Henry Montgomery Lawrence.

Essays, military and political, written in India online

. (page 21 of 39)
Online LibraryHenry Montgomery LawrenceEssays, military and political, written in India → online text (page 21 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Thus far we have only compared Lord Hardinge's
military preparations on the North-Western frontier,
with those of his immediate predecessor, who contem-
plated not merely defensive, but offensive operations,
because the narrow limits of a review forbid us to ex-
tend the retrospect. But should the historian, in his
search after materials, ever glance his eye over these


pages, we call upon him to go farther back and bring
the licfht of former times and former administrations
to bear upon the one before us. Let him tell the mole-
eyed critics of one war, how other wars came upon
British India ; how the Indian army was prepared when
the Government had virtually broken the treaty with
Mysore ; when Hyder All's invasion burst upon our
defenceless frontier ; when his hordes swept the country
around Madras ; and, having destroyed one army, and
paralyzed the only other in the field, his nightly watch-
fires illumined the senators of the "benighted Presi-
dency!" How prepared, when the Burmans broke
through treaties, invaded our territories and for six
months sat down in front of our hastily-assembled
army; and how prepared, when the Nepalese murdered
our police officers, occupied our lands, and one after the
other destroyed our detachments ! or, as more akin to
what might have been expected from the Sikhs, what
was the extent of our preparation when, on two occa-
sions, the Mahrattas confederated against us, or even
when the Pindarri bands burst upon our borders and
devastated our districts? When all shall have been
fairly told, it will be, we think, unnecessary to add that
in no one of these instances were we in a tenth degree
as well prepared for war as in 1845, though in all we
had at least as much reason to expect it.

The retrospect may be further pursued. Was there
less cause, antecedently, to dread the Mysore troops, the
Burmans, the Mahrattas, and the Nepalese, than the
Sikhs ? Which of all these enemies had the best mi-
litary reputation ; and which was considered in India
most formidable to the British Empire? Was it the
warlike banded force of Mysore, led by French officers
under their able, unscrupulous, and powerful chief, in
the first flush and tide of bis conquests, and in the hour



of our greatest weakness ; the disciplined and veteran
battalions of Perron and De Boigne, backed by a formid-
able artillery and by bands of liardy cavalry ; the un-
daunted and energetic Gurkhas, proud of a hundred
victories ; the lusty Burmans, scarce rested from a long
career of unchecked success ; — or, was it the supposed
rabble of dissolute and mutinous Sikhs, with weapons
scarce cleansed from the murder of their sovereign, and
the massacre of their best and bravest leaders ? Anarchy
doubtless has its strength. Its wdld impulsive throes
may overthrow w^hatever is immediately within its reach,
and by a mad assault may even surprise and conquer
kingdoms ; but it was left for the Sikh soldiery to prove
that the centurion and the sentinel may be training
themselves for offensive war, while apparently busied in
murdering their consuls and their tribunes; — Erance
herself cannot show such an example. The French
were invaded ; the Sikhs were invaders.

And let not the historian, who begins the parallel we
have suggested, stop here. Let him, after showing how
former wars came upon British India, set forth how they
were carried on by the administrations of the day ; let
him recount the dangers and destitution of Eangoon,
the six months' delay at Chittagong, the constant
famine-stricken state of the Arracan division, and the
little better condition, and still worse results of Greneral
Shouldham's column, during the Burman war; the
disasters of the two Woods, the defeat and death of the
gallant Gillespie, the fruitlessness of the whole first
Nepal campaign, and the all but failure of the second,
saved only by Ochterlony's happy rashness ; the starv-
ing state of the army at Kandahar and Ghuzni, and
lastly the battles of Meani and Dubba, fought just after
a British regiment had been sent by one route out of
Sindh, and the Bengal column by another ; — and then,


let him compare these blunderings into victory with
the noiseless combinations of Lord Hardinge, who, in
nine days after the invasion, brought no less than
17,500 men (among whom were no less than seven*
British regiments) into action at Ferozeshah, and six
weeks later finished the campaign with an addition to
his European force of two regiments of infantry and two
of cavalry at Sobraon ; so that the most terrible war
which has ever threatened our empire was gloriously
concluded in sixty days, at which period Sir Charles
Napier, with a reinforcement of 16,500 fresh men and
50 guns, was close at hand ! We have thrown out these
last suggestions to those who read, or may one day add
to, the history of India. We must leave the campaign
to stand upon its own merits, unrelieved by the contrast
of others less successful ; and feel sure that after a calm
perusal of the facts we have adduced, and ^^ figures we
have given — those obstinate and indelible proofs — it will
seem astonishing to our readers that the cry of want of
preparation should ever have been raised against Lord
Hardinge; and that 22,911 men and 28 guns should
steal up so softly to the frontier as to be unnoticed even
by the newspapers. In the end, however, according to
the old motto, " truth will prevail " even in the teeth
of a " Quarterly Beview ; '' and whenever the time shall
come (may it be distant !) for history calmly to review
the closed list of Lord Hardinge's military deeds in
India, we believe that this very quality of foresight,
which, from ignorance oi facts concealed hy himself he is
now so strangely denied, will be accounted foremost
among his claims to the title of an able general. It is
true that his fire and vigour in action at sixty does no
shame to the glories of his early fields ; but his main
excellence consists in prudence of preparation, and that

* There being at the time only eleven in the Bengal Presidency.

s 2


accurate calculation of time, place, necessity, and result,
wliicli in strategy is called combination. Seldom indeed
in any country has been found a soldier, who so minutely
entered into the economical details of his army, who so
thoroughly understood those details, and as far as in him
lay brought them to bear upon the work in hand. We
wish too that he could have left behind him in India a
little of that " mens sequa rebus in arduis," which is so
happily perpetuated on his medal. Our countrymen in
the prostrate East become enervated by long prosperity;
and little fitted to meet even temporary trouble. Like
the Eomans of old, we have vitality enough to survive
a Thrasymenus or a Cannae, but we not only cannot
forgive a Yarro, but find it difficult to understand a
Fabius. We are too loud in consternation at occasional
disaster and unaccustomed loss; and in scanning the
conduct of our leaders are too ready on half information,
or no information at all, to register as dastards and im-
beciles, men who — perhaps before we were born — ^had
proved themselves in the field, and in the Cabinet,
equally brave and wise.

Among the injurious insinuations of the " Quarterly
Beview " in chronicling events previous to the war, it
was pretty broadly implied that not only did not the
Governor-General make military preparation himself,
but that he would not allow the Commander-in-Chief to
do so for him. As an instance, the supposed marching
and counter-marching of the Meerut division was
quoted; and we now extract the same Ee viewers re-
cantation " upon authority which it is impossible to contro-

For example, at page 190, Sir Henry Hardinge is
described as arresting, in November, 1845, the advance
of a force which Sir Hugh Gough had ordered up from
Meerut, and declining to reinforce the garrison of Fe-


rozepore with an additional European regiment. This
turns out not to have been the case. No regiments
were ordered to remove from Meerut, so early as the
month of November, with the exception of H. M.'s 9th
Lancers ; and even that corps was subsequently halted
at the Commander-in-Chief's suggestion. Other regi-
ments were directed to hold themselves in readiness — and
that they were in a condition to move so early as the
11th of December was owing entirely to the vigorous
measures adopted by the Governor- Greneral in his deal-
ings with the Commissariat.

Not only, indeed, was the Governor-Greneral no stop
upon the Commander-in-Chief's proceedings, but the
two veterans were united in opinion both as to the
measure of danger, and the means of meeting it. Both
believed that the frontier might be insulted, perhaps
invaded, by desultory hordes of marauding horse, and
loose bands of Akalis ; but neither imagined that the
threat which, since the death of Runjit Singh, had so
often been idly made in our times of trouble and even
of peril, would now be carried out at a period of perfect
peace, when the undivided resources of the British
Indian Empire were available to repel attack. And it
should be remembered that they held this opinion in
common with Major Broadfoot, Captain P. Nicolson,*

* A very erroneous idea was pre- sagacity of the former at the expense

valent after the Sikh war with regard of the latter. Captain Nicolson

to its having been foreseen by some was an able and zealous officer, and

of the political officers on the fron- did his best at a difficult time :

tier, and not by others. It has been cei-tainly his manly and upright

said — chiefly, we believe, on the au- character wants not the support of

thority of private letters, some brief an untruth ! We have seen copies

and hurried expressions of which of more than one of Captain Nicol-

might very easily be misconstrued son's letters written just before the

by inexperienced readers at a dis- Sikhs crossed. In one to Captain

tance — that Captain Nicolson was Mills, so late as the 2nd of December,

always of opinion that the Invasion 1845, he wrote, " I do not think the

would occur, but that Major Broad- Sikh army will come on, but it is

foot scouted the idea ; and this has feverish." " The whole army with

been made a handle for exalting the gims and commissariat to some ex-


Mr. Currie, Sir Jolm Littler, Brigadier Wheeler, Captain
C. Mills, and indeed all the ablest and best-informed
officers on the frontier. Time has shown the error of
the belief; and recorded it in the blood of the two first
of the wise and gallant men we have enumerated ; but
even after this lapse of time, and familiar as we are with
the actual result, their judgment seems to us sound and
consistent with human reason and probability. For it
was not credible that the Lahore Government would
calmly sit down in the midst of its difficulties, and make
the horrible calculations which it did of its inability to
stand another month against the army — that the next
revolution would be directed against the lives and pro-
perties of the few surviving Sirdars ; and that the ven-
geance of a foreign army would be a lesser evil than the

tent is ready for a start, but I cannot could have had no other sources of
help thinking it is taking up its po- information than those open to his
sition rather with a view to defence official superior. By his position at
in case of our advance"^ than with Ferozepore he only saw and heard
the idea of crossing the Sutlej en what was reported a few hours later
potence. Small bands of them we to Broadfoot, and what the latter
must look for," &c. &c., — and again could corroborate or correct by Cap-
the very next day to Major Broadfoot tain Mills' and his own immediate
— " If the Sikhs do cross the river emissaries. We have quoted the
it will he for plunder ; hut I do not opinions of all on the frontier that
thi7ik they will cross. Small inde- the enemy would not cross, as an
pendent hodies raayT Shortly after army. To their testimony we may
the war we saw some original letters add that of Major Lawrence in Nepal
of the same officer to Major Broad- and Captain Cunningham at Baha-
foot, and though we cannot recall the wulp^r, both of whom, it is under-
exact words, we can positively state stood, discredited the fact of the
that up to the last moment they ex- invasion after it had occurred. But
pressed a firm belief that the Sikh we needlessly accumulate evidence
army, as an army, would never be on the subject. We very much doubt
mad enough to cross the Sutlej. We whether the Sikhs themselves knew
mention these facts, not to depreciate their own intentions twenty -four
Captain Nicolson's real merits, but hours before they carried them out.
simply to vindicate the memory of They had prepared the means of a
Major Broadfoot, who had no equal great military movement — Chance —
on the frontier, and few perhaps in accident — caprice determined the
India. Captain Nicolson having quarter against lohich it should he
been Major Broadfoot's assistant, directed. — H. M. L.

* The italics are the Essavist's.


fury of its own, — that, therefore, it was expedient to fling
the soldiery upon British India, supplying them with
every possible means of success, taking, if unsuccessful,
the chance of clemency and forgiveness, and if victorious
the merit and profit of repelling the English from Hin-
doostan. We repeat that this calculation was too
monstrous to be altogether credible, though not too
monstrous to be true. We have shown that Lord
Hardinge did not credit its probability, but was prepared
for its possibility.

A few words will not be misplaced here as to the by-
gone pohcy of our Government on the frontier in ques-

It has ever been the wish of the British Government
to assist in the maintenance of a strong Sikh Govern-
ment in the Punjab. It is understood that those who
had the best means of forming a judgment on the ques-
tion. Colonel Eichmond, Major Broadfoot, Colonel
Lawrence, and Mr. Clerk — in whatever other points
they may have differed, were all agreed in this, that no
advantage that might be gained by annexation could
equal that of having an independent and warlike but
friendly people between us and the loose, wild Mahom-
medan hordes of Central Asia. Not that the latter are
in themselves formidable, even in their own country ;
but that their unsettled government, or too often ab-
sence of all government, must ever render them unsatis-
factory neighbours. Much, however, as the main-
tenance of a Sikh Government in the Punjab was
desired, it was early perceived that the chances w^ere
against it. One after another the ablest men in that
unhappy country were cut off; falling by each other's
hands or plots ; often the assassin with his victim.*

* Dr.MacGregor,inliisHistorjof of the Mtinslii who now holds Eaja
the Sikhs, naively mentions the name Dhyan Singh's written order for th^


The violent death of Jowar Singh, though for an
instant it promised to prevent hostilities, in the end
rather accelerated than postponed them. No man dared
to seize the helm. Raja Lai Singh was not wanting in
courage; and Maharaja Grolab Singh has abundance;
but neither coveted the viziership of the " Burcha Raj,"*
which involved responsibility to a thousand exacting
masters. Intoxicated with success at home, where no
man's honour was safe from their violence, where they
had emptied the coffers of the State and plundered
those of Jummu, the unsated soldiery now sought to
help themselves from the bazaars and treasuries of
Delhi. This madness of the Sikh army was the true
cause of invasion, and not the acts of either the British
Grovernment or its agents.

Next to Runjit Singh, Maharaja Sher Singh was the
truest friend in the Punjab to the British alliance. He
was not a wise man, but in this at least he showed
wisdom. Few, indeed, are the native chiefs, or natives
of any rank, whose wisdom is consistent and complete.
Many are clever in the extreme — acute, persevering,
energetic, able to compete with the best of Europeans
in ordinary matters, to surpass them in some ; but the
most accomplished character among them has its flaw.
We never yet met one that was not an infant at some
hour of the day, or on some question of life. Maharaja
Sher Singh is an instance. Brave, frank, and shrewd,
he might have been a strong, if not a great ruler, had

murder of Maharaja Sher Singh ; of their rivals or masters ; Rajah

aiid also the one written by Ajit Dhyan Singh was the last man in the

Singh for that of the false vizier ; but world to have put on record such a

his believing in the existence of such document ! — H. M. L.
documents only proves how little * " Burcha," somewhat equivalent

qualified the doctor is for the office to our Butcher, was the designation

of the historian. Asiatic ministers in applied to the Lahore Pretorians

general are much too prudent to give during their reign of terror. — H . M. L.
ymtien orders for the assassination


he not been tlie slave of sensuality, and shrunk from the
exertion of opposing the Jummii brothers. He felt him-
self in their toils, but lacked the energy to snap the
cords. He saw that they ruled, though he was king.
He wanted the resolution to act as one.

It is as difficult for an administration to shape its
conduct so as to please all parties as it is for an indi-
vidual to do so. Great was the outcry against Lord
Auckland for anticipating, what he believed, invasion ;
and as loud against Lord Hardinge, because he acted
contrarily. It is now much the fashion, in some quar-
ters little cognizant of facts, to declare that among the
duties of the paramount Power is the obligation to
interfere in the concerns of every State of India at all
internally disturbed. The loudest setters-forth of such
doctrines, however, shut their eyes to the fact that inter-
ference may possibly rather increase than prevent mis-
chief; and that British troops once marching into any
native State, the independence of that State then virtu-
ally ceases. In short, that unless we subdue and occupy
for ourselves, which, under the circumstances here referred
to, we have no right to do, the chances are that we in-
flict injury rather than confer benefit. Interference
therefore must be made on pure motives, for the good of
the people, and not for the improvement of the finances
of India. The day has gone by for annexing princi-
palities because they are rich and productive. The spirit
of the age is against such benevolence. With so much
of preliminary remark, we may observe that it is now
no secret that in the spring of 1841 Maharaja Sher
Singh did make overtures to the British Government,
and was offered an armed interference in his favour. A
force of 10,000 or 11,000 men was, moreover, actually
told off, and under preparation at Kurnaul, to move into
the Punjab under Major-General Sir James Lumley, and


the vituperators of Lord Hardinge's preparations for
the defence of the frontier will — or ought to be — " at a
loss for words to express their indignation," when they
hear that only four years previous to the Sikh invasion
of British India it was calmly contemplated to march a
force not exceeding that of Sir John Littler s at Feroze-
pore to Lahore, to put down the whole mutinous Sikh

In referring to this circumstance, however, we are far
from desiring to make it the handle of an imputation
against Lord Auckland's administration : we only give
it its weight in judging of Lord Hardinge's military
prudence. The intentions of Lord Auckland and of his
advisers were most pure : his lordship was perfectly
aware of the dangers of interference, but he believed
that the benefits to all parties would outweigh the evils.
He acted on the light of his day. He calculated on
divisions in the Sikh camp, separation of interests in
the Sikh durbar, and immediate junction of the Maha-
raja and his partizans with the British auxiliary force.
And the event might certainly have justified the mea-
sure ; but we doubt whether the military movement,
much less the political scheme, would have succeeded.
Tor if the Sikh soldiers could drag their chiefs and
officers over the border which Eunjit Singh had never
crossed but to repent, and there induce them to lay down
their lives for the Khalsa, how much greater must have
been their influence, how infinitely more determined
would have been their opposition, had we been the in-
vaders of Umritsur and Lahore. Our own opinion is
that a massacre of Sher Singh and his adherents would
have closely followed the British passage of the Sutlej,
and that the whole Khalsa army and the flower of the
Jat population would have united to oppose us in one
decisive action which would have destroyed our army,


or have given us the keys of the Capital. Our British
Indian readers — many, we trust, heroes of the Sutlej —
are now in a position to judge as accurately as we can
of what might have heen the result ; but let them in
fairness remember, that their own knowledge is recent
and dear-bought experience, and not prescience : perhaps
at the opening of the war of 1845 they themselves
(as the custom was in the British camp) both thought
and talked contemptuously of the Sikh army. How
then shall any man " throw a stone " at Lord Auckland,
who only trod in the steps of those who went before
him, and whose opinions were — in this respect at least
■ — enthusiastically embraced by Ids successor.

Within a twelvemonth the Cabul catastrophe de-
pressed our military reputation in India more than any
disaster since the retreat of Monson. The necessity
was recognised of making extraordinary efforts to re-
cover our pre-eminence and our prestige. Yet General
Pollock's avenging army never exceeded 10,000 men,
until united with Sale, when, with Irregulars "of all
sorts," it might have mustered 15,000 of all arms. It
may be said, " Lord Ellenborough relied upon Sikh
friendship and co-operation, or he would never have per-
mitted so small a British force to carry on operations at
the further extremity of the Punjab." On the contrary,
Lord Ellenborough recorded on the l^ith March, 1842,
his opinion that no reliance was to be placed on the Sikh
sirdars or soldiers co-operating with the General ; and
ordered accordingly that the army should not advance,
unless General Pollock could '' by his own strength
overawe and overcome all who dispute the pass, and
keep up at all times his communication with Peshawur
and the Indus." Thus wrote the Governor- General,
who was at heart a soldier ; and, as the advance took
place, we must presume the General, who was chosen


from all India to the high office of avenging his country,
felt himself equal to the task, and that the political
officers (Mackeson, Lawrence, MacGregor, and Shake-
speare) employed under his orders, saw no peculiar
danofer in the move. In short Lords Auckland and
Ellenborough, backed by public opinion, based a mighty
military operation on the belief that a British army no
larger than Littler's at Ferozepore,* though watched by
30,000 disaffected Sikhs, could " by their own strength"
force the formidable Khyber ; and when reinforced by Sale,
could " keep up their communications with the Indus."
When we remember Plassey, Buxar, and numberless
other victories of early days ; when we call to mind
that the great Duke, in the face of Holkar, the most
dangerous enemy we had encountered since the days of
Hyder Ali, divided his scarce 10,000 men, and with less
than half that number fought and won the glorious
battle of Assaye ; when, indeed, we review all our great-
est battles in Burmah, Nepal, India, Affghanistan, and
China, and see what handfuls were enough for victory ;
and, lastly, when we acknowledge the estimation in
which, with very few exceptions, our officers held Sikh
soldiers till they tried them in 1845 ; surely we need not
too closely scrutinize either the intentions of Lord
Auckland or the overt acts of Lord Ellenborough.
But if we can — ^jay, if we must — exculpate those noble-
men, how unjust to arraign Lord Hardin ge ! The
armed interference contemplated by Lord Auckland

Online LibraryHenry Montgomery LawrenceEssays, military and political, written in India → online text (page 21 of 39)