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The Reign of Queen Victoria by  M. B. Synge


 

 

LUCKNOW AND DELHI

[93] BUT there was no rest for Havelock and his brave little force. A few days later found him crossing the now swollen Ganges for the 45 miles "march of fire" to Lucknow, a march that was to take him nine weeks to accomplish.

On May 20, 1857, Sir Henry Lawrence had arrived at Lucknow, the capital of the newly-acquired provinces of Oudh, as Chief Commissioner. Though barely fifty, he looked like an old man after years of toil under the Indian sun; his thin cheeks were deeply lined, and a long ragged beard added to his look of age. He was worn with deep anxiety, for he realized, as no other Indian official, how deep-seated was the discontent of the Sepoys. He foresaw a native rising of some sort, and prepared for it. Quietly and simply he cleared a space round the Residency for the defence of Europeans in the town, laid in large supplies of grain, [94] powder, and arms, and while others slept he visited the native town in disguise, to learn the true progress of events for himself.


[Illustration]

SIR HENRY LAWRENCE.

The summer wore on. It was the last day of June when, about sunset, the Sepoys rose and swarmed angrily and defiantly into the town. Under a deadly fire the British withdrew to the Residency—some 900 Englishmen, with their wives and children—to be surrounded by 15,000 armed mutineers.

So dawned the first night of the famous siege of Lucknow, the story of which still thrills us, though more than fifty years have passed away. "My God, my God! and I have brought them to this," moaned the brave Commissioner, as he took up his quarters in an upper room, from which he could observe all that went on. The room was exposed to the shot of the enemy, and on the second day of the siege a shell crashed through the wall and burst—a sheet of flame lit the room, and Sir Henry Lawrence was fatally injured.

"Sir Henry, are you hurt? "cried a friend who was with him.

"I am killed," answered the wounded man, firmly.

He was right; the wound was fatal. He had but thirty-six hours to live. His one thought was how best to defend the Residency.


[Illustration]

LUCKNOW.

"Let every man die at his post—never make terms—God help the poor women and children!" he said, in broken snatches, as he lay dying. Then speaking to himself rather than to others, he mur- [96] mured the now historic words: "Here lies Henry Lawrence, who tried to do his duty."

Lawrence had thought that the relieving army under Havelock might arrive in fifteen days, but when he died Havelock had not yet reached Cawnpore. Furious rains had swollen the Ganges, and his difficulties were great.

Meanwhile the state of the British defenders of the Residency grew worse and worse, but August wore on, September came, and still the flag was kept flying from the top of the building.


[Illustration]

LUCKNOW: THE RESIDENCY.

It was not till September 16 that Sir James Outram, with fresh troops, arrived at Cawnpore. He was [97] senior to Havelock, and in command of the relief expedition; but with unbounded chivalry—worthy of the olden days—he renounced the glory of relieving the besieged city to Havelock, who had struggled so hard with his tiny force for the past three months. It was one of the finest acts of self-sacrifice in Britain's history.

On September 25 the troops under Havelock and Outram fought their way to Lucknow. Joyfully they descried the tattered banner, riddled with shot, but still flying from the roof of the Residency. They were not too late to save the little garrison.

With renewed hope, headed by Havelock and Outram, the troops fought the great rebel host that had gathered around Lucknow, till at last they gained the narrow streets of the city, and in the dusk of that famous September evening they were greeted with a shout of joy in which even the sick crawled from their beds to join.

On November17 Sir Colin Campbell, with fresh troops, carried the place by storm, and withdrew the women and children safely, after their five months' siege.


[Illustration]

SIR COLIN CAMPBELL.

[98] Meanwhile, the siege of Delhi was growing desperate. For three weary months the besieging force of British stood their ground, but they were not strong enough to take the city till John Nicholson appeared upon the scene. He soon put fresh heart into the weary men, and made them enthusiastic once more with his own youthful courage.

"If there is a desperate deed to be done in India, John Nicholson is the man to do it," men had said.

A "desperate deed" now awaited him. To look at him alone must have restored confidence. He was a man cast in a giant mould, of "commanding presence and with the heart of a lion", and almost superhuman strength. He soon showed that he had not come to wait, but to act, and "the inspiration of his example on the Ridge was worth 10.000 men".


[Illustration]

GENERAL JOHN NICHOLSON.

Delhi must be taken from the rebels, and taken at once. This was decided, and it was arranged that 5,000 men should make a last desperate attempt to wrest the city from its 50,000 Sepoy defenders. John Nicholson himself, in command of the assault, was to lead the first battalion of 1,000 men to the [99] attack of the Cashmere Gate, while four others were to assault different points.

It was three o'clock in the early morning, and the stars were still shining, when the men collected on that September day for one of the most daring exploits in history.

Nicholson stood out in front of his column, then he gave a signal, a fierce shout rent the air, and in the face of almost certain death the men rushed forward. The great assault of Delhi had begun.


[Illustration]

ASSAULT OF DELHI: CAPTURE OF THE CASHMERE GATE.

The breach was soon carried, the enemy fell back, [100] and Nicholson forced his way into the city. Men were falling to right and left of him. But the "Lion of the Punjab" strode on unhurt. His troops were growing tired, and began to drag behind. But he turned, and, waving his sword above his head, pointed onwards to the foe in front, entreating them to follow on at once. His tall, straight figure was an easy mark for the enemy. A Sepoy aimed straight, and John Nicholson fell, mortally wounded. The fighting went on, and the British made their way inch by inch into the city.

Through the next long days and nights Nicholson lay dying. "To lose Nicholson seemed at that moment to lose everything," said young Lieutenant Roberts, who was having his first experience of active service at Delhi. The hero of Delhi just lived to hear that the city was in the hands of the British, and that his life had not been given in vain.

With the capture of Delhi and Lucknow the Indian Mutiny came to an end. It was arranged that the East India Company, which had governed India up to this time, should cease to exist and a better system of government should be established. A British Viceroy was appointed to serve under the Queen, who, twenty years later, was proclaimed Empress of India, amid scenes of the greatest enthusiasm.


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