Lord Elphinstone arranged to despatch to Calcutta the 64th and 78th regiments, then on their way from Persia. He telegraphed to Frere, Commissioner of Sind, to send the 1st Bombay Fusiliers from Karachi to Punjab. He also urged General Ashburnham to proceed to Calcutta to place at the disposal of Lord Canning the troops proceeding to China. Elphinstone chartered steamers, and also wrote for troops to Mauritius and to the Cape. He entrusted the care of Bombay to the wise supervision of Forjett. He formed a moveable column with the object of saving the line of the Narbada (present day Narmada River) and of relieving Central India.
In his own Presidency, Lord Elphinstone had the need for exercising the greatest prudence. The nobles and landowners of the districts known as the Southern Maratha country had been alienated by the action of the Inam Commission. The Southern Maratha country comprised the territories of Belgaon, Jamkhandi, Kolapur, Miraj, Mudhal, Dharwar, Sangli and Satarah. It was a commission instituted to search out titles to property obtained during the decadence of the Mughal Empire. In these districts Lord Elphinstone was represented by a very able member of the Civil Service, George Berkeley Seton-Karr. His task was a difficult one for treason was the order of the day. The sipahis (soldiers) of the regiments in the Maratha country, mostly Oudh men, were displaying symptoms akin to those which had been so largely manifested in the Bengal Presidency.
However, considering the means at his disposal, Lord Elphinstone performed wonders. In June he arrested an emissary from the rebels in the North-western Provinces. Having, in July, obtained from the Governor enlarged powers, he prevented an outbreak in Belgaon. He despatched from that station the two companies of the 29th N.I., whose presence there might have been fatal. Finding, then, that the conspiracy had its branches all over the province, he gradually disarmed the districts under his charge. Amid thousand difficulties Elphinstone finally succeeded in preserving law and order.
Even so late as April 1858, he recognised that the fire was still smouldering and was forced to apply for increased powers. But the Bombay Government acted quite contrary to expectations. Instead of granting to the official the powers he asked for it relieved him of his political functions while maintaining Lord Elphinstone in his civil duties as administrator. The government bestowed the political powers upon a gentleman who had been a member of the detested Inam Commission, Charles Manson. Almost immediately followed the rebellion of the Chief of Nargund, the murder of Manson, the despatch to the districts of troops, under Colonel George Malcolm and Brigadier Le-Grand Jacob and finally the suppression of the rebellion in the August following.
In Bombay itself the danger had been no slight one. Luckily, the arrangements for the maintenance of internal order had been entrusted to the competent hands of Charles Forjett, Superintendent of Police. That most able and energetic officer detected the conspiring of the sipahis stationed there. He brought it home to some of the sipahi (soldier) officers, theretofore unbelieving, that his suspicions had been well-founded. Forjett prevented by his daring courage, an outbreak when it was on the point of explosion and literally saved the island.
Among the earlier acts of Lord Elphinstone was the despatch in the direction of Central India, of a column composed of the troops then available. The troops marched from Puna (present day Pune, Maharashtra) on the 8th of June under the command of Major-General Woodburn, whose orders were to proceed to Mau. Woodburn reached Aurangabad on the 23rd of June and disarmed there a cavalry regiment of the Haidarabad contingent which had mutinied. In the proceeding, he lost much precious time by halting to try the prisoners he had taken. Fortunately sickness compelled him to resign his command. His successor, Colonel C. S. Stuart of the Bombay army, a very capable officer, quitted Aurangabad the 12th of July, and reached Asirgarh the 22nd. There Stuart was met by Colonel Durand, who had hurried westward to meet his column. From Asirgarh, Stuart marched to Mau and then proceeded to recover Gujri. His other tasks included protecting Mandlesar, bombarding and capturing the fort of Dhar, dispersing the rebels who had advanced from Nimach, crushing the rebellion in Malwa, and re-entering Indore in triumph on 14th December. On the 17th, Sir Hugh Rose arrived to take the command of the force which was to reconquer Central India.
Sir Hugh Rose was eminently qualified for the task committed to him. He was a diplomat as well as a soldier. He found himself now in command of two brigades. The first, composed of a squadron of the 14th Light Dragoons, a troop of the 3rd Bombay Cavalry (native), two cavalry regiments of the Haidarabad contingent, two companies of the 86th foot, the 25th Bombay N. I., an infantry regiment of the Haidarabad contingent, three light field-batteries and some sappers, commanded by Brigadier Stuart. The second, consisting of the headquarters of the 14th Light Dragoons, the headquarters of the 3rd Bombay Cavalry, a regiment of cavalry of the Haidarabad contingent, the 3rd Bombay Europeans, the 24th Bombay N. I., an infantry regiment of the Haidarabad contingent, a proportion of field-artillery, and a siege-train. Troops from Bhopal, to the number of 800, also formed a part of the force.
Sir Hugh marched with the second brigade from Sihor, on the 16th of January, for Rahatgarh. His brigade was the first, which set out from Mau on the 10th, marching in a parallel line to it in the direction of Gunah. Sir Hugh invested Rahatgarh on 24th January and took possession of the town on the 26th. He defeated the rebel Raja of Banpur, who had advanced to relieve the fortress on the 27th, and found the place evacuated on the morning of the 28th. Having discovered, two days later, that the same rebel Raja was posted with his forces, near the village of Barodia, fifteen miles distant, Hugh marched against and completely defeated him.
Sir Hugh then pushed towards Sagar, which had been held for more than six months and reached it on the 3rd of February. He then marched on the 9th, after pacifying the surrounding country, against the strong fortress of Garhakota, twenty-five miles distant. Hugh compelled the rebels to evacuate it, pursued them and cut them up. He waited there until he heard that a column which, under the orders of Brigadier Whitlock, should have quitted Jabalpur. Meanwhile, he gathered supplies for his campaign. He then marched on the 26th of February for Jhansi. On his way Sir Hugh inflicted a crushing defeat on the rebels at Madanpur, despite a most determined resistance. This defeat so overwhelmed them that they evacuated, without resistance, the formidable pass of Malthon, the forts of Narhat, Surahi, Maraura, Banpur and Tal-Bahat. The rebels also abandoned the line of the Bina and the Betwa River, retaining only, on the left bank of the latter, the fortress of Chanderi.
Meanwhile, Brigadier Stuart, with the first brigade, had quitted Mau on the 10th of January, and marched upon Gunah. The road to Gunah had been cleared in a most gallant and effective manner by a detachment of the Haidarabad contingent, directed by Captains Orr and Keatinge. The fort of Chanderi lies approximately seventy miles to the east of Gunah. The town and the fort have alike been famous since the time of Akbar. Against it Stuart marched from Gunah and on the 5th of March, reached Khukwasa, six miles from it. Stuart camped to the west of the fort. The next few days he spent in clearing the surrounding country and in placing his guns in position. On the 13th, his batteries opened fire, and on the 16th managed to breach the defences of his enemies.
On that date, the bulk of the 86th regiment was still twenty-eight miles from him. Stuart sent to the commanding officer an express informing him of the situation. The express reached the 86th just as they had completed a march of thirteen miles. Nevertheless, they at once set out again and marching quickly, reached Stuart by ten o'clock on the 16th of March. Early the next morning Stuart stormed the fort of Chanderi, with the loss of twenty-nine men, two of whom were officers. He then pressed on to join Sir Hugh Rose before Jhansi.
Sir Hugh had reached Chanchanpur, fourteen miles from Jhansi, when he received a despatch from the Commander-in-Chief directing him to march against the fort of Charkhari, some eighty miles from the spot where he stood. The Agent to the Governor-General, Sir Robert Hamilton, who accompanied Sir Hugh, received from Lord Canning a despatch cast in similar terms. To obey would be to commit an act of folly scarcely conceivable. Jhansi was the objective point of the campaign-the seat of the rebellion-and Jhansi was within fourteen miles. Sir Robert Hamilton thought that to leave the objective point, when so close to it, in order to attack a distant fortress, would be an act extremely devoid of common sense. Sir Robert Hamilton, then, courageously resolved to give Sir Hugh the means by which he could dodge obedience to the order, positive though it was. He wrote, accordingly, to Lord Canning, stating that he had taken upon himself the entire responsibility of directing, as Governor-General's Agent, Sir Hugh Rose to proceed with his operations against Jhansi.
Fortified by this order, Sir Hugh set out for and reached Jhansi on the 21st of March. The strength of the fortress struck him as remarkable. Standing on an elevated rock, built of massive masonry, with guns peeping from every elevation, it commanded the country far and near. The city, from the centre of three sides of which the rock rises, the rock forming the fourth side, sheer and unassailable, was four and a half miles in circumference. It was surrounded by a massive wall, six to eight feet thick, varying in height from eighteen to thirty feet. The wall had numerous flanking bastions armed as batteries, and was garrisoned by 11,000 men.
Satisfied by a reconnaissance that it would be necessary to take the city before thinking of the fortress, Sir Hugh, joined the same night and on 24th March by his first brigade. He invested it on the night of 22nd. For the seventeen days which followed the defensive works rained without intermission shot and shell on the besieging force. Women and children of Jhansi were seen assisting in the repair of the havoc made in the defences by the fire of the besiegers. People were also seen carrying food and water to the soldiers on duty. By the 29th, a breach in the outer wall had been managed although the breach was barely practicable. On the evening of the 31stof March, information reached Sir Hugh that an army was advancing from the north, led by Tantya Topi, to the relief of the fortress.
Thus the British geared themselves up for more battle before their final reconquest of Central India.
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