A situation had already been marked out for our encampment, and, directed by an officer, we passed through the main portion of our lines, and halted at the bottom of the ridge on the extreme left of our position. Some time was occupied after the arrival of the baggage in pitching our camp; but when all was concluded, Vicars and I started on foot to take our first view of the imperial city.
We walked a short distance to the right, and along the foot of the ridge, and then ascended, making our way to the celebrated Flagstaff Tower. We mounted to the top: and shall I ever forget the sight which met our gaze?
About a mile to our front, and stretching to right and left as far as the eye could reach, appeared the high walls and the bastions of Delhi. The intervening space below was covered with a thick forest of trees and gardens, forming a dense mass of verdure, in the midst of which, and peeping out here and there in picturesque confusion, were the white walls and roofs of numerous buildings. Tall and graceful minarets, Hindoo temples and Mohammedan mosques, symmetrical in shape and gorgeous in colouring, appeared interspersed in endless numbers among the densely-packed houses inside the city, their domes and spires shining with a brilliant radiance, clear-cut against the sky. Above all, in the far distance towered the Jama Masjid, or Great Mosque, its three huge domes of pure white marble, with two high minarets, dwarfing into insignificance the buildings by which it was surrounded - surely, the noblest work of art ever built by man for the service of the Creator.
To the left could be seen the lofty castellated walls of the Palace of the Emperors, the former seat of the Great Mogul - that palace in which at that moment the degenerate descendant of Timour, and last representative of his race, held his court, and in his pride of heart fondly hoped that British rule was at an end.
Beyond rose the ancient fortress of Selimgarh, its walls, as well as those of the palace on the north side, washed by the waters of the Jumna. A long bridge of boats connected the fort with the opposite bank of the river, here many hundred yards in width: and over this we could see, with the aid of glasses, bodies of armed men moving.
It was by this bridge that most of the reinforcements and all the supplies for the mutineers crossed over to the city. On the very day of our arrival the mutinous Bareilly Brigade of infantry and artillery, numbering over 3,000 men, marched across this bridge. Our advanced picket at the Metcalfe House stables, close to the Jumna, heard distinctly their bands playing "Cheer, boys, cheer!" the very same tune with which we had celebrated our entrance into camp that morning.
Few cities in the world have passed through such vicissitudes as Delhi. Tradition says it was the capital of an empire ages before the great Macedonian invaded India, and its origin is lost in the mists of antiquity. Traces there were in every direction, amid the interminable cluster of ruins and mounds outside the present city, of cities still more vast, the builders and inhabitants of which lived before the dawn of history.
Delhi had been taken and sacked times out of number. Its riches were beyond compare; and for hundreds of years it had been the prey, not only of every conqueror who invaded India from the north-west, but also of every race which, during the perpetual wars in Hindostan, happened for the time to be predominant. Tartars, Turks, Afghans, Persians, Mahrattas and Rajpoots, each in turn in succeeding ages had been masters of the city. There had been indiscriminate massacres of the populace, the last by Nadir Shah, the King of Persia in 1747, when 100,000 souls were put to death by his order, and booty to a fabulous amount was carried away. Still, notwithstanding the vicissitudes of fortune through which it had passed, Delhi was, in 1857, one of the largest, most beautiful, and certainly the richest city in Hindostan. We knew well that there was wealth untold within the walls, and our hearts were cheered even at this time when we thought of the prize-money which would fall to our share at the capture of the rebellious city.
The walls surrounding Delhi were seven miles in circumference, flanked at intervals by strong bastions, on which the enemy had mounted the largest guns and mortars, procured from the arsenal. Munitions of war they had in abundance - enough to last them, at the present rate of firing, for nearly three years. Long we gazed, fascinated at the scene before us. A dead silence had reigned for some time, when we were awakened from our dreams by the whiz and hissing of a shell fired by the enemy. It fell close below the tower and burst without doing any harm; but some jets of smoke appeared on the bastions of the city, and shells and round-shot fired at the ridge along the crest of which a small body of our men was moving. The cannonade lasted for some time, our own guns replying at intervals. We could plainly see the dark forms of the rebel artillerymen, stripped to the waist, sponging and firing with great rapidity, their shot being chiefly directed at the three other buildings on the ridge - namely, the Observatory - the Mosque, as it was called - and, on the extreme right, Hindoo Rao's house.
From the Flagstaff Tower the ridge trended in a southerly direction towards those buildings, approaching gradually nearer and nearer to the city, till at Hindoo Rao's house it was distant about 1,200 yards from the walls.