Home  |  Authors  |  Books  |  Stories  |  What's New  |  How to Get Involved 
   T h e   B a l d w i n   P r o j e c t
     Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children                 @mainlesson.com
Search This Site Only
 
 
Heroes of the Indian Mutiny by  Edward Gilliat
Table of Contents


 

 

JOHN NICHOLSON:

THE HERO OF THE PUNJAB

[179] LADY EDWARDES, Kaye, Trotter, Bosworth Smith, Lord Roberts, and others give many details of the life of John Nicholson. His earliest ancestors seem to have been of Cumberland descent; they went across to Ireland and settled in Derry and County Down.

John's father, Dr. Alexander Nicholson, was one of sixteen children. He married, in 1820, Clara Hogg, a sister of Sir James Weir Hogg, Bart., a very clever lawyer who went to Calcutta and made a fortune at the Bar. In time J. W. Hogg became chairman of the Court of Directors of the East India Company and was rewarded for his services by a baronetcy.

Dr. Alexander Nicholson worked his way up in his profession and won no small repute for his skill: his eldest son, John, was born at Lisburn in 1822. Sir John Kaye says of him: "He was a precocious boy, almost from his cradle; thoughtful, studious, of an inquiring nature; and he had the ineffable benefit of good parental teaching of the best kind. In his young mind the seeds of Christian piety were early sown and took deep root." John was only nine when his father died. It is said that his imagination was first fired by the war stories told him by an old drill sergeant. His mother moved him to the Royal School at Dungannon in County Tyrone: here he waxed strong and valiant in fight; though his father had been of Quaker descent!

For John had a fiery, imperious temper, and his [180] indignation was soon roused by any act of injustice: but as a rule he was modest and retiring, brave and generous, always ready to take the side of the weaker. In 1838 James W. Hogg obtained for him a cadetship in the Bengal Infantry: so at the age of sixteen he was whirled away from mother, friends, and home to London, took the oath of allegiance and set sail for the Cape and Calcutta.

His mother was poor, and John tried to economise: probably he drank no wine, and stinted himself of social amusements; for he thought much of the home folk.

His regiment, the 27th Native Infantry, was stationed at Ferozepur on the Sutlej; as he travelled by way of Meerut and Kurnal he was twice robbed in the night: forks and spoons, pistols, money, etc.—all were taken by skilful thieves.

At Ferozepur officers had to build their own bungalows, and his cost him two months' pay, entailing more sacrifice of pleasures. The station was a wilderness outside the town; neither tree nor grass grew in the place. Tigers were constantly on view in the neighbouring jungle, and in the cool season Nicholson tried to shoot them; but at first he found the great heat enervating to both mind and body.

He was now six feet high, but he added four inches more in the following years. Nicholson's regiment was ordered down to Peshawur to assist a convoy under Captain Broadfoot: the Sikh troops threatened to attack them, but Broadfoot's cool courage sent the Sikhs across the Indus and the convoy with many ladies arrived safely at Kabul.

They then went to Ghuzni to relieve the 16th Native Infantry; here Nicholson made a friend of Neville Chamberlain, his senior by two years, who thus describes the young Irishman:—

"He was then a tall, slender youth with regular features and a quiet, reserved manner: we became friends at first sight, as is common with youth, and we were constantly together during the short time that intervened between his regiment taking the fort and mine leaving for Kandahar."

[181] For a few months Nicholson was able to study Oriental languages in order to qualify himself for a post in the Shah's service at Kabul or in the Company's. But his leisure was interrupted by the Afghan rising in 1841, when swarms of wild mountaineers, armed with long jezails, or matchlocks, surrounded Ghuzni in the winter: at last the water in the citadel failed, and Colonel Palmer had to make terms and surrender the citadel. Of course the Afghans broke their pledges to escort the garrison to Peshawur, and attacked the troops in their town quarters in March 1842, Lieutenant Crawford Burnett of the 54th and Nicholson saw from their roof next door the slaughter and havoc made among their sepoys by the Afghan fanatics; their house was set on fire, and they were driven from room to room, hungry and alternately frozen or baked by wind and raging fire.

On the second night they dug a hole through the back wall with their bayonets and escaped to the houses held by Palmer and his officers, and by many women and children. Poor, frost-bitten mortals! life was a misery to them.

On the night of 20th March, Palmer gave up all arms and surrendered. The young giant Nicholson, with tears of indignant fury in his eyes, thrice drove back the Afghan guard before he would give up his sword.

Nicholson gave his gaolers a second taste of his temper when they tried to rob him of the locket with his mother's hair: instead of giving it up he threw it passionately at the Sirdar's head.

"However," wrote Nicholson to his mother, "he seemed to like my act, for he gave strict orders that the locket was not to be taken from me."

The officers, kept in a small dungeon, in cold and filth and nakedness, suffered for some weeks: then, in April 1842, the news came that Pollock had forced the Khyber Pass, and their confinement became less severe. In August 1842 they were hurried on camels to Kabul, where Akbar Khan, the brave son of Host, treated them very kindly and invited them to a public dinner: here they met Troup and [182] Pottinger and many polite Afghans. Next morning Akbar escorted them to the fort outside the city where Lady Sale, George Lawrence, and other prisoners were confined in good quarters. But their good fortune was not to last many days: when news came of the approach of Pollock and Nott, the prisoners were removed for security beyond the Hindu Kush. However, George Lawrence bribed the Afghan officer to accept a pension for life and let the prisoners go free.

So Lady Sale once more met her husband, whose regiment, the 13th Light Infantry, cheered the ladies as they returned to camp.

Nicholson and his fellow-captives were dressed as Afghans just now; and as Neville Chamberlain was passing a tent a stone struck him: he put his hand to his sword and angrily confronted the Afghan, who was stooping to pick up another stone.

"Good Lord! why, I'm blessed if you aren't John Nicholson!"

The two officers burst out laughing and shook hands heartily.

A second surprise meeting befell Nicholson on 1st November 1842 at the Afghan mouth of the Khyber Pass, as the army was returning to India. A young officer lately posted to one of Pollock's regiments began to talk to him: they seemed to be drawn together by some strange affinity: it was explained when they knew they were both Nicholsons—and brothers!

The third surprise meeting was mere tragedy: for three days later, as John was riding on rear-guard down the Pass with Ensign Dennys, they spied a naked body gleaming to the right: cantering to the spot, they found the mutilated body of a white man, with just a fragment of a shirt fluttering from the shoulder.

"That shirt seems too fine for a private soldier, doesn't it?" said Dennys.

There was no reply. Dennys looked up and saw his [183] friend's shoulders moving in suppressed grief: he had recognised his young brother! Poor Alexander! only just arrived from home and mother and kindred! but they had enjoyed one happy meeting before he was taken away.

The boy's remains were carried in a dhoolie to the next camping-ground: after solemn burial, a bonfire was lighted over the grave to save it from Afghan marauders.

John Nicholson felt this loss deeply, and the tears fell down his cheeks. His captivity in Afghanistan had won for John two good friends in George and Henry Lawrence: hence in 1847 he was appointed assistant to the Resident at Lahore, the Sikh capital.

His friend Dennys says of Nicholson: "In general he was reserved almost to moroseness in those days, and I was one of the very few who were in any way intimate with him. . . . Fear of any kind seemed unknown to him, and one could see there was a great depth behind his reserved and almost boorish manner." Indeed, Nicholson had tasted of sorrow very early.

It was on 20th April, when on his way to Multan, that John Nicholson met his young brother, Charles, whom he had last seen at the age of ten. Of course neither of them recognised the other: "I actually talked to him half an hour before I could persuade myself of his identity. He is as tall, if not taller than I am. . . . Our joy at meeting you will understand, mother, without my attempting to describe it to you."

There seems to have been a tragic fatality about the meetings of poor Mrs. Nicholson's sons—the lady who gave four sons to die for her country, John, Charles, William, and Alexander—for when Charles and John met at Delhi, they were both wounded, both lay side by side in the hospital tent, and exchanged the last words.

In the summer of 1848, Nicholson lay sick of fever; but when the news came that a very powerful Sikh chief had revolted, and George Lawrence, sitting on his bed, said, "John, if you had been fit for the work, I should have wished to send you; but that is out of the question."

[184] "Never mind the fever," cried Nicholson, "I will start to-night." And he rose from his bed, made his preparations and started that evening with 60 Pathan Horse and 150 Mahommedans.

"Never shall I forget him," says a brother-officer, "as he prepared for his start, full of that noble reliance on the presence and protection of God which, added to an unusual share of physical courage, rendered him almost invincible."

He rode at a gallop and covered the fifty miles from Peshawur to Attock; but only thirty of his escort kept up with him as he crossed the Indus and dashed through the Sikhs at the gate of Attock.

Once inside the walls he cowed the sullen natives by his bold words and prompt action: for he arrested the leaders of sedition and stalked amongst the Sikhs like an angry god.

After securing Attock, Nicholson rode farther and checked the rising in other forts. We cannot follow him in his long rides and many fights. He was aide to Lord Gough in the battle of Chilianwala, that battlefield in which the Sikh gunners and camp-followers after the battle came down in the darkness of night, carried off twenty-eight guns, and stabbed every wounded man they found alive.

After the victories of Lord Gough, Nicholson was riding about every day, exploring for supplies, trying to protect the poor villagers from the cruel bands of plunderers: amongst these he caught some of Gough's soldiers, and had them soundly flogged. He asked for the powers of a provost-marshal, and wrote to Sir Henry Lawrence: "If I get them, rely on my bringing the army to its senses within two days."

Perhaps Sir Henry thought his subordinate a little too stern and severe, for he wrote about this time: "Let me advise you as a friend to curb your temper, and bear and forbear with natives and Europeans. . . . I admire your sincerity as much as any man can do, but say this much as a general warning . . . yet from what I saw in camp, I think you have done much towards conquering yourself."

[185] At this time Nicholson lost another brother, William, who had come out recently as a cadet in the Bombay army. He was found in bed one morning in June 1849 with two ribs broken and many bruises: it was put down to sleep-walking, but the natives long after called his house "Murder House." He was only twenty.

At this time John Nicholson applied for leave of absence and went home with his friend, Herbert Edwardes, and John Lawrence's two little girls. He visited Russia, Prussia, and Paris, and studied foreign military systems; brought a new needle-gun to London; but the authorities saw little in it as an invention until later occurrences in war opened their eyes.

Nicholson's mother was now staying with Sir James Hogg, his uncle, and the boy Quintin, the future founder of the Polytechnic, listened open-mouthed to his tall cousin's wonderful tales of war and peace.

After a visit to Ireland, Nicholson returned in March 1851 to India. His friend, Sir Henry Lawrence, was still in power at Lahore; and as Reynell Taylor was leaving Bunnu for his furlough, he appointed Nicholson deputy-commissioner in his place.

Bunnu—the wildest corner of the north-west Punjab, and close to Afghanistan—was to be placed under the imperious, but sympathetic leadership of an Irish Hercules.

Taylor and Nicholson met and exchanged views in Bunnu. With Taylor was Richard Pollock (K.C.B.), who regarded Reynell Taylor as a saint upon earth, acting solely from duty and religion; while he was as yet somewhat prejudiced against the high-handed dealer of stern justice who was to succeed him. This prejudice was not lessened when he heard the loud, confident tone of Nicholson, and his expressed determination to do in so many months what the gentle, slow-working Taylor had only done in years.

The new warden of the marches, however, was a man of action: he was soon scouring the country at the head of 1500 mounted police, and he penetrated the homes of the [186] Wazirs, formerly believed to be inaccessible, and dealt stern punishment to thieves and marauders.

Night thefts in the cantonment were not rare. Men, well-armed, carne across the border, sneaked up the dry beds of irrigation channels and killed any who resisted their robberies.

Their leader was the headman of a village just inside the Gumatti Pass. In the daytime was none so mealy-mouthed and respectable; by night he sent out his men to steal from friend and foe.

Nicholson had the canals patrolled by police, who lay down and waited for their man: the Waziri Malik came one night and got killed.

The next morning was market-day, and the natives gasped as they looked upon the dead body of the robber-chief exposed in the market-place, like a stoat nailed up on a barn-door.

Sir Herbert Edwardes knew what Bunnu was like, and what Nicholson had done. He wrote: "John Nicholson belongs to the school of Henry Lawrence. I only knocked down the walls of the Bunnu forts: John Nicholson has since reduced the people (the most ignorant, depraved, and bloodthirsty in the Punjab) to such a state of good order and respect for the laws, that in the last year of his charge not only was there no murder, burglary, or highway robbery, but not an attempt at any of these crimes. . . . A brotherhood of fakirs has commenced the worship of 'Nikkul Seyn,' which they still continue. Repeatedly they have met Nicholson since, and fallen at his feet as their guru, or religious teacher: he has flogged them soundly on every occasion and sometimes imprisoned them; but the sect of the Nikkul Seynes remains as devoted as ever." This was no other than the worship of Power: for these rude men thought that a man who could make all their world obey him must be divine. We may remember, too, that when the news of Nicholson's death at Delhi became known to his native worshippers in Hazara, they came together to [187] lament, and one of them cut his throat on the spot: for he said there was no profit in life when Nickilsyn had left it.

But another, more wise than he, averred that this was not the right way to serve their great guru, or teacher: but that if they wished to see him again in the great beyond, they must learn to love his God. Nicholson deeply regretted the removal of Henry Lawrence from Lahore, and for some time obstinately, with an ill grace, received the friendly overtures of Sir John Lawrence, his brother's successor.

But John Lawrence soon found out the worth of Nicholson, and heartily did he praise him in letters to Lord Dalhousie: "his presence among the wild men of Bunnu is well worth the wing of a regiment."

"He is the best district officer on the frontier. He possesses great courage, much force of character, and is at the same time shrewd and intelligent."

The Governor-General was rather shocked at some of Nicholson's high-handed proceedings, and asked Sir John for reports of all incursions. "Don't send up any more men to be hanged direct," writes Sir John in 1853, "unless the case is very urgent."

But Nicholson was not to be bound by red tape: a friend once saw him sitting in his office with a bundle of papers on the floor.

"Government regulations—eh, Nicholson?"

"Yes—and this is the way I treat all these things," Nicholson replied with a sarcastic laugh, as he kicked them across the room.

In January 1854 the news came that Honoria, wife of Sir Henry Lawrence, had died after a lingering illness. This lady had exercised a softening and religious influence on Nicholson at Peshawur.

She had sent him a message through her husband in September 1853: "Tell him I love him dearly, as if he were my son. I know that he is noble and pure to his [188] fellow-men, that he thinks not of himself; but tell him that he is a sinner, that one day he will be as weak and as near death as I am now."

And yet this stern dispenser of justice loved children, he even sent for toys for some of the Waziri boys and girls.

Once a little boy was brought to him for having been put up to poison food.

"Did you not know it was wrong to kill?" asked Nicholson.

"Yes, sahib, I know it is wrong to kill with a knife or sword."

"Why, my boy?" asked the great man in gentle, sympathetic tones.

"Because, sahib, the blood leaves marks."

Nicholson had the child removed from his bad parents and adopted by a kind native. "I have seldom seen," writes Nicholson to his friend Edwardes, "anything more touching than their mutual adoption of each other as father and son; the child clasping the man's beard, the man placing his hands on the child's head."

One day a Mahommedan was brought to him for having murdered his own brother—it was a very hot evening, and the criminal looked dreadfully parched and exhausted after a forced march of many miles. "Why!" said Nicholson, "is it possible you can have walked in, fasting, on a day like this?"

"'Thank God!" said the murderer, "I am a regular faster."

"But why have you killed your brother?"

"I saw a fowl killed last night; the sight of the blood put the devil into me."

The man had chopped up his brother in cold blood, stood a long chase, and been marched into camp: but he was religiously keeping his fast—thank God!

In January 1856, Nicholson was nearly assassinated by a fanatic, who rushed at him with a drawn sword as he stood at his garden gate.

[189] A native orderly with a sword ran in between them. The fanatic shouted, "Stand aside, Chuprassi; I want to kill the sahib, not a common soldier."

"All our names are Nikkul Seyn here!" replied the Chuprassi.

But as the fanatic pressed on, Nicholson snatched a musket from a passing sentry, and presenting it, said, "Put down your sword, or I will fire."

"Sahib, either you or I must die," answered the madman.

Nicholson then shot the fellow through the heart, and the ball passed through a religious book which was tied as a charm across his chest.

No wonder that with such experiences Nicholson had grown grave and somewhat stern in expression, for the dark devilry of the Bunnuchis demanded an iron will and an imperious temper.

At this time his face was partly concealed by a long, dart: beard and moustache; while he walked, like his brothers, with a firm, vigorous step, holding his head high and looking very masterful. But it was just this masterful look and relentless insistence on obedience which gained for him the awe and respect of the natives, though such imperious ways did not always commend him to his equals.

He said once to Sir Neville Chamberlain: "There is one thing in life I have failed in, which I wished to attain—that is to be popular with my brother-officers; I know I am not, and I am sorry for it."

However, even his brother-officers found out his true worth before he died. But the rod of iron tempered by sunny humour won the savage heart, for he was always just; and they recognised his justice, and loved his smiles One day, as be was riding through a Bunnuchi village with his escort, he noticed a Mullah, or Mussulman priest, forbore to salaam as he sat in front of his mosque and scowled as they passed. When he reached camp, Nicholson sent two orderlies to fetch the Mullah, and with him the village barber.

[190] "Shave off that priest's beard, Master Barber," ordered Nicholson. This, the direst insult to a Mahommedan, was speedily carried out; and the culprit humbly returned to his mosque a sadder and, let us hope, a wiser man.

Sir Richard Pollock says of Nicholson's rule at Bunnu: "Edwardes found Bunnu a valley of forts and left it a valley of open villages. Nicholson found it a hell upon earth, and left it probably as wicked as ever, but curbed to punishment." Nothing seemed to tire Nicholson; he could ride twenty miles before breakfast to investigate a crime, and then sit in court through the heat of a summer day hearing cases for judgment. A Peshawari said of him, "You can hear the ring of his horse's hoofs from Attock to the Khyber Pass."

With all his stern severity he loved children, and they, looking up into his dark lustrous eyes, trusted the big sahib who gave them so many toys. His generosity extended to all; when he found a man suffering poverty from no moral fault, he would hand him his bag of rupees and say, "Here, my friend, God knows you have done your best; take a handful."

In 1856, Nicholson was transferred to Peshawur as deputy-commissioner. He writes in March 1857: "Old Coke tells me that the Bunnuchis, well-tamed as they have been, speak kindly and gratefully of me. I would rather have heard this than have got a present of X1000, for there could be no stronger testimony of my having done my duty among them. . . . I can't help a feeling of pride that a savage people, whom I was obliged to deal with so sternly, should appreciate and give me credit for good intentions."

Sir Herbert Edwardes had told Lord Canning when he was at Calcutta: "My lord, you may rely upon this, that if ever there is a desperate deed to be done in India, John Nicholson is the man to do it."

The time was rapidly drawing nigh when Britain in India would need this hero. In January 1857, Dost Mohamed, Ameer of Afghanistan, renewed his treaty with the British [191] Government at Jamrud, and concluded with these words: "Happen what may, I will keep it faithfully till death."

But John Nicholson made an excuse for not attending Sir John Lawrence's durbar; he had suffered so much at the hands of treacherous Afghans, he had found them so utterly false and faithless that his whole soul revolted against the idea of making them our friends and allies.

Fortunately Herbert Edwardes was right in trusting them this time, for during the Mutiny they might have taken a great revenge, but instead of that they loyally kept faith and lent us trusty fighters.

In May 1857, Nicholson was deputy-commissioner at Peshawur, General Sydney Cotton commanded the troops, and Colonel Herbert Edwardes was the commissioner in political charge. With these were Brigadier Neville Chamberlain, commander of the Punjab Irregular Force, and Major-General Reed, who commanded the Peshawur division of the army.

As we have seen in a former chapter, the officers were sitting at mess on the evening of 11th May, when the fatal telegram came which told how the mutineers from Meerut had entered Delhi and killed many Europeans. Next morning came the telegram sent from Meerut at midnight on the 10th: "Native troops in open mutiny: cantonments burnt: several officers killed: European troops under arms defending barracks."

At Peshawur they could at first hardly believe that the mutineers could get safely away from a camp guarded by two strong white regiments and several batteries of artillery! It was a thing to gasp at!

We have already described how Chamberlain was chosen to lead the movable column, and how Nicholson rode down the disaffected and helped to disarm the native regiments.

In June the death of Colonel Chester at Delhi called Chamberlain to fill his place, and Nicholson was chosen to command the Irregular Horse with the rank of brigadier-general.

[192] Soon after Nicholson took up his command he moved to Jullundur, in which city the sepoys had been allowed to go off with their muskets and much treasure. The Rajah of Kapurthala offered to garrison Jullundur for us with his own troops: though the Rajah himself was loyal, his officers and men swaggered about rather offensively. When Nicholson came with his column en route for Delhi, the commissioner, Major Edward Lake, invited the officers of the Kapurthala troops to a durbar with Nicholson at his house.

All went well until the end, when General Mehtab Sing, a relation of the Rajah's, took his leave, and as the senior in rank was walking out of the room first, but Nicholson stalked with long strides to the door, waved Mehtab Sing back with an imperious air, while he let the rest of the company pass out. When they had all gone, Nicholson said to Lake: "Do you see that General Mehtab Sing has his shoes on?"

Now a native in native dress politely removes his shoes as we take off a hat. Then, speaking in Hindustani, Nicholson went on:—

"There is no possible excuse for such an act .of gross impertinence. Mehtab Sing knows perfectly well that he would not venture to step on his own father's carpet save barefooted, and he only commits this breach of etiquette to-day because he thinks we are not in a position to resent the insult." Mehtab Sing stammered out some kind of apology; but Nicholson, still unappeased, politely turned to Lake and said: "I hope the commissioner will now allow me to order you to take your shoes off and carry them out in your own hands so that your followers may witness your discomfiture."

The native general, completely cowed, meekly did as he was ordered. We have this story on the authority of Lord Roberts, who was present on the occasion, and five years after had a good laugh with the Rajah about it. "We often chaff our general about that little affair," said the Rajah, and tell him he richly deserved the treatment he received from the great Nicholson Sahib.

[193] Major Lake soon admitted the wisdom of Nicholson's action; for the manner of the Kapurthala people changed at once, disrespect vanished, and they ceased to swagger about as masters of the world. We cannot give details of the masterly way in which Nicholson proceeded to disarm native regiments, and how he punished the Sealkote mutineers for killing their brigadier and many women and children. In all these movements he showed the skill of a consummate general. But for his strategy the Delhi garrison would have been strengthened by four thousand good native soldiers. Sir John Lawrence, knowing the importance of taking Delhi, consented to Nicholson leading his column down to help the men on the Ridge.

The author of The Siege of Delhi, an officer who served there, writes: "A stranger of very striking appearance was remarked visiting all our pickets, examining everything and making most searching inquiries. His attire gave no clue to his rank; it evidently never cost the owner a thought. It was soon made out that this was General Nicholson, whose person was not yet known to camp; it was whispered at the same time that he was possessed of the most brilliant military genius. He was a man cast in a giant mould, with massive chest and powerful limbs, and an expression ardent and commanding—features of stern beauty, a long black beard, and sonorous voice."

On the 7th of August this stranger dined at the head-quarters mess; he sat silent and grave, and evidently damped down the gaiety of the younger officers. Sir Harvey Greathed says: "If we had all been as solemn and as taciturn during the last two months, I do not think we should have survived: our genial, jolly mess-dinners have kept up our spirits."

We must remember that Nicholson had only recently heard of the death of his great friend Sir Henry Lawrence; then the news from Cawnpur and Lucknow must have shocked him: he knew that Sir John Lawrence was sending down from the Punjab his last man and his last gun: no wonder he looked grave and stern.

[194] Next day, when he visited Major Reid at Hindu Rao's house, the post which he and his sturdy Gurkhas had defended so gallantly for two months, Nicholson gave unconsciously some offence by his close questioning.

"I don't like his lofty manner and overbearing style of address," said the major to Baird-Smith, the chief Engineer.

"That wears off," was the reply; "you'll like him better when you have seen more of him." Kaye tells us that Reid's dislike soon turned to admiration, and the two men became excellent friends.

On the morning of the l4th, Nicholson rode away from Delhi to join his movable column: they had expected to be attacked by a sortie from Delhi, but there was a swamp on either side of the road, and they met no resistance. But they heard the roar of cannon, and at night the flash of guns told them how constant was the struggle.

On the morning of the 14th August they marched on to the Ridge with bands playing and colours flying, 3000 strong, while cheers welcomed their arrival.

We have already given some description of Nicholson's doings before Delhi: his routing of the enemy who had gone out to cut off the siege train, when at one time in fording a canal the water was over the horses' backs; his daily rounds with Taylor of the Engineers in search of a site for the new batteries; his impatient appeals to General Wilson to fix a day for the grand assault; his riding round at night to see that the sentries were on the alert; his last advice when the officers were consulting how they should proceed after they had carried the breaches in the wall:—

"Don't press the enemy too hard: let them have a golden bridge to retire by." For he knew there were many Sikhs in Delhi who had been unwillingly fighting the British: many sepoys who were there by compulsion. And he thought it unwise to render the enemy desperate by giving no hope of mercy.

On 1st September, Nicholson had written to Herbert Edwardes: "If it please Providence that I live through this [195] business, you must get me alongside of you again, and be my guide and help in endeavouring to follow Sir Henry's example; for I am so weak and unstable that I shall never do any good of myself." So, then, this strong hero of war knew his own moral weakness and was not ashamed to confess it to a real friend.

He thought of the welfare of his soldiers in all the stress of battle. Thus he writes to Edwardes: "A poor orderly of mine, named Sadat Khan, died here of cholera the other day. He has a mother and a brother, and I think a wife in the tisafzai country. Should I not be left to do it, will you kindly provide for the brother, and give the women a couple of hundred rupees out of my estate?"

The storming of Delhi on the 14th September we need not dwell on now: the fighting in narrow streets, the fatal shot that laid Nicholson low in the act of calling on his men to try once more, the removal of the wounded general by Colonel Graydon and a sergeant, and later by his aide-de-camp, Captain Trench, who went for further assistance: all this has been already described. But one thing more we must add.

As he lay in a recess in the street, Captain Hay of the 60th Native Infantry, with whom Nicholson was not on very friendly terms, happened to bend over him. "I will make up my difference with you, Hay," gasped Nicholson, "I will let you take me back": so, with Captain Hay by his side, he was borne slowly back to the Kashmir gate; but when the captain left him with instruction to the bearers to go to the field hospital, these worthies put down the dhoolie and bolted, and then it was that Lieutenant Roberts found him as already described.

It was late in the afternoon when John Nicholson was carried into the field hospital. As he lay awaiting his turn, fate decreed that his brother Charles should be brought in wounded and set down by his side. Charles had just had his shattered arm amputated, and he, like his brother John, lay cold and white: they might have been two statues [196] carved in marble. Sadly they recognised each other and murmured a last good-bye.

In the evening Neville Chamberlain came over from Hindu Rao's house to see him: the wounded man, shot through the lungs, would talk about the day's doings; this increased the danger to the wounded lung. But the strong man lingered on in great pain for nine days: in this time he sent loving messages to old friends and to his mother. Edwardes wired to Chamberlain: "Give John Nicholson our love in time and eternity. God ever bless him! I do not cease to hope and pray for him as a dear brother." At half-past nine on the morning of 23rd September the hero passed away.

It is a relief to know that Charles Nicholson lived some five years longer: he was removed to Umballa, whence he wrote with his left hand a long letter to Sir James Hogg, his uncle; he it was who gave John and Charles Nicholson the great opportunities they had seized so well. Early in 1858 Charles left India on sick leave for Ireland, and visited his mother at Lisburn. In October he went to the United States, married his cousin, Miss Gillilan, and brought her back to Ireland.

In 1862, Sir Hugh Rose offered him the command of a Gurkha regiment in North India; but on his way up country he broke a blood-vessel and died at the age of thirty-three.

John Nicholson's mother died at the age of eighty-eight, having outlived six of her seven children. Before she died, Mrs. Nicholson at her own cost placed a monument to John's memory in the Parish Church at Lisburn; this was designed and executed by J. H. Foley, R.A. The upper part of the tablet is a scene representing the storming of the Kashmir bastion carved in clear relief on white marble. Sir Herbert Edwardes wrote the inscription, in which were these words: "In all he thought and did, unselfish, earnest, plain and true . . . soldier and civilian, a tower of strength the type of the conquering race."


 Table of Contents  |  Index  | Previous: Lord Roberts and Delhi  |  Next: General A. Taylor
Copyright (c) 2000-2017 Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.