Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small]

had another trouble added to it by the appeals which were made to him from Cawnpore for a help which he could not give. The story of Cawnpore is by far the most protound and tragic in its interest of all the chapters that made up the history of the Indian Mutiny. The city of Cawnpore stands in the Doab, a peninsula between the Ganges and the Jumna, and is built on the south bank of the Ganges, there nearly a quarter of a mile broad in the dry season, and more than a mile across when swollen by the rains. By a treaty made in 1775 the East India Company engaged to maintain a force in Cawnpore for the defence of Oudh, and the revenues of an extensive district of country were appropriated to the maintenance of the troops quartered there. In 1801, for some of the various reasons impelling similar transactions in India, Lord Wellesley “closed the mort. gage," as Mr. Trevelyan puts it in his interesting and really valuable little book " Cawnpore," and the territory lapsed into the possession of the company. From that time it took rank as one of our first-class military stations. When Oudh was annexed to our dominions there was an additional reason for maintaining a strong military torce at Cawnpore. The city commanded the bridge over which passed the high road to Lucknow, the capital of our new province. The distance from Cawnpore to Lucknow is about fifty miles as the bird flies.

At the time when the mutiny broke out in Meerut there were some three thousand native soldiers in Cawnpore, consisting of two regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and a company of artillerymen. There were about three hundred officers and soldiers of English birth. The Europeans or Eurasian population, including women and children, numbered about one thousand. These consisted of the officials, the railway people, some merchants and shopkeepers and their families. The native town had about sixty thousand inhabitants. The garrison was under the command oi Sir Hugh Wheeler, among the oldest of an old school of Bengal officers. Sir Hugh Wheeler was some seventy-five years ou age at the time when the events occurred which we have now to describe.

The revolt was looked for at Cawnpore from the moment when the news came of the rising at Meerut; and it was not long expected before it came. Sir Hugh Wheeler applied to Sir Henry Lawrence for help; Lawrence of course could not spare a man. Then Sir Hugh Wheeler remem. bered that he had a neighbor who he believed to be friendly, despite of very recent warnings from Sir Henry Lawrence and others to the contrary. He called this neighbor to his assistance, and his invitation was promptly answered. The Nana Sahib came with two guns and some three hundred men to lend a helping hand to the English commander.

The Nana Sahib resided at Bithoor, a small town twelve miles up the river from Cawnpore. He represented a grievance. Bajee Rao, Peishwa of Poonah, was the last prince of one of the great Mahratta dynasties. The East India Company believed him guilty of treachery against them, of bad government of his dominions, and so forth and they found a reason for dethroning him. He was assigned, however, a residence in Bithoor and a large pension. He had no children, and he adopted as his heir Seereek Dhoondoo Punth, the man who will be known to all time by

the infamous name of Nana Sahib. It seems almost superAuous to say that according to Hindoo belief it is needful for a man's eternal welfare that he leave a son behind him to perform duly his funeral rites; and that the adoption of a son is recognized as in every sense conferring on the adopted all the rights that a child of the blood could have. Bajee died in 1851, and Nana Sahib claimed to succeed to all his possessions. Lord Dalhousie had shown in many instances a strangely unwise disregard of the principle of adoption. The claim of the Nana to the pension was disallowed. Nana Sahib sent a confidential agent to London to push his claim there. This man was a clever and handsome young Mohammedan who had at one time been a servant in an Anglo-Indian family, and had picked up a knowledge of French and English. His name was Azimoolah Khan. This emissary visited London in 1854, and became a lion of the fashionable season. As Hajji Baba, the bar. ber's son, in the once popular story, was taken for a prince in London and treated accordingly, so the promoted footman, Azimoolah Khan, was welcomed as a man of princely rank in our West-End society. He did not succeed in winning over the government to take any notice of the claims of his master, but being very handsome and of sleek and alluring manners, he became a favorite in the drawing. rooms of the metropolis, and was under the impression that an unlimited number of English women of rank were dying with love for him. On his way home he visited Constantinople and the Crimea. It was then a dark hour for the fortunes of England in the Crimea, and Azimoolah Khan swallowed with glad and greedy ear all the alarmist rumors that were afloat in Stamboul about the decay of England's strength and the impending domination of Russian power over Europe and Asia. In the Crimea itself Azimoolah had some opportunity of seeing how the campaign was going, and it is not surprising that with his prepossessions and hia

hopes, he interpreted everything he saw as a threatened disaster for the arms of England. Mr. Russell, the corres. pondent of the Times, made the acquaintance of Azimoolah Khan in Constantinople and afterward met him in the Crimea, and has borne testimony to the fact that along with the young Mohammedan's boasts of his conquests of English women were mingled a good many grave and sinister predictions as to the prospects of England's empire. The Western visit of this man was not an event without important consequences. He doubtless reported to his master that the strength of England was on the wane; and while stimulating his hatred and revenge, stimulated also his confidence in the chances of an effort to gratify both. Azimoolah Khan did afterward, as it will be seen, make some grim and genuine havoc among English ladies. The most bloodthirsty massacre of the whole mutiny is with good reason ascribed to his instigation. With Azimoolah Khan's mission and its results ended the hopes of Nana Sahib for the success of his claims, and began, we may presume, his re. solve to be revenged.

Nana Sahib, although his claim on the English government was not allowed, was still rich. He had the large private property of the man who had adopted him, and he had tie residence at Bithoor. He kept up a sort of princely state. He never visited Cawnpore; the reason being, it is believed, that he would not have been received there with princely honors. But he was especially lavish of his attentions to English visitors, and his invitations went far and wide among the military and civil servants of the crown and the company. He cultivated the society of English men and women; he showered his civilities upon them. He did not speak or even understand English, but he took a great interest in English history, customs, and literature. was luxurious in the most thoroughly Oriental fashion; and Oriental luxury implies a great deal more than any experi

ence of Western luxury would suggest. At the time with which we are now dealing he was only about thirty-six years of age, but he was prematurely heavy and fat, and seemed to be as incapable of active exertion as of unkindly feeling. There can be little doubt that all this time he was a dissembler of more than common Eastern dissimulation. It appears almost certain that while he was lavishing his courtesies and kindnesses upon Englishmen without discrimination, his heart was burning with a hatred to the whole British race. A sense of his wrongs had eaten him up. It is a painful thing to say, but it is necessary to the truth of this history, that his wrongs were genuine. He had been treated with injustice. According to all the recognized usages of his race and his religion, he had a claim indefeasible in justice to the succession which had been unfairly and unwisely denied to him.

It was to Nana Sahib, then, that poor old Sir Hugh Wheeler in the hour of his distress applied for assfstance. Most gladly, we can well believe, did the Nana come. He established himself in Cawnpore with his guns and his soldiers. Sir Hugh Wheeler had taken refuge, when the mutiny broke out, in an old military hospital with mud walls scarcely four feet high, hastily thrown up around it, and a few guns of various calibre placed in position on the so-called intrenchments. Everything seemed to have been against our people in this hour of terror. Sir Hugh Wheeler might have chosen a far better refuge in the magazine, in a different part of Cawnpore; but it appeared destined that the mutineers should have this chance, too, as they had every other. The English commander selected his place in the worst position, and hardly capable of defence. Within his almost shadowy and certainly crumbling intrenchments were gathered about a thousand persons, of whom 465 were men of every age and profession. The married women and grown daughters were about 280; the children about the

« AnteriorContinuar »