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Introduction—Artillery previous to 1756—Destruction of 1st Company in Black Hole—Recapture of Calcutta—Plassey—Re-formation of 1st Company; 2nd Company and 3rd Company raised—Campaigns of Colonel Calliaud, Major Adams, &c.—Massacre at Patna—4th Company raised—Major Munro’s Campaigns—Artillery attached to Brigades—Artillery Companies formed into a Battalion—Board of Ordnance—Practice-ground near Dum-Dum—Three Companies of Artillery raised for Nawab of Oude—Transferred to the Establishment—Artillery formed into a Brigade.
Adepts in natural history, from a few fossil bones and teeth, are able to delineate the animal to which they belonged, and from comparing the analogy of the parts, to clothe their skeleton with appropriate covering, thus making, as it were, the animal kingdom of by-gone ages pass in review before the present generation.
A similar talent would be necessary, effectively to rake up the early history of a regiment. Old records preserved in public offices form the fossil bones; and the “fleshy tenement” with which these are to be clothed must be culled from many a quarter ere the “animal” can be completed; and when this is done, there still remains the difficult task of giving him life and spirit, or, to drop the metaphor, of rendering the record useful and entertaining.
Much difficulty besets the undertaking; and, though we are conscious of our want of ability to do full justice to the present task, yet, as we believe that a good deal of information not generally known, and collected from sources inaccessible to the majority, is contained in the following pages, and which will be acceptable for its own sake, without reference to the form in which it appears, we have been induced to give publicity to our rough notes.
The first company of Bengal Artillery was raised in 1749; the orders were received, it is believed, from Bombay, then the chief presidency. A company was ordered, at the same time, at each presidency, in the Court of Directors’ general letter of 17th June, 1748. A copy of the warrant for that
at Madras will be found in the “Artillery Records” for October, 1843, and for Bombay in one of a series of papers entitled “Three Years’ Gleanings,” which appeared in the E. I. United Service Journal in 1838, and some extracts from which are made hereafter in these pages: the entire warrants are too voluminous for insertion. A similar one was most probably sent to Bengal, but all records perished when Calcutta was taken.
Admiral Boscawen was requested to supply such aid in raising the companies as he could spare from the fleet, for gunners; and the master gunner was appointed to the Bombay company. The companies were to be completed as early as possible, and all the gun-room’s crew, who were qualified, were to be included.
The “gun-room’s crew” appears to have been the denomination given to a certain number of men set apart for the duties of the artillery; their officers were called gunners, gunners’ mates, &c., and combined the magazine duties with the more properly-called duties of artillerymen.
The new company was to consist of one captain, one second captain, one captain-lieutenant, and three lieutenant-fireworkers; four serjeants, four
corporals, three drummers, and one hundred gunners; the established pay was as noted below:—
Captain and chief engineer
£200 per annum.
2nd captain and 2nd engineer
150 per annum.
Captain-lieutenant, and director of laboratory
100 per annum.
1st lieutenant fireworker
75 per annum.
2nd lieutenant fireworker
60 per annum.
3rd lieutenant fireworker
50 per annum.
2s. per diem.
1s. 6d. per diem.
1s. per diem.
The want of artillery during the wars on the coast from 1746 to 1754, and the impossibility of forming a sufficient number on the spot, induced the Court of Directors to obtain and send out two companies of Royal Artillery to Bombay; and, when the war broke out in 1756, three companies more were sent, with the reinforcements under Clive, to Bombay, and were afterwards distributed among the presidencies.
With Colonel Aldercron’s regiment (39th Foot,—“primus in Indis”) at Madras, there were also forty artillerymen, on its arrival in 1754; these he considered part of his regiment, and they were most
probably borne on its rolls, and allotted to the duties of the field-pieces attached.
At Madras, attention seems to have been earlier paid to the military establishment than in Bengal. A field train had been organized in 1755, to which Lieutenant Jennings was appointed adjutant (this officer was afterwards transferred to the Bengal presidency), but in Bengal in 1756, on the war with France breaking out, the whole force amounted to only 300 European troops, including the company of artillery raised in 1749.
In 1756 the company of artillery was commanded by Captain Witherington, and stationed in Fort William, with detachments at the smaller factories, such as Dacca, Balasore, Cossimbazar, Patna, &c. On the siege of Fort William by Sooraj-ul-Dowlah, only forty-five artillerymen were in the garrison, and these, with their commanding officer, perished in the Black Hole.
The character of Capt. Witherington is sketched in Mr. Holwell’s interesting “Narrative” as “a laborious active officer, but confused. There would have been few objections to his character, diligence, or conduct, had he been fortunate in having any commander-in-chief to have a proper eye over him,
and take care that he did his duty.” One point, however, is clear—that whatever his talents or character may have been, he perished at his post, whilst others deserted theirs.
An instance of devotion highly honourable is also recorded by Mr. Holwell of a man named Leech, an artificer, most probably of the artillery, “and clerk of the parish, who had made his escape when the Moors entered the fort, and returned just as it was dark to tell me he had provided a boat, and would insure my escape if I would follow him through a passage few were acquainted with, and by which he had entered. I thanked him in the best terms I could, but told him it was a step I could not prevail on myself to take, as I thereby should very ill repay the attachment the gentlemen and garrison had shewn me; that I was resolved to share their fate, be it what it would, but pressed him to secure his escape without loss of time, to which he gallantly replied that ‘then he was resolved to share mine, and would not leave me.’”
The remnants of the company were probably collected together at Fultah, and joined the force with
which Clive afterwards avenged our disgrace on its reaching the Hooghly. In the arrangements made for retaking Calcutta, it was intended that the guns sent from Madras on the Marlborough should have been worked by the artillerymen of Aldercron’s regiment. This plan was, however, frustrated by the colonel refusing to allow them to go, unless he accompanied with his regiment, or, in other words, unless the command of the expedition was vested in him. The want of artillerymen was therefore supplied by a detail from the Madras company under Lieutenant Jennings. The actual strength is not known; but as in February 1757, in the attack on the Nawab’s troops near Omichund’s garden, we find from Orme that Clive mustered about 100 artillerymen, and as not more than 20 or 30 of the old company can be supposed to have escaped, it must have been at least half a company.
The expedition reached Fultah on the 20th December, 1756, and met with but little opposition (a night attack on the troops landed near Fort Marlborough being the chief) in the progress to Calcutta, which was retaken, after a short cannonade from the shipping, on the 2nd January, 1757.
To protect Calcutta from the incursions of the
Nawab’s army, Clive formed a fortified camp, with outposts around it, about a mile north of the town, and half a mile from the river, on the spot now called Chitpore. This situation was well chosen, as it was impossible for the enemy, when coming from the northward, to enter Calcutta without passing between the camp and salt-water lake (then more extensive than at present), within sight of the camp. Towards the end of January the field artillery was completed by the arrival of the Marlborough, which had the greatest part on board.
On the 3rd February the Nawab’s army passed along the Dum-Dum road, leaving it near the turning at the Puckah-bridges, and spreading irregularly over the plain to the eastward of the Mahratta ditch, the Nawab’s own camp being pitched in Omichund’s garden, the ground now called “Nunden Bagh.”
Surrounded by so numerous an enemy, Clive would soon have been straitened for provisions. To prevent this inconvenience, and to alarm a timorous
enemy, he resolved to surprise their camp before daylight, and for this purpose he marched out from his camp—the artillery, 100 men, and six 6–pounder guns in the rear; the ammunition on lascars’ heads, guarded by sailors; the sipahis and European battalion leading. At dawn, they came upon the enemy’s advanced posts, placed in the ditches of the Dum-Dum road, whom they easily dispersed, and continued their march parallel to the Mahratta ditch until they came opposite Omichund’s garden, when the fog, usual at that season, came on and obscured every thing before them; they proceeded onwards, however, the field-pieces in the rear firing round shot obliquely outwards, until they reached a causeway which ran from the ditch towards the lake, and on which was a barrier; mounting the causeway, the troops wheeled and marched along it, which brought them under the fire of their own guns, and caused considerable confusion. In order to avoid this, Clive ordered all the troops to cross the causeway and lie down till the firing from the rear could be stopped. Some guns from the ramparts of the Mahratta ditch also opened on them, and made great havoc, so that Clive was forced to continue his march until he reached the
Bally-a-ghat road, when, turning to his right, he marched up the Boitaconnah and Salt Bazaar to the old fort, abandoning two of his guns, whose carriages broke down, and in the evening regained his camp by the road along the river.
This expedition, though ill-planned, produced the desired effect on the Nawab, who eagerly desired to enter into terms of accommodation with the British, whose activity he feared.
In March, the reinforcements arrived from Bombay, and an attack on the French settlement of Chandernagore was resolved on; it was attacked both by land and from the river, the chief attack being made by the ships of war; the artillery had but a comparatively small part to play.
The political events which followed, and the intrigues which led to our subsequent hostilities with Sooraj-ul-Dowlah, it is not our province to detail. We purpose only to relate events with which the corps is connected, and accordingly we next join Clive on the 21st June at Cutwah. With his little army, we find 100 artillerymen, eight 6–pounder guns, and two howitzers, commanded by Captain Jennings. In the council of war which sat, Captain Jennings’s vote was given for an
immediate attack (as recorded in the Life of Clive, while in Sir Eyre Coote’s evidence before the Secret Committee, the names and votes of the members are found very differently recorded. Sir Eyre Coote’s is more probably the correct list, as he spoke from memoranda); the majority were for delay, but Clive, after dissolving the council, followed the dictates of his own bold spirit, and directed the army to cross the river, which was done, and by midnight of the 22nd, the army had reached Plassey.
The next day the battle took place; it was chiefly a distant cannonade. The guns were placed three on each flank of the Europeans, and the remainder about 200 yards in advance of the left division of sipahis, sheltered by some brick-kilns, to check the fire of the enemy’s guns, manned by the French party, and posted at a tank in front. The shot from the British guns which missed those opposed to them, took effect on the bodies of cavalry and infantry in the rear. The cannonade was sustained till noon, when rain falling damaged the enemy’s ammunition, and forced them to slacken their fire. The English fire continued, and Major Kirkpatrick, advancing with a party, drove the
French from the tank, and the English guns were pushed on.
Meer Jaffier, with his troops, at this time advanced, intending to join the British, but was opposed and driven back by a party and the fire of a field-gun, under Mr. Johnston, a volunteer.
The whole of the guns now cannonaded the enemy’s camp from the high banks of the tank; the enemy came out, and Clive advanced, posting half his troops and guns at a smaller tank in advance, and the rest on a rising ground about 200 yards to their left; the French field-pieces renewed their fire, and the enemy’s cavalry prepared to charge, but were always driven back by the quick firing of the English field artillery; the enemy beginning to draw off, the whole British army advanced, and driving them from a redoubt and mound, part of the intrenchment of their camp, about five in the afternoon completed the victory which laid the foundation of our Eastern empire.
The volunteer, Mr. Johnston, above noticed, was one of the fugitives collected at Fultah. His name is mentioned among those saved at Dacca; he not improbably belonged to the artillery, and was employed as a clerk in some confidential office,
for, in a letter dated in 1765, from himself to Lord Clive, he endeavours to exculpate himself from a charge of disclosing confidential transactions from his office, preferred against him by Governor Drake. In this letter, he mentions his having been “remanded to the artillery, his former” occupation, and serving with the army till 1765, when he returned to Calcutta; the date of his removal is, however, uncertain.
A detachment was sent forwards towards Patna, under Major Coote, consisting of 230 Europeans, 300 sipahis, 50 lascars, and two 6–pounders, but much delay occurred in starting, owing to the debaucheries ensuing on the plunder gained at Plassey. It was protracted by a mutinous spirit on the way, so that the French party had, by the time they arrived, rendered their position at Patna too strong, and the detachment returned to Cossimbazaar in September. The remainder of the army was removed to Chandernagore.
Towards the close of the year 1757, a second advance, with a stronger party, and Clive at its head, was made, and an arrangement satisfactory to
the British having been concluded, he returned to Moorshedabad in May, 1758.
His first care was to organize the army, and in doing this, the coast army was taken as a model; a company of artillery was raised in Fort William, 29th June, from the men who had served at Plassey. Lieutenant Jennings was promoted to its captaincy, and this may be considered as the first company of the present establishment, and bears at present, after many changes of numbers in the successive formations of the regiment, the denomination of 1st company, 4th battalion.
A second company was raised at Cossimbazaar on the 19th September, the party mentioned above as being left there most probably having been incorporated in it: Captain Broadbridge or Broadburn, from the Royal Artillery, was its captain.
The company of Royal Artillery which came from Bombay accompanied Colonel Forde’s detachment to Masulipatam in April, 1759, and aided in that brilliant operation, but did not return with the
detachment after the campaign. Since that period no Royal Artillery have served in Bengal, except in 1798, when a company was in Fort William; but this probably was a temporary arrangement, the company coming to Bengal en route to Ceylon.
In 1759, a combination having been entered into against the British, the English troops, aided by Meer Jaffier, marched towards Patna, against the Shahzadah; Patna was taken, a garrison left, and Clive returned to Calcutta, Colonel Calliaud having joined him first at Berhampoor, with 300 Europeans, 1,000 sipahis, 50 artillerymen, and 6 guns. The artillerymen, there is reason to suppose, belonged to the 2nd company.
The battalion of sipahis left at Patna with two 6–pounders and 70 Europeans, under Lieutenant Cochrane, was defeated in an engagement into which they were forced, in assisting our ally Ramnarain against the Emperor’s forces, in January, 1760.
The conduct of the European troops is spoken of as highly creditable. The European officers of the sipahis all fell, and the sipahis were cut to pieces or dispersed. The English who remained fought their way back to the city under Doctor Fullerton.
“Other English officers may have been present,” says the author of the Siyar-ul-Mutakherin, “whose names I know not, who ranged them in order, and as one of their guns was to be left behind on the field of battle, they found means to render it of no avail, by thrusting a large needle of iron into its eye; the other being in good condition, they took it with them, together with its ammunition; and that handful of men had the courage to retire in the face of a victorious army, without once shrinking from their ranks; during their journey, the car of ammunition chanced to receive some injury, the Doctor stopped unconcernedly, and after having put it in order, he bravely pursued his route again.”
Lieutenant Buck, of the artillery, was killed in this action.
Calliaud’s advance having been delayed by his allies, he did not engage the enemy till the 22nd February, near Sooraj, and the same cause prevented his following up the advantage.
The 50 artillerymen of the 2nd company were engaged in this action, and the carriages of four of their guns broke down during the engagement, causing some delay in repairing them.
After his defeat, the Emperor fled, and endeavoured to double back and surprise Moorshedabad ere Calliaud could overtake him. In this, however, he failed; the British pursued in boats, and coming up with him, he struck across the Currukpoor hills. The British disembarked and followed him. After a difficult march, the Emperor emerged from the hills, about 30 miles from Moorshedabad. The English and Jaffier had, however, joined, and on their attacking him, he set fire to his camp and fled.
To secure Patna, a detachment of 200 Europeans, a battalion of sipahis, and four field-pieces, marched from Moorshedabad, under Captain Knox, in May, 1760, and, marching with the utmost rapidity, reached it in thirteen days. Crossing the river, this little band attacked and defeated the army of the Naib of Purneah, who had come to the Emperor’s assistance, near Mozufferpore, on the 27th May.
A third company of artillery was formed on the 26th May, 1760, in Fort William, promoting Captain-Lieutenant Kinch; but there is reason to believe he remained with the second company, until Captain Broadbridge’s death, in 1761, gave him the command.
Colonel Calliaud having been succeeded by Major Carnac, returned to Calcutta; the latter pursued the Emperor’s forces to Gyah Maunpoor, where he overtook and completely routed him in January, 1761. Mr. Law, the head of the French party, was captured in this engagement.
The 2nd company of artillery, under Captain Broadbridge and Captain-Lieutenant Kinch, shared in these transactions, and remained as part of the garrison of Patna.
It forms no part of our plan to enter into the history of such occurrences as those which led to the dismissal of the members of council from the Company’s service, and placed Mr. Ellis in charge of the factory at Patna; or to examine whether our subsequent misfortunes are attributable to his mismanagement. For information on such points we must refer the reader to the histories of the times.
Many points of difference arose with the Nawab, Meer Cossim, which led to various misunderstandings; they were brought to a crisis by the British, on Mr. Ellis’s order, surprising and seizing Patna, on the 26th June, 1763. Mr. Amyatt was attacked and killed near Moorshedabad, by order of Cossim Ali, whom he had left only two days before, having
been deputed to him at Monghyr by the Council, and this brought on open war.
The energy shewn at first was, however, suffered to die away, and the troops in Patna dispersing for plunder, the late governor of the city rallied his men, and, being joined by a reinforcement from Monghyr, attacked and drove out the British, who, spiking their guns, retired to Bankipore, and afterwards fled in boats to their factory at Manjee, near Chuprah; where the whole, and among them the company of artillery, were taken prisoners.
The prisoners taken were sent to Monghyr, and there confined with others captured at Cossimbazar, which factory was plundered about the same time.
On the news of these disasters, the English army, under Major Adams, moved from their cantonments at Ghyrettee early in July. The first company of artillery was with this force, under the command of Captain Jennings.
In the present day it would scarcely be deemed possible to march a force at the season in which this army moved through Bengal—in the middle of the rains, when the whole land is a swamp, and every stream full to overflowing; yet, in spite of the difficulties presented, this gallant band, about
800 Europeans (including the artillery) and 2,000 sipahis, forced its way, and came in contact with Meer Cossim’s troops at Gheriah, near Sooty, on the 2nd August.
A severe action was fought, lasting nearly four hours, and at one time two of the British guns were taken possession of by the enemy; victory at length decided in favour of the British.
The artillery lost one officer, killed during the action, Lieutenant Kaylor.
Undaunted by his defeat, Meer Cossim again disputed the advance of the British at the pass of Oudenullah, a little to the south of Rajmahl, where the road is confined between the river and spurs of hills. This pass had been intrenched with walls and towers at short distances, and several strong posts raised on eminences along its front. The army was detained before these intrenchments for nearly a month. At length, by an attack on the hill forming the right of the lines, and a feint on the river end, they were carried with severe loss on 5th September, Captain-Lieutenant Green, of the artillery, acting as field engineer. Meer Cossim left his troops the next night, and retired to Monghyr in haste, thence carrying his prisoners with him to Patna.