In September 1835 George was appointed Governor-General of India[i]. It was from her firm sense of duty, and of course her love for this favourite of her siblings, that Emily elected to accompany her brother. George, Emily and Fanny arrived, along with their nephew William Godolphin Osborne, who was to be George’s military secretary, in Calcutta in March 1836 after a five month voyage. They landed on Emily’s birthday, she was thirty-nine.George had as his private secretary John Colvin. George’s staff also included William Mcnaghten as his political secretary and his assistant Henry Torrens.
The first 20 months of George’s appointment the Edens spent in Calcutta; during the week at Government House and at the weekends at Barrackpore House[ii]. Emily hated the very formal life in Calcutta; the rigorous social obligations that had to be met, no matter how ill the climate made one feel. According to her the society was ‘second rate’ and there were very few topics of conversation.
On 20th June 1837 the old king died and in his place his young niece, Victoria, came to the throne. The inexperienced young queen was to become very dependent on her fatherly and urbane Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. It was not until 30th October that Emily, by then 200 miles distant from Calcutta, learnt of the passing of an age;
‘I think the young Queen a charming invention, and I can fancy the degree of enthusiasm she must excite. Even here we feel it. The account of her proroguing Parliament gave me a lump in my throat.’[iii]Up Country
In the autumn of 1837 Emily accompanied George on an official progress ‘up-country’ and it is her letters to her sister Mary Drummond that give us details of the travels of the Governor-General in colonial India. George intended to familiarise himself with the East India Company territory stretching from Calcutta to the River Sutlej in the north. George also wished to consolidate the 1831 treaty of friendship between Britain and the Maharajah of the Punjab[iv], Ranjit Singh.
The party left Calcutta on the 21st October 1837 by steamer for the first 3 ½ weeks through the Sunderbunds and up the Ganges. On 15th November the Governor and his entourage camped at Benares. By the end of November the party were travelling overland to Simla, using 850 camels, 140 elephants and hundreds of horses and bullocks.
Nawab of Oudh
There were 12,000 people travelling in the governor’s wake and it could take three days for the ten mile long caravan to cross a river. The Nawab of Oudh sent his chef to cook for the Governor General; much affronting St Cloup, George’s own chef, who had previously worked for the Prince of Orange. The Edens were accompanied by George’s staff and their families[v].
At their halts the Edens and their entourage met with the British living in the vicinity, but of course society morality still prevailed;
‘There was a lady yesterday in perfect ecstasies with the music. I believe she was the wife of an indigo planter in the neighbourhood, and I was longing to go and speak to her, as she had probably not met a countrywoman for many months; but then, you know, she might not have been his wife, or anybody’s wife.’[vi]
Cawnpore from the Ganges
Emily, George and Fanny were distressed by the hunger they came across in Cawnpore;
‘You cannot conceive the horrible sights we see, particularly children; perfect skeletons in many cases, their bones through their skin, without a rag of clothing, and utterly unlike human creatures.’[vii]The Edens began distributing food, but their attempts were minimal compared to the problems; one of the party saw three villagers drop dead of starvation. Three days after the first distribution of supplies they came across worse deprivation; 700 people were fed but the violence that erupted required policing.
Victoria was crowned on the 28th June 1838, but, so very unlike later Victorians, Emily makes no mention of the event in her letter of that date; instead she mentioned;
‘We had a musical dinner yesterday; a borrowed pianoforte and singing, and two couples who accompany each other. The flute couple I think a failure, but they are reckoned in this country perfectly wonderful……the other couple are beautiful musicians.’[viii]A Successful Expedition
George was, like Palmerston[ix], an anti-Russian politician and this led him to dabble in affairs in Afghanistan with disastrous consequences[x]. George listened to advisers whose proposals he believed would secure the north-west frontier. The plan of action involved going over the Khyber Pass, at the same time marching the army through Sind in violation of an 1832 treaty[xi], using the Persians siege of Herat as an excuse.Ranjit Singh had ensured that the British would take the lead in restoring Shah Shuja to his throne. The Commander in Chief of British forces in India disapproved of the plan and Wellington, who had served in India, thought it would mean
‘A perennial march into Afghanistan.’[xii]Palmerston thought that the expedition would;
‘Place the Dardanelles more securely out of the grasp of Russia.’[xiii]On 1st October 1838, while staying at Simla, George dethroned Dost Mohammed[xiv] as a preliminary to the campaign. On 24th October Emily wrote;
‘News had arrived yesterday that the Persians had abandoned the siege of Herât, and so the
--s fancied that the Cabul business would be now so easy.’[xv]9,500 Crown and East India Company troops formed the core of the invasion force, backed up by 6,000 local troops under the command of Shah Shuja[xvi], George’s choice for leader of Afghanistan. George and Emily attended a ceremonial parade of the troops on 3rd December before they departed.
‘For Runjeet, instead of being satisfied with a general view of the line, insisted on riding down the whole of it, about three miles, and inspecting every man….……in front there was the army marching by. First the 16th Hussars, then a body of native cavalry, then the Queen’s Buffs, then a train of artillery drawn by camels, then Colonel Skinner[xvii]’s wild native horsemen.’[xviii]
Shah Shuja entered Kandahar on the 25th April 1839 and Ghazni was taken by storm on 2rd July. The invasion itself was a success in that on 6th August 1839, following the flight of Dost Mohammed, Shah Shuja regained his throne; the trick would be to keep him there. For his part in the success George was made Earl of Auckland.The Disastrous Expedition
Emily recorded Rajhit Singh’s death on 27th June
‘We heard of dear old Runjeet’s death……It is rather fine, because so unusual in the East, that even to the last moment, his slightest signs, for he had long lost his speech, were obeyed.’[xix]The government in India was concerned that Ranjit’s death could endanger the British lines of communication with Kabul. The Edens returned to Calcutta on the 1st March 1840.
Unpopular with the Afghans, the incapable Shah Shuja was unable to secure his position in Afghanistan without the support of the British forces and George was determined that the army would return to India. Dost Mohammed surrendered on 3rd November 1840 and was given sanctuary in British India; Emily drew his portrait during September 1841.
‘I was so active this morning. The Dost and his family all set off to-day for the Upper Provinces, and I have done a sketch of him and his two sons – merely their heads – and wanted his nephew, who is a beautiful specimen of a Jewish Afghan, to fill up the sheet; so Mr. C— abstracted him out of the steamer early this morning and brought him to my room before breakfast.’[xx]In April 1841 George appointed Major General Elphinstone as head of the British forces in Afghanistan, against the wishes of the Commander in Chief of all British forces in India[xxi]. George and Macnaghten, described disparagingly by Wellington as
‘”The gentlemen employed to command the army.”’[xxii]believed they could withdraw the troops supporting Shah Shuja at a leisurely pace. George had refused to allow proper fortifications to be built for the garrison of Kabul[xxiii]. As an economy measure he also reduced the subsidies given to local chiefs to keep the passes open.
BibliographyThe Last Mughal – William Dalrymple, Bloomsbury 2006
Up the Country – Emily Eden, Virago 1983Heaven’s Command – James Morris[xxiv], Penguin 1979
The Age of Reform – Sir Llewellyn Woodward FBA, Oxford University Press 1997www.wikipedia.en
[ii] 14 miles up the Hooghly River
[iii] Up the Country - Eden
[iv] Leader of the Sikhs
[v] The trip was due to last eighteen months
[vi] Up the Country - Eden
[ix] Currently Foreign Secretary
[x] George had instructions to forestall Russian encroachment towards British India
[xi] Opening the Indus to trade provided that no munitions of war were carried on the river
[xii] The Age of Reform - Woodward
[xiv] Emir of Kabul
[xv] Up the Country - Eden
[xvi] The former ruler of Kabul; Shuja’s troops were under the command of Macnaghten, the Political Officer
[xviii] Up the Country - Eden
[xxi] Elphinstone had no experience of fighting in the east and was ill
[xxii] The Age of Reform - Woodward
[xxiii] Shah Shuja had taken the citadel for his seraglio
[xxiv] This edition predates Jan Morris’s change of gender from James