Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Jane Mulholland and her "Perils of Terrible Days"

Another woman who experienced the Indian Mutiny and personal tragedies, including the loss of infant children, was Jane Muholland (see Shields), wife of Sergeant Robert Mulholland, who was with the 3rd Bengal (European) Light Infantry, later known as the 107th Regiment.

Officers of the 107th Regiment 1865 (National Army Museum)

At the age of 90, she told her story to the Lincolnshire Standard and Boston Guardian, published on 1 March 1924, which speaks for itself:-

Thrilling Boston Story

Old Lady Survivor of Indian Mutiny

Perils of Terrible Days

Bedridden, and rather weak with the burden of her 90 years, Mrs. Jane Mulholland, a soldier’s widow, living at Glenhurst Villas, Brothertoft-road, Boston, can still remember her adventures in the terrible days of the Indian Mutiny, and has been telling them to a Lincolnshire Standard representative.

Mrs Mulholland lives with a daughter who was born on board ship on the return from India 55 years ago. The daughter is Miss Sarah Essex Mulholland, whose second name is that of the ship. Mrs Mulholland is the widow of Sergeant Robert Mulholland, of the 107th Regiment. He died 45 years ago. Sergeant Mulholland, who belonged to Glasgow, married his wife at St Anne’s Church, Belfast, on April 22, 1852. [Newspaper and Irish marriage records show this as April 23, 1852]. They had one child, six weeks old, when the call came for India.

They went out in the sailing ship Sir Robert Sale, following the route of those days round the Cape of Good Hope, and had not been in India long when the Mutiny broke out.

The 107th Regiment was stationed at Agra. It was a “John Company’s” Regiment. That is to say it was controlled by the East India Company, then the rulers of India.

Entrance Gate of the Taj Mahal, Agra, c. 1857-1858 (National Gallery of Canada)

“We were in barracks in Agra,” Mrs Mulholland told me, “but they were burnt down, and then we were all shut up in the fort. We were imprisoned in the fortress ten or eleven months.

“It was a terribly anxious time. The rebels were all round us. Many of them occupied bungalows and others boats, but our men had the big guns trained on them, and they were afraid to attack us in force.

“Colonel Riddle used to come round among us every night, walking about in his slippers to see that all was quiet and safe. He was a very kind gentleman, and did his best to comfort and reassure us.

“Three children were born in the fort at this time. One was mine, my daughter Mary. We got plenty of food. The native bakers made us hundreds of loaves, but there was danger even in the bread. The head baker was in league with the rebels outside, and poisoned the bread. This was detected, and the man was arrested. They tried him by court-martial at once, and handed him outside the Delhi Gate leading into the fort.

“ How did they find out that the bread was poisoned? One of the native helpers split on him, and a lucky thing it was for us, too. They also poisoned the wells, but fortunately one was left untouched. That well was specially guarded all the rest of the time, and we had good water to drink.

“We had work to occupy us, chiefly sewing, but it was a worry in time. I have slept with my clothes on for a week on end.

“A crisis came at last. It was a Sunday morning, and we were ready for the church service when we - the women and children - were suddenly ordered to the quarter guard, and then to the hospital. The soldiers were present all had their firelocks, as we thought in readiness for the rebels. But something far different was intended. It was feared at that time that the fort would fall, and the Sepoys were expected among us, and - well our men were determined we should never fall into their hands.

“There was a large well in the hospital, and rather than that the natives should take us alive it was decided to kill us and put us down the well! It was terrible. Than[k] God the danger passed, and we went back to our old quarters.

“Soon after that we were able to leave the fort and return to the barracks, which had been partly rebuilt.”

After the Mutiny the Mulhollands moved with the regiment to Lando[u]r, in the Himalayas, where their only son was born. He was buried in the Indian ocean, on the voyage home in the Essex, when 4 years of age. The Mulhollands were in India till 1869, when the sergeant was invalided home, and died at Belfast at the age of 48.

Other children were buried in India, one in Belfast, and one at Boston, and only two are left. Mrs Mulholland receives a small pension from the Royal Patriotic Fund; at one time it was 7s. a week, but the old-age pension has reduced it to 4s.

The 1871 Census shows the family living at 13 Preston Street, Liverpool. Robert aged 39 was a Chelsea Pensioner and there are two daughters, Jean and Betsey, born in Agra Bougal, India, and the other, Sarah, who was born “on board ship in Indian Ocean”. 

Sarah appears to have been quite proud of being born at sea on the ship Essex and liked to travel around for work so is easier to track in subsequent Census Returns than her mother. In 1881, she lived with her older sister Amelia, who had married the curiously-named Cuttriss Creak or Crick at the remarkably early age of 13 in India, and was living in Boston. Lincs. In 1891, Sarah was a housemaid for the Managing Director of the Nottingham Patent Brick Company and in 1901 she was a housemaid in Hackney, London

In the 1911 Census, Sarah Essex Mulholland, was aged 42, single, and employed as a housekeeper for a brother and sister with surname Cartwright in Brothertoft Road Boston, Lincolnshire, presumably the same house as mentioned in the newspaper article. Sarah lived to a ripe old age herself, and died in 1961. Her mother Jane had died in Lincolnshire in 1927, aged 93.

The Palace at Agra, from History of the Mutiny, 1858

Monday, October 9, 2017

Elizabeth Mitchell, child of the regiment and a last survivor of the Mutiny

When Elizabeth Ring (nee Mitchell) died aged 90 in 1935, she was one of the last women to have witnessed the first outbreak of the Indian Mutiny.

Her life story is typical of that of a woman who had close connections to a particular battalion and regiment in the army during the mid-19th Century, in this case the 1st Battalion of the 60th Regiment, also known as the King's Royal Rifles.

Her father was George Mitchell, a regimental Master Tailor who would have been in charge of looking after the uniforms, and who had the good fortune to be allowed to take his family with him when he was posted to India.

Although the exact date of Elizabeth's birth is unknown, it was c. 1845-46 that she was born at sea on HMS Neptune. In that era before the construction of the Suez Canal, sailing ship voyages to India could take anything up to six months (Newspaper reports of the time confirm the 1st Battalion of the 60th Regiment sailed in HMS Neptune from Cork in July 1845.)

Elizabeth Mitchell was born on HMS Neptune (Illustrated London News)

When Elizabeth was just three years old her mother died - under what circumstances are unknown but the death rate for Europeans in India was notoriously high from diseases and infections - and so she became "a child of the regiment" which in 1857 was stationed at the cantonment of Meerut.

Child of the Regiment, c. 1854-55, John Everett Millais

Meerut had been established in 1804 and was one of the better places in India, with many delightful bungalows and well-established gardens and although its climate was marginally better than many other military towns, it could still turn hellish in the blistering Indian summer months.

On Sunday 10 May 1857, Elizabeth was about twelve years old. In the morning she may well have attended the 7 a.m. service at the local church, St. John's, one of the biggest and finest churches in all of India. * 

St John's Church, Meerut

In May, the temperature can often be well in excess of 40 degrees C for many days at a time, so it is unlikely the soldiers and their families would have been particularly active on that particular Sunday.

Meanwhile, unrest had been growing for some time in the sepoy ranks. Two months earlier, the sepoy known as Mangal Pandey went crazy and shot at two Europeans and was hanged at Barrackpore. He had many supporters who were angry that the new cartridges for their Enfield rifles were rumoured to be greased with beef and pork fat. As the men were required to bite off one end in order to use them, this was unacceptable, the cow being a holy animal to Hindus and the pig an unclean one to Muslims. 

Enfield cartridges c. 1858

On 24 April, the commander of the 3rd Bengal Light Calvary at Meerut, Lieut. Colonel George Carmichael-Smyth, who had been warned about the problem with the cartridges but chose to ignore it, ordered the sepoys to use them. When 85 men out of a company of 90 refused, Smyth stripped them of their uniforms, shackled them and ordered their imprisonment for 10 years. This humiliation was the last straw, the men mutinied and the police chief Dhan Singh Gurjar was faced with rampaging chaos. He joined with the rebels and released the imprisoned sepoys from the local gaol. And so began the revenge on the European officers of the East India Company. 

They were cut down wherever the mob found them. Some were just relaxing in the local bazaar at a "pop shop" drinking ginger beer and lemonade when they were set upon, shot, or hacked to pieces, with little time to raise the alarm, not helped by the fact the extreme heat kept many of the senior Europeans officers indoors and in an indolent state, completely unaware of what was happening.

From Illustrated London News, The Sepoy Revolt at Meerut, 1857

Even when told by their servants of the rampaging mob, they didn't believe them and it was only in the late afternoon and evening that the true and awful extent of what was happening was discovered, and with several more officers and civilians being killed by marauding sepoys and their followers when they ventured out to evening service at the church. Officers' quarters were looted and set alight.

Illustrated London News. Preparing defences at Meerut.
The women and children, most likely including Elizabeth, stayed in the building on the right.

In addition to army officers and their wives and children, several civilians were also killed in random acts of savagery. The large number of loyal Indians who tried to defend or hide their employers but were also murdered by the sepoys remains unknown.

It was a young regimental bugler called George Ring who was said to be the first to sound the alarm that the sepoys had mutinied. A few years later, Elizabeth would marry George and accompany him on other postings throughout the Empire.

Born in Corfu in 1838, George must have been a 60th Regiment child as well. He attested for the 1st Battalion at Limerick in 1853 at the age of 14 years 9 months. During his time in the army, he served in the East Indies (India) for 6 years 4 months, in Malta for 1 year 6 months, and in Canada for 9 years 3 months.

George left the army in 1877, aged 39. The varied birth places shown in the UK Census Returns for 1881 and 1891 for the children of George and Elizabeth, reflect the time they were based in Ottawa and New Brunswick. George retired as a Serjeant with good conduct badges, an Indian Mutiny medal and a 2nd class certificate of education, but he had suffered a number of demotions to episodes of drunkenness, not uncommon in soldiers' records of that time. As well as being a Chelsea Pensioner, George also worked as a Messenger for the War Office. He died in 1897.

In the Census of 1911, Elizabeth Ring, aged 65, was a widow, living at 37 Handforth road, Brixton, London S.W. She had given birth to 10 children, 3 of which had died. Living with her was one son, Henry, and two grandchildren, also a boarder, Henry Ellerington, aged 64, widower, who had the very modern job of a Licensed Motor Cab Driver, in other words, a taxi driver. 

(What Elizabeth's connection was to Henry Ellerington raises some interesting questions, as Henry was on trial at the Old Bailey for embezzlement the previous year 1910 and by 1913 he was reduced to living in the Lambeth Workhouse!) 

This article is from the Lancashire Evening Post of 27 May 1930:
Mutiny Memories of a Woman
In a quiet street off the Brixton road, a gentle, grey-haired old lady who lives with her daughter, spends much of her time gazing over the 85 years of her life to the thrilling days of her childhood.
She is Mrs. George Ring, who claims to be one of the few women survivors of the Indian Mutiny, in this country.Mrs. Ring was the daughter of Master-Tailor George Mitchell, of the 1st Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifles, and was born on H.M.S. Neptune while the ship was on the high seas carrying the battalion to India.
Travelling to India was very different in those days from what it is now,” she said, to-day. “It took us over six months, and I remember on the return journey we were days without any water. My mother died when I was three years old, and I was brought up with the battalion. I was 12 years old when the Indian Mutiny broke out, and my father was stationed with the battalion at Meerut. I remember it all as clearly as if it were only yesterday. It happened on a Sunday afternoon, and the alarm was given by Sergeant George Ring, who was the bugler of the Quarter-Guard.” 
Mrs. Ring broke off here and left the most romantic part of her story for her daughter to tell. That little English girl who stood thrilled while Sergeant Ring sounded his call, afterwards became his bride.
During those weeks of the mutiny Mrs. Ring remained at Meerut assisting the nurses and even helping to carry the wounded and dead. Hanging on the wall of her bedroom in her Brixton home are the medals won by her father and her husband during the mutiny.

The Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser of 15 May 1935 reports the death of Elizabeth:

Indian Mutiny Heroine Dead
Last woman survivor of the Indian Mutiny 78 years ago, Mrs. George Ring, of Handforth-road, Brixton, has died at the age of 90.
Mrs. Ring, who was at Meerut, later married the bugler who sounded the alarm for the rising.

* Click here for present day images of the churchyard, including some of the graves of the victims of Meerut, including that of Charlotte Chambers, the wife of a Captain in the 11th Native Infantry. The many conflicting versions of her death will be related in a subsequent blog post.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Women and the Indian Mutiny

The Indian Mutiny, 1857-1859, also known as the Sepoy Rebellion or Uprising or First Indian War of Independence, is one of those salient events from British Empire history that has always resonated strongly with me.  The perceptions of it have changed greatly over the past 160 years and, as happens so often with history, its heroes are now considered the villains while its murderous rebels are now glorified as fighters of freedom.

The Mutiny particularly strikes a chord with me because of my own African childhood during the “sunset” of that Empire when colonised countries were beginning to demand self-determination with many of them resorting to violence against resident Europeans in the process.

As a sensitive and highly-imaginative child I remember being really quite terrified when I overhead adults talking of the murders of white families not that far away in Kenya during the Mau-Mau uprising and being worried that the same thing would happen to us, that our servants would turn and murder us in our beds. (Although we lived in a town with a secure and well-policed environment, my father didn’t take anything for granted and kept both a loaded revolver and a rifle hidden in a cupboard.)

Later at school when we studied the Mutiny on the occasion of its centenary, our teacher did not censor his descriptions of the horrific Cawnpore Massacre in which defenceless white women and children were hacked to pieces by Indian rebels and thrown into a well.

The Well and Monument, Slaughter House, Cawnpore”  [now Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh] 1858. From ‘Murray Collection: Views in Delhi, Cawnpore, Allahabad and Benares’  taken by Dr. John Murray. Picture shows at rear the Bibigurh house in which European women and children were killed and in the foreground the well where their bodies were found

Too well aware that I was living in that disintegrating Empire, it isn’t surprising that the symbolism of this nightmarish tale added another layer of anxiety. And then, to add real immediacy to it in 1960-61, I witnessed first-hand the trauma of white refugees fleeing gang-rape and murder taking place only a few miles away in the Belgian Congo when that country exploded into extreme violence on gaining its independence.

All of which brings me back to my fascination with the Mutiny which is now far removed from living memory but can still be seen as an early harbinger of events destined to take place over a century later in Africa that would impact my own path in life.

There are more than enough published accounts of the battles, sieges and biographies of the men involved in putting down the uprising, including the grisly atrocities and horrific aftermath but, apart from a few diaries or recollections of women from a higher social strata - plus the controversial stories of two female survivors * of Cawnpore - there is not much else from the ordinary women or girls who were caught up in the Mutiny and so this will be the start of a new project to see what I can find about some, if any, of them by way of books, journals, newspapers, genealogical and other sources.

Miss Wheeler *  defending herself against the Sepoys at Cawnpore
by anonymous engraver
published in The History of the Indian Mutiny, c. 1860. 

If anyone reading this has a previously unknown story of a European female ancestor who had connections to what happened in India c. 1857-1859 that they would be happy to share with others, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Queen Victoria puts things right.  Punch, 11 September 1858.

* Ulrica/Margaret Frances Wheeler and/or Amelia/Amy/Ann Horne (later Bennett)