Page images
PDF
EPUB

1952.) FIRST ORGANIZATION OF NATIVE TROOPS. 33 nephew. The English appointed Major Lawrence to oppose him, and this officer gained a complete victory near Buhoor, a place in the vicinity of Fort St. David. After this action, Clive hastened to reduce the fortress of Covelong, where the French garrison possessed thirty pieces of cannon and numbered about 350 men. The soldiers of Clive, or at least the European portion of them, consisted of new recruits recently arrived from London, of the lowest moral character, and most unsoldierlike in their habits. The first discharge of musketry made these unfledged heroes betake themselves to a precipitate flight; they trembled at the noise of their own guns, and during a panic one of the number concealed himself for two days in a deep well. Any other officer might have despaired of ever being able to effect anything with such defective instruments, but Clive at length succeeded in bringing them into excellent order. Under his directions they reduced successively the strong fortresses of Covelong and Chingleput, and having thus terminated the campaign favourably, the unwearied officer and his new-made warriors returned in triumph to Madras. The exertions and fatigues, however, which Clive had undergone, completely prostrated even his robust frame; he found himself compelled to quit the country for a while, and the absence of one so talented and energetic was speedily noticed and deplored by those whom he left behind.

The employment of native troops by the French and English first became general during the recent campaigns. The term sipahi, a Persian word signifying a soldier, and since corrupted into sepoy, was used to designate these levies which were drilled and organized by European officers in the European manner. Experience soon showed that, when led by good officers, the native troops rapidly mastered the discipline and necessary evolutions, nor on any occasion have they proved themselves inferior in the field to their European comrades.

D

CHAPTER III.

CAPTURE OF GHERIAH-AFFAIRS OF BENGAL—THE BLACK HOLE

BATTLE OF PLASSEY-MEER JAFFIER.

1753–1757.

DUPLEIX and his able subordinate, M. Bussy, who still maintained his position at Hyderabad, endeavoured by intriguing with the native princes to regain once more the supremacy of the French in India. The Nizam Salabut Jung, alarmed at an inroad of the Mahrattas, purchased the assistance of Bussy by the cession of five provinces called the Northern Circars. This accession of territory would have added greatly to the power of Dupleix, but that restless schemer was doomed to experience in his own person the same reverses which his. intrigues had brought upon the brave though unfortunate Labourdonnais. Recalled by the French East India Company, the proud and hitherto prosperous Viceroy discovered that neither his wealth nor his ser-, vices availed to protect him from the persecutions of his enemies. No attention was paid to his projects; his plans were laid aside as chimerical ; while his successor, M. Godheu, received orders to conclude immediately a peace with the English.

Before, however, these events took place, the Court of Directors, alarmed at the preponderance of French influence in the Deccan, had accepted an offer made by Clive to return once more to the scene of his former triumphs. A series of untoward events in his English career, and perhaps the natural craving for excitement which distinguished his character, and which only the vicissitudes of warfare could fully satisfy, prompted him

1756.)
REDUCTION OF GHERIAH,

35 to seek again for military employment. That he might go out with some distinction he was created a lieutenantcolonel in the Royal service; three companies of artillery, together with 300 European soldiers, being placed under his command. In conformity with his instructions, he proceeded to Bombay, but on his arrival he learned that by a convention ratified on the 26th December, 1754, peace had been concluded between the French and English, the former of whom agreed not to interfere hereafter with the native princes, and promised that Mohammed Ali should enjoy undisturbed the government of the Carnatic.

The termination of the war between the two European powers on the continent of India obliged Clive to change his plans, but notwithstanding the altered state of circumstances he did not long remain inactive. The fortress and town of Gheriah had for some time been occupied by a Mahratta race called Angria, who by their numerous piracies made themselves the terror of the Malabar eoast. They attacked indiscriminately the tradingvessels belonging to all nations, and, like the Algerines of old, frequently landed on the coasts, burning the towns and villages, and returning to their ships laden with the plundered property of the unfortunate inhabitants.

In order to extirpate these rovers, an expedition was fitted out by the government of Bombay, the naval forces of which were under Admiral Watson, while Clive commanded the land troops. The Peishwa of the Mahrattas also placed a contingent of natives at the disposal of the English; but they rendered no essential service, having only accompanied the expedition with the intention of plundering either of the contending parties who might be overcome. Very little effectual resistance was offered ; the pirate leader fled to the Mahratta camp, and his fortress and town were razed to the ground. Having accomplished this task, Clive, who had been appointed in England governor of Fort St. David, hastened to his charge, and commenced the functions attached to it on the 20th of June, 1756. That very day news arrived of the capture of Calcutta, which led to the loss of the British settlements in the north, respecting which we must here say a few words.

In the month of April, 1756, Suraj-ood-Dowlah succeeded his grandfather Aliverdy Khan, as Nabob of Bengal, Bahar and Orissa. These provinces constituted one of the most fertile and flourishing viceroyalties of the Mogul empire, and conferred upon their ruler a degree of influence that rendered him virtually independent of the feeble sovereign, to whom he condescended to acknowledge a nominal allegiance. During the reign of William III., the English had erected on the Hooghly a fortress called after their sovereign's name, which at the period of the new Nabob's accession, they were anxious to strengthen as much as possible, rumours being afloat that a rupture with France was impending. Suraj-ood-Dowlah, hearing of their proceedings, despatched a haughty message, requiring that the works should immediately cease, and soon after claimed a fugitive, whom he asserted the English had harboured and concealed. But the Nabob's real object was soon made manifest. His cupidity had been awakened by reports of the wealth treasured up within the walls of Calcutta, nor was the prowess of the English in the north calculated to inspire the weak tyrant with alarm. Hitherto, the agents of the Company in Bengal confined themselves to the peaceful avocations of commerce; their respect for the native powers was unbounded, nor had the genius of a Lawrence or the successes of a Clive, taught them practically the weakness of even the most numerous Indian army when confronted by a few disciplined Europeans or sepoys.

Refusing to listen to the excuses of the English, Suraj-ood-Dowlah assembled his forces, possessed himself without difficulty of the small fort of Cossimbazaar,

1756.]

CAPTURE OF CALCUTTA.

37

and then marched direct to Calcutta. The garrison of the latter place was weak and worthless, the majority being undisciplined natives, Portuguese, and Americans, who had never seen action, and felt little or no interest in the cause for which they were engaged. Notwithstanding a spirited sortie made by a young ensign, in which with a handful of men he compelled the enemy to give ground, the authorities, both military and civil, seem to have given themselves over to despair at the first sight of the Nabob's troops.

A resolution was hastily agreed upon, to the effect that the town should be abandoned, but the chiefs took no measures to ensure an orderly removal of the inhabitants from the scene of danger, or to hold the besiegers at bay until a safe retreat could be effected. A mixed multitude of men, women, and children, Portuguese, natives, and Europeans, rushed to the water edge, screaming, shouting, and imploring the native boatmen to carry them off to the ships which lay within sight of the fort. Mr. Drake, the governor, was among the first who embarked, the two principal military officers followed his example, leaving on the beach, Mr. Holwell, 190 men, and one woman, who, notwithstanding all their efforts, had been unable to procure a boat. The only resource left to these unfortunate persons, was a negotiation with the Nabob, whose forces were now approaching the walls from every quarter. The native commander consented to a parley, but ordered his troops in the meantime to scale the defences. The bewildered garrison, without a leader of sufficient authority or experience to direct them, were unable to offer much effective resistance; a body of the Nabob's followers forced their

way through the water gate, and thus succeeded in capturing the fort.

After interrogating his captives, Suraj-ood-Dowlah committed them to the care of a guard, who probably without orders, thrust them into an ill-ventilated room, of twenty feet square, formerly used as a prison, and

« PreviousContinue »