Mountstuart Elphinstone.

Selections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir online

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Online LibraryMountstuart ElphinstoneSelections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir → online text (page 3 of 41)
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mount influence at the Court of Cabul. What he
writes concerning the French is equally applicable to
the Eussians in the present day.

' If that specious people send an emissary to the King
of Cabul, lie will probably assure his Majesty's entire
safety from the French, offer protection against the
designs of the English, and promise, in the course of
the operations against India, to reduce this Soubali
Bliawul Khan's country and Sindh entirely under the
King's authority ; perhaps he may also promise the Pun-
jab, Kutch, Gujarat, or some other country on this side
of the Indus ; or he may engage to procure a desirable
settlement of the disputes about the Khorassan, getting
over all difficulties by promising indemnities in India.


' Amidst all these dazzling prospects, I fear an
Eastern monarch might lose sight of the danger to
which he exposes his crown, by associating with such
a nation of military adventurers, and would not give a
very favourable hearing to a person who could only
offer to destroy the illusion.'

Mr. Elphinstone asked the Governor-General to
instruct him how far to offer pecuniary aid in case he
found it necessary to counteract French promises, and
what assistance he should give in ordnance stores and

' It is desirable that I should be furnished with these
materials to treat on as soon as possible, as some open
negotiation will probably be required as a pretence for
xnj remaining at Cabul. The Asiatics know nothing
of the character of a resident minister, and so much are
the Afghans impressed with the idea of an ambassador
being always charged with some important communica-
tion, that their etiquette allows him only one audience to
deliver his message, receive a reply, and take his leave.'

The King was at Candahar when Mr. Elphinstone
reached Multan, and the Mission at first intended to
join him there. After preparations were completed,
and after man}" projects for overcoming the difficulties
of a journey through the snow, they had the satisfaction
of hearing that the King had set out on the road to
Cabul. The news of the arrival of the Mission reached
the sovereign while on his journey, and its object was
at first regarded witli strong prejudice and distrust. The
Afghan lords were adverse to an alliance which would
strengthen the King, to the detriment of the aristocracy;
and the King himself, who at that time was much troubled
by dissensions at home, thought it very natural that we


should profit by the mternal dissensions of a neighbour-
ing kingdom, and endeavour to annex it to our empire.
The exaggerated reports, however, which he received of
the splendour of tlie Embassy, and of the sumptuous
presents by which it was accompanied, determined him
to admit the Mission, and to give it an honourable

On leaving Mflltan the Mission marched up the
great Indus, which they crossed on the 7th of January.
The people of the country were always very civil.
They, however, entertained some strange notions con- i
cerning the strangers. They believed they carried
' great guns packed up in trunks ; and they had certain
boxes so contrived as to explode, and kill half a dozen
men each without hurting themselves.' Some thought
we could raise the dead, and there was a strong current
rumour that we had made an animated wooden ram at
Multan; that we had sold him as a ram, and that it was
not till the purchaser began to eat him that the material
of which he was made was discovered. After crossing
the Indus the Mission marched to Dera Ismael Khan,
where they waited near a month for an officer from the
King. At the end of January they heard that the
King was coming to Peshawar, and an officer had been
appointed to escort them. On the 7tli February tliej-
continued their journey, under the guidance of the
King's troops, and, after some drear}^ marches, they
encamped at the mouth of the Kurrum. From this
they made three marches, across a highly cultivated
plain, to the Calla-baugh, or Karra-baugh, whore
the Indas is compressed by mountains into a deep
channel, only 350 yards broad. The road runs
along the mountain, and is cut out of solid salt at
the foot of the cliffs of that mineral, in some places
more than 100 feet high above the river. ' The


salt is hard, clear, and almost pure. It would be
like ciystal, were it not in some places streaked and
tinged with red. In some places salt-springs issue
from the foot of the rocks, and leave the ground covered
with a crust of the most brilliant whiteness.' Shortly
afterwards they halted in the fertile plain of Kohat.
Here their eyes were delighted by finding English
plants, from which they had been long estranged in
India. ' The walks were covered with green sod, and
there were hedges of wild raspberry and blackberry
bushes.' There was also clover, chickweed, dandelions,
common dock, and many other English weeds. After
leaving the verdant plain of Kohat the Mission' pro-
ceeded through the valley belonging to the tribe of
Kheiber, and saw a great many armed Kheibrees sitting
on the hills, looking wistfully at the camels passing.
The chief came and asked for a present, but the Afghan
nobleman who was deputed to conduct the strangers to
Peshawar told them to come to the camp after the
baggage was past. 'It gave me a strange notion,'
writes Mr. Elphinstone, ' of the system of manners in
Cabul, that these armed robbers should come up and
ask for a present ; and that Moosa Khan, in his rich
dress and golden arms, should sit almost unattended in
the midst of their matchlocks and refuse them.'

On the morning of the 25th the Mission made their
entry into the fine old city of Peshawar. A week,
however, lapsed without their being introduced to the
King, in consequence of a dispute al^out the forms of
their presentation. Points of etiquette having been
overcome on the morning of the 15th March, the
Embassy set out in procession for tlic palace. They
found Shah Sujah, the man of many misfortunes and
some faults, seated on a throne covered with cloth
of gold and pearls. His crown and all his dress were


one blaze of jewels. Large emerald bracelets were on
his arms, and in one of them shone the Momitain of
Light, the romantic Kohinor. The King was a hand-
some man, almost thirty years of age, of an olive com-
plexion, witfh a thick black beard. The expression of
his countenance was dignified and pleasing, his voice
clear, and his address friendly. The English Ambassa-
dor found him to be a courteous, well-mannered gentle-
man, who preserved his dignity while he seemed only
anxious to please. On being told that the climate and
productions of England greatly resembled those of
Cabul, he said the two kingdoms were made by nature
to be united.

On subsequent occasions the Envoy was admitted to
more private interviews with the King, when business
was discussed. The King had definite news, and was
ready to make definite engagements. The Envoy had
definite views, but no definite engagements to offer.
The King had a dangerous revolution to cope with in his
own kingdom. Whilst the English wanted him to make
an alliance concerning a remote danger, and yet w'ere
unwilling to give him any aid against the enemies at
his gate. The Afghc^ns were shrewd enough to see
that the English wished to make a very one-sided
bargain. ' They stated,' wrote Mr. Elphinstone, in a
letter to the Governor-General, ' that an alliance for
the purpose of repelling one enemy was imperfect,
and that true friendship between two States could
only be maintained by identifying their interests in
all cases ; that Shah Mahmoud had no influence
over the Douranees, and would be obliged, if
he obtained the Crown, to put himself under the pro-
tection of the Persians to maintain his authority ; that
he had before connected himself with that people, and
was naturally inclined to them ; and that from the


moment of his restoration to the government of this
country we might consider the French and Persians as
akeady on the Indus. They said the Afghans were a
powerful people against a foreign invader, and that when
the French and Persians came they might not require
our assistance ; but that we might regret our tardy aid
if, before the threatened attack commenced, the present
Government of this country was overthrown, and all
the fruit of our alliance with it destroyed. Supposing
a weaker case, and that Shah Sujali was only able to
make head against the rebels without destroying them,
they said that an attack from the French and Persians
might then be difficult to withstand, and it would cost
us millions to effect wdiat might now be done for
thousands. Throughout their whole discussion they
seemed to consider the invasion of the French and Per-
sians to be by no means formidable, unless aided by
intestine divisions ; but they were candid enough to
admit that the war with these nations concerned them
as much as they did us. In reply to this, I said that
my instructions went only to the conclusion of a de-
fensive alliance against the French and Persians, and
that I knew your Lordship would never wish to take
any part in the domestic quarrels of the Afghans ; that
your Lordship would of course be anxious that his
Majesty's means of repelling invasion should be
strengthened by the removal of the disturbances within
his dominions, but unless it could be proved to your
Lordship's satisfaction tliat the party in rebellion was
connected with the common enemy, it would be entirely
out of your plan to interfere in them. I said that we
did not profess to act towards this State merely from
motives of disinterested friendship. If we did, the
King would have cause to suspect us of harbouring
designs which we thought it impolitic to avow. I


frequently urged tliem to bring forward any information
they possessed respecting Shah Mahmcud's connection
with the Persians, but they always acknowledged their
belief that he had no transaction with that nation.'

Mr. Elphinstone continued to press upon the Afghan
diplomatists the necessity of signing a treaty against
the common enemy ; and they, on their part, continued
to beseech the English Envoy to grant assistance to
their sovereign, to enable him to suppress the rebellion
of his brother, which every day was growing more
formidable. The English Ambassador tried to persuade
them ' that the war concerned them more than us,' and
that 'the Afghans must fight, or lose their country;'
but they were neither convinced nor alarmed. The
Afghan Minister replied that his Majesty was resolved
not to give a passage to the French and Persians ; but
if he did, there seemed no reason to apprehend the
dangers the English Envoy had described. If ten
thousand French were in search of the cities of Herat,
Candahar, Cabul, and Peshawar, the word of one
Mullah would be sufficient to destroy them without the
assistance of a single soldier. The Afghan Minister
added a remark, the force and truthfulness of which
has been impressed on our mind of late years by pain-
ful experience. ' The Afghans,' he said, 'were divided
among themselves ; but such was their national spirit,
that a rebel would rather deliver himself up to the
King than accept the assistance of a foreign power.'
Mr. Elphinstone stated in conversation that the English
depended on their own means of warding off the danger.
' I then gave a short account of our expeditions to
Spain and Portugal, and explained the . preparations at
Bombay as far as I could with propriety ; and concluded
by saying that we had often been at war with all the
world, and had never suffered in the contest ; and that



if the French by any means get this country into their
power, we should still be able to oppose them, as we
had been in many more difficult junctures.' The
xVfghan duly replied that ' he could not allow that it
was so easy for us to repel our enemies on our frontier.
If the King gave them a passage, he would join in
their enterprise ; and we should find a war with the
Douranees very different from one with the French.'
The English Envoy enlarged on the frankness of the
English character ; but even to this statement the
Afghan Minister refused to give a complete assent.
He said that he did not believe that we intended to
impose upon the King, but he did not think that we
were so plain as w^e pretended to be. He said our
reputation was very high for good faith and magnani-
mous conduct to conquered princes, but he frankly
owned that we had the character of being very design-
ing, and that most people thought it necessary to be
very vigilant in all transactions with us.

The Afghan Minister proved himself skilled in the
art of diplomacy ; but after many negotiations, Mr.
Elphinstone surmounted the difficulties in his path,
and a treaty of friendship with the Shah was signed on
the 19th of April. It bound the Governor-General to
assist the King of Cabul with money against a con-
federacj^ of French and Persians, and the King of
Cabul to resist these powers while their confederacy
lasted, and to exclude all Frenchmen from his country
for ever. The events of the hour materially helped
the Envoy in getting the treaty signed. The troubles
of the King had so increased, that he would have made
any terms with the English, in the hope of gaining
their assistance against his internal enemies. Shah
Sujah had succeeded to his half-brother, Shah
Mahmoud, who was deposed in consequence of a


popular insurrection. Shortly after his march to
Peshawar, the Kin^^ heard of the capture of Caudahar
by Shah Mahmoud. An army was sent to attack the
rebels of the west. Four days after the treaty was
signed, this army was disastrously beaten in a pitched
battle. News came to the King of the advance of his
brother, of the capture of Cabul, and also a report of
the immediate advance of the enemy towards Peshawar.
It was determined to march to Cabul to meet the
enemy, and the King quitted Peshawar. On June
14th, after having paid a farewell visit to the sovereign,
the Mission quitted the city. On June 17th, the
treaty was signed at Calcutta by the Viceroy. Before
the month had expired, Shah Sujali had been com-
pletely routed, and had fled from his dominions.

On their return home the Embassy marched through
the Punjab, and reached Delhi, from which it had
started twelve months before. During his stay at
Peshawar, Mr. Elphinstone had proposed that the
Indian Government should receive the Province of
Sindh in return for money paid to Shah Sujali. The
State of Sindh had come within the scope of the
defensive arrangements proposed by the Governor-
General. Mr. Elphinstone was rebuked for the pro-
posal which he made, and on his way back, at Hassan
Abdul, in the Punjab, he wrote a letter of explanation.
No one had a greater horror of spoliation than Mount-
stuart Elphinstone.

' The expediency,' he wrote, ' of accepting of the
cession of Sindh has clearly been removed by the
change which has taken place in the state of affairs, and
the consequent alteration of the views of Government ;
and I have to beg the Eight Honourable the Governor-
General's excuse for having at any time submitted a


plan founded on such imperfect information. I was
ind.uced to do so by the consideration that the slowness
of the communication between Peshawar and Calcutta
rendered it necessary to lose no time in pointing out the
disposition of the Court of Cabul with respect to Sindh,
and the advantage which might be derived from it. I
trust that the following explanation will make it clear
that the plan which I proposed did not involve any
step at all inconsistent with the strictest principles of
political morality.

' When I had the honour to address to the Governor-
General my letter No. 12, I had not the same informa-
tion respecting the state of Europe which I now
possess, and I was very far from considering any event
that had taken place in that quarter of the globe as
fatal to the French invasion of India. I understand
that the chiefs of Sindh had given a cordial welcome to
an Agent of France and Persia, while they had received
the British Envoy Avith coldness and distrust. I had
also received intelligence (which has proved to be
erroneous) that Mr. Smith had arrived at Hyderabad,
and had been immediately dismissed. I had no doubt
that the views of the chiefs of Sindh were entirely
repugnant to an alliance or anything like the terms
proposed to them, and I conceived the period to be fast
approaching, which had been anticipated in the 67th and
C)8tli paragraphs of your despatch, when the submission
of the chiefs of Sindh to the King of Persia would
render it just and necessary for our Government to
assist in reducing them into complete subjection to the
King of Cabul. Considering an attack on Siudh to
be, in the event of certain probable contingencies,
determined, I addressed the Governor-General, chiefly
with a view to show that it was more for the benefit
of both States that we should take Sindh for ourselves


tlian for the KiDg of Cab ill. Though my principal
object was to enumerate the advantages we should
derive from the possession of Sindh, I was aware that
our obtaining them depended on the conduct of tlie
chiefs of Sindh and on the facility with which we could
occupy their country if the state of our relations with
them rendered it necessary to attack them ; but with
these subjects I was unacquainted, and was obliged to
content myself with alluding to them, and referring
them to his Lordship's better information.

' It did not,' he continued, ' fall within the range of
this discussion to examine the King of Cabul's right to
Hindh ; and from what I was in the habit of hearing
daily, it did not occur to me to question his title.
There seemed little or no difference in point of form
between the manner in which the King held Sindh and
that in which he holds the countries most subject to his
control ; nor is there any real difference, except that he
cannot remove the Governor, and that more of the
revenue is withheld on false pretences (of inundation,
etc.) than in other provinces. The King does not
appear ever to have renounced his right to the full
sovereignty of Sindh. His march in that direction
last year was, professedly at least, for the purpose of
settling the province ; and the reduction of Sindh is as
commonly spoken of as that of Cashmere. On the other
hand, I understood the chiefs of Sindh to acknowledge
the King's sovereignty in the fullest manner, and to
pretend no right to the countries they govern, except
what they derive from the King's Hukkum. These
facts would have rendered it necessary for us to attend
to the King of Cabul's claims in any arrangement we
might make for Sindh, but it was on the supposed
transfer of their allegiance to Persia that I conceived
our riixlit of interference to be founded. I have said



SO much on this subject because I am very anxious to
show the Governor-General that I did not intend to
recommend a wanton attack on Sindh for the mere
purpose of aggrandizement.'

From Delhi the Embassy proceeded to Calcutta,
where Mr. Elphinstone stayed throughout the year
1810, writing his Eeport for the Government. When
the task was finished, Mr. Elphinstone was selected to
fill the difficult office of Resident at Puna, and at the
beginning of 1811 he embarked for Bombay. At the
capital of Western India he met the man of promise,
Sir James Mackintosh, who formed a very just estimate
of his new acquaintances. He w'rote of him — ' He has
a very fine understanding, with the greatest modesty
and simplicity of character.' Sir James Mackintosh
also urged Mr. Elphinstone to publish the results of his
Afghan labours, advice which afterwards bore good




In March, 1810, after seven years' absence, Mount-
stiiart ElpliiDstone found himself once more in the
capital of the Peshwas. He took advantage of having
again a settled home to renew his old studies, though
a less energetic man would have found the laborious
duties of his office sufficient to engross his time. He
used to rise early, and, like Macaulay at Calcutta,
devote the first cool hours of the day to the study of
some classic author, ancient or modern. He studied in
the garden at the Sungum the ' Hecuba ' of Euripides.
' It is, as far as I have read, a noble production, rising
at every step in dignity and interest.' Two hours a day
were devoted to the study of Greek, and he thinks
that ' four months' such study as the present would
enable me to read most books in Greek with ease.' His
spare times were devoted to the ' Concilio Tridentino,'
but he found doctrinal discussions tedious and useless.
At this time Mountstuart Elphinstone was employed
not only in the study of the writings of others, but in
the labours of authorship. He had pondered over the
advice given him by Mackintosh to let the public share
in the information which he had gathered regarding the
countries beyond the Indus. But he, however, could


not come to a decision on the point until he knew what
Malcolm intended to embrace in his book on Persia,
which he was then preparing for the press. ' It is
necessary,' he wrote, ' that I should know with some
precision what you intend to do, or I shall spoil your
work and waste my trouble (and no small trouble it is
writing quires of paper, let alone writing for the public),
while I might be hunting, hawking, reading, and doing
my business with much more profit both to myself and
the public, even if I do not take in hand the account of
India which you so fully convinced me was required.'
Malcolm wrote back that he intended to confine his work
to Persia ; and, on hearing this, Elphinstone began his
account of the kingdom of CabuL His method of
composition was slow and toilsome, his care and cor-
rections as to matter and style endless. lie knew well

' There is no workeman
That can bothe worken wel and hastilie ;
This must be clone at hcsure paifaidlie.'

At last the work was finished, sent home, and
published. It attracted much attention, and was
favourably noticed by the leading reviews. The article
in the Edinhurgh spoke of the style of Mr. Elphinstone
as very good. ' It is clear, precise, significant, and
manly, often nervous, always perfectly unaffected,
severely guarded against every tendency to Oriental
inflation (totuni. iinuicre lioc tuum rst), quite exempt from
that verbosity and expansion which are the sins that
most easily beset our ingenious countrymen in the East.'
After the lapse of fifty years, Mountstuart Elphiustone's
' Cabul ' is the book wliicli contains the best descrip-
tion of the manners and political condition of the
remarkable tribes which constitute the Afghan nation.

The time was now fast approaching when Elpliin-

PUNA. 41

stono was to be occupied, not in Avriting, but in making
history. At the ck)se of 1813, Lord Miuto left India,
and was succeeded as Governor-General by the Earl of
Moira, a man of mature age and experience, who had
been in England an opponent of Lord Wellesley's im-
perial policy. But the new Governor-General had not
been many months in India before he became aware of
the grave mischief which had been brought by the
peace-at-any-price policy of the merchants of Leaden-
hall Street. The Ghoorkas had made encroachments
upon the country lying south of their mountains. Lord
Minto had tried to persuade them to retire by negotia-
tions with the Nepaul Court, and had failed. Lord
Moira was then driven to try the force of arms ; and,
in 1814, active hostilities began against the moun-
taineers. The Ghoorkas fought as valiantly against us
as they have subsequently done for us. Eashness and
incompetency on the part of our generals brought
disaster to our arms. But the hour of need is the
opportunity of heroes ; and a hero arose at this severe
crisis in our Eastern Empire in the person of David
Ochterlony. Lord Moira appointed him to the
supreme command of the army of operation ; and,
with 17,000 men, the new chief determined to advance
upon the capital of Nepaul. The pass which led to
Khatmandoo was found impregnable ; but, by a clever
strategical movement, the flank of the enemy's position

Online LibraryMountstuart ElphinstoneSelections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir → online text (page 3 of 41)