John William Fortescue.

Military history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge online

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time in continual warfare with each other, and
hence possessed some degree of military organisation.
Their weapons and tools were made of stone, the
best of them of jade. With such tools they had skill
to build canoes and art to ornament both prow and
paddle w4th not unbeautiful carving. They were
cannibals, for the simple reason that they could get
no other meat ; for until the white man came there
were no four-footed creatures in the two islands —
nothing but birds. They caught and dried fish,
however, and had little provision-grounds of potatoes.


But their chief business, as I have said, was fighting ;
and they were a fine athletic and high-spirited race.
For the rest thej^ had a natural gift of fortification.
They needed no great talent to select good positions
in so hilly a country where natural strongholds
abound ; but they showed great skill in throwing
up tiers of earth-works and erecting stockades of
trees a foot in diameter, tightly bound together with

The first white men came to them in the form of
whaling skippers, who initiated them into the use
of fire-arms, and sold such weapons as they could
spare to one or two chiefs. The remaining tribes soon
discovered that, if they were to escape extermination,
they must obtain fire-arms also ; and thus there
grew up a large trade in arms and ammunition for
which the Maoris paid in native flax — phormium
tenax — laboriously scraped with shells till only the
tough fibre was left, and of supreme excellence
from this careful method of curing. Two-barrelled
fowling pieces — tuparas as they called them — were
the favourite weapon, and the Maoris soon became
expert in their use ; adding thereupon rifle-pits and
covered trenches to their fortifications to meet
attack with the new weapon. Incidentally this
natural craze for fire-arms materially injured the
race, for, in order to scrape flax enough to pay for
them, the whole tribe was obliged to come down


from the hill-tops and live by the swamps where the
phormium tenax grows and abounds.

How we came into collision with the Maoris, who
had frequently received white men — deserting sailors
and such like — into their tribes with much friendli-
ness, is not a pretty story ; being only one of the
many variations on the old theme of the white man's
greed for the black man's property. Of course it
was necessary to send troops out ; and our comman-
ders, hearing of the fortifications or jpas erected by
the Maoris, thought that such works could not have
been thrown up except to defend something, and
that it would be desirable to capture them. They
therefore brought up a gun or two with infinite
labour, and after firing a certain number of rounds,
let loose their assaulting columns to the attack.
Now as a matter of fact the Maoris built their pas
upon no such principle ; and the loss of a pa was
nothing to them so long as no life was lost with it.
They therefore continued to build ^a5 in the hope that
the white men would ram their heads against them ;
and they did so with considerable cunning, erecting
their first pa close to the edge of the forest, retiring
from that to a second further within the woods,
so as to lure the English deeper and deeper into
disadvantageous ground, and from that in turn to
a third. By the time the third was reached the
English were unable to bring their food any further,


and, having lost heavily in their assaults, were fain
to retire and await reinforcements.

The chief difficulty, as in all savage campaigns,
lay of course in transport and supply. There were
no roads or bridges, and few animals, whether horses,
mules or cattle ; but as all the settlements were on
the sea, the Maoris had built their pas in the vicinity,
so as to be ready to attack the whites at any moment.
Still, even when the difficulty of transport and supply
was overcome, our commanders were greatly puzzled
how to injure the Maoris. So powerfully were the
tree-trunks of a stockade laced together, that even
when broken bj^ a shot they did not fall, but remained
suspended, a nasty if not impossible obstacle, by
the binders of supple-jack. Thus assaults were
always costly, and somehow the Maori garrison
always contrived to escape. Again and again a
pa was surrounded, but there was always a ravine or
a watercourse by which the Maoris slipped away ;
and when the British column, maddened by heavy
losses, broke into the earth-works, it was to find
no one there. Once two British columns stormed
a jpa, enduring heavy fire until they reached the
summit, when the Maoris dived down into their
subterranean galleries. The British soldiers, rushing
in from opposite sides, met at the top, and poured
a staggering volley into each other, whereupon up
came the Maoris from underground, and sent the


assailants flying down again in panic. Altogether
the problem of the jpa seemed to be insoluble, for the
galleries and rifle-pits of the Maoris were so cunning-
ly constructed that a bombardment inflicted only
trifling damage on them. Critics at a distance wrote
that every success (for such the capture of a pa
was deemed to be) should be followed by a rapid
advance into the forest. But deep ravines and
gullies covered either with a network of supple-jacks,
or with fallen logs and trees hidden in bracken six
or seven feet high, is not ground over which men
can advance rapidly. I know it because I have tried
it ; and the unhappy soldiers, who had also tried
it, waxed furious over the ignorant presumption of
those who talked such nonsense.

At last it occurred to a British officer that the
Maoris wished their pas to be assaulted, and that
they considered it a victory when several scores of
British fell in an attack upon a worthless stronghold,
while the defenders quietly retired with at most two
or three casualties. And this was the fact. Having
grasped this truth the officer determined not to
attack them ; but marched up to the vicinity of a
pa, sat down in front of it, and entrenched himself
and his guns before it. This did not suit the Maoris
at all. They saw that they would be obliged to
go back sooner or later, without the satisfaction of
killing fifty or sixty of the enemy, and they did not


see where the process might end. In desperation
they attempted several attacks against the English
earth-works, but were repulsed with heavy loss, and
were fain to draw back to another jpa further within
the forest. The British followed, and went through
the same performance again, with the same result.
In a few weeks these particular Maoris gave in, for
they saw no prospect of emerging from the forest
again ; and though they might have kept themselves
alive on fern-root, they knew that their warriors
would soon lose all physical strength upon such a
diet. The Maori wars lasted in one way or another
for nearly twenty years in a desultory fashion,
partly owing to mismanagement, partly, I fear,
because so many contractors in the colonial towns
made money out of them that people were unwilling
to let them come to an end. When the Imperial
troops and money were withdrawn, and the colonists
were left to finish the job for themselves, the trouble
with the Maoris soon ceased.

Lastly we come to those expeditions which even
in these days tend to be most dangerous and costly,
I mean those to such fever-stricken coasts as the
Gold Coast and the Delta of the Congo, where all
supplies and stores must be carried on the heads of
men and women, and where even the strictest care
may fail to avert deadly sickness. Twice within
forty years has a British force marched to Coomassie ;


but the wise tendency nowadays is to entrust such
work almost exclusively to native troops who do
not suffer from the climate. The number of these
troops has increased enormously of late years with
the extension of our rule in Africa ; and we are
accustomed to treat the fact as a matter of course,
without a thought for the man who has made these
foreign levies what they are, and without whom they
are nothing — the British officer.

I have sketched for you very briefly the rise of
the Empire, and now at the close of this third lecture
I am going to say a word for the man who has had
the chief share in winning it — the British regimental
officer. It is the fashion in some circles to behttle
him ; and the press, in the plenitude of its ignorance,
took occasion during the South African War to cover
him with vulgar abase, reproaching him for his
ignorance of his profession and various other short-
comings. As a matter of fact he was the one man
in South Africa who understood his business, and
it was he who brought the war to a successful con-
clusion. In these days of democracy, so-called, it is
common to vituperate, concurrently with the officer,
the English public schools where he obtained his
education. Neither officers nor public schools make
any reply to such criticisms ; and they are quite
right, for the British Empire is a sufficient reply to
the critics, who are fonder of framing theories than


of studying hard facts. I am not saying that our
pubHc schools are perfect, for in many respects they
seem to me very faulty ; nor shall I contend that the
men who spring from them are, in the ordinary sense
of the term, educated, for they are not. The German
gymnasium and French Lycee undoubtedly produce
men who are better schooled to the study of books,
and more amply filled with a certain description of
facts. But at any rate the pupils from our pubUc
schools become men who, after a certain amount
of military training, do not shrink from command,
and are willing to take responsibility. In brief,
they are formed in character if not cultivated in
intellect ; they are not ignorant of men, whatever
they may be of books ; and they are willing to under-
take the government of men, not from mere lust
of power, but from instinctive delight in the task.

It is curious how often people complain of the
ignorance and narrowness of young officers, saying
that they can think of nothing outside their regi-
ments, unless it be polo or some other game in
which the regiment is interested. No doubt it is
better for men of any profession to know something,
and the more the better, of subjects outside that
profession ; and yet what could more profitably
occupy an officer's thoughts than the men and
horses under his charge ? Military routine can have
no doubt a somewhat straitening and deadening

F. M. H. 10


effect upon officers, even as academic routine may
injuriously affect the minds of schoolmasters and
professors ; and no doubt there are officers who chafe
under it. But the majority find more than sufficient
interest in the study of their men, in the selection
of the promising for promotion, the encouragement
of the good, the improvement, suppression and elim-
ination of the bad, the bringing on of the backward,
and above all in honest endeavour to enter into the
tlwuglits of their men — a task so difficult that not
one in ten thousand succeeds in mastering it. For
they know that it is their business to lead men and
not drive them to discipline, and to inspire such
confidence between commanded and commander that
even in the most desperate situation he may be able
to say, / can depend upon my men.

But even those who tire of military routine in
time of peace change their opinion when they go
upon active service. In England they cannot see
why all kinds of tiresome details should not be left
to the sergeants, but in the field they soon discover
that the men will listen to and trust no one but
an officer. The non-commissioned officer does not
suffice for them. He may be a veteran of eighteen
years' service ; but the men will follow a commis-
sioned boy of eighteen fresh from Eton infinitely
more readily than they will the non-commissioned
veteran. It is a very remarkable fact, and to those


who hold that all men are equal it is extremely
unpalatable ; but a fact beyond question it is, and
not difficult of explanation. Men who by the fortune
of their birth are exempted from the bitterness of
the struggle for existence, trust their fellows because
they have no reason to dread their competition ;
men who have been brought up in the thick of the
fight with none but themselves to help them, see a
possible competitor — it may be even a dangerous
enemy — in every neighbour, and trust no one.

Yet active service is by no means necessary to
cure the officer who is bored with military service
at home. Send him away to some outlandish corner
of the Empire, and entrust him with the training and
command of a few hundred black soldiers, and he
will find exile, hardship and discomfort more con-
genial to him in such company than the softest of
lives at home. He realises that everything, so far
as those few hundred men are concerned, depends
upon himself ; and he delights in the sensation.
There are hundreds of such officers in remote places
quietly doing what some consider the dirty work,
but what they themselves know to be the most
honourable work, of the Empire. The officers of the
Indian Army are in precisely the same case. Few
of us realise how much we owe to them, and to how
great an extent the Empire is dependent upon them.
Operatives in our huge over-grown towns, who exhaust



themselves in condemnation of everything military,
never reflect that, but for this handful of officers,
their comrades of the Indian Army, and the disci-
plined men, Indian too, but above all British, who
serve under them, millions of themselves who subsist
upon our trade with India would be in a state of
starvation. Happily the officers, and therefore the
men who serve under them, do their duty patiently
and quietly without regarding the volumes of chatter
which flow unceasingly from the north country ;
for they know that empires are won and governed
not by talk but by action.

This, I think, is a thing that we should aU do
well to remember from time to time. Exaggerated
esteem for our ParUamentary institutions has led us
to attach too much importance to speeches. Their
original purpose was to persuade men to a common
course of action ; but they have never been very
efficacious, and in this country have long been super-
seded by political organisation or, in plain English,
wire-pulling. People have a strange notion that,
without much chatter, there can be no liberty. But
liberty (whatever liberty may be) is a smaU thing to
a nation compared with discipline ; and in fact
liberty of any kind is impossible without discipline.
If I am to judge of a nation it is useless to tell me of
its political institutions, for the best of them will
work badly and the worst of them well according


to the honesty of the men whose business it is to
apply them. Let me know what is the state* of its
discipline, parental, social, national, and with what
spirit that discipline is borne. Let me know what
are its military institutions, and how far they are
supported or ignored ; whether the citizens come
forward with cheerfulness to fulfil a national duty,
or whether they are reckless, self-indulgent shirkers
who try to impose on a few the service that is common
to all, and take refuge in cant to disguise their
cowardice. Then I will tell you without reading a
single speech whether the nation is sound at heart
or rotten. If the text of all the speeches ever de-
livered in Parliament were destroyed to-morrow, the
world would lose remarkably little. Great men are
best studied in their letters and their actions, whether
they were great speakers or not ; and by no means
the worst way of appreciating the actions of very
many of them, both civilians and soldiers, is to
read military history.




To-day I propose to speak to you upon a very
great and most intractable subject — British Military
History in India. It is difficult to do so without
saying something of the history of India itself ; yet
the subject is so immense that I must compress the
whole of that vast story into one or two sentences.

Let me begin then by reminding you that what
we call India is divided into a northern portion,
which extends from the Himalayas southward to
the Narbada river and the Vindhya Mountains and
is called Hindostan ; and a southern portion called
the Dekhan which stretches from those boundaries
southward to Cape Comorin. This division is less
arbitrary than a glance at the map would lead you
to suppose ; for between these two huge territories
there lies a belt of barren and mountainous country,
through which, before the days of railways, there
was practically but one passage, famous in Indian
military history as the Ajanta Pass. The earh'est
invaders of whom we have any knowledge came by
sea, and landing in the extreme south worked their
way from thence to the northern boundary of the
Dekhan. The people of the Dekhan still speak the
language of these invaders, which is unknown in
Hindostan. The next invaders, the Aryans, came


through the passes of Afghanistan from the north-
west, bringmg with them the reUgious and social
institutions which are known to us as Hinduism,
Brahminism and caste, and which still govern the
lives of most of the millions who now inhabit Hindo-
stan. They penetrated, however, only into one
corner of the Dekhan — the north-west — where the
Aryan language, Marathi, betrays their presence.

I pass over the innumerable tides of invasion
which swept over Hindostan from the north-west,
until we come to the first formidable inroad of
Mohammedan Arabs in 999 a.d. The great
champions of Hinduism against Islam were the
Rajputs, whose nobles still represent the highest
aristocracy and the bluest blood in India. For a
long time they combated desperately and with
success; but in 1193 the Mohammedans captured
Delhi, and within another twenty years they de-
finitely overthrew the Rajputs and established
themselves as potential masters of India. For
Delhi, though the maps do not show it, is a great
strategical position, marking the centre of a kind
of pass, where the access to India from the north-
west is narrowed to a tract, not above one hundred
miles broad, between the mountains on the north
and a desert on the south. Hence all the decisive
battles of India against invaders from the north-
west have been fought within fifty miles of Delhi.


In the fifteenth century a new set of Moham-
medan invaders — the Turkis or Tartars — came down
upon the Arabs, and after more than a hundred
years of raiding, invaded Hindostan in good earnest
under a great leader, Baber. In 1526 they became
masters of Delhi. Then for two hundred years
strong man succeeded strong man, and there was
consolidated what is called the Mogul Empire.
Akbar, one of the great men of all time, reigned
from 1556 until 1605 — almost exactly the period of
our own Elizabeth — and gathered all India north of
the Narbada, from Kandahar to the Bay of Bengal,
into a single Empire. His successors strove hard,
though with indifferent results, to subjugate the
Dekhan ; but by the middle of the seventeenth
century signs of decay were evident among the
Moguls. The Hindus, whether warriors as the
Rajputs, or meek and submissive, as the BengaUs,
have an amazing power of silently and gradually
absorbing all alien races into themselves. At this
moment a sharp line divides Mohammedans from
Hindus ; and yet the Mohammedans have already
caught the system of caste from the Hindus, and
as centuries roll on will doubtless be more and more
drawn into the hkeness of the Hindus, until the
two races are indistinguishable. Intermarriage con-
tributes greatly to this ; and it was intermarriage
with Hindu women, and the consequent dilution


of the stern Tartar blood, which weakened and
ruined the Mogul Emperors.

The last eminent man of the line, Aurungzib,
perhaps inspired by the deterioration of his country-
men, was a rabid Mohammedan fanatic, so relent-
less in his persecutions that he raised up a host of
enemies and brought about the ruin of the Mogul
Empire. The Rajputs reappeared as the champions
of Hinduism, but there also came forward two new
defenders. The first may be described as a Puritan
sect, the Sikhs. They were at the outset only
martyrs, but later, when a man of genius was bom
among them, they became in the nineteenth century
a great military power. The second and more im-
portant were the Marat has, the followers of Sivaji
Bonsla, a petty chief from the hills above Bombay,
who being a fine miUtary leader, wore out the armies
of Aurungzib by what we call gueriUa tactics. What
the Marathas were no one can say. They were not
a caste, nor a sect, nor a nation ; but they were a
homogeneous body, and they would, but for us
English, have become the masters of India.

Our own start in India was humble ; but the
East India Company began in the early years of
the seventeenth century to establish factories, or
trading depots, at various points on the coast, in-
cluding one at Madras in 1640 and on the Hugli in
1651. Bombay, which was part of the dowry of


Katharine of Bragan9a, was leased to the Company
in 1661, and Calcutta was founded in 1690. But
all the factories suffered much during the incessant
fighting between Sivaji and Aurungzib ; and the
Company in 1686 declared its intention of making
reprisals. It had already formed the nuclei of
European armies in Madras in 1644 and in Bombay
in 1668 ; and had begun to enlist native troops
in 1683. But meanwhile another European power,
the French, had established factories in Madras
at Pondicherry and in Bengal at Chandernagore
in the year 1674 ; and the progress of events was
such as to offer great temptation to foreign adven-
turers. Aurungzib died in 1707, and with the
passing of the last strong man the realm of the
Moguls crumbled rapidly away. The viceroy of
the Dekhan set himself up as an independent
sovereign at Haiderabad ; a Hindu dynasty was
founded at Tan j ore ; another imperial official seized
Oude ; one adventurer laid hold of Bengal ; an-
other of Rohilkhand ; countless soldiers of fortune
planted themselves as petty chieftains in hill-fort-
resses ; a Persian invader sacked Delhi ; and an
Afghan chieftain conquered the whole of the western
Punjab. India had never been in a more appalling
welter of confusion and chaos than in the midst of
the eighteenth century.

Just at this period the English and French for


the first time came to blows in the Peninsula, the
pretext being the war of the Austrian Succession.
The French, represented at Pondicherry by a very
able agent, Dupleix, had initiated a policy of diplo-
matic interference in the affairs of the neighbouring
states, having an army of seven thousand Sepoys to
back them. The British on the other hand stuck
to their trading, and, as usual, were unprepared for
any attack. The French therefore besieged and
took Madras in 1746 ; but, being reinforced in time,
the British in turn besieged but did not take
Pondicherry. The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle followed,
which put an end to hostihties ; and Madras was
restored to us in exchange for Louisburg. The
most significant incident of the war, however, was
that the Nawab of the Carnatic, the nominal suze-
rain of both the English and the French on the
Coromandel coast, had attempted to keep the peace
between them ; and that his raw levies, to the
number of ten thousand, had been swept off the
field in five minutes by two hundred and fifty
French soldiers and thrice that number of trained
Sepoys. This showed that a handful of disciplined
European soldiers could suffice to rout any primitive
Oriental host. Another important matter was that
the operations against the French had revealed a
remarkable leader in the British ranks, namely
Major Stringer Lawrence, a simple man who could


hardly write his name, but a fine soldier and a judge
of men. For he selected from the counting-house
of the Company a young clerk named Robert Clive,
took his military education in hand, and to all
intents adopted him as his son.

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Online LibraryJohn William FortescueMilitary history; lectures delivered at Trinity college, Cambridge → online text (page 9 of 13)