Mizoram, 1872: Rescue of Mary Winchester

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This article is an extract from


THE LUSHAI EXPEDITION
1871-1872

BY
R.G. WOODTHORPE.
LIEUT. ROYAL ENGINEERS.

LONDON:
HURST AND BLACKETT, PUBLISHERS,
13, GREAT MARLBOROUGH STREET.

1873.


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Contents

Rescue of Mary Winchester

The classis, being principally Hindus, and pos- sessing strong caste prejudices, had frequently driven away with much harshness any Lushai who ignorantly approached too close to their cooking-pot or fire-place, while preparing their food. It is not unlikely, therefore, that this lordly invader had endeavoured to make the Lushais get out of his way, and that the latter had resented this insult in the usual manner with the dad.

This was the explanation tendered by an officer of great experience among the natives, and though another worthy officer disposed of this argument entirely to his own satisfaction by the simple and laconic reply of ** Bosh," I cannot help thinking that there was a good deal of probability, to say the least, in it.

The Lushai, a fine spirited-looking youth, re- turned to Kungnung with a metua in the after- noon, was recognised, admitted at once that he had done the deed, and was apparently sur- prised to find himself tied up as a prisoner, remarking that when Poiboi heard how he had been treated it would be bad for us.

Escape of A Captive

I made a sketch of him as he sat bound out- side the guard-room, evidently objecting to this enforced "sitting for his portrait." His whole attitude, and the vigilant look in his eyes, re- minded me strongly of some noble wild animal held captive, eagerly watching for the slightest opportunity of escape ; and such an opportunity presented itself to him, or rather he made it for himself the very next day, when, the troops having left Kungnung, his Goorkha guard was exchanged for one of Sappers and Miners, who were left behind to occupy the place.

The Goorkhas, in the Jynteah and Cossyah Hill wars, had learnt, from sad experience, how easily a Hillman will escape if not carefully bound and watched, and had paid no attention to Simlam's signs that he was too tightly tied. These how- ever he repeated to the less experienced and more tender-hearted Sappers, and they loosed his bonds slightly.

He then signed for some covering, and they put a rug over his shoulders.

Suddenly, taking advantage of a moment when the sentry had relaxed his vigilance, this Lushai Davenport Brother, flinging off rug and bonds together, and clearing the guard*-house at a bound, disappeared into the jungle, before his discomfited guards could recover from their astonishment, to offer any opposition. He was to have been sent to Cachar, to be imprisoned there. His escape, however, probably saved us from a great deal of " political complications."

On the 1st February, the General and staff with Mr. Edgar, and the advanced detachments of the 22nd and 44th regiments, marched out of Kungnung along the western face of Muthilen. The path was narrow, and on a steep hillside, broken hero and there by rocks and landslips.

At length, after a weary toil under a hot sun, a little stream was reached where the force waited for a short time, refreshing themselves with the clear cold water, while a small party went on to find, if possible, a better camping ground ahead. This they did, and at five p.m. the troops reached the banks of a swiftly running stream, with a gravelly bed, the water cold as if iced.

Lofty hills rose on all sides; and the eleva- tion of the site was about five thousand two hundred feet. The atmosphere was very dsxnp and cold, the thermometer going down during the night to thirty-nine degrees. The gloom of the virgin forest seemed never to have been penetrated by the sun's rays.

Bats In A Bamboo

The huge forest trees were festooned with moss and creepers, and a curious bamboo was found here, which we saw nowhere else; each joint having a ring of thorns round it, and the joints seldom more than eight inches apart.

In cutting some of these to build our huts, we found enclosed between the joints of a bamboo, four little bats, alive. How they came there, how long they had been there, and how being there they would, without our assistance, ever have got out, I leave to be explained by those who know all about the curious stories of toads found in coal, for I confess myself unable to solve the mystery. The joints of the bamboo certainly seemed perfectly air-tight, for there was no perceptible opening.

We had only time to construct hasty cantos of boughs and leaves ; and we soon discovered the disadvantages of attaching the framework of the maichaus to that of the walls of the canto, as the slightest movement on the part of any one sleeper communicated a. vibration to the whole structure that soon aroused all the other occupants.

I awoke in the middle of the night with a sensation of cold about my head, and hearing an unusual noise close to my ear. I looked up, and perceived by the light of the many camp-fires struggling through the mist, in which the giant moss-grown trunks loomed vast and weird, that a large gap had been made in the leafy wall, and putting out my hand it came in contact with a pony's head. I gave it a blow, and it went away, but shortly afterwards I heard sounds the reverse of blessing proceeding from a hut near.

In the morning we found that the offender, who had disturbed our repose, was an officer's pony, which had got loose, and gone round the camp, devouring each hut in turn, till the sleeper within was aroused and drove it away.

A heavy dew fell in the morning, and very glad everyone was to get some hot tea and depart.

Here we received the news of Simlam's escape. About nine a.m., the force commenced the on- ward march for Chelam, Poibors chief village, which we expected to reach that evening. The march was pleasant enough for the first four or five miles, lying along the east face of Leng- teng, through light forest, with grass and fern undergrowth. There were a great many orchids on the trees, but not in bloom ; and in one place we saw a young fir springing up through the grass.

Touching Scene

The road passed over several precipices, down which dashed little mountain streams; at one of the most romantic of these, we were over- taken by Darpong, and a large number of Lushais bringing the metuas and elephant tusks.

Among them came Bhoma, a Kholel man, with a captive Naga woman, whom he had taken from Munipur in 1869. A most touching scene ensued. Mr. Edgar, through his interpreter, informed her, in an affecting speech, that she might consider herself free to return with her liberators to the land of her birth.

To the surprise of everyone, however, instead of expressing joy, she took her pipe out of her mouth, burst into a torrent of tears, and falling on Bhoma's shoulder, declared, in broken lan- guage, that he had ever been kind to her, and, like Mrs. Micawber, that " she could never, never desert him." Unlike Mr. Micawber, poor Bhoma could not reply, *^ I am not aware, my love, that anyone wishes you to do so," for not only was a stony-hearted Political wishing it, but apparently urging her to do so. However, her distress was evidently real, and though nei- ther young nor pretty, the sight of her tears moved even that gentleman at last, and he de- clared, in another feeling address, that he would not constitute himself the Lord Penzance of the Lushais, nor come between her and the object of her elderly affections. This faithful one, then relieved from her suspense, walking hand in hand with her nearly lost Lushai lord, followed us on to Chelam.

During our march, we crossed, about two p.m., a fine stream called the Saivar, at an elevation of three thousand seven hundred feet, and after a short ascent came upon a large open park-like plain, still covered with the stubble of recent cultivation. From this the ascent was very steep through old jooms to the hill above, on the other side of which was Chelam, at an ele- vation of five thousand eight hundred feet.

Poiboi’s Stronghold

At length, after a severe climb, in rounding a spur, we came in full view of Foiboi's stronghold. It was a large village.

Poiboi's own house stood high above the others, which rose in tiers on each side of broad streets, stretching away down . the slopes of the hill in all directions. There were about two hundred houses, the whole enclosed in a stiff timber stockade.

Beyond this village rose two other peaks, on which stood two smaller villages, also stockaded, and containing between them some three hun- dred houses.

No Lushais being seen, the troops marched into the principal village. Near the gate was a timber platform, with the usual posts capped with skulls ; among them, on a lofty pole, one human skull, marking the grave of a departed warrior ; others were scattered along the paths between the three villages.

These had not long been deserted, as the fires were still smouldering, and trays, half filled with grain, were lying about. The houses were speedily told off to the different corps, and every- one commenced his arrangements for the night.

In the middle of these, we suddenly heard great shouts and uproar and much squeaking ; and running out to see what was the matter, we beheld a most ridiculous sight. The Kookie and other Hill coolies, haying got rid of their loads, had discovered a &w pigs trying to hide away under some of the houses in a by-street, and in hunting these they succeeded in unearthing a great many more.

Emerging from under the houses, and hurrying down the steep and narrow street, went the pigs, and after them, in full cry, armed with every variety of weapon, sticks, daos, kookries, rushed the coolies pell-mell ; tumbling over each other in their eagerness, and whacking at each unfortu- nate porker as it was overtaken.

Some were killed at once; others, generally prize- sows, whose forms were not adapted to feats of agility, being quickly overtaken, had their four feet tied together despite their remonstrances, and bamboos being passed between their legs, they were carried off to be killed and cut up at leisure.

Consumption of Frizzled Pork

Great was the consumption of frizzled pork that night ; some of it, as we shall see, being wasted in the way described by Charles Lamb as leading to the discovery of the excellence of that viand when so cooked.

This little excitement was soon over; and we again returned to our abodes. My chief, two officers of the 22nd, and myself occupied one of the town halls, a fine commodious, though slightly airy build- ing, with an immense fireplace, in which the ashes were still smouldering. This fireplace was in the centre of the room, and sunk about a foot below the general level of the floor, thus affording many com- fortable sittings all round the fire. The principal drawback was the unsound state of the floor, which at one time caused the sudden disappearance from our gaze of a kitmutgar with part of the dinner, which we could ill-afford to lose ; however, we did very well, and about ten p.m. turned in, very glad, after a rather hard day's work, to get to rest.

We had not been to sleep an hour before the alarm of fire was given, and starting up we found that the lowest houses in one of the streets were in flames ; and the wind blowing upwards, great fears were entertained as to the probable de- struction of the whole village. The houses were dry and closely packed, and a single spark, or bit of smouldering tinder, carried by the breeze into the thatch, was sufficient to set a house on fire at once.

The only thing to be done was to try to stay the progress of the fire by pulling down and removing, as far as possible, the most inflammable portions, such as the thatch, matting, &c., of the houses nearest the fire. Considerable exertions were made by all, and eventually proved successful, aided by a fortunate change in the direction of the wind, which carried the sparks harmlessly down the hill-side. Then, having covered the smouldering mass with earth, and leaving some Sepoys to see that the fire did not break out afresh, everyone went back to his quarters.

Among the officers attached to the Column, there was one who was a great enthusiast for colours, and possessed great appreciation of effects. Watching the fire, lighting up with its ruddy glare the sky, the village, and the forms of men rushing to and fro, he exclaimed, " Mag- nificent I magnificent I put it all in gamboge !'* to which a grinning friend of his, passing at the moment, rejoined, " If you would put it all out with gamboge, it would be more to the purpose just now."

Prudence of A Native Boy

I found that my boy, with a forethought not often met with in natives, had refrained from running to see the fire, and had packed up every- thing ready for an instant move, as he had done once before on the first alarm in the attack on Tipai Mukh, as if he expected that, the moment the Lushais appeared, we should all get into boats and sail gaily away.

On this occasion his prudence involved some delay in getting to bed again, as all the bedding had to be unrolled and re-arranged. It was pro- bable that the fire was caused by some of the Kookies roasting their pork; and indeed, even while the fire was raging, and it was a toss up

whether the whole village did not go, I saw some coolies, sitting under the eaves of a house, cook- ing over a big fire, and the flames were within an inch of the dry thatch when I perceived them, fortunately.

It was thought at first that this conflagration was the work of an incendiary ; but that was most un- likely, as Poiboi had consented to our occupying the village provided no damage was done to it.

Of the two hundred houses in the village, only twenty-five, and one of the town-halls, were burnt or destroyed, as before related.

Poiboi's house was similar to the one described in the Chapter on the Lushais ; the gable end was completely covered with skulls, among which was the finest pair of metua's horns we saw anywhere, as well as some magnificent specimens of sambar's antlers.

The house itself was in rather a ruinous state, and being built on sloping ground, the front verandah was raised about twelve feet, and the sloping ramp of logs up to it decidedly dangerous. Rice, Indian corn, yams, herbs, &c., gourds of pig's lard, and large clay vessels of wine, were found in most of the houses.

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