Sunday, 20 December 2009

War with Persia, 1856 and 1857. Introduction.

EGH Town of Bushire, 1856-57.

A wind tower can be seen in the centre of the photograph. These clever devices use the daily occurring on and offshore winds to draw cool air through the house below. To the right of the photo can be seen the Flag Pole over the British Legation. From this it is possible to establish that the photo was taken from the south of the city, looking due north towards the anchorage.

Please click on image for larger version. Photo courtesy of Mr & Mrs A. Barton.

With scarcely a day going by when Iran and its nuclear programme does not feature in our newspapers and media, it is perhaps worth reflecting that this situation is nothing new.

What follows is an account of an earlier political struggle with Iran that turned into a fierce little war. As is the case today, Persia in the 19th Century was a proud and ancient nation, situated at a strategic cross roads in a very volatile part of the World. It found itself under pressure from the military Super Power of the day.

My interest in this campaign stems from the discovery of a photograph album that belonged to my Great Great Grandfather Charles James Barton, an officer in the Bombay Artillery containing a number of pictures taken during this campaign.

With the recent advent of Google Books and the re-publication of several accounts from the period it is now possible to put together a narrative to describe the campaign, using these photos to illustrate these events.

A map showing the political and military situation in 1856.

Please click on the image for a larger version. [1]

With the ending of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain and Russia had been left with experienced armies, and with no real rivals to keep them in check as they both developed their Empires in the East. Russia had expanded its territories to the south east towards the Caspian Seas and towards Bokara and Samarkand.

The East India Company was at the same time steadily absorbing the Punjab and much of what is now Pakistan. This forward expansion by the European's into Asia had been a bloody experience for all concerned, as small professional armies came up against strong local forces made up of tribal warriors with centuries of experience in fighting guerilla warfare.

Some of these Asian and Caucasian nations like the Afghans, Sikhs and Georgians where able to inflict serious defeats on the European's.

However by 1855, the remaining independent states of Afghanistan and Persia found themselves under pressure from both Russia and Britain, to come within their respective spheres of influence. The Crimean War was being fought out between the Russian's and the British, French and Turks around the Black Sea and in the eastern parts of the Ottoman Empire which added to the tensions in the region.

Both Britain and Russia were engaged in what has since become known as the Great Game.

Embassies and military missions, in towns like Kars, Tabriz, Teheran, Herat, Meshad and Kabul were increasingly occupied by competing diplomats, soldiers and adventurers from Britain and Russian, bent on increasing their respective countries dominance over these strategic centres.

The existing rulers of Persia, led by the Shah, and Afghanistan by Dost Mahomed Khan tried their best to play off the two European Super Powers, to gain time and support in their own internal power struggles, and in those with their neighbours.

Nether ruler entirely controlled their respective territories, so that Dost Mahomed Khan's nephew Syed Mahomed Khan was able to rest much of Kandahar and the west of modern Afghanistan away from his uncles control, and Herat had become a kind of no man's land between Persia and Afghanistan, ruled by Syed Mahomed Khan.

Throughout the early 1850's the British representative in Teheran Colonel Sheil, appears to have maintained a difficult balance between representing his national interests in Persia, whilst at the same time maintaining dialogue with the Shah and his representatives.

Reading the British correspondence, which seem through modern eyes, very overbearing and which must have been highly offensive to the Persian's, it is perhaps surprising that relations had not broken down earlier.[2]

As in many wars, the final breakdown in relations between the countries came over a side issue, rather than because of the major grievances that had been building up over the previous decade.

On the 15th of June 1854 Meeza Hashem Khan was appointed as Persian Secretary to the British mission at Teheran. He was a thirty year old member of the Nooree tribe, and he was married to a member of the Shah's family. This appointment caused great offence to the Shah and his advisers, possibly because Meeza Hashem Khan was in far too a good a position to advise the British about the internal workings of the court. Perhaps he was seen as threat to the Shah. The appointment became a diplomatic incident involving the British Government in London, and nether side wanted to back down.

A compromise was suggested by the British whereby Meeza Hashem Khan would be appointed as British Agent at Shiraz. However on the 6th of November 1855, the Persian Government told Mr. Murray the new British representative in Teheran, that if Meeza Hashem Khan set out for Shiraz he would be detained. Shortly afterwards Meerza Hashem Khan's wife was seized and detained. Mr. Murray at once demanded this ladies release, threatening to take down the Missions flag and to break off friendly relations.

Sadr Azim the Persian prime minister then stated that the reason Murray and Thomson were trying to get Meeza Hashem Khan's wife released was because they had been having an affair with her. He claimed that when the mission had gone into summer camp in the mountains above Tehran, with the Shah and his government, they had camped in the same village, and had been seen together.

The Persian's then commenced a campaign to whip up local public indignation. Sadr Azim drew up a petition against Murray and the Khan family which was sent around the Mullah's to receive their seals. However the Chief priest Imaum o' Joomah refused to sign as he said he had no knowledge of the truth of its contents.

Relationships broke down completely, and the mission was withdrawn. In November 1855 Kars fell to Russia, and sensing that the British who were still fighting Russia in the Crimea would be unable to prevent their taking Herat, the Persian army set off for the city, which they took.

As far back as January 1853 Colonel Shiel had advised that in the event of Persia attacking Herat, the best practical option for Britain was to capture Bushire on the Persia Gulf, and to hold it as a bargaining counter, until such time as Persia could be pressured into giving up Herat.

The British had several motives for this approach. The first was that they feared that if a Russian dominated Persia took Herat it would open up the route to the Bolan and Khyber Pass to the Russian's.

It was feared that Russia could bring an army to the Punjab or Sindh.

Britain however also wanted control of Bushire because it offered a better port than Basra, which was Britain's main base at the head of the Gulf. Kharg Island had particularly good fresh water, and was easily defensible with a small force against attacks, unlike Basra which was easily approached by land.

Throughout the summer of 1856 Persian missions to London, and to Constantinople attempted to negotiate a resolution to the impasse.

In Constantinople the British team was led by Lord Stratford de Redcliffe. He presented Ferokh Khan an ultimatum on the 17th of October demanding that Herat be evacuated, which Ferokh Khan signed consenting to the Persian's evacuating Herat.

Herat had finally fallen to the Persian force on the 25th of October 1856. On the 25th of November Mr. Murray struck his flag at Teheran by the 5th of December 1856 he had travelled out of Persia and onto Baghdad.

Ferokh Khan, known today as Faruk Khan Nadar.[3]

The British seemed determined to push further and they demanded the dismissal of Sadr Azim the Persian Prime Minister. A proclamation of war was issued by the Governor General of India on the 1st of November 1856.

[1] Thomson Map of 1814. Courtesy of Wikimedia.
[2] Capt. G.H. Hunt, Outram & Havelock's Persian Campaign. Published 1857, re-published by The Naval & Military Press Ltd. 2009, pages 140 to 186.
[3] From

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Informal Group at Karachi in 1866

Mrs Brab 1866, this is known to be the wife of Brabazon Pottinger, because she also appears in the following photo.

Left to right, Miss Sealey, Thornhill, Mrs Nicholetts, Spring, Alfred Pottinger, Mrs Brab Pottinger, - Mrs Sealy.

Spring, Barton, Griffith, Mrs Canfield{?}, Brab Pottinger, Mrs Do., Mrs Dende, Jenner, Myers, Miss Faithful, Thornhill.

These photos come from a private collection originally put together by my great great grandfather Charles James Barton, Bombay Artillery, & Royal Artillery.

They were almost certainly taken in Karachi, where Captain Barton was stationed with his battery.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Hill Fort of Mhowle or Mahuli

Hill Fort of Mhowle Drawn by Captn. Barton and Lithographed by R Ackermann.
Please click on image for a larger version.

The lithograph is one of a number made from drawings by James Barton my great great great grandfather, a Captain in the Bombay Artillery between 1811 and 1827.

James Barton who originated from Manchester, had sailed out to India from Portsmouth shortly after 12th January 1811. Arriving in Bombay shortly before the 8th of June 1811, he was appointed as a Lieutenant Fireworker on the 8th of June 1811, and was promoted again on the following day to Lieutenant.

It is not clear when the drawing that Ackermann subsequently turned into the lithograph was completed.

James Barton was however on active service in this region of the Konkan during 1818 at the height of the Mahratta War.

Following the war he married Eliza Georgiana Hawkins on the May 22nd 1821 at Bombay Cathedral. During the 1880's Eliza wrote an account of her life which said..

“I continued to reside with Catherine until in May 1821, I married Captn James Barton, who was Brigade Major in the East India Company’s Artillery. We were married in Bombay Cathedral, & went to live in Seroor, where my Husband held his appointment.We lived there very comfortably."

It is quite possible that the drawings were done in the course of their journey or possibly honeymoon while on their way together to Seroor.

Mrs James Barton, dressed in her best Muslin dress

I have never been to this region of India, and I would be fascinated to learn where he had been camped. What does this mountain look like today?

I do not know the route he was taking, but there was a route past the fort that was sufficiently important during the 1820's for it to appear in a guide book published in 1826. This perhaps provides a clue as to the location of the camp.

From "Itinerary and directory for Western India: being a collection of routes ..." by John Clunes published in 1826.

It is interesting to try to fit the route given above with Google Earth images.

Kalian, is now called Kalyan. If however you type Kalyan into Google Earth it takes you to a location at 19 degs 16' 23.32" N 73 degs 08' 13.16" E, which is a grassy bank on the Ulhas River a couple of miles upstream of a major unnamed city shown at 19 degs 14' 30.21"N 73 degs 07' 19.28" E which appears to be Kalyan, and which appears to fit mapping produced in the 1950's much better than the position given by Google Earth.

The second location given in the itinerary Titwalla is spelt Titvala today.

A marked up copy of a 1950's American map of the Konkan, showing the approximate route given in John Clune's itinerary from 1826. Please click on the image for a larger map. [1]

If you measure the modern direct route to Titvala via Ambivli, it comes out at only 7 miles, where Clunes says 9.7 miles. Interestingly however if you followed the modern NH 222 to the point where it crosses the Ulhas River, and then strike off towards Titvala the distance comes out at 9.7 miles.

Google Earth Image of the areas around Titwalla or Titvala.
Please click on image for larger version.

The most obvious ford of the Kalloo River, or Kalu River is the location shows at Titwalla Ford 1826, but the American military maps which were largely based on British military maps from the early 20th century show the ford at the alternative location I have marked. This alternative location certainly has a large gravel bank and is probably quite shallow. The actual ford used may of course have depended on the state of the river and rainfall at the time, as well as the determination of the party attempting to cross the river.

The itinerary goes on to a village called Ootnah. This name has gone, but there is a village marked at Utan on the 1950's map, and which clearly shows on Google Earth in about the right sort of location.

Route between Titwalla and Kooslah.
Please click on image for larger version.

As the itinerary clearly goes to Ootnah I have shown the probable route. The route traced follows a road that is still in use to this day, although as Kosle is neared it degenerates into little more than a cattle track, but this is often the case with routes whose importance is eclipsed by things like railways for new roads.

I have also marked an alternative route that could also have been used. The intinerary talks of "Through thin jungle... 3. 6 miles." The areas around Utan appear to be cultivated, and I can only presume that this has probably been the case for several centuries.

It is possible that this jungle was the area of tree covered hills shown on the photo. There are tracks across these hills, as well as several long linear features which I take to be natural features, possibly part of the Deccan Traps?

Are these lines caused by volcanic intrusions?

An image showing the two branches of the Batsee River. This river is nowadays called the Bhatsa River. Please click on image for larger version.

The description rather suggests that the 1820's route was somewhat to the east of the existing modern bridge. Close examination of Google Earth imagery shows several tracks down to the river from the village centre which may have moved over time.

Image of the route between the Batsee [Bhatsa] River and Assungaon [Asangaon]. Please click on image for larger version.

The route in the itinerary clearly goes onto towards the modern town of Asangaon, and it would be easy to presume that James Barton might have travelled that route as well.

However inspection of the following photo suggests that this was not the case.

Mahuli from Asangaon, a photo posted by Nature Knights on a blog called Trekmahuli, taken from the south. From comparison from of this photo and the original drawing it would appear that the drawing was either turned into a lithograph in reverse of the drawing was done from the northern slopes. [2]

The mountains either reversed or it looks very similar in profile from the north?

Did Ackermann's draughtsman, just prick the drawing through in reverse?

Have any of you been on the northern side of Mahuli?

Can you work out where James Barton camped?

The trekmahuli blog at contains a good series of photos showing the roughness of the terrain that James was travelling through.

In some senses he was nearing the edge of the map. I have tried to match Clunes itinerary beyond Asangaon, and I am finding that I cannot match the 19th century names to places on modern maps.

Have I crossed an ethnic or language boundary? Which way was Clunes sending us?

Is this why I can't match it any further?

[1] From
[2] From