1760 - British operations in Bengal

From Project Seven Years War
Jump to: navigation, search

Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1760 - British operations in Bengal

The main campaign took place from December 1759 to December 1760

Introduction

Before leaving India, Major-General Robert Clive dictated the course of action to be adopted to oppose the advance of Prince Ali Gauhar who had now succeeded his father as Emperor under the name of Shah Alam II.

In December 1759, Captain Fischer landed in Bengal with the right wing of the Bengal European Regiment, much reduced by the operations in Deccan and the expedition against Masulipatam. With the recently arrived recruits and the Europeans made prisoners at the combat of Badara and incorporated into the unit, the regiment was now up to its full strength.

Since the relief of Patna in 1759, a change of much importance had taken place at the Court of Delhi. Emperor Alamgir II had been put to death by his prime minister; and, at the instigation of the murderer, a puppet had been placed on the throne. Prince Ali Gauhar, being the eldest son of Alamgir II and the acknowledged heir to the throne, had now been crowned emperor under the name of Shah Alam II. But, although the pretext of Shah Alam being in rebellion against his father no longer existed, the right of the Emperor to interfere with the act of his nawabs (viceroys) was frequently ignored, or considered merely nominal; so, as Shah Alam had, when he was prince, made war against the East India Company and its ally Mir Jafar, no change was now made in their attitude towards each other. In consequence of the influence which Shah Alam was enabled to exercise, now that he had become titular emperor, he had been enabled to collect an army of considerable strength.

The force ordered to take the field against Shah Alam II consisted of 300 of the Bengal European Regiment; 50 European artillerymen, with 6 field-pieces; and 3 Sepoys battalions; under the personal command of Major Caillaud.

Description of events

British advance against the Emperor's Army

On December 26, the advanced British division marched from Calcutta (present-day Kolkata) under Captain Thomas Fenwick, with whom was Captain James Spier; both of these officers having been transferred from the Madras Army to the Bengal European Regiment.

On January 6 1760, Major-General Clive reached Murshidabad when it was arranged that a large native force under Prince Miran should join the British Army and take the field against Shah Alam II.

Clive now informed Mir Jatar, the Nawab of Bengal, of his intended departure from India, the intelligence being received with much misgiving. Major Caillaud was introduced to the nawab as Clive's successor. At the nawab's request, 200 men of the Bengal European Regiment should be permanently quartered at Murshidahad for the protection of the capital. All necessary precautions having been taken, Clive returned to Calcutta.

On January 22, Major Caillaud and Miran left Murshidabad to relieve Patna. Soon after their departure, information was sent to Mir Jafar that Kuddum Hassain, the Nawab of Purneah, who owed allegiance to Mir Jafar, and several influential tax collectors were in revolt and had promised assistance to the Emperor, should he appear in their provinces. Under these circumstances, fearing that the malcontents might attack the rear of Caillaud's Army marching towards Patna, Mir Jafar proceeded north towards Rajmahal, taking with him Captain Spier and the 250 men of the Bengal European Regiment stationed at Murshidabad for its protection.

At the end of January, Shah Alam II and his army threatened the City of Patna and the British fortified factory near at hand. Captain Cochrane, of the Bengal European Regiment, commanded the Company's troops at Patna, consisting of 100 Europeans under Ensign Winclebeck, with whom was another subaltern name unknown; 70 European artillerymen with 2 guns, under Lieutenant Buck; 5 companies of regular Sepoys; and 3 local companies, under an ensign. Dr. Fullerton was the surgeon to the detachment, and there was also a Mr. Barwell, serving as a volunteer.

Raja Ram Narian, the Governor of Patna, who had been of doubtful allegiance during the campaign in the previous year, was now a firm supporter of the British and Mir Jafar. Ram Narian had, under Captain Cochrane's orders, collected his troops from the district, and enlisted a considerable number of Sepoys to act with the British detachment protecting the city and the Company's factory.

Raja Ram Narian held imperative orders, both from Nawab Mir Jafar and Major Caillaud, the British Commander, not to risk a battle with the Emperor's troops, but await the arrival of the British force, rapidly advancing to his assistance.

Just about this time a considerable body of well-equipped cavalry, commanded by a distinguished chief named Rehim Khan, joined Ram Narian's force. This acquisition brought his army to 40,000 men and made him numerically superior to the Emperor's force, and as there had been several skirmishes between the rival armies, which had usually resulted in victory to Ram Narian, he was sorely tempted to disobey orders by offering battle to the Emperor, and defeating him before the arrival of the British reinforcements.

Combat in front of Patna

On February 9, Ram Narian, much against Captain Cochrane's advice, moved out from his entrenchments and offered battle to the Emperor. Shah Alam II accepted the challenge, advancing from his camp and taking up his position in front of Ram Narian's troops drawn up in 3 lines; the British detachment under Cochrane being in reserve. The British commander had fully determined that the Company's troops should take no part in the action, unless it should be necessary to protect the raja from injury or capture. After a little skirmishing on both sides, a body of the Emperor's troops made a gallant charge, breaking completely through the raja's lines and creating much confusion amongst his platoons, some of which, thinking they had better secure their safety whilst there was yet time, deserted over to the Emperor's side. Notwithstanding these defections the main body of Ram Narian's troops manfully re-formed, and now stoutly held their ground, materially assisted by the British in reserve with their 2 field-guns; but just when the scale seemed turning in the raja's favour, he found himself in considerable personal danger, many of his best officers having fallen around him, and having received several slight wounds. Under these circumstances Ram Narian sent a message to Captain Cochrane, begging him to come to his assistance, he being hard pressed and unable to retreat. Captain Cochrane held orders that he was under any circumstances to protect the raja against personal injury; he therefore at once proceeded to obey the call with his two subalterns, volunteer Harwell, and 4 companies of Sepoys. This small party with much difficulty forced their way up to the raja, who was bravely defending himself; but in doing so British loss was heavy indeed, for in repelling the repeated attacks of the enemy, Captain Cochrane and his three subalterns were killed, and the British Sepoys, finding that their officers had fallen, broke and fled, quickly pursued by some of the Emperor's cavalry, who, charging amongst them as they were scattered over the field, cut them up piecemeal. A sergeant of the Bengal European Regiment now, seeing the perilous position of the raja, placed himself at the head of 25 Sepoys, and charging gallantly forward secured Ram Narian, whom he escorted to the European detachment, they having with great difficulty maintained their position in reserve, attacked by large bodies of cavalry on both flanks. The officer left in command of the reserve had also been killed, as well as Lieutenant Buck commanding the European artillery. Dr. Fullerton, being now the only British officer who had survived the battle, assumed command. He brought the remnant of the Ram Narian's defeated force into the City of Patna, not, however, without leaving one of his disabled guns in the hands of the enemy.

Second relief of Patna

Meanwhile, no sooner had terms been arranged with Kuddum Hassain than Mir Jafar's attention was directed towards his eastern frontier, where a large body of Maratha cavalry, under the notorious and dreaded chief Sheobut, had appeared with the avowed intention of assisting the Emperor if he should approach Murshidabad, Mir Jafar's capital.

However, Shah Alam II did not follow up his victory, or, beyond doubt, the city would have fallen into his hands. Ram Narian, full of regret, now busied himself in improving the defences of Patna, and knowing that Major Caillaud must be near at hand, finessed to gain time, he sent to the Emperor saying that he wished to enter into negotiations, but that at present his wounds prevented him from personally paying his respects.

On February 19, the joyful news reached Patna that Major Cailland, with the British force, was close at hand. In the meantime the Emperor, elated with his success in having, as he was pleased to think, subdued the British Army, contented himself with making only a half-hearted attack on Patna, which he discontinued as soon as he heard of the near approach of the British reinforcements.

Caillaud was anxious to offer battle at once, but Miran commanding the troops of the Nawab of Bengal urged delay; it was then arranged that the attack should be delivered early on the morning of February 22, and the British camp was advanced to within 5 km of the Emperor's camp.

Battle of Seerpore

On February 22, Miran urged a second time that his arrangements were not complete. Whilst the British camp was being pitched on the newly-chosen ground, Caillaud with a small escort rode forward to reconnoitre, when, finding that the enemy was not on the alert, he seized two villages about 1.5 km in advance of his position. In each of these villages he placed a company of his Sepoys, and in the rear he posted a support of 400 men. The enemy, seeing this movement, made an advance, pushing forward some of their heavy artillery, supported by cavalry and infantry. The British support of 400 men were now ordered to quickly join their comrades in the two villages, and a company of Europeans with 2 field-pieces added to their force. Major Caillaud at this time observed that the enemy had struck his camp, and was making a general advance; a large body of his cavalry being seen moving towards the 2 villages. The British force took position in immediate front of its own camp, and between the two villages; the Bengal European Battalion in the centre, supported by 3 guns on either flank; these again being flanked by two battalions of Sepoys, forming the right and left extremities of the line. Miran had been instructed to place himself in rear of, and as a support to, the British force, his cavalry extending right and left; but in place of carrying out this arrangement - which he had previously agreed to - he massed his whole force in close column to the right and slightly in rear. The Emperor's Army was formed into three divisions, one of which now attacked the left of the British position and attempted to occupy the village of Seerpore; but Caillaud, turning his guns obliquely, poured a sharp fire on the advancing enemy, who hesitated. At this moment a troop of Shah Alam's cavalry circled round to the rear of the village, where they were unopposed, as Miran had, contrary to orders, massed all his troops to the right. The remaining two divisions of the Emperor's Army now attacked Miran's troops with such earnestness that the latter showed signs of discomfiture, inducing Caillaud, with some infantry and 6 field-pieces, to push forward towards the village on his right, to protect Miran and his frightened irregulars. The relieving force advanced steadily until they were about 40 paces from the enemy's cavalry; when, halting and firing a volley, they effectually checked the ardour of the attacking force, and enabled Miran to rally his scattered troops. The British infantry now fired a second volley, and, charging along the front of Miran's unsteady brigade, so successfully assailed the enemy that they fell into confusion; when the British Sepoys, rushing forward, engaged the enemy's infantry, who were driven back at the point of the bayonet, their cavalry following under volleys of our grape and musketry, Miran's cavalry, being now reassured, made a successful charge on the fugitives, completing the work which the British Sepoys had begun. The Emperor's Army broke and a general stampede ensued, their officers in vain attempting to rally the men. In 30 minutes the field was cleared of the Emperor's force, only the dead and wounded remaining to show where the Battle of Seerpore had been fought. The British now captured the enemy's camp which had been deserted during their hurried flight and here, to their surprise, they found and retook their own camp equipage and cattle, which had been looted by the enemy's cavalry, who had, early in the action, passed to the rear of the village of Seerpore. The pursuit continued till nightfall, the Emperor with his fugitive troops having retired on the town of Bihar, 26 km distant. The casualties of the British were few; but the enemy lost two of their best commanders, as well as a large number of their troops. Miran was slightly wounded, and his uncle Mahomed Amir Khan was killed. Major Caillaud was desirous of rapidly following up his success; but Miran, strongly opposing the measure, retired with his troops to Patna, where he celebrated his victory with much pomp and debauchery.

Emperor's advance on Murshidabad

On February 25, Clive sailed from Calcutta for Great Britain.

On February 29, Miran finally consented to rejoin Major Caillaud. The same day, the Emperor's Army had left Bihar and rapidly marched towards Bengal

On March 2, the British force reached Bihar and Caillaud was informed of the departure of the Emperor's Army for Bengal. The advantage which Caillaud had gained at Seerpore had been hopelessly sacrificed by the wilful obstinacy of Miran. The British army started in hot pursuit, Miran now realizing the fatal error he had committed. Shah Alam II had got to the rear of Caillaud's and Miran's forces and was hastening to occupy districts which had promised him their support.

On March 6, Caillaud, having taken advantage of a rapid stream which had checked Shah Alam's progress, came close to the enemy, and would have made a night attack had not Miran again proved obstinate. The Emperor escaped a second time, and, taking a south-westerly direction, struck across the hills, still pursued by the British, Miran following.

Meanwhile, Sheobut was approaching Murshidabad. The leader exercised considerable influence in Bengal, so much so that on his approach the Council in Calcutta thought it necessary to embody the militia and to dismiss all armed natives not in the service of the Company. Captain Fischer with 250 of the Bengal European Regiment, 4 light guns, and 300 Sepoys, were sent to reinforce Spier, and Captain Yorke who had by this time recovered from his wounds was ordered to hold himself in readiness to take the field with 250 more of the Bengal European Regiment and 500 Sepoys; this latter detachment being at the Presidency. Captain Spier now had under his command 500 European infantry, 20 European artillery, with 6 light guns, and 500 Sepoys.

On April 4, a junction was effected between Major Caillaud's, Captain Spier's, and Miran's forces at Mungulkote (probably Mangalkot), Nawab Mir Jafar still accompanying Spier's detachment. Emperor Shah Alam II, who had been reinforced by the Maratha cavalry under Sheobut, was at this time at Maunkur. Captain Fischer, with 200 men of the Bengal European Regiment, was ordered to march to Murshidabad to protect the capital, and Caillaud now moved in the direction of the Emperor's camp.

On April 6, Caillaud was desirous of attacking Shah Alam in his new position, but Mir Jafar showed what then appeared an unaccountable disinclination to give his support, refusing to allow his troops to act on the offensive, and declining to accede to Caillaud's request for the loan of horses to mount some of his European infantry whom he wished to employ as cavalry. It now came to Major Caillaud's knowledge that the nawab had icily made overtures to the Emperor, and it was subsequently proved that before leaving Murshidabad he had proffered his allegiance to him, the British being left in ignorance of the negotiation. Notwithstanding the altered circumstances, Caillaud determined to attack the Emperor, with or without his allies.

On the morning of April 7, Caillaud marched with his troops to the village of Belkoss, opposite to the Emperor's encampment. The attack was led by the Bengal European Regiment, who under cover of the British artillery, rushed into the stream: which they were rapidly fording, when the enemy, after firing a few shots, set fire to their camp and hastily withdrew; but the British, having no cavalry, were unable to follow. The Emperor and his Maratha allies having evaded pursuit, doubled round and returned towards Patna, which had been left under protection of Raja Ram Narian with only a few Sepoys.

Emperor lay siege to Patna

Knox, by this time near at hand, was sent by forced marches with his detachment of 200 men of the Bengal European Regiment, a complete battalion of Sepoys, and a detail of artillery, with 2 light field-guns, to assist Ram Narian; whilst the remainder of the field-force under Caillaud accompanied by the nawab's troops returned to Murshidabad.

Patna was now in imminent peril; for M. Law, with his corps of French Europeans whose numbers had been augmented by escaped prisoners and French deserters had come to terms with the Emperor and marched to Patna, where he intended to await the arrival of his allies, and then carry the city before British reinforcements could arrive. But M. Law, after having been encamped close to Patna for some days, marched towards Bihar, where he formed junction with the Emperor. Their united forces then returned to Patna and renewed the siege with vigour.

On April 10, Dr. Fullerton, again the only British officer in the garrison of Patna, undertook the general control of the defence; he had repaired old breaches and planted his guns in well-chosen positions; but the besiegers, led by the French Europeans and supported by the Emperor's and the Maratha troops, made such determined assaults that Ram Narian's soldiers, completely disheartened, wavered in their support. The walls of Patna had been breached in several places, and the enemy succeeded at one time in planting the Emperor's colours on one of the bastions; when Fullerton and his gallant little band of Sepoys rushed to the rescue, and, capturing the colours after a severe hand-to-hand fight, regained possession of the bastion.

Third relief of Patna

On April 25, just when help was so much needed a joyful cry was raised that relief was at hand. A cloud of dust and the glitter of the sun on bayonets was seen on the other side of the river; the shouts of the Europeans and the inspiring sound of the fife and drum were distinctly heard, reviving the spirits and hopes of the besieged, who, rushing to their deserted posts, defended them with renewed vigour. Boats laden with refreshments were sent across the river to the relieving party; and Knox with the 200 men of the Bengal European Regiment, Maclean with his well-seasoned Sepoys, and the European artillery with their field-guns, were heartily welcomed by the citizens. Ram Narian's soldiers gave up their apprehensions about an escalade and about an assault, and said openly that now the British were within their walls the enemy would not dare to come to attack again. Knox with his Europeans had marched from Burdwan to Patna 530 km in 18 days; but his men, being fresh and elated with their reception, at once marched through the city with their colours flying and drums beating. The same day, the combined forces of Caillaud and Mir Jafar reached Murshidabad, the nawab's capital.

On April 26, Knox attacked the enemy's advanced position, surprising them whilst they were at their midday meal, driving them in confusion from their camp which he captured, together with their guns, stores, and ammunition and returning before sunset in triumph to the city, he was received by the citizens with acclamations of joy and relief.

On April 27, the imperial troops and the French corps retired to the village of Gyah Manpore.

British operations against Kuddum Hassain

In May, Kuddum Hassain, the Nawab of Purneah, who it will be remembered had in the previous month come to terms with Nawab Mir Jafar Khan broke his agreement with Mir Jafar. The conditions of peace and promises of fidelity which Kuddum Hassain had made were all forgotten as soon as Mir Jafar Khan with his European detachment was out of reach. Kuddum Hassain, who all along had determined to link himself with the Emperor, now busied himself in extorting money from his people to enable him to raise an army. After a few weeks, he had managed to collect a force said to consist of 6,000 cavalry, 10,000 infantry, and 30 guns, with which he marched rapidly, intending to join the Emperor's camp at Gyah Manpore. Major Caillaud started in pursuit; but Kuddum Hassain was well supplied with baggage, cattle, and elephants, so that the British were unable to overtake him. Under these circumstances Caillaud wrote to Knox at Patna, instructing him, if possible, to prevent a junction between Kuddum Hassain and the Emperor. Captain Knox now learnt that Kuddum Hassain had reached Hajeepore, a town on the opposite side of the river Ganges.

On June 15, having collected his force, which consisted of 200 of the Bengal European Regiment, a battalion of Maclean's Sepoys, and 5 field-pieces, Knox crossed the river. He was accompanied by the brave Raja Shitab Roy, the commander of a choice body of cavalry, who had lately joined the British force. As the enemy under Kuddum Hassain were within 16 km, Knox, in consultation with Shitab Roy, arranged a night surprise but the guide misled them.

Combat of Beerpore

On June 16, after a tedious march, Knox and Shitab Roy returned to their camp at daybreak. They had no time for rest, for the enemy appeared early in the morning, and Knox advanced to meet him, taking up a well-chosen position near the village of Beerpore, and leaving one company of Sepoys to guard his camp and boats on the left bank of the river. The enemy soon appeared in much greater force than Knox had anticipated, quite surrounding the British force, which in all did not exceed 800 men. Knox formed his troops into a hollow square, receiving in this position several charges from the enemy's cavalry, who were, however, repeatedly driven back, the British square being materially assisted by the British artillery; but such was the numerical superiority of Kuddum Hassain's force that these attacks were continued for 6 consecutive hours, exhausting the little band of heroes, who were at one time well-nigh overwhelmed. Captain Knox now sallied forth at the head of the grenadier company of the Bengal European Regiment, who drove back the enemy, enabling the Sepoys maintaining the square to recover their position. Kuddum Hassain, finding his attempts to break the British square futile, ultimately withdrew his army; leaving 400 men and 3 elephants dead on the field, and 8 heavy guns in British hands. The loss of the British was comparatively small; a brave young officer, Lieutenant McDowall and 16 men of the Bengal European Regiment being killed, as well as many Sepoys. Knox had now to learn that the company of Sepoys left to protect his camp on the river bank had been overwhelmed and annihilated. The camp followers had rushed to the boats and pushed into the stream, leaving the Sepoys a prey to the enemy, and carrying the news to the frightened inhabitants of the city that the British force had been completely exterminated. Captain Knox pursued the enemy for several km, until, darkness coming on, he reluctantly gave up the chase, and, crossing the river, returned to Patna. When the inhabitants found that, in place of a defeat, the British had gained a glorious victory, their joy knew no bounds.

On June 17, Knox, having replenished his camp, started to renew his pursuit of Kuddum Hassain, who had of necessity abandoned his plan of joining the Emperor, and was pushing towards Bettea.

Caillaud pursues the retiring Imperial Army

On June 22, Major Caillaud and Miran arrived at Patna with their forces, so, Knox and his detachment having been recalled, Major Caillaud took up the chase.

On June 25, the enemy were sighted, their movements much hampered by their heavy baggage. Caillaud prepared for an attack, the enemy opening fire from his heavy guns, and doing some execution; nevertheless, the British advanced against Kuddum Hassain's position, behind some villages and a grove of trees, which he abandoned on the near approach of our troops. The enemy now finding himself opposed by a much larger force than on the previous occasion when he was driven from the field, fled, leaving in Caillaud's possession a number of heavy guns and a great quantity of camp equipage. During this action, Miran displayed his usual disinclination to cooperate with his allies; nevertheless, Major Caillaud followed up his victory, in the hope of gaining possession of the large amount of treasure which Kuddum Hassain was carrying off.

On July 2, the periodical rains commenced with unusual violence. The British army was forced to seek shelter from their watery fury, the camp being pitched in a grove of trees at the foot of the Nepaul Mountains. During the night the lightning flashed incessantly, and the storm raged with constantly-increasing and alarming violence. Miran, fearing that his state tent, which had been pitched in an exposed position, might be blown down, moved into one sheltered by the trees. In a moment the prince's tent was seen to be surrounded by a blue flame, a vivid flash of lightning illuminated the scene, and when the frightened attendants arrived three blackened corpses were found amidst the debris of the burning tent. So died Miran. This event increased rather than diminished Major Caillaud's difficulties, for it was the custom amongst the native armies in India on the death of their commander to disperse to their homes; and it was probable that Miran's soldiers, knowing that their late chiefs interest had been more with Kuddum Hassain than the British, would either go to their villages or desert to the enemy.

Caillaud sought and obtained the influence of some of Miran's generals, but, the pay of the troops being several months in arrears, the soldiers became insubordinate and threatened to forcibly possess themselves of whatever they could secure, and desert to their homes. With much tact, Major Caillaud succeeded in quelling the mutiny by promising to quickly obtain funds from Calcutta, on arrival of which the discontented troops should receive their arrears of pay; and it was ultimately arranged that he should command the united forces, pending orders from Murshidabad. Under the circumstances it was deemed prudent to discontinue the pursuit of Kuddum Hassain; and Caillaud, therefore, retraced his steps. Meanwhile, when he was informed of the death of Prince Miran, Mir Jafar had recognised his son-in-law, Mir Kassim Khan, as heir to the throne.

On July 29, Caillaud's Army reached Patna. The monsoon being now at its height the war was suspended. Caillaud quartered his troops in the City of Patna, and the Emperor occupied a position at Daudnuggur, about 50 km to the west.

Intrigues in Bengal

By this time, affairs in Calcutta were in a very unsatisfactory state. Mr. Vansittart, the new governor, had arrived from Madras to find that, although the payments under the notorious Mir Jafar treaty had temporarily enriched the Company's servants and citizens of Calcutta, the treaty had left all the country under the Murshidabad administration in a dissatisfied and impoverished condition. In order to pay the instalments due under the treaty, the nawab had of necessity made such heavy demands on the resources of the wealthy nobles and bankers that their allegiance was shaken; whilst the cultivators of the soil, in many instances, were reduced to abject poverty. The pay of Mir Jafar's troops was much in arrears. inducing them to desert to the enemy; his treasury was exhausted, and his debt under the treaty had not been fully discharged. But affairs were not in a much better condition with the Calcutta Council, whose credit was at so low an ebb that they had been unable to raise money to pay their European army; indeed, at this time, the current expenses of the government were only met by drawing so heavily on the Court of Directors in London that they were nearly driven into bankruptcy. Under these circumstances, the governor sent for Major Caillaud to assist the Council with his advice

On September 10, Caillaud arrived at Calcutta. On his departure, he had handed over his command to Captain Knox, the next senior officer. At Calcutta a commission as lieutenant-colonel was awaiting Caillaud, this promotion having been awarded for his distinguished services in the field.

Mir Kassim Khan was deputed by the Nawab of Bengal to welcome the new governor, and assist in the deliberations of the Calcutta Council. Mir Kassim, being a master of intrigue and a shrewd politician, at once conceived the idea of converting the trust which his sovereign had reposed in him to his own advantage.

On September 27, Mir Kassim entered into a treaty with the Calcutta Council stipulating that he should be appointed Mir Jafar's Deputy at the Murshidabad Court, and as such should be endowed with almost absolute powers. This treaty concluded with what had become the usual provision for pecuniary payments to the contracting officials. The members of Council were promised from £30,000 to £50,000 each, Lieutenant-Colonel Caillaud £20,000, and Captain Yorke £13,400. Lieutenant-Colonel Caillaud voted against the treaty, and left India before the payments were stipulated for.

On October 1, Mir Kassim returned to Murshidabad to pave the way for the approaching coup d'état.

Mir Kassim replaces Mir Jafar as Nawab of Bengal

On October 3, Mr. Vansittart, accompanied by Mr. Warren Hastings and Mr. Lushington, reached the capital.

During interviews conducted on October 15, 16 and 18, Mir Jafar was made acquainted with the resolutions of the Calcutta Council. These interviews bearing no fruit, the nawab was informed that he would be allowed only two more days to decide. Mir Jafar, terrified at the aspect of affairs and fearing that he might be assassinated at Murshidabad, retired to his palace on the opposite side of the river.

On October 19, as no communication had been received from Mir Jafar, Lieutenant-Colonel Caillaud was ordered to proceed with 200 men of the Bengal European Regiment to join the troops of Mir Kassim and to surround the nawab's palace. The British soldiers occupied the centre square; and Mir Jafar was called on to formally resign in favour of Mir Kassim, now appointed by the British deputy-nawab and successor to the throne. These overtures were refused by the nawab; but Mr. Warren Hastings giving him to understand that resistance was useless, Mir Jafar declared that his life would be insecure if he were left in Mir Kassim's power.

On October 20, Mir Jafar consented to resign absolutely, the Council guaranteeing his personal safety; and, this having been done, Mir Jafar, the ex-nawab, was conveyed under a strong escort to Calcutta, where some fitting houses were prepared for his reception, and a liberal allowance was provided by Mir Kassim, who now reigned in his stead.

The newly-appointed nawab had long since realised that the defects in Mir Jafar's government were primarily due to his obligations to the British. A system of dependence and thralldom had existed, which had completely paralysed the late nawab's actions, and rendered him absolutely subservient to the Calcutta Council. Mir Kassim, therefore, determined to make a bold stroke for freedom.

In November and December, the many court favourites, who had amassed fortunes to the detriment of the state treasury, were made to disgorge their ill-gotten wealth; their estates were confiscated; and such sweeping reforms introduced that the nawab was enabled very shortly after having assumed power to satisfy to a great extent the claims of the British, and to advance £25,000 to the Council to enable them to make a remittance to Madras, urgently required, and £70,000 for the arrears due to the British troops at Patna. With this latter amount, Lieutenant-Colonel Caillaud returned to Patna, accompanied by Major Carnac previously appointed by the court of directors to command the Bengal Army, Lieutenant-Colonel Caillaud' s services being required at Madras.

Before leaving Bengal, Lieutenant-Colonel Caillaud made some changes in the organization of the Bengal European Regiment, now 1,200 strong, many of the soldiers being French, Dutch, and Germans who had purchased their freedom by consenting to serve in the ranks of the regiment. With the approval of the Council, 2 troops of dragoons and 1 of hussars were raised; the troopers being taken from the Bengal European Regiment, which was now in consequence only 1,000 strong, including 2 grenadier companies. The newly-raised cavalry were officered from the infantry, each troop of dragoons having 1 captain, 2 lieutenants, and 1 cornet, and the hussar troop, called "The Body Guard," having 1 lieutenant and 1 cornet only. The experiment of mounting infantry soldiers and employing them as cavalry did not prove a success, on account of the smallness of the underbred Bengal horses, which were not up to the weight of the British troopers. A body of Moghul horse, found to be far more efficient, was employed about this time with the British army. However, no European officers were attached to the native cavalry.

Soon after Major Carnac had assumed command, a circumstance occurred which produced a complete change in the system of the Murshidabad Army. Captain Martin White was sent with a detachment of the Bengal European Regiment and some Sepoys to suppress an insurrection in Bhirboom. The raja of that district, at the head of an army of 20,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry, had taken up his position near the village of Kirwah, defying his sovereign's power. Captain Yorke, with 200 Europeans and a body of the nawab's troops, had proceeded from Murshidabad to join White, Mir Kassim accompanying Yorke's Division. On ascertaining the enemy's position, Yorke instructed White to take a circuitous route and attack the enemy in rear, whilst Yorke would assail him in front as soon as he should hear the firing of White's party. This simple manoeuvre was executed with so much judgement and tact that the enemy, finding themselves simultaneously assailed both in front and rear, broke and fled; leaving their camp, guns, and stores in the possession of the victors. This victory over the Raja of Bhirboom had the effect of tranquilising the whole of his provinces as well as that of Burdwan; and is specially worthy of our attention, as it resulted in vast reforms being introduced by the nawab into his army.

Mir Kassim, who seldom ventured under fire, had been present during the British attack on the Raja of Bhirboom's camp; and, much impressed with the great superiority of the British tactics and troops over those of the native states, determined, on his return to his capital, to reorganise his army and, as far as possible, introduce amongst them the British system.

Major Carnac, now in chief command of the British army at Patna, prepared to pursue with vigour the campaign against Emperor Shah Alam II, who had established his headquarters at the City of Bihar, having with him Mr. Law's French Corps. Carnac experienced many difficulties on account of the remnant of Miran's Army clamouring for their arrears of pay. £90,000 had been sent by Mir Kassim, in addition to the £70,000 which Lieutenant-Colonel Caillaud had distributed; but still the nawab's troops were somewhat in arrears, and consequently refused to march. Major Carnac, therefore, determined to take action with his own troops only. When he was at his first camping-ground, however, the dissatisfied troops joined him, having, in secret council, elected to serve with the British in the forthcoming campaign against the Emperor.

References

This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Innes, P. R.: The History of the Bengal European Regiment, now the Royal Munster Fusiliers and how it helped to win India, 2nd ed., London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1885, pp.109-130