Nothing could have been more culpable than the conduct of the Brigadier in not advancing a portion, at any rate, of my regiment to the fort at the time the sepoys broke their ranks and entered the entrenchment. Had he done so, it is probable that not one of the mutineers of the 45th Native Infantry would have escaped, nor would the havoc which afterwards occurred in the cantonment have taken place. But he was an old East India Company's officer, and had served upwards of forty years in the native army, having to the last, like many others at that eventful time, implicit confidence in the loyalty of the sepoys. He feared, also, the responsibility of letting loose the English soldiery to wreak their vengeance on the mutineers, knowing too well that, with passions roused and hearts steeled to pity by the murders and outrages committed at Meerut, and the late wounding of their field-officer, our men would have given no quarter. The Brigadier was one of the very few officers in high command at the outbreak of the Mutiny who were found wanting in the time of trial. His, no doubt, was a hard task; but, had he shown the smallest aptitude to meet the crisis, there would have been no difficulty, with the ample means at his disposal, in disarming without bloodshed the whole native force at Ferozepore, and so crushing the rebellion at that station.
Night came, and we still remained in line under arms without having moved a foot from where we were halted. Conjectures were rife as to what would next happen. Officers and men were grieved, no less than annoyed, at the state of inaction in which we had been kept, and an uneasy feeling prevailed that during the night the mutinous sepoys, aided by the badmashes, or bad characters, who swarmed in the bazaars and city of Ferozepore, would, under cover of the darkness, run riot over the cantonment, without our being called on to interfere.
And so, unhappily, it came to pass. The native cavalry at about eight o'clock marched down to our lines, and drew up on the right of the regiment, the European artillery being on our left flank.
Soon after their arrival the arms were piled and the men fell out of the ranks, some to lie down on the ground, others forming in groups and discussing the strange events of the day.
Suddenly a light was seen in the direction of the cantonment, which quickly turned into a blaze of fire. What new horror was this? Were our houses to be gutted and burnt before our eyes without any attempt to prevent such outrage?
The men, at the first appearance of fire, had sprung to their feet and almost involuntarily seized their arms. Surely a detachment would be sent to clear the cantonment of the incendiaries? Even this was not done: the Brigadier was absent, or could not be found, and our Colonel intimated to some officers who spoke to him on the subject that he could give no orders without the chief's consent.
So, incredible though it may appear, we stood and watched the fires, which followed each other in quick succession till the whole cantonment seemed in a blaze, and the flames, darting up in every direction, lighted up the surrounding country.
We could hear distinctly the shouts of the scoundrels, and pictured to ourselves the black wretches holding high carnival among the burning buildings and laughing at the white soldiers, who, with arms in their hands, remained motionless in their own lines.
That night more than twenty houses were burnt to the ground. The English church, we afterwards heard, was first fired, then the Roman Catholic chapel, our mess-house, and nineteen other bungalows. The sepoys, mostly of the 45th Native Infantry, attended by dozens of badmashes, marched unchallenged through the station with lighted torches fixed on long bamboo poles, with which they set fire to the thatched roofs of the various houses.
All night long we lay by our arms, watching the destruction of our property, and thankful only that the wives and children of our officers and men were safe under our care, and not exposed to the fury of the wretches engaged in their fiendish work.
Even after this long lapse of years, I cannot think of that night without a feeling of shame. Here were 700 men, mostly veterans, of one of Her Majesty's regiments, doomed to inaction through the blundering and stupid perverseness of an old sepoy Brigadier. The same unhappy events as those I have narrated occurred at the outbreak of the Mutiny in three other stations in the Bengal Presidency.
The commanders would not act against their trusted sepoys, who, as in our case, plundered, outraged, and destroyed all and everything that came in their way.
May 14. - The morning of May 14 dawned, close and hot, not a breath of wind stirring. The sun rose like a ball of fire, and shortly afterwards we were startled by an explosion which shook the earth under our feet, and sounded like a heavy peal of thunder in the still morning air. Looking in the direction of the report, we saw on the far right side of the cantonment a thick black column of smoke shoot up high into the atmosphere. A quarter of an hour passed, and then another detonation similar to the first sounded in our ears on the left rear flank, followed, as before, by a dense cloud of smoke.
We said to ourselves: "Will the arsenal next be blown up?" In the fort was stored an immense quantity of powder and munitions of war, and, fearing that perhaps some rebel might have found his way in for the purpose of devoting his life to the destruction of the entrenchment and the annihilation of the European guard, we remained anxiously expectant for some time.