Volume: 14, No: 10 ; October-2020
After the offer of safe passage for all in the Wheeler’s Entrenchment was accepted, as per the schedule, all had to leave the entrenchment for the nearest bank of the Ganges named, ‘Satichaura Ghat’.
An evil custom of ‘Sati’ (now not only banned but also it is not practiced anymore) was once performed here. In this Hindu death-ritual, a widowed lady sat on the pyre of her husband to be burnt along with the dead-body.
On the 27th day of the summer month of June, all left the entrenchment for this ghat (vernacular for river bank) which was only about one and a half kilometre away from Wheeler’s Entrenchment. Here, as per the agreement between Major General Sir Hugh Massy Wheeler and Nana Sahib, forty boats with roofs made of straw were arranged to sail them from Cawnpore (now Kanpur) to Allahabad (now Prayagraj).
British party leaves in hope, leaving behind the ‘Fort of Despair’
Elegant and beautiful English ladies who once were all decked up in the best of finery and followed high-society customs, being lady wives of high ranking officials, were almost stripped of all their belongings and walked in tattered clothes, most of them without any gowns and only bed sheets wrapped around. Senior officers wore torn and stained uniforms and many of them were even without shirts and socks, as soft clothing had been used for bandaging the injured in the entrenchment when medical supplies had exhausted. Sadly, words like shirts, trousers, socks, gowns, scarves etc cannot be used to describe the clothing that the members of the British party wore when marching, with only renewed hope that gave some confidence.
Accompanying Indians who belonged to the Indian regiments, and were once under the command of the British officers, did not come forward to help their officers or any of their masters. Many native sepoys who met the marching party en route, were quite vocal in their expressions to ridicule the British for their surrender. British officers replied that had there not been the dearth of ration and water, they would have held the fort till the last man died.
Kind and loyal natives punished for their loyalty to the British
There were many sepoys who were kind too and enquired about their officers on not finding them in the party, and on hearing about their sacrifice, felt quite sad and unhappy.
A few sepoys still remained loyal to their officers but these were actually at risk and probably much more than the British officers themselves. Jamadar Khuda Bux was one such sepoy, who was helping injured Lieutenant Charles R. Goad by holding him. As the party reached the mess, en route to the ghat, Khuda Bux was intercepted by the rebels, who captured him and took away the ammunition that was in his procession, removed his head gear and stripped him of his uniform. Similar was the fate of his son and other native loyal Indians. It was a kind of arrest and they were asked to accompany the rebels to Savada Kothi to be confined there. This was in contradiction to the agreement. The agreement clearly read that the native sepoys and the servants who remained loyal and were with the British Forces in the entrenchment will also be allowed a safe passage.
British Party on foot was followed by about eighty palanquins and sixteen elephants carrying the sick and the injured and these were more than two hundred in number who had to be reached to the riverbank to board the boats. Capt Moore led an advance guard that primarily had a few men from 32nd and he now had to return to pick-up another contingent, comprising those who just could not move at all, but no native sepoy helped and all this had to be done by the Europeans themselves. The injured and sick still had only water to survive on and no food was offered to them.
Some still walked, while ladies and small children sat on the bullock-carts. The moment Wheeler’s Entrenchment was vacated; rebel sepoys stormed it taking procession of it all, as if they were waiting for this moment.
Killing and betrayal en route
Emma Sophia Fooks Ewart had lost her child in the siege and was walking alongside a carriage that carried her husband, Col John Ewart of 1st Infantry whose hand was badly injured. Just then, a few sepoys from Col John Ewart’s regiment, stopped them showing they were worried, took Colonel Ewart near St John’s Church and mockingly asked the injured Col Ewart who was in extreme pain, “Is the parade well dressed up now?”, a stern question that Col Ewart would often ask the soldiers, when he commanded the parade. Already shattered Emma was really sad and helplessly stood seeing all this unfolding in front of her eyes. Then, one of the rebels took drew his sword and killed unarmed Col Ewart in cold blood. They then asked Emma to continue walking and that she is safe now. But just then shattered and speechless Emma was slaughtered too by the rebels.
General Wheeler and many senior officers, who were heading this party, were unknown of these two killings as they had moved ahead believing, Nana Sahib had fulfilled his promise to give a safe passage to all entrenched.
As the officers approached the ghat, there was a temple on an elevated column, where two men were sitting, to whom Gen Wheeler nodded as a greeting or in thankfulness of the gesture that Nana and the rebels had shown. These two men were none other than Nana Sahib’s two younger brothers, Baba Bhutt and Bala Rao. Azimullah Khan and Tatya Tope too were there and were exchanging eye-signals with Jwala Prasad and Teeka Singh who were perched on horse-backs.
Conditions were tough and not conducive
When the party reached the river, it was a challenge to board the docked boats as they weren’t near the bank. Amy Horne who was the step-daughter of John Hampden Cook from his marriage to Emma Elizabeth Horne, and one of the few survivors of the Mutiny in Cawnpore mentions, “The boats were not very close in shore and we have to wade through the water as well as we could. It was really painful to witness the exertions of the aged, the sick and wounded, who got on board with no little difficulty. All this time the enemies were looking on, like so many fiends, exulting over our distressing situation, taunting and mocking us”.
Gen Wheeler took the first boat, while other boats were boarded based on position and protocol of the officers and civilians in the party. Each boat had at least two soldiers as guards in them, for the defence of the occupants and each boat was full to capacity or possibly must have surpassed its carrying capacity. Amy Horne in her records has mentioned: “I sat on the roof of one alongside my little sister with the broken leg. She was in agony of pains and it was utterly impossible to take her inside”.
It was now about nine in the morning and some late comers were still reaching the ghat. Though all boats were full but still these had to be taken as no one could be left behind. The boats were docked at a distance and they had to walk through deep water to reach the nearest boat. This was probably due to, either hurried planning, as all were just keen on getting out from there and no one paid attention to this detail, or this could also be due to a technical reason that the rivers usually run dry during Indian summers, till it properly starts raining and sailable depth is only available at a substantial distance through the riverbed.
Capt Moore had ordered the boats to move as quickly as they are filled and not in any order or to follow any protocol. The boat, in which Major Edward Vibart (Maj Vibart) was, was the first to sail. Major Vibart’s boat was smaller and lighter, had many uninjured and healthy officers including Capt. John Moore and others like Lieutenant H.G. Delafosse, Capt. Whiting of Engineers and Lieutenant George Ashe got off and pushed it through the sand into deeper water to set sail.
Escape or an agenda to kill
Just then Jwala Prasad gave some unknown signal and all the boatmen jumped off from the boats into the river, leaving the boats unmanned. Before jumping into the river, these men had placed burning coal on the straw-roof, which suddenly caught fire and that too quickly as the straw was very dry and highly combustible.
Now, Nana Sahib’s plan was somewhat visible, when 16 horsemen who had led Maj Vibart, fired on the boat from the banks. In reply, the British returned the heavy fire from their boats and it was an all out confusion. Now, men sprung up from river, as if they were hiding in the water, and thousands of shots from the rebels, targeting the boats were fired.
Four nine-pounders that were hid in the bushes were pointed towards the boats that were stuck in the sand elevations in the river. Nana Sahib, under the command of Bhondu Singh, had positioned Seventeenth Native Infantry with two guns on the other side of the bank of the Ganges, which was the Oudh (Awadh) side.
The able-bodied Europeans in the melee, jumped off the boats to push it through and set sail, but boats with passengers and all the stuff loaded on the them, were now much more heavier than when they were empty, to be pushed by hands into the river. Almost all boats were exposed to fire from the rebels and from both sides now. Smoke from the roofs was another horror that blinded and choked the occupants of the boats, who included very small children, ladies, injured and the sick.
The injured and the sick that were immobile were burnt alive on the boat as fire had spread. Some ladies and infants were hiding behind the boat or walked into the water that was chin-deep as no one knew where to go or what to do. All were caught unaware and unprepared. It was horrific and chaotic.
As Maj. Vibart’s group had set sail first so they managed to sail through and very quickly. Most of the occupants were so desperate that they just jumped and started swimming out of this horrific scene. By now, many horsemen and sepoys on foot ran towards the party through the water to kill all, without any distinction. Just then tragically, General Wheeler was killed by a sepoy who decapitated his head from the neck with a sword.
Reverend Moncrieff was holding on to his family and shouted “If we English take prisoners, we do not put them to death, but imprison them. Spare our lives, and put us into prison”. But this only instigated the rebels further and they killed him along with his wife and children who stood clinging to each other.
Daughter of Col. Williams too was not lucky, though when confronted by a rebel she told him, how kind her father Col Williams was to the natives, but the moment she turned around, she was struck by an axe. Yet another gruesome killing was that of a four year old child, and yet another infant was held by a leg and thrown in the air, far into the river. Two young boys were killed in front of their mother, Eliza Bradshaw who was a widowed wife of Manuel Bradshaw, though she herself along with her granddaughter was spared.
Just then, someone shouted that firing be stopped and instruction to do so, had came from Nana Sahib, at least not to kill the women and children in the British party.
Prisoners of war by deceit
About 125 disheveled members of the British party were surrounded by the rebel forces, many of these were injured and extremely sick, plus now all wet, without any foot-ware and covered with mud, were asked to sit on the sandy river-bed. By now summer sun had already heated the sand and it had become unbearably hot, more so for the Europeans, who were not used to such high temperatures.
Some rebel-sepoys were kind enough to at least offer drinking water to some of them. After about thirty minutes or so, all these hundred and twenty five captives were asked to march under rebel-guards to Savada Kothi, which was now turned into a prison and was housing the survivors from Fatehgarh (or Fatehgur) ambush.
For Nana Sahib it was a victorious day. He ordered celebratory firing in the air and also nineteen gun salute for his younger brother, Bala Rao who was appointed the Governor General of Nana, now decaled Peshwa taking the throne of his foster father.
Rare escape of a few, though this one too was not smooth
Vibart’s boat along with two other boats had sailed forward, but it soon got stranded on sand elevation in Oudh territory. Mowbary Thomson, Murphy and another from 84th Foot who were swimming through, had covered the distance, to catch up and reached the boat. Other 2 boats now were fired upon by a cannon, one of these boats was pushed on to the bank and 18 occupants were immediately captured by 17th native infantry. They were marched off in captivity to Nana Sahib. The second boat was closest to the one that had Vibart in it and the occupants of this now changed on to Vibart’s boat. Capt John Moore and Lt George Ashe were tragically killed by a musket fire when they were trying to release the boat from the sand elevation where it was stuck in the river.
By the morning of Sunday, 28 June 1857 the boats could only cover about 16 kilometres as they were quite damaged due to heavy shelling and firing from the rebels. The occupants were drained and fatigued, with only positive being that the mutineers had abandoned the chase, or so the occupants of the boat thought.
The same afternoon this boat got stuck in the sand, off Najafgarh (56 km by road from Cawnpore), a territory of Oudh. They were noticed by a local zamindaar (feudal landlord), Raja Rao Ram Bux Singh. Sizing the haplessness of the occupants, it was attacked, killing Capt. Francis Whiting and Harrison first. Vibart who was already injured in one arm, had got off the boat to push it through but just then, a bullet struck his another arm, disabling both his arms and he was taken a prisoner (Vibart is said to have been executed later on 1 July 1857) . Similarly, Capt Athill Turner’s legs were disabled and along with them two more officers and a lady, Mrs. Seppings, wife of Capt. E.J. Seppings, were badly injured.
Raja Rao Ram Bux Singh (also known as Babu Rao Ram Bux Singh. ‘Bux’ is spelt and pronounced as vernacular as ‘Baksh’) was a rich Zamindar (feudal lord) who owned a lot of land. Ram Bux Singh was also a jeweler and was trading from a shop in Cawnpore. Some believe that he had a lot of gold and had buried it somewhere in Unnao.
A recent controversy of digging the buried gold in Unnao based on a priest’s dream of 1000 tons being hidden somewhere in a village called, ‘Daundiya Kheda’, was based on this belief. The priest who dreamt about the hidden treasure died recently in 2019 and with it died his mission too, but thereafter a pot of gold was found during the digging in Unnao, though not as much as the priest believed when he was alive. (Read about this controversy of digging gold by the governemt)
In another contrasting narrative of Raja Rao Ram Bux attacking the boat, it is said some British leaving their boat, ran into the territory and hid inside a temple there. On knowing about the hiding place, Babu Rao Ram Bux Singh ordered the temple be locked and burnt, killing all who were hiding inside.
Raja Rao Ram Bux Singh was finally arrested by the British in Varanasi where he took refuge after the mutiny and was executed on 28 December 1857.
After the sunset, one boat that had about fifty mutineers on it came from Cawnpore and caught up with this British boat. The rebels were heavily armed and probably were following this escape boat, with an objective to kill all the British on it, though this rebel boat too, got stranded, getting stuck in the sand. Very swiftly, without a second though the British occupants who were about 18 in number, attacked it forcing the rebels to flee, leaving the boat which was loaded with a lot of ammunition, though this boat was without any food at all, which was most required to keep the surviving British party going.
Only four from this escape-boat, were now alive that included Lt. Mowbray Thomson, Lt. Henry George Delafosse, a gunner Sullivan and a private Murphy of 84th and 1st Madras Fusiliers. All four swam through the Ganges for about two and half hours, which did help these four to cover a good distance and leave rebels far behind. Rebels too, had given up on the mission to eliminate the survivors. A rebel on a horse was last seen but he took an about-turn as by then, all four had reached a friendly territory of Balrampur. Balrampur was under a Taluqdars (Also spelt, Talukders. Indian feudal nobleman often had titles of Raja, given by British) a then a part of Oudh. Raja Digvijay Singh was the Taluqdars of Balrampur and remained loyal to the British even in the toughest times.
All four survivors were now given protection by the Raja Digvijay Singh of Balrampur in his fort. Nana Sahib tried thrice to convince Raja Digvijay Singh to handover the four to him but Raja bluntly told Nana that he did not recognise him or his kingdom thus cannot entertain any request whatsoever. Nana was so desperate for these four that he sent a messenger to Russia for help but that too did not help (or he just mentioned this to frighten the Raja). It was Raja Digvijay Singh’s resolve, to protect the four British guests and prove his loyalty, which saved all four Thomson, Delafosse, Sullivan and Murphy. Finally these four joined the relief force that was moving up the Ganges and were now safe. Interestingly, these were the only four who survived without being captured in the Cawnpore Mutiny – Massacre of Satichaura Ghat.
The two women captured (not imprisoned) live on
An unnamed European woman was captured by a rebel, Ali Shah who hid her in a bullock-cart and did not present her before Nana Sahib as one of the captives. When Nana Sahib came to know about this, he questioned Ali Shah and Ali had to hand her over to Nana Sahib’s men. Later she was taken as a prisoner, joining the rest in Savada Kothi.
In spite of this incident, another two ladies were still not made a part of prisoners. One of these two was Amy (Amella) Home, who lived to write a very sad experience of what she went through. Rebels on horses captured her and snatched her small pieces of jewelry that were on her. One among those pointed his gun on her head but Amy stood unmoved and fearless, she was then on the command of this gun-pointing rebel, picked up by another rebel and flung into the river. She was taken to the bank of the river, where another lady in the same condition was already a captive. Both were now made to walk along with the horse without any foot-ware or scarf in the hot June sun, and the horse-riders held their hands tightly with a manly grip. They were then taken to a hut just about four and a half kilometer from the riverbank.
Two Mohammedan priests were called and Amy Home was converted into Islam. The rebel Ismail Khan who had captured her, made her his wife (though nothing more than a concubine). Amy continued to live with Ismail Khan for almost 9 months in a pitiable condition and in extreme fear of being eliminated any day. Very intelligently, Amy in April of 1858 convinced Ismail Khan to let her go and in lieu of her release, she would pray for Ismail to be pardoned by Allah for all his wrong-doings. Things by then were under-control of the British and on leaving Ismail Khan; Amy Home reached her relative in Allahabad. (She then married and lived in Calcutta with one William Bennett)
The other lady, who was also a captive, was actually Margret Wheeler, Gen Hugh Wheeler’s young daughter, all of 18 years or so then. For long it was being believed that Margret killed her captor and then killed herself to protect herself from any future threats. But this was not the case, Margret Wheeler, like Amy Home was forced to marry a young Pathan rebel Nizam Ali Khan from Rampur. (Many attempts were made after to trace her and finally a clue was given by someone who was serving the Nawab of Rampur that Nizam Ali Khan lived with a young lady with European looks but dressed in Indian clothes. In spite of best attempts to trace Margret and Nizam Ali Khan, the British authorities failed.)
Story does not end here. The prisoners taken by Nana Sahib were primarily women and children who were spared of the ambush at the Satichaura Ghat which was nothing less than the Massacre Ghat.
(Our focus now moves to the prisoners held by the rebel forces in Savada Kothi by Nana Sahib, which we will carry in next month’s Lucknowledge – up coming November 2020 issue vol 14; No 11)
Margret Wheeler lived through circa 1905 in Cawnpore
Margret Wheeler, daughter of Major General Sir Hugh Massy Wheeler though initially forced to convert into Islam and marry Nizam Ali Khan, had accepted the relationship in right earnest. In 1861 a historian first claimed that there was a European lady, a converted Mohammedan, living in Cawnpore, who was quite happy with no intention to revert or return. Confirmation of this could only happen in 1880 when Mrs. Emma Clarke who lived in Cawnpore and was known to Margret from her younger days, met her and urged Margret to at least inform her brothers that she was alive and well. But Margret Wheeler confided in her saying that Nizam Ali Khan, no matter who he was and what he did, at least saved her life and protected her all through, thus she did not want to risk his life and in return. Margret believed, it was her duty to protect her husband now as she was his wife. In around 1905 when she was on the death-bed, she called a catholic pastor home and confided in him that she indeed was General Wheeler’s daughter Margret Wheeler. This further confirmed the earlier claims.
(Not much is known of her thereafter; how and where she was finally buried and was it an Islamic burial or a Christian one. Probably she also did not have any children or nothing much is known about them.)
Much later, 6 August 1857 Lieutenant Delafosse submitted his report to Captain Spurgin.
Source: The London Gazette; 24 November 1857 (Click on the link read) – the-london-gazette-24-november-1857
LUCKNOWLEDGE is an initiative by Tornos. We do not intend to intrude your privacy and thus have an automated UNSUBSCRIBE system. At any point you may unsubscribe to our e-column or subscribe to it again through a link on our website. The above article is shared and in no way intends to violate any copy right or intellectual rights that always remains with the writer/publisher. This e-column is a platform to share an article/event/update with the netizens and educate them about Destination Lucknow.