Wednesday, 14 November 2012

CONVICT NUMBER 3807 | PART V Life in Kala Pani

Life in Kala Pani

By Francis Xavier Neelam

Maulvi Allauddin waited at Aberdeen jetty for the boat to Ross Island. He would go to meet the Senior Medical Officer who wanted to examine him for his painful double hernia. In spite of the truss he wore he was finding it difficult to go about his work. 

“How kind these doctors are!” mused the Maulvi. “They are in such contrast to the other officers, especially the native overseers. They would even take up cudgels with the Chief Commissioner some times.”

The boat, pulled by six convict oarsmen approached the jetty.  “Hold water. Ship your oars. Bear off,” the coxswain shouted orders.  The boat gently touched the jetty. A convict took the head rope and tied it to the bollard, then made fast the stern rope also. 

Assalam ale kum, Maulvi saab…”, the coxswain greeted. “Alekum assalaam Hemraj”, the Maulvi replied.  Everyone in Port Blair knew Hemraj for his daring escapade and recapture. They loved him also for his courteous manners.  Hemraj gently helped the Maulvi into the boat.  “Oars…oars forward…give way…”,.. The boat glided away towards Ross.  A gun boomed in the distance; another replied.  Slowly a huge, dark ship emerged from behind Ross Island, belching thick black smoke. 

“Another shipload of convicts…” the Maulvi thought. His mind went back to the time of his own arrival in the islands.  He came in a paddle-wheel steamer, spending many days in the cage-like dungeons in the hold of the ship.  It was the 22nd of January 1860. He remembered the date quite clearly, hardly two years after the founding of the dreaded penal colony of ‘Kala Pani’.  He remembered getting into the waiting boat, the muster on Ross Island, issue of convict clothing, living in the thatched barracks, the heavy work of cutting and hauling logs.  The settlement was just taking shape.  There were working parties everywhere, with stern-looking supervisors shouting orders.  Boats shuttled between Ross, Chatham and Aberdeen.

During the first muster itself the Maulvi was made to fall out and present himself  before the Superintendent.  “So, you are the famous Maulvi, Syed Alluddin Hyder, of Hyderabad?” the Superintendent asked.  His excellent command over English, Urdu and Farsi, and his gentle and polite nature won him friends among the British officers.  He never shirked from work and was always ready to volunteer for any task, being in peak physical condition.  However, the backbreaking work of those early days and the merciless tropical climate took their toll on his health.  It was lifting those heavy logs that gave him the hernias; rheumatism followed, and the eyesight is also failing now. 

“Oars…”, Hemraj’s  shout brought the Maulvi to the present.  He thanked him and stepped off the boat on to the jetty. Supporting himself with a stick he started the climb towards the hospital.  “How different is Ross now from those days”, he thought. Convicts in white dress and turbans greeted him. Officers in starched white uniforms walked about. Children played, shouting, on the lawns of neatly laid out gardens.  A game of tennis was in progress.  The spire of the stone-built church could be seen rising against the sky.  English memsahibs in colourful, printed frocks and bonnets walked, holding parasols as their ayahs walked behind them with their children.  They too greeted the Maulvi affectionately and enquired about his health. 

Maulvi Allauddin paused for a while on the steps. From there he could see the cemetery.  The tombstones were clearly visible. Some were ornate, with marble plaques.  All those who slept there were known to him.  He was present at most of the funerals. The most touching was that of baby Lawrence, the child of Lawrence and Jemima Carthy. He lived only 22 hours…’Sweet Babe, he glanced into our world to see a sample of our misery, then turned away his languid eye, to drop a tear or two -- & die…”.  The memory brought tears to the eyes of the Maulvi.

A few more steps brought him to the hospital.  The huge brick walled structure was impeccably maintained.  Uniformed nurses and ward boys moved about in spotless white uniforms.  The patients sat on long benches; some were in chains – the ‘dangerous’ ones. There were Andamanese too, properly dressed!

In the early days there were no doctors -- only a couple of ‘apothecaries’. The mortality rate was very high then, from disease, accidents, attacks by aborigines, murders, executions…  He gazed at the grave of Apothecary A.S. Xavier. His wife Alison and daughter Gertrude also slept by his side, in a double grave. 

The doctors were themselves vulnerable.  There were three buried on the other side, in Port Blair cemetery. His thoughts went to Surg. Maj. Joseph Dougall, the late Senior Medical Officer. It was he who devised the truss for his hernias. Maulvi recollected with nostalgia how kind the doctor was to him, and to all convicts.  This led to an occasional row with the Superintendents who felt that the convicts were being pampered by the medical officers.  Dr. Dougall found a special cure for leprosy from the oil of the gurjan tree that grew in plenty in the forests of the Andaman Islands.  His favourite among the convicts was Rasool Baksh, a ‘harmless lunatic’.  When Gen. Stewart ordered him to be flogged for speaking disrespectfully Dougall fought with him to stall the punishment. Unfortunately he fell victim to typhoid and died at the young age of 44.  Life in Kala Pani would have been much more difficult if not for the kind-hearted doctors.

Maulvi Allauddin reached the outpatient department and sat on the bench, waiting for Surg. Maj. Keefer.

(Next:  Part VI – Conditional release)

Monday, 8 October 2012

CONVICT NUMBER 3807 | PART IV : The Davidson Report


The Davidson Report

Hyderabad Residency
17th July 1857

The Residency was attacked this afternoon. The attack repelled by the troops of escort under the command of Major Briggs, my Military Secretary. We have since been reinforced by a ½ troop of artillery, a squadron of cavalry and 100 Europeans. All is safe for the night.

I will report full by express tomorrow.

I have etc.
Sd/- C. Davidson

Surg. Major W. Napier Keefer turned the pages of the report, yellowed with age, in the personal file of Maulvi Allauddin.  It was quite a fat file with many letters and representations, and the history sheet of the Maulvi.

Out of curiosity Maj. Keefer checked the descriptive roll of Allauddin. Against the column ‘crime’ it was written ‘Rebellion’.

Against ‘sentence’ it was written ‘Life’.  The date of his sentencing by the Resident’s court, Hyderabad was 25th August 1859. Keefer checked the calendar;   it was May 1886. He had spent 28 years and 3 months in imprisonment, and 27 years and 10 months in ‘transportation’, meaning in Andamans -- much longer than a common murderer!

During the entire period only four offences were recorded against him: one for “persisting in supplying bad vegetables to the European troops (fined Rs 3/-), and three times for ‘not supplying Dhaie regularly’, ‘short issue’ and ‘of inferior description’.  That was between 1873 and 75. Otherwise his sheet was clean.  The prison rations were strictly regulated, and curds was regularly on the menu as the prisoners expressed their dislike for milk.

Keefer went back to Maj. Davidson’s report addressed to C.F. Edmonton, Esqr., Secretary to Govt. of India, Foreign Department, Fort William (Madras).

It was sent on 18th July 1857, by express.

“I have the honour to report for the information of the Right Honourable the Governor General in Council that the Hyderabad Residency was attacked by a band of Rohillas and Arabs under Jamadar Toora Baz Khan at 4 o’clock yesterday evening”, it began.

Davidson highlighted the efficiency of his officers saying “The troops as per margin were just seven minutes in turning out ready for action”.

Referring to the defences he said “To Brevet Captain Holmes commanding three guns of Madras Horse Artillery and Capt. Bradley commanding the infantry part of my escort, I feel highly indebted, the former opened fire with his guns at a most critical period and preserved the Residency House itself from being attacked…”, it went on.

“A massacre”, Keefer thought.

In the end Davidson wrote, “Everything now is again quiet. My daughter invited all the ladies of Chadder Ghat to take refuge in the Residency …”.

There was no mention anywhere of the name of Maulvi Alluddin.

The next letter to Edmonton had more details.

“I have the honour … to report that Rohilla Jamadar “Toora Baz Khan” the leader in the attack on the Residency on the 17th inst. was taken prisoner at Mogulgidda after being wounded and is now in the custody of the Minister in the city.  His wounds are supposed to be mortal and that he cannot live many days”. 

Suddenly Keefer stiffened. The first line of the next paragraph had the Maulvi’s name.

It stated that “The Moulavi “Alla-ud-Din has not yet been apprehended although known to be in the city, which look bad and that it is an object with certain parties to keep him concealed – he is so said to have a paper in his possession with 300 seals attached of those individuals implicated agreeing to join in the insurrection”.

Salar Jung
What Davidson says in the next two paragraphs filled Keefer with dismay. Although dismissing it as childish Davidson says that it was rumoured that the siege of the Residency was a plan of a close relation of the Nizam who wanted to oust Salar Jung and take his place as a minister.  According to the rumour, when Salar Jung fails to control the mobs the relative of the Nizam would step in and disperse them, showing better control over the people and thus lay claim to the ministership.

“Was Davidson justifying his excessive use of force by dismissing this as childish”, Keefer thought.  He knew about the intrigues that were so common in the palaces of the native princes.  “Perhaps the Maulvi was telling the truth: that their aim was only to intimidate Maj. Davidson into releasing Cheeda Khan and other prisoners.

As he turned the brittle pages of the report bits and pieces of information about the Maulvi started trickling in. A ‘contemporary account’ that appeared in the “Englishman” of 1st August 1857 stated that “Three Moulvies were amongst the ranks of the insurgents. One of them is known to be Moulvie Alla-ood-Deen, a man of extraordinary stature, and who acted as standard-bearer”.     

There were other reports and statements in Urdu about the arrest of the Moulvi later at village Mangalpalli.

With a sigh Maj. Keefer closed the file and rose to go to bed. Was the Maulvi a victim of the crafty Salar Jung? Tomorrow he will get some more information from the Moulvi, and them he will have to write his own report.

Next:  Part V - Life in Kala Pani

Monday, 1 October 2012

CONVICT NUMBER 3807-PART III: Unhealed Wounds



Unhealed Wounds

By Francis Xavier Neelam

Surgeon Major Keefer, the Senior Medical Officer in the Ross hospital gazed on his patient. The man was stripped up to the waist. It was obvious that he was once a powerful man, perhaps a wrestler. Now his body was bent with rheumatism. His eyes appeared dim. But there was a genial smile on his face as he lay on the examining table.

Major Keefer  ran his hand gently over the deep sword cut on the right shoulder. 

“How did you get this Maulvi saab?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s a long story doctor”, the man said, in impeccable English, lifting his elbow to show a gunshot wound also.

“I was a young man then, in my twenties…in my home state of Hyderabad”, his voice became hoarse with nostalgia. 

“Those were turbulent times doctor, very turbulent times; I was the Maulvi of the famous Mecca Masjid, built with bricks made from the sacred soil brought all the way from Mecca, about three hundred years ago. We were the subjects of the Nizam, who ruled most of the Deccan. A long line of Nizams ruled the state; some were benevolent; some were despotic.  At about the time of the Great Uprising there was a young inexperienced Nizam on the throne. The real power was in the hands of his Prime Minister, Salar Jung”, the man paused.

“Oh, Salar Jung!”, Major Keefer interjected. “I heard about him. In fact I was in a meeting in Simla, at the Governor General’s residence where he too was present.  He wields a lot of power”.

“Yes, he does”, the man said. It’s because of him I’m here, even after completing the full term of my sentence, without any hope of ever setting foot on my native place, or seeing my people ”. 

There was a tinge of pain in the voice of the Maulvi.  “Perhaps you know what happened at the Residency on 17 July 1857…”.

“I heard about it, but not in detail.  You were trying to storm the Residency and kill all the British, weren’t you?” Keefer said.

“That’s the version of the British”, Maulvi answered.  “What happened there was a massacre of innocent people who wanted one of their men released from illegal confinement by the Resident.  “Of course I led the people, that was my duty. I preached a sermon and led the people to the Residency holding a banner.  Turrebaz Khan, the Rohilla was also with me.  He said we must be prepared to die, if needed. Together we prayed and set out towards the Residency.”

“As a first measure we occupied a two-storeyed house near the residency belonging to two money-lenders, Abban Saheb and Jaya Gopal.  Some men with antique matchlocks and flintlocks went up to the terrace and fired a few shots towards the Residency, just to send a message.

“We were not aware then that there were loaded cannons aimed at the gates. We thought the British may release Cheeda Khan when they see the residency surrounded.  In order to force them we shouted and banged on the gates.  It was then the Arab mounted police of the Nizam charged at us. They were sent by Salar Jung, of course. They slashed at us with their swords.  People scattered, but I stood my ground, holding the banner. I felt a searing pain in my shoulder. Blood streamed down my body. But I stayed on and called on the people to come back.  The people returned with renewed fury at this attack by our own police. They tried to pull the gates off their hinges. 

“It was then the three guns of the horse artillery were quickly moved into position.  Soldiers ran behind them holding lighted port fires.  Captain Holmes aimed their muzzles at the place where the crowd was the thickest and gave the order to fire.  Next moment the guns roared; hot lead and shrapnel tore through the crowd. There was no warning. I felt a ball hit my elbow, tearing the flag from my hands.  By the time the smoke cleared there were many dead and dying around me.  The soldiers now started firing from muskets.  Someone dragged me towards the house of the money lenders.  The British kept a hot fire towards the building for some time. We managed to get out of the building under cover of darkness. I got my wounds dressed by a native doctor. You can see from the scars it was not done properly.  Turrebaz and I parted ways.  I was hidden in some safe houses in the city till my wounds healed and then headed for Mangalampally village where I had some friends.”

“The next morning we learnt that more than thirty people had died and many more injured when the guns opened fire on them. It was the worst carnage in the history of the city.  Do you think, Major saab, that such firing was justified? That too using grape shot. A few warning shots would have driven them away.”

“My dear Maulvi saab, I can’t comment on things that happened so long ago.  But your case file is with me.  Colonel Cadell is preparing a strong case for your release and wants to attach my report on the condition of your health.  I’ll read Major Cuthbert Davidson’s report also tonight. Please come again tomorrow so that I can examine your other complaints and finalise the report. Khuda Hafiz”.

“Ah, I forgot, please send some good curds for my wife. She wants to make some Indian dishes”.

“Sure doctor.  You know I supply the best dahi in Port Blair, for the officers and the prisoners alike. I’ll send it right away. Khuda Hafiz”, Maulvi Allauddin said, as he limped out of the hospital.

(Next: Davidson’s report)

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Part II: The Happenings in Hyderabad

Part II

The Happenings in Hyderabad

By Francis Xavier Neelam

Jail inside Residency
The reverberations of the uprisings in the north were being heard in the Nizam’s dominions also.  Many mutineers, mainly Muslims, after deserting their units headed for Hyderabad hoping for refuge, it being an independent state ruled by a Muslim monarch.  They expected they would be safe from the British who were hunting down the mutineers and executing them in large numbers.

News of the mutinies and the violent retribution on captured sepoys reached the soldiers in the employ of the native princes also.  Several maulvies and faqirs also visited the cantonments and preached revolt against the British. 

When a contingent of the 3rd Cavalry of the East India Company, stationed at Buldhana was ordered to march to Delhi, they mutinied.  Majority of them were Muslims. To go and fight against the Mughal emperor was unacceptable to them.

The mutiny was brutally put down. Of the captured one was hanged; twenty one shot down and three more blown from the mouth of cannon. Many were flogged.  Thirteen troopers, under the leadership of Jemadar Cheeda Khan, escaped and headed for Hyderabad. Cheeda Khan carried a price of three thousand rupees for his arrest. The news reached Salar Jung, who promptly arrested them as soon as they entered the city and handed them over to the British Resident, as they were soldiers of the East India Company.  Major Cuthbert Davidson, the Resident in the court of the Nizam locked up Cheeda Khan in the Residency.

The news spread like wild fire through out the city.  As fellow Muslims the citizens felt that the mutineers should have been given sanctuary instead of being handed over to the British.  Mualvi Syed Alluddin preached a sermon calling upon the Muslims to secure the release Cheeda Khan.

By this time many deserters from Native Infantry and Cavalry units of the East India Company have already started trickling into Hyderabad.  A gathering of Rohillas and Arabs was reported in the outskirts.  Their leader was a Rohilla warrior named Turrebaaz Khan.  The city had been in ferment since the great outbreaks that occurred in the north.  Some placards, calling upon the Muslims to raise the ‘standard of faith’ against the British appeared in some places. 

The developments were being watched keenly by the Resident.  Salar Jung also kept passing information to him.  Major Davidson, a professional soldier, started fortifying the Residency as a precautionary measure.  He had three hundred sepoys of the Madras Native Infantry stationed in the compound along with some troopers of the Madras Light Cavalry and one troop of the Hyderabad Contingent Cavalry.  There was also a garrison in Secunderabad known as the Hyderabad Subsidiary Force under Brigadier Coffin. 

Although Salar Jung assured him that there was no cause for worry Maj. Davidson thought it prudent to get some reinforcements.  About hundred Europeans and some guns were sent by Brig. Coffin.  Some officers who were on a visit to the city volunteered their services.  The most important weapons, three guns of the Madras Horse Artillery, were mounted in strategic locations on the walls under the command of Capt. Holmes.  They were loaded with double charges of grape shot -- deadly weapons of  mass killing!

The defenders have been drilled to man their stations in seven minutes when the alarm was sounded. 


Sunday, 9 September 2012



By Francis Xavier Neelam

The mail steamer had just come in and dropped anchor in front of Ross Island. The pilot launch raced to its side, and the harbour master clambered up the rope ladder.  He collected the mail bag meant for the Chief Commissioner and handed it to a uniformed orderly. The giant Sikh rushed to Ross, jumped on a horse at the jetty and galloped to the Government House, where he handed over the bundle to Maj. Birch, the un-official Secretary to the Chief Commissioner.  

Maj.Birch was dressed smartly in a starched khaki uniform. He enjoyed his position as the confidant of many Chief Commissioners. People disliked him for it. During Gen. Barwell’s time he was even reprimanded for being quarrelsome.

Birch took out the letters and arranged them in a neat pile which he placed in a leather folder in the order of their importance. On the top he placed a letter carrying the seal of the Home Secretary Sir C.J. Lyall.  He knew that Col. Cadell, V.C., the Chief Commissioner and Superintendent of the penal settlement of Andaman & Nicobar Islands was anxiously waiting for it.

A uniformed orderly came down the stairs to announce that the CC was on his way.  He brought a bundle of files and placed them on the huge teak table.  He wiped the leather upholstered chair and the table top with a cloth, checked the newly installed electric fan and table lamp, opened the windows and spread a fresh white towel on the back of the chair.  He also checked the attached bathroom to see if the water cistern was full or not. 

Foot steps on the wooden staircase heralded the arrival of Col. Cadell.  Two armed Sikhs in ceremonial dress marched in step before him. They halted in front of the tall doors of the office, turned and saluted. Cadell, dressed in immaculate white drill suit and sun helmet returned the salute and entered the office.  Birch sprang to attention and saluted while the orderly pulled the chair back for Cadell to sit at the table.

Cadell returned Birch’s greeting and settled in the chair. He seemed to be in a jovial mood.  His sailing boat Greyhound has won the annual regatta again.  He was very proud of his boat and his Sikh body guards.  As soon he sat down his eyes fell on the Home Secretary’s letter. 

“Ah Bill! I hope Allauddeen gets it this time…”, he remarked as he slit the envelope with an ivory paper knife. 

“I too hope so sir”, Birch replied as Cadell started to read the letter.

Cadell’s face clouded.  He pulled at his walrus moustache in irritation and anger. 

“My dear Cadell,” the letter said. “In reply to your demi-official letter of 9th August last, regarding conditionally released convict Moulvie Ala-ud-din,” wrote Lyall in his flowing handwriting, “I am desired to express the regret of the Governor General in Council that he is unable (the words ‘for political reasons’ were written and struck off) to sanction the absolute release of the convict from the Andamans”.

The letter was signed on 12 October 1889, at Simla.

Cadell stood up and stamped the floor in anger.  He curse loudly, “That damned Vizier of the Nizam…its his work”.

Birch knew the reason for Cadell’s anger.  Over the last few years Cadell had sent many letters to the government for the absolute release of Moulvie Allauddin of Hyderabad.  He even met Salar Jung, the Prime Minister of the Nizam, during a conference in Simla and pleaded his case.  Finally he decided to send a DO letter to his friend JC Lyall hoping he could do something.  But, it appeared from the struck off portion of the letter, that political reasons were responsible for denying absolute release to the poor Moulvie.  The letter meant that the Moulvie will die in the Andamans, without any hope of returning to his native place or seeing his loved ones.

Why was Col. Cadell, known for his penchant for hanging people, especially Mutiny convicts, taking such personal interest in the release of the prime accused in the attack on the Hyderabad Residency?  What did Allauddin do to make Cadell write so many letters for his release. 

The answers to these questions reveal the strange camaraderie that existed between the convicts and the jail authorities in the Andamans during the penal era.

Strangely, convicts branded as most dangerous by the government or the princely states that transported them were the most favoured by the prison authorities.  They became trusted servants, orderlies, clerks, scribes and confidants.  They were rewarded with promotions, land grants, remission of sentence and even an early release from the penal settlement.

The political prisoners, on the other hand, were treated as most dangerous by the jail officers.  While an ordinary convict, usually a murderer, could get a ticket-of-leave or even absolute release after serving for about fifteen years while the politicos or the Mutiny convicts were not released even after serving their full term.  Recommendations for their release were repeatedly turned down by the government citing the reason that their return may lead to a revival of seditious activities in the state.

Maulvie Allauddin was one such. Because of his good conduct and great learning he was in the good books of the Superintendents right from the time of his arrival in the Islands.

The reason for Maulvie Allauddin’s presence in the Andamans goes back to the happenings in Hyderabad, the capital of the Nizam’s dominions, on the 17th of July 1857. 

(Next --- The Happenings in Hyderabad…)