1775. The van of the Imperialists was commanded by Najaf Kuli. In the centre of the main line was the Mirza himself, with battalions of sepoys and artillery, under officers trained by the English in Bengal, on the two wings. In the rear was the Moghul cavalry. The enemy's regular infantry 5,000 strong, and led by Sumroo advanced to the attack, covered by clouds of Jat skirmishers, and supported by a heavy cannonade, to which the Mirza's artillery briskly replied, but from which he lost several of his best officers and himself received a wound. A momentary confusion ensued; but the Mirza, fervently invoking the God of Islam, presently charged the Jats at the head of the Moghul horse, who were, it will be remembered, his personal followers. Najaf Kuli, accompanied by the regular infantry, following at the double, the Jats were broken; and the resistance of Sumroo's battalions only sufficed to cover the rout of the rest of the army, and preserve some appearance of order as he too retreated, though in somewhat better order, towards Dig. An immense quantity of plunder fell into the hands of the victors, who soon reduced the open country, and closely invested the beaten army. Such, however, was the store of grain in the Fort of Dig, that the strictest blockade proved fruitless for a twelvemonth; nor was the Fort finally reduced till the end of March, 1776, when the garrison found means not improbably by connivance to escape to the neighbouring castle of Kumbhair with portable property on elephants. The rest of the Thakur's wealth was seized by the victors his silver plate, his stately equipages and paraphernalia, and his military chest, containing six lakhs of rupees which may perhaps be regarded as not very inferior, in relative value, to a quarter of a million sterling of our modern money.
In the midst of these successes, and whilst he was occupied in settling the conquered country, the Mirza received intelligence from Court that Zabita Khan, emboldened by his easy triumph over the Diwan, Majad-ud-daulah (Abdul Ahid Khan), had taken into his pay a large body of Sikhs, with whom he was about to march upon the metropolis.
The enterprising minister returned at once to Dehli, where he was received with high outward honour. He was, on this occasion, attended by the condottiere Sumroo, who, in his usual fashion, had transferred his battalions to the strongest side soon after the battle of Barsana. Sumroo's original patron, Mir Kasim, died about the same time, in the neighbourhood of Dehli, where he had settled, after years of skulking and misery, in the vain hope of obtaining employment in the Imperial service. The date of his death is given by Broome (Hist. of Beng. Army, p. 467) as 6th dune, 1777: it is added that his last shawl was sold to pay for a winding-sheet, and that his family were plundered of the last wreck of their possessions. But the detail of this year's events and their consequences requires a fresh chapter.
NOTEThe following is the text of the supplemental treaty of 1772, as given by Captain Hamilton. (The former portion having provided in general terms for an alliance, offensive and defensive.) "The Vuzeer of the Empire shall establish the Rohillas, obliging the Mahrattas to retire, either by peace or war. If at any time they shall enter the country, their expulsion is the business of the Vuzeer. The Rohilla Sirdars, in consequence of the above to agree to pay to the Vuzeer forty lakhs of rupees, in manner following viz., ten lakhs, in specie, and the remaining thirty lakhs in three years from the beginning of the year 1180 Fussulee." Only redundant or unimportant phrases have been omitted: there is not a word of payment to the Mahrattas. The contention that the Vazir of Oudh was only surety for the payment to the Mahrattas is not very pertinent. For the Mahrattas did not quit Rohilcand till the Vazir expelled them, and the money was not paid. But, as we have seen, the gloss is unsupported. Besides Hamilton, Tarikh-i-Mozafari and Francklin's "Shah Alum" have been the chief authorities for this chapter.
Vigour of Mirza Najaf Zabita rebels Emperor takes the Field, and the Rebellion is suppressed Sumroo's Jaigir Abdul Ahid takes the Field Unsuccessful Campaign against the Sikhs Dehli threatened, but relieved by Najaf Mirza's arrangements Popham takes Gwalior Begum Sumroo Death of Mirza Najaf Consequent Transactions Afrasyab Khan becomes Premier Mirza Shaffi returns to Dehli Is it Peace? Murder of Shaffi Action of Mr. Hastings Flight of Shahzada Madhoji Sindhia goes to Agra Afrasyab's Death Tribute claimed from British Death of Zabita Khan Sindhia supreme Chalisa famine State of Country General distress.
1776. THE splendid exertions of Mirza Najaf, though not yet at an end, might have been expected to give the Empire a breathing-time wherein to recover its strength. If we except the British in Bengal, it was now the most formidable military power on this side of India. No more than three fortified places remained to the Jats of all their once vast possessions. The Mahrattas had been occupied in the Deccan by the events that followed upon the death of their Peshwa, Madho Rao; and the whole of their forces were temporarily withdrawn during the course of the year, by order of his successor. Najaf held viceregal state at Agra, surrounded not only by his faithful Moghuls and Persians, but by two brigades of foot and artillery, under the command, respectively, of Sumroo and of Medoc. The Mirza's chief Asiatic subordinates were Najaf Kuli Khan his adopted son, the converted Hindu, otherwise Saif-ud-daulah; and Mohammad Beg of Hamadan: two officers of whom frequent mention will be found in the progress of this narrative. Mirza Shaffi, the minister's nephew, also held a high command. Shah Alam lived the life of ease which had become a second nature to him, at Dehli, surrounded by able servants of the Mirza's selection. One of these, indeed, soon obtained an apparent ascendancy over the indolent monarch, which was destined to afford another instance of the wisdom of that maxim invented of old in the East, "Put not your trust in Princes." The only enemy who could disturb the repose of what may be termed the Home Districts was Zabita Khan, who still exhibited all the faithlessness so common with his race, and a turbulent disposition peculiar to himself. Finding all present hope of aid from the Jats and Mahrattas at an end (and instigated, it was suspected, by his late unsuccessful opponent, the Financial Minister, Abdul Ahlid Khan), Zabita, as stated at the close of the preceding chapter, turned to the Sikhs: a people who, in the decay of the Empire, had established themselves in the Sirhind territory, notably in Pattiala, and in Jhind. These pushing warriors of whose prowess, both against and for the British, modern history tells so much gladly accepted the invitation of the Pathan insurgent, and, crossing the Jamna in considerable numbers, joined his force at Ghausgarh, the fort between Saharanpur and Muzafarnagar, of which mention has been already made. It is even stated by Francklin (though, as usual, without specification of authority) that the Pathan on this occasion embraced the religion of the Sikhs, a sort of eclectic Monotheism tinctured with Hindu doctrine.
1777. This conduct was justly regarded by the Mirza as a gross instance, not merely of disloyalty, but what in his eyes was even worse of impiety. In the opinion of a stern soldier of Islam, such as the Persian Prince had always shown himself to be, the act of joining with unbelievers was unpardonable. He therefore despatched a strong force against the combined rebels, under the command of an officer named Abdul Kasim Khan. Nothing daunted, the Confederates drew out their troops in front of the fort of Ghausgarh, and at once engaged the Imperial troops, whom they at the same time outflanked with a large body of horse, who got into the rear of the Imperialists without being perceived. Placed between two attacks, and deprived of their leader by a stray shot, the latter soon gave way, and Zabita, having pursued them for some distance, returned to his stronghold triumphant. On this Mirza Najaf Khan resolved to take the field with all his power, and ere long presented himself before Ghausgarh, accompanied by the Emperor in person. The Mirza was aided in this campaign by the force of 5,000 men, with artillery, contributed by the new Viceroy of Audh, as part of the peshkash, or fine for the investiture, and for the succession to the office of Vazir of the Empire, which had been held by his father, and which he desired to retain against the counter-claims of the Nizam and of other competitors. (Vide last chapter, p. 115.) The Pathan had, however, evacuated the fort on receiving notice of their approach, and retreated with his allies to their country beyond the Jamna, closely followed by the Imperial forces. An attempt at negotiation having been contemptuously rejected by the Captain-General, Mirza Najaf Khan, the two armies engaged on the famous field of Panipat, and the action which ensued is described (with manifest exaggeration) as having been only less terrible than the last that was fought on the same historic ground, between the Mahrattas and the Musalmans, in 1761. Beyond this the native historians give no particulars of the battle, which raged till night, and with not unequal fortunes, if we may judge from the result for on the following morning Zabita Khan's renewed applications to treat were favourably received; on which occasion his estates were restored, and a double matrimonial alliance concluded. The Mirza himself condescended to take the Pathan's sister as his wife, while his godson (so to speak), Najaf Kuli, was promised the hand of Zabita's daughter. The pardon of this restless rebel was attributed to the intercession of Latafat, the General of the Audh Vazir, who is said to have had a large bribe on the occasion. (Francklin, chap. Y.)
Peace being thus restored to Hindustan, the Minister revisited Agra, where he proceeded to provide for the administration of the country.
The English sought his alliance; but the negotiation failed because he would not surrender Sumroo. Asaf-ud-daulah, Viceroy of Audh, was recognized as titular Vazir; a trustworthy chief, Maulah Ahmad Dad, was appointed to the charge of Sirhind; Najaf Kuli Khan held the vast tract extending from that frontier to the borders of Rajputana; and Sumroo was placed in charge of the country adjoining Zabita Khan's lands, in the centre of which he fixed his capital at Sardhana, long destined to remain in the possession of his family, and where a country house and park, familiar to the English residents at Meerut, still belong to the widow of his last descendant. This territory, nominally assigned for the maintenance of the troops under the adventurer's command, was valued in those days at six laths of rupees annually; so that the blood-stained miscreant, whose saturnine manners had given him a bad name, even among the rough Europeans of the Company's battalion, found his career of crime rewarded by an income corresponding to that of many such petty sovereigns as those of his native country.
1778. The beginning of this year was marked by a bloodless campaign, to which Majad-ud-daulah led the Emperor. The Rajputs were the object of the attack, and they were rigorously mulcted. The Mirza's personal share in this matter was confined to that of a peacemaker. He probably disapproved of the campaign, which had been undertaken in a spirit of rivalry to himself; and by obtaining terms for the Rajputs he made new ties while displaying his own power. He accompanied the return of the expedition to Dehli, where his daughter was married to Najaf Kuli in the presence of the Emperor.
Mirza Najaf Khan then departed once more to Agra, the seat of his administration and his favourite abode. But his repose was not of long continuance, and he was soon called upon for fresh exertions; the Sikhs having risen against Maulah Ahmad Dad, the Faujdar of Sirhind, whom they defeated and slew. On the receipt of this intelligence the Emperor had deputed Abdul Ahid Khan known to us by his title of Nawab Majad-ud-daulah with an army nominally under the command of one of the Imperial Princes, to indict signal chastisement upon obstinate offenders. If the surmise of the native historians be correct that Abdul Ahid Khan had been privy to the late combination between the Sikhs and Zabita Khan against Mirza Najaf the fact of his being sent against them, without any objection from so wise and loyal a minister as the Mirza, can only be accounted for by citing it as a proof of the peculiar danger to which great men are exposed, under an Eastern despotism, of reposing their confidence in secret enemies. That Abdul Ahid was even then plotting against his patron will be seen to be likely from his subsequent conduct, and certainly derives no confutation from the circumstance of his being a native of Kashmir, a country the faithlessness of whose inhabitants is proverbial, even in Indian story.
The Prince, whose standard was the rallying point of the army, is variously named as Jawan Bakht, Farkhanda Bakht, and Akbar; the former being the name of the Prince whom we saw acting as Regent during the Emperor's residence under English protection at Allahabad, the later that of the future successor to the titular Empire. Whoever it may have been, the outset of the expedition promised him success, if not distinction. The Imperial host, 20,000 strong and with an efficient park of artillery. came in contact with the enemy at Karnal; but Majad-ud-daulah preferred negotiation to fighting, and induced the Sikhs to pay down a sum of three lakhs, and pledge themselves to the payment of an annual tribute. Joining the Sikh forces to his own, the Majad-ud-daulah next proceeded northwards, but was brought to a check at Pattiala by Amar Singh, the Jat chief of that state. Here fresh negotiations ensued, in which the perfidious Kashmirian is said to have offered to allay himself with the Sikhs for the destruction of Mirza Najaf Khan, on condition of being supported by them in his endeavours to be made Prime Minister in the room of that statesman. Whether the Jat leader had profited by the lesson lately read to his brethren of Bhartpur, or whether he was merely actuated by a desire to try conclusions with the Kashmirian, having penetrated the cowardice of his character, is matter for conjecture. Whatever the intrigue may have been, it was soon frustrated. A large Sikh reinforcement profited by the time gained in the negotiation to advance from Lahor; the Karnal force deserted the Imperial camp, and a general onset was made upon it the following morning. Led by a half-hearted commander and an inexperienced Prince, the Imperialists offered but a faint resistance; but their retreat was covered by the artillery, and they contrived to escape without suffering much in the pursuit, and indeed without being very closely followed up. It is interesting to observe, among the names of the Sikh Sirdars, who played this game of "diamond cut diamond" with the Kashmirian, that of Ranjit Singh, afterwards the wily Egbert of the Panjab Heptarchy, and the firm friend of Britain for nearly forty years.
This disastrous campaign occurred in the cold weather of 1778-79, and the victorious Panjabis poured into the Upper Doab, which they forthwith began to plunder.
1779. Meanwhile, Mirza Najaf Khan remained in contemptuous repose at Agra, only interrupted by a short and successful dash at some Rajput malcontents, who had been stirred up, it is thought, at the instigation of his rival Majad-ud-daulah. That inefficient but unscrupulous intriguer is also shown by Captain Grant Duff to have been at the same time engaged in a correspondence with Madhoji Sindhia, in view to joining, when once he should have gained possession of the power of the Empire, in an attack on the British Provinces. Duff gives this story on the authority of Sindhia's own letters, which that chief's grandson had placed in his hands; but he does not say whether the fickle Emperor was or was not a party to this iniquitous conspiracy for the ruin of his faithful servant and his long-established friends.
Certain it is that Sindhia was at that time very far from the statesmanlike views and reasonable aims which he ultimately adopted. Towards the close of the year, indeed, he took the ill-judged step of joining with Haidar Ali and the Nizam with the object of expelling the British from every part of the Indian Continent. But Mr. Hastings soon disturbed the plans of the confederates and ere long rendered them hopeless. Some were conquered by force of arms, others were conciliated; and Sindhia in particular, received a lesson which made upon his sagacious mind a permanent impression.
1780. There was, in the country now known as Dholpur, between Agra and Gwalior, a local Jat landholder who had in the decay of the Empire followed the example of Suraj Mal (of Bhurtpore) and assumed independence. In 1771, when Shah Alam was returning to the throne of his ancestors, Chatr Singh, the then Zemindar, advanced money to the Treasury, and was soon after created a peer by the title of Maharaj Rana. Henceforth he figures in history as the "Rana of Gohad." Having a hereditary feud against the Mahrattas and a hereditary claim, such as it was, to the fortress of Gwalior, then in Sindhia's hands, he seemed to Hastings a useful instrument for causing a diversion. Major Popham, one of the best of the local officers, was accordingly sent to assist the Rana and stir up a confederation of Jat and Rajput powers to aid against the Musalman-Mahratta alliance by which British interests were threatened. The situation of the fort of Gwalior on a scarped and isolated rock over 200 feet high, need not here be more than mentioned; the manner of its capture, however, cannot be too often referred to as an instance of what resolution and conduct can effect in Asiatic warfare. Having prepared scaling ladders in such secrecy that even his European officers were ignorant of what was being done or planned, Popham sent a storming party of sepoys, backed by twenty Europeans, to a place at the foot of the rock pointed out to him by some thieves. It was the night of the 3rd August, 1780, and the party, under the command of Captain Bruce, were shod with cotton to render their approach inaudible. The enemies' rounds were passing as they came near the spot; so the assaulting column lay down and waited until the lights and voices had ceased; then the ladders were placed against the cliff, and one of the robber guides mounting returned with intelligence that the guard had gone to sleep. The next moment the first ladder was mounted by Lieutenant Cameron, the engineer officer, and the others followed in silence, Captain Bruce having reached the rampart with twenty sepoys, a scuffle ensued which lasted till Popham arrived with the Europeans and made good the entrance. Thus was this strong place captured, and without the loss of one single life on the British side. The fort was made over to the Rana, but he did not long retain it, Sindhia having recaptured it. He soon afterwards took Gohad also (1784), and the descendants of the Jat chief are now known as Ranas of Dholpur.
We have seen how marked a feature of the Emperor's character was his inability to resist the pertinacious counsels of an adviser with whom he was in constant intercourse; and it is certain that he gave Majad-ud-daulah all the support which his broken power and enfeebled will enabled him to afford.
But the danger was now too close and too vast to allow of further weakness. The Emperor's eyes seem to have been first opened by his army's evident confusion, as it returned to Dehli, and by the prevaricating reports and explanations which he received from its commander. If Mirza Jawan Bakht was the prince who had accompanied the ill-stared expedition, we know enough of his prudence and loyalty to be sure that he would have done all in his power to make his father see the matter in its true light; and what was wanting to his firm but dutiful remonstrances, would be supplied by the cries of fugitive villagers and the smoke of plundered towns.
Najaf Khan was urgently summoned from Agra, and obeyed the call with an alacrity inspired by his loyal heart, and perhaps also by a dignified desire for redress. As he approached the capita], he was met by the Prince and the baffled Kashmirian. To the former he was respectful, but the latter he instantly placed under arrest, and sent back under a strong guard. The fallen Minister was confined, but in his own house; and the Mirza, on reaching Dehli, confiscated, on behalf of the Imperial treasury, his wealth, stated to have amounted to the large sum (for those days) of twenty lakhs, reserving nothing for himself but some books and a medicine chest. This was the second time he had triumphed over an unworthy rival, and signalized his own noble temper by so blending mercy with justice as has seldom been done by persons situated as he was. Abdul Ahid Khan or Majad-ud-daulah was a fop, very delicate in his habits, and a curiosity-seeker in the way of food and physic. It is said by the natives that he always had his table-rice from Kashmir, and knew by the taste whether it was from the right field or not.
Fully restored to the Imperial favour, the Mirza lost no time in obeying the pressing behests of his Sovereign, and sending an adequate force under his nephew, Mirza Shafi, to check the invaders. Their army, which had been collected to meet the Imperialists, drew up and gave battle near Meerut, within forty miles of the metropolis; but their unskilled energy proved no match for the resolution of the Moghul veterans, and for the disciplined valour of the Europeanized battalions. The Sikhs were defeated with the loss of their leader and 5,000 men, and at once evacuated the country.
1780. It cannot have escaped notice we have been here reviewing the career of one whose talents and virtues merited a nobler arena than that on which they were displayed, and who would have indeed distinguished himself in any age and country. Profiting by experience, the successful Minister did not repeat the former blunder of retiring to Agra, where, moreover, his presence was no longer required; but continued for the brief remainder of his life to reside in the metropolis, and enjoy the fruit of his laborious career in the administration of the Empire, to which he had restored something of its old importance. Mirza Shafi commanded the army in the field; while Mohammad Beg, of Hamadan, was Governor of the Fort and District of Agra. Najaf Khan himself was appointed Amir-ul-Umra (Premier Noble); his title, as it had long been, was Zulfikar-ud-daulah "Sword of State."
I have not thought it necessary to interrupt the narrative of the Mirza's successes by stopping to notice the death of Sumroo. This event occurred at Agra on the 4th of May, 1778, as appears from the Portuguese inscription upon his tombstone there. He appears to have been a man without one redeeming quality "stern and bloody-minded, in no degree remarkable for fidelity or devotion to his employers" the one essential virtue of a free lance. This character is cited from the memoirs of Skinner, where it is also added that he cannot have been devoid of those qualities which attach the soldiery to their officer. But even this becomes doubtful, when we find the late Sir W. Sleeman (who was in the habit of moving about among the natives, and is an excellent authority on matters of tradition), asserting that he was constantly under arrest, threatened, tortured, and in danger at the hands of his men.
The force was maintained by his widow, and she was accordingly put in charge of the lands which he had held for the same purpose.
This remarkable woman was the daughter (by a concubine) of a Mohamadan of Arab descent, settled in the town of Kotana, a small place about thirty miles north-west of Meerut, and born about 1753. On the death of her father, she and her mother became subject to ill-treatment from her half-brother the legitimate heir; and they consequently removed to Dehli about 1760. It is not certain when she first entered the family of Sumroo, but she did not become his wife till some time afterwards. It has even been doubted if any formal marriage-ceremony ever took place, for Sumroo had a wife living, though insane; and the fact was probably sufficiently notorious to prevent any Catholic clergyman in that part of the country from celebrating a bigamous alliance with the rites of the Church.
1781 . At his death he left a son, baptized as "Aloysius," who was still in his minority; and the Minister, observing the Begum's abilities, saw fit to place her in charge, as has been already said. The ultimate result amply justified his choice. In 1781 under what influence is not recorded she embraced Christianity, and was baptized, according to the ritual of the Latin Church, by the name of Johanna. Her army is stated to have consisted, at this time, of five battalions of Sepoys, about 300 Europeans, officers and gunners, with 40 pieces of cannon, and a body of Moghul horse. She founded a Christian Mission, which grew by degrees into a convent, a cathedral, and a college; and to this day there are some 1,500 native and Anglo-Indian Christians resident at Sardhana.
1782. - On the 26th April died Mirza Najaf Khan, after a residence in India of about forty-two years, so that he must have been aged at least sixty. He appears to have been an even greater and better man than his predecessor, Najib-ud-daulah, over whom he had the advantage in point of blood, being at once a descendant of the Arabian prophet, and a member of the Saffavi house, which had been removed from the throne of Persia by the usurpation of Nadir Shah. Captain Scott who was a good scholar and well acquainted with Native politics, as Persian Secretary to the Governor-General of British India records of the Mirza that no one left his presence dissatisfied. If he could grant a request he would, and that with a grace as if it pleased him; if he could not, he could always convince the petitioner of his sorrow at being obliged to refuse. The faulty side of him appears to have been a love of money, and (towards the last part of his life, at least,) of pleasure. It will be seen in the sequel how soon his gains were dissipated, and his house overthrown. At his death he wielded all the power of the Empire which his energies and virtues had restored. He was Deputy Vazir of the absentee Viceroy of Audh, and Commander-in-Chief of the army. He held the direct civil administration, with receipt of the surplus revenues, agreeably to Eastern usages, of the province of Agra and the Jat territories, together with the district of Alwar to the south-west and those portions of the Upper Doab which he had not alienated in Jaidad. But he died without issue, and the division of his offices and his estates became the subject of speedy contests, which finally overthrew the last fragments of Moghul dominion or independence. The following notice of these transactions is chiefly founded on a Memorial, drawn up and submitted to the British Governor at Lucknow in 1784, by the Shahzada Jawan Bakht, of whom mention has been already made more than once, and who had, for the ten years preceding the Emperor's return to Dehli, in '71, held the Regency under the title of Jahandar Shah. After referring to the fact that Majad-ud-daulah (the title, it may be remembered, of Abdul Ahid Khan) had been and still was in custody, but that an equerry of the Emperor's procured the issue of patents confirming existing appointments, the Prince proceeds, "The morning after the Mirza's death, I saw the attendants on His Majesty were consulting to send some persons to the house of the deceased, in order to calm disturbances; and at last the Wisdom enlightening the world resolved on deputing me to effect that object. [I] having departed with all speed, and given assurances to the afflicted, the friends of the departed had leisure to wash and dress the body, and the clamour began to cease. After necessary preparation, I attended the corpse to the Masjid, and the rites of Islam having been performed, sent it to the place of interment, under the care of Afrasyab Khan, who was the cherished-in-the- bosom" (adopted) "son" of the noble deceased; whose sister also regarded him as her adopted son.
"Afrasyab Khan soon became ambitious of the dignities and possessions of the deceased, and the Begam (deceased's sister) petitioned his Majesty in his favour, with earnest entreaty; but this proved disagreeable to the far-extending sight of the royal Wisdom, as Mirza Shaffi Khan, who had a great army and considerable resources, looked to the succession, and would never agree to be superseded in this manner, so that contentions would necessarily ensue." There can be no doubt of the correctness of Shah Alam's views. Mirza Shaffi was the nearest relative of the deceased, and in actual possession of the command of the army. He was thus not merely the most eligible claimant, but the best able to support his claims. But the Emperor never, as we have seen, a man of much determination was now enfeebled by years and by a habit of giving way to importunity.
"Instigated," proceeds Jawan Bakht, "by female obstinacy, the Begam would not withdraw her request, and her petition was at length, though reluctantly, honoured with compliance. The khillat of Amir-ul-Omra and acting Minister was conferred upon Afrasyab by his Majesty, who directed this menial (though he [the writer] was sensible of the ill-promise of the measure) to write to Mirza Shaffi to hasten to the presence."
It is not quite clear whether the measure, to which this parenthesis represents the prince as objecting, was the appointment of Afrasyab, or the summons to the Mirza. He was evidently opposed to the former, who was a weak young man, devoid of resources either mental or material. On the other hand, his own matured good sense should have shown him that no good consequences could follow the temporizing policy which brought the rivals face to face at Court. Afrasyab's first measure was to release the Kashmirian Ex-Minister Majad-ud-daulah (Abdul Ahid Khan) from arrest, and by his recommendation this foolish and notorious traitor was once more received into the Imperial favour. In the meanwhile, Mirza Shaffi arrived at Dehli, and took up his quarters in the house of his deceased uncle, whose widow he conciliated by promising to marry her daughter, his first cousin. A period of confusion ensued, which ended for the time in the resignation of Afrasyab, who retired to his estate at Ajhir, leaving his interests at Court to be attended to by Majad-ud-daulah and by the converted Rajput Najaf Kuli. Shortly! after his departure, Mirza Shaffi surrounded the houses of these agents, and arrested Majad-ud-daulah on the 11th September, 1782, and the Rajput on the following day, confining them in his aunt's house under his own eye. The Prince upon this received orders to negotiate with the Mizra, who was appointed to the office he had been so long endeavouring to compass. But Afrasyab Khan, his absent competitor, had still allies at Court, and they succeeded in bringing over to his cause M. Paoli, the commander of Begam Sumroo's Brigade, together with Latafat Khan, commandant of the battalions that had been detached to the Imperial service by the Viceroy of Audh. This took place a few days only after the arrest of the agents, and was almost immediately followed by the desertion from Mirza Shaffi of the bulk of the army. The Emperor put himself at the head of the troops, and proceeded to the Minister's house. Finding the premises had been evacuated the Shah marched in triumph not quite after the magnificent fashion of his ancestors to the Jamma Masjid, and Mirza Shaffi fled to Kosi, in the vicinity of Mathra, acting by the advice of the prince, as the latter informs us. The army did not pursue the fugitive, and the latter enlarged Majad-ud-daulah, who promised to intercede for him with the Emperor, and also made a friend in Mohamad Beg of Hamadan, whom we have already met with as Governor of Agra.
1783. While the Moghuls were disturbing and weakening the empire by these imbecile contentions, Madhoji Sindhia, the Patel, was hovering afar off, like an eagle on the day of battle. His position had just been greatly improved by the treaty of Salbai, an arrangement which was probably the result of the spirited policy pursued by Hastings, of which the storming of Gwalior was a specimen. Coote and Stuart too, in Madras, and Goddard in the Deccan, struck repeated blows at the confederacy. Peace, too, was concluded between the French and English in India as in Europe. Sindhia was one of the first to submit, and in 1782 acceded to that famous instrument, in which the British authorities had recognized him as the representative chief of the Mahrattas, the Peshwa being still a minor, and the ostensible head of the Regency, Nana Farnavis, being a mere civilian, though otherwise an able man. The British Governor-General also, naturally alarmed at what was going on, and foreseeing danger from the interposition of the Mahrattas, with whom his Government had, till lately, been engaged in a deadly conflict, soon after sent two officers to the Imperial Court, being the first English Embassy that had visited the city of the Moghul since the memorable deputation from the infant Factory to the throne of Farokhsiar.
But before these officials could arrive, further complications had occurred; Mirza Shaffi returning to Dehli, in company with Mohamad Beg, requested that his new opponents, Paoli and Latafat, might be sent to them with authority to treat, and the application was granted, much against the advice of the prince, who tells us that he proposed either that an immediate attack should be made upon the rebels before they had time to consolidate their power, or else that they should be summoned to the presence, and made to state their wishes there. To the envoys elect, he observed that, even were the concession made of sending a deputation to treat with refractory subjects, he would advise that only one should go at a time. "But," he continues, "as the designs of Providence had weakened the ears of their understandings, an interview appeared to them most advisable; - a mutual suspicion rendering each unwilling that one should go and the other remain in camp, lest he who went should make his own terms without the other." What a glimpse this gives of the dissolution of all that we are accustomed to call society! The two envoys set out, but never returned: like the emissaries sent to the Jewish captain, as he drove furiously along the plain of Esdraelon to ask, Is it peace? The European was slain at once, the Audh general being imprisoned and deprived of sight. Mirza Shaffi and Mohamad Beg next began to quarrel with each other. The Emperor was now much perplexed, but matters were arranged for the time through the instrumentality of the prince and by the return of Afrasyab, who became reconciled to his late competitor. The three nobles were presented with khillats (dresses of honour) and Mirza Shaffi became Premier, under the title of Amir-ul-Umra, while Majad-ud-daulah reverted to his ancient post of Intendant of the Home Revenues. We pursue the prince's narrative.
"It was at this period that much anxiety and melancholy intruding on the sacred mind of his Majesty, the Asylum of the World, and also on the breast of this loyal servant," their attention was turned towards the English alliance, which had been in abeyance for some years. On the 23rd of September, 1783, Mirza Shaffi, who had been to Agra, was shut out from the palace on his return, probably owing to Afrasyab Khan's renewed desire to obtain the chief place in the State. On this the Mirza retired to Agra again, and naturally adopted a hostile attitude, an emissary was sent forth to treat with him, in the person of Mohamad Beg Hamadani. The meeting took place in the open air in front of the main gate of the old Fort of Agra; and when the elephants, upon which the two noblemen were seated, drew near to each other, the Mirza held out his hand in greeting, when Mohamed Beg at once seized the opportunity, and pistolled him under the arm. It is asserted, indeed, by some that the actual crime was perpetrated by the attendant who occupied the back seat of the howdah; possibly Ismail Beg Khan, nephew of the Hamadani.
Afrasyab, who had instigated this murder, profited by it, and succeeded to the post of his ambition, while the mind of the prince became still more anxious, and still more bent upon opening his case, if possible, in a personal interview with the English Governor.
Meanwhile, the envoys of the latter were not less urgent on their employer to support the Emperor with an army. "The business of assisting the Shah" thus they wrote in December, 1783 "must go on if we wish to be secure in India, or regarded as a nation of faith and honour." Mr. Hastings was not deaf to these considerations, and subsequent events proved their entire soundness. He desired to sustain the authority of the Empire, because he foresaw nothing from its dissolution but an alternative between Chaos and the Mahrattas; and, but for the opposition of his council in Calcutta, he would have interposed, and interposed after his fashion, with effect. Yet his not doing so was afterwards made the ground of one of the charges (No. 18) against him, and he was accused of having intrigued in the interest of Madhoji Sindhia, the Patel. That Mr. Hastings, when overruled in his desire of anticipating Sindhia in Court influence at Dehli, preferred seeing the latter succeed, rather than the Empire should fall a prey to complete anarchy; that he "turned the circumstance to advantage" to use Grant Duff's phrase was neither contrary to sound statesmanship, nor to the particular views of the British Government, which was then occupied in completing the treaty of Salbai. Under this compact Central India was pacified, and the Carnatic protected from the encroachments of the notorious Haidar Ali Khan, and his son, the equally famous Tippu Sahib. It is important here to observe that the Calcutta Gazettes of the day contain several notices of the progress of the Sikhs, and the feeble opposition offered to them by the courtiers. All these things called for prompt action.
1781. On the 27th March, the British Governor arrived at Lucknow, and Jawan Bakht resolved to escape from the palace, and lay before him an account of Dehli politics, such as should induce him to interpose. The design being communicated to his maternal uncle, a body of Gujars, from the prince's estate, was posted on the opposite bank of the river, and everything fixed for the 14th of April. About 8 P.M., having given out that he was indisposed, and on no account to be disturbed, the prince disguised himself, and, secretly departing from his chamber in the palace, passed from the roof of one building to the roof of another, until he reached the aqueduct which crossed the garden of the palace. The night was stormy, and the prince was suffering from fever, but he found a breach where the canal issued, by which he got to the rampart of the Salimgarh. Here he descended by means of a rope, and joined his friends on the river sands; and, with a considerable mixture of audacity and address, found means to elude the sentries and get across the river. One trait is worth preserving, as illustrative of the characteristic clemency of the house of Timur. "I believe," said the prince, in talking of this night's adventure to Mr. Hastings, "I ought to have killed the guide who showed me where to ford the river; but my conscience disapproved, and I let him go, preferring to trust myself to the care of Providence. In effect, the man justified my suspicions, for he instantly went to the nearest guard and gave him information of my route, as I learned soon after; but I made such speed that my pursuers could not overtake me."
His Highness reached Lucknow, where he impressed all who met him with a highly favourable opinion of his humanity, his intelligence, and his knowledge of affairs; but the only consolation he received, either from the Viceroy or from Mr. Hastings, hampered as the latter was by the opposition of his council, was the advice to turn to Madhoji Sindhia. Captain Jonathan Scott (who was on Hastings' staff) says that the prince received an allowance of 40,000 a year from the British Government (Scott's Ferishta, vol. ii. 242.)
In the meanwhile Mohamed Beg, who had returned to his old residence at Agra, continued to trouble the repose of the new minister Afrasyab, so that he also turned to the redoubled Patel, and this successful soldier who had barely escaped four-and-twenty years before from the slaughter of Panipat, now found himself master of the situation. The movements of the Mahratta chief began, indeed, to be all-important. They were thus noticed in the Calcutta Gazette for 18th April: "We learn that Sindhia is going on a hunting party. ... . We also learn that he will march towards Bundelkund." He marched in the direction, as it proved, of Agra.
He sent an envoy to Lucknow to treat with the Governor-General, and proceeded in person to Hindustan, proposing to meet the Emperor, who was on his way to dislodge Mohamad Beg from the fort of Agra.
The Calcutta Gazette for May 10th says, "His Majesty has signified by letters to the Governor-General and Sindhia that he will march towards Agra."
The Emperor's desire to put himself into the hands of Sindhia was very much increased by the violent conduct of Afrasyab towards one who, whatever his faults, had endeared himself, by long years' association, to the facile monarch. Majad-ud-daulah, the Finance Minister, having attempted to dissuade his Majesty from going to Agra, the haughty Moghul sent Najaf Kuli Khan with a sufficient force to Majad's house, and seizing him, with the whole of his property, kept him in close arrest, in which he continued for the most part till his death, in 1788.
On his arrival, Sindhia had an interview with Afrasyab Khan, at which it was agreed to concert a combined attack upon Mohamad Beg forthwith. Three days after, the minister was assassinated, viz., 2nd November, 1784. The actual hand that struck this blow was that of Zain-ul-Abidin, brother of Mirza Shaffi, who, no doubt, was not unwilling to have an opportunity of punishing the supposed author of his uncle's murder; but there were not wanting those who, on the well-known maxim, cui bono, attributed the instigation to Sindhia. Francklin records, on the authority of one Said Raza Khan, that Zain-ul-Abidin found shelter with Sindhia immediately after the murder, which was effected in the very tent of the victim. Rajah Himmat Bahadur (the Gosain leader) at once proceeded to Sindhia's tent, accompanied by the chief Moghul nobles, where all joined in congratulations and professions of service.
1785 The latter, at all events, immediately stepped into the dead man's shoes, leaving the title of Vazir to the Audh Viceroy; and contenting himself with the substance of authority. Calling the Peshwa of Puna the head of the Mahrattas by the revived title of Plenipotentiary of the Empire, formerly borne (it may be remembered) by the first Nizam, he professed to administer as the Peshwa's deputy. He assumed with the command of the army, the direct management of the provinces of Dehli and Agra, and allotted a monthly payment of sixty-five thousand rupees for the personal expenses of Shah Alam. In order to meet these expenses, and at the same time to satisfy himself and reward his followers, the Pate] had to cast about him for every available pecuniary resource. Warren Hastings having now left India, the time may have been thought favourable for claiming some contribution from the foreign possessors of the Eastern Subahs. Accordingly we find in the Calcutta Gazette the following notice, under the date Thursday, 12th May, 1785:
"We have authority to inform the public that on the 7th of this month the Governor-General received from the Emperor Shah Alam and Maha Rajah Madagee Sindia an official and solemn disavowal, under their respective seals, of demands which were transmitted by them, on Mr. Macpherson's accession to the Government, for the former tribute from Bengal.
"The demands of the tribute were transmitted through Major Brown, and made immediately upon his recall from the Court of Shah Alam, but without any communication of the subject to Mr. Anderson.
"Mr. Anderson was immediately instructed to inform Sindhia that his interference in such demands would be considered in the light of direct hostility, and a breach of our treaty with the Mahrattas; and Shah Alam was to be informed that the justice of the English to his illustrous house could never admit the interference or recommendation of other powers, and could alone flow from their voluntary liberality.
"A disavowal of claims advanced unjustly and disrespectfully was insisted upon; and we are authorized to declare that Mr. Anderson's conduct in obtaining that disavowal was open and decided, highly honourable to him as a public minister. He acted in conformity to the orders of Government even before he received them. He founded his remonstrances on a short letter which he had received from the Governor-General, and upon circumstances which passed in the presence of Sindhia, at Shah Alam's Darbar, as Major Brown was taking his leave.
"The effects which Mr. Anderson's remonstrance produced are very satisfactory and creditable to Government, and such explanations have followed upon the part of Sindhia, as must eventually strengthen our alliance with the Mahrattas, expose the designs of secret enemies, and secure the general tranquillity of India."
The revolution begun by the Patel was soon completed. Zabita Khan died about this time; and Mohamad Beg, being deserted by his troops, had no resource but to throw himself upon the mercy of the Mahratta chief. The fort of Agra surrendered on the 27th of March, 1785; and all that remained of the power of the Moghul party was the fort of Aligarh, where the widow and brother of the late minister, Afrasyab Khan, still held out, in the hope of preserving the property of the deceased, the bulk of which was stored there. This stronghold, which the late Najaf Khan had wrested from the Jats, had been fortified with great care, and it had a strong garrison, but, having held out from July to November, the Governor was at last prevailed upon, by the entreaties of the ladies, to avert from them the horrors of a storm, and make terms with the besiegers. The result of the capitulation was that the eldest son of the deceased Afrasyab received an estate, yielding a yearly revenue of a lakh and a half of rupees. The rest of the property valued at a crore, a sum then corresponding to a million of money, but really representing much more of our present currency was seized by Sindhia.
The latter was now supreme in Hindustan; the disunited Moghul chiefs, one and all, acknowledged his authority; and a Mahratta garrison, occupying the Red Castle of Shah Jahan, rendered the Emperor little more than an honourable pageant. He joined, however, personally in all the operations of 1785, and did not return to Dehli until the middle of the following year. Sindhia did not at the time accompany him, but retired to his favourite cantonment of Mathra.
It has been already mentioned that there is little or nothing recorded of the condition of the country or of the people by native historians. It must not, however, be thought that I am satisfied with recording merely the dates of battles, or the biographies of prominent men. On the contrary, the absence of information upon the subject of the condition of the nation at large, is a great cause of regret and disappointment to me. A few particulars will be found in the concluding chapter.
In 1783, when Afrasyab Khan was distracting the country by his ambitious attempts, occurred a failure of the periodical rains, followed by one of those tremendous famines which form such a fearful feature of Indian life. In Bengal, where the monsoon is regular, and the alluvial soil moist, these things are almost as unknown as in England: but the arid plains of Hindustan, basking at the feet of the vastest mountain-chain in the world, become a perfect desert, at least once in every quarter of a century. The famine of 1783-4 has made a peculiarly deep impression upon the popular mind, under the name of the "Chalisa," in reference to the Sambat date 1840, of the era of Vikram Adit. An old Gosain, who had served under Himmat Bahadur, near Agra, once told the author that flour sold near Agra that year 8 seers for the rupee; which, allowing for the subsequent fall in the value of money, is perhaps equivalent to a rate of three seers for our present rupee a state of things partly conceivable by English readers, if they will imagine the quartern loaf at four shillings, and butcher's meat in proportion.
These famines were greatly intensified by the want of hands for field-labour, that must have been caused by the constant drafting of men to the armies, and by the massacre and rapine that accompanied the chronic warfare of those times. The drain on the population, however, combined with the absence of the tax-gatherer, must have given this state of things some sort of compensation in the long run. Some few further particulars regarding the state of the country will be found in the concluding chapter.
NOTE.Besides the Mozafari, the principal authorities for this chapter have been Francklin's "Shah Alum" (v. inf. p. 194) the narrative of the Shahzadah published by Warren Hastings and the continuation of Ferishta by Captain Jonathan Scott. This gentleman has already been mentioned (V. sup. p. 132), he was assisted in compiling his narrative by Maj. Polier, who was at Dehli at the time. All these authorities are strictly original and contemporaneous; and in general agree with each other. The Memoirs of Iradat Khan have also been consulted a Dehli noble of the period. A traditional account of the Famine by an "Old Resident" of Aligarh may not be without interest. It is taken from the Dehli Gazette of 6th June, 1874. "As told by many persons who witnessed it, the disastrous circumstance which occurred during Sindiah's rule and prior to Du Boigne's administration known by the people as the 'Chaleesa Kaut,' the severe famine of A.D. 1783 in a considerable degree desolated the country, and the many ruinous high mounds still visible in the district owe their origin to this calamity. The inhabitants either fell victims, or fled to other parts where they met a similar fate, for the famine was a general one. It was described to me by those who lived then, that for the two previous years the rains were very unfavourable, and the produce very scanty, the third year, A.D. 1783, the people entertained strong hopes that the season would be a propitious one: but sad was their condition when they found the rainy months, 'Assaur and Sawun, passing off with a scorching sun. In 'Bhadoon' they had clouds but no rain, and when the calamity came, all hopes were gone the price of grain was enormous and with difficulty it could be procured, thousands died of sheer starvation within their walls and streets, and the native governments rendered no assistance to ameliorate or relieve the wants of their unfortunate subjects. Children were left to go astray and find their sustenance in the wild berries of the peepul, burrh, and goolur, and thus became an easy prey to the wild beasts who in numbers roved round the country in open day, living on carcases. About the middle of September or 'Kooar,' the rains fell, and so regularly that the grain which was thrown in the fields in the two previous years and did not generate for want of moisture, now came up profusely, and abundant was the produce. The state of things gradually changed for the better in October and November. An old Brahmin of Secundra Rao narrated that some years before 1810 the harvest was so plentiful that on the occasion he built a house which was on a very high plinth: he filled the plinth instead of with mud with an inferior course of small grain called 'kodun,' selling at that time uncommonly cheap, much lower than the cost of mud would be; when the famine came he dug up the coarse grain, which was found good, and sold it, and with the money he made his house a pucka one, besides gaining a large sum in coin."
Gholam Kadir Pillars of the State Siege of Raghogarh British policy Measures of Sindhia Rajput Confederacy Battle of Lalsaut Muhammad Beg's death Defection of Ismail Beg Greatness of Sindhia Gholam Kadir enters Dehli Is checked by Begam Sumroo and Najaf Kuli Khan Gholam Kadir pardoned; joins Ismail Beg Battle of Chaksana Rajput Embassy Emperor takes the field Shahzada writes to George III. Najaf Kuli rebels Death of Shahzada Emperor's return Battle of Firozabad Confederates at Dehli Their difficulties Sindhia inactive Benoit de Boigne.
1786. The eldest son of the deceased chief of the Bawani Mahal was that Gholam Kadir, whom we have seen already in the character of a captive and a page. It does not appear under what circumstances he had recovered his liberty; but, on the death of Zabita Khan, he at once succeeded to his estates, under the title of "Najib-ud-daulah Hoshyar Jang." As in the lower empire of Byzantium, so in the present case, in proportion as the State crumbled, the titles of its unserviceable supporters became more sonorous, until at last there was not a pillar of the ruinous fabric, however weak and however disengaged from the rest of the body, but bore some inscription equally "imposing" in both senses of the word. Daulah or Daulat means "The State," and the Musalman nobles were called Arkan-i-Daulat "Columns of the Commonwealth." Of these one was its Sword, another its Asaph (the "Recorder" of David and Solomon), a third its Hero, and a fourth its Shield. The young "Najib" Gholam Kadir Khan, was now the most prominent representative of the Hindustani Afghans. Among the Moghuls the leading spirit was Mohamad Beg of Hamadan, for whom the Patel provided employment by sending him with an army into Malwa, where he was for some time occupied by the siege of Raghogarh. This was a very strong fort, held by a colony of Kachwaha Rajputs since the times of Najaf Khan, and commanding one of the main roads between Hindustan and the Mahratta country. It had resisted the Mahrattas when they first invaded Malwa, and it was destined to resist Sindhia's successors almost down to our own times. It is now a peaceful market town, and the traces of its former strength are all that it retains of a military character.
Sindhia's progress in the Doab was more rapid, nor was it long before Musalman jealousy began to be aroused. The Patel opened negotiations with Mirza Jawan Bakht, having the object of inducing. that prince to return to the capital; but from this he was strongly dissuaded by the Viceroy Vazir, acting under the advice of Major Palmer, the British Resident at Lucknow. That gentleman considered the interests of the Company and of the Vazir as deeply bound up in the fate of the prince. Whilst he remained under their joint protection, the Mahratta usurpation must be incomplete; should he fall into the power of the Patel, a permanent Mahratta occupation would be established, which would be a serious danger indeed.
1787. Under these circumstances the acting Governor-General Macpherson, who, as already noted, had succeeded Mr. Hastings when the latter left India, resolved on retaining a British Brigade in the Doab; and Lord Cornwallis, on taking office the following year, confirmed the measure. That a change began to come over the policy of the British in India about this time is well known, however the English might strive to hide it from others or even from themselves: see, for instance, the following passage from the Calcutta Gazette for March 8th, 1787:-
"Though the Mussulmans dwindle into insignificance, we have nothing to apprehend from the Hindus. Many have urged the necessity of upholding the influence of Moghuls to counterbalance the power of Hindus; but this should seem bad policy, as we would causelessly become obnoxious, and involve ourselves in the interests of a declining State, who are at the same time our secret enemy and rivals."
The new Governor, likewise, further alarmed Sindhia by sending a minister to reside at the Peshwa's Court at Punah, and the Patel anxiously set himself to work to consolidate his power in Hindustan, so as to be ready for the storm, from whatever quarter it might break. Impressed with the success which had attended his predecessor, Mirza Najaf, Sindhia's first care was to organize a body of regular troops a measure repugnant to the old politics of the Mahrattas, but none the less approving itself to his judgment on that account.
The nucleus of this force was the corps raised and organized, in 1785, by Benoit de Boigne, an officer whose history, as it forms an excellent illustration of the condition of Hindustan in the latter part of the last century, will be given briefly in a note at the end of this chapter. The General in command of Sindhia's forces was a Mahratta, named Appa Khandi Rao, of whom we shall hereafter have occasion to make further mention.
In civil matters, the first step taken by the Patel was the sequestration of a number of the Jaigirs of the Musalman nobles a cause of discontent to the sufferers, and of alarm to the remainder; but even this step had a military character, for the Jaigirs were fiefs bestowed for military service, and their reduction formed part of the system under which he was endeavouring to organize a standing army. With this view he at the same time recalled Mohamad Beg from the siege of Raghogarh and attempted, vainly, to induce that Chief to disband his levies.
Amongst other unpopular measures must also be enumerated the removal of Raja Narayan Dass, who had for some time been in charge of the Home Revenues, and who was replaced by Shah Nizam-ud-din, a creature of Sindhia's. At the same time the Gosain leader, Himmat Bahadur, went into open rebellion in Bundelkand, on being called upon to give an account of the management of his Jaigir, a measure which he construed as portending resumption.
Nor was it an easy matter, at this particular juncture, to set about military reforms, for the Rajputs, emboldened perhaps by the resistance of Raghogarh, now began to organize a combination, which not only implied a considerable loss of power and of revenue, but likewise threatened to cut off the Patel's communications with Punah. Raja Partab Singh (head of the Kachwahas, and Dhiraj of Jaipur), called for the aid of the head of the Rathor clan, Maharaja Bijai Singh of Jodhpur, who had married his daughter, and who adopted his cause with alacrity. Joined by the Rana of Udaipur, and by other minor chiefs, the Rajput leaders found themselves at the head of a force of 100,000 horse and foot, and 400 pieces of artillery, and with this array they took post at Lalsot, a town forty-three miles east from Jaipur, and there awaited the attack of the Imperial forces, with the more confidence that they were aware of the growing disaffection of the Moghul nobles.
Here they were encountered at the end of May, 1787, by an enormous force under Sindhia in person, with Ambaji Inglia, Appa Khandi, M. de Boigne, and other trusty lieutenants. The Moghul horse and the regular infantry in the Imperial service were under the general direction of Mohamad Beg and his nephew. The latter, a young man who will play a conspicuous part in the succeeding pages, was named Ismail Beg, and was the son of Nahim Beg, who had accompanied his brother Mohamad from Hamadan, the two attaching themselves to their Persian countryman, Mirza Najaf, during that minister's later prosperity. Ismail Beg had married his uncle's daughter, and was a person of great spirit, though not, as it would seem, of much judgment or principle.
The battle, as described by Native history, began by a reconnaisance of Ismail Beg at the head of 300 Moghul horse. A large body of Rajput horse made way before him, but the Mahrattas not following up, and nearly half his men being slain, he was forced to retreat to his uncle's division. This terminated the fighting for that day, but the next morning Ismail renewed the fight, leading on his artillery on foot, and followed by his uncle on an elephant with the rest of the corps. They were throughout the day engaged with the bulk of the Rajput army, but a heavy storm arose from the westward, as evening came on. The Mahrattas, having been in the meantime severely handled by a body of Rajput swordsmen mad with opium, the battle degenerated into a cannonade, at long ranges and at fitful intervals. Suddenly a chance round-shot dropped into the Moghul ranks, which, after overthrowing two horsemen, made a bound and struck Mohamad Beg on the right arm. He fell from his elephant, and, coming in contact with a small stack of branches of trees that had been piled at hand for the elephants' fodder, received a splinter in his temple which proved instantly mortal. Ismail, hearing of this event, exclaimed, "I am now the leader!" and immediately addressed the troops, and concluded the action for that day with a brisk cannonade. The next day (the 1st of June, and the third of this protracted engagement) both sides continued to fight till towards evening, when a body of some 14,000 infantry surrounded Sindhia's tents and clamorously demanded an issue of pay very probably in arrear and sent a message at the same time to the Jaipur Raja, offering to join him on receipt of two lakes of rupees. The Raja readily accepting these terms, the battalions joined his camp and received their money on the spot.
Meanwhile, such was the distress in the Moghul-Mahratta camp, isolated, at it was, in an enemy's country, that wheat was selling at four seers the Rupee, and there was every prospect of the scarcity increasing; while the countless camp-followers of the Rajputs were engaged in nightly depredations, stealing the elephants and horses from the midst of the sentries. Under these circumstances, the Patel broke up his quarters the next evening, and fell back upon Alwar, whence Ismail Beg marched off without leave towards Agra, taking with him 1,000 horse, four battalions, and six guns. Sindhia, justly regarding this as an open act of defection, instantly made terms with Ranjit Singh, the leader of the Jats, and pushed on all his forces to the pursuit, at the same time throwing a strong reinforcement into the fort of Agra, the garrison of which was placed under the command of Lakwa Dada, one of his best officers.
The following version of the affair appears in the Calcutta Gazette:
"Reports are various respecting the particulars of an engagement between Scindia and the Rajahs of Joynaghur and Jeypore; it is certain a very bloody battle was fought near Joynaghur about the end of last month, in which, though the enemy were repulsed in their attack on his advanced body by Scindia's troops, with much gallantry, they were ultimately in a great measure victorious, as Scindia lost a part of his artillery during the engagement, which was long and obstinate, and in which upwards of 2,000 men were killed on either side. Both armies, however, still kept the field. Among the chiefs of note who fell on the part of Scindia, is Ajeet Roy. On that of the Joynaghur Rajah, is Mohamed Beg Humdanee, a very celebrated commander, much regretted by that party, and, but for whose loss, it is said that the Mahrattas would have been totally defeated. Several of Scindia's battalions, with a considerable corps of artillery, went over to the enemy on the 1st instant, but the intelligence we have yet received does not enable us to account for this revolt."
Francklin says, in general terms, that Mohamad Beg went over at the commencement of the action, and that it was Partab Singh who conferred the command of the Moghuls upon Ismail Beg. But Partab Singh would have no voice in such a matter, and Francklin inconsistently adds that the trained battalions of the late Afrasyab's force went over later in the day. Where no authorities are given, it is inevitable that we should judge for ourselves. And, after all, the point is not of much importance. It is, however, pretty clear that the Moghul nobles were grievously discontented; that their discontents were known to the Rajputs before they provoked a collision; and that the latter were joined by them as soon as a likelihood appeared of Sindhia's being defeated.
General de Boigne used to relate that this was the hour of Sindhia's moral greatness. He made vast efforts to conciliate the Jats, appealing to the Thakur's rustic vanity by costly presents, while he propitiated the feeling of the Bhartpur army, and the patriotism of the country at large, by restoring to the Jats the fortress of Dig, which had been held for the Emperor ever since its conquest by Najaf Khan. He likewise placed his siege-train in the charge of his new allies, who stored it in their chief fort of Bhartpur. At the same time he wrote letters to Poona, earnestly urging a general combination for the good cause.
Ismail Beg, on his part was not idle. His first effort was to procure the co-operation of the Rajputs, and had they not been too proud or too indolent to combine actively with him, it is possible that Mahratta influence might have been again overthrown, and the comparatively glorious days of Mirza Najaf Khan renewed in the Empire of Hindostan. A fresh associate, too, in these designs are now to appear upon the scene, which, for a brief but terrible period, he was soon after to fill. This was Gholam Kadir, who hastened from Ghausgarh to join in the resuscitation of Mohamadan interests, and to share in the gains. The Emperor, moreover, was known to be in private correspondence with the Rajput chiefs, who shortly after this inflicted another defeat on the Mahrattas under Ambaji.
Unable to resist this combination, Sindhia fell back upon Gwalior, and Ismail Beg hotly pressed the siege of Agra.
Towards the end of the rainy season of 1787, Gholam Kadir approached Dehli, and encamped on the Shahdara side of the river, his object at this time being, in all probability, a renewal of his father's claims, and attempts to obtain the dignity of Amir-ul-Umra or Premier Noble. He is always understood to have been acting under the direction of Manzur Ali Khan, Controller of the Imperial Household, who thought to secure a valuable support for the cause of Islam by introducing the young Pathan chief into the administration. The Mahratta garrison was commanded by a son-in-law of the Patel, known in Musalman History as the Desmukh which is interpreted "Collector of Land Revenue," and by a member of the Imperial Household, on whom, from some unexplained reason, had been bestowed the title of the great Aulia Saint Shah Nizam-ud-din, and who had lately been placed in charge of the Home Revenues, as stated above (p. 152.) These officers immediately opened fire from the guns on the riverside of the fort, and the young Rohilla replied from the opposite bank. At the same time, however, he did not fail to employ the usual Eastern application of war's sinews; and the Moghul soldiers of the small force being corrupted, the Mahrattas made but a feeble resistance. Gholam Kadir crossed the river, and the Imperial officers fled to the Jat Fort of Balamgarh, leaving their camp and private effects to the mercy of the victor.
It need hardly be observed that the firing on the palace was an act of gross disrespect, and, unless explained, of rebellion. Nor was the young chief blind to the importance of basing his proceedings on an appearance of regularity. He accordingly entered into a correspondence with the above mentioned Manzur Ali (a nominee, it may be remembered, of the late Mirza Najaf Khan). By the agency of this official, Gholam Kadir was introduced to the Diwan Khas, where he presented a Nazar of five gold mohurs, and was graciously received. He excused his apparent violence by attributing it to zeal for the service of his Majesty, formally applied for the patent of Amir-ul-Umra, and with professions of implicit obedience withdrew to cultivate the acquaintance of the courtiers, retiring at night to his own camp. Matters remained in this condition for two or three days, when Gholam Kadir, impatient perhaps at the non-occurrence of any circumstance which might advance his designs, re-entered the Palace with seventy or eighty troopers, and took up his abode in the quarters usually occupied by the Amir-ul-Umra.
Meanwhile, Begam Sumroo, who was with her forces operating against a fresh rising of the Cis-Satlaj Sikhs, hastened from Panipat and presented herself in the palace. Awed by this loyal lady and her European officers, and finding the Moghul courtiers unwilling to enter into any combination against them, the baffled Rohilla retired across the river, and remained for some time quiet in his camp. Francklin, indeed, states that the cannonade was renewed immediately on Gholam Kadir's return to his camp; but it is more probable that, as stated above, this renewal did not occur until the arrival of Najaf Kuli Khan. The Emperor showed on this occasion some sparks of the temper of old time, before misfortune and sensual indulgence had demoralized his nature. He sent Moghul chiefs to keep an eye on the Pathan, while he increased his household troops by a levy of 6,000 horse, for the pay of whom he melted a quantity of his personal plate. He also despatched messengers to the converted Rathor, Najaf Kuli Khan, who was on his estate at Rewari, urging his immediate attendance in Dehli.
Rewari is in what is now the district of Gurgaon, and lies about fifty miles S.W. of Dehli. It is a country of mixed mountain and valley; the former being a table-land of primitive rocks, the latter the sandy meadow land on the right bank of the river Jamna. Here, in a district wrested by his former patron from the Jats, Najaf Kuli had been employed in endeavours to subjugate the indigenous population of Mewatis, a race professing Islam like himself, but mixing it with many degrading superstitions, and resembling their neighbours the Minas of Rajputana and the Bhattis of Hariana in habits of vagrancy and lawlessness, which above half a century of British administration has even now failed to eradicate.
Najaf Kuli Khan obeyed the Imperial summons, and reached Dehli, where he encamped close to the Begam Sumroo, in front of the main gate of the Palace, on the 17th November, 1787. The general command of the Imperial troops was conferred upon the Emperor's second son, Mirza Akbar, who, since the flight of his elder brother, had been considered as heir apparent, and who now received a khillat of seven pieces. The son of a Hindu official, named Ram Rattan, was appointed the Prince's deputy (although he was by descent nothing but a modi or "chandler"); and a cannonade was opened on the camp of Gholam Kadir, who replied by sending round shot into the palace itself, some of which fell on the Diwan Khas.
Sindhia's conduct at this juncture has never been explained. He was himself at Gwalior, and his army under Lakwa Dada, shut up in the fort of Agra, was defending itself as well as it might against the forces under Ismail Beg. At the same time the author of the Tarikh-i-Mazafari assures us that Ambaji Inglia one of Sindhia's most trusty lieutenants, arrived in Dehli with a small force, and that his arrival was the signal for a reconciliation between the Emperor's principal adherents and Gholam Kadir, who was then introduced to the presence, and invested with the dignity of Premier Noble (Shah Alam himself binding upon his head the jewelled fillet called Dastar-u-Goshwara). It is probable that a compromise was effected, in which Gholam Kadir, by receiving the desired office at the hands of the Mahratta minister, was supposed to have acknowledged the supremacy of the latter. The whole story is perplexing. When cannonaded, the Pathan chief suddenly appears within the palace; when Sindhia's troops arrive, he receives the investiture that he was seeking in opposition to Sindhia; and at the moment of success he marches off to Aligarh. This latter movement is, however, accounted for by Francklin, who attributes it to the news of Prince Jawan Bakht being at hand with the forces of Himmat Bahadur, who had joined the cause of Ismail Beg. At all events, if Gholam Kadir owed this sudden improvement in his position to the good offices of the man whose garrison he had so lately chased from Dehli, he did not evince his gratitude in a form that could have been expected; for he lost no time in marching against Sindhia's late conquest of Aligarh, which fort almost immediately fell into his hands. He then proceeded to join his forces to those of Ismail Beg, before Agra; and remained for some months assisting at the siege of that fort; these operations being subject to constant annoyance from the Jats, and from the troops of Sindhia, who finally crossed the Chambal at the end of the cold season of 1787, having received large reinforcements from the Deccan. Ismail Beg and Gholam Kadir immediately raised the siege of Agra, turned upon the advancing army, and an obstinate battle took place at Chaksana, eleven miles from Bhartpur, on the 24th April. The particulars of this action are not given by the native historian, whom I here follow, but they are detailed by Grant Duff, who probably had them from General de Boigne, who was present at the action, and with whom that writer had frequent conversations at Chamberi after the General's retirement to his native country. The Mahratta army was commanded by Rana Khan, a man who, having in the capacity of a water-carrier been the means of assisting Sindhia to escape from the carnage of Panipat in 1761, had been much protected by him; and being otherwise a man of merit, was now become one of the chief officers of the army. Besides M. de Boigne there was another French officer present, whose name is given by Duff as Listeneaux, perhaps a mistake for some such word as Lestonneaux. John Hessing was also in this campaign, as may be gathered from the epitaph on his tomb, which is close to that of Sumroo at Agra. (See Appendix.) The Musalman leaders fought well, Gholam Kadir threw himself upon the infantry of the right wing, and broke them. Ismail Beg with all the impetuosity of his character vigorously attacked the battalions of M. de Boigne, but was received with sang froid and resolution. The Mahratta horse supported the infantry fairly, but were overmatched for such severe duty by the weight of the Moghul cavalry and their superior discipline. It is probable, however, that the infantry, formed and led by Europeans, would have been more than a match for all their attempts, had not three of the battalions deserted and joined the enemy, while the Jat cavalry failed to sustain the efforts of the remaining sepoys. The army of Rana Khan, under these circumstances, withdrew under cover of night to Bhartpur; and Ismail Beg renewed the siege of Agra, while Gholam Kadir moved northward in order to protect his own possessions from an incursion of the Sikhs, with which he was then just threatened.
While these transactions were going on to the south and south-east of the capital, the Emperor had been occupied by a campaign which he conducted personally in the west, and which might have given Sindhia much anxiety had it been directed by a more efficient leader. As events turned, this expedition is chiefly remarkable as being the last faint image of the once splendid operations of the great military monarchy of Akbar and of Aurangzeb.
At the end of 1787, and probably in consequence of Ismail Beg's attempts to secure the co-operation of the Rajputs, an embassy from Jodhpur had presented itself at the Court of Shah Alam, bearing a handsome nazar (gift of homage or respect) and a golden key. The envoy explained that he was instructed by his master Bijai Singh, the Rathor leader, to present this, the key of the Fort of Ajmir, in token of his wish that an Imperial army under his Majesty in person might march thither and take possession of that country; adding that Partab Sing, the Kachwaha Dhiraj of Jaipur joined in the application.
It seems plain that principle and prudence should have combined to deter the Emperor from consenting to this invitation, whereby he took an active step of hostility towards Sindhia, his minister, and at this time perhaps his most powerful and best disposed supporter. But the dream of a Musalman restoration, even with Hindu aid, will always have a fascination for the sons of Islam; and the weak Shah Alam adopted the proposal with an alacrity such as he had not shown for many years. On the 5th of January, 1788, he marched from Dehli, accompanied by several of the princes and princesses of his family. From the fact of Mirza Akbar continuing to be regarded as heir apparent, and from some other considerations, it may be gathered that the last attempt of Jawan Bakht in the Emperor's favour, and its eventual defeat, must have already taken place; for such is the confused manner in which these events are related by my authorities some leaving out one part, and some another, while the dates shine few and far, like stars in a stormy night that the relative position of events is sometimes left entirely open to conjecture. But it is certain that the excellent prince whom we have heretofore encountered more than once, did about this time make his appearance at the capital, with a small contingent supplied him by the Viceroy of Audh, adding to his force such irregular troops as he was able to raise upon the way; and that on this occasion it was that he addressed to George III. of Britain the touching yet manly appeal from which I make the following extract: "Notwithstanding the wholesome advice given from the throne to Sindhia, to conciliate the attachment of the ancient nobility, and to extend protection to the distressed peasantry, that ungrateful chief, regardless of the royal will, has established himself in continued and unvaried opposition; until he, having by his oppressions exasperated the Rajas and Princes of the Empire, particularly the most illustrious prince of Jainagar, Raja Partab Singh, as likewise the ruler of Jodhpur, both of whom are allied by blood to our family, these chiefs united to chastise the oppressor, gave him battle, and defeated him; but the machinations of the rebellious increased. On one side, Gholam Kadir Khan (son of the detested Afghan Zabita Khan) has raised the standard of rebellion. His example having encouraged others, the disturbance became so formidable as to penetrate even to the threshold of the Imperial palace; so that our august parent was compelled to make use of the most strenuous exertions."
This statement of the condition of the Empire is interesting, as being given by a contemporary writer in all respects the best able to judge. He concludes by an urgent appeal to the British monarch for assistance "to restore the royal authority, punish the rebellious and re-establish the house of Timur, and, by this kind interposition, to give repose to the people of God, and render his name renowned among the princes of the earth."
Among the pressing disturbances noted by the prince was undoubtedly the defection of Najaf Kuli Khan, whom we have lately seen combined with the Begam in the protection of the Emperor against the insults of Gholam Kadir, but who had since gone into open rebellion, upon an attempt made by the faction in temporary power to supplant him in his government by one Murad Beg. This Moghul officer having been put in charge of some part of the convert's territorial holding, the latter not unnaturally regarded the act as a menace to his whole power, waylaid the Moghul on his way to his new post, and put him in confinement at Rewari.
But the men who had given the advice which led to this misfortune did not stop there, but proceeded to strike at the prince himself, whom they accused to the Emperor of designs upon the throne. He obtained however the titular office of Governor of Agra, and seriously attempted, with the aid of Ismail Beg, to obtain possession of the fort and province. Foiled in this, and escaping narrowly an attempt upon his person by Gholam Kadir, he ultimately retired to the protection of the British at Benares, where he died a mortified and heartbroken man on the 31st May, in the eventful year 1788. It is not quite clear, from the records of these transactions, why the prince, experienced statesman as he was, attempted to ally himself to those Musalman malcontents rather than to the Mahratta Chief, whose ability and resources must have been well known to him. It must, however, be admitted that Sindhia was just then showing an inaction which was calculated to arouse Jawan Bakht's suspicions, and we can trace, in the letter quoted a short time back, signs of hostility in his mind against that wily politician. Idle as the speculation may now appear, it is difficult to refrain from a passing thought on the manner in which his choice of associates affected the fate not merely of his royal Father, but of Hindustan and the British power there. United with Sindhia he would in all probability have drawn off Gholam Kadir and changed the whole fortunes of the country. Dis aliter visum.
The prince, who was known to the English as Jahandar Shah, is described as "an accomplished gentleman, irreproachable in his private character, constant, humane, and benevolent" (Francklin, p. 162). He was about forty at the time of his death which was caused by a fit, and is narrated in detail at p. 256 of the selections from the Calcutta Gazettes, in a manner somewhat more minute than that of Francklin, whose account (taken as usual from Raza Khan) appears inaccurate as well as incomplete.
Unattended therefore by this, his best and nearest friend, the poor old Emperor began his march to the westward. On the way it appeared well to take the opportunity of reducing Najaf Kuli, who, confident in his stronghold of Gokalgarh, would make no submission unless he were appointed premier. As we know that the Controller Manzur Ali, who was at present all-powerful, was in favour of the claims of Gholam Kadir, we may suppose that these terms were rejected with scorn, and the trenches were accordingly opened and the fort invested. The Emperor's army on this occasion consisted, according to Francklin, of some battalions of half-drilled infantry (called Najibs), the body guard, called the "Red Battalion," a very considerable body of Moghul horse, and three disciplined regiments which had been raised and drilled by the deceased Sumroo, and now with a detail of artillery and about two hundred European gunners, served under the well-known Begam; with these forces Shah Alam sate down before Gokalgarh. On the 5th April, 1788, the besieged made a vigorous sally, and charged close up to the tents of the Emperor. Such was the unprepared state of the royal camp, that the whole family were in imminent danger of being killed or captured; the imperial army was already in commotion, when, at this moment, three battalions of the Begam's Sepoys and a field piece dashed up, under the command of her chief officer Mr. Thomas. The infantry deployed with the gun in the centre, and threw in a brisk fire of musketry and grape, which checked the sortie, and gave the Imperialists time to form. The Moghul horse lost their leader: on the other side the Chela (adopted son) of the chief was shot dead; Himmat Bahadur, at the head of his Gosains (a kind of fighting friars who were then beginning to be found useful as mercenaries), delivered a frantic charge, in which they lost 200 men; and Najaf Kuli was finally driven in with the loss of his field-guns. He soon after opened negotiations through the inevitable Manzur Ali; and, the Begam Sumroo joining in his favour, he was admitted to the presence and fully pardoned. In the same Darbar, the Begam was publicly thanked for her services, and proclaimed the Emperor's daughter, under the title of Zeb-un-Nissa "Ornament of her sex."