Note from EAB: I found this article on the web on a reputable web site. It is apparently at least partly a first hand or close to first hand account of life with the British troops in India. Note the comment on flogging and transportation and the reference to starvation back home
|SOUTHERN INDIA 1803-1817
At the commencement of the nineteenth century the British held much of the coast of India and all Bengal with a mixed force of regular regiments, European corps, paid and administered by the East Indian Company, native regiments and subsidised allies. The interior of the sub-continent contained many warlike groups of people, some of whom had been well trained by French officers, and as in addition there was a real threat of a French invasion, a large force was necessary to protect the factories of the Company.
Orders issued in 1803 show attempts to check some of the abuses and indiscipline in the King's regiments during this period. Adjutants were sometimes civilians employed as confidential clerks by C.O.s; in future they had to be commissioned. Paymasters were forbidden to indulge in private trading, but there is no mention of a ban on other officers doing so, and if one had been already made, it was frequently ignored. The above seem reasonable and mild, but the code of discipline for other ranks was very different: for mutiny or striking a superior the penalty was a thousand lashes on the bare back, and threatening language entailed eight hundred. Offering violence was punished with solitary confinement with a good chance of a flogging first, and desertion could earn up to fourteen years transportation to Australia or foreign service for life probably in the West Indies. In spite of these instructions mutiny or gross insubordination were often dealt with by a firing squad, a quicker and certainly far more humane method of killing than the eight hundred or one thousand lashes.
After six months in Madras the 80th less the three companies in Malabar, was ordered to take the field under General Stuart as part of a force ordered to attack the powerful Mahrattas, who had formed temporary alliances for this war against the British. Trained by capable French officers the Mahrattas were formidable opponents and it required the military skill of both Wellesley and Lake to crush them.
In March 1803 the Regiment picked up a detachment at Poonamalee, a few miles east of Madras, and joined its Brigade on the banks of the Pombooda River. The operations were on a vast scale for, while Stuart's task was to guard the southern frontier of the Mahratta territory, known as the Doab, Wellesley was directing the main attack far to the north; with him was Harness in temporary command of the 75th Regiment. Further north still Lake, the Regiment's Colonel, was starting a campaign which was to take Delhi. Altogether 1803 was a busy year for the Army in India. The unspectacular role of the troops in the south entailed endless marching, numerous patrols and many alarms, but no pitched battles and little real fighting. This unsatisfactory form of warfare lasted for eighteen months before peace was declared.
At Cannanore, on the Malabar Coast, the Regiment was reunited after five years separation in September 1804. The Digest states that the detached companies had been continually employed against hostile native chiefs for two years and that since the return from Egypt there had been 145 deaths in the unit. After two months for reorganisation, it was again on active service, the Nairs of Wynaud being once more on the warpath. These patriots, or bandits (possibly both) were difficult to bring to action as they wisely avoided any form of pitched battle and relied on the dense country they knew well to prepare their ambushes, raids and most important of all their lines of retreat. Such guerrilla warfare gave the lightly clad natives a great advantage over the cumbersome and slow-moving British columns, which had to compete against a hot. steamy climate in wooded and hilly terrain which was difficult to penetrate. The food was probably unsuitable and the water bad and when the enemy was discovered he unsportingly used poisoned arrows!
One can sympathise with the historian of the 80th , who complained that the service was most harassing and fatiguing, as unattended with reputation as it was unprofitable. The last was important for prize money meant much to the Army in those days and in the south there was no chance of fame, loot or battle honours, as there was for those regiments fighting in Central and Northern India. However, such a campaign taught the troops toughness and adaptability, and so well were these lessons learnt that the enemy leaders were captured and the country more or less pacified in five months, so that by May 1805 the 80th was back in Cannanore. Meanwhile Harness had died at the early age of forty-two in 1804, while serving as a Brigade Commander under Wellesley; the warm friendship with both that austere man and also the dour General Baird is evidence that he was a keen and efficient officer. He was followed in 1805 by ~Forbes and meanwhile the unit was commanded by White.
On 5th May 1807, after two years in Cannanore, the unit moved to Seringapatam, the journey taking a fortnight, it was here joined by a draft from the Stafford Militia, which had marched from Madras via Bangalore in European clothing! The callous lack of elementary common sense on the part of the authorities helps to explain the tragic stay in Seringapatam, where in 18 months the 80th lost 223 dead with many more discharged to die either on the journey home or in England. Apparently Seringapatam had its own type of malignant malaria and this caused the deaths and incapacitation of so many of the veterans of Egypt, who deserved a better fate.
Cannanore had been left without a British garrison and before long it was threatened by the nearby state of Travancore. Captain Dalrymple, 80th was ordered to march to the port with four companies, having left one on detachment enroute he was joined by Major Sturt with three more companies and he of course assumed command of all six. His-party was to be the nucleus of a force detailed to invade Travancore under a Lieutenant-Colonel Cuppage who had also native troops with him. Apparently the Travancore army preferred civilian opponents for there was no fighting, although the British column marched deep into enemy territory and presumably brought back hostages and indemnities. Lieutenant-Colonel Forbes and the remainder of the Regiment joined Sturt and his strong detachment at Cannanore in 1809 and spent over two years there and as there is no mention in the Digest of any large number of deaths it was no doubt a more healthy station than Seringapatam. There were, however, other methods of dying as an extract from the proceedings of a Court Martial shows:
"Lieutenant Taunton, 22nd Light Dragoons, was charged with 'Behaving in a Scandalous and Infamous manner unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman, in that he, in the Mess of the 22nd Light Dragoons, being himself sober, did deliberately provoke and pick a quarrel with Lieutenant Cadenski of the 80th Foot, who was intoxicated, and challenged him to fight with swords across the Mess Table, thereby mortally wounding the aforesaid Lieutenant Cadenski."
Taunton, who was fortunate not to be charged with murder, was cashiered. Such Courts Martial were frequent, drunkenness and duelling being the usual charges, and although the 80th did not have many, in another regiment five such cases were tried by one Court!
In 1810 White took over from Forbes, who as a Colonel in the Army moved to be promoted. These ranks in the Army were really a form of Brevet and have been so described for convenience. although the term did not come into use until later; officers in those days received pay for their appointments and not their army rank and the most sought-after was Colonelcy of a regiment. The 80th returned to Seringapatam in 1811 and remained there for two years when it moved to Quilon, near the toe of India. This was the last station of its tour and again death took a heavy toll, for during the stay in Seringapatam and its first two years in Quilon there was a loss of 183 officers and other ranks, White being one of the former. He was followed by Sturt and the other Lieutenant-Colonel was Edwards, probably the last survivor of the original 80th , still serving with the unit he also was to die in India.
The system of purchasing Commissions could not meet the urgent need for officers in that country and of the twelve newly-gazetted Ensigns posted to the Regiment between 1812 and 1817 only one bought his first appointment. Three of the others, however, came from the Stafford Militia and such transfers were normally free. Of the twenty-two promotions during the same period, only two were purchased. the remainder stepping into the places of their dead comrades.
Men were still enlisted for life. but a recent order had permitted a limited engagement of seven years. From an order dated 1816, which authorised the return home of these short-service men who had completed their time, and which directed they were to be treated kindly as loyal soldiers who had faithfully served His Majesty, it appears they were not popular. The majority of the 80th recruits continued to come from the Stafford Militia, thus justifying its designation of "Staffordshire Volunteers". Others came from the Militias of Devon and Shropshire, but the bulk of reinforcements were from the units ordered home. As will be seen from the 80th itself, such men volunteered in large numbers and they must have had good reasons. for while the "Call of the East" may be felt at home, it is not always noticeable whilst actually out there.
Bounties persuaded some, as did entanglements with native women and for men of good character there were opportunities of civilian employment if and when they could get their discharge. Most probably preferred the chance of. a quick death from tropical diseases to a slow one from starvation at home. Many men lost all touch with their homes on enlistment and had nowhere to go to in England or Ireland.
The Indian establishment of a British regiment, as augmented in 1810, was large, with over 50 officers and nearly 1,100 other ranks; but it is doubtful if these numbers were maintained and certainly the 80th was much below this strength some years before it went home. New Colours were presented to the Regiment in 1814 at Quilon and these had heavy Sphinxes instead of the regulation spear-heads. The innovation was unofficial and also impracticable, for the new tops were so weighty that they had to be unscrewed before the Colours were carried any distance. After over three years at Quilon, the 80th was ordered home and was relieved in November 1816 by the 89th, Royal Irish Fusiliers, before marching to Madras. At Trichinopoly during the journey the usual orders were received allowing eligible men to transfer to any regiment in the Madras Presidency and as the 53rd, Shropshires, were on the spot and, as it was a regiment with whom the 80th had close and friendly relations, 273 men promptly went into it.
Another 116 volunteered for the Madras Europeans, one of the Honourable East Indian Company's units and later to become the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
At Madras the 80th erected a monument to Lieutenant-Colonel Edwards as a token of respect and affection to a deservedly popular officer. Sturt transferred to the 69th and Cookson, the hero of the wreck off Abyssinia, took the unit home. It arrived in Madras on 15th January 1817, and what was left of it embarked on the chartered ships Lucy and Maria and sailed on 20th March. The strength return indicates that there was little inducement for officers or sergeants to remain in India for thirty-two of the former and thirty-six of the latter were on board with only 143 rank and file. The following order was published by the Commander-in-Chief Madras Presidency a few days before the Regiment left. "Lieutenant-General Sir Thos. Hislop avails himself of the opportunity to record in General Orders that the conduct of H.M.'s 80th Regiment whilst under his command has been such as to merit approbation to entitle that responsible Corps to the public expression of His Excellency's cordial wishes for its future honour and prosperity. Meanwhile, there had been changes in the Colonels; in 1808 Lord Lake died after a distinguished and gallant career and was succeeded by Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Paget brother of the founder of the 80th . He held the appointment until 1815 when the vacancy occurred in his old regiment the 28th , Gloucesters. He was followed by Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Campbell; these Colonelcies were awarded for distinguished service and none of these officers had had any previous connection with the Regiment; it is most doubtful if Lake or Paget ever saw it whilst Colonel,