The Indian Insurrection (1857)
|Written||29 August 1857|
London, Aug. 14, 1857
When the Indian news, conveyed by the Trieste telegraph on the 30th of July, and by the Indian mail on the 1st of August, first arrived, we showed at once, from their contents and their dates, that the capture of Delhi was a miserable hoax, and a very inferior imitation of the never-to-be-forgotten fall of Sevastopol. Yet such is the unfathomable depth of John Bull’s gullibility, that his ministers, his stock-jobbers and his press had, in fact, contrived to persuade him that the very news which laid bare General Barnard’s merely defensive position contained evidence of the complete extermination of his enemies. From day to day this hallucination grew stronger, till it assumed at last such consistency as to induce even a veteran hand at similar matters, General Sir de Lacy Evans, to proclaim on the night of the 12th of August, amid the cheering echoes of the House of Commons, his belief in the truth of the rumor of the capture of Delhi. After this ridiculous exhibition, however, the bubble was ripe for bursting, and the following day, the 13th of August, brought successive telegraphic dispatches from Trieste and Marseilles, anticipating the Indian mails, and leaving no doubt as to the fact that on the 27th of June Delhi still stood where it had stood before, and that General Barnard, still confined to the defensive, but harassed by frequent furious sorties of the besieged, was very glad to have been able to hold his ground to that time.
In our opinion the next mail is likely to impart the news of the retreat of the English army, or at least facts foreshadowing such a retrograde movement. It is certain that the extent of the walls of Delhi forbids the belief that the whole of them can be effectively manned, and, on the contrary,. invites to coups de main to be executed by concentration and surprise. But Gen. Barnard seems imbued with European notions of fortified towns and sieges and bombardments, rather than prone to those bold eccentricities by which Sir Charles Napier knew how to thunderstrike Asiatic minds. His forces are, indeed, said to have been increased to about 12,000 men, 7,000 Europeans and 5,000 “faithful natives”; but on the other hand, it is not denied that the rebels were daily receiving new reinforcements, so that we may fairly assume that the numerical disproportion between besiegers and besieged has remained the same. Moreover, the only point by the surprise of which General Barnard might insure certain success is the Mogul’s Palace, which occupies a commanding position, but the access to which from the river side must become impracticable from the effect of the rainy season, which will have set in, while an attack on the palace between the Cashmere gate and the river would inflict on the assailants the greatest risk in case of failure. Finally, the setting in of the rains is sure to make the securing of his line of communication and retreat the principal object of the General’s operations. In one word, we see no reason to believe that he, with his still inadequate forces, should venture upon risking, at the most impracticable period of the year, what he shrunk from undertaking at a more seasonable time. That in spite of the judicial blindness by which the London press contrives to fool itself, there are entertained serious misgivings in the highest quarters, may be seen from Lord Palmerston’s organ, The Morning Post The venal gentlemen of that paper inform us:
“We doubt whether even by the next mail after this, we shall hear of the capture of Delhi; but we do expect that, as soon as the troops now on their march to join the besiegers shall have arrived, with a sufficiency of large guns, [which it seems are still missing,] we shall receive intelligence of the fall of the stronghold of the rebels.”
It is evident that, by dint of weakness, vacillation, and direct blunders, the British generals have contrived to raise Delhi to the dignity of the political and military center of the Indian revolt. A retreat of the English army, after a prolonged siege, or a mere staying on the defensive, will be regarded as a positive defeat, and give the signal to a general outbreak. It would moreover expose the British troops to a fearful mortality, from which till now they have been protected by the great excitement inherent to a siege full of sorties, encounters, and a hope of soon wreaking a bloody vengeance on their enemies. As to the talk about the apathy of the Hindoos, or even their sympathy with British rule, it is all nonsense. The princes, like true Asiatics, are watching their opportunity. The people in the whole Presidency of Bengal, where not kept in check by a handful of Europeans, are enjoying a blessed anarchy; but there is nobody there against whom they could rise. It is a curious quid pro quo to expect an Indian revolt to assume the features of a European revolution.
In the Presidencies of Madras and Bombay, the army having not yet pronounced, the people of course do not stir. The Punjaub, at last, is to this moment the principal central station of the European forces, while its native army is disarmed. To rouse it, the neighboring semi-independent princes must throw their weight into the scale. But that such a ramification of conspiracy as exhibited by the Bengal army could not have been carried on on such an immense scale without the secret connivance and support of the natives, seems as certain as that the great difficulties the English meet with in obtaining supplies and transports – the principal cause of the slow concentration of their troops – do not witness to the good feelings of the peasantry.
The other news conveyed by the telegraphic dispatches are so far important as they show us the revolt rising on the extreme confines of the Punjaub, in Peshawur, and on the other hand striding in a southern direction from Delhi to the Presidency of Bombay, through the stations of Jhansi, Saugor, Indore, Mhow, till we arrive at last at Aurungabad, only 180 miles north-east of Bombay. With respect to Jhansi in Bundelcund, we may remark that it is fortified and may thus become another center of armed rebellion. On the other hand, it is stated that Gen. Van Cortlandt has defeated the mutineers at Sirsab, on his road from the north-west to join Gen. Barnard’s force before Delhi, from which he was still 170 miles distant. He had to pass by Jhansi, where he would again encounter the rebels. As to the preparations made by the Home Government, Lord Palmerston seems to think that the most circuitous line is the shortest, and consequently sends his troops round the Cape, instead of through Egypt. The fact that some thousand men destined for China have been intercepted at Ceylon and directed to Calcutta, where the Fifth Fusileers actually arrived on the 2d of July, has afforded him the occasion for breaking a bad joke on those of his obedient Commons who still dared doubt that his Chinese war was quite a “windfall.”