Sahib, p.52Richard Holmes
One of their men was murdered in the native bazaar and the following evening a dozen of his comrades decided to take the law into their own hands and avenge his death. They saddled their horses and with levelled lances charged through the bazaar where the murder had taken place, and, avoiding women and children, stuck as many natives they met as were not quick enough to dart away behind the booths.94
For Richards and his comrades Curzon was an interfering old busy-body who, as one of them helpfully suggested, should be ‘a Sunday School teacher among the Eskimos around the North Pole’.
However, Curzon’s determination not to tolerate a situation where ‘a white man may kick or batter a black man to death with impunity’ was not isolated. In 1821, Lieutenant John Vignoles of the 26th BNI, was tried for beating his groom with a buggy whip. At his trial it transpired that he had already been reprimanded for violence, and he was dismissed from the service. In July 1851, General Sir William Gomm, Commander in Chief, India, wrote to his judge advocate general about the case of Private Rosney who, while drunk at Amritsar, had murdered a Sikh policeman who had tried to arrest him. The judge advocate thought that the case was one of manslaughter, but Gomm told him that; ‘We are living among a people unversed in the niceties of English law or any other subtle Code of Man’s compiling, and against whom this foul outrage has been committed.’ Nothing but exemplary punishment would suffice.95
Even commanding officers who might have agreed with Gomm often took a liberal view of what they saw as reasonable response to provocation. In the 1840s, Private Metcalfe of the 32nd was told by an Indian that his stay in Lucknow would be short because ‘we would be thrashed out of it, as badly as we had thrashed the Sikhs out of Goodgerat’. Incensed, Metcalfe gave him ‘a straight one from the shoulder … [and] repeated the dose several times’. There was a hue and cry, and the 32nd was ordered to parade to enable the victim to identify the man who had struck him. Metcalfe feared the worst, for ‘my regiment was very strict as regards the ill treating of natives’, but went to the orderly tent to admit the offence to save the regiment the trouble of parading. His comrades corroborated his story, ‘and the verdict was – serve you right’.96
A digest of courts martial held on British officers in the period 1861–75 shows that in 1862 Lieutenant Glover, of the General List, was found guilty of maliciously wounding a native and was imprisoned for three months. In 1872, Captain Welchman, also of the General List, was found guilty of striking a syce of the 19th Bengal Lancers and was placed at the bottom of the captains’ list for the crime. In 1863, two ensigns, one of the 23rd Foot and the other of the 27th, were found not guilty of rape, but Lieutenant Jackson RE, tried for murder, was convicted of culpable homicide and received four years’ penal servitude.97 The register of courts martial for NCOs and men for 1878 shows that two privates of the 33rd, Thomas Connelly and Thomas Seully, were both convicted of ‘ill-using a native woman’ and assaulting a native by beating him: both were imprisoned.98
It is notable, however, that during the period covered by the officers’ courts martial digest, more officers were tried for attacks on colleagues than for assaults on natives, and as far as soldiers were concerned, the cases of Connolly and Seully stood alone in a long list where being drunk on duty, using insubordinate language, and striking NCOs were very common indeed. Thus, despite occasional official attempts to punish officers and men for brutality towards natives, it is hard to resist the conclusion that successful prosecutions were relatively rare.
THERE HAD BEEN other factors at work in the process of hardening cultural attitudes. The Company had inherited from Indian rulers the management of temple and pilgrim traffic and looked benevolently on local religions: its officers, troops and bands used to take part in Hindu and Moslem festivals. A print of about 1845 shows a Brahmin blessing the colours of the Bengal army’s 35th Light Infantry. Both colours are carried by native officers, but a British officer, garlanded with flowers, is present. It was a feature of the Hindu social system that every man should perform the function to which he was born, and it was the custom for each trade to annually honour the tools of its craft. When sepoys did this, British officers had traditionally stacked their swords with their men’s muskets.99
The Charter Act of 1833 required the Company to cease the administration of religious establishments, and official participation in non-Christian religious festivals was first discouraged and then barred. A new generation of officers began to complain about acting as ‘churchwarden to Juggernaut’ or ‘wet-nurse to Vishnu’, and in 1838 Lieutenant General Sir Peregrine Maitland, Commander in Chief, Madras, resigned rather than punish a British soldier who had refused to take part in a parade to honour a Hindu deity. At the same time resolutions in Parliament provided for the encouragement of missionaries, with a view to the ‘moral and religious improvement’ of the people of India, and there were more than a hundred missionaries in the country by 1824. Their success was limited: in 1823 the missionaries at Serampore claimed only 1,000 converts, but their critics suggested that the real figure was closer to 300. However, their impact was far greater, and helped persuade many sepoys that the Company really intended to alter their religion.
The Company’s Articles of War obliged all its European officers, NCOs and men ‘not having just impediment, that is being sick or on duty etc shall diligently frequent divine worship; such as wilfully absent themselves, or, being present, behave indecently or irrelevantly, shall, if a commissioned officer, be brought before a court-martial … ’. Article 35 of the Rules and Articles for the better Government of all Her Majesty’s Forces used much the same words. Albert Hervey observed, however, that no more than two or three of the officers in his regiment ever went to church, and yet men were court-martialled for the breach of far more trivial rules.100 Many of the Indianised officers of a previous generation had been even more relaxed in religious matters. They were often deist in the broadest sense, and found it easier to relate to monotheistic Islam than to apparently polytheistic Hinduism.101
James Skinner built a church, a mosque and a temple to thank God (about whose specific identity he was somewhat vague) for his escape from a particularly bloody field. A chaplain firmly believed him to be a Christian, but Emily Eden, fascinated by his zenana, suspected that he might well be a Moslem, and in any case his Protestant church, St James’s, just inside the Kashmir Gate in Delhi, ‘has a dome in the mosque fashion, and I was quite afraid that with the best disposition to attend to [The Revd] Mr Y., little visions of Mahomet would be creeping in’. After the dedication of his church the bishop presented him with a handsome altar cloth, embroidered with ‘IHS’. Skinner did not quite grasp the significance of this (an abbreviation derived from the Greek for Jesus) and muttered that it was: ‘Very fine. But I see that the durzi [tailor] has made a mistake in my initials.’102
In the first half of the nineteenth century there was a steady rise of Methodism in the British army, which inevitably affected its regiments in India. Henry Havelock, having experienced religious conversion on his way there, set up a bible class as soon as he reached
Burma. Although the authorities had reservations about a combatant officer mixing with private soldiers on such terms, the close association between religious dissent and temperance was too useful to ignore. Sir Archibald Campbell, warned that an attack was imminent, replied: ‘Then call up Havelock’s saints, and Havelock himself is always ready.’103 Havelock told Dr Marshman, a Serampore missionary and his father-in-law, that:
The dissenting privates of the 13th meet for social worship, morning and evening, in the chapel. There are also in the building such places for retirement for private devotions, to which many resort. There is also public worship on the Sabbath before noon, and again in the evening. I think that the congregation of the latter occasion fluctuates between fifty and sixty … and it is admitted by those who, without any presupposition in favour of the faith, have the best opportunities of judging th
Gunner William Porter of the Madras Artillery reassured his father in 1837 that he had abundant opportunity for worship: ‘At St Thomas’s Mount [in Madras] we have a Protestant Church, a Wesleyan Chapel and 4 Roman Churches so a man has no need to be an heathen in an heathen land … ’. He had already reported that he was entitled to a daily spirit ration of a twentieth of a gallon per day (his wife was allowed her own half-ration) but ‘I can assure you that I seldom make any use of it’. This sober man duly attained the rank of conductor.105 Colonel Armine Mountain paid careful attention to his devotions in 1849, telling his wife:
I always get up by candlelight, and, when dressed, pray for you, and myself, and all of ours, then generally read till the day is clear enough to go out. The Psalms of the day and two or more chapters of the Bible form my reading. How highly poetical, beautiful and encouraging are the Psalms of this day! The history of Jepthah and his daughter, and 1 Peter i, are also deeply interesting. I then went out, being brigadier of the day … 106
By the 1850s there were many senior officers and officials who were themselves affected with religious zeal, and it is striking that all three Lawrence brothers, as well as many of Henry’s young men, were imbued with muscular Christianity: Herbert Edwardes, for instance, was described as ‘officially a soldier, practically a bishop’. Robert Tucker, the judge at Fatehpur:
Had painted on the wall over his chair a label with these words ‘Thou God seest me.’ At the entry to the town, too, he had got permission to erect pillars by the wayside, in which he had inscribed, in the vernacular, the Ten Commandments, and sundry religious precepts.107
When the Mutiny broke out Tucker sent all the Europeans, Eurasians and Christians to safety at Allahabad, and when the police, who had gone over to the mutineers, came in search of him:
He tried to reason with [them] … to which they replied with a volley. Mr Tucker returned the fire, and before the doors of his house could be forced he had killed sixteen and wounded many more, when he fell pierced by spears and bullets. So died the brave and God-fearing Robert Tucker, the glory of the Bengal Civil Service.108
There were also a number of ‘preaching colonels’. Colonel Steven Wheler, commanding officer of the 34th BNI at Barrackpore, where the first outbreak of Mutiny occurred in 1857, was a committed Christian with a reputation for trying to convert Indians. Lord Canning recognised the damage that this could do, and thought that such a man was ‘not fit to command a regiment’. A good deal of British opinion in India, however, supported the likes of Wheler. There is, though, little doubt that the activities of men like Tucker and Wheler ‘were grist to the mill of those who wanted “to win the allegiance of the sepoys away from the government”’.109 Religious proselytising was part of the baneful process which separated British from Indian, helping make the Mutiny possible, and doing much to build barriers which would endure as long as the British ruled India.
The Mutiny both increased the religious conviction of the few, and also, for the many, established religion as another tribal marking separating the combatants. Gunner Richard Hardcastle, RHA, thought that the imminence of combat made many of his comrades turn to religion, though only as ‘fire insurance’:
Now that we are likely to face danger I see how many of our fellows are reading their Bibles – men that have not read their bibles for years are now greatly interested in its contents and talk about religion with all the insurance of old practitioners … They would not read their bibles when there was no danger but now they are face to face with it they feel their deficiency. They feel that their evil course would not carry them through eternity. The very men that would have been the first to throw jibes and sneers at a person with ordinary seriousness reading his bible are now the men who read and talk so much about religion.110
Arthur Lang thought that war did little to promote genuine belief:
I don’t think that religion or a feeling of the uncertainties of life, or of man’s nothingness, are fostered by the dangers of warfare … They cause elation of spirits, scorn of danger, an inclination of confidence in pluck and strength, and a sort of feeling of self-satisfaction in escaping unhurt.
I had thought it would be different: there is nothing like danger from pestilence (like the cholera at Mian Mir last year) to bring a man to feel his real position. So on the whole I don’t think campaigning is good for a man, or should I say for my own special case.111
There was a solid thread of nonconformity in Highland regiments. Sergeant Forbes-Mitchell, narrowly missed by a roundshot which hit the tree he was dozing beneath, sprang up and repeated ‘the seventh verse of the ninety-first Psalm’, Scotch version.
A thousand at thy side shall fall,
On thy right hand shall lie
Ten thousand dead; yet unto thee
It shall not come nigh.112
Civilians, too, found consolation in religion. Julia Inglis believing herself to be near death at Lucknow in July 1857, was much relieved when:
Mrs Case proposed reading the Litany, and came with her sister and knelt down by my bedside; the soothing effect of prayer was marvellous. We felt different beings, and though still much alarmed, could talk calm of our danger knowing that we were in God’s hands, and that without His will not all the fury of the enemy could hurt us.113
With increasing confidence in their own God, some soldiers became openly disdainful of other forms of worship. Private Tubb Goodward, wandering about with his sketch-pad, looked in on the tomb of the Emperor Akbar.
The tomb … stands in the centre of the garden … facing the main gate is the entrance … On entering the door … you pass along a narrow passage … and … find yourself in a large domed hall. The only light … is given from an old massive brass lamp … which spreads a sort of religious gloom over the spacious vault making it appear much larger than it is. The lamp is attended by an old fakir and according to his account … has never been extinguished since the place was built which is two hundred years. At this most remarkable lamp I lit a cigar which I puffed away seated on the plain white marble sarcophagus.114
When Major General Sir James Hope Grant and Captain Garnet Wolseley visited the temple of Hanuman at Ajoudia they were even more disrespectful:
Sir Hope Grant insisted upon the lazy priests who covered the place opening the temple where there was the sacred image of this deity … In the middle was a block of heavy black wood, lignum vitae I believe, which was shaped to resemble the head and body of a monkey, but I could see no resemblance to any such animal in it. It was clothed in a garment of rich stuff, and was decked with jewels and gold-mohurs. My general kicked it over, to the horror of the dirty fat priests about, who had worshipped, or pretended to worship, it since they were boys.115
Officers and men alike found it hard to separate their view of religion from their opinion of clergymen. British regiments serving in India brought their chaplains with them, and each of the presidencies had its own ecclesiastical establishment, with a single bishop at the head of all three from 1840. A few of these gentlemen, like their lay comrades, found the vinous temptations of the subcontinent too much for them. In 1796 the Reverend Mr Blunt, chaplain to HM’s 33rd Foot when Colonel Arthur Wellesley was in command, accompanied the regiment on an abortive amphibious expedition. After three days at sea, however:
he got abominably drunk and in that disgraceful condition exposed himself to both soldiers and sailors, running out of his cabin stark naked into the midst of them, talking all sorts of bawdy and ribaldry, and singing scraps of the most blackguard and indecent songs, so as to make himself a common laughing stock. The commander of the ship, who was personally attached to Mr Blunt, could not help feeling the disgrace that must attend a Clergyman’s thus forgetting what was due to his station, he however mildly remonstrated and prevailed upon h
The following morning the captain ‘repeated his remonstrances so forcibly as to distress Mr Blunt beyond measure … ’. Seeing the state he was in, all the officers did their best to cheer him up. Wellesley was rowed across to speak to him, and assured him that ‘no one would think any the worse of him for the little irregularities committed in a moment of forgetfulness … ’. But the clergyman proved inconsolable, and ‘in ten days … he departed this life, having actually fretted himself to death’.116
John Pearman of the 3rd Light Dragoons wrote that while on night patrol in the officers’ lines ‘we would often come across our parson dead drunk. We would have him carried to his bungalow or dwelling house.’ He was eventually posted elsewhere, and his successor was much more popular: ‘he would sit in the hospital for hours with the sick and pray with them and never find any fault with our ways, only exhort us to pray to God’.117
There were two army chaplains in the camp on Delhi ridge, as well as a Jesuit, Father Bertrand, who had travelled from the Punjab at his own expense and pitched his tent by the hospital. All three were kept very busy as British fortunes in India hung in the equipoise. The Reverend John Edward Wharton Rotton, tells how:
The 21st of June was our second Sunday before the stone walls of Delhi. Divine service was solemnised at half past five a.m., and a sermon preached by me at the ordinary place. I had, beside the headquarters’ service, one for the Rifles, at eleven a.m., and another for the cavalry brigade, at six p.m. Sunday was always a very hard day with me, though it was very difficult to say on what day in the week my labours were lightened; for, if I had regular services for the camp on Sundays, there were the daily services for the hospital, which required an expenditure of mental and bodily strength equally great. Then, again, not a morning or evening passed without burials, one of the most painful portions of the duties of a chaplain in camp, and by no means an insignificant one either.118
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