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India’s Free Lances

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India’s Free Lances
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Author(s): H. G. Keene
Date Published: 2008/05
Page Count: 220
Softcover ISBN-13: 1-84677-433-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 1-84677-434-9

Men of war in a land of turmoil

This book chronicles the careers and wars of the European and mixed-race mercenary adventurers who carved reputations and empires for themselves and their Indian lords in the violent days of 18th and early 19th centuries. These were men of ruthless daring, often of uncertain temper or morals, but also capable of great feats of courage and fidelity. They came from France, England and the minor Germanic states to make their fortunes in a turbulent and exotic land. Here the reader will discover De Boigne, Perron, Skinner, Gardner and a host of supporting characters—both friend and foe. Here are the wars of the Marathas, the Ghurkhas, the Rohillas, the Pindaris and the new great power of the emerging and dominating British Empire with its own heroes—including the future Duke of Wellington. This is an excellent foundation for those who are fascinated by the part played by Europeans in the creation of India as a nation.

Early in 1760, however, came news from Delhi which led the Prince to fresh enterprise; his father, the Emperor, had been murdered by a ruthless minister, and the Prince also learned that the Afghans had invaded the Punjab and occupied Delhi. Apparently afraid to return, he assumed the succession, with the title of Shah Alam, at a village in Bihãr called Kanauti, and called on all loyal servants of the Crown to give him aid where he was.<br>
“The Eastern Subahs”—to use a phrase of the old historians—were, at the time of the Prince’s proclamation held by a nominee of the British to whom Clive had been partly indebted for his rapid triumph. This nobleman was Jãfar Ali Khan, the Meer Jaffier of history, and his deputy in Bihãr was the Raja Ramnarain, who was mentioned above as holding the same post under the older government. This latter, having sent to Jãfar for help, came forth from the sheltering walls of Patna to oppose the proceedings of his sovereign, the titular Emperor, Shah Alam; but the Imperialists repelled him with serious loss, in which was included that of four companies of British sepoys with their officers. On this the Raja, wounded and alarmed, fell back on Patna, which, for the moment, was not besieged.<br>
Shortly after this success, the Emperor encountered an Anglo-Bengali force; and, not prevailing, adopted—probably on Law’s advice—the soldierly expedient of a flank-march, hoping to cut between the enemy and his capital of Murshidabad and seize upon that city in the absence of its defenders. But he was once more baffled by the superior activity of the British leaders, and in April turned to the only course left him, the siege of Patna. The batteries were quickly established, and Law effected a breach, after five days of open trenches, proceeding at once to the assault before the Anglo-Bengali troops should have time to come up and raise the siege. The stormers reached the ramparts with help from scaling ladders, the breach so hurriedly attempted being far from complete. On reaching the top, the Imperialists were met by the flower of the garrison, animated by the presence of Dr. Fullarton, a British Medical Officer; and the assailants drew off for a time. The attack, however, was twice renewed, and the defenders of Patna were on the point of being overpowered when help appeared from an unexpected quarter. Captain Knox, sent from Murshidabad to watch the Imperialists, had run across the interposed three hundred miles in thirteen days. Falling upon the Emperor’s army at the hour—1 p.m.—when the men were resting after dinner, without accoutrements or arms, he put them to flight with his small following, of whom only two hundred were Europeans.<br>
After some manoeuvring and another unsuccessful flight the Imperialists took up their winter quarters between Patna and Murshidabad, near the town of Gya. But Law’s course was now all but run. On January 15,1761, the British, who had become of sufficient strength to assume the offensive, attacked the Imperial forces at Suän, and the result was the flight of the Emperor and his native followers. In the deserted field the British commanders, Major Carnac and Captain Knox, came upon a small group consisting of about fifty foot and thirteen French officers, in the midst of whom was Law, seated astride on a now idle field-piece, with the colours of his command in his hand. Wearied with his long and fruitless wanderings, he invited death; but the British officers, approaching with uncovered heads, besought him to surrender. “To that,” said the Franco-Scot, “I have no objection if you leave me my sword, which I will not part with as long as I am alive.” The Major consenting, the late adversaries shook hands, and Law was taken to camp in Carnac’s palanquin, which was at hand. This is our last authentic view of a brave, but very unlucky man; and we are indebted for it to Ghulãm Hossain, who was much impressed by the humanity and courtesy of the scene.<br>
One of the most remarkable among Law’s followers was Walter Reinhardt, believed to have been born in the small electoral province of Trèves, about 1720. The ties of country were not strong at that time in border-lands like that, and young Reinhardt, enlisting in the French army, found himself, in the course of the service, stationed at Pondichéri at the time when Labourdonnais and Dupleix were making their most vigorous efforts to obstruct the designs of the British Company. After the operations already glanced at, Reinhardt was included in the surrender of Law’s force at Trichinopoly in 1752, upon which he took service in a British regiment. In 1756 he deserted and again joined the French, accompanying Law to Bengal in the capacity of sergeant.<br>
In 1760 occurred the palace revolution by which the Nawab Jãfar was deposed and Kãsim Ali—Meer Cossim—set up in his place. Not being disposed to accept the part of a regal mute, this new ruler set about providing himself with a regular army, to the command of which he appointed an Armenian, called by the native historians Gurjin Khan, under whom Reinhardt obtained command of a battalion of foot. Stirring events were coming: the Calcutta Council in no long time quarrelled with their nominated Nawab; Mr. Ellis, the local agent of the Council, attempting to seize Patna, was worsted and shut up there, with one hundred and fifty of his white and coloured followers. Kãsim Ali lost his head and ordered a general massacre. Gurjin and his officers demurred. “Arm the English,” they said, “and we will fight them like soldiers. Butchers we are not and will not be.” In this emergency recourse was had to Reinhardt, who appears to have undertaken the task without hesitation. The courtyard in which the prisoners were collected was surrounded by Reinhardt’s men, who shot them down from the upper terraces; Dr. Fullarton alone was spared.
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