This account, which briefly covers life in India immediately preceding the Indian Mutiny, was originally titled A Lady’s Life Before and During the Indian Mutiny. The ‘red’ year of 1857 was an apocalyptic one for many of the British in India and Mrs. Ouvry’s account as she gives us the perspective of a wife of a senior regimental officer in a British Army cavalry regiment is, of course, harrowing. Henry Ouvry was an officer of the 3rd Light Dragoons before transferring to the 9th Lancers who saw much action and earned themselves a fearsome reputation during the Mutiny. Although Mrs. Ouvry was spared the experiences of the wives of officers of native regiments whose men rose up to slaughter them, this was still a time of anguish, terror and uncertainty for her, and this memoir brings her experiences vividly to life for anyone interested in the period. Her husband’s book, Cavalry Experiences is also available from Leonaur and is an excellent companion work touching on the same events.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Monday, 24th. A letter from H. gives an interesting but painful account of the preservation and escape of a Mrs. Leeson, from Delhi. She was a half-caste but the daughter of an officer. When all the European inhabitants were being murdered at the beginning of the outbreak, she was endeavouring to escape. She had her baby in her arms and two other children with her, a boy of four and a girl of three years old. She met some sepoys who fired at her, and the bullet went through the child in her arms, and wounded her severely in the breast. The child was killed, and she fell to the ground senseless from the effects of her wounds.<br>
When she came to herself she found the other two children clinging to her, a sepoy came up, and taking the boy up he cut his throat with his sword, he then took the girl and cut her across the face, just below the nose, and threw her on the body of the mother. After these wretches had gone, an old man and his wife brought her to their house, and took care of her. The boy was dead, but the poor little girl lived for six hours. Eventually, an Afghan dressed her up as his wife, got her out of the gate, and brought her into the camp.
Thursday, 27th. We hear that Lucknow is all right, and General Havelock within ten miles of it.<br>
Friday, 28th. In a letter from H. he tells me he has seen a letter from one of the Cawnpore survivors, it discloses terrible suffering on the part of our people; nearly all of whom either died or were killed. The whole of the Europeans, with the ladies and children, entrenched themselves in the hospital, they were surrounded on all sides, and the enemy soon destroyed and burnt every portion of the building by means of carcases, the ladies then had no place to go to but the trenches, exposed to a burning sun all day.<br>
The Nana Sahib (Dundoo Punt), a most desperate villain sent a native woman into the trenches with proposals for a surrender, four officers then went out and were well treated. Boats were got ready, and the party marched out, no sooner were they in the boats than these miscreants opened fire from some masked guns, and they were all destroyed, or brought back to be butchered, except, I believe, four who saved themselves by swimming.<br>
Saturday, 29th. Eddie’s sixth birthday—The Sealkote and the Reginald Saunders dined here and in the evening a number of children—nearly all those in the station—came with their mothers, the verandah was lighted up with three hundred little lamps, and some lanterns of coloured paper and talc which looked very pretty, with plenty of evergreens and flowers; the children, and indeed everyone, seemed much pleased with the entertainment.<br>
Sunday, 30th. We hear that the Simla district is much disturbed, and that an outbreak is expected at Lahore. We are now in the middle of the rains, and scarcely see the sun at all. In the night we had a tremendous storm, and all the doors and windows of my bedroom suddenly burst open.<br>
Wednesday, 2nd. H’s letter was brought in late last night, having been picked up on the road by a chuprassie. Mrs. Edward Paske has a son born today.<br>
Overland mail in, by which I see H’s exchange to the 2nd Dragoon Guards is cancelled. The Extra says that the Hill station of Murree has been attacked by a number of men, from some adjacent villages, they had, however, been repulsed, and assistance has been sent up from Rawul Pindee.<br>
Monday, 7th. Mr. Merk came over from Kangra, and baptized baby in the drawing room, she is called Frances Egerton, Miss Arnold, myself and Miss Parsons are the godmothers, Mr. Egerton of Lahore, godfather. Afterwards there was a party at luncheon, or early dinner.<br>
Friday, 11th. A letter from H.—short and almost illegible—saying he had been seized with cholera the morning before, but he was then, he thought, out of danger.<br>
The Lahore Chronicle gives a distressing account of the defence and abandonment of the fort at Futteghur, the Europeans left in boats, and floated down the river towards Cawnpore, but were seized by the Nana Sahib, and after a few days, butchered in the Assembly Rooms. Colonel Goldie and his two daughters were among the number. One daughter was seized by the mob, and given over to the nawab, what her fate was, and that of two other young ladies with her, is not known.<br>
The 28th N.I, which was stationed at Umballah when we first went there, mutinied at Shajehanpore, and murdered several people; others—among them the Lysachts—escaped, and travelled fifty miles towards Lucknow, but were there met by another mutinous regiment, and all killed. I constantly hear of acquaintances who have been murdered in this terrible mutiny. There is a list published of the officers who have been massacred, or killed in defending their forts or stations, the number already known is two hundred, then there are the women and children, and persons belonging to the uncovenanted service. Those who have fallen in battle and died of natural causes before Delhi number thirty six.