Sahib, p.32Richard Holmes
I have allowed him to take shelter in my tent and in return, he lends me his rug to sleep on. The tent being small there is not much room to spare, but he is the most discreet of horses, never thinks of turning or kicking his legs at night; and so we sleep side by side as comfortable as possible … He is as good as a watch-dog, allowing no one to enter the tent without my leave and always wakens me in the morning by pushing me with his nose the moment he hears the bugle sound.175
A few officers even indulged in buying elephants – £300 each in 1755 – though they could be hired for a modest 8 shillings a day; but, as John Corneille observed, ‘none but men of the first rank and fortune can afford to keep them’.176 In 1808, one subaltern told another that he was certain that a captain was indeed ‘sallying forth like Don Quixote to prostrate himself at the feet of his Dulcinea’, for he was selling off his ‘hunting apparatus … even the elephant is for sale at the reduced price of rupees 400’.177 We can only guess at how Surgeon Fayrer bore the cost of his sagacious pachyderm at Lucknow in the spring of 1857:
Dr F’s elephant is always brought in the evening to the verandah to have his dinner. We are generally all sitting there – he has sixteen seers of attah made into immense chupattees – this evening he performed all kinds of feats – took the Mahout up on his back by his trunk, then put out his fore-paw and the Mahout climbed up that way, roared whenever he was told to speak and at length salaamed and went off.178
With debt amongst junior officers so common, detached commands, or appointments which brought extra pay were particularly welcome. Henry Daly was delighted to be posted as adjutant to an irregular battalion soon after commissioning, as it brought his pay up from 200 rupees to 500 rupees a month. A whole forest of financial regulations could be felled to produce cash. Senior commanders were entitled to a table allowance on the presumption, sometimes fulfilled, that they would spend it entertaining as befitted their rank. There was a horse allowance, by 1911, of 30 rupees per month per horse, with the most senior officers entitled to four horses and the most junior staff officer to two. Cash payments were made for passing language exams, from 80 rupees for success at the elementary level, rupees 800 for the higher level, to a gratifying 4,000 rupees for a diploma of honour.
The most important allowance, batta, was paid to all troops, British and Indian, who gained entitlement to it by serving on campaign or in parts of India where it applied. British troops qualified for ‘country batta’ simply by being there. Although batta was originally intended as an allowance designed to defray expenses genuinely incurred, it soon became a pay increment which the Company’s officers took for granted. It could be substantial, and was generally very high in relation to basic pay. In 1766, for instance, a lieutenant colonel in the Company’s service received 248 rupees per month, with an extra 620 rupees for single batta and 1,240 rupees for double batta. In 1809 a captain might receive 120 rupees pay each month with 180 rupees as batta, 36 rupees as gratuity, a lodging allowance of 75 rupees and 45 rupees for commanding a company. Even by the time of the Second Afghan War, when things had been put on a more businesslike footing, six months’ field batta amounted to 700 rupees for a subaltern, 1,100 for a captain, 2,700 for a major and 3,600 for a lieutenant colonel.
Attacks on batta were mounted by successive governments anxious to economise, and were met by what it is not unfair to term mutiny. In 1766 Robert Clive was ordered to do away with double batta, only to be rewarded by the mass resignations of many junior officers who had the support of their superiors. There was a dangerous stand-off between two loyal sepoy battalions and a mutinous European battalion, and eventually the conspiracy crumbled with the most inflammatory firebrands being cashiered. Another serious mutiny over batta occurred in Bengal in 1796, and a third, very nearly as bad as the 1766 outbreak, at Madras in 1809.
We cannot be sure just how much the example of officers who gave vent to their discontent over the reduction of batta affected the sepoys, but it was certainly unhelpful. In 1824, 47th BNI was ordered to Burma: there was a general climate of unhappiness based on rumours that the Burmese had magical powers and tortured prisoners, and that there would be a shortage of bullocks to carry the men’s private possessions; the men demanded double batta and mutinied. Twelve mutineers were executed and the regiment was disbanded. In 1844 there was a mutiny in 64th BNI when it was sent to Sind without the batta it expected. The case was mishandled by the commanding officer, who was later cashiered, but six soldiers in what had previously been a well-regarded regiment were executed, and the 64th was duly disbanded.
The most dramatic mutiny of the period occurred at Vellore in 1806. It stemmed from attempts to make the sepoys wear round hats and leather stocks, and to forbid them from wearing marks painted on their faces and gold and silver ‘joys’, such as earrings and necklaces. Facial marks and jewellery often had religious significance, and there was a growing concern amongst many Indians that it was all part of an attempt to Christianise the army. A large proportion of three battalions of Madras native infantry mutinied, killing fourteen British officers, and 115 men of HM’s 69th Foot who were in garrison at the fort. The rebellion was quickly quashed by Colonel Rollo Gillespie of the 19th Light Dragoons, who galloped to Vellore as soon as he heard the news. His light galloper guns blew open the main gate, and the fort was promptly retaken, with about 350 of the mutineers being killed in the process. There were numerous executions afterwards and, predictably, the three battalions were disbanded.
Although batta was not the key issue at Vellore, the concept of fair dealing certainly was, and deep within both the European and Indian elements of the Company’s army was this fundamental notion, or in this case its reverse, ghadr, faithlessness or ingratitude.179 Soldiers were indeed soldati, paid men, with a contract that took them to the very doors of death, and it was often the belief that their employer was tinkering unilaterally with the bargain that bought them, that made British or Indian soldiers mutiny. It was an element in all these episodes, in the great Mutiny of 1857, and of the ‘White Mutiny’ that followed it.
In one sense, though, pay and batta were only the start – the ordinary income which British and Indian soldiers could expect. In wartime it was enhanced by extraordinary income, by prize money and loot, the former legal and the latter as illegal as it was inevitable. Although we often tend to think of prize money as being confined to naval operations in the Napoleonic Wars, it was available in land warfare too. In India, hoarded bullion, often in the form of gold mohurs, and women’s jewellery – both a symbol of a family’s status and the repository of its wealth – were alike important. There were often large quantities of gold not far below the surface in many Indian communities, some of which could legitimately be regarded as prize money. And some of it was obtained without any legal niceties: it is no accident that the word loot, which entered the English language in 1788, stems from the Hindustani lut for robbery or plunder. In 1762 Colonel Rennell declared that India ‘is a fine country for a young gentleman to improve a small fortune’. However, as time went on it would become harder to shake the golden fruit from the pagoda tree; by 1877, Blackwood’s Magazine would be lamenting that: ‘India has been transformed from the regions of romance to the realms of fact … and the pagoda tree has been stripped of all its golden fruit’.180
Broadly, after a victory the enemy’s public property, as opposed to the private belongings of individual combatants, was sold and the money thus raised was distributed, on an elaborate scale governed by rank, from the commander in chief to the most junior private soldier. The sums involved might be huge: the Army of the Deccan divided £353,608 4 shillings and 8 pence for its campaign in 1817–18, and the capture of Lucknow (much-looted though it was even before prize money was assessed) brought in well over £1 million.
The arrangements for Plassey were characteristically complex. One-eighth of the entire haul went to Robert Clive, Commander in Chief, India, who kept two-thirds of it himself and gave one-third to Major James Kilp
In April 1756, James Wood and his comrades received the first share of their prize money for operations against the Maratha leader Anghria. This ‘was to each Captain 2,806 rupees, to each Lieutenant 1,007, NCOs 320, Privates 56. Black soldiers received 20 rupees.’182 After the fall of Seringapatam a colonel received £297, a subaltern £52 and a British private £3 15 shillings and 9 pence. Albert Hervey wrote that after the Coorg war:
The prize money divided came to something very handsome. A subaltern’s share being about three hundred pounds, and that of a private soldier three pounds ten shillings, one of the best dividends ever known in India. Many of the officers however despaired of ever receiving their prize-money; and certain of them being badly off for cash sold their shares for what they could get, some for so little as sixty or seventy pounds.
There were several persons in the country who purchased up a great number of shares, so that when the prize-money was distributed, which was very soon after, they reaped a plentiful harvest, and made an excellent business of the transaction. How disgusted must those officers have been who had sold their shares when they found that they might have had such large sums of money, had they but exercised a little patience! Our troops were of course delighted at what they got, and wished for another war, where they might obtain similar sums with similar ease.183
Some officers were elected by their comrades to act as prize agents for their own element of the army. Lieutenant John Pester, appointed prize agent for the native infantry in the Second Maratha War, admitted:
I never experienced an anxiety equal to what I felt on this occasion, for I considered that to be chosen by a majority of officers of the army was an honour that any man might be proud of and would be a most convincing proof that one’s conduct had gained their notice and approbation. I had the satisfaction of seeing many an officer’s name down for me to whom I had considered I was a perfect stranger.184
After the capture of Khelat, Major John Pennycuick was nominated as prize agent by his own commanding officer, who:
secured the votes of the officers, and recommended me to canvas in the Queen’s. I did so and got their votes as unanimously as our own officers – several Officers of the Staff, and Officers of the Artillery tendered me their votes unsolicited, so I carried my election in great style.
However, his was no easy task, and, he declared, ‘I have had a busy time since … and will for some months … ’.185
The defeated enemy’s public property was stockpiled under the supervision of the prize agents, who then arranged for it to be auctioned. In India a good deal of it consisted of coinage or precious metals in any case, so disposal was relatively easy. The system of dividing up the proceeds ensured that senior officers could make fortunes overnight. Sometimes they were reluctant to take what was due to them, in case it might be said that they had championed expansionist policies in order to make money: Lord Cornwallis turned down £47,000 after the Third Mysore War and Lord Wellesley refused £100,000 after the Fourth. But Lord Lake received £38,000 from the capture of Agra, and Lieutenant Colonel Deacon took the commander’s share – £12,000 – of the £100,000 unleashed when the Raja of Kittur’s little fortress fell in 1824, even though he had only just arrived at the place. The second siege of Bhurtpore brought Lord Combermere almost £60,000, his generals £6,000 and subalterns £238; British privates received £4 and sepoys just over half as much; a jemadar got £12 and a subadar £28. Although these were substantial sums by Indian standards: ‘a subadar of forty years’ service can hardly have felt it right that a lieutenant less than half his age should have eight times his share’.186
Prize money was looked upon with suspicion by many British soldiers, firstly because of the inequitable way in which it was apportioned, and secondly because the whole process might take years. It took Cornet Thomas Pearson of the 11th Light Dragoons ten years to receive the £218 and 16 shillings due to him from the fall of Bhurtpore, and the widow and son of Private Bennett of HM’s 39th waited twenty years for his £4 and 9 shillings from the Coorg campaign of 1834. Gunner Richard Hardcastle, writing home from Oudh in July 1858 and longing for ‘one Gill of real stout such as I have tasted in Bradford’, thought that:
I believe I am entitled to the Batta for the fall of Lucknow – 38 Rupees – £3 2s od – and six months’ country Batta making altogether about £8 os od … If I receive this in any quantity altogether I intend sending most of it home. Unfortunately our officers dare not trust us with too much at once and will perhaps only give us £1 or 10s at once. Then there is the prize money for the fall and capture of Lucknow – I hear some of the men mention fabulous sums we are likely to get. Some say £30 per man! But I fear we shall never get 30s.187
He was right to be pessimistic. Sergeant Forbes-Mitchell wondered what had happened to ‘the plunder accumulated by the prize-agents’ at Lucknow, over £1 million in all. However:
Each private soldier who served throughout the relief and capture of Lucknow got prize-money to the value of Rs 17 8; but the thirty lakhs of treasure which were found in the well at Bithoor, leaving the plunder of the Nana Sahib’s palace out of the calculation, much more than covered that amount. Yet I could myself name over a dozen men who served throughout every engagement, two of whom gained the Victoria Cross, who have died in the almshouse of their native parishes, and several in the almshouse of the Calcutta District Charitable Society.188
George Elers complained bitterly that the prize money for Seringapatam (1799) reached him only in 1807, ‘without one shilling interest, which was our due’. As a lieutenant he received £430, a captain got £800, a major £2,000, a lieutenant colonel £4,000, a major general £12,000, and the happy Commander in Chief the customary one-eighth of the whole sum captured. Major General Sir David Baird was disgusted with his £12,000, having told Elers that he expected ‘at the very least £100,000’. Elers explained that:
The wealth captured was enormous, and consisted of all sorts of property from every Court in Europe. There was splendid china from the King of France, clocks, watches, shawls of immense value, trinkets, jewellery from all nations, pearls, rubies, diamonds and emeralds and every other precious stone made up into ornaments – even solid wedges and bars of pure gold. A soldier offered me one for a bottle of brandy. Many of the officers received part of their prize-money in jewels at a fixed valuation. I saw an emerald in its rough and uncut state valued at £200. Many of our soldiers acquired by plunder what would have made them independent for life if properly managed. I heard that one of them soon after the storm staggered under as many pagodas as he could carry – to the amount, it was said, of £10,000.189
One soldier of HM’s 74th Foot found two of Tipu’s armlets, studded with diamonds ‘each as large as a full-grown Windsor bean’. He removed the stones and sold them to a surgeon, Dr Pulteney Mein, for rupees 1,500. When officers were urged to give up any loot for the general good, Mein retained the diamonds, kept them in a muslin handkerchief round his neck, and eventually got an annuity of £2,000 for them. He passed on £200 a year to the soldier, ‘which the poor man did not live long to enjoy’.190
When John Shipp wandered round the fort at Huttras after its capture he:
found the prize agent hard at work trying to keep our lads from picking and steali
In short, large amounts of valuable items simply vanished before they ever reached the prize agents. When the British took the fort of Rheygur in 1818 they were chagrined to discover that much of the money it had apparently contained had been spirited away. A legal action, which dragged on until 1831, established that much of the cash had been carried off, on orders, by members of the surrendered garrison:
Bhumboo Bin Gunga Sindee deposed that he was in Rhyegur during the siege and surrender; Gamanging, a Jemadar, gave him three bags containing money, which he tied up in his cummerbund, and took them to his house in Champee, twelve miles from Rheygur; he kept them for fifteen days, when a sahib of the Company heard of it, and took him and the bags to the Kutchery at Gorgaum.192
Some of the loot remained in the hands of the men who had ‘found’ it, at least for a time, but much was passed straight on to officers, who generally bought it cheaply and did not declare it to the prize agents. William Russell saw this happen when he was in the Kaiserbagh at Lucknow just after its capture:
The shadow of a man fell across the court from a gateway; a bayonet was advanced cautiously, raised evidently to the level of the eye, then came the Enfield, and finally the head of a British soldier. ‘None here but friends,’ shouted he.
‘Come along, Bill. There’s only some offsers, and here’s a lot of places no one has bin to!’
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