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Commentary for Volume 1, Chapter 10 : Farewell to India (1804–05)

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Biographies of Wellington seldom devote much space to 1804-5, and of other works only Bennell’s Making of Arthur Wellesley is really useful; the accounts of Monson’s retreat by Khanna, Holmberg and Fortescue are important, but inadvertently distort things by wrenching one episode from its context.  (Monson’s Retreat in the Anglo-Maratha War, (1803-1805) by D. D. Khanna (Department for Defence Studies, University of Allahabad, Defence Studies Papers no 5 1981; ‘Monson’s Retreat: India, 1804’ by Tom Holmberg (online at Napoleon Series: Military Subjects: Battles and Campaigns )

Munkaiseer and the defeat of the Marauders:

Early in February, when he was thirty miles south-east of Ahmednuggar, Wellesley received word that the largest band of freebooters were within two long marches of his camp.   He set off at once in pursuit, and although the marauders were warned of his approach and fled, he succeeded in overtaking them on 5 February at Munkaiseer after a gruelling march of some sixty miles.  There was little fighting, and unfortunately most of that occurred when the 19th Light Dragoons mistook the allied Maratha cavalry for enemy and attacked them with some bloodshed on both sides before the mistake was rectified.   Wellesley was privately scathing about his cavalry commander, but highly praised the troops for their great exertions, and in later life often cited this as the most remarkable march he had ever made.  (AW to the Governor-General, 5 Feb. 1804 and AW to Stuart, 5 Feb. 1804 WD II p 1022-4 and 1024 for outline of the operation; note by Gurwood in WD  II p 1023 for AW’s later praise of the march.   Welsh Military Reminiscences vol 1 p 203-7 adds many details incl. the estimate of the enemy strength and the mistake of the dragoons.   AW’s criticism of the (unnamed) cavalry commander is in AW to Malcolm, 18 Feb. 1804, WP 3/3/71 – a passage suppressed in the printed version of this letter in WD II p 1056.  The cavalry commander may have been Lt-Col James Kennedy, 19th Light Dragoons, but this identification is not certain.)

According to AW one of the Maratha chiefs serving with his army alerted the marauders to their approach:

        The exertion made by the troops is the greatest I ever witnessed.  Every thing was over by 12 on the 5th; and I think that by the time the infantry must have marched 60 miles from 6 in the morning on the 4th.  We halted from 12 in the day till 10 at night on the 4th, so that we marched 60 miles with the infantry in 20 hours.  That rascal Appah Dessaye, gave notice to Ghautky; I have everything but the most positive proof of it.   However, as it is, the destruction of the band is complete, but I wished to hang some of their chiefs, pour encourager les autres. (AW to Malcolm, 7 Feb 1804, WD II p 1032).

Welsh’s account of the march and fight puts flesh on the bones (Military Reminiscences vol 1 p 203-5).

On the day after the action AW issued a General Order:

 Major-Gen. Wellesley thanks the troops for the persevering activity with which they underwent the fatigues of the march on the 4th and 5th inst.

               When the cavalry was formed, they advanced in great order; but Major Gen. Wellesley has occasion now to point out the necessity of their preserving their order at all times.  To lose it is easy, but to regain it after it is lost is difficult, if not impossible, in front of an enemy.   The discipline of the troops when singly opposed to large bodies of the enemy is of no advantage to them; the greatest number must have the advantage: but when disciplined troops preserve their order and attend to the commands of their officers, and act together, the inequality of numbers is of no avail, and the disciplined troops must succeed. (General Order, 6 Feb. 1804, WD II p 1030n).

He was to repeat these points, in the Peninsula and elsewhere, many times in his later career.

Subsequent operations against marauders in the Nizam’s territory:

A week after Munkaiseer Wellesley received reports that some of the scattered marauders were collecting in a fresh band to the south.  He made several ‘terrible’ marches in the heat, only to find that the reports were greatly exaggerated – deliberately spread by the Nizam’s local officials in the hope that Wellesley’s presence would drive off the relatively small number of freebooters in the district (AW to Stuart, 15 Feb. 1804, WD II  p 1049).  This incident increased Wellesley’s disenchantment with the Nizam’s government.  He had already been much annoyed when the Nizam’s killadar and amildars (local officials) had paid off the original marauders, even though they knew that Wellesley was on his way to attack them (AW to Malcolm, 2 Feb. 1804, WD II p 1020).  But the problem went much deeper than that, for Wellesley believed that the Nizam’s government had greatly contributed to the growing anarchy in the region by foolishly discharging most of its soldiers and relying on the British subsidiary force for its defence (AW to Kirkpatrick, 16 Jan 1804, WD II p 976-8).


Mountstuart Elphinstone was appointed Resident at the court of the Raja of Berar, and some of AW’s letters to him are printed in ‘The Newly Discovered Autograph Letters of Wellington’ ed by H. N. Sinha in Bengal Past & Present vol 39 1930  p 91-99.

After Monson’s defeat he was anxious that Berar might join Sindia and take the field against the British, but AW discounted these fears.  (AW to Elphinstone, 19 Dec 1804, WD II p 1379).

Sindia’s subsidiary force:

Arthur Wellesley argued that while the presence of the Nizam’s subsidiary force in Hyderabad was essential to maintain British predominance at his court, the personal enmity between Sindia and Holkar, and the much stronger position of the British in India in general, made this unnecessary for Sindia, as he had no realistic alternative to supporting the British.   This was a doubtful argument at best, and was rather undercut by his further claim that this was the one demand which might jeopardize the whole alliance. (Memorandum for Major Malcolm [by AW], 7 Jan. 1804, WD II p 945-52; see also Bennell Making of Arthur Wellesley  p 114-45).

It is sometimes suggested that AW’s concession that Sindia’s subsidiary force need not be stationed inside Sindia’s territory played a significant role in creating the circumstances of Monson’s defeat.  However the logic of this linkage is strained, and two related points need to be taken into consideration: first that the subsidiary force would not have been safe against a surprise attack from Holkar if stationed at Ougein; and, second, AW’s repeated complaint that Lord Wellesley had taken no measures to establish the force.   The apparent assumption by AW’s critics that the force consisted of Murray’s corps is evidently wrong, for Murray had his own tasks to perform in Gujerat.

(On the other hand, AW was inconsistent, arguing that the subsidiary force would not be safe at Ougein, but also that Holkar was nothing more than a freebooter whose destruction would hardly even count as a war – see main text).

Sindia’s army:

It has become commonplace to quote AW’s letter of 18 Nov 1803 in which he suggests that Sindia’s army is less formidable with its European trained infantry and cavalry than a traditional Maratha army:

Scindiah’s armies had actually been brought to a very favourable state of discipline, and his power had become formidable by the exertions of the European officers in his service; but I think it is much to be doubted whether his power, or rather that of the Marhatta nation, would not have been more formidable , at least to the British government, if they had never had an European, as an infantry soldier, in their service, and had carried on their operations, in the manner of the original Marhattas, only by means of cavalry.  I have no doubt whatever but that the military spirit of the nation has been destroyed by the establishment of infantry and artillery, possibly, indeed, by other causes; at all events, it is certain that those establishments, however formidable, afford us a good object of attack in a war with the Marhattas….

               …. therefore I think that they should be encouraged to have infantry rather than otherwise.  (AW to Shawe, 18 Nov. 1803, WD II p 868-71).

This sounds quite plausible, but there are reasons for believing that it was not Wellesley’s true opinion.   He was writing at a time when he was urging the Governor-General not to emasculate Sindia, but to leave him with sufficient resources to defend himself, act as a counter-weight to Holkar, and maintain order in his territory, (e.g. see AW to Governor-General, 30 Dec 1803, WD II p 933-8).   His true opinion can be seen by his dismissal of Holkar as nothing more than a freebooter who could easily be destroyed (AW to Lord Wellesley, 31 Jan 1804, WSD vol 4 p 334-8), and by his comment to Col Murray, after Monson’s defeat, ‘The infantry is the strength of Holkar’s, as it is of every other army.’  (AW to Murray, WD II p 1311-13).  And it is obvious that Monson’s troubles were not caused by the nature of Holkar’s forces, and indeed, that Holkar’s artillery played a significant part in his losses.

On 31 July 1806 he wrote to Malcolm from England: ‘I shall not be surprised if it [the peace with Holkar] give[s] ground for a belief, the most erroneous, that Holkar’s power and his mode of warfare had been more destructive to us than the resources and the efficiency and discipline of the armies of the other Marhattas.’ (WD III p 2).

AW’s lumbago:

AW had a bad attack of lumbago in January, which helps explain the reference to this health in his letter of resignation to Stuart.   He told Lord Wellesley:

 I am much annoyed by the lumbago, a disorder to which, I believe, all persons in camp are liable; but if I do not go into a house soon, I am afraid I shall walk like old Pomeroy for the remainder of my life.  (AW to Lord Wellesley, 21 Jan. 1804, WP 1/152, printed with important deletions and minor changes in WD II p 991-2).

 The Peace with Sindia:

AW made an interesting comment on the peace settlement with Sindia in a letter to Malcolm at the end of January:

            If a Marhatta could sit down quietly, and establish a regular government, with a view to future prosperity, I should not despair of the peace.  But unless Scindiah changes his nature, and that of a great proportion of his subjects, and dismisses a very large part of his army of horse (who must eat up more revenue than he can afford to pay them) and obliges the men to adopt habits of industry, which are entirely foreign to their nature, I do not see how the peace is to last.  I rather believe now it would be a good measure to attack Holkar, in order to give Scindiah something to do, and to look forward to.  (AW to Malcolm, 29 Jan. 1804, WD II p 1011-12).

 Lord Wellesley’s objections AW’s treaty with Sindia:

Merrick Shawe later told Arthur Wellesley that when the treaty reached Bengal there were ‘long and repeated discussions with Sir George Barlow & Mr Edmonstone,’ two of Lord Wellesley’s closest advisers, but that the Governor-General himself had quickly concluded, ‘that it was calculated ultimately to secure every object he had in view.’   Shawe went on to spell out the policy implications as they were seen in Bengal:

                  The discussions respecting Gwalior and Gohud has been the only circumstance which has given Lord Wellesley a moment’s anxiety respecting the terms of the Peace.   Lord Wellesley attaches great importance to the possession of Gwalior and to the exclusion of Sindia from Gohud.  While Sindia retains Gwalior, Hindustan is considered to be open to him; and we cannot be said to command the navigation of the Jumna while he shall retain his power in the Country of Gohud.   The necessity of breaking faith with the Rana of Gohud, if these points should be conceded to Sindia, would add to the embarrassment and confirms Lord Wellesley’s repugnance to the measure of concession.   His Lordship is also unwilling to admit the necessity or policy of the concession at least to the extent to which Major Malcolm has stated it.   His Lordship has uniformly maintained that the 9th Article of your Treaty with Sindia confirms General Lake’s Treaty with Ambajee, which conveys the title to the possession of Gwalior and Gohud to the British Government and secures it to any state which the British Government may think proper to make over the right acquired by the Treaty with Ambajee. (Shawe to AW, 20th April 1804, WP 3/3/5 f 257-62.)

 Writing to Malcolm, Shawe was more brutally frank:

 Lord Wellesley says that the question for which you contend is one which will decide whether General Wellesley has not made a worse peace than Wattel Punt.  If it is decided that the treaty of peace does not cover Gwalior and Gohud, Wattel Punt will have the advantage. (Shawe to Malcolm, n.d, in Kaye Life of Malcolm  vol 1  p 271-2).

 The politicians on this side of India did not attach so much importance to the conciliation of Scindiah.  But they considered the possession of Gohud and Gwalior to be of the utmost importance, in a political as well as a military point of view.   They were disposed to form their judgement of the peace of Surjee-Anjengaum upon the turn which this question might take.   It was Bappoo Wattel versus  General Wellesley. (Shawe to Malcolm, 22 April 1804 in Kaye Life of Malcolm  vol 1  p 273-4).


There is not a man on this side of India who does not think with Lord Wellesley that the exclusion of the Mahrattas from Hindustan, which is stated over and over again in Lord Wellesley’s Instructions, Declarations, &c, to be a major object of the war, will depend entirely upon the retention of Gwalior &c.   Under this conviction, and under a sense of our engagements with the Rana of Gohud, Lord Wellesley thinks the restoration of Gwalior and Gohud to Sindia would be a breach of his public duty. (Shaw to Malcolm, 1 May 1804 in Kaye Life of Malcolm  vol 1  p  275-6).

While Shawe told AW:

Major Malcolm is still I am concerned to say in disgrace upon the question of Gwalior & Gohud; – all the politicians on this side of India condemn him for undervaluing those possessions, for over rating the importance of Scindiah’s friendship & the degree of dependence to be placed in his Faith, and for abandoning the rights you had established by the ninth article of the Treaty of Peace to Gwalior, Gohud & to all the objects which the Governor General was desirous to secure in Hindustan.  (Shawe to AW, 7 May 1804 WP 3/3/5 f 301-4)

 Which looks like cheeky attempt to divide AW from Malcolm, though too transparent to be very serious.

AW was annoyed with letters from Shawe and Edmonstone attacking Malcolm (AW to Malcolm, 22 May 1804, WD II p 1193-4) and wrote:

 The Governor-General may write what he pleases at Calcutta; we must conciliate the natives, or we shall not be able to do his business; and all his treaties, without conciliation and an endeavour to convince the Native powers that we have views besides our own interests, are so much waste paper.  (AW to Webbe, 23 May 1804 WSD  vol 4 p 390-2).

Malcolm’s disgrace was brief: on 25 May 1804 Shawe wrote to AW that they were all delighted with Malcolm’s letter of the 4th and the prospect it held out of a satisfactory solution to the dispute.

AW’s Correspondence with Lord Wellesley:

Throughout 1804-5 AW was writing both directly to Lord Wellesley and to Merrick Shawe, Lord Wellesley’s private secretary.  This rather hurt Lord Wellesley, who commented in a postscript to his letter of 23 December 1803:  ‘I do not know why you address your private letters to the Private Secretary & not to me – consult however your own convenience.’  (Lord Wellesley to AW, ‘Private’, 23 Dec 1803, WP 1/148 – this passage quoted in WD II p 992n).

AW replied to this: ‘I have generally written to Major Shawe for two reasons: 1st; because it was probable that I should get an answer from him: 2ndly; it was probable that this answer would contain intelligence of matters in Bengal which it was desirable that I should have.’  (AW to Lord Wellesley 21 Jan 1804 WD II p 991-2).

AW said later that the real reason why he stopped writing to Lord Wellesley directly was bitterness over the supersession at Bombay.   Yet the correspondence of 1804-5 is quite friendly, and the implied rebuke in the letter of explanation to Lord Wellesley may have a good deal of truth in it.     There are certainly hints in AW’s letters for the first half of 1804 that Lord Wellesley was not being very efficient, (for example, AW to Shawe, Bombay, 25 March 1804, WD II p 1119 where he complains that business is being held up by the lack of decisions from Bengal), while Shawe told AW on 16 March 1804:

I should be afraid to state to you the degree to which Lord Wellesley’s spirits and the general tone of His mind have been affected by the atrocious conduct of the Court of Directors and by the indignation he feels at the idea of being driven from His Station at the moment of such Glory, and when he is so justly entitled to their unbounded gratitude.  (Shawe to AW, 16 March 1804, WP 3/3/5  f 279-84).

AW view of Lord Wellesley’s policies

There is an excellent tour de horizon in AW to Henry Wellesley, 13 May 1804 (WSD  vol 4 p 383-6) in which AW complains that the moderate, conciliatory policy which he had pursued towards Sindia, and which had been much praised, has been abandoned; and that there was a real risk of renewed war, undoing all they had achieved, though the likelihood of war with Holkar, and a good share of the spoils, was restraining Sindia.   The Governor-General was sincere in his beliefs, and conciliatory in other ways,

But still we are all shaking again: the public interests may again be exposed to the risk of a battle, which we might have avoided by a smaller portion of ingenuity.

               In fact, my dear Henry, we want at Calcutta some person who will speak his mind to the Governor-General.  Since you and Malcolm have left him, there is nobody about him with capacity to understand these subjects, who has nerves to discuss them with him, and to oppose his sentiments when he is wrong.  There cannot be a stronger proof of this want than the fact that Malcolm, and I, and General Lake, and Mercer, and Webbe, were of opinion that we had lost Gwalior with the treaty of peace.  (AW to Henry Wellesley, 13 May 1804 WSD vol 4 p 383-6).

 Henry Wellesley was in England throughout this period, just as he had been when AW was superseded at Bombay, and it is worth considering whether his presence might have moderated Lord Wellesley’s policy.

AW’s advice to Lord Wellesley to go home:

In May 1803 he gave his brother fair warning of the line he was likely to take, by writing, ‘The letter from the Court of Directors to the Governor of Fort St George is shocking.  I hope that you do not propose to stay in India longer than the end of this year.   Such masters do not deserve your services.’ (AW to the Governor-General, Poona, 27 May 1803, WD I p 464-66).


AW’s suggestion that the Peshwa’s consent to the proposed division of the conquered territory be obtained by bribing him (AW to Shawe, 7 March 1804, WD II p 1078-9) was not the only occasion he suggested such means of persuasion.   On 31 January he had told Malcolm that up to one third of the money due to be paid to Sindia’s sirdars might as well be paid to Sindia himself: ‘It will not be a bad plan to bribe the prince, as well as his ministers.’  (AW to Malcolm, 31 January 1804, WD II p 1018).   In this case there was no specific object in view, just keeping Sindia’s goodwill, so that it barely qualifies as bribery, despite AW’s use of the word.

AW and the 33rd:

AW continued to take a close and informed interest in the regiment: see AW to Lt-Col Gore, 10 Feb 1804, WD II p 1036-7.

AW’s appointment to the Staff:

Shawe wrote to AW on 25 May 1804: Hope you are satisfied with the appointment (announced in his letter of 7 May).   Lord Wellesley is horrified at the idea of your going home.

This alarm was not much diminished by the successor to you who is hinted at in General Lake’s letter to you on this subject [Major-General McDouall – see WD II p 1153-4n – aka Major-General Hay MacDowall].  If the King had not put you on the Staff after your Services in India, the law and our loyalty would forbid our saying anything of him, but it would be impossible to abstain from saying that H.M.’s Ministers would have deserved to be hanged.  (WP 1/151).

AW spelt out his grievance more fully some months later, telling Shawe,

I am not very ambitious; and I acknowledge that I never have been very sanguine in my expectations that military services in India would be considered in the scale in which are considered similar services in other parts of the world.  But I might have expected to be placed on the Staff in India; and yet if it had not been for the lamented death of Gen. Fraser, Gen. Smith’s arrival would have made me supernumerary.   This is perfectly well known to the army, and is the subject of a good deal of conversation.  (AW to Shawe, 4 Jan. 1805, WD II p 1389-91.) [Major-General John Henry Fraser was mortally wounded at Deig on 13 Nov 1804; Major-General David Smith.]

AW’s personal finances and will:

AW’s account of the amount he had spent, over and above his allowances, between July 1803 and June 1804 = 9,101 star pagodas [approx £3,640] is in WSD  vol 4  p 409.

When AW drew up his will in July 1807 he was worth approximately £53,000 (Wilson Soldier’s Wife p 103).   This replaced one which he drew up in Madras in 1805 in which he ‘made various bequests to brother officers, to Mrs Freese and to his godson Arthur Freese.  The remainder of his fortune he had left to his brother Gerald, with £10,000 for Henry, and specific instructions that his papers should be destroyed “and not looked at.”’  (ibid p 101).

In the first issue of the Royal Military Chronicle published in November 1810, a biographical sketch of Wellington stated that he had acquired a large fortune in India and implied that while not actually corrupt, he took advantage of the different standards which prevailed there.   The December issue published a rebuttal of this (p 144-6), signed ‘Miles’ dated Cheltenham, 9 Nov 1810, which the editor of the journal accepted, incorporating part of it into his continuation of the Life of Wellington (p 96).

Miles state that William Wellesley-Pole had read a letter from Wellington in Parliament which stated that his fortune amounted to £40,000:

£  5,000 from the EIC for services as commissioner in the settlement of Mysore

£  5,000 Seringapatam prize money

£25,000 prize money from the Maratha War

the remainder being interest on these sums.   He made no profit on the offices he held.

(The letter is AW to Pole, 13 Sept 1809, ‘Letters to Pole’ p 24-25: the figures differ slightly: AW says he received £4,000 not £5,000 from the Directors of the EIC for being a commissioner in the settlement of Mysore; and a lump sum of £2,000 as arrears of his allowance as Commanding Officer at Seringapatam).

AW in Bombay:

WD II p 1095-6 prints details of the honours given to AW and Webbe on their visit to Bombay, March to May 1804: guns fired, addresses presented, dinners given etc.

Guedalla The Duke  p 112-3 quotes some chatty letters to Mrs Gordon of 18 May re oysters etc amusing, but without any real substance.   On p 113-4 he says that AW used the opportunity to buy books, and lists many of them together with provisions and equipment (saddlery etc), and some rings and mementos.

Lieutenant H. J. Close, ADC to AW:

This was Lieutenant Henry Jackson Close who resigned from the Madras army in 1807 and who obtained a King’s commission in the 25th Light Dragoons, which was then serving in India.  He became a captain in the 5th Dragoon Guards in 1812 and served in the Peninsula from July 1813 to April 1814.  He died in 1842 or 1843. He was not Barry Close’s son (see Col R. H. Close to Wellington 31 [sic] April 1828, WP 1/929/15), but it seems likely that he was a relative.

The Army of the Deccan:

After dispersing the freebooters in early February, AW complained to Malcolm of the incompetence of his – unnamed – cavalry commanding officer, and said that there was no one he could trust to command ‘excepting [Colonel William] Wallace’.  (AW to Malcolm, 18 Feb 1804, WD II p 1056 & WP 3/3/71 in WD NBk p 102)

On 22nd May AW told Malcolm:  ‘I have joined the army, which I have completely clothed, armed, and equipped.  The clothing will be finished in a few days…. The corps are, I am sorry to say, very weak, but in good order.’  (AW to Malcolm, 22 May 1804, WD II p 1193-6).

AW on the War with Holkar:

AW to Col Murray, 3rd April 1804, WD II p 1128-9:  Expects Holkar to remain quiet and the war to be avoided.  Outlines plans and precautions.  ‘According to this plan, we ought to be hanged if we do not get the better of Holkar in a very short time.’

AW to Col Murray, 13th April 1804, WD II p 1142-3: War with Holkar becomes ever more improbable.  He is in talks with Lake, and his army is incapable of doing anything.

Lord Wellesley to AW, 16th April 1804, WD II p 1128n:  Announcing the outbreak of war.

AW to Webbe, 20th April 1804, WSD  vol 4 p 373-4: Still hopes war can be avoided. Criticizes Lake’s proposed operations.

AW to Malcolm, 20th April 1804, WD II p 1150-1: Detailed discussions of plans of campaign. ‘If the General should vigorously push Holkar, the war will not last a fortnight; if he should not, God knows when it will be over.’

AW to Murray, 30th April 1804, WD II p 1161: Now clear that war with Holkar can’t be avoided.  Unless Lake has already struck a blow nothing can be done until August.

AW to Col Murray, 7th May 1804, WD II p 1168-70: War has broken out – instructions.

As late as 13 May, AW had not been informed what were Lake’s plans – did not even know if he intended to take the field (AW to Murray, 13 May 1804, WD II p 1176).

AW to Col Murray, 22nd May 1804, WD II p 1193: He now knows that Lake marched at the beginning of May and gives Murray instructions accordingly, but still has not received Lake’s plan of campaign.

AW to Webbe, 26th May 1804, WSD  vol 4 p 395-6: ‘What could have induced the General to press for the commencement of the war with Holkar, being entirely unprepared to follow him, or to carry the war beyond the Company’s frontier?’

AW to Stuart, 28th May 1804, WD II p 1202-3: Reports from Lake that Holkar’s army dissolving under pressure.  I’ve strongly urged him to continue to press him – if so the affair will soon be over.   ‘Indeed, if the Governor-General had allotted a subsidiary force to Scindiah, it would probably have been over by this time.’

AW to Webbe, 5th June 1804,WSD  vol 4 p 416-7: We won’t succeed against Holkar until the Governor-General sends Sindia a subsidiary force – wish Sindia would ask for it.

AW to Webbe, 5th June 1804,WSD  vol 4 p 420: Monson is strong enough to look after himself.

AW on secrecy:

AW to Lt-Col Wallace, 28 June 1804, WD II p 1253-4 argues that it is important to maintain secrecy even when there is no particular need, so that the sudden imposition of secrecy when it is necessary will not attract unwanted attention.

AW on Government in India and the need for large armies:

The more territory we conquer, the larger, not smaller, our armies must be: ‘all government in India, excepting perhaps that in Bengal, is held by the sword.’  (AW to Stuart, 3 July 1804, WD II p 1259-63).

AW in Bengal:

There is a memorandum by Merrick Shawe in WP 3/3/5 giving detailed, elaborate, rather absurd, instructions for AW’s reception.

Guedalla The Duke  p 115 discusses his purchase of trinkets in Calcutta, necklaces, shawls &c.

Home’s portrait:

 ‘Robert Home’s account-book, now in the possession of his great-grandson, Col. R. Home, contains an entry for every portrait painted by him in India between 1795 and 1814.  In September 1804 he records six portraits of General Wellesley; one full-length life-size, one small full-length, one half-length, and three heads; in October 1804 he records four more, of which three are heads and one, ‘for Penang’, a full-length.  In November 1804, he records two profile heads.  In March 1805, a head ‘for a native prince’.  In August 1806, a head ‘for Col. Malcolm.’  These are all.

   ‘Wellesley’s appointment to the Order of the Bath was gazetted in London in September 1804, but the news did not reach Calcutta until February 1805.   Consequently, in the portraits at Delhi and Apsley House the decoration has been added later; and this is very evident in the latter, where there is no ribbon and the star is placed outside the row of buttons.’  (Wellesley & Steegmann Iconography p 21-22).

According to Guedalla (p 115), citing a receipt in the Apsley House papers, AW paid the surprisingly modest sum of 500 rupees for the portrait.   But it is surely more likely that this was for one of the copies, and that Lord Wellesley commissioned and paid for the main, full-length, portrait as a companion piece to his own portrait by Home, leaving both at Government House, (Wellesley and Steegmann state that the original portrait by Home was at the Viceroy’s House, New Delhi when their work was written in 1935).

Monson’s advance and retreat:

Several points emerge from Fortescue’s account of the campaign (History of the British Army vol 5):

p 77  In withdrawing to summer quarters Lake’s army suffered severely from the summer heat losing many men (250 natives and 30 Europeans in a single day).  This shows that it was not a feeble excuse, but equally, as Fortescue himself comments: ‘Possibly its losses would hardly have been greater if it had followed up Holkar and left him no rest, as had been the desire of Arthur Wellesley.’

p 84, 85  Monson’s retreat much affected by rain and lack of supplies – indeed the latter was as important as loss of nerve to its continuance.

p 88  A good half of Monson’s entire force was lost and Fortescue calls it the ‘heaviest blow that had fallen on the British in India since the destruction of Baillie’s detachment’.

p 89-90 Fortescue concludes that for all Monson’s blunders the primary responsibility for the disaster lay with Lake who gave him vague orders, insufficient supplies and no pontoons.

The most determined attempt to blame AW for Monson’s disaster is Bennell’s ‘Failure by Deputy’ in Wellington Studies II.  But the link is too tenuous for the charge to have much credibility – Monson’s mess was all too plainly of his own, and Lake’s, making, with even Murray and Sindia contributing only slightly to it.


Fortescue is extremely partial to Lake.  He admits that Lake never bothered with mundane logistical preparations but claims that his fighting spirit carried him through all difficulties, and makes AW appear rather tame and boring in comparison (History of the British Army vol 5 p 90-91).  Even so, he admits that Lake’s neglect and vague orders were the primary cause of Monson’s disaster.

Fuhr goes to the other extreme.  She claims that Lake deliberately provoked the war with Holkar contrary to Lord Wellesley’s wish (‘Strategy and Diplomacy in British India’ p 230-5), and is highly critical of his conduct of the campaign, and especially of his attacks on Bhurtpore (p 273-5).

It certainly does seem that the war with Holkar was undertaken with little forethought or preparation – AW received no plan of campaign from Lake until it was far too late, while Lake’s own operations were poorly prepared and not sustained.  If Lake could not do better, he ought not to have begun the war when he did – the comparison with AW in 1803 is striking.

Reaction to Monson’s Failure:

On 11 September AW wrote to Webbe: ‘Monson’s disasters are really the greatest and the most disgraceful to our military character of any that have ever occurred.’  (AW to Webbe, 11 Sept. 1804, WSD  vol 4 p 464-5).   And to Malcolm he poured scorn on the panic-stricken reaction of the Governor of Bombay: ‘to crown all Jonathon [Duncan] circulates a manifesto, by which he proclaims Guzerat and Surat to be in immediate danger – he calls for troops from the whole world, and he orders a levy of horse, at the expense of three lacs a month.   I expect that he has evacuated Bombay!!!’ (AW to Malcolm, 24 Aug. 1804, WP 3/3/71 – letter printed in WD II p 1297-8 with this passage suppressed).

The well known: ‘I do not think that the Commander in Chief and I have carried on the war so well by our deputies as we did ourselves’ comes from AW to Malcolm, 24 Aug 1804, WD II p 1297-8.

Malcolm, in urging AW’s return, said that AW and Lake were the only competent generals – even Barry Close fell far short of AW – good for a detachment but no more (Malcolm to AW, 4 Sept 1804, Kaye Life of Malcolm vol 1 p 289-91).

AW initially intended to leave Bengal quickly – on 9 Sept he told Close that he hoped to depart in a few days and ‘I purpose not to allow the grass to grow under my feet’, but this initial sense of urgency waned, probably when it became clear that the crisis would be contained (AW to Close, 9 Sept 1804, WD II p 1304-5).

AW’s advice to Colonel William Wallace, commanding the Army of the Deccan:

On 12 September AW sent a detailed, thoughtful analysis of the reasons for Monson’s failure to Colonel Wallace.  This was clearly meant as guidance on how to avoid similar troubles, but in the process it gives a good account of Wellesley’s own approach to the conduct of the campaign.   It is much too long to quote in full, but a single paragraph conveys both the gist of the argument and flavour of the letter:

 We have some important lessons from this campaign.  1st: We should never employ a corps on a service for which it is not fully equal.  2ndly: Against the Marhattas in particular, but against all enemies, we should take care to be sure of plenty of provisions.  3rdly: Experience has shown us, that British troops can never depend upon Rajahs, or any allies for their supplies.  Our own officers must purchase them; and if we should employ a Native in such an important service, we ought to see the supplies before we venture to expose our troops in a situation in which they may want them.  4thly: When we have a fort which can support our operations, such as Rampoora to the northward, or Ahmednuggar, or Chandore in your quarter, we should immediately adopt effectual measures to fill it with provisions and stores, in case of need.   5thly: When we cross a river likely to be full in the rains, we ought to have a post and boats upon it; as I have upon all the rivers south of Poona, and as you have, I hope, upon the Beemah and the Godavery. (AW to Lt-Col Wallace, 12 Sept. 1804, WD II p 1306-11).

 AW on complaints and responsibility:

AW to Shawe 7 May 1804  (WD II p 1172): ‘I do not usually make complaints; I struggled through difficulties in the last year, the report of which, through another channel, created much alarm in Bengal.’  See also: AW to Murray, 28 June 1804 (WD II p 1252-3): Warning him that his constant complaints of weakness and requests for reinforcements ‘expose the government to the severe responsibility of omitting to reinforce you on the one hand, if it should be necessary; or of reinforcing you, on the other, if it should not.’

While in September, AW told Shawe that Murray’s latest complaint:

 renders it absolutely necessary now either to reinforce him with regular cavalry, which is impossible; to withdraw his corps entirely from Malwa, which, unless it be to supply it with provisions, would be fatal to the operations of the war; or to relieve him in the command by another officer.   If one of these measures be not adopted, the government, and not Col. Murray, will be responsible for the misfortunes which may happen.

 He recommended that Duncan be instructed to supersede Murray with Major-General Richard Jones; but this was not done.  (AW to Shawe, 17 Sept 1804, WD II p 1314-15).

AW and the offer of CinC Bombay:

AW replied to Benjamin Sydenham, saying that he was determined to go home:

The office which Sir John Cradock says is to be proposed to my acceptance has not been offered, nor I conclude will it be.  If it were, I should not accept it.  If circumstances should oblige me to stay in India contrary to my inclination, it is desirable that I should have that office, as it would give me more power, and enable me to interfere more effectually in Bombay affairs than I have hitherto.   Otherwise I would not accept it; and as a permanent and honourable situation in India I prefer that which I have here.  (AW to B. Sydenham, 6 Jan. 1805, WSD  vol 4  p 475).

 The Bombay army had a rather poor reputation – lacking the prestige and status of that of Madras or Bengal.  (e.g. see Elphinstone’s comments in Ch 9 on campaigning).

AW and Cradock:

AW’s first impression was favourable.  He arrived at Madras on 13 February, the day after Cradock had come from Bengal, and on the 15th told Malcolm:  ‘He appears to me to be well disposed to carry on affairs in the manner in which they ought to be conducted, and I hope everything will go on well.’   (AW to Cradock, 15 Feb 1805, WD II p 1423)  But by the 26th he was less happy:

Between ourselves, I am not entirely satisfied with him.  He has commenced his command by appointing an aid de camp more than he is entitled to, and by claiming allowances which were refused to Gen. Stuart.  I find fault only with his judgment upon this occasion, as the result of these claims will be, that he will not involve himself forthwith in a dispute with the Council, and the Court of Directors, upon points personal to himself, and, of course, the whole world will be on the side of his opponents.  (AW to Malcolm, 26 Feb 1805, WD II p 1435-6).

AW and the Investiture with the Bath:

It is worth noting that in the Peninsula Wellington made sure that subordinates who were awarded KBs were invested with some pomp and held a gala dinner and ball for them (e.g. Sherbrooke in 1809 and Beresford in 1810), which tends to suggest that he really regretted the lack of ceremony in 1805.

AW’s departure:

AW was a guest at a grand farewell dinner given to Admiral Rainier in Madras, which is reported at length in the Madras Gazette of 2 March 1805 (quoted in Parkinson War in Eastern Seas p 256-7):

On Tuesday evening, the Civil Servants of the Hon’ble Company gave an elegant entertainment at the Pantheon to His Excellency Vice Admiral Rainier, on occasion of his departure for Europe.

The Admiral was received by the Stewards who were appointed for the occasion, in the front room of the Pantheon, and the Right Hon’ble the Governor, accompanied by His Excellency Sir John Cradock and the Hon’ble Sir Arthur Wellesley, arrived shortly after.

      A trumpet announced dinner being on the table, and was followed by the band striking up the popular tune of God Save the King; the company now passed through the theatre, and descended to a building which had been erected for the purpose.

      On entering the pavilion, the eye was immediately attracted by the elegance and splendour with which it was fitted up; the whole was covered with fine white linen, richly embossed with stars of gold and fringed with variegated colours, to which were attached small reflecting globes which presented the most grand coup d’oeil the imagination can conceive; the superb pillars by which the whole was supported, were alternately gold and blue and while; the whole evidently displaying the taste of the gentlemen who had the management of this part of the entertainment.

      The chandeliers and lamps which illuminated this spacious and grand building, were distributed with an equal degree of simplicity and elegance.

      The Dinner. – The Admiral was conducted to the centre of the table on the right hand of the Senior Civil Servant, the Governor and Sir Arthur to the left, and the Commander-in-Chief and Mr Petrie to the opposite side.   At regulated spaces, two Stewards were placed throughout the whole length, by which means the utmost regularity prevailed, and notwithstanding the number of visitors that were present, a private entertainment could not have been conducted with more order and regularity.

      The tables were covered with every luxury that munificence could produce; every thing was of its best kind, and what is scarcely to be paralleled, was quite hot.  The wines were cool, excellent, and in great abundance, and the other wines were of the best importations…

      (After the King, and the Navy and Army, Admiral Rainier’s health was drunk with three times three and the tune of Hearts of Oak.  The Hon. Company was toasted to the tune of “Money in both pockets” and the Marquis Wellesley to the tune of “St. Patrick’s day in the morning.”)

      The company were obligingly entertained by several gentlemen of the Presidency with many select and choice songs, and the gallant Admiral sung three or four during the evening….

      The Right Hon’ble the Governor did not rise from the table until past twelve, and it was nearly three o’clock before the Admiral departed from this well supplied and hospitable board…

The Voyage home:

Guedalla The Duke p 117 discusses his light reading on the voyage home.

He was very sea sick for he first week or more: AW to Shawe, 29 March 1805, WD II p 1455.

He describes the voyage to St Helena in his letter to Malcolm of 3 July 1805 WD II p 1456-8 and says that it has done him good:

 My health has been much mended by the voyage, and particularly by a short residence on this island; and I am convinced that, if I had not quitted India, I should have had a serious fit of illness.   I was wasting away daily, and latterly, when at Madras, I found my strength failed, which had always before held out.  In short, I do not recollect for many years to have been so well as I have felt latterly, and particularly since I have been here.  I have scarcely any rheumatism or lumbago.

 On the voyage he wrote an unfinished Memorandum on Dearth in India, and one arguing against the proposed interchange of Indian and West Indian troops (WD II p 1463-7, 1468-73).   Neither is particularly important.



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© Rory Muir

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