Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Meeting lionesses

‘Every native in the camp, male or female, who was fortunate enough to get a morsel, dressed it and eat [sic] it. They have a thorough conviction that the eating a piece of lion’s flesh strengthens the constitution incalculably, and is a preservative against many particular distempers.’ This is the Francis Rawdon-Hastings, a major political figure in early 19th century English politics, writing in his diary about the hunting and killing of two lionesses during his tenure as Governor-General of India. The diary is of great interest, as much for Rawdon’s intelligent and humane observations of India, as for his explanations of political and military dealings.

Hastings was born 260 years ago today, on 9 December 1754, at Moira, County Down, the son of John Rawdon, 1st Earl of Moira and Elizabeth Hastings, 13th Baroness Hastings. He grew up there and in Dublin, being educated later at Harrow and Oxford, though he never graduated. He joined the British Army in 1771 as an ensign in the 15th Foot, was promoted lieutenant two years later, and then went to North America, where he was commended for fearlessness in 1775 at Bunker Hill. During the Revolutionary War, he worked as aide-de-camp and adjutant to General Henry Clinton. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1778, and appointed adjutant-general to the British forces.

In 1779, Rawdon fell out with Clinton and resigned. Nevertheless, he continued to play a part in the war, raising a corp of Irish volunteers, and serving as a divisional commander. His success at the battle of Hobkirk’s Hill earned him General Cornwallis’s admiration. Severe illness, though, saw him leave America, only for his vessel to be captured by the French. He was released at the end of 1781 thanks to a prisoner exchange. By November of the following year, he had achieved the rank of colonel, and was appointed aide-de-camp to George III. He was also an MP in the Irish Parliament for a couple of years, and was then made Baron Rawdon and took his seat in the House of Lords in 1783. Further positions followed: Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, Grand Master of the Free Masons. In 1789, he took the surname Hastings in accordance with his uncle’s will.

In 1793, Rawdon succeeded his father as Earl of Moira. The following year, he was sent with 7,000 men to Ostend to reinforce the Duke of York and allies in Flanders. In 1803, he was appointed commander-in-chief in Scotland, and in 1804 he married Flora Mure Campbell, countess of Loudoun. They had six children, although one died in infancy. When William Grenville formed the national unity government in 1806, Rawdon was appointed master-general of the ordnance, partly thanks to the patronage of the Prince of Wales. In government, he defended military reform, supported the abolition of the slave trade, and lobbied for help to imprisoned debtors, but resigned his office when the government fell over the issue of Catholic emancipation for Ireland.

In 1810, with the king’s health declining, Rawdon was an advocate for the Prince of Wales regency. Subsequently, he tried to reconcile the regent and opposition leaders, but then himself became estranged from the Prince Regent. In 1812, after Prime Minister Perceval’s assassination, Rawdon was much involved in complicated political negotiations which led to Lord Liverpool succeeding Perceval as Prime Minister (although, at one point Rawdon himself was being considered for the position). Thanks again to the Prince Regent, Rawdon was then made Governor-General of India, arriving in Calcutta in Autumn 1813

Rawdon’s tenure as Governor-General is considered to have been a memorable one: he oversaw victory in the Gurkha War; the final conquest of the Marathas; and the purchase of the island of Singapore. His competent administration, however, ended under a cloud because of an indulgence - not judged as corruption - to a banking house. In 1816, he was created Marquess of Hastings. He returned to England in 1823, was then appointed to the much lesser post of Governor of Malta in 1824, and died two years later while at sea. Further information is available from Wikipedia, NNDB, or Paul David Nelson’s biography available online at Googlebooks.

For around five years, while serving in India, Rawdon kept a detailed diary. This was edited by his daughter, Sophia (Marchioness of Bute), and published in two volumes by Saunders and Otley in 1858, as The Private Journal of the Marquess of Hastings K. G. Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in India. Both volumes are freely available at Internet Archive (volume 1, volume 2).

The first volume starts with an introduction by Sophia, from which the following paragraphs are taken:

‘This Journal was written for the purpose of recording for His children’s information the principles upon which He acted. It is therefore strictly copied from the original MS., even to the very words; though the changes which are constantly obtaining in our language, tend to throw a look of antiquity and obscurity over what was in Lord Hastings’ time polished English. It is only curtailed as to the voyage, then of six months’ duration, and now so well known that the details would be tedious; and some of the accounts of hunting expeditions are left out, as the too frequent recital of such scenes might prove wearisome to strangers.

It will be observed, that Lord Hastings abruptly concluded His Journal in December, 1818, though His government of India continued to January, 1823. He probably found that it was impossible to keep it with the immense labour of the ordinary duties of His double office, which, Lord William Bentinck, who for some months performed the same, expressed his astonishment that Lord Hastings’ health and strength could stand for so many years. [. . .]

It may be matter of surprise to some that, if worth publishing now, this Journal was not given earlier to the public; but there are many who feel as Walpole did respecting his biography, that personal narrations may come too near a public man’s contemporaries; and till latterly India has not been a source of public interest, inquiry being mainly confined to those connected with the country. Lord Hastings’ daughters have, from these motives therefore, withheld the papers bequeathed to them until now: and the survivor of those “Companions of his Expedition” to whom He affectionately dedicates His Diary, which has been found in the arrangement of the mass of His papers, has only lately decided on the publication of her Father’s “Private Journal,” believing there are still many who will gladly recall in these pages the sentiments they have heard Him express when in life.’

And here are several extracts, including the first from the published volumes, and the last.

11 September 1813 [first entry]
‘Made the land near Sadras at daybreak. Ran along the coasts and anchored in Madras roads about twelve o’clock. The admiral, Sir Samuel Hood, and the staff-officers of the Presidency came aboard to visit me. Soon after the admiral had retired, the Governor-General’s flag (the union at the main topmast-head) was hoisted and was saluted by the admiral’s ship and the other king’s ships in the roads as well as by the fort. At five we left the ship, and landed amid a prodigious concourse of people. The first view was very striking. The notion of population conveyed by the immensity of the crowd, together with the novelty of the dresses and the tranquil demeanour of the individuals amid excessive pressure, marked to one’s perception a state of society altogether different from what we had been accustomed to contemplate. The surf appeared insignificant, and the artifice of the native boatmen (who rowed us in a Massoulah boat) to make it be thought of consequence, was easily seen through. Without doubt it is at times dangerous, as is the case in all tropical countries where there is a flat shore. I repaired through a double line of troops, passing across the fort to the Governor’s house. There the judges and principal officers of the Presidency were introduced to me.’

13 September 1813
‘The Governor came to me after breakfast, and we went in minute detail through the state of the Presidency. I found him not at all easy respecting the dispositions of the army, which he regarded as sullen, though not inclined to immediate outrage. I remarked that such a temper was not surprising when nothing had been done to soothe the dissatisfactions remaining after the late convulsion; since which period the army, conscious of its own anxiety to return to its duty, had been left to feel itself as only resting under an ungracious pardon. It was recommended by me that every opportunity should be seized to cheer the officers and reanimate their honest pride.

Lieutenant-General Abercromby observed that my commissions implied a more continued and active intervention of the Governor-General with the other Presidencies than had hitherto existed; that it was what he had expected; and that the utility of such a connexion was in every view of public interest unquestionable. [. . .]

After the Governor was gone, we had a party of jugglers for the amusement of the children. Their deceptions, though well managed, were not so striking as their skill in balancing and their extraordinary precision in throwing up and catching a number of balls in rapid rotation. For both these last achievements it seems necessary that the attention of the performer should be aided by the cadence of a song which his comrades chant to him with great earnestness. One trick merits investigation. The juggler put a small ball into his mouthy whence
smoke immediately issued. Soon after, he blew out flame strong enough to consume flax at a little distance. The ball must have been of the phosphorous which ignites with moisture. But the retaining it in the month after it was inflamed depends on a secret worthy of being ascertained.

I had some of the staff and other officers to dine with me. Our table was as regularly conducted as if household had been established for a year. I notice this to do justice to the attention and activity of the native servants, by whom alone everything was managed. An equal number of English servants, unaccustomed to act together, could not have been tutored to fulfil their business with similar accuracy.’

14 September 1813
‘Rode out immediately after gun-fire. I observed great numbers of the date-palm, And casually asked if the dates were good. It was answered that the trees here never produced any fruit. Can this be owing to the ignorance of the natives that male palms must be planted among the others to make the latter fruitful? I have spoken on the subject with several of the natives in the course of the morning, as well as with some of the oldest white inhabitants, and none of them had a notion that male palms were requisite for the fecundity of the date-tree. As all the plantations on the Choultry plain have been made within these thirty years, and there is no tree of spontaneous growth in that tract, it is possible that it may have been thought unadvisable to plant a tree which had been remarked as never yielding fruit. The rendering the date-trees in the vicinage of Madras prolific would be a great benefit to numbers of the lower classes; therefore I shall solicit Governor Farquhar to forward to Madras some young male palms from the botanic garden at the Isle of France. The dates which are now consumed in considerable quantity at Madras are all imported from Bussorah.’

15 September1813
‘Went, as soon as it was light, to the fort, in order to inspect the works and to enable myself to judge of the system of exterior fortification proposed for the black town. The drawings had been shown to me the day before by Major-General Trapaud, the chief engineer. Fort St. George is a very respectable fortress, such as ought to sustain a long siege could a regular army sit down before it. Everything was in excellent condition. The water in the tanks, of which there is six months’ supply for 10,000 men, is remarkably transparent and sweet, though it is said to have been in the tanks above thirty years. This resource is necessary, lest an enemy should discover and cut off the pipes by which water is brought to the Port from a considerable distance.

At eleven I received the visit of the Nawab, who came in great state, and dressed out with a profusion of jewels. I met him at the door, and, on his stepping from his carriage, embraced him, according to the etiquette, four times, giving three embraces to each of the three sons and the nephew whom he introduced to me. I led him upstairs, our arms being over each other’s shoulders, while I gave my left arm to the eldest son.’

16 September 1813
‘Set out at dawn of day to review on the open ground in front of the fort the troops stationed at Madras. Very heavy rain had fallen in the night, accompanied by much lightning, during which the jackals were loudly clamorous in our garden. As those animals are rather useful in destroying minor vermin and carrion, they meet with little annoyance from either whites or natives. The morning was fine; the ground had been improved by the wet. The line consisted of the King’s 89th regiment, five battalions of sepoys, and a rifle corps, and the Governor’s bodyguard. They were in perfectly good order. Their deploying from column and changes of front were done with great regularity and precision. I seized this opportunity to address to the whole of the Madras army an order calculated to cheer its feelings and awaken its confidence.’

17 January 1815
‘Although we were told that all the country parallel to the march we had to make this day, was so devoid of cover as to afford no prospect of meeting a lion, the knowledge that we were after this day to enter a country so highly cultivated as to preclude the possibility of finding them, made us resolve not to throw away even the poor chance which we still had. At about seven miles wide of our road, two curious hills, apparently composed of loose blocks of stone, arose from the plain. We thought there might be cover about their bases, but there was not any on the side which we approached. [. . .] About six miles ahead of us, there appeared trees which we supposed to be a thicket. We resolved to push for it. In our way we fell in with some large herds of cattle. The men attending them, of the tribe of Jhaats, informed us that the trees to which we were steering only surrounded a village, but that they could show us, at about two miles from where we then were, a place where there was great probability of our finding a lion. They told us that they had of late often seen two, which had carried off many of their cows.

It is extraordinary how little apprehension these people have of the lion. They say it never wantonly attacks a man; so that if it gets enough of other food, and they do not provoke it, they are not terrified at seeing it prowling about. Then they always say to you, if it be my destiny to be eaten by a lion, no care of mine will prevent it; he will come and take me out of my bed. Leaving the cattle under the charge of some boys, three or four men went to show the place where they thought it likely our game should be found.

There never was a more promising spot. It was a dell, which ran from the back of the first hill, and it was full of long grass and thorns. We beat it with the utmost care, refraining from firing at other animals, which continually started up before us, but found no lion. We then returned to the herds. I this day remarked what I had indeed observed on many former occasions, what a fine lace of men, the Sikhs and Jhaats are. They are not bulky, but they are tall and energetic. Their step is firm and elastic; their countenances frank, confident, and manly; and their address has much natural politeness. I had noticed the same appearance in the Rohillas and Patans, but with less of cheerful air than what I observe in the Sikhs. More active, brave, and sturdy follows can nowhere be found than these tribes present. [. . .]

More from the principle of leaving nothing untried than from the supposition that there was any chance of finding a lion there, we directed our course through the thorns. When we had got nearly to the further end, two lionesses started up before us. Some ineffectual shots were fired, and both the animals took to the plain. One, at which both my rifles missed fire, gained a little ravine at some distance, which we took for granted must yield her a secure escape. The other afforded us a curious spectacle.

There was so little expectation of our finding a lion there, that one of Skinner’s Irregular horsemen (a party of whom attended us at a distance) was riding up to the thorns to deliver a letter which had been sent after me. The lioness made a dash at him, though her distance from him was considerable. He made off with all the speed to which his spurs could rouse the horse. The lioness coursed him fairly in the open plain, and gained so much upon him as to give us extreme uneasiness. At length, by the time he had reached a little rising ground, his horse got into his rate, and the lioness found she could not overtake him. She then turned round the point of the hill over which he had gone straight. Just at that moment, all the herdsmen who had followed us called to us, and said that the first lioness had come back into the thorns. We had no difficulty in finding her. The gentleman who first stumbled on her wounded her. Though she was much crippled by the shots, when I met her, on turning round a bush, she made a gallant run at my elephant. I, luckily, hit her in the head, and she fell immediately. At that moment the screams of the herdsmen made us turn round, and we beheld the other lioness galloping through the midst of them to regain the cover. Though she passed close to three or four she did not attempt to strike at any of them, but hastened to take refuge in the longest and best covered bush that the place afforded. [. . .]

Just as I got round, the lioness darted out, and  springing at the elephant on which Mr. Shakespear was riding, fixed her talons in each of its ears while she vigorously assailed its forehead with her teeth. The violent exertions of the elephant to get rid of this troublesome appendage put into confusion all the elephants that were near, and prevented help being given. But it had a still worse effect; for in one of its ungovernable efforts, the elephant threw Mr. Shakespear out of the howdah. Luckily, he fell on a bush, so that he was not hurt, yet he rolled to the ground, and there lay exposed. Two of Skinner’s horsemen seeing his situation most gallantly drew their sabres and galloped forward to protect him. At the same instant the lioness was thrown off, but happily on the side opposite to that where Mr. Shakespear lay. On recovering herself, her attention was attracted by the haunches of an elephant which had wheeled round through fear close to her. She seized it, and tore the inside of both its thighs dreadfully. There was now, however, an opportunity of firing at her, and she received three or four wounds. Checked by these, she retired into the bush. [. . .] My elephant soon reached the place; and I saw her lying exhausted. She roused herself and attempted to come towards me; but I believe the effort would have been vain had I not given her another shot, which was instantly decisive. It was with great difficulty that we brought to our camp, at Great Bhowannee, the elephant whose thighs had been so lacerated.’

18 January 1815
‘Our lionesses were measured last night; one was nine feet four inches from the nose to the tip of the tail; the other two inches less. In such a measurement the tail of the lion furnishes less than that of the tiger to the general amount. Anxious interest, as had been the case on a former occasion, was made with our servants for a bit of the flesh, though it should be of the size of a hazel-nut. Every native in the camp, male or female, who was fortunate enough to get a morsel, dressed it and eat it. They have a thorough conviction that the eating a piece of lion’s flesh strengthens the constitution incalculably, and is a preservative against many particular distempers. This superstition does not apply to tiger’s flesh, though the whiskers and claws of that animal are considered as very potent for bewitching people.’

13 December 1818 [last entry]
‘We have had accounts of the Rajah of Jyepore’s death. Two of his wives and two female slaves burned themselves on the funeral pile with his body. I am conscious that such a circumstance does not occasion here those painful and revolted feelings which would arise in one’s mind were one removed to the distance of England from the scene. It is not that the frequency of the occurrence causes apathy, but here one sees in this disgusting and barbarous custom relations with a variety of particulars in the forms of society, which though almost impossible to be detailed, take off from the strangeness of the procedure. A blind ignorance, which makes the poor victim credit all that is told her by the Brahmin, is the cause more immediately influential. The Brahmin urges this sacrifice from superstition and attachment to habits; but it is to be apprehended that he is often bribed to exert himself in overcoming the fears of the hapless woman; because the family of the deceased husband save by the immolation of the widow the third of the defunct’s property, which would otherwise go to her. The miserable condition to which a woman is reduced when left childless at the death of her husband forcibly aids the inculcations of the Brahmin. She is, as to estimation and treatment, reduced below the rank of the meanest servant. She cannot marry again; she has no chance of enjoying society; she must not even, though she have money, set up an independent establishment for herself; and her own paternal or maternal family have, with the usual absence of all affectionate ties among these people, altogether cast her off from the hour of her first repairing to her husband’s roof. Despair, therefore, conspires with bigotry and enthusiasm to make her take a step reconciled to the contemplation of women in this country from their earliest youth; while the absolute incapacity of such an uninformed mind as hers to have any distinct sense of the pangs she must undergo promotes the obstinacy of her resolution.’

The Diary Junction

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