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not less anxious than before for the safety of his country-
men, and determined, if possible, not to return with-
out them, his great object now was to gain time ; hence,
after some days' delay, he sent Captain Troup back
with only a verbal message to the effect that all the

Life of Sir George Pollock. 317

guns and trophies in the possession of the enemy
must be delivered up. When his emissary returned
to Cabul, Akbar Khan . summoned Captain Troup
and Major Pottinger to his presence and asked their
advice. The latter replied that, in his opinion, the
sirdar ought immediately to send down the whole of
the prisoners to Jellalabad as a proof of his sincerity,
for, in the event of delay, there could be no doubt
Greneral Pollock would break off negotiations and
advance with his army upon the capital. To this
Akbar replied, that without a written promise from
the British commander to withdraw his troops from
Afghanistan the prisoners would not be delivered up ;
further, they might at once banish the thought of
their forcible release, for, on receiving intelligence of
the advance of the British army, he would send them
all off to Turkestan, where they would be retained
in perpetual slavery, while he himself would dispute
the march of Greneral Pollock's troops on Cabul.
Nevertheless, he evinced much anxiety about the
negotiations. After keeping Captain Troup till late
at night in conversation, he awoke him next morning
at daybreak to resume it, and ordered him to return
to Jellalabad the same day, at the same hour, giving
him permission to take as his companion any one of
the officers he pleased. He selected Captain George
Lawrence, who was very desirous of seeing his
brother, Henry Lawrence,* the political agent with
the Sikh troops.
* This distinguished man had already earned a reputation in the


Life of Sir George Pollock.

Captains Troup and Lawrence, bringing with them
a soldier of the 44th, whom they found at Tezeen,
arrived from Cabul on the 2nd of August, but they
found the General still less inclined than before to
promise to withdraw the army. He had, indeed,
already moved a brigade, under General Sale, to
Futtehabad, a place two marches from Jellalabad.*
General Pollock had received so many assurances from
influential men at Cabul that they would not suffer
the prisoners to be carried off to Turkestan, that he
was disinclined to hamper himself with any promises.

force for his activity and energy.
There is an observation in one of
Major Smith's letters bearing upon
this. " Captain Lawrence," he
says, " is a very active and ener-
getic officer. The rapidity with
which he flies about has often
amused us. He seems to mount
the first flash of lightning that
happens to be going his way, and
when you fancy him at least forty
miles off, behold him at your side."
Speaking of the Sikh contingent,
whose conduct cost Lawrence
much trouble and annoyance,
though by his tact he was en-
abled to make them of good
service, he says : " The Sikhs
have been holding the Khyber
Pass for us, from its entrance as
far as Ali Musjid, and our convoys
of stores and provisions have thus
passed easily through, and a con-
siderable body of our native troops
being posted, under Brigadier
Wild, at Dhaka, escorts brought
them safely on from thence to our

camp. The Lahore Government
despatched a force of 4,500 men
to co-operate with us at Jellalabad,
but I do not think General Pollock
would have felt much dissatisfac-
tion had this valuable aid been with-
held. They are not ill-looking
troops, and well enough equipped,
but a most undisciplined set, ready
to break out in mutiny whenever
obedience does not suit their in-
clinations. On one occasion, soon
after their arrival, they beset their
general (an old gentleman named
Golab Singh, with a white beard
and very black face), clamouring
for pay. They burnt his tent, and
he was fain to take refuge in that
of General Pollock, where (after
the mutineers had taken their fill
of riot and disorder) a deputation
waited on him to promise renewed
submission to authority, and so-
licit his return. He complied, and
nothing more was said about the

Life of Sir George Pollock. 319

All, therefore, that he would now promise, was to
delay the advance of his army beyond Futtehabad
for a certain number of days. The two British
officers returned to their parole like men of honour,
but the prospect of their deliverance by aught but
the sword was small indeed.

We must now go back and briefly trace the course
of the correspondence between the Governor-General
and George Pollock, for it is essential in forming a
just estimate of the pre-eminent nature of the services
the latter rendered his country during this juncture,
and in proving that the subsequent advance was as
much his own work as the victories which brought
to so glorious a termination the eventful story of the
Afghan war. Lord Ellenborough writes to the Com-
mander-in-Chief on 4th May :

" The advance of the season, however, which really renders the
retirement of Major- General Pollock at the present moment
a measure of some hazard to the health of his troops, the
improved facilities which the Major- General finds of obtaining
supplies of provisions, but, more than all, the influence which
those now about him, anxious to vindicate the army by some
signal blow against the Afghans, and to effect the restoration of
the prisoners to liberty by negotiation supported by force, must
necessarily have been upon his mind, all these things induce
me to apprehend that it will hardly be until October that the
Major-General will commence his homeward march.

" Your Excellency is of opinion that Major- General Nott cannot
safely commence his march to the plains before the same time.

" It will therefore probably not be until the end of November
that the army of Major- General Pollock, nor until the end of
December that the army under Major- General Nott, will be
established within the British territory.

" I have hitherto succeeded in preserving absolute secrecy with

Life of Sir George Pollock.

respect to the intentions I entertain as to withdrawing from
Afghanistan. I have done so by unusual means, but I deemed
it to be essential to the public interests that entire secrecy upon
that point should be observed. I feel that the difficulties with
which the two armies would have to contend in making their
retreat, would be greatly increased were the Afghans now
acquainted with their intention to retire ; and, in order to mis-
lead them on this point, even were there no other object, I should
be disposed to form an army of reserve in a position from which
it might advance to the support of either Major-General Pollock,
or Major-General Nott, and, at the same time, overawe the
States of India ; and to make public at once the intention of
collecting such an army."

But his Lordship was premature in his self-gratula-
tion, as regarded his having kept secret his withdrawal
order. The secret leaked out by some means from
the Commander-in-Chiefs office. When General
Pollock was on parade at Jellalabad the day follow-
ing the receipt of Sir Jasper Nicolls' letter, an officer
on his staff rode up to him, and, congratulating him,
asked whether he had heard of the withdrawal being
decided upon from head-quarters. The General was
taken completely aback, for he knew well the ruinous
effect such an announcement would have if it became
current among the Afghans.

On the 24th May he wrote to the Commander-in-

" I heard yesterday that an officer on your staff had written to
an officer here that we were ordered back. Sir Robert Sale has
endeavoured to counteract the bad effect such a report might
create. A few days ago I was on the point of ordering a brigade
to occupy th pass, and then requested of Sir Robert Sale, and
others to whom I was obliged to communicate the true state of
the case, to give out that we required treasure from Peshawur,

Life of Sir George Pollock. 321

and were sending in superfluous baggage. But the letter which
has been received, and coming from the quarter it does, has
evidently made an impression, and I only hope it may not
extend to the native population, which would indeed be ruinous.
In a late letter to Government you will have seen how anxious I
was that any proposed movement towards Peshawur should be
communicated to no one from whom it could be withheld. The
moment such a thing is known, it is probable supplies will cease
to come in ; we should be in difficulties about forage ; all who
are now friendly would be ready to oppose us ; and if I had not
time to secure the pass, the consequences might be serious
indeed. I fear this will be much too late to prevent future com-
munications of this kind ; but I consider it my duty to point
out how dangerous they are, and how much our difficulties might
be increased by their being known to the natives of the country,
especially those connected with the Khyber Pass. I have just
heard that bets were made at messes as to the probable date of
our moving, and this before native servants, who will, I fear,
make the report current in the Bazaar. I have taken steps to
prevent any great mischief resulting, by ordering the- deputy
quartermaster-general a few miles in advance, to mark out a
new encamping-ground ; and I shall have such inquiries made
among the natives about bringing stores there that will make
them believe I shall move forward. I am sorry to have had
occasion to write on such a subject to you, but I have no alter-

The letters George Pollock received from the
Governor- General and the Command er-in-Chief were
not very encouraging for his project of advancing on
Cabul, but he did not despair of yet gaining the
required permission. It speaks volumes for that
patient determination which was so remarkable a
feature in his character, that he could have waited
on, hoping against hope, after receiving such a letter
as the following, dated 28th May, from Colonel
Luard, Military Secretary to Sir Jasper Nicolls :


Life of Sir George Pollock.

" In answer to your remark that you hope the view you have
taken of your situation will meet the approbation of the Com-
mander-in- Chief, I am desired by His Excellency to state that
his order to you, dated 29th April, to withdraw the force under
your command from Afghanistan, was sent under authority of the
Governor- General of India (as therein stated, dated 19th April,
1842), and his lordship has since approved of the spirit and
wording of that order. His Excellency cannot observe, from
Mr. Secretary Haddock's letter of 28th April, that any discre-
tionary power was conveyed to you ; on the contrary, you are
therein told that even had you advanced upon Cabul, his lord-
ship's view, previously taken, of the policy to be pursued, that
is, 'withdrawing at the earliest practicable period within the
Khyber Pass,' remained unaltered. Mr. Maddock's letters of
the 4th and 6th instant repeat this opinion. On the 14th instant,
by the Commander-in-Chief's order, I apprised you of the
arrangements intended to make your troops more comfortable
when they had crossed the Indus ; from this you will perceive
that no change had taken place up to that date ; these arrange-
ments have now been approved by his lordship in a letter of
the 20th."

The views of the Grovernor-Greneral, on the other
hand, seemed to vacillate almost from day to day. It
went against his high spirit to order General Pollock
in unmistakable terms to withdraw, and yet his
judgment counselled the course. The result was the
issue of conflicting orders that must have mightily
puzzled his military subordinate. The latter, in a
communication dated 20th May (the same in which
reference is made to the missing letter of the 13th),
points out with great diplomatic tact the obstacles
that exist to prevent a retrograde movement :

" I have already in my letter dated the 13th instant (the missing
letter already alluded to) entered on the subject of my with-

Life of Sir George Pollock. 323

drawing from Jellalabad to Peshawur, and must receive a reply
before I shall be able to move. In order to meet the wishes of
Government by retiring, the first object would be to secure the
Khyber Pass with our own troops, leaving one regiment at
Ali Musjid, and two at Lundi Khana, one of the latter being
Europeans. I should also be obliged to send several hundred
camels laden to Peshawur with superfluous stores, which must
return to take baggage, &c., of the force ; but even then I
should not be able to move the remainder. I shall therefore be
glad if any letters from Government may authorize my remain-
ing till October or November, in which case General Nott should
also be directed to remain. Although I do not think the troops
suffer more in marching in hot weather than in a standing camp,
yet I should be glad to spare them a march to Peshawur at this
season, certainly not more healthy than this place, for there are
difficulties now which we should not experience in October or
November. At present there is great scarcity of water in the
Pass ; from Lundi Khana to Ali Musjid there is hardly a drop.
At the top of Lundi Khana there are two wells ; but they could
not supply water for a third of this force, and that only for a
short time. The water below, on this side, is scantiJy sup-
plied, and I fear there would hardly be sufficient for the troops
on arriving there, and they would require to take in a large

This letter found Lord Ellenborough, as Kaye
expresses it, "in one of his more forward and
chivalrous moods."

His Secretary accordingly wrote, on the 1st June,
in the following terms :

" I am directed to express his lordship's extreme regret, that
your army should be so deficient in carriage as you represent,
and thus unable to move. The retirement of your army imme-
diately after the victory gained by Sir Robert Sale, the forcing
of the Khyber Pass, and the relief of Jellalabad, would have had
the appearance of a military operation successfully accomplished,

21 *

324 Life of Sir George Pollock.

and even triumphantly achieved. Its retirement, after six months
of inaction, before a following army of Afghans, will haye an
appearance of a different and less advantageous character.

" It would be desirable, undoubtedly, that before finally
quitting Afghanistan, you should have an opportunity of striking
a blow at the enemy ; and since circumstances seem to compel
you to remain there till October, the Governor- General earnestly
hopes that you may be enabled to draw the enemy into a position
in which you may strike such a blow effectually. You have
already full powers to do everything you may deem necessary
for the comfort of your troops, and for their efficiency. . .
It will be for your consideration whether your large army, one-
half of which would beat, in open field, everything that could be
brought against it in Afghanistan, should remain entirely inac-
tive during the period which must now apparently elapse before
it can finally retire. Although you may not have, or soon be
able to procure, the means of moving your whole army, you may
possibly be able to move a part of it rapidly against some portion
of the enemy's force incautiously exposed, and of giving it a
severe blow. . . . You are to be governed by military con-
siderations alone to make the force you have at your disposal
felt by the enemy whenever you can, and withdraw it at the
earliest period, consistently with its health and efficiency, into
positions wherein you may have easy and certain communica-
tions with India."

This permission to remain at Jellalabad till October
was a great point gained, and the change in his lord-
ship's views was all the more remarkable, as in a letter
to the General, dated the 29th May, only two days
before, the Governor- General combated the inference
drawn by Mr. Clerk in a communication to General Pol-
lock, on the 18th, to the effect that " he (the Governor-
General) does not believe that, with the negotiations for
the release of the prisoners pending in your front, you
will withdraw;" for, says Mr. Maddock, "the para-

Life of Sir George Pollock. 325

graphs in Sir Jasper Nicolls' letter of the 29th April,
of which Mr. Clerk was in possession, qualifying the
order for immediate withdrawal, obviously relate to
negotiations for the release of the prisoners almost
brought to accomplishment at the time of your
receiving the Commander-in-Chief s letters, not to
negotiations which might then be pending, and of
dubious event, still less to any which might be subse-
quently instituted." The political and other officers
were now directed by the Governor-General to use
every exertion to collect camels and other carriage
animals, to enable General Pollock to withdraw in
October, though that gallant officer, having got a
respite, was more determined than ever that, if it lay
in his power, the cattle should be turned to account for
the forward movement on which he had set his heart.
Before the end of June, there was a sufficiency of
cattle at his disposal to enable him to do something,
and he reported to Government that his means of
locomotion were such that he was able to make a
demonstration in the neighbourhood of Jellalabad.
That he had this sufficiency was in a great measure
due to the untiring exertions of Mr. Eobertson, who
ordered letters to be addressed to the principal col-
lectors in Upper India, calling upon them to purchase
as many ponies and mules (having regard to the
dearth of camels), as could be got together; the
assistance thus rendered, General Pollock was not
slow in acknowledging in grateful terms.

In the letters of the Governor-General little mention

326 Life of Sir George Pollock.

was made of retrieving British honour, or releasing
the unhappy prisoners, our countrymen and country-
women, who were pining in Afghan prisons, by the
adoption of any measures beyond negotiations. But
the voice not only of the public press, whose opinion
his lordship affected to despise, but of the Anglo-
Indian ' community at large, both civil and military,
was against his withdrawal policy on these terms,
and he now received information that his old minis-
terial colleagues at home, and the British public
equally disapproved of so inglorious a course.

" In this conjuncture," writes the historian of the

" He betook himself to an expedient unparalleled perhaps in the
political history of the world. He instigated Pollock and Nott
to advance, but insisted that they should regard the forward
movement solely in the light of a retirement from Afghanistan.
No change had come over the views of Lord Ellenborough, but
a change had come over the meaning of certain words of the
English language. The Governor- General had resolutely main-
tained that the true policy of the English Government was to
bring back our armies to the provinces of India, and that
nothing would justify him in pushing them forward merely for
the re-establishment of our military reputation. But he found
it necessary to yield to the pressure from without, and to push
the armies of Pollock and Nott further into the heart of the
Afghan dominions. To preserve his own consistency, and at the
same time to protect himself against the measureless indignation
of the comm unities both of India and of England, was an effort
of genius beyond the reach of ordinary statesmen. But it was
not beyond the grasp of Lord Ellenborough. How long he may
have been engaged in the solution of the difficulty before him,
history cannot determine ; but on the 4th of July it was finally
accomplished. On that day Lord Ellenborough, who had en-

Life of Sir George Pollock. 327

tirely discarded the official mediation of the Commander-in-
Chief, despatched two letters to General Pollock and two to
General Nott. In these letters he set forth that his opinions
had undergone no change since he had declared the withdrawal
of the British armies to the provinces to be the primal object of
Government ; but he suggested that perhaps General Nott might
feel disposed to retire from Candahar to the provinces of India
by the route of Ghuznee, Cabul, and Jellalabad ; and that per-
haps General Pollock might feel disposed to assist the retreat of
the Candahar force by moving forward upon Cabul."

In the first of the letters to General Pollock he
repeated his desire expressed in the letter of 1st June,
that "as far as your means of movement allowed, you
should make your strength felt by the enemy during
the period of your necessary detention in the valley
of the Cabul river. No change has, from the first,
taken place in the Governor-General's views of the
expediency of withdrawing your army at the earliest
possible period, consistent with the health and effi-
ciency of the troops, that is, as now understood, in
the beginning of October." In the famous letter
written to Nott on this day (4th July) and signed by
himself, Lord Ellenborough issued an order which,
as it neither peremptorily required his withdrawal
nor his advance, but casts the entire onus of respon-
sibility of whatever steps he might take, in con-
junction with George Pollock, on the shoulders of
the two generals, is not a whit too harshly characte-
rized by Kaye as being either a document

" From first to last a masterpiece of Jesuitical cunning, or as
indicating a feebleness of will, an infirmity of purpose, discredit-

328 Life of Sir George Pollock.

able to the character of a statesman entrusted with the welfare
and the honour of one of the greatest empires in the world."

The following passages in the letter to Nott are
those referred to above. After stating that the in-
structions regarding the early withdrawal of his
(Nott's) troops remained unaltered, he proceeds to
say :

" But the improved condition of your army, with sufficient
means of carriage for as large a force as it is necessary to move
in Afghanistan, induces me now to leave to your option the line
by which you shall withdraw your troops from that country.
. . . . If you determine upon moving upon Ghuznee, Cabul,
and Jellalabad, you will require for the transport of provisions
a much larger amount -of carriage, and you will be practically
without communications from the time of your leaving Can-
dahar. Dependent entirely upon the courage of your army, and
upon your own ability in directing it, I should not have any
doubt as to the success of the operations ; but whether you will
be able to obtain provisions for your troops during the whole
march, and forage for your animals, may be a matter of reason-
able doubt. Yet upon this your success will turn. ... I
do not undervalue the aid which our Government in India
would receive from the successful execution by your army of a
march through Ghuznee and Cabul over the scenes of our late
disasters. I know all the effect which it would have upon the
minds of our soldiers, of our allies, of our enemies in Asia, and
of our countrymen, and of all foreign nations in Europe. It is
an object of just ambition, which no one more than myself
would rejoice to see effected, but I see that failure in the
attempt is certain and irretrievable ruin ; and I would endeavour
to inspire you with the necessary caution, and make you feel
that, great as are the objects to be obtained by success, the risk
is great also. . . . You will recollect that what you will
have to make is a successful march ; that that march must not
be delayed by any hazardous operations against Ghuznee or
Cabul ; that you should carefully calculate the time required to

Life of Sir George Pollock. 329

enable you to reach Jellalabad in the first week in October, so
as to form the rearguard of Major-General Pollock's army. If
you should be enabled by a coup de main to get possession of
Ghuznee and Cabul, you will act as you see fit, and leave
decisive proof of the power of the British army, without im-
peaching its humanity. You will bring away from the tomb of
Mahmood of Ghuznee, his club, which hangs over it ; and you
will bring away the gates of his tomb, which are the gates of
the temple of Somnauth. These will be the just trophies of
your successful march. You will not fail to disguise your
intention of moving, and to acquaint Major-General Pollock
with your plans, as soon as you have formed them. A copy of
this letter will be forwarded to Major-General Pollock to-day,
and he will be instructed, by a forward movement, to facilitate
your advance; but he will probably not deem it necessary to

Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 24 of 40)