HISTORICAL SKETCHES OF NEPĀL
Journal of a tour through part of the snowy range of the Himālā Mountains, and to the sources of the rivers Jumna and Ganges.
James Baillie Fraser (1783-1856) was a Scot who in 1813 went to Kolkata (Calcutta) to join the family firm of Becher and Fraser. He remained there until 1820. In 1815, he accompanied his brother William, who was taking part in the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16, on an expedition into the Garwhal Hills to find the sources of the Jumna and Ganges rivers. James and William Fraser were the first Europeans to reach many of the places they visited, which James vividly described in this account of the journey. He characterized the Gurkha soldiers whom the British were fighting as "stout, thick, well built men, in general; very active and strong for their size. They understand the use of the 'tulwār,' or saber, and prefer close fighting, giving an onset with a loud shout...." British officers were so impressed by the martial qualities of the Gurkhas that in 1817 the British East India Company began to employ Gurkha regiments in its forces.
HISTORICAL SKETCHES OF NEPĀL
In the end of of 1814 it was deemed expedient by the British government to declare war against that of Nepal.
This power,emboldened by a long course of success and conquest, had commenced a deliberate system of encroachment on the British boundaries, and a course of insult towards its lower ministers, which, at
length, it became absolutely necessary to repel.
That belt of low, wooded, and marshy, but rich land, known by the name of the Turräee orTurreeānā, which, which, lying at the foot of the hills, stretches along from the Burrampooter to Rohilcund, chiefly belongs to the countries under British government, or to those which are under its protection.
This was the scene of their violence, and the object of their, ambition. Our police was attacked and abused ; the zemindars were plundered, and even murdered ; and the petty chiefs, dependent on our protection and authority, if they did not agree to the terms of these oppressors, were insulted , and driven from their homes and properties.
After much negotiation, many moderate representations of these wrongs and grievances,with strong remonstrances,and earnest appeals to the justice and humanity of the ruling powers of Nepāl for redress, to which no satisfactory answer was returned,or explanation ever given, and after many assurances of a sincere desire for continuing that friendly understanding which had hitherto subsisted between the two powers,but which gave rise to nothing but empty compliments and political delay,
a manifesto was published, which appears in the appendix, and will best show the causes of the war,and the views of the British government.
The conduct of this war, with its consequences, offered to us sources of information regarding Nepāl and the countries contained in the mountainous belt that confines Hindostan, of which heretofore there was but little known ; and as it was in consequence of this war that opportunity was obtained to make the journeys related in the following pages, it seems not irrelevant to premise a short notice of the principal events that occurred in a campaign so novel and so arduous as that which gave the first great blow to the Ghoorkha power,and led to a final peace.
An account of Nepāl Proper will be found in Colonel Kirkpatrick’s Narrative of his Embassy to the Court of Catmandhû , the capital of that country, in 1793 ; and many particulars regarding its present history and power will also be learnt there.
A few of the most interesting and best authenticated facts only need be given here.
The whole mountainous district has ever been divided into numerous petty states, each governed by an hereditary sovereign, under various titles, accordingtotheterritoryhepossessed.
On the whole, there seems at least a strong resemblance to be traceable between the state of this country and that condition of things which existed in the highlands of Scotland during the height of the feudal system , where each possessor of a landed estate exercised the functions of a sovereign, and made wars and
incursions on his neighbours, as a restless spirit of ambition or avarice impelled him .
There was, therefore, frequent change and continual warfare, which weakened each, and made the whole more ripe for receiving one sovereign,when chance or the course of things should raise up in the
land a man of superior ability or talents. Indeed, the chief political dissimilarity between this country and those in which the feudal system obtained seems to have been in this-that there did not exist even a
nominal sovereign in this mountainous district to whom these inde pendent barons acknowledged a feudal subjection.
Prithenarrain Sah, a considerable number of years ago,possessed the small state of Ghoorkha, situated considerably to the northward of Nepāl His subjects were peculiarly warlike and active ; and he himself was of a very ambitious turn of mind. Raising a small army, he fell upon the neighbouring petty state of Noarcote ; and, after a considerable lapse of time, possessed himself of it. He then turned his views to the valley of Nepal. This valley, small as it is,lying within a circumference of forty miles, then contained three
separate and independent states; the chiefs of which, as may be supposed,
were not amicably disposed to each other : these were, Jey Purgass, rajah; of Capmandhû; Runjeet Mull; Bhat-Gung; and Chunum Purgass, of
Pātun : and they were at this time in a state of open war with one another.
Taking advantage of this, Prit-he-narrain Sah entered the country, and subdued the whole, after a long and a severe struggle ; during which time strange and fearful cruelties are said to have been committed on the inhabitants by his order.
Having thus established his power in the most fertile valley of the hills, he became more rapacious than ever. The next victim was the estate of Muckwanpoore; and he extended his conquests eastward to the Jeesta: when, having thus raised a Kingdom and a name, he died, leaving his dominions to his son, Singa Purtab. He only reigned one year and a half,during which time he added nothing to the Nepālese dominions ; and his son, Rugn Bahadur, succeeded him in the throne.
Under this prince, who was of a very determined character, verging on cruelty,the work of conquest went rapidly on. First fell Lungoon and Kashka, two small states to the southward ; Tunoon, Noacote, the second ; Purbut, Preesing, Suttoon, Isnea, successively; then, turning further to the westward, Muscote, Dhurcote, Irga, Ghootima, Jumla, Rugun, Dharma,Jeharee, Prietāna, Dhanee, Jasercote, Cheelee, Golām, Achām ,Dhyleck,Dhooloo,and Dhotee, followed.
This last is a large state,divided from Kumaoon by the Kaleenuddee, and stretching through the hills nearly to the plains. Then Kanchee fell, and Palpai; which drew with it also Bhootural and Sulean. By this time the whole mountainous district,from the Jeesta to the Gograh,was in the hands of the Nepālese. But, not content with this, they conceived the conquest of the states to the westward, and hoped to gain possession of even the rich and beautiful valley of Cashmeer.
Kumaoon soon yielded; but Gurhwhāl resisted their efforts for twelve years, chiefly from the delay that the capture of one fort occasioned to them. All the country, from the confines of Gurhwhāl to the Sutlej, fell an easy prey ; when once established at Sreenuggur, they crossed that river to pursue their fortune, and laid siege to the strong fort of Kangrah, in the state of that name: but there their good fortune deserted them ; and the inhabitants, assisted by the Sikhs, to whom they are tributary, resisted all the efforts of the invaders ; and they lost more men in that long-protracted siege than in the conquests of half the country besides. Rung Behauder, meantime, had been deposed by a strong faction, headed by the ranee,who placed her son on the throne; and the ex-rajah fled to the protection of the English at Benares.
Here he did not long remain; for,having intimation that certain occurrences favourable to him had taken place at Catmandhû, he claimed and received the arrears of a pension that was allowed him , through the British government, by his own; and taking nothing with him in a light litter,but gold and silver, he set off for his capital.
His money procured him plenty of bearers; and he had reached the vicinity of Catmandhû before they had there heard of his having quitted Benares,
An uncle of the young rajah advanced to meet him with what troops
were at hand; but they were taken by surprise: and, when their old master stood before them, the peculiar veneration that attaches to the person of a sovereign and a brahmin, most strongly in Nepāl, awed them into submission. “What!” said he, descending from his litter, and standing before them, “do you mean to resist, and stand in arms against your rightful sovereign?”
They threw down their arms.
“Seize,” said he, “on that man,” pointing at the leader. He was seized and beheaded on the spot; and the rightful rajah marched in to his capital with the very troops meant to oppose him.
Unfortunately for himself and for the country, his cruel disposition vented itself in various proscriptions and executions; and on one occasion he dropped a paper, in which were written down the names of many who were doomed to die. This paper was picked up by his younger brother, Sir Behauder, who read his own name amongst the proscribed.
This was too much. Although his brother, his sovereign, and a Brahmin he stabbed him.
Great confusion followed ; much blood was shed : the assassin himself on that fell in his turn, by the hand of Bulram Sah ; and at length the present rajah, son to Rung Behauder, named Girban Joodebeer Bheem Sah, was placed upon the throne. He, however, has little influence; for the real power has been usurped by a family, at the head of which is Ummr Sing Thappah: his son,Bheem. Sing Thappah, is the minister, and has
the whole power : but it is said that his family do not perfectly agree among themselves; and that, for this reason, Ummr Sing Thappah has demanded and obtained the distant and extensive command he at present holds.
The constitution of society, and gradations of cast, seem, like the nature of their religion, to be essentially the same in Nepāl as they are in the other parts of Hindoostan ; but there are many subdivisions and shades of difference, created, as it were, by an union of the influences of cast and family, which give rise to appellations and distinctions unknown in other Hindoo states,and of which it is not easy to procure any satisfactory explanation : such are the terms Thappah, Chowtrah, & c.
Regarding the first of these, after many inquiries, which produced only contradictory explanations, I was at last forced to rest contented in ignorance as to its origin and meaning. It is now an hereditary rank; but of whatever political importance it may be, all genuine rajepoots consider it as beneath them: they will not eat with a Thappah. It has
probably originated,as is said by some,in the intermarriage of a rajepoot with a woman of inferior cast.
Five shades of cast are mentioned as arising from different connexions of Brahmins and rajepoots with women of inferior rank- Puntha, Panee,
Bohra, Urjāl, Khanāl.
Thus, should a Brahmin have a child by a dancing woman, it is called a Panee, and ranks lower than the father. It is said that a rajepoot will eat with an Urjāl, a Khanāl, a Puntha, or a Panee, but with no other. The term Chowtra is applied to the brother and nephews of a rajah; and to no other: it descends no lower.
Such are a few of the materials which I picked up in conversation with the Ghoorkha officers. I cannot vouch for their correctness, although I do not think they are materially wrong, as none of those with whom I conversed had any interest in deceiving. The sketch of the conquest of Nepal comes from the same source ; and though their national vanity may have induced a degree of exaggeration,we have a check upon it, for we know the state of the Nepāl conquests, and that the whole of the hills were subdued under the power of Nepāl, from the Jeesta to the Sutlej, at the time the British declared war against that state ; and I have avoided giving the dates attached to the conquest, as in them there may perhaps
be some errors. The following notes regarding the population and military force of Nepāl are from the same authority, and are given with little dependance on their accuracy.
The population, indeed, attributed to the valley of Nepāl itself, so far exceeds anything we know in the most populous parts of world, that it evident there must be some gross miscalculation in it; and although Colonel Kirkpatrick seems to have been furnished with information leading to conclusions nearly similar, he also is evidently staggered by the prodigious swarm of men which the mode of calculation made use of would give.
That so rich and so lovely a valley should attract a vast population is quite natural; but the numbers said to be contained there in, nay, still to subsist in the three chief towns, Catmandhû, Bhatgung, and Patun, set probability altogether at defiance.
Population is reckoned by houses : to each house there are allowed, on an average, from ten to twelve souls, and in many there are even more; and the families of relations, live under one roof,very thickly lodged.
Taking this as their rate of reckoning, they assign to Patun,which is the largest of the three, 24,000 houses, toBhatgung 22,000, and toCatmandhû 18,000; in all, to these three places, a population of 640,000 souls, at least.
There are, besides, many large villages scattered; Kirtee poor,containing 12,000 houses;Theamee,Buneba,Pharping,Punonlee, Dhulkill, Chappagang, all from 6 to 7,000 houses ; and over and above these are reckoned between twenty and thirty smaller, from 1 to 4,000 houses each,all of which are within the circuit of the valley of Nepāl.
The outrageous fallacy, and indeed impossibility, of this, must be sufficiently glaring; yet it will serve to prove that the valley must be, in truth,extremely populous: and the idea which my informant had of the great comparative difference that exists between the population of this valley and that of the neighbouring hill states may be gathered from a list of some of these states,with the number of houses which they or their chief towns contain.
It was quite impossible to obtain any idea of the revenues of the country, or of the mode in which they are levied on different classes: could not, on this point, even obtain the same sort of loose information that they gave me regarding the population. Near the capital, it was said, that some large houses, containing twenty souls, contributed one rupee and a half annually,which diminished with the numbers to one and eight annas, and lessened as the distance from the capital increased. When there was large contribution of men for the army, the tax on the houses was much diminished.
Nepālis, and must be, a very poor state. Its mountain population can hardly feed themselves : and the large numbers that are found in the valley and its environs are chiefly supplied with food from those districts of the Turraee that are still under the control of the Nepālese government ; and from this fruitful tract was the chief part of the revenue drawn. Without this country the Nepālese could never have risen to the greatness which they had attained ; but they knew not when to stop : the value of the country attracted their cupidity, and brought on the war that was to destroy them.
From the extent , it will be inferred that the
military establishment of this people is extensive : and so in fact it is, considering the means possessed by the state to arm and to maintain a large force.
The whole male population capable of bearing arms are understood to be liable to military service in times of danger and necessity.
They are not, however, all regularly trained to arms. But there are numbers of regular troops,formed into different corps, which are dispersed through out the country,always leaving a large disposable force near the capital. This standing force my information has stated to amount to from 30 to 35,000 men; besides the forces beyond the Kaleenufdee, under Hustee Dhul, BumSah, and Ummr Sing Thappah.
These men are regularly officered, somewhat after the manner of Europeans; and they affect much the European exercise,dress,and arms. Even the denomination of rank given to the officers is English; and besides fougedars ,soubahdars, jemadars, amildars,&c. we find colonels and captains commanding their corps. The corps often take the name of the person who raised them ; and, as a specimen of their military nomenclature, and of the regime of their troops, I have given in the
appendix a list of the Nepāl forces and corps, taken from some of the Ghoorkha officers, as it existed some twelve or fifteen years ago. It is not by any means offered as a correct list, in numbers or in detail, of the Nepālese military establishment.
It is said that these men are paid about eight rupees per month, when on actual duty, and six only whilst not on duty, and that these sums are regularly paid. Of the better classes, I believe this to be true; and certainly the officers were often paid an annual sum by an assignment on land. I give in the appendix a pay - list of a company, actually given in by its commanding officer, when called on to furnish it, that his pay.
It is not by any means offered as a correct list, in numbers or in detail, of the Nepālese military establishment the British service might be regulated by it. But no doubt there were differences observed between the best and most favourite corps and those not so efficient; and there is room to believe that the regular battalions were regularly paid, under all circumstances,when this was practicable.
The regular army of Nepāl has been for so long a time accustomed to active service, to a series of constant warfare and victory, that the men have become really veteran soldiers, under the advantages of necessary control, and a certain degree of discipline; and, from their continual success,they have attained a sense of their own value — a fearlessness of danger, and a contempt of any foe opposed to them.
They have much of the true and high spirit of a soldier - that setting of life at nought, in comparison with the performance of duty, and that high sense of honour, which forms his most attractive ornament, and raises his character to the highest. The anecdotes of their conduct, and of the expression of their feelings, in the sequel, will exemplify this.
They are also cheerful, patient of fatigue, industrious at any labour to which they are put, very tractable and quiet, and, from what has fallen under my own observation and knowledge, not, I think, wanton or cruel.
This, however,is a somewhat dubious part of their character: in various situations they have behaved in different ways ; and have given reason to presume,that their natural disposition, whatever it may be, is swayed by situation and circumstance : even as a nation their character seems various and unsettled. The individuals must exhibit a greater variety still.
The Ghoorkhas, and the people of the neighbouring states, have, in appearance,a great resemblance to the Malay or Chinese physiognomy; and the Nepālese Proper I believe to partake much of this similitude. But the features and expression of the people in the various parts of the hills are very different; though very often referrible to the Tartar or Chinese, and but little to the countenance of the Hindoo of the plains.
Their soldiers are stout, thick, well built men , in general ; very active and strong fir their size. They understand the used of the “tulwār,”or sabre,and prefer close fighting, giving an onset with a loud shout: each man wears,besides his sword, a crooked,long, heavy knife, called “cookree,”
but it is more commonly used in operations, when a knife or a hatchet is needed. The soldiers carry matchlocks or musquets : the latter have been partly obtained in traffick with the English, and are partly of their own manufacture, in various parts of the country.
Their officers,besides the sword,and shield, and cookree, carry bows and arrows,which they use very dexterously; and the sword sometimes is of a peculiarshape, the edge having a curve inwards, like a reaping hook, but far more straight, and very heavy, particularly at the point end, where it is very broad, and ends abruptly square. This instrument is called a “korah,” or a “ bughalee,” and is formidable rather inappearance than in reality, they as a blow once given and missed, with so heavy a weapon, could not easily be recovered ; besides which, its shape is awkward, and could never act
with effect against a regularly shaped sword.
Jenjaels, a long sort of matchlock, were in use ; and they possessed a few small guns; but these were confined to the walls of their forts, and they never carried them to attack in the field.
Such was the nation, and such the troops, to which the British force was now to be opposed. They were of of a far more formidable description the those of the plains, who fled from our arms in former campaigns; and the nature of the country was so new, that the whole complexion of the war wore an aspect quite different from any that we had been before engaged in.
The province of Cumaoon was under the government of BumSah and HusteeDhullChowtra; and all beyond the Ram Gunga was under the sway of SingThappah, who, indeed, was the chief commander of all the troops that had crossed the Kalee or Gograh river, to push the Ghoorkha conquests through Gurwhal to the Sutlej. Hisson,Runjore Sing Thappah,held the chief command under him at Nahn ; and various inferior officers were scattered up and down the country,in fortresses and strong holds, to retain it in subjection.
Ummr Sing himself remained at the extremity of his conquests ; and having been unable to gain any permanent footing beyond the Sutlej, occupied the line ofposts around Irkee and Belaspoor,where were situated the strongly fortified places of Ramgurh and Malown.