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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

The best soldiers in the Dekhan


[Sidenote:

Hindu Blondin]

[Sidenote: Outbreak of Poonah]

[Sidenote: Flight of Baji Rao]

The Mahratta war opened with a romantic incident. Trimbukji Dainglia, one of the favorites of the Peishwa, was held closely confined by the English at Thanna for his share in the murder of one of Baji Rao's enemies. Before the outbreak of hostilities the Mahrattas managed to get word to him of what was coming. A native groom in the service of one of the British officers passed the window of the prisoner every day leading his master's horses. As he did so he trolled a native song the purport of which the British guards neither understood nor suspected. It has thus been translated by Bishop Heber:

Behind the bush the bowmen hide The horse beneath the tree. Where shall I find a chief to ride The jungle paths with me?

There are five-and-fifty horses there, And four-and-fifty men; When the fifty-fifth shall mount his steed, The Dekhan thrives again.

A few days after this Trimbukji Dainglia was missing. He had broken a bar from its setting, scaled the wall, and joined a party of horsemen lying in wait. With them he fled to the jungles of Kanderish. Just before the outbreak of hostilities a British officer thought he recognized him at Poonah. On November 5, the British Resident,

Elphinstone, left Poonah to inspect the forces at Khirki. On that same day the Mahrattas burned Elphinstone's house and rich Sanskrit library. Baji Rao attacked the military post Khirki with 26,000 men, but was repulsed with a loss of five hundred. The British immediately despatched an army under General Smith for Poonah. On November 15, they prepared for a general attack on the morrow, but in the night Baji Rao fled from Poonah. Thus he surrendered his dominions without a blow.

Appa Sahib, the Rajah of Nagpore, meanwhile had made common cause with Baji Rao. On the evening of November 24, he brought up his forces and attacked the British Residency at Nagpore. The resulting battle of Sitaboldi is famous in Hindu annals. As Wheeler, the historian of British India, describes it:

[Sidenote: Battle of Sitaboldi]

"The English had no European regiment, as they had at Khirki; they had scarcely fourteen hundred Sepoys fit for duty, including three troops of Bengal cavalry, and only four six-pounders. Appa Sahib had an army of eighteen thousand men, including four thousand Arabs, the best soldiers in the Dekhan; he had also thirty-six guns. The battle lasted from six o'clock in the evening of the 26th of November until noon the next day. For many hours the English were in sore peril; their fate seemed to hang upon a thread. The Arabs were beginning to close round the Residency, when a happy stroke of British daring changed the fortunes of the day. Captain Fitzgerald, who commanded the Bengal cavalry, was posted in the Residency compound and was anxious to charge the Arabs; but he was forbidden. Again he implored permission, but was told to charge at his peril. 'On my peril be it!' cried Fitzgerald. Clearing the inclosures, the Bengal cavalry bore down upon the enemy's horse, captured two guns, and cut up a body of infantry. The British Sepoys hailed the exploit with loud huzzahs, and seeing the explosion of one of the enemy's tumbrels, rushed down the hill, driving the Arabs before them. The victory was won, but the English had lost a quarter of their number."


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