« PreviousContinue »
was terrible. Many instances of heroism and of prowess are recorded, and at nightfall six thousand Beloochees lay dead. upon the plain. "So heavy were the retreating masses, so doggedly did they move, without showing any sign of fear, that no attempt was made at pursuit."
The hopes of the General, deferred through long years of tantalisation, were fulfilled at last. At the head of gallant troops, pitted fairly against a numerous and well-appointed host, Napier had won a great battle. The hankering for fame which made him clutch with joy at Lord Hill's offer of command in India, and which breathed through all his communications with Lord Ellenborough, was satisfied. And yet he would fain have won the goal with less prodigal expenditure of blood. Before lying down to rest, he wandered forth through the midst of the dead, and involuntarily asked Heaven if he were responsible for all this misery and ruin piled in ghastly heaps around him. His conscience, as he tells us, answered no. The compunctious visitings of midnight passed away, and he slept so soundly that it was difficult to wake him. But who shall tell how often doubts may have recurred to the mind of one who plainly enough had had it in his power to avert the war, if not to mitigate its miseries? It is but justice to add, that when the struggle was over, no man could labour more diligently and devotedly to make civil reparation for the damage and detriment he had wrought. And if security and quiet could compensate a country for having its eyes put out, or if gravelled walks and carpetings of police could reconcile it to being forbidden never to get on horseback again, we might believe that Scinde was content at being nearly thrashed to death, and then bathed and fed and bade to slumber. How little the Beloochees thought of temporising with their assailants, is shown in two brief lines by the
stuart Elphinstone should be placed at the head of the Indian Executive. He declined, on the ground of broken health. Lord Heytesbury was named by Sir Robert Peel, and was actually on his way, when, in April 1835, the Whigs returned to power, and recalled him. When questioned on the subject, Ministers defended their right to place, in a position of so much importance, one in whose political opinions and personal qualities they had entire confidence. Lord Grenville had laid this down as a constitutional maxim not admitting of dispute, and Mr Canning had always contended that, on each occasion of a vacancy, a representative of the Crown should be sent out from England, thus visibly and intelligibly asserting the unity of power throughout the Empire.
No final decision was made until Lord W. Bentinck's return to England, when, to the surprise of all, except the few who were aware of the influence whereby it was brought about, the public were informed of the unfit and unfortunate choice of Lord Auckland. Metcalfe was deeply mortified at being, as he said, pronounced less fit than an inexperienced stranger to fill the highest place in the profession to which he had devoted undividedly his youth and prime. But the ways of patronage are inscrutable; and as he knew nothing of the Western hemisphere, he was sent first to Jamaica, and then to Canada, as Governor.
A sense of uneasy languor lay heavily on Anglo-India. The romance of adventure slept. Occasionally a disputed succession in some Native State stirred a feeling of curiosity among listless collectors and dozing judges, or wakened hopes of something to do in barrack or in camp. But the drowsy monotony of unresisted domination was undisturbed. Conquest, though fat, had not grown fastidious, but it had nothing fresh to eat, and the expedient had not yet been
suggested of grilling or boiling down the bones. Over every palisade it looked in vain for some hill tribe coming to molest it. The Goorkhas were quiet, the Sikhs affectionate, and the Burmese showed no disposition to budge. Was political invention dead; or could no ingenious young man, in want of a career, discover a danger, or invent a foe capable of being made to look formidable? Alexander Burnes did his best to find a new outlet for energy in want of employment; but he would, probably, have failed to rouse Lord Auckland from his poco-curantist dream of office, had not politicians in England, about this time, become haunted with a dread that the Czar Nicholas was bent upon aggrandisement at our expense in the East. Russian emissaries were everywhere to be traced throughout the border States of Central Asia. Persia was to be bribed or driven into making encroachments on Scinde and Candahar. Muscovite intrigues were suspected among the Afghans, and Runjit Singh, though he had never swerved from his alliance with us, was not to be trusted. The Indus had plainly been designed by Providence as the natural frontier of English Empire in Asia. How to get to it was the only question. In the sultry and still noon-tide of prevailing peace, it was so difficult to arouse people to a sense of belligerent duty. Burnes had astutely suggested that the matter should at first be put merely on a commercial footing. A harmless race, inspired about half-and-half with mercenary and missionary motives, ought not to be suspected of meaning any mischief by asking that the navigation of the Indus should be declared free from the sea to its mountain source. There was something noble and philanthropic in the demand. Suspicious and half-civilised tribes might not appreciate the worth of the disinterested idea; but they must be made to understand it. Once a footing gained on any pretence, all the rest was sure to follow.
Russia was stealthily, but steadily, advancing—or what was the same thing, making her political minions or stipendiaries advance towards the Indus. We must cross the Indus and get firmly posted on the farther side, to prevent her reaching its shore. The siege of Herat, unwisely undertaken by the Government of Persia, and pressed for nearly a twelvemonth, threw a lurid light of reality on these speculations.
In 1837, a mission to the Courts of Hyderabad and Cabul, professedly for commercial objects only, for the most part failed. Dost Mahommed, who then ruled in Afghanistan, longed for Peshawar, which had been ceded to Runjît Singh by Shah Sujah, then deposed and in exile. Burnes could not promise him help; the envoy of Persia did, and to earn it he undertook to assist in the reduction of Herat. About the same time the English envoy, Mr M'Neile, complained of having been insulted at Teheran. Shah Sujah was ready to promise any terms as the price of assistance to regain his throne, and Runjit Singh was ready to enter into any compact that would secure him the possession of Peshawar. Fortune had dealt the cards, why hesitate to play them? On the 26th June 1838, a triple alliance was signed at Lahore, whereby Lord Auckland engaged to send a British army into Afghanistan, to replace his Majesty on the musnud of his ancestors, to secure the Lion Chief of the Sikhs the possession of certain territories named on the right bank of the Indus, and to bind in everlasting friendship the three Powers, for mutual defence against foreign intrigue and hostility.
Orders were forthwith given to prepare for war. Loud was the cry of joy that rose on all sides, that the lethargy of peace had been at length shaken off, and that the spirit of conquest was about to assert itself again. For, whatever illusions might be kept up in England about the scope and
Council of Regency, who not only in all affairs of moment, but generally, were to act upon the advice of the English Resident, who should be instructed from time to time by the Governor-General. The Maharanee was to be consoled
for the extinction of her pretensions to influence over the administration, by an annual allowance of three lacs. It is almost superfluous to note that for a period of ten years the whole executive authority was by these stipulations transferred from Gwalior to Calcutta. It was a tentative step towards annexation, and but for events then unforeseen, it might have been followed up to completion.
Lord Ellenborough's policy was so much disapproved by the Directors, that they resolved he should be recalled. The act was warmly disapproved by the Duke of Wellington, and the Board appeased his dissatisfaction by immediately proceeding to nominate Lord Hardinge Governor-General.