Volume: 14, No: 03 ; March-2020
Born in Dublin in 1827, George Schilling, the Principal of La Martiniere pursued his education at King’s College in London.
La Martiniere is a renowned and a very prestigious educational institution in a large and imposing palace, located about two and a half miles from the Lucknow Residency, the epicentre of the siege in 1857. The building of La Martiniere was constructed by Major General Claude Martin (1735 – 1800) and happens to be the largest school in terms of area that it still has.
Maj Gen Claude Martin, a French solder and an adventurer who very closely associated himself with the British amassed a wealth of 28 lakhs. Martin, willed that when he dies he was to be buried in one of the rooms of this palace and that three schools be built – one in Lucknow, which was his former residence, another at Calcutta then capital and Martin’s professional turf and yet another in his native place, Lyons in France.
It was month of March of 1857, when Schilling, a family man with a daughter, was assigned to head this institution which then had two hundred and sixty eight pupils, the teaching staff and somewhere near 100 dependents.
When attack broke on the Europeans in Delhi and Meerut and this came to the knowledge of Schilling, he of course was concerned about the safety and security of children, staff and all dependents; above all he had to stock up ration to provide for all who were here. It was then that he stocked grains, ghee, pulses et al and drinking water too in big earthen pots.
A guard belonging to the 3rd Oudh Military Police was provided for the safety of school. Of course this was not enough and he also took several immediate and very intelligent precautions to safeguard in wake of any eventuality that may arise. As outlined in his report to the Trustees of the Martin’s Charities; “….the establishment was moved to the main building of the Constantia House; the bigger boys armed and sentries from among them were stationed at the top of the building during the daytime; while the masters were assigned with the task of keeping watch during the night. Around the same time, the bridges linking the main building with the wings of Martiniere were destroyed; the doors in front of the building were barricaded; those behind were built up with kucha walls (mud-walls), five feet high, and of course the same thickness; all stairs were built up; and all the doors leading to the central staircase, except for one, were blocked with bricks which had been bought for building a large well”.
11 June was the date when the troops of the Oudh Military Police Cavalry revolted, and very next day on 12 June the infantry of the Military Police joined the fray, but luckily the guard stationed at La Martiniere had absconded to join the revolt without harming Schilling, on whose duty he was assigned.
As some boys had already returned to their parents in and around Lucknow, number of boys in the school had reduced to 66 in number out of which 4 were resident scholars. These boys watched expectantly from the terrace of La Martiniere as apparently a rebel who intended to attack the college at night, took up a position in a mango grove within the estate on southern boundary of the park.
But with the Resident’s support, and some guns and a Lawrence’s Volunteer Cavalry unit, led by Captain Radcliffe, reached timely for action. A few grapeshots with close range dispersed the rebels who were then charged by the Volunteer Cavalry and forced out of the estate into woods.
Two divisions of the H.M.’s 32nd Regiment, led by Colonel Inglis, arrived and advanced into the woods, taking control of the Sepoys who were found in good number here.
While all this was going on at La Martiniere, Schilling, who was returning on his horse from the Residency ran into a handful of mutineers in the park, however, Shilling was a good horse-rider and thanks to his good horse too that he could gallop fast and reach safely back.
The Oudh Military Police stationed at La Martiniere was now replaced with a troop of one Sergeant and eight men from the H.M’s 32nd Regiment. Though within only a few days Henry Lawrence realised that it would be difficult to protect the College in case of an all out siege, thus on 17 June Schilling was asked to reach the Residency which Lawrence then considered safe or at least easier to defend along with all other Europeans who lived and had migrated here.
According to Schilling, the school was restored to Residency on 18 June as ordered by Sir Henry Lawrence the day before at 4 am. It was then that all the ongoing preparations for the defense of La Martiniere were put an end. Principal Schilling went to the Residency himself to understand the place that would be allotted to the school that was now to be housed within the Residency Complex. Also, he had to analyse what all he could carry and place into this allotted space.
The articles permitted to be brought into Residency included provisions, a bedstead, clothes, a few tables and a chair for each person. For the boys, however, it was not possible to take in so much, as rooms allotted to them would not have given enough space that otherwise they enjoyed in the sprawling campus of La Martiniere.
As a result, only twelve beds, dining tables to serve just around thirty boys, all the provisions that was stored as a contingency plan, books adequate enough to be able to continue studying, summer clothing and a few more items were carried by the coolies, of course whatever more they could carry.
In the Residency, the school was given a house on the south of the enclosure right next to the Sikh Square and opposite the Mess Brigade. The house was owned by one, Behari Lal, a local Indian banker, however when George Schilling took over the place, it came to be called as Martiniere Post. This was also the area where Claude Martin owned a few shops so that another reason too.
Principal Schilling made it a point that the school activities functioned unhindered and studies continued without any disruption. Also he ensured that his European colleagues without fear send their children to study here.
On 20th June 1857 the native Hindu and Muslim priests within the Residency were asked to leave the compound with half remuneration for 3 months but they just never returned thereafter. Similarly, the native doctor sneaked out too when he got an opportunity. College servants who were receiving their ration supplies on a daily basis from the college and were supposed to be loyal to La Martiniere, deserted too, on coming to know that Henry Lawrence’s troops were defeated in the battle of Chinhut on 30 June 1857.
Also on that day, a flock of sheep which belonged to the College was unfortunately locked out of the Residency entrenchment area creating utter confusion and chaos and then the gates were hastily closed down to secure this flock and stop this unwarranted confusion al around the entrenchment.
The Martinière Post within the Residency was in an exposed area only about 25 feet away from the godowns belonging to Johannes House, that was already under the control of rebel forces. The boys of La Martiniere armed with weapons would go to the rooftop of their Post and shoot on the targets that they set would themselves. This area belonging to Mr. Johannes’ included a pumpkin garden which could be an additional source of food supply for the rebels holding on as their front just opposite the Martiniere Post and this was an additional cause of worry.
One day, a small boy named, Hornby went up to the rooftop and was speaking to the two elder boys who were holding on to the post. Just then with diverted attention a bullet fired by the enemy struck one of the boys, James Luffman on the shoulder. Luckily it was not fatal but another boy, Edward Hilton, son of Sergeant Instructor, rescued Luffman only to be scolded and punished by Principal Shilling and declaring the rooftop as out of bounds for the boys. Luckily till the Residency was evacuated in November, there was no casualty of any Martinian, boy or staff, though several had very narrowly escaped many times during the siege. Though later Luffman, the boy who was hit by a bullet and another boy, Smith, along with two more died of illness.
In addition to the constant danger of the Johannes’ House rebel fire, the Martiniere Post members were also exposed to two other enemy attempts, of placing mines under their position and trying to blow it up. Schilling’s friend Polehampton was killed on 21 July, and on that day itself a mine from the Johannes House was uncovered just in time and rebels were forced out before they could do any harm by using grenades.
The 2nd was when the mutineer were much more successful than their 1st try. It took the outside of the main bungalow on 10 August, when the boys were in assembly. The three doors of the partition wall, which luckily stayed intact, were blown open by a blast. Schilling: “[it] carried entirely away the outer-room of the principal bungalow on the 10th August, while the boys were at prayers. The three doors in the partition wall, which fortunately remained standing, were blown open by the explosion. Before however the dust cleared away, those were barricaded with school tables, but not so as to prevent the first fatal casualty which occurred at the post, a soldier of the H.M’s 32nd Regiment, who accompanied the Brigadier on a visit of inspection”.
The danger was looming large. Mutineers came out of the Johannes House and surrounded the godowns and rebels poured out of Johannes House and the surrounding godowns, and an indiscriminate firing began. This was an effort of the rebel forces to take control of the Martiniere Post.
Inglis, clearly distraught at the death of his soldier said, “One of my brave men is gone,” and ordered the musket boys to repair the bayonets. After Martiniere Post stood bravely returning fire at the rebels, the rebels retreated from the spot of action, but a few still managed to get into the basement. Just then Capt McCabe of the 32nd came to rescue. The strategy was quite successful, where he dug holes in the floor and bombarded it with grenades. This killed 3 of them and rest fled to the Johannes’s godowns, freeing Martiniere Post.
Frankly, Johannes House had become a real threat not only for Martiniere Post but entire Residency and something concrete had to be done. Just about seven days later 50-foot British soldiers dug a mine starting from Martiniere Post till the stronghold of rebels, Johannes House. This took 3 days and was dug by men of 32nd. Precisely based on the plan on 21st British forces started huge firing from the Martiniere Post, which brought the rebels together to retaliate and fire back. Just then when all the Johannes House rebels were together the mine was exploded killing no less than 100, including the infamous sniper of his time, ‘Bob the Nailer’.
For 2 months at a stretch Schilling’s well measured ration that he brought with him from La Martiniere lasted. But after his sheep were lost the British authorities did give him a flock, on the condition that it has to be fed by the school with its own funds. Schilling could do that successfully with the stock of grain that the school part carried with it while shifting to the Residency. After these sheep finished too Schilling bought beef ration from the Residency officials that included bullock neck and head that was turned into a very nutritious and tasty soup. In his report to the trustees, Schilling mentions that he had bought all this for the school on best possible terms.
Water was in abundance and also of excellent quality which was drawn from a large well in the compound, until a bhistee (one who would carry water for supply in animal skin), who came to fill water from this well was hit by a cannon ball and fell into this well. Then the source of water shifted to another well just outside the campus near a local hospital.
The boys of La Martiniere were quite popular and were being considered as a part of entire British contingent positioned for the defence of Lucknow Residency. H.M’s 32nd Regiment called them, ‘Ragged Fusiliers’ due to the shortage of appropriate clothing which obviously was now worn-out and needed a change. Here too Schilling managed it well, his report quotes, “… the hard work that the boys had to undergo, so soon wore out what they had on, that it was with the utmost difficulty they were kept clothed, though the supply of men’s clothing purchased at the auctions of deceased officers’ effects, and from the stores of the 32nd Regiment was very liberal, and a large quantity was made up during the siege. On the approach of the cold season, the difficulty increased, but the efforts made were successful so far as to provide every boy leaving the Residency with a pair of shoes, and a complete suit of warm clothing”.
It was cold night of 19th November when Sir Colin Campbell led 2nd relief force had arrived and Residency had to be evacuated of all the non-combats.
This process for the boys was more testing and torturous than what they had seen while in action. With limited carriages and the 2 ponies purchased boys had to march forcefully, catching only limited sleep and food on the way. They slept under trees and sheds on the way without proper winter covering. If it weren’t for the food during this march, which they luckily got the extreme conditions would not have let them survive till then end.
Finally George Schilling arrived in Benares (Varanasi) on 15 March 1858, along with the pupils of La Martiniere, his family and staff. Two huge bungalows in the civil lines of Benares were rented and some a level of normalcy was restored now.
The feast of The Founder’s Day of 1857 (13 September) which was missed out was now organised and George Schilling noted in his remarks, “Though the boys have lost in actual knowledge during the months that they have been without school work, they appear to have gained in intelligence by what they have gone through, and they are also more self-reliant, and show a more kindly feeling towards each other than before”.
The leadership exhibited by Schilling had to be rewarded. He was duly granted pay for three months, and later held the position of a Talukdar, or nobleman of Oudh, with an estate in his name worth about 30,000 pounds in those days, thus ensuring a secure retirement for himself in England.
La Martiniere’s contribution was formally acknowledged in the 1858 proclamation of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Although all the boys of the school were awarded the Mutiny Medal, it was only in 1932, the British Government honoured Martiniere’s position in 1857 by awarding it the Battle Honours, a distinction held by no other educational institution in the British Empire.
George Schilling’s remarkable feat in carrying almost all of his dependents through siege was also remembered by his alma mate, The Kings College. Thus, in 1858, Schilling was given an Honorary Fellowship, by King’s, London. He Continued in India, as a Governor of the Lawrence Military Asylum until he returned to England. George Schilling passed away on 9 February 1886 in Sydenham and is buried in Elmers Green Cemetery.
References: Report of the Proceedings of the Lucknow Martine Charities for 1856-57, and 1857-58; Modern English Biography (Boase); The Times 18/2/96; A Memoir, Letters, and Diary of the Rev Henry S. Polehampton; The Martinière Boys in the Bailey Guard. By Hilton; The Mutinies in Oude by Gubbins.
Another interesting read on the subject:-
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