Charles Rathbone Low.

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

. (page 9 of 40)
Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 9 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the question of right, the Court of Ava sent 1,000
men, who hoisted the Burmese flag, put a part of
the feeble detachment to death, and drove away the
remainder. Lord Amherst replied to this high-
handed proceeding by dislodging the Burmese with
a strong force, and sent a despatch stating that his
Government, though desirous of peace, could not
submit to such outrageous conduct. Upon this
becoming known at Ava, Maha Bundoola was sent
with a large army to Arracan, with orders to drive
the English out of Bengal, and to send the Governor-
General to Ava, bound in certain golden fetters he
carried with him. No reply was vouchsafed to
Lord Amherst's despatch, but the Governor of Pegu
was directed to signify the pleasure of the " King of
the White Elephant, Lord of the Sea and of the
Land, that no further communication should be sent
to the Golden Foot, but that the Governor- General

104 Life of Sir George Pollock.

should state his case in a petition to Maha Bundoola,
who was proceeding to Arracan with an army to
settle every question." To this Lord Amherst had
no option but to reply by a declaration of war, which
was accordingly issued on February 24th, 1824.
Thus began the first Burmese war, and certainly
we never waged one in India more justifiable.

An expeditionary force was directed to rendezvous
in the commodious harbour of Port Cornwallis in the
Andaman Islands, lying in the Bay of Bengal, about
300 miles south of Eangoon. It consisted of 11,000
European and native troops, the latter drawn chiefly
from the Madras Presidency, and was placed under
the orders of Sir Archibald Campbell, a General
who had served with distinction in Spain. During
the time this expedition was preparing, Bundoola
entered Arracan, for the invasion of Bengal, with a
large army, and annihilated a small detachment of
native troops under Captain Norton, which had been
imprudently pushed forward without any supports ;
Captain Norton himself and five officers being killed.

The British expedition arrived off Eangoon in a
large fleet of transports and ships of war, under the
orders of Commodore Grant, to the great astonish-
ment and dismay of the inhabitants, who thought
that the operation of driving the English out of
Bengal was proceeding with all possible speed, and
never dreamed of an attack being made on their
capital. Eangoon was taken after a broadside from
the Liffcy had driven its defenders out of the quad-

Life of Sir George Pollock. 105

rangular stockade which formed the only protection
to the town, and the city was occupied without
further opposition. Here, however, the army re-
mained inactive for six months. The rains set in a
week after they landed, and the surrounding country
became a swamp, the miasma arising from which,
combined with the sultry heat, produced fever and
dysentery that decimated the troops. The supply of
food also was limited and unwholesome ; and had it
not been for the prompt and indefatigable exertions
of Sir Thomas Munro, the Governor of Madras, in
supplying stores, it is very probable that the whole
army would have been annihilated. The result of
all this mismanagement was, that scarce 3,000 men
remained fit for duty. Directly after the capture of
Eangoon, Colonel Pollock arrived at the seat of war
under circumstances somewhat peculiar, as he him-
self was in ill health, and the British army was
notoriously ravaged with disease. He had been
suffering severely from a carbuncle, and was ordered
to return to England ; this, with his heavy family
expenses, he could not afford to do ; but the thought
struck him that he would try and get to Burmah, as
the short passage by sea thither, and the change of
scene, with all the excitement of active service, might
effect a cure. Accordingly, he betook himself to the
office of General the Honourable Sir Edward Paget,
the Commander-in- Chief, and, to the astonishment of
his Excellency, made a request to the above effect.
The latter was glad enough to avail himself of the

io6 Life of Sir George Pollock.

services of an officer having a reputation for energy
and capacity, and he was at once put in orders.

It had come to George Pollock's ears that the artil-
lery force in Burmah, or rather the Bengal portion of it,
was very badly found with all the appliances necessary
for taking the field, so he immediately waited on Sir
Edward Paget, and laid the state of affairs before
him. There were no bullocks or horses to drag the
guns, as well as a total absence of ammunition
waggons, while the Madras artillery was plentifully
supplied with all necessaries. The Commander-in-
Chief at once gave him an order on Colonel Swiney,
the principal commissary of ordnance at Calcutta, to
supply him with whatever stores he might deem
requisite for placing the artillery in a state of effi-
ciency. Armed with this " open sesame " to the
arsenal gates, Colonel Pollock, having satisfied his
wants, proceeded to Rangoon and took command of
the Bengal Artillery of the expeditionary force. He
thus displayed that attention to equipment and detail
which is essential to efficiency, more particularly in
the case of artillery ; and earned for himself that re-
putation for judicious care and thoroughness which
received so striking an exemplification at Peshawur
nearly forty years later.

The senior artillery officer was Colonel Hopkinson,
of the Madras Presidency, described as a gentleman-
like, easy-going sort of personage, but unfitted for
command by reason of a total absence of enterprise
or energy. We are warned, on good authority, against

Life of Sir George Pollock. 107

the manifestation of too much zeal ; but we presume
the astute diplomatist, who first uttered an observation
that has now become the tritest of commonplaces,
would not have inveighed against the necessity of a
modicum of a quality that is certainly necessary to
success in life, or to the attainment of professional

Colonel Pollock, on his arrival at Kangoon, at once
busied himself with organizing his immediate com-
mand. Here he first made the acquaintance of Sir
Archibald Campbell, who gave him carte blanche to
purchase draught cattle for the guns in the approach-
ing campaign. The difficulties that met him at the
onset were such as would raise an incredulous smile
on the countenance of an artillery officer of the pre-
sent day, accustomed to have his battery provided
with every necessary, and sent into the field in perfect
preparation for immediate service. Besides the wants
which he had had supplied from the arsenal, there
were no drivers, so the subject of this Memoir had to
extemporize a corps from the syces (or grooms) of the
body-guard and horse artillery, who, as well as some
few recruited from the natives of the country,
drove the gun bullocks, which had to be pur-
chased in Burrnah, as none had arrived from India.
Singularly enough, while almost the entire army was
prostrated with sickness, George Pollock found his
health much benefited by the sea air and the change of
scene, and it was still further established by the hard
work he underwent, for he found he had no time and

io8 Life of Sir George Pollock.

little inclination to dwell on his ailments. As soon
as the waggons arrived, he lost no time in fitting
them up himself with compartments, and afterwards
stowed in them the full proportion of ammunition,
hoping, as he says in his diary, " that the day might
come when they would be found useful ;" and he adds,
" I did find the benefit of packing my waggons and
stores, for it rendered the presence of a conductor a
matter of no importance."

In the month of August, an expedition was sent
to the Tenasserim provinces, which extend 400 miles
along the coast ; the chief towns were occupied, and
in the capital, Martaban, was found an immense
arsenal filled with munitions of war. In the begin-
ning of October, a force was sent against a strong
stockade near Eangoon, but the storming party was
repulsed with considerable loss, though subsequently
the Burmese evacuated it. In the mean time, the
renowned Bundoola had returned to Ava, and the
King sent him down to Eangoon with an army of
60,000 men to expel the invaders from the sacred
soil of the Golden Foot. With great dexterity and
rapidity he threw up stockades around the city, which,
on December 6th, were attacked by two columns of
the British, supported by gunboats, who succeeded in
breaking through the right of the Burmese entrench-
ments, and dispersing the defenders. Instead of
quitting the field, Bundoola pushed his troops the
next day up to the famous Dagon Pagoda ; but the
twenty guns which had been mounted on it opened a

Life of Sir George Pollock. 109

brisk cannonade, and four columns simultaneously fall-
ing upon his troops, they retreated in confusion. Bun-
doola certainly exhibited, for a Burmese General, great
pertinacity and no inconsiderable resource ; he sent
incendiaries into the town, who burnt half of it down,
and erected another formidable series of stockades ; but
on the 1 5th he sustained a crushing defeat, and with-
drew the whole of his army to Donabew, forty miles up
the river. While Sir Archibald was conducting these
operations at Eangoon, Colonel Eichards had wrested
the whole of the province of Assam from his Majesty
the " King of the White Elephant ;" but two other
expeditions, under Colonel Shuldam and General Mor-
rison, were not equally successful in their results.

Sir Archibald Campbell, after being nine months
at Eangoon, at length moved towards the capital on
February 13th, 1825. As Colonel Pollock's services
in the field with the British forces may only now be
said to commence, it is necessary that I should lay
before the reader some details of the strength and
composition of the army. Sir Archibald Campbell,
of the 38th Foot, we have already said, was the Com-
mander-in-Chief. The Bengal and Madras Divisions,
composing the forces at his disposal, consisted, in May,
1824, of the following corps: from Bengal, H. M.
13th and 38th Eegiments, with Engineers, two com-
panies of Foot Artillery under Captains Timbrell
and Biddulph, and Staff Corps, originally number-
ing 2,089 Europeans of all ranks, besides a detach
ment of the 40th Native Infantry of 86 men, forming

no Life of Sir George Pollock.

a portion of this, the only Bengal Native Corps that
would go over the " Kalee Pawnee " (black water), as
they called the sea, and which subsequently did good
service in the second Burmese war. Of the total of
2,089 men, the Bengal Artillery, which originally
numbered 360 men, was reinforced by a troop of
Horse Artillery and half the Eocket Troop, " corps
which excited great hopes, and never disappointed
them." The guns were four 18 -pounders, four
5-|-inch howitzers, four 8-inch mortars, and four
6-pounders. The Cavalry consisted of the Governor-
General's Body-guard, numbering 353 sabres. The
Brigadier-General, under Sir A. Campbell, was
M. McCreagh, C.B. ; also Brigadier W. Shawe,
C.B., of the 87th Foot. Colonel Pollock com-
manded the Artillery, and Major Evans, of the
38th Toot, and Colonel Elrington, of the 47th,
the two brigades.

The Madras Division was originally commanded
by Brigadier-General McBean, who left in August,
1824 ; subsequently by Brigadier-General Eraser,
who also left on account of ill health in October of
the same year, when he was succeeded, in January,
1825, by a stout old soldier, Brigadier-General Wil-
loughby Cotton, with Colonels Mallet and Godwin
as his chief brigadiers. In addition to the original
force, including H.M. 41st, the Madras European
Eegiment, 556 Eoot Artillerymen, a battalion of
Pioneers, and seven Native regiments, further rein-
forcements, including the 47th and 89th Kegiments,

Life of Sir George Pollock. 1 1 1

and three regiments of Native Infantry, arrived in
the latter part of 1824. The total was thus swelled
up to above 12,000 fighting men.

The army destined for the field was divided into
three columns : the first, under Colonel Sale, the
future hero of Jellalabad, occupied the town of
Bassein ; the second, under the Commander-in- Chief,
moved up by land ; while the third, under Brigadier
Cotton, proceeded by water up the Irrawaddy. The
force that started under the orders of Sir A. Campbell
consisted of 1,230 European Infantry, 600 Native In-
fantry, 257 Pioneers, the Cavalry of the Body-guard,
92 men of the 1st Troop Horse Artillery, under Cap-
tain Lumsden, and the Eocket Troop of 36 men
under Captain Graham : total, 2,468. General Cot-
ton's division numbered 749 European Infantry, 250
Native Infantry, with 108 Foot Artillerymen and 12 of
the Eocket Troop under Lieut. Paton : total, 1,169.
Major Sale's brigade consisted of 780 men ; while there
were left behind at Eangoon 3,781 soldiers, of whom
only 237 were European Infantry fit for duty, and
190 European and 124 Native Artillerymen.

General Cotton attacked Donabew on February
28th. All the resources of Burmese military en-
gineering had been employed by Bundoola to
strengthen this post ; the garrison consisted of 1 2,000
men, and the works were mounted with 150 guns.
The Brigadier-General carried the smaller works,
but pronounced his force unequal to the capture of
the chief stockade.

1 1 2 Life of Sir George Pollock.

Colonel Hopkinson took the field with the artillery
in its advance on Donabew, but he always exhibited a
jealousy of Colonel Pollock, and being the senior officer,
arranged that the latter should remain behind at Kan-
goon. While there, Pollock received a most curious
despatch from his senior officer, dated Sarrawah, 13th
March, 1825. To prevent its falling into the hands
of the enemy, who had Europeans among them who
understood English, Colonel Hopkinson had written
the despatch on a piece of fine paper, in size about
three inches by one inch, and the native who brought
it through the enemy's country had rolled it up in a
cigar, which he carried, Burmese fashion, behind his
ear. The handwriting of this strange note, though
very small, is perfectly legible after having been
written nearly half a century ago. In this letter
Colonel Hopkinson made a requisition on George
Pollock for a detailed list of guns, shot, shell, and
stores of different descriptions required to conduct
the siege of Donabew.

Upon learning General Cotton's want of success,
the Commander-in-Chief returned to his assistance.
Colonel Pollock had been very busy, after receiving
Colonel Hopkinson's despatch, in superintending the
embarkation of stores, guns, and mortars, for the
army in the field ; and, notwithstanding that Brigadier
Smelt, commanding at Eangoon, denied him leave to
proceed with the force, as the presence of an experi-
enced artillery officer was urgently needed at Eangoon,
yet by his pertinacity he at length succeeded in ex-

Life of Sir Gcoryc Pollock. 113

tracting a qualified permission to embark. It was to
be " on bis own responsibility," and George Pollock
thus early evinced that indifference to taking upon
himself any amount of responsibility, of which his
subsequent conduct in- Afghanistan gave so striking
an example. He encountered the giant " responsi-
bility," slew him, and forthwith, on the 25th March,
1825, embarked on board the brig Pallas for the scene
of operations, arriving in time to witness the evacua-
tion of the Burmese stronghold. It is probable that
Donabew would not have fallen without further loss
of life, had it not been that the redoubtable Bundoola,
during the night of the 1st April, when the attack
commenced, was killed by the bursting of a shell.
The capture of Donabew placed the conquerors in
possession of 140 pieces of cannon, 269 jingalls, a
magazine full of gunpowder, two immense granaries
of rice, and a quantity of shot, besides 40 war-boats.
About 300 men, who were too badly wounded to
make their escape, had been left behind, and being
collected, had their wounds dressed and every assist-
ance afforded them as far as the limited means at the
disposal of the British would allow. The total loss
of the enemy was about 800 ; that of their invaders
amounted to 7 officers and 230 men, killed and
wounded.* The campaign was far from terminated
by the capture of Donabew, as the enemy had a con-
siderable force at Prome on the Irrawaddy, which had

* " Two Years in Ava." By an Officer on the Staff of the Quarter-
master-General's Department.


J 14 Life of Sir George Pollock.

also been fortified ; 8,000 of the choicest of Bundoola's
troops were retiring upon it, and the Prince of Sara-
waddy had also taken up a position near Eagain with a
considerable body of men, though the British did not
anticipate any opposition from him, as it was supposed
he would fall back upon Prome after ravaging the
country through which the army would have to pass.

Brigadier McCreagh, having received twenty-seven
elephants and some carriage cattle from Bengal, was
enabled to start from Eangoon in advance with a
column consisting of the Eoyals and 28th Madras
Native Infantry, and received directions to await the
arrival of the Commander-in-Chief at Sarrawah. The
18th Madras Native Infantry was also ordered up
from Panlang ; and then, leaving the Madras European
Eegiment and 22nd Native Infantry as a garrison at
Donabew, which from its position it was considered
necessary to retain in order to secure the safe navi-
gation of the river, the army recommenced its march
on the night of the 4th April with renewed alacrity
and in the best of spirits. George Pollock, seeing the
great objection Colonel Hopkinson had to his taking
the field, and filled with a determination not to be left
behind again if he could help it, called on Sir
Archibald Campbell, and obtained his sanction to
accompany the troops in the advance on Prome with
his detachment of artillerymen.

The Commander-in-Chief arrived at Sarrawah on
the 7th, and on the following day, according to orders,
was joined by Brigadier McCreagh, with his column

Life of Sir George Pollock. 1 1 5

of 1,000 men. On the 10th April, the main body
crossed the river Trrawaddy in the boats of the flotilla
without accident, and was concentrated at Sarrawah ;
the troops then marched to Uadeet, which was reached
on the 14th. The country was wild, uncultivated,
and deserted ; occasionally a half-burnt village was
passed, whose only inhabitants were the wretched,
half-starved pariah dogs. At a place called Menjie
were the head- quarters of the Prince of Sarawaddy,
and a large stockade had been marked out and partially
completed. When, however, His Highness heard of
the rapid advance of the British, he abandoned this
position, first burning the handsome building he in-
habited, that it might not be polluted by the touch
of the infidel Feringhee. There was an agreeable
change in the country about Menjie, and the troops
marched under a fine grove of mango trees, whose
dense foliage afforded a grateful shelter from the sun ;
the trees were covered with clusters of blossoms and
fruit, which were unfortunately not sufficiently ripe
to afford any refreshment on the hot and dusty march.
The army continued to advance along the banks of
the Irrawaddy, sometimes striking a little inland,
but always encamping near the river, in consequence
of the scarcity of water at this season of the year,
and to keep up the communication with the flotilla,
which, sometimes sailing, sometimes tracking along,
made but slow progress up the stream.

In the mean time Colonel Pollock had the utmost
difficulty in getting water carriage for his detachment.

8 *

1 1 6 Life of Sir George Pollock.

During the 4th and 5th April, he called frequently on
the different authorities to secure boats, but without
effect ; and it appeared as if, after all, he would have
to abandon all hope of going to the front, simply
owing to the wretched and inadequate supply of trans-
port. At length, on the 6th April, his perseverance
was rewarded with success. Four boats were deli-
vered over to him in the morning, and in them he
embarked his detachment and guns, and as much
ammunition as practicable. His little flotilla sailed
early on the following morning, he himself accom-
panying them on board the brig Elizabeth, which was
placed at his disposal. His progress up the river was
slow, owing in part to the dense fogs encountered,
and also to the incapacity and ignorance of the cap-
tain of the Elizabeth. This did not suit the restless
energy and activity of Colonel Pollock, who made the
following characteristic entries in his diary touching
this delay:

"\%fhdprtt 9 Wednesday. Weighed anchor about
sunrise, and tacked till about ten o'clock a.m., when
we attempted to cross, but stuck on a sandbank ; from
that time till nine at night we were moving, and
when we came to for the night we found we were
some hundred yards nearer Sarrawah than we were at
ten a.m. This is the consequence of ignorance, mis-
management, want of method, also of will : all is
confusion ; when the anchor is required, it is foul ;
when the men are required, they are at dinner ; but
the adage of the silk purse is here truly verified, and

Life of Sir George Pollock. \ 1 7

we cannot expect that a ship's steward is calculated
to command a vessel. Our captain works hard, but
is deficient in the organ of space.

" \ktli April, Thursday. I turned out the captain
early, and persuaded him to kedge us over, in which
we succeeded, and upon the whole made a tolerable
day's work. Saw the Emma towards sunset; also
saw several lights on the opposite bank after dark.

"15^, Friday. I turned out the captain before
daylight, and we were in motion by gun-fire. A.
breeze sprang up, but the current has been so very
strong, we have had considerable difficulty in get-
ting on. Anchored in a strong current after drifting.

" 16^, Saturday. Made but little progress, and
have at last become perfectly disgusted with the
mode of travelling. Our stock is getting short, and
the Europeans have no salt beef.

"17^, Sunday. Four boats of H. M. ship Liffey
passed us early. I heartily wished myself on board


Colonel Pollock's journal has so much of interest
in it that we will not apologize for transcribing further
portions of it relating to. his progress towards Prome,
merely premising that the steamboat so frequently
alluded to was the Diana, the only one* employed

* So it is said by the historians to Calcutta in 1825 for trading
of the war, but we believe that a purposes, under command of
second steamer, called the Enter- Lieutenant Johnston, R.N., but
prise, was employed in Burmese soon after her arrival was pur-
waters. This vessel, which was chased by the Indian Govern-
built in England, was despatched ment.

n8 Life of Sir George Pollock.

throughout the succeeding protracted operations, and
was a small vessel of some 60-horse power. It was
in this first Burmese war that the incalculable service
of this novel agency in carrying stores, towing sail-
ing vessels, and performing the many duties incidental
to a state of hostilities, was for the first time put to a
practical test. In the second Burmese war of 1852,
the utility of steam in warlike operations received a
most remarkable illustration, and the celerity with
which we covered the waters of the Irrawaddy and
the coasts of Burmah with the magnificent fleet of
war-ships of Her Majesty and the East India Company,
conduced more than aught else to a speedy termina-
tion of the campaign, which was successfully con-
cluded in June of the same year by the annexation
of Pegu.

On the 17th of April, an encampment was passed,
which was that of Colonel Armstrong's force ; this put
George Pollock and his artillerymen in good spirits, as
they were under considerable apprehension that they
were much behind the main body. There is a note this
day in the diary that the Adjutant of Artillery, " Law-
rensonwith two soldiers went ashore and shot a bullock,
which was very acceptable." The grass jungle close to
the banks was burning with great fury, and had a very
fine effect at night. These conflagrations, which were
caused by the enemy to detain their invaders and to
destroy all vegetation, and render the surrounding
country a wilderness, were frequently encountered by
the forces in their march along the margin of the

Life of Sir George Pollock. \ i 9

river, and were not without considerable attendant
danger. An officer on the staff, treating of this,
remarks on the fear and imbecility with which the
horse is seized when exposed to this danger. On one

Online LibraryCharles Rathbone LowThe life and correspondence of Field Marshall Sir George Pollock ...(constable of the Tower) → online text (page 9 of 40)