Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Kamptee Bridge & a case of Criminal Conversation

Figure 1. Kamptee Bridge. [Please click on the image for larger version.]

Today my good friend Harshawardhan Nimkhedkar posted several really interesting photos from the cantonment at Kamptee.

One particularly fine photo of a 19th century stone bridge caught my eye, and so I set off to see if I could find out who had built it and when.

As so often when you go off into the archives on Google Books and the British Newspaper Archives you stumble onto much more than you had originally expected to find.

Having found the bridge, I was trying to locate the garrison church shown below. 

Figure 2. Kamptee Church.

Although the images on Google Earth over Kamptee Cantonment are good, no obvious building that matched the church could be seen.  Searching through the newspapers for anything on the church, the following came up in the Morning Post of Friday 25th September 1835..

"Ramasawmy sworn.  I was in the service of Lieutenant M'Nair, of the Artillery. I was a horsekeeper at Kamptee, and in that service in June and July last, and remember going out with my master's pony in the month of July. It was about the middle of last year that I took the pony to a large bridge near the church, where a horse was posted."

Figure 3. Google Earth Image marked with the bridge and church. The central bridge is the road bridge, flanked by two rail bridges.  The arches show up as a shadow cast onto the river bed.

Knowing that the church was located close to the bridge enabled me to find the church very quickly.  The bell tower can clearly be seen on top of the church building.

The clue was contained in a much longer and fascinating report of a court case where a Captain Best was accused of running off with the Colonel's wife.



Damages laid at 30,000 rupees. The Advocate-General stated the case for the plaintiff. The plaintiff is a Colonel of Infantry, and the defendant a Captain of Artillery-both in the Company's service. The plaintiff was married to Mrs. Lethbridge in 1823.  The match was originally one of affection; they lived together ten or twelve years, and had five children. The defendant was on intimate terms with the plaintiff, and received from him every attention and kindness which it was possible for him to expect at the hands of a brother officer.  He was welcomed to the house and entertained at the table of the plaintiff, and had every opportunity of witnessing the harmony and feeling which prevailed with the plaintiff and his wife towards each other— yet, in spite of all the happiness he had been witness to, he had done the plaintiff the bitter wrong to take from him the partner who had lived with him so many years in uninterrupted harmony and love. When about to quit Kamptee, Captain Best was invited to a farewell dinner; but though it was specially upon the occasion of his leaving the place, Captain Best to the surprise of all, was not there.

The dinner, however, was partaken of, and Colonel Lethbridge, who was one of the party returned home between nine and ten O’clock, and then he found that his wife had left him.  The plaintiff’s wife at the time of the elopement was on the eve of her confinement, and was subsequently delivered of a daughter at a place called Taukelgaut. The plaintiff hearing of this, sent two female servants to take charge of the child.  Captain Best, who was with Mrs. Lethbridge when these servants arrived, left the tent soon after they came in.  Mrs. Lethbridge inquired after her husband, and wept when she was told that he was in great misery? that he was in tears.  This, if the defendant had any feeling about him, and it is impossible to suppose him dead to all the finer feelings of the human breast, must have stung him more than anything else; and if the Learned Counsel had not mistaken human nature, such a scene as this could not have taken place unless there were an affectionate bearing on the part of her husband, and of fond reflections on her own.  The only redress which the law afforded the plaintiff, would be the damages awarded by the Court. There was hardly bitterness of spirit -- hardly misery of mind, greater than his client must suffer to the end of his days from the deep injury he had received from the defendant.  The Learned Counsel would not expatiate upon the circumstances which he would prove in evidence, with any view to influence the minds of the Court, for those circumstances would speak but too forcibly themselves; and the Court would grant such damages as would mark its sense of the unjustifiable, the unwarrantable, and grievous wrong which the defendant had perpetrated against the peace and the happiness of his client. The Learned Counsel having concluded, put in the defendant's admission of the fact of" the plaintiff's marriage on the 18th of December, 1823, and called

J. C. Morris, Esq., sworn - I am a member of the Civil Service, and know Colonel Lethbridge, of the 22d Regiment N. I. I have known him since 1827, when we met and were near neighbours on the Neilgherry Hills for several months. Mrs. Lethbridge was living with him. They had one little girl with them; another little boy, I understood from them, they had left at Cochin. I became extremely intimate, and visited them daily almost, and had most undoubtedly the fullest opportunity to see on what terms they lived. They seemed to me to be a most happy couple he was very much attached to her, and she appeared particularly attached to him.

Lieutenant J. M. Rowlandson sworn.  I am a Lieutenant in the Company's Service, and am acquainted with Colonel Lethbridge and Mrs. L.  I have been acquainted with them since 1823, and with Mrs. L. since 1824. They were at Trevandrum, near Quilon, in Travancore, when I first became acquainted with them, and spent the month of May, 1824, with them in the same house. In the month of June I left for Madras. I saw them every day, and must have remarked if they were not on affectionate terms. His behaviour to her appeared to me to be particularly kind.

Cross-examined by Mr. Teed.  I am not acquainted with the defendant, but believe he is a Captain in the Artillery ; and think he was promoted about a year or two ago. I imagine his pay is about 400 rupees a month as a Captain of Artillery.

Lieut. George Rowlandson sworn. I am a Lieutenant in the Artillery, and a brother of the last witness. I married Colonel L.'s daughter. I became acquainted with him on his return from England, about three months before my marriage. From having married Colonel Lethbridge's daughter, I became very intimate with the family, and was at their house every day. They lived on the most affectionate terms. The daughter I married was a daughter by a former wife. I have had correspondence with Colonel Lethbridge. They had four children before the birth of the last, three boys and one girl.

Cross-examined.  I know Captain Best, and think he was promoted about June last. I should think it will be at least eight years before he obtains his majority. I don't think he has more than his bare pay. On the contrary, I think he is involved, but have no idea to what extent.

Ramasawmy sworn.  I was in the service of Lieutenant M'Nair, of the Artillery. I was a horsekeeper at Kamptee, and in that service in June and July last, and remember going out with my master's pony in the month of July. It was about the middle of last year that I took the pony to a large bridge near the church, where a horse was posted. A gentleman was coming behind the pony. The pony was going fast and the gentleman (Best) was coming in a bandy. The pony was drawing the bandy. The horse belonged to my master and the bandy to Mr. Best. Mr. M'Nair and Mr. Best were living in the same house. The bandy was put at six o'clock in the evening. There was a mess dinner on that evening. After going along the road, a roundabout way, we went to Col. Lethbridge's house. Mr. Best stopped in the bandy. Then the lady came to the bandy. She came from the back of the house. She came round. The lady was the wife of Col. Lethbridge. I do not know of any message sent before the lady came out. It was one Indian hour before the lady came out. Immediately upon the lady's coming Mr. Best gave her his hand, got her into the bandy, and drove off towards Nagpoore.

 Shaik Ibram sworn.  I am a dressing boy to Captain Best, and remember being at Kamptee last year. I left Kamptee before my master, and went to Nagpoore. Afterwards I went to a place called Goongaum, two days' march from Kamptee. My master came after I had been there one day. He arrived at night, about 11 or 12 o'clock. There was a lady with him. I have seen her before. She was the lady of Major Lethbridge. They stayed at Goongaum two days, and slept in tents. Mrs. Lethbridge was delivered of a child there. There was nobody there except this lady and gentleman. There were three tents, ln the large one the lady and gentleman lived, and in the smaller ones there was baggage. There was only one cot in the room in which the lady and gentleman slept. They eat together in the same place.

Chouree Ummaul sworn.  I am a married woman. I was sent to take a child from a lady, and went upon the directions of Major Lethbridge. My husband did not know I was sent for by master, and I was immediately sent in a palankeen. I came down here seven months ago. I was sent to Goongaum. The child was then about five days old.  I went to fetch the child about two months before I came down. The lady was Mrs. Lethbridge. I knew her before, and was serving in her house. I was sent as Amah and nursed the child. I went to the tent and saw a gentleman, but don't know his name. After I went to the tent- he left it and went to a house. I had no conversation with the lady, but the Ayah had. I left the Ayah in the tent. She was there till about two o'clock.

Caumatchee sworn.  I was an Ayah in the service of Mrs. Lethbridge. About six o'clock in the evening my master dressed himself, and went to a supper. I remember going to fetch a child. My master went to the dinner about five days before I went to fetch the child, my mistress was then in the large hall drinking tea. I remember she went to her bedroom about seven o'clock in the evening. Upon my master's coming home he went and looked in the bedroom, and asked me where she was. I said" She is inside," my master said "No she is not." I repeated that she was. My master said "Come and see; she is not there." Myself and dressing boy then went and looked and my mistress was not there. I never saw my mistress again in that house. The fifth day after my mistress left the house I went to Goongaum from Kamptee.

My mistress was at Taukelgaut. I found her at Taukelgaut in a tent, and spoke to her in the English language. She said .to me, "How is master, Ayah?" I said, "Master very sorry, can't eat anything." Mistress cried, and told me to go out, and I came away. She said, “I was very foolish that I came off.'' I saw a child. Immediately upon my going there, mistress said, “There is the child, Ayah look." Then I was desired to leave the tent. This was about half-past nine. I did not tell her that I came to take the child. I brought a letter from my master to a gentle man named Lador, and that gentleman gave me a letter to Mr. Best. Mistress told me, “Take this little baby, Ayah take care both children ? l can't come any more." I saw, gentleman, Mr. Best, in the tent. When I went into it he went out. Mr. Best was in the habit of coming to my master's to eat his meals.

By the Court.  Captain Best used to come once in two or three days. Mr. C. Teed addressed the Court for the defendants -- He submitted that there was no evidence of any great breach of friendship, or that the defendant or plaintiff had ever been on peculiarly intimate terms. The defendant, it had been proved, was in the receipt of 400 rupees per month, and one of the witnesses had said that he was involved. He was not therefore, in a situation to pay excessive damages; and the Learned Counsel submitted that it did not appear from the evidence to be a case which called for heavy damages. Sir R. Palmer, C. J., remarked that though there was no evidence of any intimacy between the plaintiff and defendant, there was yet no palliative circumstance whatever in favour of the defendant. The Court would not give damages so excessive as would incarcerate the defendant for life, but the Court ought to give such damages as would mark its sense of the great wrong committed by the defendant.

Damages, 10,000 rupees. Sir R. Comyn agreed with the Lord Chief Justice. Poverty was no excuse, and it were monstrous to hold that be cause a man is poor he may therefore commit adultery wit impunity.

Morning Post - Friday 25 September 1835."

Figure 4.  Kamptee Bridge, the Church and what was probably the Colonel's house on Google Earth.  

The bridge may have been rebuilt since the events in 1834.  It appears as if one of the huge seasonal floods that the area often experiences may have seriously damaged the bridge in 1876.

Figure 5. Kamptee Cantonment. The cantonment is nearly three long.

DISASTROUS FLOODS IN INDIA. REPORTED LOSS OF 1500 LIVES. The Standard gives the following extract from a private letter, dated Nagpore Sept. 5 

My dear

Just a few lines to tell you that there has been a disastrous flood in Kamptee. It rained all day Sunday, Sunday night, and Monday, and the rain would appear to have been very heavy to the westward of Kamptee, as the river has swollen, and the Gora Bazaar washed away. It is reported that about 1500 lives are lost, but this may be over the mark. The bridge near the church is washed away. The flood extended as far as the Post Office... I hear since that the Post Office is down to the ground. Many who were saved have escaped as by a miracle. The families of the soldiers were taken away on elephants. Colonel M — went yesterday, but was stopped where the bridge used to be near the church. He then went on to the ' circular drive,' but could not get into the station; the water was too deep, so he had to return, and he has gone to-day." The writer concludes by remarking that these are only rough reports, and that more precise details will be learnt in a day or two. No doubt the number of lives said to be lost is very large, and probably the actual loss will be less. Persons acquainted with the Kamptee cantonment will understand in what great danger the residents were placed by the great overflow of the Kanhan river.

Sheffield Independent -Wednesday 04 October 1876.

What is interesting on Google Earth is how the cantonment has grown over time. It appears that it is now nearly 3 miles across. The cantonment was one of the earliest purpose built cantonments outside of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.  It was founded in 1821 for troops from the Madras Presidency, and was located to overawe Nagpur. Nagpur had had a garrison located to the west of the Sitabuldee Hills but the Battle of Nagpur during the Mahratta War had shown how seriously exposed the garrison had been.

An extremely detailed report on the state of the cantonments in 1869 can be found on Google Books entitled "Report upon the military cantonments of Kamptee and Seetabuldee... By Madras presidency, sanitary commissioner, James Lancaster Ranking."

Figure 6. Kamptee Church circa 1892

The report recognised that the cantonment had been laid out in a very unsuitable place, which was low lying and close to the river.  The area was intersected by streams, and frequently experienced fogs that arose from the river. The roof of the church was apparently a good vantage point from which to observe this phenomena, as the fogs generally were below the level of the church roof.  Malaria was a frequent problem for the troops.  In those days malaria had not been connected with mosquitoes, but was believed to issue out of the ground in miasmas, like the fog.

Besides the several thousand troops from the 91st Highlanders, several Royal Artillery Batteries and the 1st Madras Light Cavalry stationed at the cantonment, there were 681 horses, 230 camels, 216 bullocks and 97 mules.

These all had a detrimental effect on the water supply...

“It is thus seen that the Kanhan is polluted to a great extent by the affluence of the Koolar (in which public cattle are watered, and refuse is often deposited) at its entrance into the cantonment, and the organic matters appeared, during analyses, to be of such a nature as would be got rid of with difficulty.

While living in a house (before mentioned) dependent on the river Koolar for its water-supply, I have often remarked a smell of camel’s dung strongly apparent on warming the bathing water during the cold weather by the addition of a kettleful of boiling water.

Were this source of contamination removed, the river water would be of rather superior quality to that obtained from wells.
Edward Nicholson, Assistant Surgeon.  F-20th Royal Artillery.”

The report strongly recommended removing the barracks occupied by the Europeans from the low ground to a nearby ridge knows as Bloggs Drive. What I wonder is Bloggs Drive called today?

This may account for the evident shift of the cantonment towards the west and away from the 1830's church and OC's House.

It was not just the groundwater that was polluted...

"The number of registered prostitutes within the limits of the Cantonment of Kamptee is 114, 41 of whom are Mahomedhans, and 73 Hindoos.  There are no registered Europeans or East Indian women.
“during 1867 the admissions by venereal amongst the European troops were in the ratio of 23.45 per cent. to strength.”

The report lists the hospital admissions for the 1st Madras Native Infantry at Kamptee in 1868.  The average strength of the battalion was 708 men. On average 28 would be in hospital on any given day.  891 admissions were made in a year, with a total of 19 deaths, 11 of which were due to cholera.
Tables in the report show that Kamptee and Seetabuldee were two of the least healthly cantonments in India and South East Asia at that time.  Only stations in Burma and Malaysia experienced similar levels of fever, as malaria was then known.
It was calculated that between 1829 and 1838 9,574 European Troops had passed through Kamptee of which 7,304 had had to be admitted to hospital with fever or 76.2%. Between 12 and 21 died each year.

Cholera was another hazard..

Cholera, says the Central India Times, has at last made its appearance among the European troops at Kamptee, and "up to date about fifty cases have occurred of which two-thirds have been fatal." The troops it is understood, are to move into camp immediately.

Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury - Saturday 22 August 1868

If you can add anything to the points made above I would be pleased to hear from you. I can be contacted on balmer.nicholas@gmail.com 

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