1849 Baizai Expedition

For all discussions regarding military actions short of war and the Great Game on the North West frontier of India, 1837-1901.

1849 Baizai Expedition

Postby Mark » 15 Jun 2014 20:03

A short article from my military history blog about the first British expedition on the North West Frontier of India.

Following the annexation of the Punjab in 1849 the British quickly found themselves becoming concerned with the tribes inhabiting the neighbouring Swat Valley. Tribesmen would, either on foot or mounted on horses, pass through Ranizai onto the plains of Hashtnagar and Yusafzai near to the city of Peshawar. In doing so they paid little attention to their fellow tribesmen of other clans but increasingly mounted attacks on nearby farmers and traders. They would also kidnap Hindus, who they would later hold for ransom. In addition the tribes of the Swat Valley, it was believed, were wilfully harbouring known criminals, political activists and other enemies of the British. One such recorded criminal was Mukaram Khan, who had been dismissed from the Peshawar Police for some misnomer and fled to the Swat. Later it became known to the British authorities that this individual had not only been welcomed by the Swat tribes but also received a large grant of land from the tribesmen. The British also felt that the tribes actively encouraged villages under British influence to turn away from their new masters and look to the Swat for protection instead.

The Assistant Commissioner of Yusafzai, Lieutenant H.B. Lumsden, reported in October 1849 that the villages of the Utman Khel had, as a result of the growing influence from the Swat, had begun refusing to pay their tribute to the British. Lumsden also reported that the local revenue collector who visited the villages had been warned not to come back and that the villagers were now preparing themselves to do battle if necessary. Under the Sikh administration of the Punjab, prior to the British annexation, the authorities had sent an armed force of up to 1,500 men backed by artillery in order to collect the tribute. However, since the British did not send troops outside of the cantonment at Peshawar, so Colonel G. St. P. Lawrence, Deputy Commissioner of Peshawar, argued, the villagers did not believe the British would use military force, as the Sikhs would have done if payment was not forthcoming.

Despite the perhaps misguided beliefs of the villagers the Governor-General, James Broun-Ramsay, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie, had no hesitation in sending an armed force to ensure the obedience of the tribes. Following his agreement to the use of military force Dalhousie recorded

‘…all ordinary cases the employment of British troops for the mere collection of revenue is a measure to be avoided. But the refusal of the villages in Lundkhwar to pay the little revenue demanded of them is not merely a denial of the revenue which they owe, but is, in fact, a test and trial of the British power, and of the authority which is to be exercised over them. It is, therefore, quite indispensable that the demands of the Government shall be fully enforced, and a conspicuous example made of these men, the first in this newly-conquered province who have dared to resist the orders of the British officers.’

Active resistance of the villagers was to be firmly put down but any overly harsh treatment was strictly to be avoided. However, all the headmen of the villages were ordered to be arrested and brought to Peshawar to answer for their disobedience. It was also ordered that any non-villagers, who had travelled into the area in an attempt to encourage the disobedience, were also be arrested and punished as appropriate under the law. At this point, as if to rub salt into the wounds of the British, raiders from the village of Palai made several incursions into British territory.

It was, therefore, decided to exert authority over the villagers and tribesmen by the mounting of a military expedition, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J. Bradshaw of the 60th Rifles, which left Peshawar on 3rd December. The expedition numbered approximately 2,300 men and included the following units:

•Four guns of 2nd Troop, 2nd Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery
•13th Irregular Cavalry
•Detachment of 200 men of the 60th Rifles
•Detachment of 300 men of the 61st Regiment of Foot
•3rd Bombay Native Infantry
•One company of Bombay Sappers and Miners

After setting out the expedition was joined by:
•Detachment of 200 men of the Corps of Guides
•Detachment of 100 men of the 1st Punjab Infantry

Captain H. Richards of the 3rd Bombay Native Infantry acted as Staff Officer while Lieutenant F.A. St. John of the 60th Rifles was nominated Orderly Officer. Colonel G. St. P. Lawrence was also to accompany the expedition as the appointed Political Officer. In addition to the main force Lieutenant Lumsden, commanding the 200 men of the Corps of Guides, scouted ahead of the expedition to forage for supplies. As he did so many of the nearby villages quickly stumped up their tribute payments.

By 10 December Bradshaw’s force had reached the village of Sanghao, which the Colonel ordered to be reconnoitred. The villagers were then asked to submit to the British but a flat refusal was received and so Bradshaw made the decision to attack. The village itself was situated approximately 2,000 feet up a 3,000 feet high mountain that bordered onto the Janikhor Valley, and so commanded a strong defensive position. However, undeterred Bradshaw made his plan to assault the village by making a simultaneous attack on both flanks. For this he ordered the detachment of 60th Rifles and four companies of the 3rd Bombay Native Infantry to move on the left of the village, under cover of a detachment from the 13th Irregular Cavalry, while the 200 men of the Corps of Guides and the detachment of 1st Punjab Infantry would move on the right. Bradshaw considered the right flank the only viable escape for the villagers and so the latter would have the additional responsibility of cutting that route off. The main assault would then be carried out by the 61st Foot and the remaining companies of the 3rd Bombay Native Infantry who, at the right moment, would charge the village. As the attacking force advanced they were to be covered by the guns of the Horse Artillery while the remaining men of the 13th Irregular Cavalry guarded the baggage and camp followers.

The assault was launched on 11 December, but the British and Indian troops found the rocky terrain hard going causing them to advance slowly. As the left flank attacked they were met by a heavy fire, both from small arms and rocks thrown at them, from the defending villagers who were also waving numerous flags and standards. When the force over on the right were within 1,200 yards the Horse Artillery opened fire and the Guides advanced so quickly that the artillery almost mistook them for the enemy due to their advanced positions and the fact they were wearing mud-coloured khaki uniforms. Thankfully a gunner shouted ‘Lord! Sir; them is our mudlarks!’ and the officer in charge held his fire.

The assault was successful and the tribesmen fled as the British and Indian troops finally reached the village. Despite Bradshaw’s careful planning many of the tribesmen tried to escape, not via either the left or right flank as was envisaged, but by climbing up the mountainside at the rear of Sanghao. The British lost four killed and a further 18 wounded during the attack. Casualties for the tribesmen are uncertain but Bradshaw estimated his enemy amounted to around 2,500 in total. It was later realised that the villagers had, in fact, been reinforced by tribesmen from Buner and possibly elsewhere. Before leaving Sanghao the Colonel ordered the village destroyed, a tactic that would become common during the many subsequent expeditions on the North West Frontier.

Following this successful assault Bradshaw moved to the entrance to the Bazdara Valley where he made camp. The village of Palai, from where the most recent raids into British territory had been mounted, lay only three miles away as did the villages of Zormandai and Sher Khana, which had also been the cause of trouble for the British. As such Bradshaw ordered they be reconnoitred and it was felt that the Palai was the key position for the enemy. To the right of Palai was a hill of 1,500 feet while the village itself was believed to be held by some 5,000 tribesmen. The other villages were also occupied by significant numbers of tribesmen and the valley in front of Palai was in the possession of an equally significant force. This latter force benefitted from the protection of the hills to the right while the left were a number of hills that were also held by others hostile to the British.

Bradshaw decided to seize the hills to the right of Palai, where the enemy was strongest, and on 14December he carried out his assault. The main attack on the left was to be mounted by the detachment of the 60th Rifles, six companies of the 3rd Bombay Native Infantry and one troop of the 13th Irregular Cavalry, under the cover of the guns of the Horse Artillery. To the right of the tribesmen’s position an attack was to be carried out by the Corps of Guides, the detachment of the 1st Punjab Infantry and three companies of the 3rd Bombay Native Infantry, in an attempt to turn the tribesmen’s left.

With the attack underway Bradshaw quickly realised that his forces on the left were making much headway against the tribesmen and so he ordered two guns of the Horse Artillery to move to a forward position with the detachment of the 61st Foot in support. At the same time the remainder of the 13th Irregular Cavalry raced forward to engage the tribesmen on their left. The 61st next sent forward its light company in extended order and, at this moment, the tribesmen’s left was finally turned. Bradshaw now ordered his remaining troops, with two of his guns, to advance up the centre after which the tribesmen began to flee their positions. As with his previous assault at Sanghao Bradshaw ordered the village destroyed. However, the tribesmen had now occupied the hills to the rear and so the Colonel ordered the 13th Irregular Cavalry to conduct a charge against them, which resulted in the tribesmen being driven away. Colonel G. St. P. Lawrence, as the Political Officer, informed Bradshaw that he believed the expedition’s objectives had now been satisfied. The expedition was effectively over and it had been a resounding success.

Following the action it was estimated that some 5,000 to 6,000 tribesmen had been present, many of which had arrived as reinforcements from the Swat Valley. So successful was the British assault that the tribesmen left their dead behind, something considered dishonourable amongst many of the tribes. A further three British/Indian fatalities had been suffered as well as another 22 wounded. The force, with the exception of the men of the Corps of Guides, now returned to Peshawar arriving back at the city on 22 December. The Guides were detailed to guard the construction of a fort that would be manned to watch over the future activity of the tribesmen.

Despite orders to arrest and bring back the headsmen of the villages to Peshawar none were in fact taken. The reason for this being the difficulty in taking such men prisoner before they made good their escape. However, a priest from Bajaur was apprehended who told the British that a force of 15,000 tribesmen were enroute to reinforce those that Bradshaw had engaged. How true this claim was remains unknown but the British were able to make claim to their first victory on the North West Frontier.

With the expedition over the British hoped that the Baizai villages would now behave as expected but this did not prove to be the case. Further raids were mounted by the tribesmen, which included more kidnapping of Hindus for ransom. Lumsden had, by this time, been replaced by Lieutenant W.S.R. Hodson who entered into discussion with a Ghulam Shah Baba, who held some influence with the Baizai. As such the raids ceased although clashes between neighbouring clans in the area would erupt from time to time. Later in 1855 the British fined the village of Sanghao 200 rupees for robberies the villagers had committed on a group of traders from Buner. The British also dismantled the village but it was later rebuilt during the Indian Mutiny and escaped the notice of the British until 1858. However, the British authorities merely fined the villagers again allowing the inhabitants to remain.
Mark Simner BA (Hons) MSc | Web: http://marksimner.me.uk | Twitter @marksimner
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Re: The Baizai Expedition of 1849

Postby Les Waring » 16 Jun 2014 12:12

Mark

Just a small point. I know that British oppression was pretty brutal during this period, but that Mukaram Khan should have been dismissed from the police for a misnomer seems to have been a particularly severe case of imperialist brutality. Now, if he'd committed a misdemeanour, his dismissal might be more understandable. :)

Apart from that, thanks for this in-depth account of the Baizai Expedition, one of the first of many on the NorthWest Frontier. I've long said that if the British had refrained from crossing the Sutlej, to fight the Sikhs, they would have saved themselves, and incidentally ourselves, today, a great deal of trouble. :(

Best

Les W.
Last edited by Les Waring on 16 Jun 2014 16:42, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Baizai Expedition of 1849

Postby Mark » 16 Jun 2014 12:22

Thanks, Les! Your kind comments are much appreciated :) Finding information regarding the early NWF expeditions is not easy, so I thought I'd share what I had for the above.

Mark
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Re: The Baizai Expedition of 1849

Postby swordcollector1 » 16 Jun 2014 12:55

Great article, Mark. Your opening highlights an interesting feature of Frontier culture and politics which I believe meant that British rule could never be completely reconciled with local custom. Under the code of Pakhtunwali, tribes were honour bound to provide hospitality to anyone requesting it, be they innocent traveller, refugee or fugitive. This could never be made to fit with British conceptions of justice and the handing over of suspects to face prosecution, and harbouring known criminals is frequently cited as a cause of Frontier "policing" actions in the official histories.

Having said that, the inhabitants of the Swat valley do seem to have been particularly enthusiastic in their provision of hospitality to anyone fleeing British justice...or perhaps they were just more respectful of tradition than most!

John
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