A SOLDIER'S LETTER FROM THE INDIAN MUTINY - PART 2
By Diana Kennedy
This article was originally published in the December 2012 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
In the last issue of Sole Search we printed a letter from Joseph Charles Sewell a nephew of Diana Kennedy’s 3 x great-grandfather which had appeared in the Ipswich Journal and described the relief of the first siege of Lucknow. Two other letters appeared in the Journal and are reproduced below.
The second letter from December 1857 is written from Camp Alum-Bagh, and Joseph begins:
I wrote to you from here on the 29th of last month, and the next day I had to go into hospital, being very bad with dysentery; but, thank God, I am happy to say I am getting well again and expect to be out in a few days. The country is very trying to the constitution of the European, as the mornings and nights are colder than ever I felt at home in the sharpest winter, and the day time is just the reverse, for the heat is oppressive – no one would believe it, only those who experience it.
He goes on that their clothes had been left in a store at Cawnpore and the rebels had burnt them. Joseph mentions the death of General Havelock:
Our poor brave General Havelock, too, I am sorry to say, died on the 23rd last month; poor fellow, he was as brave a soldier as ever drew a sword. The General in command of our brigade now is Outram, another brave and good officer; he was with Havelock and with us all the time in Lucknow.
Joseph was pleased to meet with a fellow countryman from Ipswich:
A colour-sergeant in the 8th regiment named Clarkson, from Ipswich, came to see me the other day, and seemed pleased to see me, and seemed quite surprised to see me as soldier in the service; but he appeared very glad to have found someone from the same place he knew, and to tell the truth, so did I, as we spent few pleasant hours smoking our pipes and talking of the ‘old place at home’. Their regiment was up at the taking of Delhi; and he had a brother also a colour-sergeant in the regiment, but the poor fellow died up there, he informs me.
Rations had improved:
although vegetables are very hard to be got, situated as we are at present in front of the enemy; they are only got by sending out foraging parties, which are not sent out very often.
Joseph also muses on the cause of the mutiny:
Bad luck to Lord Dalhousie for his having ever annexed it to the Company’s territories. My firm belief is, that it is one of the causes of the mutiny, as nearly the whole of the Bengal army were composed of men from this kingdom of Oude. And mark my word, whoever lives to see it when we advance again upon Lucknow to take the city that it will cost thousands of British soldiers’ lives. No one who had not seen it would believe what a large city it is, and not only large, but strongly built; but there is one thing to be said when we do once go about it, that we shall raze it to the ground, massacre every being we come across.
Joseph finishes the letter by asking to be remembered to old friends at home and how different they would find him:
The third letter is written at the King’s Palace, Moosa Bagh, near Lucknow in March 1858:
Since I wrote to you on the 14th of last month, we have had much to do that I have not had time, but I hope this may find you all in good health, as thanks be to God, it leaves me at the present time.
They had not marched upon Lucknow as expected although attacked by the enemy on several occasions, but under heavy fire the enemy had retreated each time. Joseph describes a battle on Thursday, the 25th February:
Thinking all our cavalry were away on the left, they acted more boldly than they probably would have done had they known the true state of the case; but the position they occupy is so extensive, and so faulty with respect to form, that it is impossible to convey orders or information from one flank to the other in time to prevent a threatened attack. The Military train made a dash and captured two guns and eleven horses. The horses were feeding. Some of the enemy’s artillery seeing their escape cut off by the cavalry, climbed up into a tope of trees, where, of course, our cavalry could not follow. A subdivision of our regiment was sent to them, who surrounded the tope, and by aid of the rifle soon succeeded in bringing the rebels down – not one escaped – some went down wells and were shot there. It was said that the Queen was there on an elephant, but she escaped…..our skirmishers gradually retired, and as soon as the enemy brought their columns into the open plain, a heavy fire was opened upon them from all our batteries that could bring a gun to bear on them; our fire galled them, so that, contrary to their usual practice they commenced shelling us. The first two or three of their shells burst beautifully, only missing our men by a few yards; those that they threw afterwards had an effect precisely opposite to that intended, for they burst over their own men, their yells telling with what effect; they then left off shelling..
Reinforcements from the camp of Horse Battery took up position and the skirmishers were then re-called, and a heavy fire from the guns and rifles played on the advancing line of the enemy:
The cross fire at the tope was so severe as to render our outpost there untenable – 9 or 10 men had been wounded, some severely, and one man killed, the remainder were then withdrawn. About 500 yards in advance of us, the enemy had dug a trench, and it was evident their leaders had some difficulty in inducing their men to advance any further. At length the Rubicon was passed, and to give them a fair chance, orders were given to ‘cease firing’, not a shot was fired, but every man looked well to his rifle, and the artillerymen stood by their guns with fuzes ready in their hands. At length their cheers and yells announced their proximity, the tope was crammed as full with them as it could possibly be. ‘Fire’ resounded through the British Batteries, and the iron storm crashed through the trees, which was promptly answered by them with a volley of musketry that illuminated the tope like a huge furnace. Again they received the grape, and another, and another, while the Rifles poured certain death into them with unceasing energy. Had the enemy charged they might have stood some chance, but seeking the delusive cover of the tope they must have been massacred to a man.
Apart from the occasional skirmish it remained quiet, and before daylight on Friday, the 26th of February the enemy began gathering up their dead and wounded:
as soon as the daylight was strong enough the plain was discovered empty, not one of them to be seen, nothing but pools of blood, branches of trees, and an unusual number of balls lying about told the tale of the previous night’s work.
The enemy then appeared to have moved back until, on the 10th March, Joseph wrote:
Heavy firing heard in the distance all day and night, and I stood for about two hours at night watching the shells in the distance; the next day the city of Lucknow was in possession of the British.
On the 19th March Joseph’s brigade was aroused, and by 2 o’clock they were on the march. 25 miles across the country, skirmishing through several villages, and killing some hundreds of armed persons. At dusk they halted until 3 o’clock in the morning of the 20th, travelling about 15 miles before arriving at the King’s Palace, Moosa Bagh, at dusk:
The palace is a splendid building, and the gardens must have looked magnificent when they were in proper order. To give you a proper description of the whole place in a letter is more than I can do at present. It was seen from the Palace that a large body of the enemy were passing in our front; the cavalry went out and the 7th Hussars, and cut up two regiments of the enemy to a man; and Wales’ Horse got another regiment to pile arms and then walked into them properly; the road was literally covered with the dead and dying for about 4˝ miles, but most miraculous, not a single man of the 7th Hussars was either killed or wounded; but I am sorry to say the Commanding Officer of Wales’ Horse got killed, and which was the only casualty. Nothing else of any importance has taken place since. I have had a stroll into the city since I have been here; it is only about 1˝ mile from this, and it was really a most horrible sight to see the numbers lying dead. Our coolies have buried, up to the present time, in the city alone, upwards of 15,000 of the enemy, but throughout the whole our loss has been only trifling. I enclose some paper cut, which I picked up in the Palace; they have no doubt been intended for book marks. I have nothing more to send you now, so I conclude with kind love.
After the Mutiny
Sgt Joseph Charles Sewell, an Orderly Room Clerk of the 1st Battalion 5th Foot Northumberland Fusiliers was awarded the Indian Mutiny Medal Roll. The Indian Mutiny Medal had been instituted on 18th August 1858 for award to British and Indian Troops deployed against the Mutineers. It was the last of the Honourable East India Company medals issued on behalf of the British Government.
Having survived the fighting in the Indian mutiny, it is unknown whether Joseph ever came back to England. His death was recorded in the Times of India on 31st March 1872 at Meean Meer aged 41 years. He was Head Clerk of the Assistant Adjutant-Generals Office, Lahore Division. I have not found any more mention of his wife Rosa; whether she died in England or joined her husband in India is not known.