Nightmare experiences in a land torn apart by violence, mutiny, betrayal and war
The British travelled to live in India throughout the years of the Empire. It was always an adventure, a journey to an unknown, exotic, alien and sensuous sub-continent. In was in that spirit that Mrs Coopland in company with her Reverend husband first set foot in Calcutta. Little did they realise that the strangeness of their new home would be the very least of their experiences. The Coopland's were bound for Gwalior in North Central India where he would take up a living in the shadow of one of the largest and most formidable fortresses in Hindustan. All too soon rumours of mutiny within the ranks of the sepoy army spread through the land and the Coopland's and their neighbours were gripped with palpable fear as rumour became fact as one night the conflagration swept over them and all of Gwalior in its appalling blood red terror. This is an astonishing story of suffering, endurance and survival by a gentlewoman set adrift in a maelstrom of violence far from home. Mrs Coopland's tension filled experiences make gripping reading throughout and her account cannot be recommended too highly.
But to return to the 10th of October. The column that was now marching across the bridge consisted of the Queen’s 8th Foot, part of the 9th Lancers, two troops of Horse Artillery, two corps of the Punjâb Sappers and Miners; one field battery, the 2nd and 4th Punjâb Infantry, 125 of the Punjâb Cavalry, and 200 of Hodson’s Horse, making altogether about 3000. We watched them till the sun grew hot, and it was a most cheering sight; their bayonets glittering in the sun and their brilliant array followed by long lines of camels, elephants, and dhoolies (the latter filled with sick and wounded), and the crowd of camp followers and baggage which always attend a march in India.<br>
Many of the men looked haggard and worn out with their long campaign: most of them wore the khakee, or dust-coloured uniform, which had been adopted at Delhi, as the bright scarlet and white uniforms made the men conspicuous marks for the enemies’ guns. This khakee uniform is considered good, both for this reason and because it prevents a body of men looking so remarkable when marching. As the column passed below the walls of the fort, our men gave them a hearty English cheer. The Seiks looked very picturesque on their wild and strangely-caparisoned horses. Some of the officers came to breakfast with their friends in the fort, and one who visited Major Macpherson, gave a most interesting account of the siege of Delhi.<br>
All remained quiet till about ten o’clock, when suddenly, to the astonishment of every one, firing was heard in the direction of the “Brigade Parade” ground, where the lately arrived force had encamped.<br>
Some thought it at first an irregular salute; but no one knew what it really was till some of the officers rushed out to see what was going on. Strange to say, the Agra authorities had not taken the precaution of investigating where the enemy was; though the night before the whole of the militia had been encamped in Cantonments, and might have been cut to pieces, the enemy being only a mile off.<br>
The battle now began in earnest, and the booming of the cannon sounded fearfully near. Our camp, being surprised, was in great confusion: the men were resting after their long march; some were bathing, and others breakfasting. The onset of the mutineers was made in the following manner: A soldier was quietly sitting outside his tent, eating his breakfast, when a native dressed as a faquir came dancing up towards him, playing on a tom-tom 6, and, on drawing near, he whipped out a tulwâh, and in an instant cut off the poor soldier’s head.<br>
Immediately a force appeared which had been hidden behind the cemetery, and their guns, which were behind the ice pits, instantly opened fire on our disordered camp. Many men and horses were killed and wounded ere we were aware of what was going on: and had they charged on us with their cavalry the consequences might have been most disastrous to us; as it was, they did take one of our guns, but it was subsequently retaken. The 9th Lancers were soon in their saddles, and Lieutenant French was killed, and Lieutenant Jones dangerously wounded, in retaking our gun.<br>
As soon as our troops could be formed, they charged the enemy, who soon retreated, pursued by our men down the road towards Dholepore, and we took some of their guns. Our force was there joined by Colonel Cotton (known to many by his soubriquet of “Gun Cotton”), in command of the 3rd Europeans. The enemy’s camp was two miles in advance, and their baggage and carts strewed the road. Our infantry were then ordered to halt, and the cavalry and artillery pursued the rebels to the Kharee Nuddee, where the latter crossed the river, about ten miles from Agra. Our troops, after firing upon them grape and round shot with good effect, returned to the camp with the guns the enemy had left on this side the river; both men and horses being too tired, after their forced march, to pursue the enemy further.<br>
The engagement had been most brilliant, and we took the enemy’s camp, guns, and treasure.<br>
All this time the fort had been in great confusion; reports coming in that the rebels were victorious, and our forces were retreating. Our servants, as usual all scampered off, saying our “Rajh” was over. They must have gnashed their teeth with disappointment when they found we were not defeated. At one time a report was spread that the enemy’s cavalry were sweeping round to attack the fort, and all the officers not on duty in the fort went out to join in pursuing the retreating enemy: Major Macpherson and Captains Meade and Murray also went; but Captain Campbell and others of the Engineers were obliged to stay by their guns.<br>
At last, so many officers rushed out, that an order was issued that some were to stay to protect the fort. Gradually, towards evening, they began to return, bringing glowing accounts of the engagement; saying that it was a “splendid victory, and 1000 of the rebels had been killed:” but afterwards this number came down to between 300 and 500, the horses having been too tired to continue the pursuit, and the rebels having spread themselves all over the country, hiding in the jungle, in the long grass, and in ditches. It was discovered that the Nusserabad and Neemuch mutineers, the 16th Grenadiers, and some of the Gwalior contingent, had joined the Indore troops some of the buttons of the 4th Native Infantry of the Gwalior contingent were found.