A GERMAN officer, and former aide-de-camp to Sir Charles Napier, Leopold von Orlich, has recently published a short—too short—pamphlet on the Indian crisis, under the title of "Sendschreiben an Lord W.," in which he gives us the result of his own experience with such admirable lucidity and modesty, that we cannot refrain from imparting the most salient portions to our readers, as a further contribution to the Indian literature of the hour. At first, Herr von Orlich felt a diffidence in writing on the subject, naturally assuming that England must contain a number of persons better instructed on the subject than himself; but when he saw the utter ignorance evinced not merely by continental writers (the only exceptions being the Augsburger Allgemeine and the Journal des Débats), but also views and opinions expressed by the English press, which evidenced a most perfect ignorance of the condition and government of India, he thought it his duty to impart to the public the result of his own experience.
Nearly universal, in the press as among educated persons, is the desire to utter the bitterest accusations against the British government. Much of this is the result of malice, more of ignorance. The British government is charged with being barbarous and defective, because such a fearful feeling of revenge against the English has burst forth. At one moment all the evil is attributed to the East India Company or the Board of Control; then to one or the other, governor-general or high official; then again to worn-out officers or useless civil servants. It would display a gross ignorance of the real condition of India to try and thrust the blame of this terrible catastrophe upon one portion exclusively. But I am not surprised at even the most senseless views and opinions, for when I returned from India I was startled at the ignorance Englishmen of all ranks displayed as to the history and administration of India. I was positively beshamed when a member of Parliament visited me one day to obtain some information respecting questions of the day relating to India, as the honourable member designed to bring them before the House.
According to our writer, the events in India emanated from the same sources as those from which the bitter experiences of the Crimea were produced. No one could make up his mind, or felt himself strong enough, to bring forward those reforms in the system of government which were absolutely necessary for the removal of the evils complained of. Even the Duke of Wellington was indisposed to such reforms, for he could not forget that with this army he had performed prodigies. Unfortunately, this great general and statesman forgot that the continental armies had introduced such reforms as had been proved advisable by the experience of the latest campaigns, and, again, that a great character and talent like that the Duke of Wellington possessed can lead even a defective army to victories. But such a military machine soon gets out of gear when the great leader is wanting, and must lead to such results as were seen in the Crimea, or have displayed themselves in India so recently. It would be premature, however, to ascribe such a military insurrection, which is unique in the history of standing armies, solely to neglect of this nature, for many other influences have also been at work, which we will proceed to analyse. [60/61]
There can be little doubt that the first warning was given by the unfortunate events in Cabul. The news that a British army had been cut off and its officers were prisoners in the hands of the Affghans, produced a great effect on the armies of the three presidencies. The thoughtful Indian, as well as many Sepoys, recognised that the Briton, so long fancied indomitable, had a vulnerable spot; and, although many glorious instances of devotion to their officers were displayed by the Sepoys, the nimbus with which England's power was invested in the minds of the Sepoys had received its first blow:
At the period of these events, Lord Ellenborough was sent as governor-general to India, and a happier choice could hardly have been made in those days. His firmness of character and impartiality, and his love for the soldiers, removed in great measure the gloomy feeling by which the troops were depressed. The officer, who believed himself placed under the civil servant, found in Lord Ellenbourough a protector and promoter of his interests, which was absolutely necessary at that period. The corps returning, crowned with victory, from Affghanistan, restored to the army its feeling of strength and victory.
Our author, on being appointed adjutant to Sir Charles Napier, proceeded to join him at Kurrachee, and arrived just before that rocket accident with which the hero's Memoirs have rendered us familiar. As the general was forced to keep his tent some days, the new adjutant had an excellent opportunity for conversation with him on many interesting topics connected with the army. Sir Charles complained bitterly of the luxury of the officers, and Von Orlich could well understand this when he heard from excellent authority that the political agent who accompanied Lord Keane to Affghanistan travelled with a train of eight hundred camels for his own exclusive baggage, among which was a pianoforte. Von Orlich himself saw a captain going up to join the reserve army at Ferozepore with two large waggons drawn by oxen and loaded with comforts, not to mention kids and sheep, and the camels to carry his tent.
After the war was over, the government sought to cut down expenses in every possible way, and thus the extra batta given the Bengal army was put down. The Sepoy loves money, is fond of saving and sending the money home; so, therefore, such a stoppage of his pay must create dissatisfaction. Difficulties were thrown in the way of invalids who wished to retire on their pensions, because the expenses on this account had risen to an extraordinary height. Through this, many an old soldier, quite unfit for service, was kept with the regiment, and ended his days there; and this, too, caused very general dissatisfaction.
Ancient Rome began her political power with the destruction of Veii and ended with the conquest of the Old World. England established a colony on the Hooghly, and was forced, through self-preservation, to conquer the whole of India. From the foundation of the East Indian power up to the latest period, every extension of territory has been effected against the will of the Company. The shameful government of most of the Indian princes, as well as the utter want of nationality, facilitated the occupation of each new kingdom. The policy of every state has something of self about it; the larger the state the more evident this egotism becomes, which has often been proved in the history of England's supremacy. After the destruction of the Mahratta Empire and the power of Tippoo Sahib, it became the policy of the East Indian [61/62] Company to watch over the independent kingdoms, and procure all possible influence over the princes and their ministers. Hence, great acts of injustice have been too often tolerated at the expense of the subjects of those countries. Thus, at the court of the Nizam of Hyberabad, there was not that counterpoise attempted against the villany and intrigues of the prince and his which a healthy policy required. In Oude, the king and court, which had degraded into a sink of iniquity, were protected from their own subjects, who had a right to claim British protection. The most powerful of these independent states were governed by Muhammadan princes.
In two sanguinary actions Sir Charles Napier destroyed the power of the Emirs. Soon afterwards, a misunderstanding broke out between the general and the Directors, and, taking a just view of the matter, the latter, probably, had reason to be dissatisfied with this conquest. But regarding the state of the case, Sir C. Napier could not have acted otherwise; for what would have become of the English army with a Punjab war, if the power of the Beloochee chiefs had not been previously broken? Nearly all the inhabitants of Seinde are Muhammadans, their Emirs, though not loved, maintained a patriarchal power over the people, and the last of these Emirs kindled the liveliest feelings of interest among the noblest Englishmen. Scarce had Seinde been subjugated and incorporated with the Indian Empire ere the power of Gwalior had to be overthrown. Almost simultaneously, however, a palace revolution at Lahore placed the Sikhs in a state of hostility. At this time, too, Lord Ellenborough quitted India, as he could not agree with the Court of Directors. Even at that period this celebrated statesman had perceived the necessity of removing the king and court of Delhi to Calcutta. The moment could not be more favourable, in January, 1843, for all the appliances were at hand; but the council feared an insurrection, and opposed the design.
In the mean while, precautions urged by his health had forced Sir Charles Napier to return to England. He had administered the government of Scinde with rare caution, and the new government had begun to be liked, cultivation was extending, and the inhabitants felt satisfied. I had the fortune to see the general repeatedly after his return to London; his remarks about the army and a system of administration, in which young civil servants commanded old experienced generals, left a gloomy impression upon me. "Events may happen which can overthrow everything; let us hope that the reforms will not be too late." Hardly a year had elapsed before Sir Charles was obliged to return to India against his will, to assume the duties of general-in-chief. Just after the battle of Meance, Sir Charles Napier wrote me that he was sixty-eight years old, much too old for his responsible position, and that it would be better to send him home, when he would go crawling and coughing to church every day. In this interesting letter the general expresses his views about the government of the English and of our army, and it is full of the most noble and patriotic feelings for his queen and country. Sir Charles Napier was, next to the Duke of Wellington, the greatest general of England. In his small body there was a rare mind, which recognised with a sharp glance the age and its faults, and peered into the future almost with a prophetic spirit. His firmness of character reminded me of the greatest heroes, and his compassionate heart was penetrated by the most beautiful Christian feelings. During the short period of his second stay he had effected miracles in raising the espirit de corps in the officers of the Bengal army; but his health failed him, and he was compelled to return home. It may be expected that Sir Charles brought to the knowledge of the Directors,[62/63] or the Board of Control, the defects of the army and how they could be removed; but, unfortunately, the Directors could not forgive the general the conquest of Scinde, and they never agreed. Thus, party spirit is often the cause in England that the most necessary reforms are neglected, and incompetent men summoned to the most important duties.
After five years' rule, Lord Hardinge handed over the reins of government to Lord Dalhousie. We can all remember what an immortal name Lord Hardinge left behind him. After nearly ten years' war came the fructifying blessings of peace. Lord Dalhousie's administration has been recently repeatedly attacked; but no one can deny hat many valuable improvements were by him, which will render his memory immortal. It was during his administration that Sir John Laurence converted the desert of the Punjab into a fruitful and flourishing country. It has, however, been asserted, that the law to resume those estates to which their owners could not prove a title has ruined many families, and caused great dissatisfaction.
It must not be forgotten that during these ten years the Anglo-British Empire had been marvellously increased by Scinde, the Punjab, and Moultan, and the kingdom of Oude. The army had been augmented by native troops, and the disbanded Sikh regiments had been taken into pay, with British officers at their head; but the European troops had remained in their original weakness. Even so far back as 1843, Von Orlich, being summoned before a council of war to give his opinion, had stated his regret that the English army was so small, and that double the number would scarce be sufficient. At the same time, he advised that the native regular cavalry should be gradually abolished, their place taken by irregular troops, and no natives be allowed to enter the artillery. Years of peace are always injurious to a great army, and have a most dangerous effect on discipline, in a climate like that of India. Of the then Indian armies, however, that of Bengal was most exposed to deletrious influences, because it contained a large number of high-caste soldiers, who had to be treated with a degree of indulgence incompatible with the necessary discipline. In the Bengal army the handsomest race of men might be found, and the Bengal Sepoy was truly a spoiled child.
After repeated attempts on the part of the East India Company to maintain the Kind of Oude in his position, the government found itself compelled, in the autumn of 1855, to remove the king from his capital, and take possession of his territories. In civilised Europe a man cannot form an idea of the tyranny, barbarity, and immorality of this king and his court. It was high time to put a stop to this conduct, for the intrigues and villanies of this abominable court might become extremely dangerous to the adjoining territories. The king, his family, ministers, and friends (for even bad kings have such), were detested in the country. Sir James Outram managed the deposition and occupation with all the caution and power peculiar to this distinguished diplomatist and statesman, and sent the king—whose forefathers had once been vassals of the Great Mogul, and had emancipated themselves—to Calcutta. According to an old custom, the enormous sum of £150,000 was given him as annual appanage. When Sir James Outram was called away to the Persian war, Sir Henry Lawrence took his place. This was the last act of Lord [63/64] Dalhousie as governor-general: worn out and exhausted by the fatigue and labour of his great and responsible position, that highly gifted statesman quitted India. His corporeal strength had almost yielded to anxiety and exertion.
The civil administration of India is the most suitable under existing circumstances. Any one who has had an opportunity to observe its working on the spot, must be filled with respect and admiration. I must confess, to my shame, that I gained the conviction that no nation has so peculiar a gift for colonisation as the British. In a country where intrigues, corruption, and untruth are the general rule among high and low, it must do the heart good to see how justice, and every possible regard for the religion, customs, and manners of the Indians, characterise the conduct of the civil servants. I am far from wishing to remark that this can be said of each civil servant in the fullest extent of the word; but it would be contrary to our imperfect human nature that, in a country larger than Europe, injustice, violence, and weakness, should not occur. But whenever such accounts reached my ears, they were mostly the acts of native civil servants. India is the country in which England has formed her greatest statesmen and generals; it is the school in which her youth form that character which, in the hour of danger, finds itself competent for the greatest deeds. The principal mistake committed in the last years, in the administrative system, was the desire for centralisation. Each centralisation bears in itself the germ of overthrow and destruction. The centralisation of a kingdom like India must take place only in the exterior policy—all the rest must be left to the various districts; and the more self-government is allowed, the more firmly will men be attached to the chain. England shows the blessings of such a system most satisfactorily, just as her neighbour does the consequences of an unfortunate system of centralisation.
In India, religion represents nationality. It has ever been the principle of the government not to attack this, or draw too near it in any way. Bot, on the establishment of this principle, it was forgotten that an indirect interference in the religion and religious customs of a pagan nation which is governed by another Christian and civilised, is inevitable. This has been proved by experience. Self-sacrifices, suttees, &c., must be put down. The Indian government has effected wonders during the last twenty years for education, but always with the precaution to leave the Christian doctrines and its truths, as offered to us by the Bible, unmentioned, and only to teach its morality. Hence it has come about that the youth have become either atheists, or fall back, a few years later, into the pagan system. Even the missionaries, who are allowed to propagate the Bible, have made but very slight progress Very few Hindoos have been converted: even the highly gifted Dwarkanauth Tagor, who passed the greater portion of his life among Christians, and only felt comfortable among Europeans, never became converted. On a visit to Rome, a priest tried to convert him to Catholicism, but the cunning Hindoo gave him the reply, "I see no advantage in changing my idol for yours," and turned his back on the priest.
From the moment when the Indian government determined on the idea of making the Indians susceptible of civilisation by means of education, Christianity should public have been laid as the basis. Too much indulgence and protection have been granted to the filthy idolatry of the Hindoos, and many dirty vagabonds who traversed the country as Fakirs were allowed to commit crimes unpunished. Without wishing to imperil their religion by any act of violence, it would have been the duty of the ruling power simply to tolerate it. [64/65] This timid caution about drawing too closely to the Indian religion did not escape the notice of many Hindoos, and the still more fanatic Mussulmans, and was evidently regarded as a sign of weaknes. In Indai, on an average, every twelfth inhabitant is a Mussulman. Still, they are not the same sort of men whom we find in Turkey and Arabia, who still believe partially in the lessons of the Koran, but a degenerate race, who are ignorant of the good laws of the Brahmins, but have appropriated all the idolatrous manners and immorality of the Hindoos. Their forefathers were converted violently and in masses by the Mongols. They have retained all the notions of caste; they consider it as a desecration to eat with Europeans, or even anything they have touched; they spurn the eaters of beef and pork, and feel a reverence for the cow. Thus, the cartridges with their animal fat must have been a horror to them; and we cannot feel surprised if their priests, an ignorant and fanatic race, fanned the flame of insurrection, and recalled the brilliancy of the old Mongolian Empire.
Another very awkward circumstance was a free press, by which poison was sown broadcast. The English papers provided the editors of the native papers the material, and thus increased the mischief. The free press in India was the unhappy notion of a man who gave this concession on his departure, after acting as a provisional governor-general—a present which raised a suspicion that he wished to make himself popular in that way. A free press in a subjugated country, where the numerous deposed princes have not only remained in constant connexion with the people, but also had enormous monetary resources at their command, and where the power of the executive is supported on the bayonets of native troops, was a theory which does not resemble the practical temper of the Briton. Hence it was a very necessary and commendable act to place the press under the censorship. At the present moment India requires a dictator. More than a million of money, the twenty-fifth part of the revenue of India, is in the hands of these princely pensioners. Nor must we forget the numerous schemes ever ready to hand among the natives to maintain communications to the furthest points of the country, and gain over the dissatisfied and the native press. The most powerful of these persons, and those whose memory is most closely connected with the nation and its history, were the Kings of Delhi, the King of Oude, the Nizam, and a few small Mahratta chiefs.
In the midst of this confusion and unexpected fermentation the war with Russia broke out. It must be within your memory that since 1825 Russia has been striving to gain political influence in Central Asia by means of secret agents. All efforts were then tried to gain over the court of Teheran, which was urged to occupy Herat, and we know how cleverly the Russian cabinet gained the best of the British envoy. Have not communications been kept up between Persia and these Indian princes? When we know that, until very recently, epistolary correspondence has been carried on between the King of Delhi and many of the Muhammadan princes in Central Asia, how passionately the Easterns are devoted to intrigue, and how they like to correspond, it would not be surprising if such a net had been spun. Was it not very natural that everything should be set in motion to seduce the armed force and get hold of the Bengal army? It appears that the papers, edited by Mussulmans, first brought up the cartridge question, which was greedily swallowed by the credulous Hindoo, and was propagated as a forced destruction of their faith. The weakness and errors of various military authorities and officials promoted the insurrection.
The first serious military outbreak took place in September, 1855, at Bolarum, in the Nizam's kingdom. Here Colonel Colin McKenzie com-[65/66]manded the southern division, and was killed during the Mohurrum, by some soldiers of the 3rd Cavalry regiment: at the same time, several other Englishmen and their wives were exposed to the insults of these drunken and fanatic horsemen.1 Here, then, was the commencement, in small, of the outrages which have since filled us with horror. This circumstance ought to have opened the eyes of the authorities, and at least 20,000 Europeans should have been sent at once, without delay, to India. But they preferred the idea that this was only an isolated instance, produced by the sternly Christian mode of the colonel. On this occasion, however, the Court of Directors opposed augmentation of European troops. They flattered themselves with the idea, that the Sepoys had on every occasion done their duty, and the native army was strong enough for all eventualities. In the autumn of last year, the first evidence of a disturbance among the Sepoys of the Bengal army became apparent. The authorities still regarded all these signs of a threatening storm as isolated symptoms. Nor could the English be led to believe that an entire army could become unfaithful—an army which had shared so many dangers with its officers, and was apparently devoted body and soul to them. Suddenly, however, a diabolical spirit penetrated the troops, like that which an Inquisition and fanatic monks brought into the world. Under the pretext that their religion was imperilled, fearful murders and brutalities with a fury and demoniac spirit, such as the book of history has never yet displayed in the life of humanity.
The Bengal army has ceased to exist. The mutineers cleverly selected the most favourable moment, the period of the hot winds and the monsoon that follows upon them, when the rain frequently pours down for days without interruption. With equal caution they selected Delhi as the basis of operations, where the largest military magazine in the Northern Provinces was collected so far back as 1842. Lord Ellenborough brought this danger under the notice of the Directors, and wished to select the citadel of Agra as a depot in preference. These magazines were entrusted to Sepoys alone, because the climate of Delhi was regarded as very dangerous to Europeans, and the government avoids, if possible, exposing troops to the seductions of a large city.
The insurrection has at length received a deadly blow in the fall of Delhi, and want of union among a set of ruffians, who all wish to be commanders, will be of great service to us. Our troops are now rapidly landing, and reinforcements can be sent up from Agra by two channels—either by land, viá Agra, or by water up the Indus—and they will, probably, arrive simultaneously with those from Calcutta. It is of the highest importance, too, that the provinces of Madras and Bombay should be kept tranquil, and the civil servants and authorities will have to be strictly on their guard, without, however, allowing any mistrust to be perceptible. In the Madras presidency the kingdom of the Nizam is a very dangerous neighbour. He is a Muhammadan; his followers are a wild and corrupt set, and he could easily lead 40,000 men into the field. His prime minister is devoted to the English, and we must hope [66/67] that he can retain his situation, and thus be of service to us. Another peril is, that the insurrection has assumed a somewhat communistic character. In the country and in the towns the proprietors are attacked by the vagabonds, and robbed of life and property. Bands have been formed, as in China, to devastate the country, murder, steal, and commit the most fearful atrocities. Naturally, in such a state of things, martial law will alone avail; the sword and the cord must extirpate the ruffians. When we reflect, too, that that thousands of Thugs and Dacoits have been liberated from prison, men who make a trade of murder and rapine, we must not feel surprised if no one is safe of his life. The feeling rife among the Sepoys that they are fighting with a rope round their neck, naturally renders them desperate. The insurrection can hardly be suppressed before the spring of next year. Then, however, will come the no less difficult task of purifying Bengal from murderers and robbers. Several years will elapse before the power of the English has been again so strongly impressed on the minds of the natives, and the law regained such authority that Englishmen can once more travel safely and unarmed through the country.
The course of events will exercise the greatest influence on the formation of the future Indian government. But it must be evident to every sensible Englishman that the double form of government can go on on longer. The book of history shows us the great deeds effected by the Court of Directors and the East India Company. It would be the height of ingratitude not to recognise this. But since the wings of the court have been so clipped that it has become a shadow, behind with the Board of Control acts, and the administrative authorities have been brought into such a position that one thrusts the responsibility of the bad on to the other, while all eagerly claim what is good as their own, it is better to place something perfectly new in its stead. India must be incorporated with Great Britain, and the Queen be the ruler. This will admirably suit the customs and mode of thought of the Indians. It is true that such an incorporation will throw into the hands of the home government such an increase of power as might eventually imperil the constitution of the country. The disposal of so many good appointments may become menacing to the independence of the Lower House. But ways and means may be discovered to meet these dangers, and it must not be forgotten that public opinion has in England become such a power that no government dare neglect its warnings, for fear of losing the confidence of the nation.
It is also evident that the European army must become the actual support of the executive, and one hundred thousand men will scarcely be sufficient. On the other hand, the Sepoy army must be gradually reduced, and only so many kept on service as may be required to do the hard work for the European soldier. The Court of Directors opposed the increase of European troops in consequence of the expense and high rate of mortality; but, as regards the latter, it may be rendered less dangerous by paying greater attention to the clothing and maintenance of the private. So soon as infectious diseases break out at any place, a speedy change of garrison for a short period will frequently suffice to check them. Then, too, all possible pains should be taken to explain to [67/68] the soldier what risks he runs by an irregular course of life, or by immoderate drinking. In such a case, the officer who personally interests himself for his men can effect wonders, as was proved in the Crimean campaign, when the sanitary condition of those regiments was most satisfactory in which the officers devoted themselves to their men. It will also be advisable to establish an état-major, that the officers may not be taken from their regiments for staff appointments. At the same time, India must be regularly fortified, and harbours formed like those at Kurrachee, Madras, and in the Hooghly, where a fleet of vessels of war can be stationed. As regards the pensioned native princes, the conqueror has perfect right to dispose of the persons and property of those who have been connected with the mutineers. Not only should their pensions be reduced to a minimum, but they, with their wives and families, should be deported to another colony. In conclusion, let our author speak in his own words:
England's power has developed itself as the greatest and most influential in the world. When moments arrive at which violent occurrences threaten its foundations, voices are heard, which announce the evidences of its fall. Purity of morals alone keeps up the power of a great empire, and so long as in England those virtues which distinguish a truly Christian nation are more highly esteemed than the treasures and honours of this world, there is no peril for England. Every great kingdom falls through itself, for it bears the germ of its overthrow in itself; and when this internal degeneracy flows through the life-veins of a nation, then external events will accelerate its overthrow. Such occurrences as the war in the Crimea and the military revolution in India give a great nation an opportunity to learn its strength, its weakness, and its foes. Such sufferings were required to produce reforms which could not be obtained in the common course of things. Any one who has carefully examined the history of human development during the last three centuries must have gained the conviction that the English and German nations are the pillars on which civilisation and Christianity are supported. The English nation, owing to its position and remarkable extension over the earth, and its free constitution, is peculiarly summoned to effect this; but it can only complete the task by a close alliance with Germany.
The British nation is evidently designed, under Providence, to disseminate Christianity through Asia, and that civilisation which renders men free, happy, and satisfied. Under this idea must reconquered India be entered, for our age, as it hurries along by means of steam and electricity, will, among nations, preform the duties of missionaries.
Last modified 6 April 2010