Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Bharatpur—Dīg—Want of employment for the Military and the Educated Classes under the Company's Rule
Our old friends, Mr. Charles Fraser, the Commissioner of the Agra Division, then on his circuit, and Major Godby, had come on with us from Agra and made our party very agreeable. On the 9th, we went fourteen miles to Bharatpur, over a plain of alluvial, but seemingly poor, soil, intersected by one low range of sandstone hills running north-east and south-west.
The thick belt of jungle, three miles wide, with which the chiefs of Bharatpur used to surround their fortress while they were freebooters, and always liable to be brought into collision with their neighbours, has been fast diminishing since the capture of the place by our troops in 1826; and will very soon disappear altogether, and give place to rich sheets of cultivation, and happy little village communities.
Our tents had been pitched close outside the Mathurā gate, near a small grove of fruit- trees, which formed the left flank of the last attack on this fortress by Lord Combermere. Major Godby had been present during the whole siege; and, as we went round the place in the evening on our elephants, he pointed out all the points of attack, and told all the anecdotes of the day that were interesting enough to be remembered for ten years. We went through the town, out at the opposite gate, and passed along the line of Lord Lake's attack in 1805.
All the points of his attack were also pointed out to us by our cicerone, an old officer in the service of the Rājā. It happened to be the anniversary of the first attempt to storm, which was made on the 9th of January, thirty-one years before. One old officer told us that he remembered Lord Lake sitting with three other gentlemen on chairs not more than half a mile from the ramparts of the fort.
The old man thought that the men of those days were quite a different sort of thing to the men of the present day, as well those who defended, as those who attacked the fort; and, if the truth must be told, he thought that the European lords and gentlemen had fallen off in the same scale as the rest.
'But', said the old man, 'all these things are matter of destiny and providence. Upon that very bastion (pointing to the right point of Lord Lake's attack) stood a large twenty-four pounder, which was loaded and discharged three times by supernatural agency during one of your attacks—not a living soul was near it.' We all smiled, incredulous; and the old man offered to bring a score of witnesses to the fact, men of unquestionable veracity.
The left point of Lord Lake's attack was the Baldēo bastion, so called alter Baldēo Singh, the second son of the then reigning chief, Ranjīt Singh. The feats which Hector performed in the defence of Troy sink into utter insignificance before those which Baldēo performed in the defence of Bharatpur, according to the best testimony of the survivors of that great day.
'But', said the old man, 'he was, of course, acting under supernatural influence; he condescended to measure swords only with Europeans'; and their bodies filled the whole bastion in which he stood, according to the belief of the people, though no European entered it, I believe, during the whole siege. They pointed out to us where the different corps were posted. There was one corps which had signalized itself a good deal, but of which I had never before heard, though all around me seemed extremely well acquainted with it—this was the Antā Gurgurs.
'At last Godby came to my side, and told me this was the name by which the Bombay troops were always known in Bengal, though no one seemed to know whence it came. I am disposed to think that they derive it from the peculiar form of the caps of their sepoys, which are in form like the common hookah, called a 'gurgurī', with a small ball at the top, like an 'antā', or tennis, or billiard ball; hence 'Antā Gurgurs'. The Bombay sepoys were, I am told, always very angry when they heard that they were known by this term—they have always behaved like good soldiers, and need not be ashamed of this or any other name.
The water in the lake, about a mile to the west of Bharatpur, stands higher than the ground about the fortress; and a drain had been opened, through which the water rushed in and filled the ditch all round the fort and great part of the plain to the south and east, before Lord Lake undertook the siege in 1805.
This water might, I believe, have been taken off to the eastward into the Jumna, had the outlet been discovered by the engineers. An attempt was made to cut the same drain on the approach of Lord Combermere in 1826; but a party went on, and stopped the work before much water had passed, and the ditch was almost dry when the siege began.
The walls being all of mud, and now dismantled, had a wretched appearance; and the town which is contained within them is, though very populous, a mere collection of wretched hovels; the only respectable habitation within is the palace, which consists of three detached buildings—one for the chief, another for the females of his family, and the third for his court of justice, I could not find a single trace of the European officers who had been killed there, either at the first or second siege, though I had been told that a small tomb had been built in a neighbouring grove over the remains of Brigadier-General Edwards, who fell in the last storm.
It is, I believe, the only one that has ever been raised. The scenes of battles fought by the Muhammadan conquerors of India were commonly crowded with magnificent tombs, built over the slain, and provided for a time with the means of maintaining holy men who read the Korān over their graves. Not that this duty was necessary for the repose of their souls, for every Muhammadan killed in fighting against men who believed not in his prophet went, as a matter of course, to paradise; and every unbeliever, killed in the same action, went as surely to hell.
There are only a few hundred men, exclusive of the prophets, who, according to Muhammad, have the first place in paradise—those who shared in one or other of his first three battles, and believed in his holy mission before they had the evidence of a single victory over the unbelievers to support it. At the head of these are the men who accompanied him in his flight from Mecca to Medina, when he had no evidence either from victories or miracles.
In all such matters the less the evidence adduced in proof of a mission the greater the merit of those who believe in it, according to the person who pretends to it; and unhappily, the less the evidence a man has for his faith, the greater is his anger against other men for not joining in it with him. No man gets very angry with another for not joining with him in his faith in the demonstration of a problem in mathematics.
Man likes to think that he is on the way to heaven upon such easy terms; but gets angry at the notion that others won't join him, because they may consider him an imbecile for thinking that he is so.
The Muhammadan generals and historians are sometimes almost as concise as Caesar himself in describing very conscientiously a battle of this kind; instead of 'I came, I saw, I conquered', it is 'Ten thousand Musālmāns on that day tasted of the blessed fruit of paradise, after sending fifty thousand unbelievers to the flames of hell'.
On the 10th we came on twelve miles to Kumbhīr, over a plain of poor soil, much impregnated with salt, and with some works in which salt is made, with solar evaporation. The earth is dug up, water is filtered through it, and drawn off into small square beds, where it is evaporated by exposure to the solar heat.
The gate of this fort leading out to the road we came is called, modestly enough, after Kumbhīr, a place only ten miles distant; that leading to Mathurā, three or four stages distant, is called the Mathurā gate. At Delhi, the gates of the