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

Peasantry of India attached to no existing Government—Want of Trees in Upper India [1]—Cause and Consequence—Wells and Groves

What strikes one most after crossing the Chambal is, I think, the improved size and bearing of the men; they are much stouter, and more bold and manly, without being at all less respectful. They are certainly a noble peasantry, full of courage, spirit, and intelligence; and heartily do I wish that we could adopt any system that would give our Government a deep root in their affections, or link their interests inseparably with its prosperity; for, with all its defects, life, property, and character are certainly more secure, and all their advantages more freely enjoyed under our Government than under any other they have ever heard of, or that exists at present in any other part of the country.

The eternal subdivision of the landed property reduces them too much to one common level, and prevents the formation of that middle class which is the basis of all that is great and good in European societies—the great vivifying spirit which animates all that is good above it in the community.[2]

It is a singular fact that the peasantry, and, I may say, the landed interest of the country generally, have never been the friends of any existing government, have never considered their interests and that of their government the same; and, consequently, have never felt any desire for its success or its duration.[3]

The towns and villages all stand upon high mounds formed of the debris of former towns and villages, that have been accumulating, most of them, for thousands of years. They are for the most part mere collections of wretched hovels built of frail materials, and destined only for a brief period.

Man wants but little here below,

Nor wants that little long.[4]

And certainly there is no climate in the world where man wants less than in this of India generally, and Upper India particularly. The peasant lives in the open air; and a house to him is merely a thing to eat and sleep in, and to give him shelter in the storm, which comes upon him but seldom, and never in a pitiless shape. The society of his friends he enjoys in the open air, and he never furnishes his house for their reception or for display.

The peasantry of India, in consequence of living and talking so much in the open air, have all stentorian voices, which they find it exceedingly difficult to modulate to our taste when they come into our rooms.

Another thing in this part of India strikes a traveller from other parts—the want of groves of fruit-trees around the villages and along the roads. In every other part of India he can at every stage have his tents pitched in a grove of mango-trees, that defend his followers from the direct rays of the sun in the daytime, and from the cold dews at night; but in the district above Agra, he may go for ten marches without getting the shelter of a grove in one.[5]

The Sikhs, the Marāthās, the Jāts, and the Pathāns destroyed them all during the disorders attending the decline of the Muhammadan empire; and they have never been renewed, because no man could feel secure that they would be suffered to stand ten years. A Hindoo believes that his soul in the next world is benefited by the blessings and grateful feelings of those of his fellow creatures who unmolested eat the fruit and enjoy the shade of the trees he has planted during his sojourn in this world; and, unless he can feel assured that the traveller and the public in general will be permitted to do so, he can have no hope of any permanent benefit from his good work.

It might as well be cut down as pass into the hands of another person who had no feeling of interest in the eternal repose of the soul of the planter. That person would himself have no advantage in the next world from giving the fruit and the shade of the trees to the public, since the prayers of those who enjoyed them would be offered for the soul of the planter, and not for his—he, therefore, takes all their advantage to himself in this world, and the planter and the public are defrauded.

Our Government thought they had done enough to encourage the renewal of these groves, when by a regulation they gave to the present lessees of villages the privilege of planting them themselves, or permitting others to plant them; but where they held their leases for a term of only five years, of course they would be unwilling to plant them. They might lose their lease when the term expired, or forfeit it before; and the successor would have the land on which the trees stood, and would be able to exclude the public, if not the proprietor, from the enjoyment of any of their advantages.

Our Government has, in effect, during the thirty-five years that it has held the dominion of the North-Western Provinces,[6] prohibited the planting of mango groves, while the old ones are every year disappearing. On the resumption of rent-free lands, even the ground on which the finest of these groves stand has been recklessly resumed, and the proprietors told me that they may keep the trees they have, but cannot be allowed to renew them, as the lands are become the property of Government.

The lands of groves that have been the pride of families for a century and a half have been thus resumed. Government is not aware of the irreparable mischief they do the country they govern by such measures.[7]

On my way back from Meerut, after the conversation already related with the farmer of a small village (ante, chapter 58, text at [7]), my tents were one day pitched, in the month of December, amidst some very fine garden cultivation in the district of Alīgarh;[8] and in the evening I walked out as usual to have some talk with the peasantry.

I came to a neighbouring well at which four pair of bullocks were employed watering the surrounding fields of wheat for the market, and vegetables for the families of the cultivators. Four men were employed at the well, and two more in guiding the water into the little embanked squares into which they divide their fields.

I soon discovered that the most intelligent of the four was a Jāt; and I had a good deal of conversation with him as he stood landing the leather buckets, as the two pair of bullocks on his side of the well drew them to the top, a distance of forty cubits from the surface of the water beneath.

'Who built this well?' I began.

'It was built by one of my ancestors, six generations ago.'

'How much longer will it last?'

'Ten generations more, I hope; for it is now just as good as when first made. It is of 'pakkā' bricks without mortar cement.'[9]

'How many waterings do you give?'

'If there should be no rain, we shall require to give the land six waterings, as the water is sweet; had it been brackish four would do. Brackish water is better for wheat than sweet water; but it is not so good for vegetables or sugar-cane.'

'How many "bīghās" are watered from this well?'

'We water twenty "bīghās", or one hundred and five "jarībs", from this well.'[10]

'And you pay the Government how much?'

'One hundred rupees, at the rate of five rupees the bīghā. But only the five immediately around the well are mine, the rest belong to others.'

'But the well belongs to you; and I suppose you get from the proprietors of the other fifteen something for your water?'

'Nothing. There is more water for my five bīghās, and I give them what they require gratis; they acknowledge that it is a gift from me, and that is all I want.'

'And what does the land beyond the range of your water of the same quality pay?'

'It pays at the rate of two rupees the bīghā, and it is with difficulty that they can be made to pay that. Water, sir, is a great thing, and with that and manure we get good crops from the land.'[11]

'How many returns of the seed?'

'From these twenty bīghās with six waterings, and cross ploughing, and good manure, we contrive to get twenty returns; that is, if God is pleased with us and blesses our efforts.'

'And you maintain your family comfortably out of the return from your five?'

'If they were mine I could; but we had two or three bad seasons seven years ago, and I was obliged to borrow eighty rupees from our banker at 24 per cent., for the subsistence of my family. I have hardly been able to pay him the interest with all I can earn by my labour, and I now serve him upon two rupees a month.'

'But that is not enough to maintain you and your family?'

'No; but he only requires my services for half the day, and during the other half I work with others to get enough for them.'

'And when do you expect to pay off your debt?'

'God only knows; if I exert myself, and keep a good "nīyat" (pure mind or intentions), he will enable me or my children to do so some day or other. In the meantime he has my five bīghās of land in mortgage, and I serve him in the cultivation.'

'But under those misfortunes, you could surely venture to demand something from the proprietors of the other fifteen bīghās for the water of your well?'

'Never, sir; it would be said all over the country that such an one sold God's water for his neighbours' fields, and I should be ashamed to show my face. Though poor, and obliged to work hard, and serve others, I have still too much pride for that.'

'How many bullocks are required for the tillage of these twenty bīghās watered from your well?'

'These eight bullocks do all the work; they are dear now. This was purchased the other day on the death of the old one, for twenty- six rupees. They cost about fifty rupees a pair—the late famine has made them dear.'[12]

'What did the well cost in making?'

'I have heard that it cost about one hundred and twenty rupees; it would cost about that sum to make one of this kind in the present day, not more.'

'How long have the families of your caste been settled in these parts?'

'About six or seven generations; the country had before been occupied by a peasantry of the Kalār caste. Our ancestors came, built up mud fortifications, dug wells, and brought the country under cultivation; it had been reduced to a waste; for a long time we were obliged to follow the plough with our swords by our sides, and our friends around us with their matchlocks in their hand, and their matches lighted.'

'Did the water in your well fail during the late seasons of drought?'

'No, sir, the water of this well never fails.'

'Then how did bad seasons affect you?'

'My bullocks all died one after the other from want of fodder, and I had not the means to till my lands; subsistence became dear, and to maintain my family, I was obliged to contract the debt for which my lands are now mortgaged. I work hard to get them back, and, if I do not succeed, my children will, I hope, with the blessing of God.'[13]

The next morning I went on to Kākā, fifteen miles; and finding tents, people, and cattle, without a tree to shelter them, I was much pleased to see in my neighbourhood a plantation of mango and other fruit-trees. It had, I was told, been planted only three years ago by Hīrāman and Mōtīrām, and I sent for them, knowing that they would be pleased to have their good work noticed by any European gentleman.

The trees are now covered with cones of thatch to shelter them from the frost. The merchants came, evidently much pleased, and I had a good deal of talk with them.

'Who planted this new grove?'

'We planted it three years ago.'

'What did your well cost you, and how many trees have you?'

'We have about four hundred trees, and the well has cost us two hundred rupees, and will cost us two hundred more.'

'How long will you require to water them?'

'We shall require to water the mango and other large trees ten or twelve years; but the orange, pomegranate, and other small trees will always require watering.'

'What quantity of ground do the trees occupy?'

'They occupy twenty-two "bīghās" of one hundred and five "jarībs". We place them all twelve yards from each other, that is, the large trees; and the small ones we plant between them.'

'How did you get the land?'

'We were many years trying in vain to get a grant from the Government through the collector; at last we got him to certify on paper that, if the landholder would give us land to plant our grove upon, the Government would have no objection. We induced the landholder, who is a constituent of ours, to grant us the land; and we made our well, and planted our trees.'

'You have done a good thing; what reward do you expect?'

'We hope that those who enjoy the shade, the water, and the fruit, will think kindly of us when they are gone. The names of the great men who built the castles, palaces, and tombs at Delhi and Agra have been almost all forgotten, because no one enjoys any advantage from them; but the names of those who planted the few mango groves we see are still remembered and blessed by all who eat of their fruit, sit in their shade, and drink of their water, from whatever part of the world they come.

'Even the European gentlemen remember their names with kindness; indeed, it was at the suggestion of a European gentleman, who was passing this place many years ago, and talking with us as you are now, that we commenced this grove.

'"Look over this plain," said he, "it has been all denuded of the fine groves with which it was, no doubt, once studded; though it is tolerably well cultivated, the traveller finds no shelter in it from the noonday sun—even the birds seem to have deserted you, because you refuse them the habitations they find in other parts of India."

'We told him that we would have the grove planted, and we have done so; and we hope God will bless our undertaking.'

'The difficulty of getting land is, I suppose, the reason why more groves are not planted, now that property is secure?'

'How could men plant without feeling secure of the land they planted upon, and when Government would not guarantee it? The landholder could guarantee it only during the five years of lease;[14] and, if at the end of that time Government should transfer the lease of the estate to another, the land of the grove would be transferred with it. We plant not for worldly or immediate profits, but for the benefit of our souls in the next world—for the prayers of those who may derive benefit from our works when we are gone.

'Our landholders are good men, and will never resume the lands they have given us; and if the lands be sold at auction by Government, or transferred to others, we hope the certificate of the collector will protect us from his grasp.'[15]

'You like your present Government, do you not?'

'We like it much. There has never been a Government that gave so much security to life and property; all we want is a little more of public service, and a little more of trade; but we have no cause to complain; it is our own fault if we are not happy.'

'But I have been told that the people find the returns from the soil diminishing, and attribute it to the perjury that takes place in our courts occasionally.'

'That, sir, is no doubt true; there has been a manifest falling off in the returns; and people everywhere think that you make too much use of the Korān and the Ganges water in your courts. God does not like to hear lies told upon one or other, and we are apt to think that we are all punished for the sins of those who tell them. May we ask, sir, what office you hold?'

'It is my office to do the work which God assigns to me in this world.'

'The work of God, sir, is the greatest of all works, and those are fortunate who are chosen to do it.'

Their respect for me evidently increased when they took me for a clergyman. I was dressed in black.

'In the first place, it is my duty to tell you that God does not punish the innocent for the guilty, and that the perjury in courts has nothing to do with the diminution of returns from the soil. Where you apply water and manure, and alternate your crops, you always get good returns, do you not?'

'Very good returns; but we have had several bad seasons that have carried away the greater part of our population; but a small portion of our lands can be irrigated for want of wells, and we had no rain for two or three years, or hardly any in due season; and it was this deficiency of rain which the people thought a chastisement from heaven.'

'But the wells were not dried up, were they?'


'And the people whose fields they watered had good returns, and high prices for produce?'

'Yes, they had; but their cattle died for want of food, for there was no grass any where to be found.'

'Still they were better off than those who had no wells to draw water from for their fields; and the only way to provide against such evils in future is to have a well for every field. God has given you the fields, and he has given you the water; and when it does not come from the clouds, you must draw it from your wells.'[16]

'True, sir, very true; but the people are very poor, and have not the means to form the wells they require.'

'And if they borrow the money from you, you charge them with interest?'

'From one to two per cent. a month according to their character and circumstances; but interest is very often merely nominal, and we are in most cases glad to get back the principal alone.'[17]

'And what security have you for the land of your grove in case the landholder should change his mind, or die and leave sons not so well disposed.'

'In the first place, we hold his bonds for a debt of nine thousand rupees which he owes us, and which we have no hopes of his ever paying. In the next, we have on stamped paper his deed of gift, in which he declares that he has given us the land, and that he and his heirs for ever shall be bound to make good the rents, should Government sell the estate for arrears of revenue.

'We wanted him to write this document in the regular form of a deed of sale; but he said that none of his ancestors had ever yet sold their lands, and that he would not be the first to disgrace his family, or record their disgrace on stamped paper—it should, he was resolved, be a deed of gift.'

'But, of course, you prevailed upon him to take the price?'

'Yes, we prevailed upon him to take two hundred rupees for the land, and got his receipt for the same; indeed, it is so mentioned in the deed of gift; but still the landlord, who is a near relation of the late chief of Hatrās, would persist in having the paper made out as a deed, not of sale, but of gift. God knows whether, after all, our grove will be secure—we must run the risk now we have begun upon it.'


1. This phrase is misleading. There is no want of trees in Upper India generally; only certain limited areas are ill wooded. Most of the districts in the plains of the Ganges and Jumna are well wooded.

2. This is a favourite doctrine of the author, often reiterated. The absence of a powerful middle class is a characteristic, not of India only, but of all Oriental despotisms, and the subdivision of landed property is only one of the causes of the non-existence of such a class.

3. This is quite true. The rural population want two things, first a light assessment, secondly the minimum of official interference, They do not care a straw who the ruler is, and they like best that ruler, be his name or nationality what it may, who worries them least, and takes least money from them.

4. Goldsmith, 'The Hermit' (in chapter 8 of The Vicar of Wakefield).

5. Groves are still scarce in the Agra country, but much planting has been done on the roads.

6. Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, and some other districts, forming half of the old province of Oudh, ceded by the ruler of Oudh in 1801, were long known as the Ceded Provinces. The western districts of the North- Western Provinces, known as the Conquered Provinces, were taken from the Marāthās in 1803-5.

The Province of Benares became British territory in 1775. The hill districts of the Kumaun Division were annexed in 1816, at the close of the war with Nepal. All the regions named are now included in the Agra Province of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, in which the editor served for twenty- nine years.

7. The author's remarks are not readily intelligible to readers unversed in the technicalities of Indian revenue administration. The author writes on the assumption that Government was the proprietor of the soil. While he was writing, the settlements under Regulation IX of 1833 were in progress.

'Those settlements, or revenue contracts, were ordinarily sanctioned for periods of thirty years, and the landholders, whom the author calls 'lessees', have gradually changed into 'proprietors', with full power over their land, subject only to the State lien for the 'land revenue' (Crown rent, or State share of the produce), and to the laws of inheritance and succession. The 'resumption of rent-free lands' simply means the subjection of those lands to the payment of 'land revenue'.

It is inaccurate to say that the lands are become 'the property of Government' by reason of their being assessed. Even when land generally was regarded as the property of the State, and the landholders were considered to be only lessees, no objection would have been made to the planting of groves if payment of the 'land revenue' had been continued for the planted area as for cultivated land.

Now that landholders have been recognized as proprietors, there is nothing to prevent them from planting as much land as they like with trees, although the State has not always been willing to exempt the whole planted area from assessment. No one ever objected to the renewal of trees except on the ground that the area under trees might be excluded from assessment.

For many years past the Government of India has been most anxious to encourage tree- planting, and has sanctioned liberal rules respecting the exemption of grove land from assessment to 'land revenue', or 'rent', as the author calls it.

The Government of the United Provinces certainly is not now liable to reproach for indifference to the value of groves. Enormous progress in the planting of road avenues has also been made. The deficiency of trees in the country about Agra is partly due to nature, much of the ground being cut up by ravines, and unfavourable for planting.

8. The Alīgarh district lies to the north and east of the Mathurā district. The fort of Alīgarh is fifty-five miles north of Agra, and eighty-four miles south-east of Delhi.

9. 'pakkā' here means 'burned in a kiln', as distinguished from 'sun-dried'.

10. The 'bīghā' is the unit of superficial land measure, varying, but often taken as five-eighths of an acre. The 'jarīb' is a smaller measure.

11. The rules now in force require assessing officers to make allowance for permanent improvements, such as the well described in the text, so as to give the fair benefit of the improvement to the maker. In the early settlements this important matter was commonly neglected.

12. Tolerable bullocks, fit for use at the well and in the plough, would now cost much more. This conversation appears to have taken place in the year 1839, The famine alluded to is that of 1837- 8.

13. This conversation gives a very vivid and truthful picture of rural life in Northern India. Most revenue officers have held similar conversations with rustics, but the author is almost the only writer on Indian affairs who has perceived that exact notes of casual chats in the fields would be found interesting and valuable.

14. The early settlements were made for short terms.

15. The certificate would not be of much avail in a civil court.

16. The Alīgarh district is now irrigated by canals.

17. This is the lender's view of his business; the borrowers might have a different story.

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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