Sunday, 4 July 2010

Ahmadabad, tigers and narrow scrapes

 Tiger hunting from elephants

As a small child my great aunt would delight in telling me stories about my great great grandfather Charles James Barton and his tiger hunts.

Charles served in the Bombay Artillery during the middle years of the Nineteenth Century, and eventually became a Major General.  These stories were probably amongst the very first stories that fired up my abiding interest in India.


Lieutenant Charles Barton circa 1850

Very recently and quite by chance, I stumbled upon another account by a fellow East India Company officer, William Johnson, which although does not refer to the same incident, confirms Charles Barton’s involvement in tiger hunting, and a hair raising incident when a tiger came very close to killing him.

The first story recounts how Charles would hire an elephant and mahout, on which to go out into the jungle to flush out tigers. On one occasion he spotted a tiger in the long grass, at which he shot with his musket. He must have ether missed or failed kill it, for the tiger instantly sprang up onto the howdah situated on the elephants back, and had plunged its teeth into Charles arm, attempting to pull him from the elephants back.

At his point Charles is supposed to have shouted "Drop me Sir!".

Which apparently is what the startled tiger did!

Where upon Charles was able pick up his second rifle, with which he dispatched the animal.

Commanding as he did an Artillery Battery, he must presumably have developed a fairly commanding voice, with which to pass on orders. It must have been a terrifying moment.

With the passing of time, we had no idea where these events had taken place, but by great good fortune I may have stumbled across the answer,

A description of another tiger shooting incident involving Charles Barton in about 1853 is contained in a book written by a brother officer serving in the Guzerat Irregular Horse who was stationed also stationed in Ahmadabad.

This rare book based on letters and journals kept by William Johnson have recently been republished by Leonaur Ltd.

Johnson devotes many pages of his journals to hunting expeditions, and to a modern reader these often seem like wilful slaughter of wildlife that is sadly absent today.

He describes how with his brother officers, Harington Bulkley, Gordon Cumming, Leeson, Babington, Seward and Whitehill starting in October 1851 they would set off on expeditions into the hills and forests surrounding Ahmadabad to hunt and to track down and kill wild boar, tigers and tanthers.

These animals would frequently endure being shot many times before they were dead, and many fought back savagely often wounding beaters, and even jumping onto the backs and heads of elephants used to push through the forests.

The dilemma for hunter’s who had wounded a tiger or panther but had not killed it, was that it would become even more dangerous for the villagers, on whose behalf many of these hunts were undertaken.

The wounded animals had to be tracked into their refuges.

“There was once marked down for me in a small patch of bushes a large panther, which I knew to be very severely wounded, and I thought disabled. I took my rifle — a handy, double barrelled Lancaster – and walked towards the bushes. When I was within forty yards, he came out at me so quickly that I had but just time to put up my rifle, and fire both barrels as quick as I could. Most fortunately one bullet entered just above the left eye, and came out behind the ear, somewhat confusing him, but not in the least checking his speed He knocked me over, and bit and clawed me severely.

Some of my men of the Guzerat Irregular Horse behaved very well, and, attacking him, drove him off me with their swords and carbines; we killed him at last, but I had a very narrow escape.”

Johnson, whose leg had been ripped open from top to bottom, wrote this account in a letter to his mother (who lived in Enborne in Berkshire) who was understandably worried.

Johnson’s answering letter, can hardly have provided much reassurance to his mother, but provides me with another priceless glimpse into my great great grandfather’s life.

“You seem to have been in a great state of alarm about my accident, which I am sorry for. I think I told you I was nearly all right, and there was no cause to be anxious about it, although it was lucky it was no worse; and in one respect I dare say it is a good thing, as now, perhaps, it will be a warning to take better protection next time. Young Barton, of the Artillery, has been wounded much in the same way, but he was more mauled than I was; the tiger took him up and shook him, and knocked his head against the rocks; but he is a tough little chap, and is all right again now.

Graham, who was close to him at the time, fell off the same rock down below without a gun, and had the satisfaction of looking on, expecting his turn would come next, and soon as the brute caught his eye he came at him, but luckily missed him.” [1]

I have managed to establish that there was only one Barton in the Bombay Artillery at this time, and that Charles Barton was at that time Quarter Master & Interpreter to the Headquarters of 4th Battalion Bombay Foot Artillery based at Ahmadabad according to the Bombay Calendar for 1851.

While many of his generation of artillery officers had the most adventurous of careers, particularly during the Indian Mutiny, Charles seems to have taken part in few if any actual battles.

His main role was that of a staff officer. Perhaps his qualification as interpreter in three languages, Hindustani, Mahratta and Gujarati set him apart from the other artillery officers who rarely had this qualification for even one language, let alone three at this time.

He appears in Johnson’s Journal for a second time, and on this occasion they are on an expedition after some robbers.

“I hate this country quite as much as ever, and rather more, if possible. I can’t make a residence out of England. I want to see some healthy-looking faces again; I feel as if even that would do me good. We are all of us on a wild-goose chase after some murders, about eighty or a hundred miles off, and we are going to try to put salt on their tails; but I am afraid they are quite sure to get news of our whereabouts, an bolt before we get near them. We shall get a lot of snipe, and perhaps have a run after a pig.”

His history doesn’t recall if they ever got the murderers, but it does record Charles Barton getting a wild boar.

Pig Sticking in Bombay Presidency 1856.[2]

Describing a pig sticking outing Johnson writes:

"we were all close up at the first spear, which was taken by one Barton, who thoroughly deserved it, for he rides magnificently. I never saw a man ride a pig so perfectly as he does. He belongs to the Artillery, rather short and stoutly made, and rides an Arab Galloway, one of the cleverest animals I suppose that was ever foaled. It is a treat to see a man go across country in the way he does."[3]

Several small artefacts from his life in India survive to this day.

One a small envelope, which contains several elephant’s hairs, labelled

"Elephants hairs, sent from India by my brother Charles".

We like to think they are from the same elephant in the first story, but of course at this remove we shall never know.

Charles had several sons who went on later to settle in America where Charles Barton had brought a house at Virginia Beach following his retirement.

These families preserved a tiger skin until well into the 20th Century as well as one of his rifles.

Charles Barton's Rifle.

[1] Page 29, John Company's Cavalryman, from the letters & journals of William Johnson re-published recently by Leonaur Ltd.

[2]"A pig-sticking scene," from the Illustrated London News, 1856. from

[3] Page 31, John Company's Cavalryman.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Photos of Bombay in 1857

Figure 1. The Esplanade, Bombay 1857.
Please click on this image and later ones for larger images.

The following photographs of Bombay were taken either by, or for Captain Charles Barton of the Bombay Artillery.

Charles had been serving with the Expeditionary Force which had landed in Persia in 1856. While on that expedition, he or one of his colleagues had acquired a camera.

The expeditionary force started to leave Persia in May 1857 to return to India. It is not clear on which of the ships Charles and his fellow officers came back on, but it is probable that these photos were taken between June and December 1857.

The first photo suggests that the returning troops were at first unable to find room in the barracks or hotels in Bombay, so that they had set up camps inside gardens of bungalows along the Esplanade. The two tents are identical to those in the photo taken of his camp at Bushire earlier that year.

Figure 2. The Adelphi Hotel Bombay. Dec 1857.
This hotel is believed to have been at Byculla.

The expeditionary force returned to India expecting to move into Cantonments where they could recuperate after a long and gruelling campaign in the heat and the dust of the Gulf.

As the first ships pulled into Bombay they were greeted with the news that the Bengal Presidency Army had mutinied, and that it was very probable that the Bombay Army might do so at any moment.

Figure 3. Temple at the Byculla Station Bombay.
This temple was close to the Adelphi Hotel shown above.

General Havelock, the expeditionary force commander. and the European Regiments were almost immediately re-embarked on steamers for the voyage to Calcutta, where Havelock was to take over command of the relief forces moving inland up the Ganges.

It must have been a time of extraordinary fear and tension.

Charles Barton at this time was a staff officer working with several batteries and he seems to have spent several weeks and possibly longer in Bombay. During this time most of the balance of the troops returned from Persia were moving up the Ghats and inland towards Ahmednugger.

It appears likely that by December 1857 Charles had moved into the Adelphi Hotel. He had married Elizabeth Birch in November 1854, and it appears from the locations where her children were born that she was living at Ahmednuggur at this time. Nuggur was of course highly exposed in the event of the mutiny spreading, and he was on the coast.

Their third daughter Lily was born on July 27th 1858 "at our house at Nuggur", when Charles was away with the expeditionary force, and it is quite probable that the upheavals of the Mutiny period contributed to her death on the 31st of July 1859. It appears that it was some kind of epidemic that carried her off, because Emily, her younger sister born on 19th July 1859 died on the 6th of August 1859, just a week after her elder sister.

It is possible that Charles move from a camp on the sea front to the Adelphi Hotel was because his wife had come down from Nuggur to avoid the danger of her being attacked in Nuggur.

Figure 4. Captain Charles James Barton.

While in Bombay, Charles who had been born on the 22nd of April 1827 at Matoonga near Bombay took the opportunity to visit locations formerly lived in by his parents.

Charles father, Captain James Barton had also been a Bombay Artillery Officer. In May 1822 he had married Eliza Hawkins, and Charles was their fourth child.

Shortly after Charles was born, his father had become Agent for Gunpowder and Superintendent of Factory, on the 1st of October 1827, a post which he held until the 19th of May 1829 when he died at Matoonga.

James was buried in the church at Matoonga, and his fellow officers put up a plaque to his memory. I have no idea if the church survives, and I would be very grateful if anybody can tell if it is still there.

Charles and his widowed mother returned to Britain, where he was brought up. Much later in his will, Charles would write of being tortured throughout his adult life by having no idea of what his father had looked like. He left strict instructions that pictures should be passed on to his youngest children to avoid this happening to them. Which probably accounts both for the existence of the following pictures as Charles visits the former home of his parents.

Figure 5. The Old Artillery Mess, Matoonga Bombay, Dec 1857.

This building is quite possibly where his father had lived and worked. Does it survive today?

Figure 6. The Old Fives Courts, Matoongha Bombay. Dec 1857.

Did his father play Fives?

I used to play it without much enthusiasm at my school. I wonder, if I might have tried harder, if I had known my great great great grandfather had played it too?

Figure 7. Pattinars, Bombay. 1857.

Bombay was a much smaller place in 1857 than it is today. Much of present day Bombay was under water in 1857. Here are a number of Indian trading vessels laid up at low water. I would be very grateful to any body with good local knowledge of Bombay who could help me locate where these pictures were taken. Sadly, I have never been to Mumbai, but it is one of the places I would like to visit, although, I expect all traces of these buildings must have gone by now.

Figure 8. A map of Bombay in 1846 showing the location of Matoonga
towards the north east tip of the island..

Figure 9. The Woodstacks Bombay 1857.

Where this was taken, or why he had this picture taken, I can only puzzle at today, but presumably there must have been hundreds of similar stacks in Bombay in those days.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Ahmednagar and the Commencement of the Central India Campaign in the Indian Mutiny.

Captain John Dobree Woollcombe, (1822-1875)
4th Battalion 2nd Company Bombay Artillery in 1858. [1]
Please click on image for a larger version.

If asked to recall a single event from the history of the British presence in India, the vast majority of people would respond with "the Indian Mutiny," and therefore for anybody like myself who had a great great grandfather who was present in India with the East India Company Army, at this time it is inevitable that I should wonder what his role must have been?

In the case of my great great grandfather Lieutenant Charles James Barton, this has proved to be very long and difficult search, because he doesn't appear to have been in any of the major campaigns, and he doesn't appear in any account that I can find so far that would link him to any of these events.

We know from Spring's list of Bombay Artillery Officers [2] that as a Lieutenant Charles Barton had been Adjutant of the 1st Battalion, Bombay Foot Artillery since the 6th of January 1853, and that he would remain so until he was promoted to Captain on the 26th August 1859 shortly after the end of the Mutiny.

However despite the lack of any written evidence that he took any active part in the campaign, it would appear from some surviving photos that have passed down in our family that he was probably involved in the Central India Campaign under Sir Hugh Rose.

Otherwise it is hard to account for the inclusion of quite so many of these photos in his albums.

The following is an attempt to piece together the accounts of Sir Hugh Rose's campaign and to place in context some of these photos which include many of the officers like Captain Woollcombe who are present in the albums and who played such important roles in these events.

For troops of the Bombay Army, the Indian Mutiny became a reality on the 9th of June 1857, when the 14th Light Dragoons were ordered by Major General Woodburn to leave Kirkee, a cantonment just north of Poona or Pune as it is called today. The Regiment was under orders to march to Ahmednuggur, or as it is known today, Ahmednagar.

Two days later the Dragoons who were a regiment recruited in Britain, were joined on their march by the 25th Bombay Native Infantry under Major Follett. There was an uneasy tension as the Dragoons wondered, as probably did the infantry battalion's officers, whether this regiment would go over to the mutineers as so many of the Bengal Armies units had done.

On the following day the force passed through Seroor the weather broke.

"On the third day of the march of our small Force, the monsoon burst in full strength over us, just as we left Seeroor, and by the time our halting-place was reached the darkness and rain were thick and heavy, the black cotton soil was knee-deep in mud, so that the horses could not be kept at their pickets, and dashed about in the darkness like so many wild ones; and the mea whose tents and baggage had not arrived, got shelter as they best could, and, soaked through cloak and tunic, hailed the daylight, and order to march again, with something like satisfaction. Thus, battling with rain and mud, with the worst of carriage for our baggage, which had to be dragged over the worst of roads, and in the worst of seasons, for as yet rebel leaders had not taught us the value of animal transport, and limited baggage, we reached Ahmednugger. The Brigadier here was importuned by Civilians on all sides to send troops."[3]

"Sally Port & Bridge at Ahmednuggar Fort 1857."
Please click on this and subsequent images for a larger version.

Troops were being assembled as fast as possible from the widely separated cantonments across the Deccan. This was leaving many civilians and administrators highly exposed if the insurgents became any more successful.

"On the 19th of June Captain H. O. Mayne arrived, with the ladies and children, from Aurungabad, and with such other tidings as induced the Major-General to march at once on that station; our force having the very acceptable reinforcement of the 4th Battalion 2d Company Bombay Artillery, manned by Europeans and commanded by Major Woolcombe, C.B. The roads were vile, and the Godavery river girth deep, but we did not stay to pitch our tents, and merely halted to feed. and give the Infantry and horses rest. The men were so overpowered by sleep that we halted from 11 p.m. till 3 a.m., on the road side, near Dygaon. Here, lining the road, the whole Force was to be seen fast asleep, without the slightest shelter, and the rain pouring steadily down on them."[4]

"Mrs Woollcombe, 1857."

I have to presume that Mrs Woollcombe had been living with her husband in his garrison when the mutiny had begun, and it must have been an extremely anxious moment for them both, when he and his battery received orders to move out.

It appears that she may have remained in Ahmednuggur when her husband moved off with his unit. It is probable that the town was a refuge for many soldiers and officers wives.

The town appears to have been reinforced in the days and weeks after the town was re-taken by Major General Woodburn's force, and then was used to support the campaign as it moved inland.

On the following morning the troops set out to capture and punish the first mutineers that they had encountered so far. These mutineers had already left the town and barracks.

At 10 A.M. on the morning of the 23rd, we reached our destination, and were joined by Captain Abbott and other officers. of the Contingent, who had remained in the mess-house with those officers and men of the 1st Regiment of Cavalry who were trustworthy,. and it was with the faithless of these corps that we had to deal. They were encamped on high ground beyond the cantonment on the Jaulna road'. Our column proceeded there,. and formed up, the Battery with 25th Regiment in square on its right flank, one squadron of Dragoons. on its left, the remaining squadron in its rear. The Major General and Staff now proceeded to the front,. and ordered the men of the Contingent to parade, which for the most part they did, and mild measures were resorted to to induce them to return to their allegiance. Many did so, but one native officer, seeing so many going against his cause, summarily ended the affair by discharging his pistol at Captain Abbott, which brought a shot in return. Neither of the missiles took effect, though but a few paces separated officer and trooper. The Brigadier now gave the order to open fire, and pour grape upon the troopers, who had all flown to their horses, ready saddled, in the lines; but unluckily the guns each had a nine-pounder shot in them, and these had first to be shot out, and now the mutineers were in full flight, and the 14th Dragoons were ordered to pursue. Captain Gall led his Troop after those escaping by the Jaulna road, and Captain Barrett followed the few who took the open country, Captain Abbott and some loyal sowars joining in pursuit. Few were overtaken, the tired horses of the Regulars, so heavily laden, being unable to catch the fresh, lightly-mounted cattle of the mutineers. I have no doubt Brigadier Woodburn was led to believe that the men simply required a little pacification, and they would return to. their duty. In order to prevent any disturbance in the Cantonment among the Native Infantry and Artillery, two guns, two Companies of the 25th Regiment, some Madras Sappers and Miners, and Dragoons, all under command of Lieutenant Leith,were judiciously placed near the bridge over the river leading to the Cavalry lines.

"The new barracks Ahmednuggur, 1857."

As was to be the case in so many other places in India at that time little time or mercy was shown towards the mutineers.

This affair having been disposed of, and the prisoners marched into Camp, Courts Martial immediately commenced. The first prisoner tried was Meer Fider Ali, who attempted to prove an alibi, but the following day the whole of the troops in the station, including the Contingent, were paraded to see him hanged. This was done by placing him on a cart, which, after the adjustment of the noose, was driven from beneath him, and the whole Force present were marched past that they might have an uninterrupted view.

The Fort at Ahmednagar from Google Earth.

As soon as the town had been secured, the expeditionary force set off into the interior in an attempt to secure treasure from it's being lost to the mutineers.

That evening a Squadron of the 14th Dragoons, two of Woolcombe's. guns, two of the Nizam's, as well as some Contingent and Bombay Native Infantry,. all under command of Captain Gall, marched at dusk on Boldana in Berar, as there was a large sum of money in the treasury there, guarded by a troop of this mutinous corps of the Nizam's.

The town then became a base for further operations and I believe that it was as part of the reinforcements that poured into the area that Lieutenant Barton arrived in the town. It is quite possible that he became responsible for running the arsenal at Ahmednagar, which is shown in the following photograph.

"Arsenal Nuggur."

It is probable that when he first arrived at Ahmednagar that he was living in the building illustrated in the following photograph that appears to be a converted tomb or possibly temple.

Does this building still survive?

What was its former purpose?

"Adjutant's Qrs. N. I. Lines, Nuggur."

However it appears that his wife and children may have joined him a little later in the year, because the following bungalow became their home.

"Porch of our house at Nuggur 1857."

The cantonment would no doubt have struck a modern soldier as being rather basic, but it did at least have a library, in another converted building.

"Station Library Ahmednuggur Fort."

The cantonment also had a purpose built church where no doubt many soldiers wives prayed especially fervently for the safe return of their husbands away fighting the insurgents.

"Church Nuggur."

It appears that the security situation must have become safe enough for the officers and wives to start visiting local monuments and beauty spots by January 1858, because amongst the photos are several of Happy Valley.

"Salabut Khan's Tomb near Nuggar 1857"

I would love to hear from anybody who can tell me if these buildings still survive. What are they called today? What was their history?

"Aringaum, Nuggur"

Is this a tomb, or perhaps a Serai?

"Fevrah Bagh, Nuggur."

Picnics were a favourite family activity for officers and their wives, and must have helped to relieve the tension and anxiety of the previous months when they can often have wondered if they were not to suffer the same fate as those other officers and their families at places like Meerut and Cawnpur.

"Happy Valley No 3 EGH"

I have no idea who took the photos, and so while it is possible that Charles Barton took them himself, it is probably more likely that there was a photographer active in the town during 1857.

Could this photographer had a name with the initials EGH?

The same initials appear elsewhere in the album.

"The Happy Valley near Nuggur Janry 1858. No 2. EGH"

"Happy Valley No 4."

Is this valley still a popular resort today?

How far is it from the town itself?

If you have found this blog post and you come from Ahmednagar, I would love to see photos of these locations today, and it would be great if it were possible to locate where they were taken in the town.

If you are aware of any further sources of information on the activities of the Bombay Artillery at this time that can fill in the gaps in my knowledge, I would also very much like to hear from you.

[1] Colonel F.W,H. Spring, The Bombay Artillery List of Officers who have served in the Regiment of Bombay Artillery, Publ 1902. Page 95 has a short summary of Woollcombe's career.
[2] Spring, page 99.
[3]John Henry Sylvester, Recollections of the Campaign in Malwa and Central India under Major General Sir Hugh Rose. Published 1860.
[4] Sylvester. Page 4.