OCCUPATION OF THE CITY

The renown won by our troops in 1857 is now wellnigh forgotten, and, in fact, their deeds in that distant quarter of our Empire faded into oblivion within a very short period subsequent to the capture of Delhi. When the regiments engaged at that place came home to England after a long course of service in India, scarcely any notice was taken of their arrival. There were no marchings past before Her Majesty at Windsor or elsewhere, no public distribution of medals and rewards, no banquets given to the leading officers of the force, and no record published of the arduous duties in which they had been engaged. Those times are changed, and the country has now rushed into the opposite extreme of fulsome adulation, making a laughing-stock of the army and covering with glory the conquerors in a ten days' war waged against the wretched fellaheen soldiers of Egypt.

Five years passed away after 1857 (and how many poor fellows had died in the meantime!) before a mean and niggardly Government distributed to the remnant of the Delhi army the first instalment of prize-money, and three years more elapsed before the second was paid.

In September, 1861, exactly four years after the storm of Delhi, my regiment paraded at the Plymouth citadel to receive medals for the campaign of 1857. The distribution took place in the quietest manner possible, none but the officers and men of the regiment being present. Borne on a large tray into the midst of a square, the medals were handed by a sergeant to each one entitled to the long-withheld decoration, the Adjutant meanwhile reading out the names of the recipients. There was no fuss or ceremony, but I recollect that those present could not help contrasting the scene with the grand parade and the presence of the Queen when some of the Crimean officers and men received the numerous decorations so lavishly bestowed for that campaign.[1]

The city was entirely in our possession by noon of September 20, and shortly after that hour I proceeded on horseback, with orders from the Colonel, to withdraw all the advanced pickets of my regiment to headquarters at Ahmed Ali Khan's house. These were stationed in different parts of the city, and it was with no small difficulty that I threaded my way through the streets and interminable narrow lanes, which were all blocked up with heaps of broken furniture and rubbish that had been thrown out of the houses by our troops, and formed in places an almost impassable barrier. Not a soul was to be seen; all was still as death, save now and then the sound of a musket-shot in the far-off quarters of the town.

My duty accomplished, I started in the afternoon with two of our officers to view a portion of the city. We made our way first in the direction of the Palace, passing down the Chandni Chauk (Silver Street) and entering the Great Gate of the former imperial residence of the Mogul Emperors. Here a guard of the 60th Rifles kept watch and ward with some of the jovial little Goorkhas of the Kumaon battalion. From the first we learnt particulars of the easy capture of the Palace that morning, and were shown the bodies of the fanatics who had disputed the entrance and had been killed in the enclosure. None of them were sepoys, but belonged to that class of men called "ghazi," or champions of the faith, men generally intoxicated with bhang, who are to be found in every Mohammedan army - fierce madmen, devotees to death in the cause of religion. Passing on, we wandered through the courts, wondering at the vast size of this castellated palace with its towering, embattled walls, till we came to the Dewan-i-Khas, and further on to the Dewan-i-Aum, or Hall of Audience. This last, a large building of white marble on the battlements overhanging the River Jumna, was now the headquarters of the General and his staff, and where formerly the descendants of the great warrior Tamerlane held their court, British officers had taken up their abode; and infidels desecrated those halls, where only "true believers" had assembled for hundreds of years.

Passing thence through a gateway and over a swinging bridge, we entered the old fort of Selimgarh, built, like the Palace, on the banks of the river, its battlements, as well as those of the latter place on its eastern side, being washed by the waters of the Jumna. Several heavy guns and mortars were mounted on the walls of the fort, and we noticed one old cannon of immense size for throwing stone balls, but which was cracked at the muzzle, and evidently had not been used for centuries. The fort was full of large and commodious buildings, used afterwards for hospitals by our troops, the place itself, from its commanding situation open and separate from the rest of the city, being the healthiest place that could be found. There was a lovely view of the country on the left bank of the Jumna, while to the north and south we followed the windings of the broad river till lost to view in the far distance.

Descending from Selimgarh, we took our stand on the bridge of boats now deserted in its whole length, but over which, during the days of the siege, thousands of mutineers had marched to swell the rebel forces in Delhi. Thence we skirted along the banks of the river outside the walls, viewing on our way the houses of the European residents, built in charming situations close to the water's edge. These had been all entirely destroyed, gutted, and burnt; nothing but the bare walls were left standing, and the interiors filled with heaps of ashes. We thought of the wretched fate of the former inmates of these houses, most of whom had been mercilessly killed by the city rabble, urged on in their fiendish work by the native soldiers, of the regular army.