LORD ROBERTS AND DELHI:
IN THE GREAT SIEGE
 BEFORE recounting what befell Roberts at Delhi, we must give a short account of the events which
preceded his arrival. Sir Henry Barnard had succeeded General Anson on the 26th May, but
he was an utter stranger to India and had only been in the country a few weeks. He had
been chief of the stag' in the Crimea and was an energetic officer. He knew how the
critics had blamed Anson for not attacking Delhi off-hand without guns or soldiers, and he
recognised the difficulties of his position. Not waiting for his siege-train, he set out
from Kurnal on the 27th May and reached Alipur on the 6th of June.
Meanwhile, the Meerut force had been ordered to take the field, and when they came to a
village close to the Hindun River on 30th May, a vedette reported that the enemy were
coming in strength. The Rifles crossed the Hindun suspension-bridge and attacked, while
the Carabineers forded the stream and turned the enemy's left. Seven hundred British
soldiers attacked and defeated seven times their number, captured 5 guns and only lost 1
officer and 10 men.
The intense heat prevented them from following up the victory: so it was that next day the
sepoys returned to the battleground.
They took up position on a ridge to the right of the Hindun, and opened fire from their
guns on Wilson's force: for two hours there was an artillery duel, then Wilson
 ordered a general advance. The sepoys retreated with their guns to Delhi, our men being
too prostrated by the heat to follow.
Among our wounded was an ensign of the 60th Rifles, a boy named Napier, full of gallantry
and vigour and much liked by his men. He had been hit in the leg, and when he was brought
into camp, it was amputated. When the operation was over, the poor boy murmured to
himself, "I shall never lead the Rifles again—never lead the Rifles again." He felt
his career was so soon over and he must leave the regiment he loved.
There was some satisfaction felt in camp that the Meerut Brigade had, after all, been the
first to retaliate on the sepoys.
The next day, 1st June, Wilson's force was strengthened by the arrival of the 2nd Gurkhas,
500 strong, commanded by Major Charles Reid.
On the 7th of June this force joined Barnard's at Alipur, and the Meerut men were loudly
cheered as they marched into camp with the captured guns.
On the 8th, Hodson reported that the rebels were in force half-way between Alipur and
Delhi, at Badli-ki-Serai, where many large houses and walled gardens supplied good means
of defence. The rebels' guns were of heavier calibre than ours, and it became necessary to
charge them. When Hope Grant with cavalry and horse artillery appeared on their rear, they
fell back. The Lancers kept charging the retreating sepoys till they abandoned their guns
and retired in disorder within the walls of the city.
Then Barnard turned to the Ridge overlooking Delhi, drove away the rebels posted there and
encamped on a favourable position on the top. The rebels had lost 350 men, 26 guns and
The next day the Guides, led by Colonel Daly, were cheered on their arrival. Let us give a
few words about the Ridge and the city of Delhi.
 The Ridge rises 60 feet above the city; its left rested on the Jumna, generally too deep
to ford, and wide enough to prevent our being enfiladed. On the right of the Ridge,
bazaars, buildings, woods and garden walls afforded cover to the enemy when they made a
sortie: the Ridge at this end was about 1200 yards from the city walls, at the Flagstaff
Tower about a mile a half, and at the end near the river nearly two miles and a half.
The Flagstaff Tower in the centre of the Ridge was the general rendezvous for the sick and
wounded; the tower was 150 feet high, approached by a winding staircase. The main piquet
was established at Hindu Rao's house, a large stone building once belonging to a Mahratta
prince. The city is surrounded on three sides by a lofty stone wall, five and a half miles
long; the fourth side, two miles long, is covered by the river, and bridges and ferries
gave the besieged means of procuring food from the country. The walls were mounted with
114 pieces of heavy artillery supplied with plenty of ammunition. In addition, the
garrison of 40,000 sepoys had 60 pieces of field artillery, and their gunners had been
trained by the English.
To meet this force the English general had at this time a little more than 3000 soldiers,
some Gurkhas and the Guides with 22 field guns. On our rear was a canal with a splendid
supply of water.
As we have stated before, the Guides had to fight on their first afternoon and lost
Quintin Battye close up to the walls.
Lord Roberts says: "I spent a few hours with him on my way to Delhi, and I remember how
his handsome face glowed when he talked of the opportunities for distinguishing
themselves in store for the Guides. Proud of his regiment, and beloved by his men, who
were captivated by his many soldierly qualities, he had every prospect before him of a
splendid career, but he was destined to fall in his first fight. He was curiously fond of
quotations, and his last words were 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.'"
 The few heavy guns were placed in position on the Ridge, but were soon found inferior to
those of the enemy; ammunition, too, was so scarce that a reward was offered for every
24-pounder shot which could be picked up.
The rebels thought that they could persuade the Gurkhas to join them, and as the latter
advanced they called out, "We are not firing; we want to speak to you, we want you to join
us." The little, stubborn Gurkhas replied: "Oh yes, we are coming, wait a bit—we are
coming to you."
Then, when within twenty paces of the sepoys they fired a volley and killed nearly 30 of
Every day attacks were made, sometimes on Hindu Rao's house in the centre of our position,
sometimes on the Flagstaff Tower: on one occasion they crept up in a fog and nearly
succeeded in taking the guns.
With so few men the work grew very toilsome, and the men were seldom off duty. General
Barnard felt that his force was unequal to the task of taking Delhi by a coup de main, but
he had written instructions from Lord Canning and Sir John Lawrence to make short work of
Delhi. Those gentlemen, at a convenient distance, were sure that the city could be taken.
The perplexed general consulted his Engineers, and three of them drew up a plan of assault
for the 12th June. The young officers were Greathed, Maunsell, and Chesney of the
Engineers and Hodson of Hodson's Horse.
The scheme was kept so secret that even the commanding Engineer was not informed of it.
Practically the whole force was to be engaged, divided into three columns—one to
enter by the Kashmir gate, the second by the Lahore gate and the third was to attempt an
The troops assembled between one and two in the morning, but Brigadier Graves with his 300
Europeans was absent, and the assault was postponed.
Graves had received no written orders, and as the verbal
 notice sent him would have involved his leaving the Flagstaff piquet in the hands of
natives, he wisely declined to act upon it. All military critics agree in thinking this a
merciful relief: the attacking party must have been repulsed; a repulse would have
involved the destruction of the besieging force, and perhaps the loss of all India. This
critical position was the result of civilians at a distance presuming to dictate to the
general on the spot.
On the 14th June, General Reed arrived on the Ridge to assume command: for a time, owing
to ill-health, he did not supersede Barnard.
But the question of a coup de main was discussed in Reed's tent for several
days, and finally the senior officers voted against it.
On the 17th, we had to attack in two columns to prevent the enemy from completing a
battery that would enfilade our position. Tombs had two horses killed under him, making
five so far; he drove the rebels away and blew up a mosque which they had seized.
On the 18th, the rebels were reinforced by more mutineers with six guns: they celebrated
the event by a fierce attack on our rear, which nearly succeeded; but Reed, the Gurkhas
and 60th Rifles held on steadily and saved the situation.
The 23rd June, the hundredth anniversary of Plassey, was celebrated by a desperate attempt
on the part of the sepoys to get their prophecy fulfilled: thousands rushed against a mere
handful of men on our right; again Reed stood firm. After the 23rd the attacks were pushed
home with less vigour.
On the 24th, Neville Chamberlain came from the Punjab to take the post of
adjutant-general, and reinforcements raised our strength to 6600 men. On the 28th June,
Roberts had come tired into camp and thrown himself down in the tent of his friend Norman.
Next morning he awoke, full of questions and eager to hear everything. He found that Harry
Tombs, of the
 Bengal Horse Artillery, was so far the hero of the hour—a handsome man and a
After visiting the tents of Edwin Johnson and General Chamberlain and Sir Henry Barnard,
to find out what his post was to be, it was settled Roberts was to be D.A.Q.M.G. with the
artillery; which was the post he desired.
Once more the question of an assault was opened; the date 3rd July was fixed for it, and
at 3 a.m. there arrived on the Ridge Baird-Smith, of the Engineers, destined to take a
foremost place in the taking of Delhi.
But the assault had again to be postponed, as the enemy had planned a sortie for that day.
On the 5th July, General Barnard was attacked by cholera and General Reed assumed command.
On the 9th July the rebels sent the regiment which had mutinied at Bareilly through the
right of the British camp, by the rear; as their uniform was the same as our irregulars
they were allowed to pass unchallenged. They had put to flight some young soldiers of the
Carabineers when James Hills, one of the most daring soldiers in the world (later Sir
James Hills-Johns) ordered out his two guns for action. But the enemy were upon him and he
had no time to fire; so, determined at all costs to stop the foe and give his men time to
load and fire a round of grape, he charged the head of the column single-handed, cutting
down the leading men, and slashing at the second: then two sepoys rode at him and rolled
over his horse. It had been raining heavily and Hills wore his cloak, which saved his
life, for it was cut through in many places, as were his jacket and shirt! To pick himself
up and find his sword was the work of a moment: but three men now came on, two mounted;
the first sowar he shot, the second he ran through the body after seizing his lance in his
left hand, the third man, on foot, wrenched his sword from him: twice his pistol missed
fire, then Hills closed with the man and hit him in the face with his fists, but fell and
would have been killed after all, had not Tombs cut his way through the enemy and, seeing
 Hills' danger, taken a shot with his pistol at thirty yards, which killed the native
JAMES HILL'S BRAVE CHARGE
HILLS HAD ORDERED OUT HIS TWO GUNS FOR ACTION, BUT THE ENEMY WERE UPON THEM BEFORE
THEY COULD BE FIRED. BUT HILLS, IN ORDER TO CHECK THE ATTACK AND TO GIVE HIS MEN
TIME, CHARGED THE SEPOYS SINGLE HANDED AND CUT DOWN THE LEADING MEN.
In spite of Hills' heroic attempt, his men never got a chance to fire a round; for the
sepoys were amongst them, and riding off to the native horse artillery called upon the men
to join them and bring away the guns. But the native artillerymen loyally refused to join
the rebels: by this time the camp was roused and the irregulars rode off with some loss.
Tombs and Hills both received the Victoria Cross for their gallantry.
At this moment Roberts was standing by his tent, watching with the interest of an owner
his horses which had just arrived from Philour. They were crossing the bridge over the
canal at the rear of the camp when the retiring sowars galloped over the bridge, not
waiting to secure any loot. Roberts' servants had marched 200 miles through a disturbed
country and had brought horses and baggage in good order.
Through the siege these servants behaved admirably: the khitmatgar never failed to bring
his food under the hottest fire, and the syces (grooms) seemed quite indifferent to all
risks wherever duty called them.
On the 14th July the rebels came out in great numbers, and had to be driven back: on
reaching a wall lined with sepoys the troops stopped short, and Chamberlain, calling them
to follow him, jumped his horse over the wall and got a ball in his shoulder. But the men
did follow and the rebels were slowly driven away. Roberts was with two advanced guns on
the grand trunk road: the subaltern was severely wounded, and a fine young sergeant being
shot through the leg was being carried to a hut near the road.
"Don't put him in there," shouted Roberts, "he will be left behind."
Roberts, in the bursting of shells and crashing of branches, was not heard. The poor
fellow was left in the hut, and, like other wounded, was murdered by the rebels.
 As Roberts was helping the drivers to keep the gun-horses quiet (several of them being
wounded) he suddenly felt a tremendous blow on the back, which made him faint and sick: he
just managed to stick on his saddle until he got back to camp. He had been hit close to
the spine by a bullet: his life was saved by the fact that a leather pouch for caps, which
he usually wore in front, had slipped round; the bullet passed through this first and so
was prevented from penetrating very far into his body.
This wound kept Roberts on the sick-list for a fortnight: his tent, fortunately, was
pitched close to that of Campbell Brown, surgeon to the artillery. The medical officers
were clever and worked hard; but the wounded had little shelter from sun and rain:
chloroform was unknown, and antiseptics not yet heard of, and scarcely a single
amputation case survived.
It was difficult to get rid of the festering carcases of animals; some were buried, and
jackals and adjutants worked without pay to remove the nuisance. On the 17th July, General
Reed's health broke down and he had to leave the camp. General Wilson assumed command, and
was earnestly requested by Baird-Smith not to think of raising the siege: We must
maintain the grip we now have on Delhi." In consequence General Wilson ordered up a
siege-train from Ferozepur; he also gave the troops relief by introducing order and method
into their various duties, by caring for their health and recreation. He also put a stop
to the practice of following up the enemy close to the city walls when repulsed—for
this practice had led to many casualties from sharp-shooters.
About the 20th July, Roberts lost a cousin by an accidental shot. Captain Greensill of
the 24th Foot was reconnoitring after dark, and on drawing near the enemy's position he
halted his escort and went forward alone to examine the ground. He had given his men a
signal by which they might recognise his approach; but this was apparently misunderstood,
for as he came up in the dark the escort
 fired. The poor fellow died in great agony the next morning.
As to news, the besiegers regularly received letters from England by the Punjab, but for
several weeks they had no news from the South.
Sometimes one of Hodson's spies would come in with a scrap of thin paper written on in
Greek letters, sewn between the soles of his shoe, or twisted in his hair. How eagerly
these missives were deciphered! A fight at Agra! Allahabad still safe! Lucknow holding
out! troops at Calcutta from Madras, Ceylon, Mauritius! Lord Elgin diverts a force on way
But they never heard a word from Cawnpur, nor of the death of General Wheeler, nor Sir
Henry Lawrence; but thought Wheeler was coming to their aid. At length Norman, on the 15th
July, addressed a letter written in French to Wheeler at Cawnpur: two sepoys of the Guides
took it, delivered it faithfully to General Havelock at Cawnpur and returned with his
reply on the 3rd August.
In this he acquaints General Reed with Wheeler's fate; states he has orders to relieve
Lucknow; informs him that Sir Henry Somerset is commander-in-chief in India, and Sir
Patrick Grant in Bengal; and speaks of his own victories.
Two days afterwards Colonel Fraser-Tytler's letter came from Cawnpur to Captain Earle:
"Havelock has thrashed the Nana . . . . will relieve Lucknow in four days . . . . we
shall soon be with you." This sanguine prophecy was a failure! Instead of four days it
took four months to relieve Lucknow, and no troops from Cawnpur came to Delhi.
On the 14th August, Nicholson's column arrived, and hopes began to spring up; for this
brought up the effective strength to about 8000 rank and file.
The rebels knew more than the British did: they knew Havelock had been obliged to fall
back upon Cawnpur,
 and that a siege-train was not far off. So they decided to make a supreme effort to
capture the big guns, and proceeded in the direction of Najafgarh on the 24th August.
The following morning at daybreak Nicholson started to catch the rebels and bring them to
action; he had with him 16 horse artillery guns, 1600 infantry and 450 cavalry, Nicholson
requested to have Roberts as his staff officer, but this was refused, as he was still on
A twelve hours' march through swamps and marches brought them, weary and wet, at 4 p.m.
near the rebels, covered by guns and deep water.
But Nicholson, nothing daunted, led his men across the ford, breast-high: Tombs and
Remington did good work with their batteries, and a plucky charge drove the sepoys from
their strong position; they made for a bridge over the canal, but Nicholson caught them,
killed 800 and took 13 guns.
Though reinforcements and able leaders had come to the Ridge, yet at the beginning of
September there were 3000 sick in hospital!
Baird-Smith was emphatic and decisive for an assault before disease could still further
weaken the attack. He said they must think of the Punjab which Lawrence had denuded of
troops for their benefit. If delay should induce the native princes to take part against
us, as was probable, then all India would be lost, at least for a time.
Wilson, ill and anxious, had long been hesitating, waiting for help from the South: now he
knew that help would never come. Baird-Smith was strongly backed up by Nicholson, Daly,
Hodson, Norman, and Alec Taylor.
Lord Roberts says he was sitting in Nicholson's tent before he set out to attend the
council. In a confidential talk, Nicholson startled his friend by saying: "Delhi must be
taken, and it is absolutely essential that this should be done at once; and if Wilson
hesitates longer, I intend to propose at to-day's meeting that he should be superseded."
 Roberts replied that as Chamberlain was hors de combat from his wound,
Wilson's removal would leave him, Nicholson, senior officer with the force. To this
Nicholson replied, he had thought of that and should propose that the command should be
given to Campbell of the 52nd.
Fortunately so drastic a measure was not needed: Wilson agreed to the assault. For some
time Taylor, second in command of the Engineers, had been scouting and measuring and
drawing plans for the breaching-batteries: a battery was constructed to prevent sorties
from the Lahore and Kabul gates; it was also there placed to make the rebels think our
assault would be from the right of the Ridge, whereas it had been resolved to attack from
the left, where the men could approach nearer to the walls under cover and where the river
completely protected our left flank.
As Baird-Smith was ill, the responsibility fell on Taylor, a practical Engineer, alert and
cheerful and trusted fully by all working under him. The evening of the 7th September was
fixed for the tracing of the batteries. No. 1 battery was placed below the Ridge within
700 yards of the Mori bastion; this bastion was at the north-west corner of the walls,
mounting eight guns. The right section of the battery to be commanded by Major Brind, "a
real hero of the siege," as Malleson says; the left by Major Kaye.
The Engineers worked all night with such energy that on the morning of the 8th, when as
yet only one gun was mounted, the enemy discovered Brind's section and opened upon it a
deadly fire of shot and grape. By the afternoon, as new guns were mounted, the rebels'
fire was crushed and the Mori bastion became a heap of ruins.
Kaye, too, was doing good work against the Kashmir bastion, until the half-battery caught
fire from the constant discharge of guns. At once the rebels opened fire upon the burning
battery, and it looked as if the hard work of
 three days would be thrown away. But the battery was saved from destruction by the
gallantry of Lieutenant Lockhart, who, with two companies of the 2nd Gurkhas, carried
sandbags to the top, cut them and smothered the fire with sand. Two of the Gurkhas were
shot dead; Lockhart, shot through the jaw, rolled over the parapet; but the fire was
No. 2 battery was erected in front of Ludlow Castle, nearer the river and about 500 yards
from the Kashmir gate, in order to destroy the bastion, to knock away the parapet to the
right and left that gave cover to the rebels, and lastly, to open a breach for the
By this time the enemy began to see that the assault would be on the left near the river,
and did their utmost to check the erection of the batteries, mounting heavy guns along the
No. 3 battery, traced by Medley and commanded by Scott, was placed within 160 yards of the
Water bastion' and was finished by the night of the 11th. During the first night of its
construction thirty-nine men were killed—Gurkhas. As man after man was knocked over,
"they would stop a moment, weep a little over a fallen friend, says Forrest, place his
body in a row along with the rest and then set to work again. No. 4 battery, half-way
between 2 and 3, armed with ten heavy mortars, was; commanded by Tombs.
It was to No. 2 battery that Roberts was posted, and he had charge of two guns. At eight
o'clock on the morning of the 11th September they opened fire on the Kashmir bastion, and
as the shots told and the stones flew into the air and rattled down, a loud cheer came
from the artillerymen and others who had volunteered to work in the batteries.
But the enemy also had got the range very accurately, and as soon as the screen in front
of the right gun was removed, a round shot came through the embrasure, knocking over
Roberts and three others. "On regaining
 my feet," Roberts says, "I found that the young artillery-man, who was serving the vent
while I was laying the gun, had had his right arm taken off."
In the evening, as they were taking a short rest in the shelter of the battery after the
exhausting work and the heat, a shower of grape came down upon them, severely wounding the
commander, Major Campbell: Edwin Johnson then took his place.
How terrible the work of bombarding was, carried on night and day, we may realise from the
fact that these men never left their batteries until the day of the assault—the
14th—except to go by turns into Ludlow Castle, just behind the battery, for their
meals. The roar of big guns and mortars was incessant, the rain of shot and shell on the
city must have given the mutineers some sense of coming disaster.
But the rebels, on their side, had made an advanced trench in one night, only 350 yards
from our left attack: this they lined with infantry and enfiladed our batteries: they sent
rockets from their martello towers and left no part of our attack unsearched by their
Three months' practice had made our men skilful in taking cover, but yet we lost 327
officers and men between the 7th and 14th September. On the evening of the 13th, Nicholson
went down to see whether the gunners had done their work thoroughly enough to warrant an
assault on the morrow. After a careful look he turned and said with a smile: "I must shake
hands with you fellows; you have done your best to make my work easy to-morrow."
Taylor, too, who accompanied Nicholson, seemed well pleased with the results; for, soon
after, he and Baird-Smith advised General Wilson that the breaches were sufficient: so
Wilson ordered they should be closely examined. Four subaltern officers of Engineers were
detailed to go to the walls after dark and report upon their condition: this dangerous
duty was given to Greathed and Home for
 the Water bastion, Medley and Lang for the Kashmir bastion.
Lang wished to go and examine the breach while there was light: Taylor agreed. So, with an
escort of four men of the 60th Rifles, Lang crept to the edge of the cover, and then
running up the glacis, sat on the top of the counter-scarp for a few seconds, studying the
ditch and the two breaches. He returned with the report that the breaches were
practicable, but had to go again after dark with Medley to ascertain if ladders would be
Lang slipped into the ditch with a measuring rod, which gave 16 feet; Medley handed him
the ladder and followed with two riflemen, four others remaining on the crest of the
glacis to cover their retreat. By using the ladder they ascended the ditch and measured
the height of the wall. In two minutes they would have reached the top of the breach, but
in spite of all precautions they had been heard, and the noise of running sepoys came to
their ears. Then they climbed up the ditch as quickly as possible and threw themselves
down on the grass, hoping the sepoys would go away, and they might try once more to get to
the top of the breach. But as the rebels remained chattering and listening, they resolved
to run for it: a volley was fired as they dashed across the open, but fortunately no one
Greathed and Home reached the Water bastion and examined their breach successfully; and by
midnight Baird-Smith made his report to the general, and at the same time advised him
strongly to order the assault for the coming morning. So the order was given for the
storming of Delhi a little before daybreak; and in every tent men were making ready,
re-loading pistols, filling flasks, winding puggrees round their forage caps, and giving,
friend to friend, instructions, "if I fall." A little after midnight they were bidden to
fall in as quietly as possible, and by the light of a winking lantern the orders for the
 were read to the men. Any officer or man who should be wounded was to be left where he
fell! for there were no men to spare. No plundering! all prizes to be put into common
stock for fair division. No prisoners! No women or children to be hurt!
"No fear, sir!" murmured the men. Then in some cases a priest or chaplain came up and
offered a short prayer for success as they waited till all were ready.
There were four columns of attack: Nicholson led the first; Brigadier W. Jones, the
second; Colonel Campbell, the third; Major Reid, the fourth.
The fifth, or reserve column, was to support the first column, or any that required help,
and was led by Colonel Longfield. Many of the sick and wounded were used for the
protection of the camp.
A delay was caused by having to wait for the men who had been on piquet all night; also it
was necessary to batter down some of the repairs made in the night to the breaches. While
this was being done the infantry lay down under cover; the sun rose, the breaching guns
ceased, Nicholson gave the signal, and the 60th Rifles with a cheer dashed forward in
skirmishing order; meanwhile the other columns moved forward. But the rebels were on the
look out and sent a storm of bullets into the mass; and officers and men fell thick on the
crest of the glacis.
While our men stood at the edge of the ditch, waiting for more ladders, dusky figures
crowded on the breach, hurled stones and insulting epithets and dared our men to cross.
Then came a rush, a climb, a struggle; many fine men were ruined for life or killed in the
breach, but the rebels gave way and the ramparts were ours.
No. 2 column also carried the breach at the Water bastion; but of the 39 men who carried
the ladders, 29 dropped in as many seconds. The ladders were picked up by their comrades
and placed against the escarp: the supports by mistake got on to the rampart; but Jones,
seizing the situation, cleared the ramparts as far as the
 Kabul gate, on the summit of which he planted the column flag, presented in 1877 to Queen
No. 3 column advanced towards the Kashmir gate in the face of a heavy fire and halted.
Lieutenants Home and Salkeld with 8 sappers and miners and a bugler set out to blow the
gate open; each carried 25 lb. of powder.
The rebels wondered what so small a party were going to do, and slackened fire; but very
soon opened a deadly fire from the top of the gateway, the city wall, and the open wicket.
The bridge over the ditch had been destroyed; a single beam remained, over which Home and
his men crossed with difficulty.
How the gate was blown in has been already described in Chapter IV.
When Campbell got inside he found Nicholson's and Jones' columns, and together they poured
into the open space between the Kashmir gate and the church.
The fourth column under Reid had to start without their four H.A. guns; Reid himself was
wounded in the head, but managed to send for Captain Lawrence and gave him the command.
But the rebels were strongly posted on the banks of the canal, and indeed threatened to
break into our weakly-guarded camp, but just at the critical moment Hope Grant brought up
the cavalry brigade, and No. 4 column were enabled to retire in an orderly manner.
Meanwhile Nicholson pushed on along the foot of the walls to the right towards the Lahore
gate past the Kabul gate and Burn bastion. To do this he had to force his way through a
lane 200 yards long where every building was manned with sharpshooters; the city wall was
on his right, on his left flat-roofed houses with parapets sheltering rebels. He might
have maintained his position at the Kabul gate, but thinking that the repulse of No. 4
would encourage the rebels, he cried, "Boys, storm the lane and take those two guns in
front." They charged, recoiled, and charged again; Greville spiked the first gun,
Lieutenant Butler got beyond
 the second gun. But the grape and round-shot were too much for mortal men. Jacobs of the
1st Fusiliers was mortally wounded. Wemyss, Greville, Caulfield, Speke, Woodcock, Butler
were in turn struck down. The men, discouraged by the fall of their officers, were falling
back a second time, when the clear-sounding voice of Nicholson called them to follow their
general. But even as he turned to address them he was shot through the back and chest.
Though he felt the wound was mortal, nothing could yet quench the ardour of his spirit; he
still called on his men to come on. But it was in vain; already 8 officers and 50 men had
fallen in this attempt. The only thing was to fall back on the Kabul gate.
The result of the first day's operations was that we had won the entire space from the
Water bastion by the river to the Kabul gate, being the north side of the city walls;
while the fourth column, outside the city, held the batteries behind Hindu Rao's house.
But the price paid was high.
In the day's fight we had lost 66 officers and 1104 men; the rebels were still very strong
in numbers, in guns, in position; and they had had their measure of success and had no
need to despair.
All this time Roberts was with General Wilson at Ludlow Castle on staff duty. Wilson
watched the assault from the top of the house; and, seeing the success of the assaulting
columns, he rode through the Kashmir gate to the church, and there stayed for the
remainder of the day.
The general was ill and worn out with toil and anxiety, and as reports of disaster kept
coming in, he grew more and more depressed. The failure of Reid and the 4th column, the
fall of Nicholson, and the false report that Hope Grant and Tombs were killed—all
this so distressed him that he began to consider the advisability of falling back again on
the Ridge. Roberts was ordered to go and find out the truth of these reports and ascertain
what had happened to No. 4 column.
While riding on his errand through the Kashmir gate
 Roberts saw by the side of the road a dhoolie without bearers. He dismounted to see if
there was a wounded officer inside, and perceived to his grief and consternation that it
was John Nicholson, with death written on his face.
"The bearers—have gone off to plunder—I am in great pain—I should like
to be taken to the hospital," the wounded man gasped out.
"Not seriously wounded, John, I hope?"
"I am dying; there is no chance for me."
"The sight of that great man lying helpless and on the point of death," says Lord Roberts,
"was almost more than I could bear. Other men had daily died around me . . . but I never
felt as I felt then—to lose Nicholson seemed to me at that moment to lose
LIEUTENANT ROBERTS FINDING GENERAL NICHOLSON
RIDING THROUGH THE KASHMIR GATE AFTER THE CAPTURE OF DELHI, ROBERTS SAW A DOOLIE LYING
AT THE ROADSIDE WITHOUT BEARERS. HE DISMOUNTED, AND DRAWING ASIDE THE CURTAINS SAW, TO HIS
SURPRISE AND GRIEF, GENERAL NICHOLSON LYING MORTALLY WOUNDED.
It took Roberts some time to find four men, whom he put in charge of a sergeant of the
61st Foot: he took down the sergeant's name, told him who the wounded officer was, and
ordered him to go direct to the field hospital. Continuing his ride, Roberts came up with
Hope Grant's brigade, and was very glad to find him and Tombs unhurt, and Hodson cheery
and Probyn in high spirits at commanding his squadron.
So Roberts galloped back to Wilson with the good news, which did a little cheer him; but
the heavy list of casualties came in later and seemed to crush all spirit out of him: he
would have withdrawn from the city in spite of the opposing opinions of every officer on
his staff; had not Baird-Smith come up, looking very ill and wasted by disease and
suffering fearful pain from his wound.
"Now, Baird-Smith, shall we hold on or retire?" asked the general.
"Sir, we must hold on," was the reply given in so loud and determined a tone
that Wilson shrugged his shoulders and said no more.
Neville Chamberlain, Daly, and Khan Sing Rosa, a distinguished officer of the Guides, all
incapacitated by wounds,
 were watching the assault from the top of Hindu Rao's house: to Chamberlain, Wilson sent
two notes, asking his advice. Chamberlain urged the necessity for holding on to the last.
Nicholson, though slowly dying, when told of General Wilson's wish to retire to the Ridge,
cried, "No! no! thank God I have strength yet to shoot him, if necessary!"
While such were the varying opinions of the besiegers, they little knew what emotions had
been stirred in the hearts of the besieged by the capture of the walls and bastions and
the calm bivouacking of the British within the city. The king and his counsellors were
panic-stricken: the sepoys had had all the heart taken out of them by the terrible street
fighting. If we had retired, all these advantages would have been thrown away. And they
very nearly were!
But at length Wilson braced up his courage and decided to remain. In the afternoon of the
14th, Norman, Johnson, and Roberts were sent to visit every position occupied by our
troops within the city.
They found great confusion naturally—men without officers, officers without men, and
all without instructions. For three weak columns had been set to do the impossible; but
they had done what was possible in gallant style. While riding along they were suddenly
attacked from a side lane: but fortunately one of our piquets heard the firing and came
running up to help. "In the scrimmage my poor mare was shot," says Roberts; "her death was
a great loss to me at the time."
The magazine, the palace, and the fort of Salimgarh, all fortified, still remained in the
enemies' hands, as well as the densely populated city. The general and his staff spent the
night in Skinner's house near the church: whether the rebels were tired, or from whatever
cause, the outworn troops were allowed to enjoy a peaceful and restful night, and awoke
refreshed. The 15th was employed in restoring order, breaking wine-bottles, and
 preparations for shelling the city: the sepoys gave little trouble.
On the 16th the rebels evacuated Kishanganj, whence on the 14th they had repulsed the
fourth column: the British stormed and took the magazine, so heroically defended, and
partially blown up by Willoughby on the 11th of May.
On the 17th and 18th the bank was taken and the besiegers' posts were brought close to the
palace: but it became necessary to take the Lahore gate, which was strongly held by the
rebels, and was commanded by the Burn bastion. It was then that Alec Taylor besought the
general to allow him to work his way from house to house to the Burn bastion.
The general assented, knowing now that what Taylor promised he would perform. Roberts was
placed under Taylor, and they had with them 50 Europeans and 50 native soldiers, the
senior officer being Captain Gordon of the 75th Foot. For hours these men worked like
moles through houses, courtyards, and lanes, clearing all before them, where any natives
were left, until on the afternoon of the 19th they found themselves in rear of the Burn
bastion. Only one door now separated them from the lane leading to this bastion: Lang, of
the Engineers, burst it open and the others followed at a rush up the ramp, surprising the
guard and capturing the bastion without the loss of a man.
Early in the morning of 20th September, as they were sapping their way towards the Lahore
gate, they came upon some 50 banias (grain merchants) huddled together and
Instead of killing these inoffensive people, Taylor made a bargain with them, "Your lives
shall be spared if you will conduct us safely to some spot from which we may observe how
the Lahore gate is guarded."
After a long discussion among themselves they agreed that two of their party should guide
Lang and Roberts,
 while the rest remained as hostages, to be shot if the two officers did not return.
In a panic the two guides led on from house to house and along secluded alleys, without
meeting a single living person, until at last they brought the officers to the upper room
of a house which looked out on the Chandni Chauk, or Silver Bazaar, the main street of
Delhi, close to the Lahore gate. From the window of this room Lang and Roberts saw sepoys
lounging about or cleaning their muskets, and sentries by the gateway and two guns.
The two banias were so afraid of anything untoward happening to the officers
that they insisted on reconnoitring every house before entering: in consequence there was
such delay that they found their friends ready to shoot the hostages, because they
believed the guides had behaved treacherously.
Then the hundred men were guided along the same route and drawn up behind a gateway next
to the house from which Roberts had seen the sentries. Suddenly the gate was flung open,
the party rushed into the street, captured the guns, and killed or put to flight the
This was a worthy achievement, for it gave possession of the street which led from the
Lahore gate to the palace and the mosque.
Up this street Roberts and his men proceeded; finding it absolutely empty, except for the
signs of looting, they pushed on to the Delhi Bank. A couple of guns outside the palace
were sending round-shot about, but soon ceased firing: for the great Mahommedan mosque had
just been taken by a column under Major James Brind, and Ensign M'Queen with one of his
men had reconnoitred up to the chief gateway of the palace and reported only a few sepoys
left. The 60th Rifles were allowed the honour of storming this last stronghold as they had
distinguished themselves in the battle of Hindun, four months before. Roberts attached
himself to the 60th on this occasion.
Home, of the Engineers, who blew up the Kashmir
 gate, now advanced with some sappers and blew in the outer gate.
They waited for the smoke of the explosion to clear away and then rushed in, supported by
the 4th Punjab Infantry: but a second door barred the way, which took some time to force
Then they saw crowds of wounded men in the recesses of the long passage leading to the
inner rooms of the palace: a few fanatics only resisted. One of these, a Mahommedan sepoy,
took aim and shot through M'Queen's helmet: he then charged madly along the passage, and
was shot down.
"So ended the 20th September—a day I am never likely to forget."
We must add that Brigadier William Jones with 500 Sikhs helped Taylor to take the Lahore
gate and the great mosque. Brind it was who asked permission to storm the palace: and a
young lieutenant, named Aikman, had previously secured the Salimgarh.
That afternoon Wilson took up his quarters in the palace.
The poor old king had been advised by his commander-in-chief, Bakht Khan, to accompany the
sepoys in flight and live to fight in the open. But the aged monarch had wives and sons to
think of, so he sadly took refuge at the great tomb of Humayun, four or five miles away.
So ended the siege of Delhi: and a royal salute at sunrise on the 21st proclaimed that we
were again the Masters of the Imperial City. But our triumph was honourably shared by the
Gurkhas of the Himalayas, the frontier men of the Guides, the proud Sikhs, the daring
Pathans. Heroes all—they had shown equally with the British soldier endurance of
hardships, faith in their officers, and contempt of death. Lord Canning wrote in his
dispatches home these words
In the name of outraged humanity, in memory of innocent blood ruthlessly shed, in
acknowledgment of the
 first signal vengeance inflicted on the foulest treason, the Governor-General in Council
records his gratitude to Major-General Wilson and the brave army of Delhi. He does so in
the sure conviction that a like tribute awaits them wherever the news of their well-earned
triumph shall reach."
Nicholson just lived to know that his labours had not been in vain: his funeral took place
on the 24th, and Roberts was marching out that morning with a mixed column to Cawnpur.
The victorious soldiers under Lieutenant-Colonel Greathed set out in the early morning
light along Silver Street, now desolate and deserted: the gay bazaars all idle and forlorn
and empty: not a sound was to be heard but the fall of their own footsteps. Dead bodies
still polluted the air and stricken faces grinned a ghastly farewell: dogs and vultures
were eating their loathsome breakfast: some dead sepoys lay with arm uplifted as if
beckoning the column to come and see what war was like at closer quarters. The very horses
felt the horror of the scene, for they trembled and snorted in disgust and fear, misliking
the scent of blood.
It was a pure delight to gain the fresh air of the open country: but the taint of cholera
had followed them; Captain Wilde of the 4th Punjab Infantry having to be sent back to
Delhi apparently dying; but he made a good recovery and lived to fight again very
It was not long before they came upon rebels strongly posted and had to storm a walled
town; here Anson got surrounded by mutineers, performed heroic deeds of valour and won the
Here, too, Roberts' life was saved by his horse rearing and receiving in his head the
bullet aimed at his rider: the horse survived and did good service. It had been John
Nicholson's Wasiri stallion, a great favourite of his.
On the 1st of October another hero of the Mutiny lost his life: for it had been decided
that Malagarh fort should be blown up. Lieutenant Home, who had been one of the Engineer
officers to blow in the Kashmir gate, was engaged
 in laying the mine; the slow-match was lighted, but as no explosion followed, Home thought
the match had gone out and ran forward to relight it. Just as he reached it the mine blew
up and Home was no more.
When the column reached Khurja, a large Mahommedan town, the first thing that met the eyes
of the soldiers was the skeleton of a white woman: it was placed against the side of the
bridge, headless, the bones hacked and broken. The soldiers cried for vengeance and wished
to burn the town; but as the townsfolk pleaded innocence, the houses were spared.
At the camping ground they saw a fakir sitting under a tree, vowed to silence, as a
penance for sin; but when some officers drew near, he pointed to a wooden platter
significantly—an ordinary plate, in which food had recently been mixed: still the
fakir pointed: on closer inspection it was seen that a small piece of wood in the centre
was loose; this on being lifted up revealed a tiny folded paper!
This was none other than a secret note from General Havelock, written in Greek letters,
saying that he was on his way to Lucknow, and begging any commander into whose hands it
should fall to hasten to his assistance.
Greathed, on reading this, decided to proceed at once to Cawnpur.
On reaching Aligarh they found a great crowd drawn up before the walls, blowing horns and
cursing the foreigner: but these gentlemen catching a glimpse of the Horse Artillery,
bolted within and closed the gates, leaving two guns in our possession. Thinking the city
would be stormed and taken, they bolted out on the other side into the open country; but
the cavalry had ridden round and were ready for them as they scuttled into the high crops
and tried to hide.
The civil authorities of Aligarh welcomed the British rule again with alacrity and joy:
for their taste of sepoy rule had not been sweet.
On the road to Cawnpur lived twin brothers, Rajputs, who had taken a prominent part in the
 the cavalry surrounded their village, and both brothers were killed in attempting to
escape. In their house were found many articles which must have belonged to English
Pressing calls from Agra for help induced Greathed to turn from Cawnpur to Agra. What
happened there can be given in detail in a later chapter.
The Agra authorities had assured Greathed on his arrival that the rebels were ten miles
away: Roberts had got leave with Norman, Watson, and a few other officers to breakfast in
the fort. They had scarcely sat down, full of delight at once more enjoying a charming
meal in ladies' society, when the report of a gun startled them, then boomed out a second
and a third!
The officers sprang to their feet: "What can it mean the enemy?"
The host ran to an angle in the terrace to see, and returned in hot haste, saying, "My
God! an action is taking place, gentlemen!"
In a moment Roberts and his friends were down the stairs and on their horses galloping
towards their camp: but their progress was stopped by an immense crowd of men, children,
and animals, all rushing back to the fort with yells and screams of fear. They had flocked
out to see the famous Delhi soldiers; and the surprise attack made by the rebels had sent
them pell-mell back to the city. With difficulty the officers forced their way through the
throng, and found their own men fighting in their shirt-sleeves, having been startled from
their sleep by the round-shot, and not having had time to put on their accoutrements.
Roberts at this juncture was nearly killed by a dismounted sowar, who danced about in
front of his horse, waving his turban in front of its eyes, so that Roberts could not get
his charger to face the man: who held in his other hand a sharp sword that looked very
business-like. However, a man of the 9th Lancers ran the rebel through and rescued his
Though Greathed had been surprised, the rebels were
 on their part more surprised: for they had supposed that the tents were those of the
garrison whom they despised: a rumour had been spread abroad that the Delhi column was
coming, but they had not believed it.
So when they charged into the camp on the parade-ground and were repulsed by the 75th
Foot, they were heard to say to one another, "Arrah bhai! ze Delhiwale hain!" (I say,
brothers, these are the Delhi fellows).
Hope Grant was put in command of the column in place of Greathed, and joined them in
October soon after they left Agra. Grant was senior to Greathed, and knew much more of
India and its customs; he was very popular with the troops.
They had some more fighting before they reached Cawnpur on the 26th October. Lord Roberts
says: "Our visit to this scene of suffering and disaster was more harrowing than it is in
the power of words to express; the sights which met our eyes, and the reflections they
gave rise to, were quite maddening . . . tresses of hair, pieces of ladies' dresses, books
crumpled and torn, bits of work and scraps of music, just as they had been left by the
wretched owners on the fatal morning of the 27th June, when they started for that terrible
walk to the boats provided by the Nana. . . . When one looked on the ruined, roofless
barracks, with their hastily constructed parapet and ditch, one marvelled how 465 men,
not more than half of them soldiers by profession, could have held out for three long
weeks against the thousands of disciplined troops whom the Nana was able to bring to the
The stay at Cawnpur was longer than had been expected, as they had to wait for the carts
which had taken the women and children to Allahabad.
In a battle fought on the banks of the Kali Nadi, Roberts won his V.C. On the same day he
did two daring deeds as they were chasing the flying foe: a batch of mutineers had faced
about and fired into the squadron at close quarters. Younghusband fell, and Roberts waited
to rescue a
 wounded sowar who was being attacked by a sepoy with fixed bayonet: one slash of the sword
was sufficient: then Roberts rode on and saw two sepoys making off with a standard.
"This must be captured!" said Roberts to himself, and setting spurs to his horse soon
overtook the rebels. One he cut down at once, and while he was wrenching the staff out of
his hands, the other sepoy put his musket close to Roberts' body and fired.
Fortunately the musket missed fire and Roberts recovered the standard. As is the manner of
English heroes, Lord Roberts only alludes to these actions in a summary way in his
interesting Forty-one Years in India.
Roberts after this went on to Lucknow, meeting his old friend Sir Colin Campbell and
General Outram at the Relief of Lucknow. We cannot now enter into details of that
struggle, but Forbes-Mitchell gives us two sketches of what he witnessed concerning
He tells us that the young lieutenant had been associated with the 93rd Highlanders in
several skirmishes, so that the men had recognised his worth and familiarly spoke of him
as "Plucky wee Bobs."
On the 14th November, as the 93rd were passing through the breach in the wall of the
Dilkoosha Park, Roberts rode through, followed by a trooper, when suddenly a battery
unmasked and opened fire: the second shot struck the trooper's horse, and horse and rider
fell together in the dust. Someone cried, "Puir lad! plucky wee Bobs is done for!"
But as the dust cleared away, Roberts was seen to have dismounted and to be assisting the
trooper to rise from under the dead horse.
As he remounted, the Highlanders gave him a rousing cheer, and he rode with the guns to
the front, pointing the direction they should take.
"The young lieutenant who could thus coolly dismount and extricate a trooper from raider a
dead horse within point-blank range of a well-served battery of 9-pounder
 guns, was early qualifying for the distinguished position which he has since reached."
After Lucknow, Roberts handed his office of D.A.Q.M.G. to Wolseley and returned to
England. How our hero served his country in Afghanistan, Abyssinia, Burma, and South
Africa must be learned elsewhere.
If Englishmen should ever awake to the duty of making themselves fit to defend their
country, it will be mainly due to the unflagging exertions of our great field-marshal. He
has never spared himself to defend us: but we are apt to be forgetful and ungrateful,
until the approach of danger rouses us from a foolish lethargy.
In part from Forty-one Years in India, by kind permission of F.M. Earl Roberts; and
from Malleson's Indian Mutiny, by kind permission of Messrs. Seely, Service & Co.
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