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The destruction of Mahua Dabar, 1857: the Massacre

History is information, and information is power. In the 21st century, however, an uncomfortable truth is becoming more and more apparent: misinformation is also power.

We know about the Indian empire of Ashoka nearly 2,300 years ago from the inscribed pillars he had erected in various places throughout his realm; and we know about some aspects of ordinary life in London nearly 2,000 years ago because various casual notes survived in the muddy bed of a stream. Ultimately, it was written records of the casual type which formed the basis of British writing about India, and it was the lack of equivalent records which made an effective Indian response impossible. However, written records have a very basic limitation: they do not attempt to record everything which did not happen. That may seem a silly statement, given that the number of things which did not happen is effectively infinite, but if you don't specifically state that you did not do something, then after your death it is quite possible that somebody else will claim that you did, and the evidence for "did" will be just as complete as the evidence for "did not".

These web pages present contemporary sources in an attempt to sort out the confused story of the massacre of British army officers near the village of Mahua Dabar, south of Basti in northern India, in June 1857, and the subsequent reprisals by the British. Please note that I have not (except for the substitution [N-word]) changed the quoted texts, which very often display 19th-century attitudes and terminology, plus a wide variety of attempts to transliterate local names and other words. However, I have sometimes added my own comments and clarifications [in italics in square brackets].

For those who do not know the background to the massacre, I have provided a separate page about the ejection of British army officers from Faizabad, and the first stage of their journey eastward: Flight From Faizabad

- and another about Mahua Dabar before 1857: A Significant Township

"Daily News" (London newspaper; 29 Sep 1857)

The following extracts are from the letter of an officer holding civil charge of the district of Fyzabad, in the province of Oude, dated Allahabad, August 4:
'... The Irregulars (15th Irregular Cavalry, one troop) were very bad- wanted to murder every officer. The Artillery and 6th Oude Irregulars were also bad; the 22nd Regiment Bengal Native Infantry the least bad of all. After a long altercation it was determined that the officers should be allowed to go. They went off in boats; but just opposite Begumgunj they were seen by the 17th Regiment Native Infantry, mutineers from Azimghur, who gave chase, and here poor Goldney, Bright, and a sergeant appear to have been shot, Mill, Currie, and Parsons drowned, having left the boats and attempted to escape inland. The rest of the party got to the Tehsildaree of Kuptangunj, where they were well treated, and recived 50 rupees to prosecute their journey to Goruckpore. At a large bazaar, called Mahadewa [i.e. Mahua Dabar, misheard], a large body of armed men sallied forth, and, without the slightest provocation, cut the unfortunate fellows to pieces. Here English, Lindesay, Cautley, Thomas, and Ritchie, with two sergeants, fell. One Artillery sergeant (Busher) alone escaped. ...' "

"Morning Chronicle" (London newspaper, 30 Sep 1857)

[Sergeant Busher's narrative, continued from the Faizabad mutiny page] We reached Captain Gunge safely, and inquired at the Tehsildanee if there were any European residents at Bustee, a place of some note, and were informed by the jemadar that there were not, but were told that he had received information that a party of the 17th Native Infantry, with treasure, had marched from Goruckpore, and were en route to Fyzabad, and had halted at Bustee, and advised us not to take the road to Bustee, but to go to Ghie Ghat [this was almost certainly not the modern Gayghat, northwest of Tanda, but Gai Ghat some 40km east-southeast, south of Aura Dand and just downstream from the lowest of the enemy's riverside forts, at Chanderpore (modern Sundarpur), or perhaps even Gaya Ghat, some 11km further in the same direction, south of Chhitauni Khurd] where he said we would meet with protection and get boats to Dinapore. The Jemadar furnished us with five ponies and 50 rupees, and put us under the protection of three Burkundages [constables], giving them directions to proceed directly to Ghie Ghat. We accordingly started, and after making about eight miles sighted a village (Mohadubbah [i.e. Mahua Dabar]), which one of the Burkundages invited us to go to, telling us that we could there rest ourselves for a short time, and that he would refresh us with sherbet. We agreed, and the Burkundage who gave the invitation started off ahead, with the pretence of getting ready a place of accommodation and the sherbet.

Nothing doubting that all was right, we proceeded on, as we thought, in perfect safety. On nearing the village, this Burkundage again joined us, and had some conversation apart with the two other men. On reaching it we observed to our horror that the whole village was armed. However, we made no remark, but passed through it under the guidance of the three Burkundages. On getting to the end we had to cross a nullah, or small stream, waist deep in water. While crossing, the villagers rushed on us sword and matchlock in hand. Seeing that they were bent on our destruction, we pushed through the water as quickly as possible, not, however, without leaving one of our number behind, who unfortunately was the last, and him (Lieutenant Lindesay) they cut to pieces. On reaching the opposite bank the villagers made a furious attack on us, literally butchering five of our party.

I and Lieutenant Cautly then ran, and most of the mob in full chase after us. Lieutenant Cautly, after running about 300 yards, declared he could run no longer and stopped. On the mob reaching him he was also cut to pieces. After despatching poor Lieutenant Cautly they continued tha chase after me, but after running a short distance, and finding that I was a long way off, they desisted.

I was now the only one left, not having even Teg Ali Khan with me. I proceeded on, and in a short time came to a village, and the first person I met was a Brahmin, of whom I begged a drink of water, telling him I was exhausted. He asked me where I came from and what had happened to me.I told my tale as quickly as I could, and he appeared to compassionate my case. He assured me that no harm would come to me in his village, and that, as the villagers were all Brahmins, others would not dare to enter it to do me any harm. He then directed me to be seated under a shady tree in the village, and left me. After a short absence he returned, bringing with him a large bowl of sherbet. This I drank greedily, and was hardly done when he started up and bade me run for my life, as Baboo Bully Singh was approaching the village. I got up and attempted to run, but found I could not, and tried to get to some hiding place. In going through a lane I met an old woman, and she pointed out an empty hut and bade me run into it. I did so, and finding in it a quantity of straw I lay down, and thought to conceal myself in it. I was not long there when some of Bully Singh's men entered and commenced a search, and used their lances and tulwars in probing into the straw. Of course it was not long before I was discovered. I was dragged out by the hair of the head and exhibited to the view of the natives, who had congregated round him, when all kinds of abusive epithets were applied to me. He then commenced a march, leading me from village to village, exhibiting me, and the rabble at my heels hooting at and abusing me.

After passing through each, his men used to stop and tell me to kneel, and then to ask Bully Singh if they were to decapitate me. His usual reply was. 'Not yet, take him on to the next village.' I in this manner passed through three villages, and was then taken to his own house. I was led into the court-yard and put into the stocks; this was about nightfall. During the night I heard angry words pass between Bully Singh and his brother. I could not exactly make out the particulars, but I remember his brother telling him to beware of what he was doing, and that his acts of this day would perhaps recoil upon himself. However, the result of the quarrel proved in every way beneficial to me, for about three in the morning Bully Singh came to me himself, directed my release from the stocks, and asked me if I should not like to have something to eat and drink, and his bearing towards me was entirely changed and different from what it had been.

The following morning a party made their appearance, headed by a villain named Jaffir Ali, whom I recognised as the person who shot poor Lieutenant Ritchie the previous day, and also fired at me. Of this he made a boast to Bully Singh, when he saw me, and asked Bully Singh to make me over to him, and that he would burn me alive. He was told in reply that I would be delivered over to no person, and to quit the place. This rascal said my kismuth (fate) was very good.

I remained at Bully Singh's ten days, during which time I had no reason to complain of the treatment received; but this I mainly attributed to the interference of his brother on my behalf.
On the 10th day a Mr. Pippy [i.e. Peppé] sent a dawgah [or darogah- a police superintendent], with an elephant and an escort, to take me to him. I was glad of the opportunity, and willingly accompanied the party; but it was not without some trouble and a good deal of persuasion that the dawgah induced Bully Singh to let me go.
Previously to this a Mr. Cook, indigo planter, and Mr. Patterson, collector of Goruckpore, made several attempts to get me away from Bully Singh, but to no purpose. I here offer my best and most grateful acknowledgments to all these gentlemen for their kind consideration and endeavours on my behalf.
On joining Mr. Pippy, I proceeded with him to Captain Gunge, and there, to my joy, I met Colonel Lennox and his family. Here we remained for the rest of the day and the night.
The next morning I acompanied Colonel Lennox and family to Bustee, escorted by a party of sowars. Here we were most hospitably entertained by Mr. Osborne, of the opium department. I shall not soon, myself, forget this gentleman's kindness, not that of Colonel Lennox to me, and here offer to both my hearty and sincere thanks.
At Bustee we were joined by Teg Ali Khan, who managed to effect his escape from the onslaught at Mohadubbah.

At Bustee we halted two days, and in the evening proceeded to Goruckpore, thence to Azimghur, and from Azimghur to Ghazeepore, without anything further of note occurring. At this station I arrived on the morning of the 26th, thankful to Providence for bringing me safely through all my difficulties.

[Statement by Colonel Lennox, ejected commander of the troops at Faizabad] Calcutta, Aug. 1.
I believe the casualties of the Fyzabad officers to be as follows :-
Colonel Goldrey, Superintendent Commissioner of Fyzabad District, taken into the camp of 17th Bengal mutineers.
Major Mill, drowned.
Lieutenant Currie, drowned.
Lieutenant English, murdered by the villagers of Mawadubur.
Lieutenant Lindesay, murdered by the villagers of Mawadubur.
Lieutenant Bright, taken prisoner in the camp of the 17th Regiment.
Lieutenant Thomas, murdered by the villagers of Mawadubur.
Lieutenant Courtley, murdered by the villagers of Mawadubur.
Ensign Ritchie, murdered by the villagers of Mawadubur.
Lieutenant Parsons, drowned.
Sergeant Hulme and wife, 22d Regiment, taken prisoners in the camp of the 17th Regiment.
Quartermaster-Sergeant of the 22d Regiment, taken prisoner in the camp of the 17th Regiment.
Sergeant Edwards, Artillery, murdered by the villagers of Mawadubur.
    W. LENNOX, Colonel, Bengal Army.

"Further papers (no. 4) relative to the mutinies in the East Indies", UK Parliament (1857)

p53: Copy of a Long-Roll and Certificate of Character given by Colonel Lennox to Teg Allie Khan, Sepoy, Grenadier Company 22nd Regiment N.I.
Rank and Name: Sepoy Teg Allie Khan. Caste: Patan. Age: 38. Height: 6 feet. Village: Noemuch. Pergunnah: Jummuneah. District: Ghazeepore. Remarks: Sepoy of Grenadier Company 22nd Regiment Native Infantry. 19 years of good character. Employed as overseer to the Government buildings at Fyzabad, in 1856-7.
This is to certify that the above-named sepoy is a faithful, loyal, and true man, and highly deserving the notice of Government. He joined our party on leaving Fyzabad, and was with Lieutenant Lindesay, of Grenadier Company, until he was cut down, and the party of seven officers murdered; he (the sepoy) alone escaping, having fled for his life to a village, and was there rescued by the same party who rescued me and my family. We met at Captaingunge, and he came on with us to Ghazeepore. He is now going to his home near Buxar. The sepoy is entitled to pay for the month of May 1857; the outbreak having taken place at Fyzabad on the 9th June, 1857.
July 1, 1857. W. LENNOX, Colonel, Commanding the late 22nd Regiment N.I.

Next, William Peppé's part in the Mahua Dabar story