Page images

tical horizon been so gloomy and threatening as in 1837-38. Disregarding equally the advice and remonstrances of the British Resident, and eventually grossly insulting him, the King of Persia had been instigated to undertake the siege of Herat, and to advance ulterior claims of sovereignty over the whole of Affghanistan. This actual approximation of the unfurled banners of Islam to the frontier of India; the general impression that it was the intention of that sovereign to carry them to the Indus at least, if his forbearance were not purchased by the submission of the chiefs of Cabul and Candahar; the equally prevalent belief that he was encouraged and supported in these schemes by the Emperor of Russia; and the exaggerated notions of the power of that potentate to afford such aid to the Shah as would render the resistance of the Affghans and of the British government alike unavailing-combined to unsettle the minds, and to resuscitate the dormant enmity, of the Mahomedan population throughout the peninsula. Their hopes of recovered domination were strengthened by the expectation that our power would be simultaneously assailed from other quarters. A revolution had seated upon the throne of Ava a prince more impatient than his predecessor of that humiliating relation to the British government, in which the treaty of Yandaboo, concluded in February 1826, after a struggle of two years, had placed the descendant of the great Alompra. The conduct of the new monarch towards the representative of the Governor-General, and the nature and tone of his public observations upon our power, and his own intentions in dealing with it, rendered it extremely doubtful whether the maintenance of peace with that overweening and barbarous court could be made to consist with a due regard for the national reputation. To the government of Nepal, also, the juncture appeared favourable for retrieving the losses of territory and honour to which Lord Hastings had compelled it to submit. It engaged, accordingly, in a correspondence with the Court of Ava ;-entered deeply into intrigues both with the quasi-independent princes of the peninsula, and with the petty rajahs occupying the wild tracts on the skirts of the provinces of Bengal and Behar; and did its utmost to fan into a blaze the disaffection of that most inflammable portion of our subjects, the idle and dissolute Mahomedans of the large cities. We shall have occasion to mention more at large, in the sequel, our relations with Ava and Nepal; but it was necessary to advert, in this place, to the hostile attitudes assumed by the powers upon our north-eastern, eastern, and south-eastern frontiers, at the very time that the cloud was gathering most darkly in the north-west; in order that our readers might form an

adequate conception both of the effect which such an apparent combination of enemies was calculated to produce upon the excitable minds of our native subjects, and of the circumstances under which it became necessary for Lord Auckland to choose his line of policy with regard to the affairs of Affghanistan and Persia. He will be well entitled to take high rank as a statesman, if it shall appear that such a crisis neither paralysed his energies nor excited him into rashness.

It seems to us that the state of affairs in the countries to the north-west of India, afforded the Governor-General the choice of but two courses besides that which he actually took.

Firstly, He might have refrained altogether from meddling in those affairs, otherwise than by endeavouring to dissuade the King of Persia from carrying on aggressive operations in Affghanistan-resting satisfied with taking every practicable measure to strengthen the position of the British government within the Indus; or, secondly, he might have formed a defensive alliance with Dost Mahomed Khan of Cabul, and the chiefs of Candahar-engaging to assist them in repelling the attacks of Persia on the one hand, and to stop the further encroachments of Runjeet Singh on the other.

The result of the endeavours made by Mr Ellis and Mr, now Sir John M'Neill, places it beyond question that the King of Persia— urged on by the representative of the Russian government-was not to be restrained from attacking Herat, and from extending his views of conquest, or of preponderating influence, to Cabul and Candahar, by any mere remonstrances on the part of the Governor-General or of Great Britain. His ministers distinctly told the former that they considered the dominion of Persia to extend to Ghuzni, and that they looked beyond Herat to Candahar; and the envoy from the chiefs of the latter place publicly declared at the Persian court, that the whole of Affghanistan 6 was, with the exception of Herat and its dependencies, ready 'to come under feudal subjection to the Shah; who, in fact, 'might, with the aid of the Affghans, push his conquests to 'Delhi.' We must, therefore, regard the first proposition as a simple one, and form our judgment with respect to the policy of active interference in the affairs of Affghanistan, upon the hypothesis that the power of Persia was the only limit to the execution of her views of aggrandizement in the direction of the Indus.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

We have already alluded to the effect of those views-supported as they were assumed to be by the gigantic power of

*Mr Ellis's despatch of 10th April 1836.

Russia-upon the minds of the millions of Mahomedans of all classes, whether our own subjects or not, throughout India. As long as they retain their present creed, we never can have any hold upon their affections. They hate us with all the intensity of combined political and religious animosity. Forgetting that their power had almost entirely reverted to the Hindoos-as represented by the Mahrattas-before we took any general part in the affairs of the Peninsula, they detest us as the subverters of their domination over the fair plains and wealthy cities of Hindostan : they detest us with still greater cordiality as the Christian rulers of the followers of the last true Prophet. The Shah of Persia is to them, with all the greater enchantment of additional distance, adding emphasis to the ignotum pro magnifico-what Dost Mahomed Khan, the chief of Cabul, called him- the King of Islam ;"-the representative of that mighty power which once swayed the destinies of the fairest portions of Asia and Europe, and but for the prowess of Charles Martel, as displayed in the seven days' conflict on the plain of Tours, would, in all human probability, have subdued the whole of Christendom. They regarded his advance upon India with the same fond aspirations which the Christians of Palestine and Syria must have breathed for the success of the monarchs who led the third crusade. It seems probable that the artillery and military stores recently discovered in the arsenal of the petty principality of Kurnool, almost at the extreme south of the peninsula, were prepared to take advantage of, and to further the expected invasion of the Shah. Of the military power of the Russians, the most extravagant notions were entertained. Captain Conolly, speaking of his stay at Herat, says,—' In com"parison with the Russians, I found that neither my countrymen, nor the people of any other European nation, were considered ' of consequence: indeed, some conceived from his title, "IMPERATOOR-AZUM"-" The Supreme Emperor,"-that the Rus'sian Autocrat gave the law to the kings of Europe.' 'Wonderful things,' he proceeds, were asserted of the Oroos, particularly about their military deeds. Shumsoodeen Khan, among other things, told the company that no fort could hold out against this people; for that they never stopped at a ditch, marching 'soldiers into it until it was filled, and so on, over their heads, to the storm: and our host, whom I had credited for better sense, said that on a certain occasion provisions falling short in his army, the General-e-Oroos gave orders that fifty thousand < men should be killed and served out as rations!'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Is it pos'sible?' exclaimed an old Affghan gentleman among the audience; why then they are cannibals, and must have a larger

[ocr errors]

army than Timour had.' We may be sure that such tales lose nothing of the marvellous as they travel towards the East; and that the people of India are at least as credulous as those of Affghanistan. It is certain that even the timid, shrewd, moneymaking Hindoos of Calcutta, the oldest of whom remember no other than British rule, and who assuredly have no desire to witness a struggle for the sovereignty of Bengal, nor even to set up a dynasty of their own, began to speculate regarding the effects upon the public funds, of the advance of a Russian army, and Lord Cornwallis's permanent settlement of the land-revenue.*

The mischief, therefore, which the conquest of Affghanistan by Persia, or even the acknowledgment by the chiefs of Herat Cabul and Candahar of the supreme authority of the Shah, would have inflicted upon the British interests in the East, must have been greatly enhanced by the subserviency of that power to Russia; and by the certainty that every extension of Persian dominion or influence towards the Indus, tended to approximate the point d'appui, from which the Court of St Petersburg could operate upon the peace and security of our Indian empire. Mr Ellis's testimony places it beyond question that such were the views of Count Simonich, however disavowed, as convenience dictated, by his master, in urging the King of Persia to undertake the expedition against Herat; and we have the same unexceptionable evidence (for Mr Ellis could have no favourite course of future policy to recommend, and no foregone conclusions to

*These persons presented to Lord Auckland, on his recent return to Calcutta, an address of congratulation, containing the following remarkable passage: My Lord, it has been reserved for us to see the soldiers of our country carry victory into regions towards which India has hitherto looked with no other feelings than those of apprehension. It has been reserved for us to see those regions become the scene on which the power and greatness of the Indian empire have been made 'memorably manifest, in the vindication of its honour and rights, in the 'face of Asia and of the world. It has been reserved for us to see the 'tide of conquest, which for so many ages has flowed towards the East, 'at length turned back by heroic bands, in whose ranks we proudly recognise the sepoy warrior marching to triumph and renown, side by side with his British fellow-soldier.' More than eight centuries have elapsed since Ghuzni, whose alleged impregnability has been so signally confuted by our gallant troops, opened it gates for the departure of its Sultan, Mahmood, at the head of the first Mahomedan invaders of Hindostan. There has indeed been a strange reflux, and there appears no present prospect that the prophecy of Seneca will be fulfilled, by the Persians drinking the waters of the Elbe.

[ocr errors]

justify) as to the evil effects upon British India of the successful issue of these plans, and to the absolute necessity of taking vigorous measures to defeat them. So early as April 1836, that judicious diplomatist wrote to Lord Palmerston as follows:

"The success of the Shah in the undertaking is anxiously wished for by Russia, and their minister here does not fail to press it on to early execution. The motive cannot be mistaken. Herat once annexed to Persia, may become, according to the commercial treaty, the residence of a Russian consular agent, who would from thence push his researches and communications, avowed and secret, throughout Affghanistan. Indeed, in the present state of the relations between Persia and Russia, it cannot be denied that the progress of the former in Affghanistan is tantamount to the advancement of the latter, and ought to receive every opposition from the British Government that the obligations of public faith will permit."


In another despatch, written in the same month, he stated that he was quite convinced that the British Government could no longer, with safety to its possessions in India, refrain from intimate connexion with the Affghans, whether they be subject to one chief, or divided into principalities."

"The Shah of Persia," he continues, " may, and I begin rather confidently to hope will, be prevented by want of means from attacking Herat this year, and annexing it to his dominions; but he will not abandon this object unless compelled to do so by the declared opposition of the British Government. His Majesty has been encouraged, and I have been recently informed has been promised positive assistance in this design, by the Russians, who well know that the conquest of Herat and Candahar by the Persians is in fact an advance for them towards India, if not for the purpose of actual invasion, certainly for that of intrigue and disorganization."

Sir John M'Neill, who succeeded Mr Ellis as our minister at the Persian Court, confirmed in his despatches of the 3d November 1836, and 1st June 1837, the information given by his predecessor, as to the earnestness with which Count Simonich had pressed upon the King of Persia the expedition against Herat. On the 8th August 1838, he wrote in the following


"At this moment, the united influence of Persia and Russia would seem to be established in all the Affghan dominions, with the single exception of Herat; and the existence of that influence in those countries, viewed in conjunction with the course which those powers have recently been pursuing, and the measures that have resulted from their joint diplomatic exertions, is so obviously incompatible with the tranquillity of India, and even with its security, that no measures can be more unequivocally measures of self-defence than those which the British Government is called upon to adopt, for the purpose of counteracting the evils

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »