28 March 2020

Southern Sympathies Abroad, 1863

From Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863, by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (Golden Springs, 2014), Kindle pp. 120-121:
General Johnston is a very well-read man, and agreeable to converse with. He told me that he considered Marlborough a greater general than Wellington. All Americans have an intense admiration for Napoleon; they seldom scruple to express their regret that he was beaten at Waterloo.

Remarking upon the extreme prevalence of military titles, General Johnston said, "You must be astonished to find how fond all Americans are of titles, though they are republicans; and as they can't get any other sort, they all take military ones."

Whilst seated round the camp fire in the evening, one of the officers remarked to me, "I can assure you, colonel, that nine men out of ten in the South would sooner become subjects of Queen Victoria than return to the Union." "Nine men out of ten!" said General Johnston—"ninety-nine out of a hundred; I consider that few people in the world can be more fortunate in their government than the British colonies of North America." But the effect of these compliments was rather spoilt when some one else said they would prefer to serve under the Emperor of the French or the Emperor of Japan to returning to the dominion of Uncle Abe; and it was still more damaged when another officer alluded in an undertone to the infernal regions as a more agreeable alternative than reunion with the Yankees.

26 March 2020

Bellicose Southern Belles, 1863

From Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863, by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (Golden Springs, 2014), Kindle pp. 142-144, 233-234:
We all breakfasted at Mrs ——'s. The ladies were more excited even than yesterday in their diatribes against the Yankees. ... They reproved Mrs —— for having given assistance to the wounded Yankees at Wartrace last year; and a sister of Mrs ——'s, who is a very strong-minded lady, gave me a most amusing description of an interview she had had at Huntsville with the astronomer Mitchell, in his capacity of a Yankee general. It has often been remarked to me that, when this war is over, the independence of the country will be due, in a great measure, to the women; for they declare that had the women been desponding they could never have gone through with it; but, on the contrary, the women have invariably set an example to the men of patience, devotion, and determination. Naturally proud, and with an innate contempt for the Yankees, the Southern women have been rendered furious and desperate by the proceedings of Butler, Milroy, Turchin, &c. They are all prepared to undergo any hardships and misfortunes rather than submit to the rule of such people; and they use every argument which women can employ to infuse the same spirit into their male relations.
Compare the ladies of Winchester, Virginia, which changed hands several times during the war.
Before leaving Richmond, I heard every one expressing regret that Milroy should have escaped, as the recapture of Winchester seemed to be incomplete without him. More than 4000 of his men were taken in the two forts which overlook the town, and which were carried by assault by a Louisianian brigade with trifling loss. The joy of the unfortunate inhabitants may easily be conceived at this sudden and unexpected relief from their last captivity, which had lasted six months. During the whole of this time they could not legally buy an article of provisions without taking the oath of allegiance, which they magnanimously refused to do. They were unable to hear a word of their male relations or friends, who were all in the Southern army; they were shut up in their houses after 8 p.m., and sometimes deprived of light; part of our kind entertainer's house was forcibly occupied by a vulgar, ignorant, and low-born Federal officer, ci-devant driver of a street car; and they were constantly subjected to the most humiliating insults, on pretence of searching the house for arms, documents, &c. To my surprise, however, these ladies spoke of the enemy with less violence and rancour than almost any other ladies I had met with during my travels through the whole Southern Confederacy. When I told them so, they replied that they who had seen many men shot down in the streets before their own eyes knew what they were talking about, which other and more excited Southern women did not.

23 March 2020

Riding a Texas Railroad, 1863

From Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863, by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (Golden Springs, 2014), Kindle pp. 60-62:
30th April (Thursday).—I have to-day acquired my first experience of Texan railroads.

In this country, where every white man is as good as another (by theory), and every white female is by courtesy a lady, there is only one class. The train from Alleyton consisted of two long cars, each holding about fifty persons. Their interior is like the aisle of a church, twelve seats on either side, each for two persons. The seats are comfortably stuffed, and seemed luxurious after the stage.

Before starting, the engine gives two preliminary snorts, which, with a yell from the official of "all aboard," warn the passengers to hold on; for they are closely followed by a tremendous jerk, which sets the cars in motion.

Every passenger is allowed to use his own discretion about breaking his arm, neck, or leg, without interference by the railway officials.

People are continually jumping on and off whilst the train is in motion, and larking from one car to the other. There is no sort of fence or other obstacle to prevent "humans" or cattle from getting on the line.

We left Alleyton at 8 a.m., and got a miserable meal at Richmond at 12.30. At this little town I was introduced to a seedy-looking man, in rusty black clothes and a broken-down "stove-pipe" hat. This was Judge Stockdale, who will probably be the next governor of Texas. He is an agreeable man, and his conversation is far superior to his clothing. The rival candidate is General Chambers (I think), who has become very popular by the following sentence in his manifesto:—"I am of opinion that married soldiers should be given the opportunity of embracing their families at least once a-year, their places in the ranks being taken by unmarried men. The population must not be allowed to suffer."

Richmond is on the Brazos river, which is crossed in a peculiar manner. A steep inclined plane leads to a low, rickety, trestle bridge, and a similar inclined plane is cut in the opposite bank. The engine cracks on all steam, and gets sufficient impetus in going down the first incline to shoot across the bridge and up the second incline. But even in Texas this method of crossing a river is considered rather unsafe.

A British Colonel in Matamoros, 1863

From Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863, by Arthur James Lyon Fremantle (Golden Springs, 2014), Kindle pp. 8-10:
Brownsville is a straggling town of about 3000 inhabitants; most of its houses are wooden ones, and its streets are long, broad, and straight. There are about 4000 troops under General Bee in its immediate vicinity. Its prosperity was much injured when Matamoros was declared a free port.

After crossing the Rio Grande, a wide dusty road, about a mile in length, leads to Matamoros, which is a Mexican city of about 9000 inhabitants. Its houses are not much better than those at Brownsville, and they bear many marks of the numerous revolutions which are continually taking place there. Even the British Consulate is riddled with the bullets fired in 1861-2.

The Mexicans look very much like their Indian forefathers, their faces being extremely dark, and their hair black and straight. They wear hats with the most enormous brims, and delight in covering their jackets and leather breeches with embroidery.

Some of the women are rather good-looking, but they plaster their heads with grease, and paint their faces too much. Their dress is rather like the Andalucian. When I went to the cathedral, I found it crammed with kneeling women; an effigy of our Saviour was being taken down from the cross and put into a golden coffin, the priest haranguing all the time about His sufferings, and all the women howling most dismally as if they were being beaten.

Matamoros ... suffers much from drought, and there had been no rain to speak of for eleven months.

I am told that it is a common thing in Mexico for the diligence to arrive at its destination with the blinds down. This is a sure sign that the travellers, both male and female, have been stripped by robbers nearly to the skin. A certain quantity of clothing is then, as a matter of course, thrown in at the window, to enable them to descend. Mr Behnsen and Mr Maloney told me they had seen this happen several times; and Mr Oetling declared that he himself, with three ladies, arrived at the city of Mexico in this predicament.

4th April (Saturday).—I crossed the river at 9 a.m., and got a carriage at the Mexican side to take my baggage and myself to the Consulate at Matamoros. The driver ill-treated his half-starved animals most cruelly. The Mexicans are even worse than the Spaniards in this respect.

I called on Mr Oetling, the Prussian Consul, who is one of the richest and most prosperous merchants in Matamoros, and a very nice fellow.

After dinner we went to a fandango, or open-air fĂȘte. About 1500 people were gambling, and dancing bad imitations of European dances.

22 March 2020

Mughal Legacies Erased

From The Last Mughal, by William Dalrymple (Knopf Doubleday, 2006), pp. 478-479, 484:
The autocratic political structures of Mughal rule received a devastating death blow. Only ninety years separated the British victory at the gates of Delhi in 1857 from the British eviction from South Asia through the Gateway of India in 1947. But while memories of British atrocities in 1857 may have assisted in the birth of Indian nationalism, as did the growing separation and mutual suspicion of rulers and ruled that followed the Uprising, it was not the few surviving descendants of the Mughals, nor any of the old princely and feudal rulers, who were in any way responsible for India’s march to independence. Instead, the Indian freedom movement was led by the new Anglicised and educated Colonial Service class who emerged from English-language schools after 1857, and who by and large used modern Western democratic structures and methods—political parties, strikes and protest marches—to gain their freedom.

Even after independence, the arts that were cultivated by the Mughals—the miniature-painting tradition, the ghazal, the delicate forms of Mughal architecture—never really regained their full vitality or artistic prestige, and remained—at least in some quarters—as discredited as the emperors who patronised them.

Today, if you visit the old Mughal city of Agra, perhaps to see the Taj Mahal, the supreme architectural achievement of Mughal rule, note how the roundabouts are full of statues of the Rani of Jhansi, Shivaji and even Subhas Chandra Bose; but not one image of any Mughal Emperor has been erected anywhere in the city since independence. Although a Bahadur Shah Zafar road still survives in Delhi, as indeed do roads named after all the other Great Mughals, for many Indians today, rightly or wrongly, the Mughals are perceived as it suited the British to portray them in the imperial propaganda that they taught in Indian schools after 1857: as sensual, decadent, temple-destroying invaders—something that was forcefully and depressingly demonstrated by the whole episode of the demolition of the Baburi Masjid at Ayodhya in 1992. The profoundly sophisticated, liberal and plural civilisation championed by Akbar, Dara Shukoh or the later Mughal Emperors has only a limited resonance for the urban middle class in modern India. Many of these are now deeply ambivalent about the achievements of the Mughals, even if they will still happily eat a Mughal meal, or flock to the cinema to watch a Bollywood Mughal epic, or indeed head to the Red Fort to hear their Prime Minister give the annual Independence Day speech from the battlements in front of the Lahore Gate.


There was nothing inevitable about the demise and extinction of the Mughals, as the sepoys’ dramatic surge towards the court of Delhi showed. But in the years to come, as Muslim prestige and learning sank, and Hindu confidence, wealth, education and power increased, Hindus and Muslims would grow gradually apart, as British policies of divide and rule found willing collaborators among the chauvinists of both faiths. The rip in the closely woven fabric of Delhi’s composite culture, opened in 1857, slowly widened into a great gash, and at Partition in 1947 finally broke in two. As the Indian Muslim elite emigrated en masse to Pakistan, the time would soon come when it would be almost impossible to imagine that Hindu sepoys could ever have rallied to the Red Fort and the standard of a Muslim emperor, joining with their Muslim brothers in an attempt to revive the Mughal Empire.

02 March 2020

1857: Uprising as Class Warfare

From The Last Mughal, by William Dalrymple (Knopf Doubleday, 2006), Kindle pp. 154-155:
Whatever its causes, the response to the Uprising fractured along distinct class lines. From the morning of 11 May onwards, the most enthusiastic insurgents among the people of Delhi were the workmen of the lower middle class—especially the Muslim weavers and textile merchants—and the same Punjabi Muslim manufacturing and merchant class who had long supported the mujahedin movement. It was these people who immediately swelled the ranks of the initially very small number of sepoys who had arrived in the Mughal capital, creating a panic and allowing many of the poorer Delhiwallahs to set off on an orgy of looting.

In contrast, the Delhi elite, both Hindu and Muslim, remained divided on the merits of joining the Uprising, and were from the start dubious about playing host to large numbers of desperate and violent sepoys from the east of Hindustan. According to one angry eyewitness, the nobleman Abdul Latif: “The teachings of all religions were ignored and violated; even the poor women and children were not spared. The elite and the respected gentry of the city were appalled at the actions [of the insurgents] and were seen pleading with them. Ah! An entire world was destroyed, and as a result of these sins this city was struck down by the evil-eye.” Ghalib was also quite clear that he didn’t like the look of what was happening: “Swarming through the open gates of Delhi, the intoxicated horsemen and rough foot soldiers ravished the city,” he wrote. ...

For Ghalib, the Uprising was more about the rise of the rabble of the lower classes than it was about the fall of the British. For him the most terrifying aspect of the revolution was the way his own courtly elite seemed to have lost control to a group of ill-educated ruffians of dubious ancestry: “Noble men and great scholars have fallen from power,” he wrote,
and nameless men with neither name nor pedigree nor jewels nor gold, now have prestige and unlimited riches. One who wandered dust-stained through the streets as if blown by an idle wind, has proclaimed the wind his slave … In its shamelessness the rabble, sword in hand, rallied to one group after another. Throughout the day the rebels looted the city, and at night they slept in silken beds … The city of Delhi was emptied of its rulers and peopled instead by creatures of the Lord who accepted no lord—as if it were a garden without a gardener, and full of fruitless trees … The Emperor was powerless to repulse them; their forces gathered around him, and he fell under their duress, engulfed by them as the moon is engulfed by the eclipse.

19 February 2020

Muslims Against the Mughals, 1850s

From The Last Mughal, by William Dalrymple (Knopf Doubleday, 2006), Kindle pp. 75-77:
JUST AS MILITANT Christians were a growing force among the British in the early 1850s, so among Delhi’s Muslims there was a parallel rise in rigid fundamentalism that displayed the same utter certainty and disdain for the faiths of others, as well as a similar willingness to use force against the infidel.

If the great abolitionist William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect had helped generate the spread of fundamentalist Evangelical attitudes in English Christianity, on the Muslim side the father of the radical Islamic reform movement was Shah Waliullah, an eighteenth-century Delhi divine who had gone to study at Medina in the Hejaz at the same time as Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of the Arabian Wahhabis. While there is no evidence that the two ever met, they shared an almost identical theology, and when he returned to India, Shah Waliullah quickly declared war on what he saw as the perverted and deviant interpretations of Islam practiced in Delhi.

Shah Waliullah and his sons—notably William Fraser’s friend Shah Abdul Aziz—strongly opposed the Sufi veneration of saints, which they likened to idol worship, and were especially outspoken about the syncretic practices they believed Indian Muslims had picked up from their Hindu neighbours: making pilgrimages to Hindu holy places, consulting Hindu astrologers, piercing the noses of women for nose studs, lighting lamps on tombs, playing music in holy places, and celebrating Hindu festivals. Even the practice of eating on banana leaves was anathematised. The Shah’s solution was to strip out all non-Islamic accretions and innovations, and to emphasise instead a strictly Koranic monotheism in which prayers could be directed only to God, and never through any saintly intermediary.

Judging human reason to be incapable of reaching divine truth on its own, Shah Waliullah emphasised the importance of revealed divine revelation and urged a return to the text of the Koran and the Hadiths. In order to make those texts easily available to ordinary people, the Shah translated the Koran into Persian while his sons later translated it into Urdu and disseminated both translations through the new Delhi printing presses. Like the Wahhabis, Shah Waliullah also opposed what he saw as the corrupt Muslim rulers of his day, and from his family stronghold in the Madrasa i-Rahimiyya he and his sons and grandsons encouraged Delhiwallahs to defy what he perceived as the decadence of the Mughals and not behave like “camels with strings in their noses.”

Shah Waliullah’s dislike of the Mughals was as much theological as political. For generations the Mughal emperors had intermarried with Hindus—Zafar was quite typical in having a Rajput mother—and the slow seepage of Hindu ideas and customs from the harem into the rest of the Palace had led the later Mughal emperors to subscribe to a particularly tolerant and syncretic form of Sufi Islam, aligned to the liberal Chishti brotherhood, at the very opposite end of the theological spectrum from the hard-line views of Shah Waliullah; many fundamentalists regarded such liberal views as bordering on infidelity—kufr.

18 February 2020

India Becomes a Mission Field, 1850s

From The Last Mughal, by William Dalrymple (Knopf Doubleday, 2006), Kindle pp. 61-62, 70:
India in the 1840s and 1850s was slowly filling with pious British Evangelicals who wanted not just to rule and administer India, but also to redeem and improve it. In Calcutta Jennings’ colleague Mr. Edmunds was vocal in making known his belief that the Company should use its position more forcibly to bring about the conversion of India. “The time appears to have come,” he wrote in a widely read circular letter, “when earnest consideration should be given to the subject, whether or not all men should embrace the same system of religion. Railways, steam vessels and the electric telegraph are rapidly uniting all the nations of the earth … The land is being leavened and Hinduism is being everywhere undermined. Great will some day, in God’s appointed time, be the fall of it.”

Nor was it any longer just the missionaries who dreamt of converting India. To the north-west of Delhi, the Commissioner of Peshawar, Herbert Edwardes, firmly believed an empire had been given to Britain because of the virtues of English Protestantism: “The Giver of Empires is indeed God,” he wrote, and He gave the Empire to Britain because “England had made the greatest effort to preserve the Christian religion in its purest apostolic form.” It followed that the more the British strove to propagate that pure faith, the more Providence would smile on their efforts at empire building. In this spirit, the district judge of Fatehpur, Robert Tucker, had recently set up large stone columns inscribed with the Ten Commandments in Persian, Urdu, Hindi and English and used “two or three times a week to read the Bible in Hindoostanee to large numbers of natives who were assembled in the compound to hear him.”

Such Evangelical enthusiasms had even spread to the British Army in India. According to one trooper of the Dragoon Guards, “a religious mania sprang up and reigned supreme … the adjutant and sergeant major having become quite sanctimonious, attending religious meetings every morning.” It became a watchword in such regiments that “no soldiers ever show themselves more invincible than those who can pray as well as fight.” It was a similar case in the Company’s own army, where officers like Colonel Steven Wheler, commanding officer of the 34th Native Infantry, were in the habit of reading the Bible to his sepoys as well as proselytising to “natives of all classes … in the highways, cities, bazaars and villages … [hoping that] the Lord would make him the happy instrument of converting his neighbour to God or, in other words, of rescuing him from eternal damnation.”


THE NEW ATTITUDES of the Evangelicals were only part of a more widespread and visibly growing arrogance on the part of the increasingly powerful British. Since they had finally succeeded in conquering and subduing the Sikhs in 1849, the British at last found themselves the masters of South Asia: every single one of their military rivals had now been conquered—Siraj ud-Daula of Bengal in 1757, the French in 1761, Tipu Sultan of Mysore in 1799, and the Marathas in 1803 and again, finally, in 1819.

For the first time there was a feeling that technologically, economically and politically, as well as culturally, the British had nothing to learn from India and much to teach; it did not take long for imperial arrogance to set in. This arrogance, when combined with the rise of Evangelical Christianity, slowly came to affect all aspects of relations between the British and the Indians.