The Indian Mutiny - 1857
The 14th King Georges own Ferozepore Sikhs
At this time the Army in India was organized in three Presidency armies of Madras, Bombay and Bengal. Each army consisted of units of the British Regular Army, known as "Royal" troops, and British and Indian units of the East India Company. The Bengal Presidency stretched right across India from Peshawar to Calcutta, which was the headquarters of the British Government. The majority of the British troops of the Bengal Army were stationed in the Punjab, which had only recently been acquired. Although the importance of Allahabad was recognized by the Government, there were no effective British troops stationed in the fort and there were no British reserves between Calcutta and Delhi.
Rumours were abroad in April, 1857, that discontent was rife in certain native regiments of the Bengal Army, but everything was peaceful in Mirzapore, where the 14th Sikhs were still stationed. However, on the 7th of May, three days before the outbreak of the Mutiny at Meerut, Lieutenant Brasyer received the following message from the Officer Commanding the Allahabad Division
"To the Officer commanding the Regiment of Ferozepore, Mirzapore.--You are desired to march at once with all speed-'forced marches'-with the headquarters, and four hundred men, Regiment of Ferozepore, to Allahabad, where you are urgently required."
He immediately set out with four hundred men, leaving two hundred and fifty behind at Mirzapore under Lieutenant Montague, and reached the fort at Allahabad on the 11th of May.
Although everything was quiet at Allahabad at this time, the situation was very confused and the news of the mutiny in the north caused considerable anxiety and doubt. However, no precautionary measures were considered necessary until the 5th of June, when all civilians and women and children were ordered into the fort. This was just in time, for, at 10 p.m. on the 6th of June, the 6th Native Infantry, which was stationed in the cantonments two miles from the fort, unexpectedly mutinied. The men attacked their officers in the mess and then plundered the treasury. Incendiary, rapine and murder followed. The mutineers were joined by all the town rabble, and their savagery was terrible and continued for days.
Although the Commissioner and other senior officers were unprepared, Lieutenant Brasyer was ready and, as soon as the firing started in the cantonment, he quietly assembled his men and gave them instructions and encouragement. There were three guards of the 6th Native Infantry, numbering about two hundred men, in the fort in charge of the different gates. Lieutenant Brasyer, entirely on his own initiative, decided to disarm these men. He immediately went to the main gate with a party of Sikhs and instructed the officer in command of the guard to order his men to give up their arms. The guard, who, it was afterwards learnt, had been given ammunition to hold the gate for the rebels, defiantly refused. Lieutenant Brasyer saw that determined action was necessary, so he caused his Sikhs to support him and advanced towards the guard. It was thought that the Sikhs might join the mutineers, but Brasyer had an irresistible influence over his men and the Sikhs did not waver.
Lieutenant Brasyer immediately ordered the guard to "pile arms" and "stand clear." The guard hesitated and one man lunged forward at Brasyer with his bayonet, but the officer's orderly knocked aside the musket and saved his life. The Sikhs now adopted a determined attitude and the mutinous guard, seeing that the Sikhs were firm; gave way. Brasyer then personally disarmed all the men of the 6th Native Infantry in the fort and his Sikhs supported him throughout. The guards were made prisoners and turned out of the fort the next day.
As soon as the guards had been disarmed, Lieutenant Brasyer organized the defence of the fort, which he held against the rebels with his four hundred Sikhs, a party of invalid British artillerymen and a small number of volunteer civilians until reinforcements arrived.
The following is an extract from the London Times of that time
" Lieutenant Brasyer commanded the Seikhs at Allahabad. It was to him that the Europeans were indebted for preventing the rebels from taking the fort."
This was the first important British success in the Mutiny and it was a stroke which has never been properly appreciated. Allahabad was the key to the north-west and, once secured, it formed an advanced base of operations. But for Brasyer's initiative and intrepidity, the war against the mutineers would have taken a very different course.
The importance of Lieutenant Brasyer's success is borne out by this extract from a report by Lord Canning, the Governor-General, to the Government
" I shall not be surprised if that strong fortress Allahabad, with all its valuable stores and war munitions, has fallen into the hands of the insurgents. That would indeed be a climax to our misfortunes, more serious than the seizure of Delhi."
After the 6th of June the fort was subjected to a desultory siege, for the place was surrounded by a large force of rebels, who remained in possession of the bazaar and city. The rebels were well armed and had two guns. Brasyer wrote as follows about his Sikhs at this time
"All this time my faithful Seikhs, on whom so much depended, were craving to be led against the enemy outside, or anywhere, rather than be kept idle within the Fortress, so I found it necessary to temporise with them a little. " `Now, as we are all on special duty, doing hard work, and in hot weather,' said I, `let us discard the cap and heavy clothing. Adopt your national dress, and show how Seikhs can fight, and save this Fort and all within it."
The Ferozepore Sikhs therefore from this time on discarded their caps and heavy coats and wore red turbans and Sikh blouses throughout the Mutiny. This pleased the men immensely, especially as Brasyer himself adopted the dress.
A few days later Colonel James Neill arrived with a British battalion, the 1st Madras Fusiliers, and took over command at Allahabad. By this time the whole countryside had broken out into revolt, so from the 12th of June Colonel Neill carried out a series of vigorous sorties against the rebels. The Ferozepore Regiment, now known as "Brasyer's Sikhs; played a prominent part in these operations and won further distinctions. These sorties met with considerable success and the district was soon in a state of submission. On the 17th of June the rebels were defeated and driven out of the city and the British administration was reestablished.
Before the end of the month Lieutenant Montague arrived from Mirzapore with the remainder of the Regiment and joined Brasyer, who had been promoted to captain for his gallantry at the beginning of the month.
The situation at Cawnpore was now serious and it was essential to send a force to relieve the British garrison as soon as possible. Transport was immediately collected and an advance column, consisting of Madras Fusiliers and Ferozepore Sikhs, set out for Cawnpore; on the 30th of June.
On the same day General Havelock arrived in Allahabad with the 64th and 84th Foot and the 78th Highlanders, and he set off for Cawnpore a few days later, taking with him his British troops and a detachment of the Ferozepore Sikhs. By this time Cawnpore had been captured by the rebels, so General Havelock decided to drive them out and then march to the relief of Lucknow, where the British were besieged in the Residency.
A portion of the Ferozepore Sikhs were left behind in Allahabad, under Lieutenant Montague, to hold the fort and patrol the surrounding district. Here the Sikhs did excellent work and fought several successful engagements with parties of mutineers in the area. On one occasion a guard of two non-commissioned officers and eight sepoys, surrounded by about a thousand rebels at Sahunga, gallantly rescued a wounded British officer and fought their way back through the rebels to the main guard.
General Havelock joined forces with the advanced column on the 12th of July and moved on towards Cawnpore in very trying conditions in the hot weather. On the following day, just as the combined force was preparing to camp
near the village of Fathepur, a large party of mutineers advanced from the village to attack the British force. Although his men were exhausted after a long march under a scorching sun, Havelock decided to attack. He immediately deployed his troops and utterly routed the enemy in a short, sharp fight. After a much-needed rest on the next day, the force continued the march early on the 15th of July. However, it was found that the enemy had re-formed and was holding the village of Aong in strength. General Havelock immediately attacked the enemy positions and threw back the mutineers at the point of the bayonet. It was now learnt that the enemy was preparing to blow the important bridge over the Pandu river, six miles farther on, so Havelock had to push on without resting in order to save the bridge and secure a passage over the river. Brasyer's Sikhs moved forward in skirmishing order and occupied the cliffs overlooking the bridge. This enabled the guns to come forward and cover the Madras Fusiliers, who stormed the bridge and put the enemy to flight.
The same evening General Havelock learnt that a number of women and children had been made prisoner at Cawnpore and had to be rescued at all costs. He therefore decided to continue the advance without delay, even though his men had had no rest and the column was still twenty-two miles from Cawnpore On the 16th of July the force advanced to within a few miles of the town before meeting any resistance. Here some ten thousand rebels opposed the British advance on the town. General Havelock personally led his now-small force of nine hundred men round the enemy's left flank and took the enemy by surprise from the rear. The 78th Highlanders were in the lead and rolled up the enemy's left flank with a brilliant charge. The 64th and 84th Foot and Brasyer's Sikhs then passed through and carried the enemy's position. They captured the guns on the right and the enemy retreated. Leaving the guns behind, protected by Brasyer's Sikhs, the British infantry regiments followed up their success and inflicted further losses on the enemy, who eventually lost heart and fled in disorder.
General Havelock and his men camped for the night in the open and entered Cawnpore early on the 17th of July, but they were too late to stop the brutal murder of the women and children by the mutineers.
Forest, in his "History of the Indian Mutiny," wrote as follows about
Havelock's advance from Allahabad
" In nine days Havelock and his veterans had marched 126 miles under an Indian sun in the hottest season of the year, each man carrying a heavy weight of ammunition, and had won four pitched battles and sundry combats against highly disciplined troops far exceeding them in number. During four days' fighting they had killed or wounded many hundreds of their enemies, and had captured twenty-three pieces of artillery. Their advance had been one of suffering, of privation, and of fatigue. . . . Battle after battle was won by desperate fighting; the cholera and the sunstroke slew many survivors of the combat, but on they went with unflinching resolution until Cawnpore was reached."
After a few days' rest Havelock, leaving General Neill with a small force to hold Cawnpore, crossed the River Ganges by boat and set out to march to the relief of Lucknow, forty-five miles away. His force, which was only fifteen hundred strong and included Brasyer's Sikhs, moved out on the 29th of July and almost immediately encountered a large force of the enemy opposing their advance. Havelock drove the enemy out of the villages of Unao and Basiratganj and utterly defeated them in two brilliant battles. However, Havelock's force was seriously depleted by sickness and battle casualties and he had to withdraw to Mangalwar; a few miles north of the river, and await reinforcements. It was quite obvious that the remnants of his force had little chance of forcing the way to Lucknow and carrying out the relief of the besieged garrison in the Residency. Forrest wrote in his History
" Two victories had been won. But if the road to Lucknow was to be so roughly contested there was little chance of reaching the Residency. What soldiers could do Havelock's men had achieved. But they could not fight the pestilence of the tropics. For some days cholera and dysentery had done deadly work among them. A sixth of his force had perished-half on the battlefield, half by disease."
A few days later Havelock received a small number of reinforcements and a few guns, so he moved forward again on the 5th of August. He encountered the enemy in Basiratganj and utterly routed the rebels for a second time, but again was forced to withdraw to Mangalwar. He was still not strong enough to fight his way to Lucknow, which was reported to be held by thirty thousand mutineers.
On the 11th of August Cawnpore was threatened by four thousand mutineers, who had arrived in Bithur from Saugor, and General Neill called for aid, while, at the same time, the enemy was also reported to be collecting again in Basiratganj. Havelock was determined to strike another blow before recrossing the river to Cawnpore, and he set out with his force the same evening. He once again defeated the enemy in a fierce battle a few miles north of Basiratganj during the next morning, and then withdrew for a third time and crossed the river to Cawnpore.
On the 16th of August Havelock led his much-depleted force against the mutineers in Bithur. After a long march of eight hours the weary force gained contact with the enemy, who were holding one of the strongest positions that Havelock had ever seen, around the village. Havelock decided not to wait, and his men assaulted the position with great gallantry. After some hard hand-tohand fighting the position was carried and the enemy utterly routed. Brasyer's Sikhs were on the left flank and threw back a large force of the enemy, entrenched in the bank of a nullah, at the point of the bayonet and captured his guns.
After the battle Havelock returned to Cawnpore and issued his famous order of the day in which he said
" Soldiers, your labours, your privations, your sufferings and your valour will not be forgotten by a grateful country."
Statue of Havelock in Trafalgar Square
This quotation is inscribed on his statue in Trafalgar Square, and on the reverse "The Regiment of Brasyer's Sikhs" is included amongst the units listed as the "Defenders of Lucknow." The 14th Sikhs are the only unit of the Indian Army mentioned on a monument in England.
Owing to casualties and the serious sickness from cholera and other diseases amongst his British troops, Havelock had to remain in Cawnpore for nearly a month awaiting reinforcements. There was very little fighting and the Ferozepore Regiment was detailed to escort a convoy of sick and wounded to Allahabad. The Sikhs escorted the wounded safely back, in spite of encountering a number of rebels during the journey, and then returned to Cawnpore.
In the middle of September Sir James Outram arrived in Cawnpore with a large force of reinforcements and bridging operations over the Ganges were begun. The mutineers attacked the bridge from the northern bank and Brasyer's Sikhs were sent over to cover the construction. The Sikhs drove the enemy back and the bridge was completed without further interference.
On the 21st of September two brigades, about three thousand strong all told, set out for Lucknow under General Havelock, accompanied by Sir James Outram.
The enemy opposed the advance at Mangalwar and at Alambagh, in the southern outskirts of Lucknow, and were utterly defeated by the British in two gallant battles. Havelock and Outram halted at Alambagh on the 24th of September while they decided the best means of extricating the British forces in the Residency.
RELIEF AND DEFENCE OF LUCKNOW
The sick and wounded, heavy baggage and large supply train were left at Alambagh, protected by a guard of three hundred men drawn from all units, in the force.
On the 25th of September the advance from Alambagh began. General Neill's Brigade was in the lead and the 78th Highlanders and Ferozepore Regiment were detailed as rearguard and ordered to hold the bridge at Charbagh until everything had passed. The Madras Fusiliers, with the 84th Foot, forced the bridge and Havelock then led his force round east of the city. This move evidently surprised the rebels, for he met no serious opposition until he arrived a short distance from the Residency. Meanwhile, the Highlanders and Sikhs were heavily engaged at Charbagh, where they were attacked by a large force of rebels. After three hours' fighting they defeated the enemy and were able to push on. However, they had lost touch with the main British column and took the wrong road. This mistake proved most fortunate, for they suddenly encountered the rear of some guns which were holding up Havelock's advance and rushed them without ceremony. The 78th Highlanders and Ferozepore Regiment were now in front. The Residency was only some five hundred yards away, but since it was now dusk and the column was strung out over a considerable distance General Outram suggested halting. General Havelock, however, was determined to reach the Residency without delay and ordered the 78th High-landers and Brasyer's Sikhs to advance. This column, led by Sir James Outram and General Havelock, dashed forward through the narrow streets of flat-roofed, loopholed houses held by the mutineers. The Highlanders and Sikhs fought their way forward with desperate gallantry under continuous fire from the enemy and eventually reached the Bailey Guard Gate of the Residency to the deafening cheers of the gallant garrison. In describing the assault Brasyer wrote
" Onward went the devoted band into a fire that seemed, as General Havelock said, as if nothing could live under it. The Highlanders, being Europeans, were placed in front, but the Seikhs followed them closely, pressed eagerly forward, and loudly cheered. Eventually it became a pell mell race for who should be first. Here Neill fell. Continuing this rushing, the troops were all intermixed, jumping over cuttings, and other obstacles in the street, until they finally reached the gateway of the Residency. But this was not only shut, but barricaded. A scramble ensued, the enemy firing from the roofs and windows of houses at us in every direction. At this moment I caught sight of a gap at the side of the gate, forced my way through this, and in reality was the first European of the relieving force who entered the beleaguered Lucknow Residency."
During the day's desperate fighting many acts of gallantry were performed and the Regiment suffered a very large proportion of casualties. One noteworthy feat of gallantry was that of Sepoy Nihal Singh, of the Ferozepore Sikhs, who carried General Neill, when he was mortally wounded in the final charge, to the rear under heavy fire.
The rearguard, with a number of sick and wounded, had not been able to reach the Residency and had remained in the Moti Mahal. So, on the next day, a detachment of the 5th Fusiliers and Brasyer's Sikhs was sent to reinforce them and help them to withdraw to the Residency. Although the Sikhs and Fusiliers fought their way through and drove the enemy back from the buildings and gardens adjacent to the Mod Mahal, the enemy fire from the Kaiserbagh was found to be too heavy to admit of the rearguard convoy being moved back. Further reinforcements from the 78th Highlanders were then sent forward and the rearguard was safely withdrawn to the Residency after dark.
After arriving in the Residency area Sir James Outram took over, from General Havelock, the command of the British forces. Although the rebels had been outwitted, they had not been decisively defeated and still occupied the city in great strength. It was found to be quite impracticable to carry out the original intention of withdrawing the besieged people in the Residency and all the relieving force could do was to aid its defences. Although this was not really a relief of the Residency, it was a very gallant rescue from a situation of the gravest peril. There were now 2,000 additional troops, so there was no longer an imminent danger of the garrison being overwhelmed. However, the Residency was besieged as closely as ever, and Sir James Outram had to stand on the defensive and await relief in his turn.
With the increased number of troops in the Residency positions had to be enlarged and so for the next few days several sorties were made to improve the position. The Regiment of Ferozepore was in General Havelock's sector and took part in the sorties along the eastern face of the Residency to clear the enemy from the gardens and houses up to the Chata Manzil. These sorties were entirely successful and improved the defences of the Residency. Lieutenant Cross, of the Ferozepore Sikhs, was wounded in one of these sorties, but otherwise the Regiment suffered very few casualties.
On account of the Sikhs' good service, General Havelock promoted each man to a grade higher in rank, and all subadars were granted the 1st Class Indian Order of Merit.
For the next two months Brasyer's Sikhs were put in charge of the Bailey guard, one of the most important positions in the Residency, and they also held the defences on the right of General Havelock's sector bordering the Pyne Bagh. Outram's force was given no rest by the enemy and it had always to be on the alert. Duties were constant and arduous, while rations were scanty throughout the siege. On one occasion, when the enemy blew a breach in the defences, a detachment of the Ferozepore Sikhs checked a large force of the enemy who stormed the breach, and gave the garrison time to form and repulse the enemy. Jemadar Gowahir Shah was in command of the guard and was awarded the Indian Order of Merit for his gallant conduct.
At last, on the 17th of November, a relieving force under General Sir Colin Campbell, Commander-in-Chief in India, arrived at Lucknow. The situation at Cawnpore, however, had again become: critical and General Campbell had to return there as quickly as possible. He therefore decided to evacuate the Residency and return to deal with the rebels at Lucknow at a later date. On the night of the 22nd November all the British forces were withdrawn successfully from the Residency together with all the women, children and wounded. The enemy were taken completely by surprise by this operation, which had been carefully planned and boldly executed.
General Outram was left with a force of some four thousand men to hold Alambagh and contain the enemy at Lucknow. The Ferozepore Regiment was included in General Outram's force and held defensive works at Alambagh for three months. Duties were very arduous on account of the large perimeter to be held. while the enemy kept in constant touch and there were almost daily skirmishes and minor encounters. The enemy delivered a number of attacks, but these were all beaten off with losses to the rebels.
On the 22nd of December General Outram took the offensive and threw back a large enemy force which had attempted to sever his communications to Cawnpore. Reporting on this action, Outram wrote
" The gallant way in which, with a, cheer, the 78th and the Regiment of Ferozepore, led by their commanders, dashed at a strong position held by the enemy (30,000 men and 6 heavy guns), excited much admiration."
On another occasion a most determined attack was made by the enemy on the defences held by the Ferozepore Regiment. Before dashing off to counter-attack the enemy Captain Brasyer sent the following message, scribbled on an envelope, to General Outram : "General, the enemy is in force on our right picket; I am off." This action was completely successful and five thousand of the enemy were driven off. Later General Outram told Brasyer that his scribbled report satisfied him more than all the documents tied with red tape he had ever received. Forrest, in his book, wrote
" Full justice was not done by Sir Colin Campbell or the Chief-of-Staff to Outram's defence of Alambagh, which must be viewed as a fine example of courage and good conduct, and will always stand out as a glorious episode in the annals of the Indian Mutiny."
CAPTURE OF LUCKNOW
At the beginning of March, 1858, Sir Colin Campbell, with a large, well equipped force, joined General Outram at Alambagh and started methodical operations against the rebels at Lucknow,, The enemy were holding three lines of defences north of the city covering the Kaiserbagh, their citadel. These had been strengthened since the relief of the Residency, and houses were now fortified and roads barricaded.
Sir Colin's plan was to send General Outram with his division north of the River Gumti to turn the rebels' position, while his main force attacked the Kaiserbagh from Dilkusha Park.
For a few days the Ferozepore Regiment, now only three hundred and twenty strong, protected the Commander-in-Chief's camp, but it was soon in action against the enemy and took part in the operations to force back the rebels from their first line of defences along the canal. By the 13th of March the British had reached the Little Emambarra, which was held in strength and had to be captured. On the 14th of March one hundred men of the Ferozepore Regiment, under Captain da Costa, with two companies of the 10th Foot, assaulted breaches in the walls of the Little Emambarra, while Captain Brasyer and a hundred more Sikhs assaulted some houses to a flank. Since he had no other British combatant officer available, Captain Brasyer placed the Colours with an escort in charge of the medical officer, Surgeon J. Browne, and ordered him to keep close to him. These orders were faithfully carried out.
Brasyer's party captured and set fire to the houses on the flank and then, climbing 'up on to some flat roofs, set out towards the Little Emambarra itself. It arrived just as the assault was launched. This diversion enabled the storming troops to advance with unexpected ease. They soon captured the Emambarra, and the Colours of the Ferozepore Regiment were planted over the gateway. The day's objective had been captured, but the Sikhs were eager to follow up their success and Captain Brasyer described the next phase of the battle as follows
" The men were excited and eager to go on. Without orders, my Seikhs like monkeys climbed a wall and opened a large gate which gave outlet from the smaller Emambarra, while I, with other officers, joined them. A rush such as nothing could stop followed. The General (Franks) smiled as he cheered my men, but issued no order. This acquiescence was enough, I knew what he wanted. My Seikhs like greyhounds let loose, passed into the street, deafening cheers encouraged us, while the General and his staff followed in support. We rushed onwards, cleared 40 guns in battery en route, driving all before us. Pickaxe and shovel were next at work, and soon a breach was opened in an outer wall."
The Sikhs and the 90th Light Infantry, led by Captains Brasyer and Havelock(Son of General Havelock.), rushed forward and fought their way into an enclosure adjoining the Kaiserbagh under terrible fire. Havelock ran back for reinforcements, and a party of the 10th Foot advanced and captured a small bazaar in rear of the Tara Kothi and mess-house, which were held by some six thousand rebels. This bold move completely surprised the enemy, who made as though they would rush Brasyer's party and force their way out into the city. However, Havelock, seeing the danger, dashed forward with a party of Sikhs and captured two bastions in the last line of defences, turned the guns on to the rebels and drove them towards the Chatar Manzil. Reinforcements followed up quickly and before long the whole of Kaiserbagh was in British hands. Meanwhile, Brasyer had dashed into the centre of the palace, climbed on the top and pushed the Queen's Colour through a gunshot hole in the highest dome, as a signal that the citadel had been captured. The Ferozepore Regiment suffered heavy casualties in this battle and Captain da Costa was among those killed.
General Franks, in his report of that day, wrote
" No words of mine could give due credit to Major Brasyer's courageous conduct. Ever to the front, he was to be seen courageously leading his men wherever the enemy were to be found."
On the 16th of March Brasyer's Sikhs formed part of General Outram's force which captured the Residency and the iron bridge. Major Brasyer was seriously wounded in these operations, but refused to relinquish command of his Sikhs and had to be carried on a litter at the head of the Battalion for several days.
The rebels had been completely defeated in these battles and Lucknow was once again safely in British hands.
After the capture of Lucknow the Ferozepore Regiment joined the Oudh Field Force and took part in a number of minor encounters in rounding up parties of rebels and pacifying the countryside. During this period Lieutenant Montague, with the Allahabad detachment, arrived back in the Battalion.
Operations came to an end in June, 1859, and the Regiment marched to Ferozepore, its home station. Brasyer wrote
" The remnant of the gallant four hundred marched into Ferozepore on the 7th September, with drums and fifes playing, and colours all tattered and torn, after an arduous campaign of two years and four months, and thirteen years of faithful service under the British Government."
For its service in the Indian Mutiny the Regiment was allowed to bear on its Colours the inscription "Lucknow, Defence and Capture," while as a special mark of distinction for its outstanding conduct the Governor-General issued orders that the men of the Regiment of Ferozepore were permitted to wear red safas (turbans), like those in which they had fought, instead of native infantry caps-a privilege of which the Regiment still avails itself on ceremonial parades.
The staff of one of the Colours was broken by a bullet at the relief of Lucknow and was mended with a plain brass ring. This staff still carries the Regimental Colour today, although the actual Colour has been renewed on two occasions since that time.
Only five British officers served with the Ferozepore Regiment during the Mutiny: of these one was killed and three wounded. Brasyer commanded the Regiment throughout the Mutiny, starting as a lieutenant and ending up as a lieutenant-colonel.
Source:The Sikh Regiment - Lieutenant-Colonel P.G. Bamford, D.S.O