The Shannon’s Brigade in India by Edmund Hope Verney
The sailors and guns of the Royal Navy in India
The activities of the Royal Navy’s brigades—when its sailors left their ships with their precious guns to fight on land in concert with the army—are justifiably compelling to students of military history. Unusual aspects of warfare are always evocative and the naval brigades have performed exceptionally (as their several V. C. awards demonstrate) in many campaigns, often in difficult and exotic locations and on hard fought battlefields—particularly during the small colonial wars of the Victorian era. Perhaps the most interesting of all these campaigns was when the crews of H. M. S ‘Shannon’ and H. M. S ‘Pearl’ were called upon to fight during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The crews fought in different theatres of the campaign; that of the ‘Pearl’ operated close to the Nepalese border, while the men of the ‘Shannon,’ under the inspirational leadership of Sir William Peel, were present at the relief of Lucknow. This unique Leonaur edition brings together two essential and compelling first hand accounts and includes maps and illustrations, some of which are not to be found in the original (or any other) editions. Highly recommended in every way.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
11 a.m. Halted at the bridge. Here we found the village on the other side of the river occupied by the mutineers, with two guns. Our three guns, under Lieut. Vaughan, had crossed over the bridge, which had been repaired by the Naval Brigade during the night, and were firing from a yellow bungalow near the northern end of it, keeping up a heavy fire on the village, distant about three hundred yards; our guns now took up a position further to the left, and held in check a body of the enemy’s cavalry visible beyond the village, behind the crest of some rising ground; the 53rd were lying behind the yellow bungalow, keeping up a withering fire from their skirmishers, for whom the ground afforded excellent cover from mounds and ridges of earth, and tufts of tall, coarse grass; and shortly afterwards the lancers, and a body of Sikh cavalry, crossed the bridge and took up a position on our left; Brigadier Greathed’s division then crossed over, and also formed on the left of our guns.<br>
Lieut. Vaughan now pointed and fired one of our guns at the small gun of the enemy, which was concealed behind the corner of a house, and annoying us much: his first shot struck the roof of the house; his second struck the angle of the wall about halfway down; and a third dismounted the gun and destroyed the carriage. Captain Peel, who was standing by, said, “Thank you, Mr. Vaughan; perhaps you will now be so good as to blow up the tumbril.” Lieut. Vaughan fired a fourth shot, which passed near it; and a fifth, which blew it up, and killed several of the enemy.<br>
“Thank you,” said Captain Peel, in his blandest and most courteous tones; “I will now go and report to Sir Colin.” I was only under fire for a few minutes, when I took some ammunition over the bridge to our guns, and Captain Peel then pointed out to me the remains of the gun and tumbril. The company to which I belonged was held in reserve; but when we afterwards marched through the village, we saw the bodies of sepoys lying near the remains of the tumbril, and fearfully burnt. After a good deal of firing, the village was stormed and captured by the 53rd, the enemy making no stand; the cavalry pursued them for some miles, capturing all their guns, eight in number, and cutting them up dreadfully.<br>
It is said that a bugler of the 53rd sounded the “advance” without orders, which excited Sir Colin’s displeasure. The whole army now crossed the bridge, and proceeded about two miles to the camping-ground, distant from Futtegurh twelve miles. Casualties in the Naval Brigade, one officer and two men wounded. Captain Maxwell, of the Bengal Artillery, was brought in wounded by a musket ball through the thigh, early in the action; he was attached to the Naval Brigade as interpreter, and we shall feel the loss both of his professional services and of his agreeable society.
Captain Peel met with an adventure after the capture of the village, which might have been serious; when passing through a small street, accompanied by Captain Oliver Jones, three men of the 53rd, and one or two blue jackets, five sepoys jumped up out of a ditch on either side of the road, and rushed on them; they fought with desperation, but were all killed,—Captain Jones shooting the last man with his revolver; one man of the 53rd was dangerously wounded, but no one else on our side was hurt.<br>
Mr. Watson, an officer of the engineers, had also a narrow escape this morning: last night he was in the village, and agreed with the head man for a hundred and fifty coolies to come to assist in repairing the bridge; this morning a message came to him that they were ready, and should be delivered to any officer who came to fetch them. Watson, having some suspicions, did not go; and this saved his life, as the sepoys were at that time in possession of the village. We reached our camping-ground at about 9.30 p.m., and parked our battery in a ploughed field, but no baggage or provisions had arrived, except the spirits, a cask of which is carried on some old limbers, and, under the charge of two quartermasters, is always foremost in the field or on the march; we were each glad to drink our day’s double allowance, and even Captain Peel, who rarely drinks spirits, tossed off with gusto the abominable arrack that is served out in lieu of rum. Nearly famished, we ate every crumb in our haversacks; and I deemed myself lucky when I discovered two or three bile-wallahs making chupatties, one of which I bought for a rupee, and halved with a tent-mate.<br>
At about midnight the elephants arrived with the tents, which were immediately pitched in the total darkness; but we had not a thing else, not even a candle, till about four, when the hackeries arrived with the baggage. Every tent was then illuminated, and roaring fires blazed in rear of the camp; and at about five, as the first streaks of dawn hove in sight, we sat down to a late dinner.