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

On the 22nd,[1] we came on fourteen miles to Gwālior, over some ranges of sandstone hills, which are seemingly continuations of the Vindhyan range. Hills of indurated brown and red iron clay repose upon and intervene between these ranges, with strata generally horizontal, but occasionally bearing signs of having been shaken by internal convulsions. These convulsions are also indicated by some dykes of compact basalt which cross the road.[2]


Nothing can be more unprepossessing than the approach to Gwālior; the hills being naked, black, and ugly, with rounded tops devoid of grass or shrubs, and the soil of the valleys a poor red dust without any appearance of verdure or vegetation, since the few autumn crops that lately stood upon them have been removed.[3]


From Antrī to Gwālior there is no sign of any human habitation, save that of a miserable police guard of four or five, who occupy a wretched hut on the side of the road midway, and seem by their presence to render the scene around more dreary.[4] the road is a mere footpath unimproved and unadorned by any single work of art; and, except in this footpath, and the small police guard, there is absolutely no single sign in all this long march to indicate the dominion, or even the presence, of man; and yet it is between two contiguous [sic] capitals, one occupied by one of the most ancient, and the other by one of the greatest native sovereigns of Hindustan.[5]


One cannot but feel that he approaches the capital of a dynasty of barbarian princes, who, like Attila, would choose their places of residence, as devils choose their pandemonia, for their ugliness, and rather reside in the dreary wastes of Tartary than on the shores of the Bosphorus. There are within the dominions of Sindhia seats for a capital that would not yield to any in India in convenience, beauty, and salubrity; but, in all these dominions, there is not, perhaps, another place so hideously ugly as Gwālior, or so hot and unhealthy. It has not one redeeming quality that should recommend it to the choice of a rational prince, particularly to one who still considers his capital as his camp, and makes every officer of his army feel that he has as little of permanent interest in his house as he would have in his tent.[6]


Phūl Bāgh, or the flower-garden, was suggested to me as the best place for my tents, where Sindhia had built a splendid summer-house. As I came over this most gloomy and uninteresting march, in which the heart of a rational man sickens, as he recollects that all the revenues of such an enormous extent of dominion over the richest soil and the most peaceable people in the world should have been so long concentrated upon this point, and squandered without leaving one sign of human art or industry, I looked forward with pleasure to a quiet residence in the flower-garden, with good foliage above, and a fine sward below, and an atmosphere free from dust, such as we find in and around all the residences of Muhammadan princes.


On reaching my tents I found them pitched close outside the flower-garden, in a small dusty plain, without a blade of grass or a shrub to hide its deformity—just such a place as the pig-keepers occupy in the suburbs of other towns. On one side of this little plain, and looking into it, was the summer-house of the prince, without one inch of green sward or one small shrub before it.


Around the wretched little flower-garden was a low, naked, and shattered mud wall, such as we generally see in the suburbs thrown up to keep out and in the pigs that usually swarm in such places—'and the swine they crawled out, and the swine they crawled in'.[7]


When I cantered up to my tent-door, a sipāhī of my guard came up, and reported that as the day began to dawn a gang of thieves had stolen one of my best carpets, all the brass brackets of my tent-poles, and the brass bell with which the sentries on duty sounded the hour; all Lieutenant Thomas's cooking utensils, and many other things, several of which they had found lying between the tents and the prince's pleasure-house, particularly the contents of a large heavy box of geological specimens. They had, in consequence, concluded the gang to be lodged in the prince's pleasure-house.


The guard on duty at this place would make no answer to their inquiries, and I really believe that they were themselves the thieves. The tents of the Rājā of Raghugarh, who had come to pay his respects to the Sindhia, his liege lord, were pitched near mine. He had the day before had five horses stolen from him, with all the plate, jewels, and valuable clothes he possessed; and I was told that I must move forthwith from the flower-garden, or cut off the tail of every horse in my camp.


Without tails they might not be stolen, with them they certainly would. Having had sufficient proof of their dexterity, we moved our tents to a grove near the residency, four miles from the flower-garden and the court.[8]


As a citizen of the world I could not help thinking that it would be an immense blessing upon a large portion of our species if an earthquake were to swallow up this court of Gwālior, and the army that surrounds it. Nothing worse could possibly succeed, and something better might.


It is lamentable to think how much of evil this court and camp inflict upon the people who are subject to them. In January, 1828, I was passing with a party of gentlemen through the town of Bhīlsā, which belongs to this chief, and lies between Sāgar and Bhopal,[9] when we found, lying and bleeding in one of the streets, twelve men belonging to a merchant at Mirzapore, who had the day before been wounded and plundered by a gang of robbers close outside the walls of the town.


Those who were able ran in to the Āmil, or chief of the district, who resides in the town; and begged him to send some horsemen after the banditti, and intercept them as they passed over the great plains. 'Send your own people', said he, 'or hire men to send. Am I here to look after the private affairs of merchants and travellers, or to collect the revenues of the prince?'


Neither he, nor the prince himself, nor any other officer of the public establishments ever dreamed that it was their duty to protect the life, property, or character of travellers, or indeed of any other human beings, save the members of their own families. In this pithy question the Āmil of Bhīlsā described the nature and character of the government.


All the revenues of his immense dominions are spent entirely in the maintenance of the court and camps of the prince; and every officer employed beyond the boundary of the court and camp considers his duties to be limited to the collection of the revenue. Protected from all external enemies by our military forces, which surround him on every side, his whole army is left to him for purposes of parade and display; and having, according to his notions, no use for them elsewhere, he concentrates them around his capital, where he lives among them in the perpetual dread of mutiny and assassination.


He has nowhere any police, nor any establishment whatever, for the protection of the life and property of his subjects; nor has he, any more than his predecessors, ever, I believe, for one moment thought that those from whose industry and frugality he draws his revenues have any right whatever to expect from him the use of such establishments in return. They have never formed any legitimate part of the Marāthā government, and, I fear, never will.[10]


The misrule of such states, situated in the midst of our dominions, is not without its use. There is, as Gibbon justly observes, 'a strong propensity in human nature to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times'; and, if the people had not before their eyes such specimens of native rule to contrast with ours, they would think more highly than they do of that of their past Muhammadan and Hindoo sovereigns; and be much less disposed than they are to estimate fairly the advantages of being under ours.


The native governments of the present day are fair specimens of what they have always been—grinding military despotisms—their whole history is that of 'Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands'; as if rulers were made merely to slay, and the ruled to be slain.


In politics, as in landscape, ''Tis distance lends enchantment to the view', and the past might be all couleur de rose in the imaginations of the people were it not represented in these ill-governed states, where the 'lucky accident' of a good governor is not to be expected in a century, and where the secret of the responsibility of ministers to the people is yet undiscovered.[11]


The fortress of Gwālior stands upon a tableland, a mile and a half long by a quarter of a mile wide, at the north-east end of a small insulated sandstone hill, running north-east and south-west, and rising at both ends about three hundred and forty feet above the level of the plain below. At the base is a kind of glacis, which runs up at an angle of forty-five from the plain to within fifty, and, in some places, within twenty feet of the foot of the wall.


The interval is the perpendicular face of the horizontal strata of the sandstone rock. The glacis is formed of a bed of basalt in all stages of decomposition, with which this, like the other sandstone hills of Central India, was once covered, and of the debris and chippings of the rocks above. The walls are raised a certain uniform height all round upon the verge of the precipice, and being thus made to correspond with the edge of the rock, the line is extremely irregular.


They are rudely built of the fine sandstone of the rock on which they stand, and have some square and some semicircular bastions of different sizes, few of these raised above the level of the wall itself.[12] On the eastern face of the rock, between the glacis and foot of the wall, are cut out, in bold relief, the colossal figures of men sitting bareheaded under canopies, on each side of a throne or temple; and, in another place, the colossal figure of a man standing naked, and facing outward, which I took to be that of Buddha.[l3]


The town of Gwālior extends along the foot of the hill on one side, and consists of a single street above a mile long. There is a very beautiful mosque, with one end built by a Muhammad Khan, A.D. 1665, of the white sandstone of the rock above it. It looks as fresh as if it had not been finished a month; and struck, as I passed it, with so noble a work, apparently new, and under such a government, I alighted from my horse, went in, and read the inscription, which told me the date of the building and the name of the founder.


There is no stucco-work over any part of it, nor is any required on such beautiful materials; and the stones are all so nicely cut that cement seems to have been considered useless. It has the usual two minarets or towers, and over the arches and alcoves are carved, as customary, passages from the Korān, in the beautiful Kufic characters.[14] The court and camp of the chief extends out from the southern end of the hill for several miles.


The whole of the hill on which the fort of Gwālior stands had evidently, at no very distant period, been covered by a mass of basalt, surmounted by a crust of indurated brown and red iron clay, with lithomarge, which often assumes the appearance of common laterite. The boulders of basalt, which still cap some part of the hill, and form the greater part of the glacis at the bottom, are for the most part in a state of rapid decomposition; but some of them are still so hard and fresh that the hammer rings upon them as upon a bell, and their fracture is brilliantly crystalline.


The basalt is the same as that which caps the sandstone hills of the Vindhya range throughout Mālwā. The sandstone hills around Gwālior all rise in the same abrupt manner from the plain as those through Mālwā generally; and they have almost all of them the same basaltic glacis at their base, with boulders of that rock scattered over the top, all indicating that they were at one time buried, in the same manner under one great mass of volcanic matter, thrown out from their submarine craters in streams of lava, or diffused through the ocean or lakes in ashes, and deposited in strata.


The geological character of the country about Gwālior is very similar to that of the country about Sāgar; and I may say the same of the Vindhya range generally, as far as I have seen it, from Mirzapore on the Ganges to Bhopāl in Mālwā—hills of sandstone rising suddenly from alluvial plain, and capped, or bearing signs of having been capped, by basalt reposing immediately upon it, and partly covered in its turn by beds of indurated iron clay.[15]


The fortress of Gwālior was celebrated for its strength under the Hindoo sovereigns of India; but was taken by the Muhammadans after a long siege, A.D. 1197.[16] the Hindoos regained possession, but were again expelled by the Emperor Īltutmish, A. D. 1235.[17] the Hindoos again got possession, and after holding it one hundred years, again surrendered it to the forces of the Emperor Ibrāhīm, A.D. 1519.[18]


In 1543 it was surrendered up by the troops of the Emperor Humāyūn[19] to Shēr Khān, his successful competitor for the empire.[20] It afterwards fell into the hands of a Jāt chief, the Rānā of Gohad,[21] from whom it was taken by the Marāthās. While in their possession, it was invested by our troops under the command of Major Popham; and, on the 3rd of August, 1780, taken by escalade.[22] The party that scaled the wall was gallantly led by a very distinguished and most promising officer, Captain Bruce, brother of the celebrated traveller.[23]


It was made over to us by the Rānā of Gohad, who had been our ally in the war. Failing in his engagement to us, he was afterwards abandoned to the resentment of Mādhojī Sindhia, chief of the Marāthās.[24] In 1783, Gwālior was invested by Mādhojī Sindhia's troops, under the command of one of the most extraordinary men that have ever figured in Indian history, the justly celebrated General De Boigne.[25]


After many unsuccessful attempts to take it by escalade, he bought over part of the garrison, and made himself master of the place. Gohad itself was taken soon after in 1784; but the Rānā, Chhatarpat, made his escape. He was closely pursued, made prisoner at Karaulī, and confined in the fortress of Gwālior, where he died in the year 1785.[26]


He left no son, and his claims upon Gohad devolved upon his nephew, Kīrat Singh, who, at the close of our war with the Marāthās, got from Lord Lake, in lieu of these claims, the estate of Dholpur, situated on the left banks of the river Chambal, which is estimated at the annual value of three hundred thousand, or three lākhs, of rupees. He died this year, 1835, and has been succeeded by his son, Bhagwant Singh, a lad of seventeen years of age.[27]