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Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Father Gregory's Notion of the Impediments to Conversion in India—Inability of Europeans to speak Eastern Languages.

Father Gregory, the Roman Catholic priest, dined with us one evening, and Major Godby took occasion to ask him at table, 'What progress our religion was making among the people?'

'Progress!' said he; 'why, what progress can we ever hope to make among a people who, the moment we begin to talk to them about the miracles performed by Christ, begin to tell us of those infinitely more wonderful performed by Krishna, who lifted a mountain upon his little finger, as an umbrella, to defend his shepherdesses at Govardhan from a shower of rain.[1]

'The Hindoos never doubt any part of the miracles and prophecies of our scripture—they believe every word of them; and the only thing that surprises them is that they should be so much less wonderful than those of their own scriptures, in which also they implicitly believe. Men who believe that the histories of the wars and amours of Rām and Krishna, two of the incarnations of Vishnu, were written some fifty thousand years before these wars and amours actually took place upon the earth, would of course easily believe in the fulfilment of any prophecy that might be related to them out of any other book;[2] and, as to miracles, there is absolutely nothing too extraordinary for their belief.

'If a Christian of respectability were to tell a Hindoo that, to satisfy some scruples of the Corinthians, St. Paul had brought the sun and moon down upon the earth, and made them rebound off again into their places, like tennis balls, without the slightest injury to any of the three planets [sic], I do not think he would feel the slightest doubt of the truth of it; but he would immediately be put in mind of something still more extraordinary that Krishna did to amuse the milkmaids, or to satisfy some sceptics of his day, and relate it with all the naïveté imaginable.

I saw at Agra Mirzā Kām Baksh, the eldest son of Sulaimān Shikoh, the eldest son of the brother of the present Emperor. He had spent a season with us at Jubbulpore, while prosecuting his claim to an estate against the Rājā of Rīwā. The Emperor, Shāh Ālam, in his flight before our troops from Bengal (1762), struck off the high road to Delhi at Mirzapore, and came down to Rīwā, where he found an asylum during the season of the rains with the Rīwā Rājā, who assigned for his residence the village of Makanpur.[3]

His wife, the Empress, was here delivered of a son, the present Emperor, of Hindustān, Akbar Shāh;[4] and the Rājā assigned to him and his heirs for ever the fee simple of this village. As the members of this family increased in geometrical ratio, under the new system, which gave them plenty to eat with nothing to do, the Emperor had of late been obliged to hunt round for little additions to his income; and in his search he found that Makanpur gave name to a 'pargana', or little district, of which it was the capital, and that a good deal of merchandize passed through this district, and paid heavy dues to the Rājā.

Nothing, he thought, would be lost by trying to get the whole district instead of the village; and for this purpose he sent down Kām Baksh, the ablest man of the whole family, to urge and prosecute his claim; but the Rājā was a close, shrewd man, and not to be done out of his revenue, and Kām Baksh was obliged to return minus some thousand rupees, which he had spent in attempting to keep up appearances.

The best of us Europeans feel our deficiencies in conversation with Muhammadans of high rank and education, when we are called upon to talk upon subjects beyond the everyday occurrences of life.

A Muhammadan gentleman of education is tolerably acquainted with astronomy, as it was taught by Ptolemy; with the logic and ethics of Aristotle and Plato; with the works of Hippocrates and Galen, through those of Avicenna, or, as they call him, Abū- Alīsīna;[5] and he is very capable of talking upon all subjects of philosophy, literature, science, and the arts, and very much inclined to do so; and of understanding the nature of the improvements that have been made in them in modern times. But, however capable we may feel of discussing these subjects, or explaining these improvements in our own language, we all feel ourselves very much at a loss when we attempt to do it in theirs.

Perhaps few Europeans have mixed and conversed more freely with all classes than I have; and yet I feel myself sadly deficient when I enter, as I often do, into discussions with Muhammadan gentlemen of education upon the subject of the character of the governments and institutions of different countries—their effects upon the character and condition of the people; the arts and the sciences; the faculties and operations of the human mind; and the thousand other things which are subjects of everyday conversation among educated and thinking; men in our country.

I feel that they could understand me quite well if I could find words for my ideas; but these I cannot find, though their languages abound in them, nor have I ever met the European gentleman who could. East Indians can;[6] but they commonly want the ideas as much as we want the language. The chief cause of this deficiency is the want of sufficient intercourse with men in whose presence we should be ashamed to appear ignorant—this is the great secret, and all should know and acknowledge it.

We are not ashamed to convey our orders to our native servants in a barbarous language. Military officers seldom speak to their 'sipāhīs' (sepoys) and native officers, about anything but arms, accoutrements, and drill; or to other natives about anything but the sports of the field; and, as long as they are understood, they care not one straw in what language they express themselves.

The conversation of the civil servants with their native officers takes sometimes a wider range; but they have the same philosophical indifference as to the language in which they attempt to convey their ideas; and I have heard some of our highest diplomatic characters talking,[7] without the slightest feeling of shame or embarrassment, to native princes on the most ordinary subjects of everyday interest in a language which no human being but themselves could understand. We shall remain the same till some change of system inspire us with stronger motives to please and conciliate the educated classes of the native community.

They may be reconciled, but they can never be charmed out of their prejudices or the errors of their preconceived opinions by such language as the European gentlemen are now in the habit of speaking to them.[8] We must learn their language better, or we must teach them our own, before we can venture to introduce among them those free institutions which would oblige us to meet them on equal terms at the bar, on the bench, and in the senate.[9]

Perhaps two of the best secular works that were ever written upon the facilities and operations of the human mind, and the duties of men in their relations with each other, are those of Imām-ud-dīn Ghazzālī, and Nasīr-ud-dīn of Tūs.[10] Their idol was Plato, but their works are of a more practical character than his, and less dry than those of Aristotle.

I may here mention the following, among many instances that occur to me, of the amusing mistakes into which Europeans are liable to fall in their conversation with natives.

Mr. J. W———n, of the Bengal Civil Service, commonly known by the name of Beau W———n,[11] was the Honourable Company's opium agent at Patna, when I arrived at Dinapore to join my regiment in 1810.[12] He had a splendid house, and lived in excellent style; and was never so happy as when he had a dozen young men from the Dinapore cantonments living with him. He complained that year, as I was told, that he had not been able to save more than one hundred thousand rupees that season out of his salary and commission upon the opium, purchased by the Government from the cultivators.[13]

The members of the civil service, in the other branches of public service, were all anxious to have it believed by their countrymen that they were well acquainted with their duties, and able and willing to perform them; but the Honourable Company's commercial agents were, on the contrary, generally anxious to make their countrymen believe that they neither knew nor cared anything about their duties, because they were ashamed of them. They were sinecure posts for the drones of the service, or for those who had great interest and no capacity.[14]

Had any young man made it appear that he really thought W———n knew or cared anything about his duties, he would certainly never have been invited to his house again; and if any one knew, certainly no one seemed to know that he had any other duty than that of entertaining his guests.

No one ever spoke the native language so badly, because no man had ever so little intercourse with the natives; and it was, I have been told, to his ignorance of the native languages that his bosom friend, Mr. P———st, owed his life on one occasion. W. sat by the sick-bed of his friend with unwearied attention, for some days and nights, after the doctors had declared his case entirely hopeless.

He proposed at last to try change of air, and take him on the river Ganges. The doctors, thinking that he might as well die in his boat on the river as in his house at Calcutta, consented to his taking him on board. They got up as far as Hooghly, when P. said that he felt better and thought he could eat something. What should it be?

A little roasted kid perhaps. The very thing that he was longing for! W. went out upon the deck to give orders for the kid, that his friend might not be disturbed by the gruff voice of the old 'khānsāmā' (butler). P. heard the conversation, however.

'Khānsāmā', said the Beau W., 'you know that my friend Mr. P. is very ill?'

'Yes, sir.'

'And that he has not eaten anything for a month?'

'A long time for a man to fast, sir.'

'Yes, Khānsāmā, and his stomach is now become very delicate, and could not stand anything strong.'

'Certainly not, sir.'

'Well, Khānsāmā, then he has taken a fancy to a roasted mare' ('mādiyān'), meaning a 'halwān', or kid.'[15]

'A roasted mare, sir?'

'Yes, Khānsāmā, a roasted mare, which you must have nicely prepared.'

'What, the whole, sir?'

'Not the whole at one time; but have the whole ready as there is no knowing what part he may like best.'

The old butter had heard of the Tartars eating their horses when in robust health, but the idea of a sick man, not able to move in his bed without assistance, taking a fancy to a roasted mare, quite staggered him.

'But, sir, I may not be able to get such a thing as a mare at a moment's notice; and if I get her she will be very dear.'

'Never mind, Khānsāmā, get you the mare, cost what she will; if she costs a thousand rupees my friend shall have her. He has taken a fancy to the mare, and the mare he shall have, if she costs a thousand rupees.'

The butter made his salaam, said he would do his best, and took his leave, requesting that the boats might be kept at the bank of the river till he came back.

W. went into his sick friend, who, with great difficulty, managed to keep his countenance while he complained of the liberties old servants were in the habit of taking with their masters. 'They think themselves privileged', said W., 'to conjure up difficulties in the way of everything that one wants to have done.'

'Yes', said P———st, 'we like to have old and faithful servants about us, particularly when we are sick; but they are apt to take liberties, which new ones will not.'

In about two hours the butler's approach was announced from the deck, and W. walked out to scold him for his delay. The old gentleman was coming down over the bank, followed by about eight men bearing the four quarters of an old mare.

The butler was very fat; and the proud consciousness of having done his duty, and met his master's wishes in a very difficult and important point, had made him a perfect Falstaff. He marshalled his men in front of the cooking-boat, and then came towards his master, who for some time stood amazed, and unable to speak. At last he roared out, 'And what the devil have you here?'

'Why, the mare that the sick gentleman took a fancy for; and dear enough she has cost me; not a farthing less than two hundred rupees would the fellow take for his mare.'

P———st could contain himself no longer; he burst into an immoderate fit of laughter, during which the abscess in his liver burst into the intestines, and he felt himself relieved, as if by enchantment. The mistake was rectified—he got his kid; and in ten days he was taken back to Calcutta a sound man, to the great astonishment of all the doctors.

During the first campaign against Nepāl, in 1815, Colonel, now Major-General, O.H., who commanded the———Regiment, N. I.,[16] had to march with his regiment through the town of Darbhanga, the capital of the Rājā, who came to pay his respects to him. He brought a number of presents, but the colonel, a high-minded, amiable man, never took anything himself, nor suffered any person in his camp to do so, in the districts they passed through without paying for it.

He politely declined to take any of the presents; but said that he 'had heard that Darbhanga produced crows ("kauwā"), and should be glad to get some of them if the Rājā could spare them,'—meaning coffee, or 'kahwā'.

The Rājā stared, and said that certainly they had abundance of crows in Darbhanga; but he thought they were equally abundant in all parts of India.

'Quite the contrary, Rājā Sāhib, I assure you,' said the colonel; 'there is not such a thing as a crow to be found in any part of the Company's dominions that I have seen, and I have been all over them.'

'Very strange!' said the Rājā, turning round to his followers.

'Yes,' replied they,' it is very strange, Rājā Sāhib; but such is your 'ikbāl' (good fortune), that everything thrives under it; and, if the colonel should wish to have a few crows, we could easily collect them for him.'

'If', said the colonel, greatly delighted, 'you could provide us with a few of these crows, we should really feel very much obliged to you; for we have a long and cold campaign before us among the bleak hills of Nepal; and we are all fond of crows.'

'Indeed,' returned the Rājā, 'I shall be happy to send you as many as you wish.' ('Much' and 'many' are expressed by the same term.)

'Then we should be glad to have two or three bags full, if it would not be robbing you.'

'Not in the least,' said the Rājā; 'I will go home and order them to be collected immediately.'

In the evening, as the officers, with the colonel at their head, were sitting down to dinner, a man came up to announce the Rājā's present. Three fine large bags were brought in, and the colonel requested that one might be opened immediately. It was opened accordingly, and the mess butler ('khansāmān') drew out by the legs a fine old crow.

The colonel immediately saw the mistake, and laughed as heartily as the rest at the result. A polite message was sent to the Rājā, requesting that he would excuse his having made it—for he had had half a dozen men out shooting crows all day with their matchlocks. Few Europeans spoke the language better than General ———, and I do not believe that one European in a thousand, at this very moment, makes any difference, or knows any difference, in the sound of the two terms.

Kām Baksh had one sister married to the King of Oudh, and another to Mirzā Salīm, the younger son of the Emperor. Mirzā Salīm and his wife could not agree, and a separation took place, and she went to reside with her sister, the Queen of Oudh.

The King saw her frequently; and, finding her more beautiful than his wife, he demanded her also in marriage from her father, who resided at Lucknow, the capital of Oudh, on a pension of five thousand rupees a month from the King. He would not consent, and demanded his daughter; the King, finding her willing to share his bed and board with her sister, would not give her up.[17]

The father got his old friend, Colonel Gardiner, who had married a Muhammadan woman of rank, to come down and plead his cause. The King gave up the young woman, but at the same time stopped the father's pension, and ordered him and all his family out of his dominions. He set out with Colonel Gardiner and his daughter, on his road to Delhi, through Kāsganj, the residence of the colonel, who was one day recommending the prince to seek consolation for the loss of his pension in the proud recollection of having saved the honour of the house of Tamerlane, when news was brought to them that the daughter had run off from camp with his (Colonel Gardiner's) son James, who had accompanied him to Lucknow.

The prince and the colonel mounted their horses, and rode after him; but they were so much heavier and older than the young ones, that they soon gave up the chase in despair. Sulaimān Shikoh insisted upon the colonel immediately fighting him, after the fashion of the English, with swords or pistols, but was soon persuaded that the honour of the house of Tīmūr would be much better preserved by allowing the offending parties to marry ![18]

The King of Oudh was delighted to find that the old man had been so punished; and the Queen no less so to find herself so suddenly and unexpectedly relieved from all dread of her sister's return. All parties wrote to my friend Kām Baksh, who was then at Jubbulpore;[19] and he came off with their letters to me to ask whether I thought the incident might not be turned to account in getting the pension for his father restored.[20]


1. Govardhan is a very sacred place of pilgrimage, full of temples, situated in the Mathurā (Muttra) district, sixteen miles west of Mathurā, Regulation V of 1826 annexed Govardhan to the Agra district. In 1832 Mathurā was made the head- quarters of a new district, Govardhan and other territory being transferred from Agra.

2. The Purānas, even when narrating history after a fashion, are cast in the form of prophecies. The Bhāgavat Purāna is especially devoted to the legends of Krishna. The Hindī version of the 10th Book (skandha) is known as the 'Prēm Sāgar', or 'Ocean of Love', and is, perhaps, the most wearisome book in the world.

3. This flight occurred during the struggles following the battle of Plassy in 1757, which were terminated by the battle of Buxar in 1764, and the grant to the East India Company of the civil administration of Bengal, Bihār and Orissa in the following year. Shāh Ālam bore, in weakness and misery, the burden of the imperial title from 1759 to 1806. From 1765 to 1771 he was the dependent of the English at Allahabad.

From 1771 to 1803 he was usually under the control of Marāthā chiefs, and from the time of Lord Lake's entry into Delhi, in 1803 he became simply a prisoner of the British Government. His successors occupied the same position. In 1788 he was barbarously blinded by the Rohilla chief, Ghulām Kādir.

4. Akbar II. His position as Emperor was purely titular.

5. The name is printed as Booalee Shina in the original edition. His full designation is Abū Alī al-Husain ibn Abdullah ibn Sīnā, which means 'that Sīnā was his grandfather. Avicenna is a corruption of either Abū Sīnā or Ibn Sīnā. He lived a strenuous, passionate life, but found time to compose about a hundred treatises on medicine and almost every subject known to Arabian science. He died in A.D. 1037. A good biography of him will be found in Encyclo. Brit., 11th ed., 1910.

6. Otherwise called Eurasians, or, according to the latest official decree, Anglo-Indians.

7. 'Diplomatic characters' would now be described as officers of the Political Department.

8. These remarks of the author should help to dispel the common delusion that the English officials of the olden time spoke the Indian languages better than their more highly trained successors.

9. The author wrote these words at the moment of the inauguration by Lord William Bentinck and Macaulay of the new policy which established English as the official language of India, and the vehicle for the higher instruction of its people, as enunciated in the resolution dated 7th March, 1835, and described by Boulger in Lord William Bentinck (Rulers of India, 1897), chap. 8.

The decision then formed and acted on alone rendered possible the employment of natives of India in the higher branches of the administration. Such employment has gradually year by year increased, and certainly will further increase, at least up to the extreme limit of safety. Indians now (1914) occupy seats in the Council of India in London, and in the Executive and Legislative Councils of the Governor- General, Provincial Governors, and Lieutenant-Governors. They hold most of the judicial appointments and fill many responsible executive offices.

10. Khojah Nasīr-ud-dīn of Tūs in Persia was a great astronomer, philosopher, and mathematician in the thirteenth century. The author's Imām-ud-dīn Ghazzālī is intended for Abū Hāmid Imām al Ghazzālī, one of the most famous of Musulmān doctors.

He was born at Tūs, the modern Mashhad (Meshed) in Khurāsān, and died in A.D. 1111. His works are numerous. One is entitled The Ruin of Philosophies, and another, the most celebrated, is The Resuscitation of Religious Sciences (F. J. Arbuthnot, A Manual of Arabian History and Literature, London, 1890). These authors are again referred to in a subsequent chapter. I am not able to judge the propriety of Sleeman's enthusiastic praise.

11. The gentleman referred to was Mr. John Wilton, who was appointed to the service in 1775.

12. The cantonments at Dinapore (properly Dānāpur) are ten miles distant from the great city of Patna.

13. The rupee was worth more than two shillings in 1810. The remuneration of high officials by commission has been long abolished.

14. There used to be two opium agents, one at Patna, and the other at Ghāzīpur, who administered the Opium Department under the control of the Board of Revenue in Calcutta. In deference to the demands of the Chinese Government and of public opinion in England, the Agency at Ghāzīpur has been closed, and the Government of India is withdrawing gradually from the opium trade. Such lucrative sinecures as those described in the text have long ceased to exist.

15. These Persian words would not now be used in orders to servants.

16. This officer was Sir Joseph O'Halloran, K.C.B., attached to the 18th Regiment, N.I. He became a Lieutenant-Colonel on June 4, 1814, and Major-General on January 10, 1837. He is mentioned in Ramaseeana (p 59) as Brigadier-General commanding the Sāgar Division.

17. The King's demand was improper and illegal. The Muhammadan law, like the Jewish (Leviticus xviii, 18), prohibits a man from being married to two sisters at once. 'Ye are also forbidden to take to wife two sisters; except what is already past: for God is gracious and merciful' (Korān, chap. iv). Compare the ruling in 'Mishkāt-ul-Masābih', Book XIII, chap. v, Part II (Matthews, vol. ii, p. 94).

18. The colonel's son has succeeded to his father's estates, and he and his wife are, I believe, very happy together. [W. H. S.] Such an incident would, of course, be now inconceivable. The family name is also spelled Gardner. The romantic history of the Gardners is summarized in the appendix to A Particular Account of the European Military Adventures of Hindustan, from 1784 to 1803; compiled by Herbert Compton: London, 1892.

19. Ante, Chapter 53 text between [2] and [3].

20. Kāsganj, the residence of Colonel Gardner, is in the Etah district of the United Provinces. In 1911 the population was 16,429.

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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