The letters in this book were written by Brevet-Major Anson, of H. M 9th Lancers, to his wife who was residing at Kussowlee in the Himalayan foothills near Shimla. Anson was an experienced officer at the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny, with some twenty years service in the sub-continent, having fought at Punniar in the Gwalior War of 1843, at Sobraon, 1846, during the First Sikh War and Gujerat and Chillianwallah, 1849 and during the Second Sikh War. At the outbreak of the mutiny he was in command of a squadron of the 9th. His regiment, the 9th Queens Royal Lancers, had received their first posting to India in time to take part in the Gwalior War and during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 they served at the storm of Delhi and the capture and relief of Lucknow. The popular view is that they were awarded their famous nickname, ‘the Delhi Spearmen’ by the mutineers themselves. It is certain that the regiment deservedly earned its fierce reputation. It was highly regarded by others in the campaign and members of the regiment were awarded an astonishing twelve Victoria Crosses for acts of outstanding courage—more than awarded to any other cavalry regiment. Anson’s intimate letters to his family were, of course, never originally intended to be published, but fortunately for posterity they have left us with a nonpareil record of the mutiny as a cavalry officer and mounted regiment experienced it, details of the every day life of a regiment of the Victorian era on campaign and a first hand reaction to the events of the Mutiny from someone who related—not with the benefit of reflection, but with the immediacy of reportage—events as they occurred. The book is of course all but unique, a source work of the highest order and is recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Tuesday, June 9th.<br>
We had a hard day’s fighting yesterday. The first shot was fired by the enemy at 4.30 a.m., and the last by one or other of us about 11.30 a.m. The enemy had taken up a very strong position about four miles in our front; indeed, I never saw a stronger country than that which we passed through. Strong serais, old buildings, woods, swamps, canal cuts, and walled villages defied our efforts for some time, particularly, too, as the enemy fought most determinedly. We have taken up a splendid position on Hindoo Rao’s hill for bombarding Delhi, and hope to be in it in less than a week. There were more casualties in my squadron than in any other. We had twelve men killed, amongst them poor Sergeant Lindsay. I got hit by a spent ball on my left side behind, and it seemed to me perfectly wonderful how I escaped.<br>
What a providential mercy it was my having the general’s horse! He carried me nobly through a hard day’s work. I should have been left behind and cut up had I been on the old Cape. Upton had his chestnut killed under him by a round shot, and both the doctors lost their horses. Poor Colonel Chester and a Mr. Russell were killed early in the fight by the same round shot. Delamain has also lost his life. Jones, with a small party, captured one of the enemy’s guns, and it was fired four times against them with success.<br>
The enemy fired all day from Delhi, and their shot command the hill. Soon after we arrived a shot of theirs blew up one of our tumbrils, and grievously wounded by the explosion was young Davis. Another shot disabled one of Light’s guns, and killed four of his men, and another shot carried off two Carabineers. Light got wounded in the head, and was covered with blood. Hope’s flank movement was not quite so successful as he wished, owing to the very difficult country poor Turner3 had to drag his guns through. At one time they were left unprotected, and were in great danger of falling into the enemy’s hands, our squadrons being too eager and impetuous for the charge to stand patiently by to protect them. Turner is well. I must finish.<br>
Camp before Delhi, Saturday,<br>
July 11th, 1857, 6 am.<br>
Rain, rain, nothing but rain, sometimes soft, sometimes hard, making everything, particularly boots, horribly damp, and every person dull and miserable. I am captain of the day, and am already thinking of my wretched ride round the picquets tonight. I have a note from Johnstone, selling me his horse for 1,200 rupees. Were he killed in action tomorrow, Government would give me only 800 rupees compensation for him. On the 9th there was some hard fighting in the Subzi Mundi quarter. Our casualties amounted to 212 killed and wounded. The enemy’s to seven or eight hundred. Mount Stevens, of the 8th, was killed, and Captain Daniell wounded. Tombs, in his fight with the sowars, had a very narrow escape; one of their blows took effect on his head, cutting through his basket cap, and shaving off a large lock of his hair.<br>
The shot by which he saved Hills’ life was quite a chance one, and Hills should view it in the light of a merciful stroke of Providence in his favour. The Carabineer business is not such a bad one after all. A panic seems to have seized the whole picquet, and one of the guns was the first to make off, conscious, I suppose, of being very ill-manned, there being only two gunners present with it. There seems no doubt, however, of the complicity of the 9th Irregulars with the enemy. One of their vedettes having been seen parleying with the enemy, the 9th Regulars have been disbanded. Drysdale was ailing a bit yesterday, and stayed away from mess.<br>
Boils of the most laying-up sort are prevalent in camp, especially amongst the Carabineers, who have three officers laid up with them. Custance amuses us very much. He has been so thoroughly let in for the disagreeables of life, in spite of his independent means, and has a decided penchant for a quiet, easy, luxurious mode of life. Delhi is a very large place, some eight miles in circumference, fortified all round. Two thousand five hundred Europeans are not equal to taking it and defending their own camp at the same time. We may do something shortly, but I should not be surprised if we waited for Wheeler’s four regiments before assaulting.
Camp before Delhi, Friday,<br
July, 24th, 1857.<br
The engagement yesterday was soon over. It did not last more than two hours. We had twenty-three killed and wounded, and an unusual proportion of officers amongst them. Law, of the Sikhs, killed. Colonel Drought hit in the small of the back, near the spine, wound supposed to be mortal. Colonel Seaton badly wounded, hit on the left side, rib broken, but the rib turned the ball, which instead of passing through him, went round him under the skin. Money, H.A., hit in the knee. The ball went in just below the knee-cap and came out sideways, thus sparing the joint, and consequently the leg, which would have had to be amputated if the joint had been touched. Bunny was slightly wounded in the face. Turner had a graze on the shoulder. Showers had a horse shot under him.<br
Colonel Seaton need not have been there. He was on no duty, but meeting Showers on the road when the scrimmage began. Showers said to him, “Come along, Seaton, and see what’s going on. You have nothing better to do.” The skirmish seems to have been in favour of the enemy, who had only three killed. Young Anson is going up to Simla for a week, to settle his uncle’s affairs. He means to call upon you either on his way up or down, and I told him that most probably you would give him a small parcel for me. He starts this evening by the mail-cart from Alipore.<br
There was a good deal of rain yesterday, and this is a remarkably cool, cloudy, pleasant day, but, oh! the flies. I fully expect to be a mass of sores. There was no dâk yesterday, but House has just brought me yours of the 21st, and the Lahore Chronicle. God grant that we may meet again. That was a hasty speech of mine, but when a man approaches forty he is sometimes apt to entertain extraordinary views of life. I suppose the easy kind of death must have been uppermost in my thoughts, and faith and submission to the will of God in temporary abeyance. I cannot tell you how much I miss my children. They are as necessary to the sunny health of my whole soul and body as sunshine is to the world. The one-year-olds are my special delights. I often fancy I see you walking into the dining-room just before prayers with your arms full of the day’s work, &c.
Camp before Delhi,<br>
Friday, August 21st, 1857.<br>
As I passed Money’s tent yesterday evening on my way to Showers’, I saw him sitting comfortably in an armchair outside, and stopped to have a few minutes’ conversation with him. Showers was not quite so well, he looked worn and depressed. Wilson had just been to see him, and Hope spoke a kind word to him as he passed. He is, however, doing altogether very well. Turner is, I regret to say, laid up with fever. Young Salway, H.A., has got inflammation from a cold caught on picquet; and Light is improving so slowly, if at all, that he must go away on medical certificate. Poor Mrs. Leeson’s tale is a most heartrending one. Her husband was murdered, how and where she knows not.<br>
A brutal sepoy came to her quarters in Delhi, and finding her in bed with her two children, a boy and a girl of four and three respectively, he took the boy up by his head, cut his throat from ear to ear, and otherwise gashing him, threw him on the top of the poor mother. He next seized the little girl of three, and cut her about the mouth from almost ear to ear. She lived six hours, poor little dear, asking or signing for water from time to time. The mother herself was wounded. Some good-natured Mussulman’s family took care of her, and when the king went out the other day to slaughter the camels himself, two Afghans persuaded her to escape in ayah’s clothes. She had one or two very narrow escapes, but at last presented herself before our picquet dreadfully exhausted.<br>
Nicholson’s force returned about eight next morning. They went to Alipore, but from that they could get no further, the country was such a swamp. There was a good deal of firing yesterday on our left. Scott’s two nine-pounders were trying to destroy a house, from the top of which the enemy kept annoying our Metcalfe picquet. They fired forty rounds with little or no good, and it was resolved to try and blow the place up at night. Today the enemy have been firing rockets from an island in the river on the Metcalfe picquet, but they proved a failure.<br>
We are all most anxious to hear something of Havelock. We have heard something of an engagement, in which we lost one officer and seven or eight men killed, and gained a complete victory under Havelock. We hear today that 3,000 Ghoorkhas have taken Lucknow before Havelock could get there—that’s good news, if true. Wilson here has been made a major-general, so that he cannot be superseded by Havelock, and he pockets 1,000 rupees a month more. The Umballa Artillery lost all their rich grain-fed mutton the other day. Their scoundrel of a shepherd drove them all into Delhi. They mess much cheaper than we do. Colonel Waugh has got the Royal Geographical Society’s Patron’s gold medal, a much-coveted acquisition in a scientific way.<br>
Subahdar’s Tank, Cawnpore,
Monday, October 26th, 1857.
Here we are close by the Tank you know so well. I am going out at 4.30 to spy out the nakedness of the land. The blood, hair, and garments of our poor unfortunate murdered women and children are still to be seen at the assembly-rooms and about the compound. Ouvry brought away the frock of a baby that could hardly have been a month old, and in Wheeler’s entrenchment he laid his hands on a page of what must have been a Church Bible, from the large size of the page and print. It contained part of the Sermon on the Mount. Drysdale has had a few lines from Little, from Allahabad, where he, Powys, Coles, and Rich are waiting for the first favourable opportunity of joining us.<br>
Steele and Johnson are behind with the military-train. We halt here tomorrow, and Hope is very anxious to push on the next day, and release his friends, the Inglises, from their awkward predicament. The authorities here are very anxious to keep us for a few days, in order that we may advance in force on Lucknow. We can have now 1,000 infantry, but in a week would certainly have more than 2,000 fresh European infantry. Three hundred are expected in tomorrow, and every day after will bring its quota.<br>
The infantry are worth waiting for, but Hope is one of the most obstinate of mortals, and will probably have his own way. We have a firm bridge of boats to cross over. It is fully commanded by the entrenchment, which is somewhere up by the artillery lines, at the very end of cantonment. I can see from here even how the church in which I have been twice married has been desecrated by those awful savages. It is hardly safe to go and see the old houses at Nawaubgunge.<br>
18 October 27th, 1857.<br>
Yesterday I went to see the house where so many of our unfortunate women and children were murdered. It is a low, flat-roofed house, about 100 yards to the left front of the assembly-rooms, close to the northern gateway of the general’s house. It is a villainous-looking place, and will be more famous in history than the Black Hole of Calcutta. We saw lots of remnants of gowns, shoes, and garments dyed in blood, and blood upon the walls in different places. Outside in the compound there was the skull of a woman, and hair about on the bushes. Oh! what pain, and grief, and fear must have reigned there! Oh! what tearful eyes and aching breasts must there have throbbed! From there I went to see Sir H. Wheeler’s entrenchment, and found it to be our old hospital surrounded by a trench.<br>
Such despicable cowards, however, were the awful savages, that what would have taken us a couple of days to level with the ground, they in twenty-two days damaged only the exterior walls of, very few of their shot penetrating the outside wall. Our fire from the entrenchment seems to have kept them completely at bay, and had not provisions and ammunition failed, they would have held out till H.’s arrival. This morning I walked to see the Spiers’ house, and a most melancholy sight it presented. The trees all round scorched and killed by the tremendous blaze of the bungalow, which, with its fine verandah, pillars still standing, looked noble in its very desolation.<br>
From there I went to your old house, to the gate of it, for I did not venture in, being all alone, walking with only a stick in my hand. It was in an admirable state of preservation, and lots of people were cutting the grass in the compound. Further than this I did not go, much as I wished to see the Wemyss’s house; it was hardly safe for a lone European, unarmed, to go so far. My dreams—and I dream most vividly—are all about war and war’s alarms. In my sleep I fancy I hear the roar of artillery, and see its damaging results. The other night I dreamt that the camp was attacked, and rare was the scene of confusion. Colonel Campbell and Major Halyburton have been severely wounded at Lucknow. Between the 25th September and 15th October we have lost sixty-two officers, killed and wounded. Sir Colin Campbell joins us at Lucknow on the 2nd or 3rd.