Heroes of the Indian Mutiny - Edward Gilliat

Sir Hugh Rose and Jhansi:

The Avenger of Cawnpur

Amongst the heroes who fought, schemed, or held command during the Indian Mutiny the fame of Sir Hugh Rose, Baron Strathnairn, is not so well known as many who did far less than he.

Lord Derby, speaking in the House of Lords, 19th April 1859, said: "In five months the Central India Field Force traversed 1085 miles, crossed numerous large rivers, took upwards of 150 pieces of artillery, one entrenched camp, two fortified cities and two fortresses, fought sixteen actions, captured twenty forts."

One historian has described Sir Hugh Rose as "far in advance of any of the other commanders in genius, tact, judgment and energy." He recovered Central India, from the borders of the Western Presidency to the Ganges, acting in a difficult country entangled with wild jungles, hills and forests, and studded with forts strongly defended. He pressed on relentlessly, allowing the enemy no breathing time; and without his strenuous support, Lord Clyde's campaign would have required another two years of fighting to end the Mutiny.

Hugh Henry Rose was born in Berlin in the year 1801. His father was Sir George Rose, G.C.B., British Minister at the Prussian Court: here young Rose was educated and instructed in the rudiments of the military art.

In 1820 he entered the British Army, and serving in Ireland with tact and ability during the Ribbon disturbances, was rewarded by receiving his majority at an early age.

Later, he served in Malta, being in command of the 92nd Highlanders; and, when cholera broke out among his troops, Colonel Rose visited every man who fell ill and buoyed the sick up by his cheerful and sympathetic manners.

For his services with Omar Pasha's Brigade in Syria against Mehemet Ali and the Egyptian army, he received a sword of honour, and was made a Companion of the Bath. Frederick William of Prussia also sent "his former young friend" the Cross of St. John of Jerusalem. In his case, no doubt, powerful friends and money helped Rose to rise quickly from the lower ranks of officers to the higher. Soon after, he was appointed British Consul-General in Syria. It was no easy post at that time, because Christian Maronites and Mahommedan Druses were constantly flying at one another's throats. On one of these occasions, in 1841, Rose galloped between the opposing lines, held up his hand and stopped the conflict.

At another time he saved the lives of 700 Christians, and led them safely to Beyroot, walking himself most of the way, so that his horse might be at the disposal of any over-tired woman.

In recognition of these services in Syria, Lord Palmerston in 1851 appointed Colonel Rose to be Secretary of Embassy at Constantinople. During his time here, when acting as Charge d'Affaires in the absence of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, he learned that the Russians were demanding that the Sultan should sign a secret Treaty, giving to the Czar the protection of all the Christians in Turkey.

The Grand Vizier came to the colonel and said, "We must sign the secret Treaty to-night unless you call summon the British Fleet to Turkish waters."

"I will write to Admiral Dundas and point out the gravity of the situation," said Colonel Rose.

Soon after sunset the Porte's chief Dragoman visited Colonel Rose at Therapia and informed him that Prince Menschikoff had presented his demand for their signature, but that relying on the approach of the British Fleet they had refused it.

Here was a firm and able man acting on his own responsibility and stopping the panic which was endangering the independence of the Ottoman Empire. If Colonel Rose had been backed up by Her Majesty's Government, there would probably have been no Crimean War.

When that war was declared on the following year, Colonel Rose was appointed Queen's Commissioner with the French army, having the rank of brigadier-general.

Rose distinguished himself both at the Alma and Inkerman—was recommended by Marshal Canrobert for the Victoria Cross.

He received the thanks of the French general and of Lord Clarendon for his tactful address and helpful advice tendered to the French commanders, and on his return home was made a Knight of the Bath and a Commander of the Legion of Honour.

So far General Rose had shown himself full of activity. and resource: he never spared himself, if he seldom spared his subordinates: perhaps he was prone to be impatient of others' defects, and did not consider men's feelings when he had fault to find. But his officers and men ever found him just and generous.

The Duke of Cambridge having given General Rose a division in the Bombay Presidency, that general reached Bombay in September 1857, and was at once placed in command of a field force with instructions that he was to march to Kalpi through Central India and thus relieve the pressure on Lord Clyde.

At that time the Gwalior contingent held Kalpi, while the brave and pitiless lady, the Rani of Jhansi, was holding a large tract of country, comprising 1600 square miles, round her fortress, and was the mainspring of the Mutiny.

It is necessary to say a few words about this Indian heroine, who with the Nana Sahib and the Maulavi, or "learned man "of Oudh, seem to have conspired together to rouse the sepoys to mutiny. The Nana, as we have seen, was made our enemy by being unjustly treated, as he and his friends thought, by Lord Dalhousie.

It was much the same brusque treatment which turned a gracious and gifted Indian princess into an implacable Fury.

Her husband died childless in 1854, and according to Hindoo law the Rani possessed the right to adopt an heir. This right Lord Dalhousie curtly refused and proclaimed that Jhansi had lapsed to the Company.

The Rani argued eloquently against this, pleading the services rendered by the rulers of Jhansi to the British in the past.

It was all in vain: the little fiery Scot brushed away her arguments and her pleadings, little thinking what grave consequences were to follow, and what was the power of an injured woman. The Rani of Jhansi, burning to revenge this insult, yet nursed her anger quietly until the seizure of Delhi warned her that the time for action was come.

Then, in June 1857, she won over the sepoys stationed at Jhansi, and persuaded the English officers and their families to accept her protection; they were 67 Englishmen with their wives and children. A solemn procession was formed of these victims, headed by ulemas and fanatics and followed by the leading townsfolk: as they paced along these natives sang verses of the Koran, and repeated the refrain, "No mercy shall be shown to Giaours."

There walked the Resident, Captain Skene, doubtless knowing the bitterness of the hour, if the children did not. When they reached the ruins of an old mosque the procession was halted. The men were carefully separated from the women and children; the Afghan mercenaries and sepoys kept the ground lest any should escape, and the butchers of the city were bidden to go in and hack the doomed unbelievers to pieces.

It was this massacre which prompted General Rose and his men to strain every nerve to reach and capture Jhansi's strong fortress.

Sir Hugh Rose's force consisted of two brigades—the first under Brigadier Stuart of the Bombay army; the second under Brigadier Stewart of the 14th Light Dragoons.

There were many deficiencies to be met: supplies were scarce; the batteries were short of horses and men; the siege artillery was very inefficient for making breaches. But Sir Hugh Rose made every one hurry up, in spite of heat and fever; he began by punishing revolt in Indore and early in January started for the relief of Sagar.

On the 7th of January it was found necessary to disarm the Bhopal contingent. We can quote from an unpublished diary written by Lieutenant J. Bonus of the Royal Engineers: "As I command the sappers and miners I went to a council to discuss the disarming. . . .

"About 7:30 a.m. of the 8th, the infantry and cavalry of the Bhopal contingent were ordered to march through' the camp, to the surprise of those not in the secret. The° dragoons and artillery were at stables, and the 3rd and 24th were strolling about. But no sooner were the contingent ' gentlemen clear of camp than a change came very rapidly over the scene. In a few minutes the dragoons were mounted and the guns horsed. The infantry fell in armed with ball. Great must have been the surprise of the late mutineers to see cavalry, guns and infantry between them and their village.

"The contingent infantry were ordered to pile arms; which they did. They were then marched some fifty yards from their arms, and the 3rd Europeans marched up to the piles.

"Next the cavalry were ordered to dismount, when their horses were led away. But these men on being ordered to give up their swords, refused. Mayne asked for a company of Europeans to compel obedience. But the brigadier said, 'I'll give you something better than that.'

"He at once ordered the artillery to prepare for action in front of the dismounted men. 'Trot, march'—'action right'—'with grape load!'

"No sooner was the order given than the mutineers put down their swords. Each man had his uniform stripped off."

Often the men began their march at 2 a.m. Once the headman of a village was impudent to an officer and received two dozen lashes. Bathing and snipe-shooting relieved the monotony of the march at intervals, and alarms of sharp-shooters in the jungle kept men awake.

On the 24th they sighted Rhatghur at 2 p.m. on the top of a steep hill. Between them and the fortress was a river with a stony bed, which the horse artillery and dragoons had to cross. They were under fire from the enemy concealed amongst trees at the foot of the hill.

On the 25th, General Rose and his staff went on a reconnoitring expedition, as was his wont; for he liked to discover for himself the best way of attacking a stronghold.

On the 26th, the guns and howitzers shelled the fort until dark.

On the 27th, Lieutenant Bonus was ordered to examine a round tower near the walls, but when it had been seized it was found useless, and the men were withdrawn.

On the 28th, a battery was opened on the face of the fort which soon made considerable breaches.

On the 29th, up at 7 a.m. While at breakfast news came that the fort had been evacuated during the night. I walked into the fort through a breach and saw over the place. There were very few bodies about, and very little loot, merely some ponies, camels and horses. The rascals had escaped down an almost vertical precipice by the aid of ropes. Two had been killed in the descent. We shall never catch these fellows; they always manage to get away. They did the same thing before; they will never wait till the breach is practicable. It was an awful cliff down which they escaped."

Lieutenant Bonus was left to blow up the gates while the Force marched for Barodia, a strong village in a dense jungle. Here the Rajah of Banpur was entrenched and lost 500 men in the resistance he made. Captain Neville, R.E., who had gone untouched through the Crimean War, was killed by a round-shot close to the general.

The besieged garrison at Sagar had been shut up for eight months anxiously expecting relief, and feeling sick at the delay: but at last they heard Sir Hugh Rose's guns bombarding Ratghur; then a rider came and signalled that relief was coming. The investing force melted away and Sir Hugh's troops on 3rd February marched through the city in a long line.

The natives stared in wonder at a European regiment and the 14th Dragoons and the siege-guns drawn by elephants—while the ladies and children of the garrison officers waved a glad and thankful welcome.

"The Europeans in Sagar were uncommonly glad to see us. The Bengal 31st Native Infantry was there and, wonderful to say, had not mutinied!

"We had a fine time there: our dandies went peacocking, but they could only muster one tall hat among them, so they took that in turns! On the 6th, we had a grand parade . . . . the general said, 'I don't believe you have a full dress among you.'

"On the 9th we had to cross the Beas: I was extremely astonished to find an excellent suspension-bridge over the river. Considering that we were in the jungle this was an extraordinary sight. The man who built this bridge dug up the iron on the spot, smelted it and forged his bars then and there. All honour to him! he was a clever fellow. The heavy guns and elephants were directed to cross the river by a ford; but it is said that they crossed the bridge.

"On the 10th I had a weary day—in the saddle with Sir Hugh till 8 p.m.: there was some skirmishing and we had a few men wounded. To wind up, Sir Hugh asked me to dinner—a kind cruelty!"

Some 25 miles east of Sagar was Fort Garhakota, where the mutinous 51st and 52nd Bengal Regiments had established themselves. This was taken on the 13th February after a hot march through dense jungle.

Lieutenant Bonus says: "The enemy evacuated the fort in the night: things had been made rather hot for the rebels with the big howitzer: our shells had killed many men—the place has large supplies of food."

Then follows in the diary a sad story, in which Lieutenant Dick, Royal Engineers, shows a rare chivalry, to be rewarded only by arrest and loss of his command.

"25th—A most unhappy incident has occurred just now: a native of the Bombay Sappers and Miners named Maun was tried on the 22nd by a native district court-martial on the charge of attempting to pass out of Fort Garhakotah a camel laden with sugar, ghee, rice, flour and one matchlock—with intent to injure the Prize Agents. The man was found guilty and sentenced to fifty lashes.

"Dick, who now commands the Sappers, believed that a great injustice had been done by this finding and sentence; he wrote to the brigade-major and advised the sapper to appeal to Brigadier Stewart for a new trial by a European court. Accordingly when Maun was paraded for punishment on the 24th he appealed to the brigadier for a fresh trial.

"The brigadier was furious and dismissed the parade, saying to Dick, 'We may thank you for this, Lieutenant Dick.'

"Soon after the parade Dick was placed under arrest and I was placed in command of the Sappers.

"Mann was tried by a general European drum-head court for mutiny and disobedience of orders: he was found guilty, sentenced to seven years' hard labour and to be marked with the letter M: also to forfeit all property to Government.

"This morning, 25th, Maun was flogged before the whole brigade. The impression made upon me by the whole unhappy business is that the authorities behaved with exceeding harshness, even cruelty! I doubt very much whether Maun was guilty in the first instance: I gather that he had nothing to do with the loading of the camel, that he did not know what was on it: he was casually asked by a soldier to take the camel outside the fort and complied in all innocence!"

We may state that two separate accounts written by surgeons and published agree with this: the surgeon on parade refused to brand the letter M on Maun.

"27th—Dick has been reprimanded before all the officers of the Brigade, released from arrest but deprived of his company. The command was offered to me, but I refused it on the ground that duties as Assistant Field Engineer occupied all my time. Goodfellow also declined: Fox of the Madras Sappers accepted the command . . . Dick is in very low spirits."

The diary now describes the taking of a small fort, for Sir Hugh's energy omitted nothing: the forcing of a pass through the hills and the jungle fights and retreats: a hungry day with no food and plenty of strong language when the tents were at last pitched.

"5th March—To-day the first bugle was sounded at 3 a.m.: I cannot imagine why the general insists on turning out the men at this dreadful hour!

"6th—Dick and I made a plan of Marowra fort: then we shot twelve couple of snipe and two brace of quail."

Sir Hugh pressed on to Jhansi, often marching all night, taking a fort here and blowing up the palace of an insurgent there, until they came near Jhansi on the 20th.

The fortress stands on a high rock and is built of solid masonry, guns peeping from every elevation.

The city is four and a half miles in circumference and is surrounded by a massive wall, eight feet thick: 11,000 men formed the garrison, and the brave lady who inspired them took no mean part in the defence: for she and other women assisted in repairing the havoc made in the defences by the hot fire of seventeen days. Sir Hugh Rose was engaged from sunrise to sunset, reconnoitring and placing the siege batteries, as he had no plan of the city or map of the country. To the east of the city was a picturesque lake and a palace of the old rajah's: on the south side were the ruined cantonments of the British troops.

Sir Hugh never wasted a moment. He wrote to Sir Colin: "The great thing with these Indians is not to stay at long distances firing: but after they have been cannonaded, to close with them."

Day and night a heavy fire was kept up on the fort and Mamelon, and the native women in the city were ever busy working at the repairs. By 30th March the defences of the fort and city had been dismantled and the enemy's guns mostly disabled.

Sir Hugh made arrangements to storm Jhansi on the next day, but news came of the advance of Tantia Topee with a large force of 20,000 men: flags were flying from Sir Hugh's observatory, a signal of danger, and an immense bonfire on the Jhansi side of the river Betwa was received with shouts of joy from the walls.

Sir Hugh might well have quailed under such a danger, but he at once resolved to fight a general action with the new foe while he still pressed on the siege of Jhansi. During the evening of the 31st he moved all the men he could spare to meet Tantia Topee.

Next morning Tantia Topee made a vigorous attack, feeling certain of an easy victory over the few English.

But Captain Lightfoot's battery and the charge of the 14th Light Dragoons forced the enemy to break and retire in confusion. Then they fired the jungle: but through smoke and fire our field battery galloped and opened fire as the Indians were recrossing the Betwa: the pursuit was continued until dark, and stores, siege guns and materials of war fell into our hands: Tantia Topee had lost 1500 men and was in full retreat for Kalpi.

Meanwhile the fire on the breach was redoubled, and Sir Hugh determined that, whether the breach were practicable or no, Jhansi should be taken on the 3rd of April.

On the evening before, Sir Hugh sent for Lieutenant Dick, and said: "You have rendered yourself liable to a court-martial, sir: but I have heard of your high promise and good qualities and I cannot subject you to a punishment which would be ruinous to your career and deprive you of the honour of the assault. I therefore pardon you, and I know you will do your duty to-morrow."

General Bonus, then Lieutenant, says in his diary:—

"On the night of the 2nd April orders came round very late, but neither Dick nor I was detailed for any duty. We both, however, decided that we would be in the game somehow.

"3rd April. At 2:30 a.m. the sappers left camp with Brown, Fox, Goodfellow, Meiklejohn and Dick. I did not move until 4 a.m. and then went down to the right attack, where I found the staff in the advanced battery. The ladder party with Fox and Brown was just approaching the wall, and it was very plain that things were not going well. I ran out and joined the party to help as far as I could.

"Fox and I managed to get a double ladder placed, but with much difficulty: for the ground was very rough, the wall high, the ladder heavy and too short, and the fire of the enemy incessant and well directed.

"As soon as the ladder was ready, I called to the Europeans of the storming party to follow me, and mounted: but only one man would at first venture. He and I went up side by side on the bamboo double ladder. At the top we had an unpleasant time; as many men on the wall as could crowd in front of us hacked away at us. But they were so anxious to protect themselves with their shields that they could hardly see what they were doing: my sword was chiefly used to ward off their cuts, and I was so busy with my right hand that I quite forgot the revolver in my left.

battle of jhansi


"The soldier alongside of me used his bayonet freely, but I don't think he did much damage. However, this little game soon came to an end. I was dimly conscious of a man well to my left who clubbed his musket, swung it round his head, and the next instant it was fireworks and black night with me.

"The first thing I realised after I fell was that some one was standing over me, saying, 'Poor fellow! he's done for!'

"However, though I could not move a limb, I felt that I was not 'done for,' and soon I managed to crawl behind a low bit of wall, when I lay still till I could look about me.

"I was half-blind with blood and felt as if every bone in my body was broken . . . it was clear that the escalade had failed, and that there was very sharp fighting going on inside the walls."

Lieutenant Bonus, owing to his being stunned, was not able to record what was the effect of his plucky attempt to gain the wall; but Colonel Malleson writes in his History: "The rampart they had to escalade was very high and the scaling-ladders were too short. Thanks, however, to the splendid gallantry of three officers of the Engineers, Dick, Meiklejohn, and Bonus, and of Fox of the Madras Sappers, they succeeded in gaining a footing there. Just then Brockman, from the left attack, made a timely charge on the flank and rear of the defenders. Their persistence immediately diminished, and the right attack made good its hold."

These young officers led the way at the cost of life or limb: for the men seemed to hang back at first, not liking the look of the place with its awkward climb. Lieutenant Dick, on putting his foot on the step of another scaling-ladder, said to a brother-officer, "I never can be sufficiently obliged to Sir Hugh Rose: tell him how I have done my duty."

He ran up the ladder, received several shots and fell down mortally wounded: such was the end of a chivalrous officer who had imperilled his; career to save an Indian private.

Meiklejohn, who had spent part of the night before in writing to his mother, feeling certain that he should be killed in the storm of the morrow, no sooner gained the top than he was dragged from the ladder by the Afghan mercenaries and hacked to pieces so as to be unrecognisable. Though the escalade had partially failed, yet it served to draw a body of the garrison away from the other escalade. Fortunately the assault was more successful on the left, and the general entered the breach, fought his way from street to street and from room to room of the palace.

The next day, 4th April, the rest of the city was taken and occupied: in the evening the Rani sent for her horse to the fort ditch, and was let down from a window into the saddle, and so fled to Kalpi, having her little stepson in her lap.

For seventeen days and nights our men had never taken off their clothes nor unsaddled their horses!

Sir Hugh Hose wrote: "No recollection of the revolting murders perpetrated in that place could make our men forget that in an English soldier's eyes the women and children are always spared. So far from hurting them, the troops shared their rations with them."

The capture of Jhansi had cost us 343 killed and wounded, of whom 36 were officers. The rebels lost about 5000 men. But Sir Hugh gave the enemy no rest: he stormed Lohari and Kunch and fought such a battle at Gulauli on the 22nd of May that the rebels dispersed, broken and dispirited.

Thus in five months Sir Hugh Rose had traversed Central India, stormed many fortresses, won several victories, and re-established British authority in a most important province.

"It was impossible to have done this better than Sir Hugh Rose did it. As a campaign his was faultless."

It only remained to catch the de Wet of the Mutiny—Tantia Topee: but he for more than nine months eluded all the forces sent to intercept him: he was supreme in fighting and running away: the only native who developed a genius for war.

At length he was compelled to hide in the jungle and was betrayed by a rebel chief, Man Singh, at midnight on the 7th of April 1859. Tantia Topee was taken to Sipri, tried by court-martial and hanged on the 18th of April.

Such was the end of this able guerilla leader: but we must not forget that this was the man who organised the massacre at Cawnpur, and gloated over the deaths of our women and children. Sir Hugh was appointed commander-in-chief first of Bombay, then of India, made Field Marshal and Baron Strathnairn. He died at Paris at the age of eighty-four and was buried at Christchurch Priory, Hants.

Clyde and Strathnairn. Clarendon Press.
Malleson's History of the Indian Mutiny. Seeley, Service & Co.