In the first place, Akbar Khan wished to
know whether the British authorities would consent
to withdraw the greater portion of their troops, and
leave an agent with a small body of men to act with
whoever the Afghan confederates might elect as
chief, in which choice they proposed to be guided by
the wishes of the two factions in Cabul; and he
wished the British to release his father, Dost
Mahomed Khan. Secondly, he proposed that if the
British Government had determined on subjecting
the country and continuing the war, the prisoners in
Afghanistan be exchanged for Dost Mahomed Khan,
his family and attendants, and that the issue be
dependent on the sword. Lastly, that in the event
of neither of these proposals being approved of, he
wished to know what terms would be granted to
himself, and the Q-hilzye chiefs individually ; whether
the British, in the event of their submission, would
confine them, reduce their pay, or, in short, what they
might expect from our clemency.

To this letter, signed by Major Pottinger, and
dated " 20th April, Tezeen," General Pollock, in his
reply of the 26th April, deemed it proper to confine
himself to the question of the release of the pri-
soners, and the terms on which that object might be
effected. Those terms were, that kindness and good
treatment of the prisoners would meet with due con-
sideration at the hands of the British Government,
and the release of them much more so ; that their



Life of Sir George Pollock. 309

release would also greatly facilitate further communi-
cations between the two authorities ; that if money
was a consideration, lie was prepared to pay into the
hands of any one deputed by the sirdar the sum of
two lacs of rupees (20,000) whenever the prisoners
should be delivered up to him ; that the security
for the payment of the money would be given in the
way the sirdar might point out, the accommodation
being mutual ; that Akbar's father-in-law, Mahomed
Shah Khan, and his two brothers, would enjoy the ad-
vantages arising from their hereditary possessions, and
the other points contained in the sirdar's communica-
tion must remain for future consideration. There was
a fourth proposition, brought by Colin Mackenzie,
which was from Akbar Khan alone, delivered verbally
to Mackenzie in the presence of Major Pottinger,
but without the knowledge of any of his country-
men. It related to himself and the terms he would be
granted in the event of submission. A paper was
also placed in the General's hand, written by Akbar
Khan himself, but without any seal or signature, for
the sirdar was fearful of compromising himself with
his countrymen, who would not have scrupled to
punish such treachery in true Afghan fashion. After
stating in this document that he had been unable to
restrain the Afghans from attacking General Elphin-
stone's army, and his inability to release the prisoners,
as it would raise the whole of his countrymen against
him, he proceeds to say :

" Please God, my services shall exceed the injuries I have



jio Life of Sir George Pollock.

done yon, on condition that we are friends ; let the terms of
friendship between me and my friends, such as Mahomed Shah
Khan and others, be written out, and be sent before the receipt
of my guests in your camp, that I may feel confidence. The
other matters have been explained by Captain Mackenzie
verbally, and he will make them known to you. I hope
that you will write down every article in a treaty signed and
sealed."

Captain Mackenzie left Jellalabad with. General
Pollock's reply on the 28th April, but the sirdar was
little pleased with its contents, and, within seven
hours of his return, a second time despatched the
same British officer with proposals, which the General
characterized in a letter to Government as " very
extravagant."

Captain Mackenzie returned to Tezeen with General
Pollock's reply, dated 10th May, which, as well as the
letter that called it forth, it is unnecessary to give, as
the negotiations ended in failure, and the prisoners still
pined in captivity. Akbar Khan was called away to
Cabul, where stirring events were in progress. But
Colin Mackenzie's visits were not without their results.
The General had closely questioned him regarding the
recent sad events, and his answers, together with
Leutenant Vincent Eyre's "Journal of the Military
Operations at Cabul," which he brought concealed on
his person, were remitted to Captain (the late Sir
Henry) Durand, private secretary to Lord Ellen-
borough, and the information thus gathered threw a
flood of light on the -circumstances connected with Sir
W. Macnaghten's murder, and the causes and progress



Life of Sir George Pollock. 3 1 1

of the insurrection of Cabul. The intelligence now
for the first time made public was eagerly devoured in
every cantonment in India, and, indeed, wherever the
Anglo-Saxon tongue was spoken, for the fate of the
unhappy captives in the grasp of the treacherous Af-
ghan sirdar excited a painful and universal interest.*

The Governor- General, in his reply to George
Pollock referring to the foregoing negotiations,
while he sanctioned payment of any pecuniary con-
sideration for the release of the prisoners, expressed
his dislike to this course, though willing to exchange
Dost Mahomed and his family for them. General
Pollock was, however, authorized, by Lord Auckland's
letter of the 24th February, in making the former
proposal, and these instructions did not, in General
Pollock's opinion, approve of an exchange unless all
the prisoners were surrendered, which it was out of
Akbar Khan's power to effect, as they were not all
in his custody.

On the 5th May, Brigadier Monteith, who had been
detached with a force to meet and support through
the Khyber some reinforcements from India, marched
into camp; these additional troops, consisting of H,M.'s



* It is related by the distinguished author, now Major-General Sir
Vincent Eyre, K.C.S.I., C.B., that this volume was not only the means
of putting 1,000 into his pocket, but the history of the terrible tragedy
so graphically related therein, had the unprecedented effect of depriv-
ing the great Duke of Wellington of a night's rest. The book, which
contains the most able professional exposition of the blunders committed
by the military leaders at Cabul, ran through several editions, and was
translated into three or four of the chief continental languages.



312 Life of Sir George Pollock.

31st Hegiment, under command of Colonel Bolton,
Major Delafosse's 3rd Troop, 1st Brigade, Horse Artil-
lery, and the 6th regiment Native Infantry, escorted
a considerable amount of treasure and ammunition.
They formed a valuable addition to the General's
gallant little army, which was now composed of the
3rd Dragoons, two regiments of Native Cavalry,
about four hundred Irregular Horse, two troops of
Horse Artillery, three companies Foot Artillery, No. 6
Light Field Battery, Backhouse's Mountain Train,
the 9th, 13th, and 31st Queen's, eight regiments of
Native Infantry, and the two very useful and efficient
corps known as Broadfoot's and Ferris's Irregulars.
But the army was prevented from moving one way or
the other, owing to a deficiency of transport. The
camels, in consequence of the blundering of some one'
of which the General more than once complains
-had been engaged only to go as far as Jellala-
bad, and the camel-drivers were deserting with these
useful animals in hundreds. He writes to Govern-
ment on the 20th May :

" I have endeavoured to procure camels here and have written
to Peshawur, but I fear I cannot expect more than 400, includ-
ing those coming from Ferozepore, and unless more be sent from
the provinces, I don't know where to look for them ; I have been
able to purchase only a few here, and am therefore unable to
move the whole force." *

But he was not idle, having determined upon
striking a blow at the enemy in his neighbour-

* By a return dated 27th June, it appears that the deficiency of
cattle amounted to 3,066 camels, and 5,750 bullocks.



Life of Sir George Pollock. 313

hood, a course which had been recommended by
the Governor-General in his communications to
him. In the middle of June, Brigadier Monteith
was despatched into the Shinwarree valley to
punish the tribes who had possessed themselves
of property, including a gun, belonging to General
Elphinstone's army. The force consisted of Captain
Abbott's Light Field Battery, and a squadron of the
1st Light Cavalry, H.M.'s 31st, the 33rd and 53rd
regiments of Native Infantry, and Captain Ferris 's
Jezailchees, amounting in all to 2,300 men. At Ali
Boghan, the troops, infuriated at the sight of some
plundered property, began to set fire to the houses,
but were restrained by Monteith, and by Macgregor,
who was attached to the force in a political capacity.
On the morning of the 20th June, the Brigadier
moved upon a place called Goolai, where some British
treasure was known to be in the hands of two chiefs.
Evasive answers being returned to the demand for the
stolen money, as a mark of just retribution their forts
and houses were demolished, their walls blown up,
their trees left to perish by deep rings being cut
through the bark to the core, and the entire settle-
ment desolated. While this work was going on the
people of Deh Surruk, a neighbouring village, anxious
to avert such a calamity from their door, surrendered
the gun, and restored upwards of 10,000 rupees,
besides other property. Monteith then proceeded
through the Shinwarree valley, and thoroughly hum-
bled the lawless inhabitants. On the 26th July, he



314 Life of Sir George Pollock.

set fire to the enemy's forts, they having evacuated
them on his approach. Lieutenant John Becher, of
the Engineers, carried out this work of just retribu-
tion, the force moving parallel along the ridge for the
protection of his party. The Brigadier writes from
his camp at Mazeena on the following day :

" Thus, at one time, the interiors of forty- five forts were in a
blaze along the valley, the enemy contemplating the scene from
the heights in the vicinity of Secunder Khan's fort, where they
had taken up positions, and from whence they were driven in
gallant style by the advance, consisting of the light and two
battalion companies of H.M.'s 31st Regiment, the light com-
panies 33rd and 53rd Regiments, and the Jezailchees, under
Major Skinner, H.M.'s 31st Regiment."

In these operations the enemy made some resis-
tance, but were speedily driven from every position,
H.M.'s 31st and the Jezailchees particularly distin-
guishing themselves, while nothing could have been
more effective than the fire of Captain Abbott's bat-
tery, which opened on them with shrapnel. The
troops marched back to camp after an arduous day's
work, and with a loss of only three killed (one being
an officer of the 31st Eegiment) and twenty- three
wounded. On the 3rd August, Brigadier Monteith
returned to Jellalabad.

Here matters remained pretty much in statu quo.
Major Smith speaks of the attendant miseries of life
in the East, without the luxuries which every Anglo-
Indian can generally manage to gather round him in
cantonments, but which were not available in this
miserable Afghan town. He says :



Life of Sir George Pollock. 3 1 5

" Many stragglers from our late Cabul army (Sepoys arid camp
followers) have come in lately from the villages, where they
have lain concealed since the massacre. Several of them have
suffered miserably from the cold, having lost their toes, and in
some instances, their feet. They are subsisted by the Commis-
sariat, and despatched on rafts down the river to Peshawur. It
is difficult to fancy any petty misery of a more annoying kind
than what we have frequently to endure for days and nights
together, when the violent wind, which blows along the valley
from the west, almost buries us in dust. We are begrimed in
filth ; we eat it, drink it, and sleep in it, and have no comfort
for a moment of our lives while this tormenting gale continues,
which is generally about three days sans intermission. The heat,
too, is increasing, and for some hours daily attains to 108 in
one's tent. Towards sunset the temperature becomes bearable,
and the nights are not unpleasant.

" Should we remain here, all must resort to the plan of living
underground, in what are called tyJchannalis, or, in other words,
we must dig holes in the earth, and take up our quarters in
them ; we shall, else, be likely to do so in a less voluntary man-
ner. Jellalabad seems to be the very head-quarters of earth-
quakes. Scarcely a day passes without one, but after the grand
affair in February, we are inclined to regard a shock that will
not shake down ' temple and tower ' as a matter of no interest.
When, however, the tremblement happened to be rather decided,
it was diverting to see the inhabitants of tylchannahs all popping
up their heads to look about, like rats peeping from their holes.
Our life was lamentably dull and monotonous. Except with a
strong escort it was unsafe to ride beyond the pickets. The
inhabitants were encouraged to visit our camp, with a view to
obtaining provisions, and the luxury of ice, which they brought
us in abundance from the snowy mountains. These fellows
lurked about, and if a soldier passed the line of sentries after
nightfall, his murder was certain. I have mentioned the luxury
of ice, but you must not infer from this that we had any wine
to cool with it ; our stock of all the liquids to which * teeto-
talers ' object, was speedily exhausted, and every mess in the
camp was for many weeks a temperance society on the strictest
principles. Latterly, some speculating merchants from Hindo-



3 1 6 Life of Sir George Pollock.

stan contrived to reach us, and disturbed, in some degree, this
happy state of things, but their prices were so exorbitant that
the evil influence was by no means universally experienced."

Negotiations for the release of the prisoners were
still carried on, but they were not of a promising
character. On the 13th July, Captain Colin Troup,
formerly Brigade-Major to the Shah's force, rode into
camp from Cabul, whence he had been despatched by
Akbar Khan, Colin Mackenzie being dangerously ill
with fever. He was escorted by a few Afghan horse-
men, and accompanied by a native gentleman, named
Hadje Buktear, a Candahar man, who had been at
Bombay. Captain Troup informed General Pollock
that if it had depended on Akbar Khan alone, some
of the ladies would have been sent with him, but that
Mahomed Shah, an influential chief, was bitterly
opposed to any conciliation. General Pollock's views,
however, had changed regarding the desirability of
any treaty other than could be extorted at the sword's
point from these perfidious Afghan sirdars ; and,
thanks in a great measure to the exertions of Mr.
Eobertson, having received a supply of baggage
animals, almost sufficient to enable him to advance on
Cabul, he was unwilling to propose any terms that
would compromise him with Akbar Khan. Though



Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 23 of 40)