July 13, 2015

Titbits from my Archives : How an Indian Railway Station was Defended by British Troops during the Mutiny of 1857


BARWARIE is a village 23 miles from Allahabad. There is a railway water tank there 16 ft high and 23 ft long and 24 ft broad and 4 ft deep. On Sunday 7th June, 1857 at noon day after the massacre at Allahabad P. O. Snow railway engineer, Mr Mathers, Mr Leithbridge with wife and child, Mr Keymer were all  with wife and 3 kids, Mrs R.Keymer were all employed in the railway and Major and Mrs Ryoes were all assembled at the latter's bungalow at Barwarie when information came that Mr Lancaster, an inspector had been murdered a mile off when trying to join the above party.

Immediately on getting this news Mrs Ryoes the woman and kids were assisted up to the top of the railway water tank for safety but men came down for food provisions etc but an immense crowd of armed natives began to assemble near the water tank. The men therefore thought it to be prudent to stay on the water tank lest they be killed.

The natives commenced looting the furniture etc of a small bungalow near the tank belonging to a railway contractor Messrs Norris & Co. After ransacking this house they went to the bungalow of T. J. Ryes -- a correspondent from Allahabad,  who later reported this incident to the Illustrated London News of 2 January , 1858 . This was about 100 yards in front of the tank . Every thing was looted They took away doors and windows of the house too. And broke and destroyed all that they could not take away as loot. After destruction they set fire to the house , outhouses and everything that was capable of being burnt. Then shouting and yelling they rushed and surrounded the railway water tank by hundreds throwing brickbats and stones on the British and their families perched on the tank. The British retaliated with the fire of their guns they had. The tank was not covered and therefore the women and kids had to be protected by a mattress The cowardly rascals, as the correspondent from Allahabad  T. J. Reyoes calls them in  his dispatch to the Illustrated London News, kept their attack injuring many on the tank. They demanded money too which was thrown at them apparently to keep them at bay.

When the natives realised the stranded British had no more to give (having thrown them Rs 3000/ -)  they asked them to come down. The British naturally refused to oblige . Then they brought straw and other inflammable material and piled them around the tank and set fire to it whose heavy smoke and heat troubled the people on the tank . Finding all their exertions over they said they would spare them if all of them -- the British came down and became ' Mahometans' . This of course was refused by all. The British shouted back that all the members were prepared to die protecting their women and children. They retaliated that they were gathering a larger force of armed people to kill them soon. They were 14 British on the water tank . They were suffering badly in the hot sun without any water to drink . They had only boiled rice and parched grain to eat against about 3000 armed members of the revolt. They had provisions for about 52 hours.

On the evening of 8th June Mr Smith an inspector tried to join their party he was seriously wounded so he ran for his life along with another inspector Thomas. Thomas was later murdered when he tried to rejoin the stranded party on the tank . Mr Smith was pulled up the tank with the help of ropes . He was fifteenth person of the party then. He had been wounded and was weak and in bad shape so hardly of any help to those who had pulled him up and saved .

Having succeeded in sending a message through a servant to the Commanding Officer at the Fort at Allahabad  telling them of their position and condition a relief of 35 Irregular Cavalry were set out to rescue the British . They arrived at about 4 P. M. on the 9th of June . Seeing them they shrieked to thank God and lustily  cheered the troops who had been sent for their succour. The distress of women and kids without conveniences was pitiable.The Indian sun in June over an uncovered perch can be well imagined . Mrs Ryoes was killed by the heat and exhaustion on the tank. She died an hour after the arrival of the relief adding to the long list of  deaths covered by the rebellion all over Allahabad and other places.

The villagers headed by the zamindars were the people who looted , destroyed and burnt all the railway gentlemen's bungalow on the line. But the the East Indian Railway water tank was thus defended  and saved by the British until a relief saved them too  after 32 hours.

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Source :  The Illustrated London News, January 2, 1858.

Material provided by:
B. M. S. Bisht
IRTS (Retd.)
Ex General Manager, N. F. Railway
Lucknow