Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 40.djvu/182

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


pore in five days. His instructions were, to say the least, injudicious. They led him to think, rightly or wrongly, that the authorities had misgivings as to Havelock. and had complete confidence in him, while it led Havelock to regard Neill with some suspicion. On Neill's arrival at Cawnpore he was at once met by Havelock, who desired that there might be a complete understanding between them. Neill was to have no power nor authority while he was there, and was not to issue a single order. When Havelock marched on Lucknow he left Neill in command at Cawnpore.

One of Neill's first acts on assuming the command at Cawnpore was to inquire into the particulars of the dreadful tragedy. When he became aware of its full horror, he was determined to make such an example that it might be a warning to the mutineers at Lucknow and elsewhere. The following order was issued: ‘25 July 1857. The well, in which are the remains of the poor women and children so brutally murdered by this miscreant, the Nana, will be filled up, and neatly and decently covered over to form their grave; a party of European soldiers will do so this evening, under the superintendence of an officer. The house in which they were butchered, and which is stained with their blood, will not be washed nor cleaned by their countrymen; but Brigadier-general Neill has determined that every stain of that innocent blood shall be cleared up and wiped out, previous to their execution, by such of the miscreants as may be hereafter apprehended, who took an active part in the mutiny, to be selected according to their rank, caste, and degree of guilt. Each miscreant, after sentence of death is pronounced upon him, will be taken down to the house in question, under a guard, and will be forced into cleaning up a small portion of the bloodstains; the task will be made as revolting to his feelings as possible, and the provost marshal will use the lash in forcing any one objecting to complete his task. After properly cleaning up his portion the culprit is to be immediately hanged, and for this purpose a gallows will be erected close at hand.’ This was carried out. The sentence was severe, but ‘severity at the first,’ Neill wrote, ‘is mercy in the end.’

Neill had only three hundred infantry, half a battery of European artillery, and twelve veteran gunners with him in Cawnpore when Havelock endeavoured to advance to the relief of Lucknow. Neill's instructions were to endeavour to defend so much of the trunk road as was then in British possession in the neighbourhood of Cawnpore, to aid in maintaining Havelock's communications with Allahabád and with Cawnpore, to strengthen the defences on both sides of the river, to mount heavy guns in them, and to render the passage of the river secure by establishing, in co-operation with the two steamers, a boat communication from entrenchment to entrenchment. Havelock commenced the passage of the river on the 20th, but it took a week of labour and difficulty before the whole column was assembled on the Oudh bank. On the 29th Havelock advanced on Onao and routed the enemy. He gained another victory at Bashíratganj and then fell back on Mangalwár. On 31 July he informed Neill that he could not advance to Lucknow without further reinforcements, and desired Neill to furnish workmen to form a bridgehead on the Oudh bank, to collect rations for his troops, and get ready two 24-pounders to accompany his advance, and push across any British infantry so soon as they might arrive. Havelock no doubt was right to risk nothing in order to make sure of relieving Lucknow effectually, but his retrograde movement created bitter disappointment in Cawnpore, and Neill chafed so much under his mortifications that he wrote a very insubordinate letter to Havelock, complaining bitterly of his action. He received a severe reply. Havelock again pushed forward, but once more, after further successes in the field, felt compelled to await reinforcements before he could make good his advance upon Lucknow.

While Havelock was thus advancing and waiting, Neill was threatened at Cawnpore by large bodies of insurgent sepoys. He sent the steamers up the river with a small force and two field guns and a mortar, and checked the rebels to some extent, but on 10 Aug. they approached nearer. A part of Neill's small force was sick in hospital, and Neill sent word to Havelock that he could not keep open his communications, as his force was barely sufficient to enable him to hold on to Cawnpore, and that four thousand men and five guns were at Bithor, already threatening Cawnpore. So Havelock, having struck another blow at the enemy at Burhiya, returned, attacked the enemy at Bithor on 16 Aug., dispersed them, and established himself in Cawnpore. Then came cholera. The troops were not adequately provided with shelter during the rainy season, and Neill thought they were unnecessarily exposed. Neill, who was a friend of the commander-in-chief, Sir Patrick Grant, kept up a correspondence with him, in which he seems to have criticised Havelock's doings freely, and Grant, on relinquishing the com-