Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ochterlony, David
OCHTERLONY, Sir DAVID (1758–1825), conqueror of Nepaul (Nípál), eldest son of David Ochterlony, a gentleman who had settled at Boston in North America, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on 12 Feb. 1758. His paternal great-grandfather was Alexander, laird of Pitforthy, Angus. Ochterlony went to India as a cadet in the Bengal army of the East India Company in 1777. He obtained a commission as ensign in the 24th Bengal native infantry on 7 Feb. 1778, and was promoted lieutenant on 17 Sept. the same year. In 1781 his regiment formed part of a force under Colonel Thomas Deane Pearse [q. v.] which was sent to reinforce Lieutenant-general Sir Eyre Coote after the disastrous defeat of Colonel Baillie at Parambakam in 1780. The operations were undertaken for the relief of the Karnátik, and to aid the presidency of Madras against Haider Ali and the French under Bussy. Pearse marched eleven hundred miles through the provinces of Katak and Northern Sarkars to Madras, and took part in all the arduous and brilliant services of Sir Eyre Coote's campaigns. The force particularly distinguished itself in the attack on the French line at Gúdalúr in 1783. It was the first time in which trained and disciplined Indian troops under English officers had crossed bayonets with Europeans. The French were defeated, with severe loss. Ochterlony was wounded and taken prisoner, but was released on the death of Haider and the declaration of peace in 1784.
In 1785 Ochterlony returned with his regiment to Calcutta, and, in recognition of his services, was appointed to the staff as deputy judge-advocate-general for one of the divisions of the army. On 7 Jan. 1796 he was promoted captain, on 21 April 1800 major, and on 18 March 1803 lieutenant-colonel, when he ceased to hold the appointment of deputy judge-advocate-general, and commanded his regiment under the orders of the commander-in-chief, Lord Lake [see Lake, Gerard, first Viscount Lake], being present at the capture of the forts of Sasni, Bejgarh, and Kachoura in the Doáb. On the outbreak of the Maráthá war, Ochterlony was appointed deputy adjutant-general of the army taking the field under Lord Lake, and was present at the action near Koel on 29 Aug., and at the assault and capture of Aligarh on 4 Sept. On 7 Sept. 1803 Lake advanced on Delhi, and Ochterlony was with him at the battle of Delhi, when the Maráthás, under M. Louis Bourquin, were defeated, their guns taken, and three thousand of their men killed and wounded. Ochterlony was then appointed British resident at the court of Shah Alám, emperor of Hindustan, at Delhi. When Holkar marched on Delhi with twenty thousand men and one hundred guns, Ochterlony called in the scattered detachments, and, with a force under Colonel Burn, so weak that they were unable to afford reliefs and the men had to be provisioned at their posts on the ramparts, he defended the place from 7 Oct. to 16 Oct. 1804. Holkar had already made breaches, and was prepared to assault, when the advance of Lake's army raised the siege. No action of the war with Holkar deserves greater commendation than this brave and skilful defence of an almost untenable position.
On 5 June 1806 Ochterlony was appointed to command the fortress of Allahabad, and a very complimentary order from the governor-general in council was issued on his relinquishing the appointment of British resident at the court of the mogul. In 1808 the Sikhs, under Ranjít Singh, attempted to advance beyond the Satlaj to Jamna, and Ochterlony was selected to command a force on the north-west frontier to keep them in check. Ochterlony placed the prince of Sirhind under British protection, and a treaty of peace was concluded with Ranjít Singh. Ochterlony established a position on the banks of the Satlaj, and continued in command there. He was promoted colonel on 1 Jan. 1812, and major-general on 4 June 1814.
On 29 May 1814 the Nípálese had attacked and murdered the British police at Batwál, and it was determined to invade Nípál. The force was divided into four columns. Ochterlony, with six thousand men and sixteen guns, took part on the west of the Gúrkha frontier to operate in the hilly country near the Satlaj. General Gillespie advanced with 3,500 men on the east, and there were two central columns—one of 4,500 men under General J. S. Wood, and the other of eight thousand men under General Marley. These two central columns were to advance on Khátmándu, the Gúrkha capital, Lord Hastings directing the whole of the operations from Lucknow. The British troops had to advance through a rugged, unknown, and almost impracticable region, full of defensive defiles. They had no experience of mountain warfare, while the Gúrkhas were a very warlike people, who understood the value of the mountain passes, and had occupied and fortified them. The campaign opened disastrously. Gillespie's column met with reverses, was beaten back, and Gillespie himself killed before it succeeded in capturing Kalánga or Nalápáni on 30 Nov. It was again repulsed before Jaitak. Wood's division, after a slight check, remained inactive. Marley's column did nothing. Ochterlony alone succeeded. He crossed the plains from Loodiana, entered the hill country, and on 1 Nov. 1814 encamped before the fort of Nalagur. After pouring a continuous fire into the fort for thirty hours, it surrendered. Ochterlony advanced by paths indescribably bad as far as Bíláspur, forcing the local rajas to submit, and turned the enemy's flank at Arki. This was the state of affairs at the end of January 1815. Early in February Lord Hastings determined to make a diversion by attacking with Rohillá levies the province of Kumáun, lying between the two theatres of war, which were four hundred miles apart. The diversion was successful. Almora was captured, and on 27 April 1815 a convention was agreed to, by which the province of Kumáun was surrendered to the British.
In the meantime General Martindell, who had succeeded to Gillespie's command, was still investing Jaitak. Ochterlony by the end of March had reduced and occupied all the forts that were besieged in rear of his advance to Bíláspur. His communications being clear, he advanced against a strongly fortified position on a site near to which Simla now is. At an elevation of five thousand feet, at the most inclement season of the year, amid falls of snow, his pioneers blasted rocks and opened roads for the two 18-pounder guns, and men and elephants dragged them up the heights. Ochterlony's energy enkindled enthusiasm in his force. On 14 April he attacked Amar Singh by night, and carried two strong points. On the 15th Amar Singh found himself confined to the fort of Maláun on a mountain ledge, with a steep declivity of two thousand feet on two sides. On the 16th Amar Singh, with his whole force, assaulted the British position, and, after a desperate fight, was defeated with the loss of his ablest general and five hundred men killed. Ochterlony now closed upon Maláun, the chief work of the position. Early in May a battery was raised against it, but it was not until a breach was made, on 15 May, that Amar Singh capitulated. Ochterlony took possession of Maláun, and allowed Amar Singh to march out with his arms and colours and personal property, in consideration of the skill, bravery, and fidelity with which he had defended his country. For his services Ochterlony was made a K.C.B. and created a baronet by the prince-regent, while the court of directors of the East India Company on 6 Dec. 1815 granted him a pension of 1,000l. per annum, to date from his victory of 16 April of that year.
By the convention the Gúrkhas retired to the east of the Káli river, and the whole of the Nípálese territory to the west was surrendered to the British. Jaitak also capitulated. During the hot weather preparations were made in view of a renewal of hostilities. Ochterlony was withdrawn from the west and placed in command of the main force destined to march on Khátmándu. The Gúrkha government sued for peace, and a treaty was negotiated, which was signed on 28 Nov., and ratified by the supreme government at Calcutta on 9 Dec. 1815. The Gúrkha government, however, refused to ratify, and Ochterlony was ordered to take the field. He had with him twenty thousand men (including three European regiments), which he divided into four brigades: one on the right was directed on Hariharpur, another on the left up the Gandak to Rámnagur, while the other two brigades, forming the main body, Ochterlony himself commanded and directed upon the capital, Khátmándu.
Ochterlony advanced in the beginning of February. On the 10th, with the main body, he reached the entrance of the celebrated Kourea Ghât pass, having traversed the great Sal forest without the loss of a man. Finding the enemy entrenched behind a triple line of defence, he determined to turn the flank of the position, which was too strong for a front attack, and, taking with him a brigade without any baggage or incumbrances, he proceeded on the night of 14 Feb. up an unguarded path, moving laboriously in single file through deep and rocky defiles, across sombre and tangled forests, and by rugged and precipitous ascents, until the next day he reached and occupied a position in rear of the enemy's defences. The Gúrkhas, surprised and almost surrounded, were compelled hurriedly to evacuate their works. They fled northwards without striking a blow. Ochterlony's brigade was obliged to bivouac on the bleak mountain-tops for four days, waiting for the arrival of their tents and baggage. Ochterlony shared with his men the hardships of the campaign. The two brigades of his main column formed a junction on the banks of the Rapti river. Having established a depôt, protected with a stockade, Ochterlony came up with the enemy at Magwampur, twenty miles from Khátmándu, and seized a village to the right of the enemy's position. The Gúrkhas attacked the village occupied by Ochterlony furiously, but they were repulsed with the loss of their guns and eight hundred men. Ochterlony then prepared to attack Magwampur. The following day he was joined by the left brigade which had advanced by Rámnagur. It reached the valley of the Rapti with but slight opposition, and managed to secure its rear as it advanced. The right brigade had been delayed in its advance upon Hariharpur by the difficulties of the ground, but on 1 March the position at Hariharpur was successfully turned, and an attack by the Gúrkhas was defeated with great loss. Hariharpur was evacuated by the enemy, and converted into a depôt. This brigade was about to advance to join Ochterlony when the war ended. The success and energy of Ochterlony's operations had dismayed the court of Nípál. The treaty, which they had refused to ratify in December, was sent duly ratified to Ochterlony, who accepted it, on 2 March 1816. The Gúrkhas, who were not only the most valiant but the most humane foes the British had encountered in India, proved also to be most faithful to their engagement.
For his later services in this war, Ochterlony was made a G.C.B. in December 1816. On 14 Jan. 1817 the prince-regent granted, as a further mark of distinction, an augmentation to his coat of arms, by which the name of Nepaul (Nípál) was commemorated. On 6 Feb. the thanks of parliament were voted to him for his skill, valour, and perseverance in the war. A piece of plate was presented to him by the officers who served under his command.
Towards the close of 1816 Lord Hastings, with the approval of the authorities in England, determined to suppress the Pindárís who had been laying waste British territory, and also to place Central India on a more satisfactory footing by subjugating the Maráthá chiefs. For this purpose, in the autumn of 1817 he assembled six corps—one under himself at Mirzápur, another on the Jamna, the third at Agra, the fourth at Kálinjar in Bandalkhand, the fifth in the Narbadá, and the sixth under Ochterlony at Rewári, to cover Delhi and to act in Rájputána. The total army amounted to 120,000 men and three hundred guns. Ochterlony had to act in the Dakhan, and from Rewári advanced to the south of Jaipur. The successes at Púna and Nágpur, and the position of Amír Khán between Ochterlony and the third corps on the Chambal, brought about an amicable settlement with Amír Khán, and a treaty was made with him on 19 Dec. Thenceforward Amír Khán proved a peaceable ally, and the Pindárís lost his support just when they most required it. Ochterlony remained in the vicinity, and, placing himself skilfully between the two principal divisions of the Pathán forces, he effected the disarmament of the greater portion of this army in January and February 1818 without striking a blow. The artillery was surrendered, and some of the best troops were drafted temporarily into the British service. The last body of these mercenaries was disbanded in March. Affairs in the northern part of Central India being nearly settled, new dispositions were made, and Ochterlony was left in Rájputána.
On 20 March 1818 Lord Hastings invested Ochterlony with the insignia of the G.C.B., at a durbar in camp at Terwah, observing that he had obliterated a distinction painful for the officers of the East India Company, and had opened the door for his brethren in arms to a reward which their recent display of exalted spirit and invincible intrepidity proved could not be more deservedly extended to the officers of any army on earth.
By June 1818 the Maráthá powers were overthrown, and the reconstruction of government in Central India and the south-west commenced. In the work of pacification Lord Hastings had the good fortune to be assisted by some of the most distinguished Anglo-Indian administrators that had ruled in India. Among these Ochterlony was prominent. The pacification of Rájputána was at first entrusted to Charles Theophilus Metcalfe [q. v.], and when he was nominated for the post of political secretary to the government, Ochterlony was appointed resident in Rájputána, with command of the troops. He made protective treaties with the rajas of Kotah, Jodhpur, Udapur, Búndi, Jaipur, and many others, and he adjusted the disputes which some of these princes had with their thákurs or vassals. In Jaipur, however, affairs were not easily settled, and Ochterlony had to undertake the reduction of two forts before the more turbulent feudatories submitted. In December, Ochterlony was appointed resident at Delhi with Jaipur annexed, and was given the command of the third division of the army. The same month the raja of Jaipur, Jagat Singh, died, and, although a contest for the succession was avoided by the birth of a posthumous child, it was not until 1823 that peace was established. In 1822 Ochterlony was appointed resident in Málwá and Rájputána, thus having the entire superintendence of the affairs of Central India.
In 1824 the raja of Bhartpur, brother of Ranjít Singh, was in feeble health, and at his request, and by order of the governor-general in council, his son, a child of six years of age, was recognised as his successor. On 26 Feb. 1825 the old raja died, and the boy, Balwant Singh, succeeded under the guardianship of his maternal uncle; but before a month had elapsed his cousin, Dúrjan Sál, an ambitious youth, corrupted the troops, put the guardian to death, and placed his cousin in confinement. Ochterlony, acting on his own responsibility and with his usual energy and promptitude, issued a proclamation to the Játs to rally round their lawful sovereign, and ordered a force of sixteen thousand men and one hundred guns into the field to support the right of the young raja and vindicate the authority of the British government. Lord Amherst, the governor-general, disapproved of Ochterlony's proceedings, denied that the government were bound to uphold their nominee by force of arms, considered it imprudent, during the war with Burma then going on, to embark in hostilities during the hot weather in the north-west, and directed Ochterlony to countermand the march of the troops and recall his proclamation. Ochterlony complied, issuing a further proclamation intimating that before taking action the government had determined, in the first instance, to investigate the merits of the question of the succession. At the same time he tendered his resignation to the governor-general in council, warmly defended his action in letters dated 25 April and 11 May, and expressed his conviction of the correctness of his judgment. He was deeply hurt at the action of the governor-general, and pointed out that after forty-eight years' experience he might have expected a certain confidence in his discretion on the part of the government. Pending the acceptance of his resignation, he went to his usual place of residence near Delhi. The feeling that he had been disgraced after nearly fifty years' active and distinguished service preyed upon his mind, and caused his death on 15 July 1825 at Mirat, whither he had gone for change of air.
A general order was issued by the governor-general in council, eulogising both the military and civil services of Ochterlony, and concluding with a direction that, as an especial testimony of the high respect in which his character and services were held, and as a public demonstration of sorrow, minute guns to the number of sixty-eight, corresponding with his age, should be fired the same evening at sunset from the ramparts of Fort William. The diplomatic qualifications of Ochterlony were no less conspicuous than his soldiership; with a vigorous intellect and consummate address he united an intimate knowledge of the native character, language, and manners.
It remains to add that when Metcalfe, who was sent to Bhartpur, took precisely the same view as Ochterlony had done, Lord Amherst gave way. But in order to effect what Ochterlony might have accomplished unaided in a fortnight had he not been interfered with, it was found necessary at a later date to employ the commander-in-chief, Lord Combermere, with an army of twenty thousand men. Bhartpur was stormed and taken on 3 Jan. 1826.
A column was erected in Calcutta to Ochterlony's memory.
[India Office Records; Despatches; Histories of India by Thornton, Marshman, MacFarlane, Meadows-Taylor, &c.; East India Military Calendar; Ross-of-Bladensburg's Marquess of Hastings (Rulers of India); Higginbotham's Men whom India has known.]