Maharaja Runjeet Singh’s Army
Reproduced from The Times (London), August 27, 1833. [Page 6; Column 2]
A discussion has recently been revived by one of the up-country newspapers regarding the means at the command of Russia for an invasion of India. However farcical the scheme may at first sight appear, it is as well not to be totally indifferent to the power of the wily autocrat, nor to disregard altogether the suggestion of clever practical men who have certain means of forming an estimate of the capacity of our enemies and of the countries through which they may chance to come. With this idea, and in consideration of’ the contiguity of the Maharajah Runjeet Sing, Chief of the Seicks, to the southerly Russian provinces, we send you herewith a sketch of the Seick army, which will no doubt be read with interest:-
The Seick army of the Punjaub was, so late as the commencement of the current century, a mere military confederacy of predatory horse, and that gallant but unfortunate adventurer, George Thomas, considered them as the most contemptible troops in Hindostan. The talent of Runjeet Sing has, within the last 25 years, established the military reputation of the Seicks, and this Prince now possesses a regular army accustomed to war, full of ardour, and jealous of renown; the Seicks possess many qualities, which admirably fit them for a military life; they are individually brave and athletic, and are free from the prejudice of caste which detract from the military classes of the native soldiery of British India. A Seick will eat of anything but beef*; his religion never requires him to undress at hill meals, nor does it prescribe fasts, or inculcate anything to interfere with the duties of a soldier; like the soldier of Europe, the Seicks are, however, not averse to the use of fermented liquors, and their Sirdars are notoriously addicted to the vice of drunkenness.
To venerate the cow*, to cherish the growth of the beard, and to abstain from the use of tobacco, are the great national characteristics of the Seicks, and the latter trait is peculiarly their own. Such being the national attributes, Runjeet Sing has (through the instrumentality of foreign officers) remodeled the Seick army; and it is only within the last 12 years that European discipline and tactics have been adopted: this was accomplished by Messieurs Allard and Ventura, who had served in the Persian army, and having obtained their discharge and letters of recommendation, were the first European officers who reached Lahore overland, and were instantly taken into the service of the Maha Raja.
The French legion of cavalry, was formed by Monsieur Allard, senior; their uniform is blue with red facings, they are armed with the Po1ish lance, swords and pistols; their system is that of the French Lancers. The men of these corps are much attached to General Allard, and these troops only require a few more European officers to be nearly on a par with our regular Native Cavalry.
The regular infantry, under General Ventura, are also disciplined in the French drill; the words of command are mostly French; they are armed with firelocks and bayonets; these troops are regularly paid and clothed. Runjeet Singh’s own personal body guard is a kind of legion of honour; these men are all arrayed in gorgeous dresses and rich armour, and compose the elite of the army. Their appearance in their red dresses with heron’s plumes, and their martial aspect and blunt demeanour is truly imposing; these men are all tried shots, and at 80 yards can generally hit a small brass pot every time with a matchlock.
The foreigners or Hindoostanies of the Seick army are men from the provinces of British India, and receive a stipulated monthly pay; many of the Seick soldiers receive rations of grain, besides their pay. The avarice of Runjeet Sing has sometimes occasioned mutiny amongst the regular infantry: in one instance the Ghoorka battalion, on being deprived of a portion of their pay, refused to receive the residue, and as no attention was paid to their complaint, open revolt ensued. Runjeet Singh directed some cavalry to charge the mutineers: the Ghoorka battalion formed square and beat off the Cavalry; the Maha Raja then became alarmed, and retired to the fort of Gobind Ghur, when the French officers interposed, and induced the Ghoorkas to retire to their lines.
Monsieur Allard, the General of the regular cavalry, was distinguished officer in imperial army of France, and is a man of high character and conciliatory manners; he adopts the Seick costume in allowing his beard to grow, and has married a native woman; this officer wishes to return to France and has been endeavouring to induce the Maha Rajah to allow his younger brother to take charge of his command during his absence.
Monsieur Ventura, General of Infantry, served under Eugene Beauharnois in Napoleon’s Russian campaign; he is a brave and intelligent officer, but violent man. Runjeet Singh keeps a watchful eye on his European Officers, and does not readily give service to those individuals who receive passports from the British Government.
The Horse Artillery of Runjeet’s army consist of guns of small calibre, and their field equipments resemble that of our late Foot Batteries; and consequently such artillery would be utterly unable to cope with our Horse Artillery; still, as these guns are drawn by horses, their fire would be always available, which is not the case with Bullock Artillery.
General Abstracts of the Forts, Ordnance, and Army of Maha Raja Runjeet Singh:-
Guns in ditto ————————————————————————-108
Ditto in Horse Artillery, commanded by a Native ——————————-58
Ditto in Foot Artillery, commanded by a Native ——————————-142
Jumboorahs, or Zumborahs, or swivel guns, mounted on camels ————305
Irregular Cavalry commanded by Natives ———————————–43,300
Regular Cavalry commanded by Monsieur Allard —————————5,200
Infantry commanded by three other French Officers —
Infantry commanded by Native Officers, 17 Regiments, each consisting up from 900 to 15,000 men.
Grand total of the Army ——————————————————–73,000
In 1793, adds our Meerut contemporary, Tippoo Sultan’s field Army was estimated at 47,470 fighting men, and his revenues at one crore of rupees. Runjeet Singh’s army amounts to 73,000 men, and his revenues to one crore and 80 lakhs of rupees.
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* It seems that the Sikh farmers’ dependence on cows for milk and oxen for tilling the land, was mistaken for “veneration of cow”. Regarding beef-eating, it has to be kept in mind that only Muslims were slaughtering cows for beef and Sikhs are prohibited to eat meat slaughtered in the Muslim way. Sikhs themselves had many uses for the cow during its useful life and old or sick animal was not fit for consumption — Sikh Centre