Smith's report on the actions around Kotah ki Serai which it is generally believed resulted in the death of the Rani.
From Brigadier M. W. SMITH, Commanding Brigade, Rajpootana Field Force No. 25, dated Camp before Gwalior, 25th June 1858.
I have the honor to report, for the information of Major-General Roberts, Commanding Rajpootana Field Force, that on the morning of the 17th instant, I marched by Major-General Sir H. Rose's order from Antree through the pass to Kotah-ka-Serai, which lies between three and four miles South-east of Gwalior.
I had reconnoitred the pass the evening before, and occupied the difficult points by strong pickets and posts, so that had there been any enemy I should have been prepared.
I met with no opposition whatever, and reached Kotah-ka-Serai at 7 1/2 a.m. Upon my arrival I saw the enemy occupying the heights in front, and between me and Gwalior.
I had orders from Sir Hugh Rose to halt at Kotah-ka-Serai and communicate with him, but as the enemy appeared determined to attack me, and being also hampered with a large quantity of baggage and Kotah-ka-Serai not being a secure position, I thought it best to take the initiative. I therefore collected my baggage in and near the fort of Kotah-ka-Serai, placing it under a Troop of Her Majesty's 8th Hussars, and a squadron of Lancers, and as strong a guard of Infantry as I could afford. I reconnoitred the ground in front, and found it to be most difficult, intersected with nullahs and impracticable for Cavalry. About 1,500 yards from Kotah-ka-Serai, their guns were in position, and their line ran all under the hills across the road to Gwalior.
This I ascertained by advancing with - my reconnoitring party to within about 4 or 500 yards, when they opened so heavy a fire upon us that we were obliged to retire, not however before I had made myself acquainted with the nature of the ground, and thus enabled myself to avoid being intangled in the nullahs above mentioned.
I advanced the Horse Artillery and soon silenced their guns; after three or four rounds they began to retire, and I sent my Infantry across the broken ground giving the command of that branch to Lieutenant Colonel Raines, Commanding Her Majesty's 95th (the senior Infantry Officer present), with orders to follow up the enemy as far as he thought advisable. I have called upon Lieutenant-Colonel Raines to furnish me with a report, which I enclose, as. I consider it gives a detailed and accurate account of the proceedings of the Infantry part of the Force from the time I gave him the order to advance up to the time of occupying the heights above Gwalior. I have only to add that I cannot speak too highly of the steady and Soldier-like conduct of both Officers and men of the 10th Native Infantry, who have given me the most prompt and ready assistance upon all occasions and of Officers and men of the 95th Regiment, who though exhausted from fatigue and want of food, stormed the heights under a burning sun and a heavy fire.
In consequence of threatening movements of the enemy, as well as the unprotected position of the baggage, I was obliged to send back (to reinforce the Troops already left at Kotah-ka-Serai) one. Troop, of Her Majesty's 8th Hussars, one Division Horse Artillery and two Companies 10th Native Infantry.
From the nature of the ground already described, I was unable for some time to bring my Cavalry into action, and merely retained them as support and escort to the Troop Horse Artillery under Lieutenant-Colonel Blake, but having advanced to the head of the pass, partially occupied the heights above the plain near the Phool Bagh and placed Infantry to guard the entrance of the defile, and protect a retreat, I thought I might venture to advance with a Squadron of the 8th Hussars, and the two divisions of Horse Artillery remaining at my disposal1 and one troop of the 1st Lancers, sending back for the remaining troop of the 1st Lancers as a support.
I then ordered the Squadron of Hussars to charge to the front which they did most gallantly, passing right through the enemy's Camp, carrying everything before them.
[It is this action by the Hussars during which it is believed that the Rani was fatally wounded. AC]
Upon the return of the Squadron both Officers and men were so completely exhausted and prostrated from heat, fatigue, and great exertion they could scarcely sit on their saddles and were for the moment incapable of further exertion. This was a critical moment, as the, enemy were collecting both on the front and flanks, but the 95th had arrived, near the guns, and the 8th Hussars, in spite of their fatigue, formed to their front in line, and in order to show a greater front I formed them in single ranks. In the mean time the remaining Troop of the 1st Lancers had arrived to support, as second line, I then retired the Cavalry by alternative Troops, protected by the Artillery, during which movement both arms showed the greatest steadiness and entered the ravines, under the protection of the Infantry posted there. I then took up a position for the night on the heights, sending for my baggage and placing it in tolerable security, in a sort of amphitheatre formed by a portion of the hills we occupied. I guarded both ends of the defile with strong pickets of Infantry, in strong positions formed by the ground, and also threw out strong pickets, both Cavalry and infantry, towards the heights on our right; the left of our position was defended against any sudden assaults by a steep bank and a canal.
Having now finished my first day's proceedings, I have only to add the names of some Officers, who gave me most valuable assistance
Lieutenant-Colonel Hicks, Commanding details, who was most energetic and always in the front, both in reconnoitring and in the charge, and it was at his suggestion that I ordered the charge of the Squadron of the 8th Hussars through the enemy's Camp, which although venturous, succeeded well with the enemy we had to deal with.
Captain Sir John Hill, acting as my Brigade Major who, in spite of the intense heat and great fatigue, was always at my side, ready to give me assistance and carry out my instructions: also Captain Bolton, Acting Quarter-Master General to the Brigade, who in addition to the performance of his own peculiar duties, which, under the circumstances, were arduous and trying in the extreme, gave me most efficient assistance. Lieutenant Williams, Sub-Assistant Commissary General attached to the Brigade, who is always most active, energetic and indefatigable in the discharge of his duties, but on this occasion, when the obtaining of any supplies were most difficult, in fact, next to impossible, he never spared himself in endeavouring to overcome difficulties.
Captain Mac Mullen, 23rd Bengal Infantry, who volunteered to act as my Aide-de-Camp and gave me most valuable and efficient assistance.
Comet Goldsworthy, Her Majesty's 8th Hussars, who also acted as my Aide-de-Camp, gave me most valuable assistance in carrying my orders under -a burning sun, and over very difficult ground, and once at a most critical moment, viz., when I required Cavalry support upon the return of the Squadron of Her Majesty's 8th Hussars from their charge.
p.s. I am much indebted to Officers Commanding Regiments, for their services to me during the day.
Letters of Mr. Martin to J. V. Sturt published as an appendix to the account of John Venables Sturt experiences at the outbreak of the Rebellion. This account was published after the death of Sturt in 1899 by his wife, a copy of which is held in the British Library. Sturt was stationed near to Jhansi in 1857 but he has little to say of events there. Nonetheless his wife included with the account extracts from three letters from "a Mr. Martin" which Sturt had stored with his manuscript. There is no mention of who Mr Martin might have been or the source of his information. It is reasonably certain that this is the T. A. Martin whose letter to Damodhar Rao we have via Parasnis' book.
The letters are reproduced here as published and preceded by Mrs Sturt's comments.
Mrs Sturt's comments:
A propos of the Rani of Jhansi who is generally supposed to have been responsible for the massacre of the Europeans at Jhansi Fort, and afterwards to have been killed fighting on horseback in battle at Gwalior, there are with the manuscript three letters written to Mr. Sturt by a Mr. Martin who was evidently in possession of reliable information on the subject. It will be seen from the which we make that the writer denies that the Rani was anxious to rebel, but after much hesitation took up arms, believing herself to have been unjustly treated by the Company. He also emphatically denies that she was in any way responsible for the massacre of the Europeans, of which the mutinous Native Officers alone were guilty. In the third place it appears that the Rani was not killed by the sabre of a British trooper at the battle of Gwalior, though one of her female attendants was so killed. The rani being mortally wounded by a stray bullet, committed sati by burning herself to death in a hayrick. Of the courage and ability of this remarkable woman there is not the least doubt. The letters were all written in the summer of 1897 from different places in the United Provinces.
Extract from Mr Martin's Letter no. 1
Where the Rani is mentioned she is said to have been slain in battle, but I know for a fact that while watching the fight which was raging a stray bullet struck her in the back. Feeling herself mortally wounded and making over her adopted son, Damodhan Rao Bhoonoo? (sic) at Indore to the care of her female attendant Koshin (?) - one of the two who threw in their lot with their mistress, Moondar(?) the other having been killed that very day by a sabre cut across the body - and refusing the assistance of Tantia Topee who offered to take her off, she ordered a ladder to be planted against a hayrick which was close by, ascended it unassisted, and ordered her people to set fire to it, which was done. This happened in Goosain's Bagh near Phoolbagh. I went and saw the spot. I could say a great deal more in favour of this unfortunate woman whom I knew personally.
Extract from Mr Martin's Letter no. 2
I enclose a letter just received from the adopted son of the late Rani of Jhansi as well as his autobiography, the perusal of which I feel certain will prove interesting. Return them both please after perusal. He is a political pensioner at Indore, drawing the small pittance of Rs 200 per mensum [ie per month]. As soon as he sends me the History of the Rani's life whether in Maharathi(sic) or English I will not fail to send it to you, and if you will but try to remove the stain of rebellion resting against her name I will consider myself amply repaid for the trouble I have and am still taking to afford you proofs of her innocence. That she did not rebel until called upon by Sir Robert Hamilton to surrender unconditionally, I can vouch for. This she would have done but for Murdan(?) sing of Banpaore, who told her that if she gave herself up, she would be hung by sweepers. That she supplied all the Europeans who fled pell-mell into the Fort for two days until stopped by the Subadar Major of the 12th N.I. there can be no doubt of, and it was only after the massacre - in which she certainly took no part - and after the rebellious troops had left that she took possession of her country, of which she had always thought she was unjustly deprived by the British Government. She fought Dattia and Tehri combined when they attacked her with the intention of wresting her territory from her possession and dividing it between themselves. - thinking they would have to fight a defenceless woman - but she had managed to muster a small force of Arabs and Rohillas within an incredibly short space of time, and beat back the invaders as often they attacked her in her stronghold, and yet both these dastardly chiefs of Dattia and Tehri were not asked why with the resources at their command they were not able to protect and save the lives of our people from the hands of only half a Regiment of Infantry and half of the 16th Bengal Cavalry. The Rani had no more than 20 or 30 retainers when the massacre took place..... It would have been the wisest and best course for her to surrender when she was called upon to do so but she valued her reputation better than her life and - fate is inexorable - it was so to be. Murdan Sing saved the Euroipean residents of Lallitpur and disarmed a whole company of sepoys; why couldn't Dattia and Tehri have done the same at Jhansi if so inclined?
Extract from Mr Martin's Letter no. 3
I have just received a letter from Damadhan Rao, adopted son of the Rani of Jhansi, giving me a true and faithful account of her last battle and end. Nothing could be more reliable as he was an eyewitness of all that occurred. He also sent me her life in Maharathi(sic) which is being translated by the editor of a paper at Calcutta, but the English footnotes being extracts from the reports of Sir Hugh Rose and others as well as extracts from the work of other historians who have written accounts of the mutiny....
(The remainder of the page is half missing. From the unfinished sentence which ends the page it is clear that at least another page is missing.)
[ It is unclear if this final comment is from Mrs Sturt or some subsequent transcriber.]