Friday, July 20, 2012

The nucleus of the Indian Army- 1628

The United Service Magazine (Part 3) in its issue of 1835 (Page 311), traces the history of the Indian Army set up by the British. 

The Indian Army forms, perhaps, the most extraordinary spectacle on which the eye of the philosopher has ever rested. Composed almost exclusively of natives, none of whom are ever permitted to rise to offices of rank or trust, it has ensured to England, for not less than seventy years, the undisputed sovereignty over a tract of country incalculably more extensive than herself, and divided from her by the distance of half the globe. Nor is it alone by preserving peace at home, and supporting a handful of strangers in the dominion which they there exercise, that the Indian Army has established for itself an illustrious name: whenever they have been employed in the field—whether against foreign or domestic enemies—whether against Asiatics or Europeans,— the Sepoys have done their duty, if not with the daring recklessness which characterises British soldiers, at all events with steadiness, with patience, and with courage. 

Such a body deserves, if ever an armed body did, that its merits should not pass unnoticed, and that they who benefit by its devotion and its truth should at least give to it the recompense of well-earned praise. 

There is nothing in the records of ancient or modern times more remarkable than the rise of the Indian Army. It has been, if we may so express ourselves, the growth of a day. It sprang up all at once from the seed to absolute maturity. 

For many long years after the trade with India had been opened, and the Copany had established factories at different points along the coast, the Indian Army had positively no existence. A few peons, armed, according to the custom of the country, with swords and circular shields, were the only species of guards which the factories admitted; and these never ventured to oppose themselves to the encroachments of the local authorities, however flagrant and however unjustifiable. 

The fact, indeed, is that when the English merchants first established themselves in the ports of Hindustan, they did not dream of the possibility of founding anything like an empire in a country thickly peopled, highly civilized, and accustomed to the working of regular governments. They were content to receive protection—they never thought of being able to afford it; and so long as the native princes permitted them to trade, their ambition soared no higher. The excessive caution with which they departed from this system is very striking, and we will endeavour to give of it a sort of bird's-eye view. 

On the 2nd of May, 1601, Captain Lancaster's renowned squadron sailed from Torbay. After touching at Acheen, in Sumatra, and trading there—after capturing in the Straits of Malacca a rich Portuguese ship, and receiving from the Moluccas large quantities of spices, Lancaster steered for Java, where, in Bantam, the first factory was established over which an English merchant had ever presided in those seas. This was in 1602. In 1612 we find new factories erected at Surat, Ahmedabad, Cambaya, and Goja. As these increased in wealth and importance, they drew towards themselves the notice not only of the native princes but of European rivals, who, sometimes by force, hut much more frequently by intrigue, endeavoured to ruin them. Against direct hostility, however, the English were content to guard themselves by appealing to the Nabobs and Naigs on shore; while at sea their ships maintained, as they best could, a struggle with their assailants.

But this state of things could not last for ever. Their rivals, especially the Dutch, gathered strength from day to day: they built forts, they sent out bodies of troops, and began to wage war with the powers around them. They conceived that they must in some sort follow the example, not indeed in commencing hostilities with the princes under whose protection they dwelt, but by assuming such an attitude as might overawe the Europeans, and hinder them from acting towards themselves on the offensive. 

In 1626, when displays of hostile intentions had become, on the part of the Dutch, more than ever frequent, and the condition of India, torn by civil wars, chanced to be peculiarly forlorn, the English merchants judged it expedient to apply to the soubahdars of the different provinces in which they were settled, for permission to enclose their factories with fortifications. Some time elapsed ere the desired sanction was obtained; and when it did reach them, they were too poor and too feeble everywhere to avail themselves of it; but at Armagon, on the Coromandel coast, a fort was erected in 1628, which mounted twelve pieces of cannon. 

The garrison of that fort—the nucleus as it may be called of the Indian Army—consisted of twenty-three soldiers,—Europeans hired by the chief of the factory, and of course subject to no species of military law; for the idea of establishing an armed force in the East had never occurred to any of the home authorities, and no provision could of course be made for its management. There it was, however, the foundation-stone of the hosts which now keep in subjection a population of one hundred millions of souls—a gallant army of twenty three burgher-guards, of which the chief of the factory was the commandant. 

Do read the rest of the piece here.

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