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Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.

Interview with the Rājā of Datiyā—Fiscal Errors of Statesmen—Thieves and Robbers by Profession

On the 17th[1] we came to Datiyā, nine miles over a dry and poor soil, thinly, and only partially, covering a bed of brown and grey syenite, with veins of quartz and feldspar, and here and there dykes of basalt, and a few boulders scattered over the surface. The old Rājā, Parīchhit,[2] on one elephant, and his cousin, Dalīp Singh, upon a second, and several of their relations upon others, all splendidly caparisoned, came out two miles to meet us, with a very large and splendid cortège.

My wife, as usual, had gone on in her palankeen very early, to avoid the crowd and dust of this 'istikbāl', or meeting; and my little boy, Henry, went on at the same time in the palankeen, having got a slight fever from too much exposure to the sun in our slow and stately entrance into Jhānsī. There were more men in steel chain armour in this cortège than in that of Jhānsī; and, though the elephants were not quite so fine, they were just as numerous, while the crowd of foot attendants was still greater.

They were in fancy dresses, individually handsome, and collectively picturesque; though, being all soldiers, not quite pleasing to the eye of a soldier. I remarked to the Rājā, as we rode side by side on our elephants, that we attached much importance to having our soldiers all in uniform dresses, according to their corps, while he seemed to care little about these matters.

'Yes,' said the old man, with a smile, 'with me every man pleases himself in his dress, and I care not what he wears, provided it is neat and clean.'

They certainly formed a body more picturesque from being allowed individually to consult their own fancies in their dresses, for the native taste in dress is generally very good. Our three elephants came on abreast, and the Rājā and I conversed as freely as men in such situations can converse.

He is a stout, cheerful old gentleman, as careless apparently about his own dress as about that of his soldiers, and a much more sensible and agreeable person than I expected; and I was sorry to learn from him that he had for twelve years been suffering from an attack of sciatica on one side, which had deprived him of the use of one of his legs.

I was obliged to consent to halt the next day that I might hunt in his preserve (ramnā) in the morning, and return his visit in the evening. In the Rājā's cortege there were several men mounted on excellent horses, who carried guitars, and played upon them, and sang in a very agreeable style, I had never before seen or heard of such a band, and was both surprised and pleased.

The great part of the wheat, gram,[3] and other exportable land produce which the people consume, as far as we have yet come, is drawn from our Nerbudda districts, and those of Mālwa which border upon them; and, par conséquent, the price has been rapidly increasing as we recede from them in our advance northward. Were the soil of those Nerbudda districts, situated as they are at such a distance from any great market for their agricultural products, as bad as it is in the parts of Bundēlkhand that I came over, no net surplus revenue could possibly be drawn from them in the present state of arts and industry.

The high prices paid here for land produce, arising from the necessity of drawing a great part of what is consumed from such distant lands, enables the Rājās of these Bundēlkhand states to draw the large revenue they do. These chiefs expend the whole of their revenue in the maintenance of public establishments of one kind or other; and, as the essential articles of subsistence, wheat and gram, &c., which are produced in their own districts, or those immediately around them, are not sufficient for the supply of these establishments, they must draw them from distant territories.

All this produce is brought on the backs of bullocks, because there is no road from the districts whence they obtain it, over which a wheeled carriage can be drawn with safety; and, as this mode of transit is very expensive, the price of the produce, when it reaches the capitals, around which these local establishments are concentrated, becomes very high.

They must pay a price equal to the collective cost of purchasing and bringing this substance from the most distant districts, to which they are at any time obliged to have recourse for a supply, or they will not be supplied; and, as there cannot be two prices for the same thing in the same market, the wheat and gram produced in the neighbourhood of one of these Bundēlkhand capitals fetch as high a price there as that brought from the most remote districts on the banks of the Nerbudda river; while it costs comparatively nothing to bring it from the former lands to the markets.

Such lands, in consequence, yield a rate of rent much greater compared with their natural powers of fertility than those of the remotest districts whence produce is drawn for these markets or capitals; and, as all the lands are the property of the Rājās, they drew all those rents as revenue.[4]

Were we to take this revenue, which the Rajas now enjoy, in tribute for the maintenance of public establishments concentrated at distant seats, all these local establishments would, of course, be at once disbanded; and all the effectual demand which they afford for the raw agricultural produce of distant districts would cease.

The price of this produce would diminish in proportion, and with it the value of the lands of the districts around such capitals. Hence the folly of conquerors and paramount powers, from the days of the Greeks and Romans down to those of Lord Hastings[5] and Sir John Malcolm,[6] who were all bad political economists, supposing that conquered and ceded territories could always be made to yield to a foreign state the same amount of gross revenue as they had paid to their domestic government, whatever their situation with reference to the markets for their produce—whatever the state of their arts and their industry—and whatever the character and extent of the local establishments maintained out of it.

The settlements of the land revenue in all the territories acquired in Central India during the Marāthā war, which ended in 1817, were made upon the supposition that the lands would continue to pay the same rate of rent under the new as they had paid under the old government, uninfluenced by the diminution of all local establishments, civil and military, to one-tenth of what they had been; that, under the new order of things, all the waste lands must be brought into tillage, and be able to pay as high a rate of rent as before tillage, and, consequently, that the aggregate available net revenue must greatly and rapidly increase.

Those who had the making of the settlements and the governing of these new territories did not consider that the diminution of every establishment was the removal of a market, of an effectual demand for land produce; and that, when all the waste lands should be brought into tillage, the whole would deteriorate in fertility, from the want of fallows, Under the prevailing system of agriculture, which afforded the lands no other means of renovation from over-cropping.

The settlements of land which were made throughout our new land acquisitions upon these fallacious assumptions of course failed. During a series of quinquennial settlements the assessment has been everywhere gradually reduced to about two-thirds of what it was when our rule began, to less than one- half of what Sir John Malcolm, and all the other local authorities, and even the worthy Marquis of Hastings himself, under the influence of their opinions, expected it would be.

The land revenues of the native princes of Central India, who reduced their public establishments, which the new order of things seemed to render useless, and thereby diminished the only markets for the raw produce of their lands, have been everywhere falling off in the same proportion; and scarcely one of them now draws two-thirds of the income he drew from the same lands in 1817.

There are in the valley of the Nerbudda districts that yield a great deal more produce every year than either Orchhā, Jhānsī, or Datiyā; and yet, from the want of the same domestic markets, they do not yield one-fourth of the amount of land revenue. The lands are, however, rated equally high to the assessment, in proportion to their value to the farmers and cultivators.

To enable them to yield a larger revenue to Government, they require to have larger establishments as markets for land produce. These establishments may be either public, and paid by Government; or they may be private, as manufactories, by which the land produce of these districts would be consumed by people employed in investing the value of their labour in commodities suited to the demand of distant markets, and more valuable than land produce in proportion to their weight and bulk.[7]

These are the establishments which Government should exert itself to introduce and foster; since the valley of the Nerbudda, in addition to a soil exceedingly fertile, has in its whole line, from its source to its embouchure, rich beds of coal reposing for the use of future generations, under the sandstone of the Sātpura and Vindhya ranges, and beds no less rich of very fine iron. These advantages have not yet been justly appreciated; but they will be so by and by.[8]

About half-past four in the afternoon of the day we reached Datiyā, I had a visit from the Rājā, who came in his palankeen, with a very respectable, but not very numerous or noisy, train, and he sat with me about an hour. My large tents were both pitched parallel to each other, about twenty paces distant, and united to each other at both ends by separate 'kanāts', or cloth curtains. My little boy was present, and behaved extremely well in steadily refusing, without even a look from me, a handful of gold mohurs, which the Rājā pressed several times upon his acceptance.

I received him at the door of my tent, and supported him upon my arm to his chair, as he cannot walk without some slight assistance, from the affection already mentioned in his leg. A salute from the guns at his castle announced his departure and return to it. After the audience, Lieutenant Thomas and I ascended to the summit of a palace of the former Rājās of this state, which stands upon a high rock close inside the eastern gate of the city, whence we could see to the west of the city a still larger and handsomer palace standing, I asked our conductors, the Rājā's servants, why it was unoccupied.

'No prince these degenerate days', said they, 'could muster a family and court worthy of such a palace—the family and court of the largest of them would, within the walls of such a building, feel as if they were in a desert. Such palaces were made for princes of the older times, who were quite different beings from those of the present day.'

From the deserted palace we went to the new garden which is preparing for the young Rājā, an adopted son of about ten years of age. It is close to the southern wall of the city, and is very extensive and well managed. The orange-trees are all grafted, and sinking under the weight of as fine fruit as any in India.

Attempting to ascend the steps of an empty bungalow upon a raised terrace at the southern extremity of the garden, the attendants told us respectfully that they hoped we would take off our shoes if we wished to enter, as the ancestor of the Rājā by whom it was built, Rām Chand, had lately become a god, and was there worshipped. The roof is of stone, supported on carved stone pillars.

On the centre pillar, upon a ground of whitewash, is a hand or trident. This is the only sign of a sacred character the building has yet assumed; and I found that it owed this character of sanctity to the circumstance of some one having vowed an offering to the manes of the builder, if he obtained what his soul most desired; and, having obtained it, all the people believe that those who do the same at the same place in a pure spirit of faith will obtain what they pray for.

I made some inquiries about Hardaul Lāla, the son of Bīrsingh Deo, who built the fort of Dhamonī, one of the ancestors of the Datiyā Rājā, and found that he was as much worshipped here at his birthplace as upon the banks of the Nerbudda as the supposed great originator of the cholera morbus.

There is at Datiyā a temple dedicated to him and much frequented; and one of the priests brought me a flower in his name, and chanted something indicating that Hardaul Lāla was now worshipped even so far as the British capital of Calcutta, I asked the old prince what he thought of the origin of the worship of this his ancestor; and he told me that when the cholera broke out first in the camp of Lord Hastings, then pitched about three stages from his capital, on the bank of the Sindh at Chāndpur Sunārī, several people recovered from the disease immediately after making votive offerings in his name; and that he really thought the spirit of his great-grandfather had worked some wonderful cures upon people afflicted with this dreadful malady.[9]

The town of Datiyā contains a population of between forty and fifty thousand souls. The streets are narrow, for, in buildings, as in dress, the Rājā allows every man to consult his own inclinations. There are, however, a great many excellent houses in Datiyā, and the appearance of the place is altogether very good. Many of his feudatory chiefs reside occasionally in the city, and have all their establishments with them, a practice which does not, I believe, prevail anywhere else among these Bundēlkhand chiefs, and this makes the capital much larger, handsomer, and more populous than that of Tehrī.

This indicates more of mutual confidence between the chief and his vassals, and accords well with the character they bear in the surrounding countries. Some of the houses occupied by these barons are very pretty. They spend the revenue of their distant estates in adorning them, and embellishing the capital, which they certainly could not have ventured to do under the late Rājās of Tehrī, and may not possibly be able to do under the future Rajas of Datiyā.

The present minister of Datiyā, Ganēsh, is a very great knave, and encourages the residence upon his master's estate of all kinds of thieves and robbers, who bring back from distant districts every season vast quantities of booty, which they share with him. The chief himself is a mild old gentleman, who would not suffer violence to be offered to any of his nobles, though he would not, perhaps, quarrel with his minister for getting him a little addition to his revenue from without, by affording a sanctuary to such kind of people.

As in Tehrī, so here, the pickpockets constitute the entire population of several villages, and carry their depredations northward to the banks of the Indus, and southward to Bombay and Madras.[10] But colonies of thieves and robbers like these abound no less in our own territories than in those of native states. There are more than a thousand families of them in the districts of Muzaffarnagar, Sahāranpur, and Meerut in the Upper Doāb,[11] all well enough known to the local authorities, who can do nothing with them.

They extend their depredations into remote districts, and the booty they bring home with them they share liberally with the native police and landholders under whose protection they live. Many landholders and police officers make large fortunes from the share they get of this booty.

Magistrates do not molest them, because they would despair of ever finding the proprietors of the property that might be found upon them; and, if they could trace them, they would never be able to persuade them to come and 'enter upon a worse sea of troubles' in prosecuting them.

These thieves and robbers of the professional classes, who have the sagacity to avoid plundering near home, are always just as secure in our best regulated districts as they are in the worst native states, from the only three things which such depredators care about—the penal laws, the odium of the society in which they move, and the vengeance of the god they worship; and they are always well received in the society around them, as long as they can avoid having their neighbours annoyed by summons to give evidence for or against them in our courts.

They feel quite sure of the goodwill of the god they worship, provided they give a fair share of their booty to his priests; and no less secure of immunity from penal laws, except on very rare occasions when they happen to be taken in the tact, in a country where such laws happen to be in force.[12]


1. December, 1835.

2. Rājā Parīchhit died in 1839.

3. The word gram (Cicer arietinum) is misprinted 'grain' in the author's text, in this place and in many others.

4. Bundēlkhand exports to the Ganges a great quantity of cotton, which enables it to pay for the wheat, gram, and other land produce which it draws from distant districts, [W. H. S.] Other considerable exports from Bundēlkhand used to be the root of the Morinda citrifolia, yielding a dark red dye, and the coarse kharwā cloth, a kind of canvas, dyed with this dye, which is known by the name of ' āl'. But modern chemistry has nearly killed the trade in vegetable dyes. The construction of railways and roads has revolutionized the System of trade, and equalized prices.

5. Governor-General from October 4, 1813, till January 1, 1823. He was Earl of Moira when he assumed office.

6. Sir John Malcolm was Agent to the Governor-General in Central India from 1817 to 1822, and was appointed Governor of Bombay in 1827.

7. The construction of railways and the development of trade with Europe have completely altered the conditions. The Nerbudda valley can now yield a considerable revenue.

8. The iron ore no doubt is good, but the difficulties in the way of working it profitably are so great that the author's sanguine expectations seem unlikely to be fully realized. V. Ball, in his day the best authority on the subject, observes, 'As will be abundantly shown in the course of the following pages, the manufacture of iron has, in many parts of India, been wholly crushed out of existence by competition with English iron, while in others it is steadily decreasing, and it seems destined to become extinct' (Economic Geology (1881), being part of the Manual of the Geology of India, p. 338).

Ball thought that, if improved methods of reduction should be employed, the Chāndā ore might be worked profitably. As regards the rest of India, with the doubtful exception of Upper Assam, he had little hope of success. Full details of the working of the mines in the Jabalpur, Narsinghpur, and Chāndā districts of the Central Provinces are given in pp. 384 to 392 of the same work. See also I. G. (1908), vol. x, p. 51; and The Oxford Survey of the British Empire (Oxford, 1914), vol. ii, Asia, pp. 143, 160. A powerful company formed at Bombay in 1907, operating at a spot on the borders of the Central Provinces and Orissa, hopes to turn out 7,000 tons of 'steel shapes' per month.

Coal is not found below the very ancient sandstone rocks, classed by geologists under the name of the Vindhyan Series. The principal beds of coal are found in the great series of rocks, known collectively as the Gondwāna System, which is supposed to range in age from the Permian to the Upper Jurassic periods of European geologists (Manual, vol. i, p. 102).

This Gondwāna System includes sandstones. A coalfield at Mohpāni, ninety-five miles west-south-west from Jabalpur by rail, was worked from 1862 to 1904 by the Nerbudda Coal and Iron Company; and is now worked by the G. I. P. Railway Company. The principal coal-field of the Central Provinces for some years was that near Warōrā in the Chāndā district, but the amount which can be extracted profitably is approaching exhaustion; in fact the colliery was closed in 1906. Thick seams are known to exist to the south of Chāndā near the Wardhā river. See I. G., 1907, vol. iii, chap. iii, p. 135; vol. x. p. 51.

9. See note to Chapter 25, ante, note 7.

10. 'Pickpockets' is not a suitable term.

11. The Persian word 'doāb' means the tract of land between two rivers, which ultimately meet. The upper doāb referred to in the text lies between the Ganges and the Jumna.

12. These 'colonies of thieves and robbers' are still the despair of the Indian administrator. They are known to Anglo-Indian law as 'criminal tribes', and a special Act has been passed for their regulation. The principle of that Act is police supervision, exercised by means of visits of inspection, and the issue of passports. The Act has been applied from time to time to various tribes, but has in every case failed.

In 1891, Sir Auckland Colvin, then Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces, adopted the strong measure of suddenly capturing many hundreds of Sānsias, a troublesome criminal tribe, in the Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, and Alīgarh Districts. Some of the prisoners were sent to a special jail, or reformatory, called a 'settlement', at Sultānpur in Oudh, and the others were drafted off to various landlords' estates.

These latter were supposed to devote themselves to agriculture. The editor, as Magistrate of Muzaffarnagar, effected the capture of more than seven hundred Sānsias in that district, and dispatched them in accordance with orders. As most people expected, the agricultural pupils promptly absconded. Multitudes of Sānsias in the Panjāb and elsewhere remained unaffected by the raid, which could not have any permanent effect.

The milder expedient of settling and nursing a large colony, organized in villages, of another criminal tribe, the Bāwarias (Boureahs), was also tried many years ago in the same district of Muzaffarnagar. The people settled readily enough, and reclaimed a considerable area of waste land, but were not in the least degree reformed. At the beginning of the cold season, in October or November, most of the able-bodied men annually leave the villages, and remain absent on distant forays till March or April, when they return with their booty, enjoying almost complete immunity, for the reasons stated in the text.

On one occasion some of these Bāwarias of Muzaffarnagar stole a lākh and a half of rupees (about £12,000 at that time), in currency notes at Tuticorin, in the south of the peninsula, 1,400 miles distant from their home.

The number of such criminal tribes, or castes, is very great, and the larger of these communities, such as the Sānsias, each comprise many thousands of members, diffused over an enormous area in several provinces. It is, therefore, impossible to put them down, except by the use of drastic measures such as no civilized European Government could propose or sanction.

The criminal tribes, or castes, are, to a large extent, races; but, in many of these castes, fresh blood is constantly introduced by the admission of outsiders, who are willing to eat with the members of the tribe, and so become for ever incorporated in the brotherhood.

The gipsies of Europe are closely related to certain of these Indian tribes. The official literature on the subject is of considerable bulk. Mr. W. Crooke's small book, An Ethnographic Glossary, published in 1891 (Government Press, Allahabad), is a convenient summary of most of the facts on record concerning the criminal and other castes of Northern India, and gives abundant references to other publications.

See also his larger work, Castes and Tribes of the N. W. P. and Oudh, 4 vols. Calcutta, 1906. The author's folio book, Report on the Budhuk alias Bagree Decoits and other Gang Robbers by Hereditary Profession, and on the Measures adopted by the Government of India for their Suppression (Calcutta, 1849), ante, Bibliography No. 12, probably is the most valuable of the original authorities on the subject, but it is rare and seldom consulted.

The book




1893 1915




Annual Fairs held on the Banks of Sacred Streams in India


Hindoo System of Religion


Legend of the Nerbudda River


A Suttee on the Nerbudda


Marriages of Trees—The Tank and the Plantain—Meteors—Rainbows


Hindoo Marriages


The Purveyance System


Religious Sects—Self-government of the Castes—Chimneysweepers—Washerwomen —Elephant Drivers


The Great Iconoclast—Troops routed by Hornets—The Rānī of Garhā—Hornets' Nests in India


The Peasantry and the Land Settlement




The Silver Tree, or 'Kalpa Briksha'—The 'Singhāra', or Trapa bispinosa, and the Guinea-Worm


Thugs and Poisoners


Basaltic Cappings of the Sandstone Hills of Central India—Suspension Bridge—Prospects of the Nerbudda Valley—Deification of a Mortal


Legend of the Sāgar Lake—Paralysis from eating the Grain of the Lathyrus sativus


Suttee Tombs—Insalubrity of deserted Fortresses


Basaltic Cappings—Interview with a Native Chief—A Singular Character


Birds' Nests—Sports of Boyhood


Feeding Pilgrims—Marriage of a Stone with a Shrub


The Men-Tigers


Burning of Deorī by a Freebooter—A Suttee


Interview with the Rājā who marries the Stone to the Shrub—Order of the Moon and the Fish


The Rājā of Orchhā—Murder of his many Ministers


Corn Dealers—Scarcities—Famines in India


Epidemic Diseases—Scape-goat


Artificial Lakes in Bundēlkhand-Hindoo, Greek, and Roman Faith




Pestle-and-Mortar Sugar-Mills—Washing away of the Soil


Interview with the Chiefs of Jhānsī—Disputed Succession


Haunted Villages


Interview with the Rājā of Datiyā—Fiscal Errors of Statesmen—Thieves and Robbers by Profession


Sporting at Datiyā—Fidelity of Followers to their Chiefs in India—Law of Primogeniture wanting among Muhammadans




The Suicide-Relations between Parents and Children in India


Gwālior Plain once the Bed of a Lake—Tameness of Peacocks


Gwālior and its Government


Contest for Empire between the Sons of Shah Jahān


Aurangzēb and Murād Defeat their Father's Army near Ujain


Dārā Marches in Person against his Brothers, and is Defeated


Dārā Retreats towards Lahore—Is robbed by the Jāts—Their Character


Shāh Jahān Imprisoned by his Two Sons, Aurangzēb and Murād


Aurangzēb Throws off the Mask, Imprisons his Brother Murād, and Assumes the Government of the Empire


Aurangzēb Meets Shujā in Bengal, and Defeats him, after Pursuing Dārā to the Hyphasis


Aurangzēb Imprisons his Eldest Son—Shujā and all his Family are Destroyed


Second Defeat and Death of Dārā, and Imprisonment of his Two Sons


Death and Character of Amīr Jumla


Reflections on the Preceding History


The Great Diamond of Kohinūr


Pindhārī System—Character of the Marāthā Administration—Cause of their Dislike to the Paramount Power


Dhōlpur, Capital of the Jāt Chiefs of Gohad—Consequence of Obstacles to the Prosecution of Robbers


Influence of Electricity on Vegetation—Agra and its Buildings


Nūr Jahān, the Aunt of the Empress Nūr Mahal, over whose Remains the Tāj is built


Father Gregory's Notion of the Impediments to Conversion in India—Inability of Europeans to speak Eastern Languages


Fathpur-Sīkrī—The Emperor Akbar's Pilgrimage—Birth of Jahāngīr


Bharatpur—Dīg—Want of Employment for the Military and the Educated Classes under the Company's Rule


Govardhan, the Scene of Kriahna's Dalliance with the Milkmaids




Declining Fertility of the Soil—Popular Notion of the Cause


Concentration of Capital and its Effects


Transit Duties in India—Mode of Collecting them


Peasantry of India attached to no existing Government—Want of Trees in Upper India—Cause and Consequence—Wells and Groves


Public Spirit of the Hindoos—Tree Cultivation and Suggestions for extending it


Cities and Towns, formed by Public Establishments, disappear as Sovereigns and Governors change their Abodes


Murder of Mr. Fraser, and Execution of the Nawāb Shams-ud- dīn


Marriage of a Jāt Chief


Collegiate Endowment of Muhammadan Tombs and Mosques


The Old City of Delhi


New Delhi, or Shāhjahānābād


Indian Police—Its Defects—and their Cause and Remedy


Rent-free Tenures—Right of Government to Resume such Grants


The Station of Meerut—'Atālīs' who Dance and Sing gratuitously for the Benefit of the Poor


Subdivisions of Lands—Want of Gradations of Rank—Taxes


Meerut-Anglo-Indian Society


Pilgrims of India


The Bēgam Sumroo



Abolition of Corporal Punishment—Increase of Pay with Length of Service—Promotion by Seniority


Invalid Establishment


Thuggee and the part taken in its Suppression by General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B., by Captain J. L. Sleeman

Supplementary Note by the Editor

Additions and Corrections

Maps Showing Author's Route


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