Brasyer C.B., Colonel J
First to collect Sikhs into British Forces (1800’s)
Lieutenant-Colonel J. Brasyer, C.B.
At the close of the First Sikh War in 1846 it was decided to conciliate the men of the defeated “Khalsa Army” and to enlist Sikhs in the Honourable East India Company’s service. In April orders were issued to raise a Sikh irregular battalion, the Regiment of Ferozepore, for service with the Bengal Army of the East India Company.
A British officer, Ensign J. Brasyer, was lent to Sir Henry Laurence, Civil Commissioner of the Punjab, to assist in fostering friendship with the Sikhs and in obtaining Sikh recruits. Ensign Brasyer was thirty-six years old. He had enlisted as a private in the artillery of the East India Company and later was promoted to quartermaster-sergeant of the 26th Bengal Native Infantry. He fought with this regiment throughout the First Afghan War and First Sikh War and had been promoted to commissioned rank for gallantry and distinguished service in the field. He understood Indians, knew their customs and spoke Punjabi. It was for this reason that his services were placed at the disposal of the civil authorities in the Punjab.
On arriving in Lahore, Ensign Brasyer was immediately sent to tour the villages south of the Sutlej river in the districts known as the Malwa country. He visited many villages, where he harangued the Sikhs in their own language and, collected all able men who were willing to serve as soldiers in the Company’s service. In less than two months Ensign Brasyer had collected four hundred men, many of whom had recently been fighting against the British. He brought them all to Ferozepore, where he handed them over to Captain Watt, who had been appointed to raise the Regiment of Ferozepore.
Ensign Brasyer claims to be the first to have collected Sikhs for the British forces and in his memoirs he writes
“Thus I had the honour of being myself the first to form the nucleus of that invaluable Seikh element of the Bengal Army, that has since served the British Government with so, much credit in every campaign since 1857.”
Captain Watt and his other British officers could not speak a word of Punjabi; so he applied for Ensign Brasyer to be posted to his regiment. However, Captain Watt died in May and Captain Tebbs took charge and became the first Commandant. By August the Regiment numbered eight hundred and was formed into ten companies. A large proportion of Indian officers and non-commissioned officers were transferred from other native infantry regiments to assist in raising the new regiment. These were mostly Rajputs from Oudh and were men who had been promoted for gallantry in action. In September the Rajput officers and non-commissioned officers returned to their original units, and men of the Regiment, chiefly those who had served in the old “Army of the Khalsa,” were promoted in their place.
Although the Regiment of Ferozepore was an irregular battalion, its uniform and head-dress were similar to those of regular units of the Bengal Army. The men wore a red tunic with yellow facings and the Governor-General insisted that the men should wear the caps worn by the rest of the native army. This is contrary to the Sikhs’ creed and the men were very opposed to wearing these regulation hats. However, Lieutenant Brasyer, who had undoubtedly gained the confidence of the Sikhs right from the beginning, persuaded them to adopt the hats, which they continued to wear until the Indian Mutiny in 1857.
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 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.”
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.
RELIEF AND DEFENCE OF LUCKNOW
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.
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.
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
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.
In 1959 Lieutenant-Colonel Brasyer retired and was succeeded by Captain Montague.
Source: The Sikh Regiment – Lieutenant-Colonel P.G. Bamford, D.S.O