1800-1859 | Battlefield butchery | India | Prisoners murdered | Wounded killed

British officer – ‘I never saw such butchery and murder’

J Harris – coloured aquatint of the battle. 1850.
Public domain via the National Army Museum.

21 February 1849

On 21 February 1849, during the Second Anglo-Sikh War, British troops under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Hugh Gough gave no quarter to Sikh soldiers fleeing the battlefield of Gujrat. An officer of the Ninth Lancers recalled:

‘We overtook numbers of their infantry who were running for their lives – every man of course was shot. I never saw such butchery and murder ! It was almost too horrible to commit to paper…  Every tree that was standing was well searched, and two or three Sikhs were found concealing in almost every tree we passed – this afforded great sport for our men, who were firing up at them, as at so many rooks… Down they would come like a bird, head downward, and bleeding most profusely.’1

Several reports cited in the British press confirm that most of the Sikhs soldiers who failed to escape were immediately killed, whether they resisted or not.  John Dunlop, an assistant-surgeon, cited by the Illustrated London News, described how ‘the enemy being in full flight, on dashed the cavalry and horse artillery, cutting up mercilessly the flying foe’  and a young subaltern, quoted in The Times and other newspapers, reported that ‘there was no quarter given… every wounded Sikh was either shot or bayoneted.’2

Other newspapers spared their readers such explicit admissions. At least two cited a letter referring only to ‘great slaughter,’ although the Carlisle Journal added that this was ‘a splendid achievement’ for which Gough deserved ‘fresh laurels.’3  The mood in the House of Commons was jubilant.  The Globe reported that Sir John Hobhouse, ‘after eulogising the conduct of the Governor General (of India), the Commander in Chief (Gough), and officers and men of the Indian Army’ proposed a vote of thanks for ‘the conspicuous intrepidity displayed’ by Gough and the British Army in India for ‘a brilliant and decisive victory.’4

FOOTNOTES

  1. Quoted in Saul David, Victoria’s Wars: The Rise of Empire, Penguin Books, London, 2007 p. 137.
  2. ‘The Battle of Goojerat,’ The Illustrated London News, 21 April 1849, p. 253. The Times, 14 May 1849 cited in ‘The Battle of Goojerat,’ The Stirling Observer, 17 May 1849, p 3 and ‘The Battle of Goojerat,’ The Sheffield and Rotheram Independent, 5 May 1849, p. 7.
  3. ‘The Battle of Goojerat,’ The Carlisle Journal, 20 April 1849, p. 2 and ‘The Battle of Goojerat,’ The Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 24 April 1849, p. 1.
  4. ‘Thanks to the Army of India,’ The Globe, 24 April 1849, p. 1.

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