Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

have occurred in the Bengal army, since A.D. 1796, the period at which the narrative of Captain Williams ceases.

The subject of this work is truly interesting, and we shall rejoice to see others of a similar description; for it is not specious theory, but an accumulation of facts, which we require to guide our judgment through the difficult, and, we may say, the awful task of goyerning the vast dominions which we have acquired in the East; and none are more important than those which throw light upon the character of that army, by whose valour and attachment the great conquest has been principally achieved, and without whose continued fidelity it cannot be preserved.

The decided preference which a great proportion of the inhabitants of India have shewn towards the rule of the British government, originated in several causes, but in none more than an observation of the courage and discipline of its troops, and the comparative superiority both in regard to the justice and permanence of its civil institutions. Nations wearied out with the dissensions and oppressions of barbarous and rival chiefs, found (to use the oriental phrase) repose under the shadow of its protection; and the great mass of the people have been benefited in their condition by the extension of its power—but their princes have almost all fallen.— The territories of the monarchs who opposed, and who supported this government, have shared the same fate—all have been absorbed in one vortex;—the only difference has been, that the one has perished by a sudden and violent death, while the dissolution of the other has been comparatively easy and gradual. It is difficult to repress those feelings which the past view of this picture is calculated to excite; one of the most natural and legitimate sentiments of the human mind leads it to regard that power which has been long established in ancient and noble families with respect, if not veneration. It is the great link of order in every society, particularly in those where the rule is simple and despotic. We are compelled by the impulse of this feeling to regard every species of usurpation with disgust, but above all, that of strangers, who appear to the general observer to have subdued the natives of one of the finest portions, of the earth, with no view but the sordid and inglorious one of rendering their land a source of profit, or at least using that power which its possession gave them, to protect a profitable commerce. British India cannot be considered as a colony. Its rank is that of a dependent empire;—and though the chain of connection by which it is preserved in subjection may want some of those links which have ever been deemed essential to the maintenance of power, there are in its constitution, advantages of no ordinary magnitude. One of the most striking is, that it contains fewer of those elements, which produce acts of violence and injus

tice, than any other state in the universe. Its governors are mere, ministers, who are controuled by their superiors in England, and checked (if they attempt any unwise or illegal exercise of their authority) by their colleagues in power in India.

The character of the government they serve, and of that they preside over, precludes those ebullitions of personal ambition which have so often hastened the downfall of other kingdoms; aud vie believe that the benefit derived from that calmness and exclusive attention to the public interest, with which their peculiar condition enables them to exercise their sovereign functions, is the chief ground upon which we can build any expectation of the duration of the empire we have established. This empire has probably not yet reached its zenith—we are aware of all the dangers of its increase. Like the circle in the water., the very trace of our power will, in all probability, be lost in expansion; but we are among those who doubt the possibility of fixing the limits of our career. Every effort, however, should be made to retard it. As European politicians we may be allowed to express our fear, that the local government of India, throughout all its branches, is impelled, by its very nature, to promote change and the aggrandizement of the state. Public officers, from the governor-general to the lowest of those who hold stations of any consequence, must, from the ephemeral character of their power, have an anxiety to recommend themselves, during the short hour of their authority, to their superiors; and men of the most distinguished virtue and talent often desire action with an ardour that makes them more ready to combat than to attend to the cold dictates of moderation and prudence. To the Indian government in England, which is, on the other hand, perhaps too free from the influence of similar motives, belongs the task of repressing and keeping within due limits, that natural spirit of ambition, which the minds of those imbibe whose attention for any period is exclusively fixed on India. But to render this check efficient, it is necessary that those in whose hands it is placed should act with full knowledge, and with the most enlarged views; otherwise the end will be defeated. If orders grounded on imperfect knowledge, narrow views, and general maxims of rule, which are, perhaps, inapplicable to the actual condition of the empire, and to passing events, are sent to India, they will, they must be evaded or neglected. The safety of the state requires that they should—and after all, though we may, and ought to use every endeavour to retard, if we cannot arrest, the growth of our eastern possessions, still events will occur to mock every attempt to reduce our conduct in the pursuit of this policy to any exact laws. For let us suppose for a moment, that those employed to govern abroad were subdued into the most passive and unempassioned instruments

VOl. XVIII. NO. XXXVI. BB that that the lovers of implicit obedience could desire, can we make the plunderer renounce his love of plunder—the vanquished forgive his conqueror—or the faithless maintain his engagements? To os the progress of our power in India appears, in a great degree, to be the triumph of civilization and knowledge, over rudeness and ignorance. States whose territories adjoin, whose subjects are the same in language and manners, and who are governed on such ogposite principles, cannot avoid collision; and the English have always been in a situation in Iudia that forbade any compromise of a power, the peculiar character of which has required a constant accession to that impression of superiority upon which its existence depends. This principle, or rather necessity of action, for such it would appear, has propelled us forward, till our empire has attained its present magnitude, and we contemplate with equal astonishment and awe, the political phenomenon of a few strangers, whose ships have conveyed them from a distant island in Europe, exercising sovereign sway over 400,000 square miles of the finest part of the continent of Asia, and claiming as their indefeasible right, the allegiance of fifty millions of the inhabitants of that quarter of the globe.

One of the principal means by which this extensive conquest has been made, and the one to which we must chiefly trust for its defence, is the Native army of the East India Company, which at present exceeds 150,000 effective men. The work before us gives the best account we have met with, of the origin and formation of that part of this great army, which more particularly belongs to Bengal;—but we have made it our duty to seek other sources of information, that we may be able to take the most comprehensive view of a subject so vital to our eastern empire: we shall endeavour to trace the progress of the Native troops at Madras and Bombay, before we examine the facts brought before us by Captain Williams; a combined view of the whole may suggest some reflections on the means which appear best calculated to maintain the efficiency, and preserve the attachment of the Indian army.

Though Bombay was the first possession which the English obtained in the east, the establishment on that island was for a very long period on too limited a scale to maintain more than its European garrison, and a few companies of disciplined sepoys. On the coast of Coromandel, which became towards the middle of the last century a scene of warfare between the English and French, who mutually aided and received support from the princes of that quarter, the natives of India were first instructed in European discipline. During the siege of Madras, which took place ill A.D. J 746, a number of peons, a species of irregular infantry armed with swords and spears, or matchlocks, were enlisted for tile occasion; to those some English officers were attached, among whom a young gentleman of the civil service, of the name of Haliburton, was the most distinguished. This gentleman, who had been rewarded with the commission of a lieutenant, was employed in the ensuing year in training a small corps of natives in the European manner; he did not, however, live to perfect that system which he appears to have first introduced into the Madras service.

'It was by one of our own sepoys,' (the Council of Fort St. David observe, in a dispatch dated the 2d September, 1748, in which they puss an eulogium on the character of Mr. Haliburton,) ' that he had the misfortune to be killed, who shot him upon his reprimanding him for some offence ;—the poor gentleman (they add) died next day, and the villain did not live so long, for his comrades that stood by, cut him to pieces immediately.'

It appears from other authorities, that the first sepoys who were raised by the English, were either Mahomedans, or Hindoos of very high cast, being chiefly rajpoots; and the event we have related marked the two strongest feelings of the minds of these classes, resentment for real or supposed injury, and attachment to their leader. The name of Mr. Haliburton was long cherished by the Madras native troops,—and about twenty years ago, on an examination of old grants, some veterans, wearing medals, appeared, as claimants, who called themselves Saheb Ra Sepoy, or Haliburton's soldiers. One of the first services on which the regular sepoys of Madras were employed, was the defence of Arcot, A.D. 1751. The particulars of that siege, which forms a remarkable feature in the life of the celebrated Clive, have been given by an eloquent and faithful historian ;* but he has not informed us of one occurrence that took place, and which, as it illustrates the character of the Indian soldiers, well merited to be preserved. When provision* were very low, the Hindoo sepoys entreated their commander to allow them to boil the rice (the only food left) for the whole garrison. 'Your English soldiers,' they said,' can eat from our hands, though we cannot from theirs—we will allot as their share every grain of the rice, and subsist ourselves by drinking the water in which it has been boiled.'—We have received this remarkable anecdote from an authority we cannot doubt, as it refers to the most unexceptionable contemporary witnesses.

During all the wars of Clive, of Lawrence, of Smith, and of Coote, the sepoys of Madras continued to display the same valour and attachment. In the years 1780, 81 and S'i, they suffered hardships of a nature almost unparalleled; there was hardly a corps that was not twenty months in arrears; they were supported, it is true, by a daily allowance of rice, but this was not enough to save many

* Orflie.
B B 2 of

of their families from being the victims of that dreadful famine, which, during these years, wasted the Company's dominions in India. Their fidelity never gave way in this hour of extreme trial, and they repaid with gratitude and attachment the kindness and consideration with which they were treated by their European officers, who, being few in number, but, generally speaking, very efficient, tried every means that could conciliate the regard, excite the pride, or stimulate the valour of those they commanded.

In the campaigns of 1790 and 91, against Tippoo Sultann, the sepoys of this establishment shewed their usual zeal and courage; but the number of European troops which were now intermixed with them, lessened their opportunities of distinguishing themselves —and though improved in discipline, they perhaps fell in their own estimation. The native army, in some degree, became a secondary one, and the pride of those of whom it was composed was lowered. We are neither questioning the necessity of the increased number of his majesty's troops, which were employed in India at this period, or the propriety of allotting to their superior strength and active courage, services of the greatest danger, and consequently of pre-eminent honour;—we only speak to the effect which the change made in the minds of the native army. The campaigns of Lord Comwallis and General Meadows were certainly not inferior, either in their operations or results, to those of Sir Eyre Coote; and every officer can tell how differently they are regarded by the sepoys, who served in both; the latter may bring to their memory the distresses and hardships which they suffered, and perhaps the recollection of children who perished from famine—but it is associated with a sense of their own importance, at that period, to the government they served, with the pride of fidelity and patient valour. The pictures of these three distinguished leaders are in the great room of the exchange at Madras—to that, (we speak of ten years ago,) when a battalion comes into garrison, the old sepoys lead their families. Waltis and Meadows (these are the names by which the two first commanders are known to them) are pointed out as great and brave chiefs; but it is to the image of their favourite, Coote, the pilgrimage is made, and the youngest of their children are taught to pay a respect bordering on devotion to this revered leader.

In the year 1796, new regulations were introduced into the Indian army, the whole form of which was in fact changed. Instead of single battalions of a thousand men, commanded by a captain who was selected from the European corps in the Hon. Company's service, and a subaltern to each company; they were formed into regiments of two battalions, to which officers were appointed of the same rank and nearly of the same number as to a battalion ia the service of his majesty. The good effects of this change, ai

« AnteriorContinuar »