Page images


323 anxious to penetrate some of the regions of Central Asia. The ingenuity and love of enterprise manifested by this young officer, procured him the patronage and support of the governor-general, who being himself a man of a large mind and expansive views, was always ready to recognise and reward merit and ability in whatever grade they might be found.

Having despatched Colonel Pottinger to the Ameers of Scinde, for the purpose of ascertaining their disposition respecting the proposed navigation of the Indus, Lord William Bentinck proceeded to Delhi, where the imprudent conduct of an English official called for immediate interference on the part of the supreme authority. The king had appealed to England against the decision of Lord Amherst inl 827, and entrusted Ram Mohun Roy, a learned andl istinguished Hindoo, with the delicate negotiation. Thiseffort of fallen royalty excited some attention, and produced in the minds of many an unfavourable impression with regard to the British authorities, which was much aggravated by the injudicious behaviour of the Resident at Delhi. That officer conducted himself with intolerable arrogance towards the inhabitants, beating and insulting them in the streets whenever they omitted to make obeisance to him. The king himself was finally obliged to protest against this insolence, and the governor-general at once removed the offender.

During the year 1831, some religious disturbances arose in the Baraset district, near Calcutta. A Mohammedan fanatic, named Meer Missr Ali, having collected a mob of ill disposed persons, belonging to the lowest class of the Mussulman, attacked the police, insulted the Hindoos, and created tumults throughout the province. To mark their contempt for the idolaters, they killed a cow, sprinkled the walls of a Hindoo temple with its blood, and murdered a Brahmin. A military force, however, being sent after them by the Government, the insurgents were defeated, and their leader slain.

The next year witnessed a war with Coorg, a small mountain territory adjoining the kingdom of Mysore, the Rajah of which proved himself a trustworthy ally to the English during the war with Tippoo. The son and successor of this sovereign had become notorious for tyranny and oppression, insomuch that his own sister, dreading violence at his hands, was obliged to take refuge with her husband in the territory of Mysore. He also intrigued against the English, and received with honour a fugitive chieftain who had escaped from Bangalore. The remonstrances of the Madras government were treated with disdain by the Rajah, his insolence and ingratitude occasioned the occupation of his kingdom, and the governor-general, finding that every male of the reigning family had been put to death, annexed the state of Coorg to the other dominions of the Company.

The retirement of Lord William Bentinck in 1835, called forth from all classes of the Anglo-Indian community the warmest expressions of respect and esteem. The principal natives also presented to his Lordship a valedictory address, in which they asserted that “The only unkind treatment they had ever received at his hands, was his present departure from a grateful and admiring people.” The promulgation, indeed, during his government of many useful and humane regulations, deeply affecting the welfare of the Hindoo population, together with his energetic and vigorous exertions to promote everywhere retrenchment and reform, gave to those addresses more reality and greater weight than similar compliments generally possess. Suttee had been abolished, education liberally patronised, and the pernicious practices of Thuggism and Dacoitry effectually checked. The state of the Company's revenues no longer created anxiety and alarm, although the reductions that had placed them once more on a satisfactory footing, were effected with difficulty, and occasioned much personal inconvenience to the governor-general.








It was perhaps to be expected that as the commercial advantages derived by the Company from their Indian settlements became more generally understood, the monopoly they possessed should draw forth from those who enjoyed none of its benefits, successive objections and attacks. The Directors in reply urged the necessary expenses of their establishment, and the frequent wars which they found themselves obliged to wage with native powers, as reasons for the continuance of the obnoxious privileges now almost annually called into question. Select Committees, appointed to examine the various points at issue, reported favourably of the success that had hitherto attended the prevailing system, but at length it was determined that the monopoly of the company should cease to exist, and they have therefore since 1833, entirely relinquished the character of a trading corporation. They retained, however, the patronage connected with the civil and military service of India, the greater part of which, however, by recent enactments, seems likely to be transferred into other hands.

Having thus briefly notified the final result of transactions carried on during the course of many years, and avoiding in this way the repetition of uninteresting details, unsuitable to a work of this nature, I shall proceed at once to narrate the origin and progress of the war in Afghanistan, a measure which excited considerable anxiety both at home and abroad, occasioned an almost unprecedented loss of life, and led finally to the temporary discomfiture of civilized troops by a treacherous and barbarous enemy.

The country commonly called Afghanistan, forms a portion of the extensive dominions, entitled by Orientals the Douranee empire. This territory comprised before the Mission of Sir John Malcolm, the provinces of Afghanistan, Cashmere, the Derajat, and part of Khorassan. The natural defences of the empire materially augmented its strength. To the north and east the Hindoo Koosh and other lofty mountain chains, varying in height from 10 to 20,000 feet, effectually secured the inhabitants from invasion, while towards the south and west, the River Indus and an extensive tract of sandy desert, placed numerous impediments in the way of an invader. The internal features of the country were of a no less repulsive character. Lofty mountains, long and intricate defiles, interspersed with sandy plains, over which death hovered in the blasts of the pestilential Simoom, constituted the leading outlines of a land, which seemed of all others, the least likely to awaken the lust of rule, or the cupidity of a conqueror.

The people inhabiting these unpromising regions possessed patriotism enough to value, and courage enough to defend them. A race of shepherds and soldiers, they considered the callings of civilized life beneath their attention, all trades in Afghanistan being carried on by the Hindoos, or Taujiks, while the natives of the soil wandered from pasture to pasture with their numerous flocks, or waged among themselves those petty contests and feuds which so constantly occur among nomad tribes. In many of their customs and superstitions, they resembled the Highlanders of Scotland. Like them, they were divided into clans, governed by chieftains, continually at feud with each other, and scarcely recog


327 nising the supreme authority of their nominal monarch The Highlander, while propitiating his foe, offered him his drawn sword, held by the point; the same custom is observed among the Afghans. Both believe in demons walking at noon and midnight, the barren desert and lonely heath; both sought for the secrets of futurity in the bladebone of a sheep held up to the light. Like the Afghan, the Highlander valued

his rude independence beyond the blessings of peace, and the charms of civilized existence, while war seemed to both an honourable pastime rather than a calamitous scourge.

According to travellers, the ordinary traditions prevalent among the Afghans, ascribe their origin to the Israelites of Palestine. Although this derivation has been considered somewhat doubtful, it is curious to find in the name of their chief town Cabool, a Hebrew appellation given by Hiram, King of Tyre, to twenty cities, with which Solomon had presented him.* It is not impossible, however, that as the word possesses not only a Hebrew, but also an Arabic root, it may have been derived from the Mohammedans of the west, at the period when the Afghans first embraced the religion of Islam. To that faith they still remain devotedly attached, although they seem comparatively void of that contempt and hatred of Christians which distinguishes their Persian neighbours. The possession of a written record in the Gospels, entitles the followers of the Messiah to a degree of consideration, sternly withheld from the idolatrous Hindoo. He is still looked upon as a blinded infidel, whose religion is blasphemy, and whom it is almost meritorious to destroy.

The early history of the Afghan race presents littlenovelty, and inspires scarcely any interest. Its pages only record the usual amount of slaughters, conspiracies, sanguinary wars, and intestine feuds, common to most Oriental annals, which disgust us by their barbarity

* 1 Kings ix. 13.

« PreviousContinue »