A British Army Doctor Remembers U Kiang Nangbah’s Rebellion in Khasi-Jaintia Hills

RAIOT is pleased to publish extracts from Memories of Seven Campaigns : a record of thirty-five years’ service in the Indian Medical Department in India, China, Egypt, and the Sudan by James Howard Thornton (1834-1919) and published in 1895, about the most subaltern and widespread anti-colonial rebellion led by U Kiang Nangbah in Khasi-Jaintia Hills. We read about these memoirs in a an essay by pre-eminent Khasi historian Dr. David R. Syiemlieh, where he analysed this forgotten non-official account by Dr. James Howard Horton of the valiant Jaintia Rebellion. We begin with an extract from the first chapter where Mr. Horton writes of his medical education and his entry into the colonial army. All the sketches in the essay are taken from the book and were done by Dr. Horton’s children Katherine and Edward.


I ENTERED as a medical student at King’s College, London, in the spring of 1851, and matriculated at the University of London the same year. After going through the usual courses of lectures and hospital attendance for two years, I passed the first examination for the degree of M.B. A year later I took the degree of B.A. with honours, thanks chiefly to the excellent education I had received as a boy at Chatham House, Ramsgate. In 1855 I passed the examination for the membership of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and on the completion of my professional studies at King’s College, I was made an associate of that institution,

I then began to look about me for employment. Circumstances, as well as inclination, prompted me to enter some branch of the public medical service, at home or abroad, and at that time the Indian Medical Service was by far the most attractive. Accordingly I applied for an appointment as assistant-surgeon on the Bengal Medical Establishment, which had been placed at the disposal of the Council of King’s College by one of the Directors of the East India Company.
I was so fortunate as to be selected by the Council out of several applicants for that appointment, but for some months I was unable to take it up, as I had not readied the age of twenty-two, below which no one could be admitted into the service. I took advantage of the delay by passing the second and final examination for the degree of M.B. at the University of London in November 1855.
Having taken up my appointment, I embarked at Gravesend for Calcutta in the ship Contest…on the 16th of March 1856…


I obtain six months’ leave of absence and proceed to England—My marriage—My wife and I start for India and reach Calcutta in September 1861 —I am ordered to Jessore—A fatiguing night ride—A fever-stricken station—I return to Calcutta My appointment to the 28th Native Infantry proceeding on active service to Sylhet—Rebellion among the Khasia and Jyntia Hill Tribes—Causes which led to it —I part from my wife, who remains with friends in Calcutta, and join the leftwing 28th Native Infantry—Our voyage through the ‘Sundarbans’—The Burrisal guns—We land at Luckaie and march across country to Sylhet—Our march towards Cherra Poonjee—My attack of sunstroke—We are ordered to Nongtalong in the Jyntia Hills—Our difficult and dangerous march across country—We reach Jyntiapur and ascend the mountains to Nongtalong—I accompany Captain Robinson in a reconnaisance during which we are attacked by the enemy and nearly cut off – Assault and capture of the enemy’s stockade at Ooksai—I am wounded in action next day—Captain Robinson and I visit the headquarters of the regiment at Jyntiapur and are badly scared while returning—I am appointed to the 44th Native Infantry, and join them at Jowai. 

… We arrived at Calcutta early in September, and remained there for some time, as there was no appointment immediately available for me. 

Being thus unoccupied, I resumed the study of Hindustani with the assistance of a moonshee, and early in November I passed the language examination then known as the P.H. ( passed in Hindustani’). A day or two after I received a sudden order to proceed at once to Jessore, a civil station some distance north-east of Calcutta, to take the duty of Dr. Morgan, the civil surgeon, who was dangerously ill. As the order was urgent and admitted or no delay, my wife went to stay for a time with some friends in Calcutta, while I started for Jessore alone. I travelled for some distance by palanquin, but on arriving at a place about forty-five miles from Jessore I received a letter from the magistrate of the district, urging me to come on as quickly as possible and telling me horses had been sent out for me. It was growing dusk, and a ride in the darkness over a road which had been cut up by the rains was anything but safe or easy. Still the case was urgent, so I mounted and started off, and after a very fatiguing and risky ride I reached Jessore a little after midnight, and then found that my unfortunate predecessor had died several hours before. In the morning I assumed temporary medical charge of the station, and went to live with Mr. Dale, judge of the small cause court, who had very kindly offered to take me in. 

Jessore was at that time a very unhealthy station ; it was surrounded by swamps and rice-fields and intersected by a stagnant river, which generally exhaled a horribly offensive odour. The inhabitants of the station and district, both natives and foreigners, suffered repeatedly from malarious fever, and I had several attacks of the prevailing malady during my short residence there ; indeed I never felt well throughout my stay at Jessore. To my great satisfaction I was relieved at the end of January 1862 by another medical officer who had been permanently appointed to the station, and I at once returned to Calcutta.

A few days after I found myself appointed to the medical charge of the left wing 28th Regiment Native Infantry, which was under orders to proceed to Sylhet, by steamer, to assist in suppressing a rebellion which had broken out among the tribes inhabiting the Khasia and Jyntia Hills in Eastern Bengal. I was thus compelled a second time to part from my wife, who was unable to accompany me, as I was going on active service. She accordingly remained at Calcutta with some friends, and I joined the wing, to which I had been appointed. 

The rising of these hill tribes was mainly due to the ill-advised action of the Bengal Government in imposing the income-tax (then first introduced into India by Mr. Wilson, the Finance Minister) upon the simple inhabitants of the hills, who had no incomes in the proper sense of the term and could not understand the meaning of such a tax. It so happened that, at this very time, the Sylhet Light Infantry Battalion, stationed at Cherra Poonjee in the Khasia Hills, was being reduced in strength with a view to its conversion from an irregular local corps into a regular regiment of the Bengal Native Army. The hillmen, in their ignorance and simplicity, believed this regiment to be the only force fit the disposal of Government, and, seeing it considerably in numbers, imagined that the ruling power was growing weak and might be successfully resisted. The Bengali tax-collectors said other subordinate officials began in their customary way to practise oppression and extortion upon the hillmen, and so, in the beginning of 1862, a revolt began, which continued for fifteen months, caused heavy losses, and was finally suppressed, with much difficulty and great expense, by the employment of 5000 or 6000 troops and police.

The day after I joined the wing of the 28th Native Infantry we started from Calcutta in a river steamer, towing a flat with our Men on board, and proceeded down the Hooghly River in order to reach the ‘ Sundarbans,’ through which our course lay. This name isapplied to the curious maze of .islands and channels lying between the Hooghly on the west and the Megna on the east, a distance of more than 150 miles. Through these innumerable channels the waters of the great rivers Ganges and Brahmaputra find their way to the ocean. The islands are covered with dense jungle down to the water’s edge, and are the home of the tiger, buffalo, rhinoceros, etc. Wild pig, deer, monkeys, and serpents abound in these islands, and the channels between them swarm with crocodiles. We took several days to traverse this intricate network of channels, which in some places were so narrow as hardly to admit of the passage of the steamer and flat abreast, and so tortuous that in turning some of the bends we touched the bank on both sides. Several times we grounded or ran ashore, and once  or twice we collided with native boats, but no great damage was  done, and on the 10th of February we reached Burrisal, and remained there the rest of the day waiting for a pilot. 

Burrisal is a small civil station in the Sundarbans, the centre of a district in which communication is almost entirely carried on by water. It is chiefly remarkable on account of the curious and hitherto unexplained phenomenon known as ‘the Burrisal guns.’ These are noises resembling the distant reports of heavy cannon which arc occasionally heard in this district. The cause producing these sounds has never been discovered, and various opinions have been put forward regarding them. Some think the sounds are caused by the fall of large masses of the river bank, others believe them to be due to submarine explosions caused by volcanic action, but the phenomenon is not satisfactorily explained by either theory, and its nature and cause still remain matters of conjecture. 

We left Burrisal on February 11th, and though frequently aground through the carelessness or ignorance of our pilot, we succeeded in reaching Dacca, the chief city of Eastern Bengal, on the following day. This was once a place of great extent and importance, as the governors  of Bengal under the Mogul emperors made it their residence and seat of government. Extensive ruins buried in the surrounding jungles still attest its former magnificence, but its prosperity departed during the troublous times of the last, and the beginning of the present century, and its trade and population became very much diminished. After staying a day at Dacca we continued our voyage, but the river grew shallow, and on February 15th we were obliged to land at a place called Luckaie and march across country to Sylhet, a distance of about fifty miles. At Luckaie we received a letter from the magistrate of Sylhet, urging us to march on with all possible speed, as the rebels had come down from the hills and burned a police outpost, killing several police and villagers. Our march occupied several days and was very fatiguing on account of the number of rivers and streams we had to cross, and the state of the country, which in most parts resembled the bottom of a dried-up cattle pond. Supplies for our men and ourselves were obtained with great difficulty, as the country people, unaccustomed in this remote district to the passage of troops, deserted their villages at our approach and fled to the jungle, as if we had been an invading enemy. 

On the 22nd of February we crossed the Soorma River and reached the station of Sylhet, where we found that we were to march up to Cherra Poonjee, in the Khasia Hills, as that station had been almost entirely denuded of troops, its ordinary garrison having taken the field against the rebels. We were detained at Sylhet several days by difficulties of transport and by heavy rain, but we commenced our march on the 25th, and on the following day we passed through a dense jungle consisting of grass and reeds  ten or twelve feet high, with a few trees here and there, until we reached a place called Companygunge. From thence the Khasia Mountains were plainly visible stretching east and west, like a gigantic wall of rock, seamed here and there by magnificent waterfalls and covered in many parts by luxuriant vegetation. 

As I had charge of the officers’ mess, I went into a neighbouring village immediately after our arrival, in order to purchase supplies. The sun was very hot, and though my head was well guarded by a felt helmet, I had imprudently taken off’ my coat, so that my back was insufficiently protected, and I soon began to feel sick and giddy. I was just able to regain the mess tent when I felt insensible to the ground, much to the astonishment and dismay of my comrades. The application of cold water to my head soon brought me round, and in a day or two I quite recovered from the effects of this slight attack of sunstroke. 

Heavy rain fell during the night and wetted our tents, so we could only make a short march on the 27th, and we encamped at Pundua, a place a few miles nearer the lulls. It was surrounded by swamps, and looked as if it must be a very hotbed of malarious fever, yet none of our men fell sick, and though I visited Pundua subsequently on several occasions, I never contracted fever there. It appears that, for some unexplained reason, the country lying below the southern border of the Khasia and Jyntia Hills is far less unhealthy than that extending along their northern margin. The remarkable immunity of Pundua from fever was noticed by Sir Joseph Hooker, K.C.S.I., and was recorded in his well-known work, Himalayan Journals, p. 480. 

At Pundua an order reached us from Colonel Richardson, who commanded the troops in the field, desiring our commanding officer to send one company up to Cherra Poonjee, and to join him at Nongtalong, in the Jyntia Hills, with the remainder of the wing as speedily as possible. Upon this Captain Robinson, who commanded us, determined to march eastward across country to the point indicated, instead of returning to Sylhet and proceeding by the regular road. We took this line accordingly, but met with great difficulties from the nature of the country, which was traversed by numerous rivers and streams from the hills swollen by the recent heavy rain, all of which we had to cross by boat or by fording, as they were at right angles to our line of march. One night our camp was nearly inundated by a stream which suddenly rose more than twenty feet in consequence of a storm. During one of our marches we had to ford a mountain torrent about four feet deep, running with a force and rapidity that would have instantly swept any single man off his legs. We were only able to wade across by linking arms and thus opposing the united strength of ten or twelve men to the force of the torrent. 

The country in many parts was so swampy that we were unable to proceed, and were forced to traverse the skirts of the hills to avoid the ‘morasses. On one occasion we nearly lost one of our baggage elephants in a deep bog ; the great beast sank up to its belly and seemed unable to extricate itself, till large branches of trees were cut and thrown within its reach. The elephant seized these branches with its trunk and thrust them beneath its body and legs, so that eventually it got firm footing and dragged itself out of the bog. At length, after having spent a week in marching a distance of about forty miles, and endured much toil and many hardships and privations, we arrived at the old town of Jyntiapur, 

situated at the foot of the hills and only a few miles from our place of rendezvous. The Rajah of Jyntiapur was formerly the ruler of a considerable territory in this part of India, and had his residence and seat of government in this old town. It was in a very decayed and ruinous condition when I saw it, and contained hardly anything worthy of notice except some enormous stones, over 20 feet in length, which had been set up in past ages, possibly for sacrificial purposes, or to commemorate some distinguished man or some important event. 

On the 7th of March we left Jyntiapur and proceeded in boats up a river for some distance, then across a ‘jheel,’ or shallow lake formed by the late heavy rains, and then through a narrow channel barely wide enough for small boats, with high grass jungle on both sides, sometimes meeting overhead. The water became very shallow as we approached the hills, and at length we had to leave the boats and march along a pathway that soon brought us to the foot of these hills, which rise abruptly from the plain. A very steep ascent for about 1500 feet through the forest covering the hillside was succeeded by several slight ups and downs, ending in a stiff climb of a few hundred feet. This climb brought us to the plateau on which was perched the village of Nongtalong. We took up our quarters in this village, a very commanding position on the edge of a precipice, for it overlooked the plains at an altitude of about 2500 feet. The people of the village were friendly, but they would most probably have been forced to join the rebels had we not arrived to protect them. Major Rowlatt, the chief civil officer of the Khasia and Jyntia Hills, and Colonel Richardson of the 44th Regiment Native Infantry, with a party of his men, met us at this place, and arrangements were made for a combined attack upon a strong stockade erected by the enemy in a difficult position at Ooksai, a few miles distant. 

Early on the morning of the 9th of March, Captain Robinson with about thirty men left Nongtalong to reconnoitre the enemy’s stockade at Ooksai, and I accompanied the party. We marched in single file along a narrow path which ran through dense jungle in a westerly direction, and after many ascents and descents we reached a narrow valley more than 1000 feet deep, the sides of which were so steep that in some places we had to let ourselves down holding trees and creepers, and in going np the other side we were sometimes forced to climb hand over hand. A dense forest covered the hills and obstructed our view, but soon after we had passed the ravine’ we became aware of the presence of the enemy, who sent a flight of arrows at us from the cover of the jungle. No one was hit, and a volley of musketry from our men drove off the rebels. It was evident, however, that they were all round us in numbers, as we could hear them calling to each other from the neighbouring hill tops, so Captain Robinson determined not to advance any further. We accordingly commenced our retreat, followed by the enemy, who attacked us in flank just as we reached the ravine, but were driven back by a few shots from my rifle and the muskets of our men. As we descended the steep hill side our movements were quickened by a shower of rocks which came crashing like round shot through the jungle. When we reached the bottom, the enemy assailed us with arrows and stones from both sides of the ravine, and raised yells of triumph, evidently thinking they had caught us in a trap. It was plainly impossible to return by the direct path in the face of the enemy, so after a hurried consultation we struck off to the right, and after much difficulty and many narrow escapes from the masses of rock which the enemy incessantly precipitated upon us, we at length succeeded in reaching the top of the steep ascent and extricating ourselves without loss from this dangerous spot. Then the enemy drew off, and we reached our camp without any further molestation. It was most fortunate that no one in our little party was disabled on this occasion, for every man had to fight, and it would have been equally impossible to carry on with us any badly wounded men, or to abandon them, so that the affair might have ended in the complete destruction of our little party. 

On the following morning we marched with nearly all our men troops and police. to co-operate in the attack on the enemy’s stockade at Ooksai, as previously arranged. We crossed the ravine without opposition and soon arrived in front of the stockade, which was built of .stout palisades about nine feet high, bristling everywhere with sharp bamboo spikes. It was carried across a neck of level ground with a precipice on each side which effectually prevented any attempt on our part to turn the defences, and the ground in front of it was everywhere stuck full of ‘panjees’ — lancet-shaped bamboo spikes several inches long, which would penetrate the upper leathers of our stout walking hoots. As we came up Ave heard the sound of musketry on the other side of the stockade, showing that Colonel Richardson had already commenced his attack. The rebels seemed confused by an assault from two opposite points, and we met with only slight resistance on our side. We soon entered the stockade by scrambling over the palisades, and presently met our friends, who had been equally successful!, though their loss had been greater than ours. A few of the enemy were killed, but most of them escaped by going down the precipices where our men could not follow them. A small detachment was left to hold the captured stockade, and the remainder of the troops, after a halt for rest and food, took the roads to their respective camps. During our return to Nongtalong, while crossing the deep ravine already mentioned, we were again attacked by the enemy with arrows and large masses of rock, and several of our men were wounded. 

Next morning we marched towards Ooksai with a supply of provisions for the party left there, and met with no opposition until we were ascending the further side of the ravine. We had got about half way up when a crashing noise was heard in the jungle above, and the next instant some large masses of rock came down upon us. The men in front of me managed to get out of the way in time, but I was less fortunate, and before I could do anything to avoid it I was struck down senseless by a large fragment of rock. When I regained consciousness I found myself lying in the jungle in rather a sorry plight. My head was dizzy from the blow it had sustained, my body and limbs were badly bruised, and I presently found that the last joint of the middle finger of my left hand was completely crushed. My felt helmet (one of Ellwood’s) was quite flattened : it must have borne  the weight of the blow, and most probably it saved my life. I rose with some difficulty and made my way to the top of the ascent where the rest of the party were assembled. The enemy had disappeared, and after a short rest we went on to Ooksai, where I had my wound dressed by a native medical subordinate, and as it was rather late we remained there for the night. On the following morning we returned to our camp at Nongtalong by a different route, so as to avoid the dangerous ravine where we had been so often attacked. 

Soon after this the right wing of the 28th Regiment Native Infantry, under the command of Colonel Dunsford, C.B., arrived at Jyntiapur, and Captain Robinson, taking me with him, went down to see them and to obtain orders as to our future proceedings. We spent the day with them very pleasantly, and Dr. Jowett, the surgeon of the regiment, after examining my wound, reassured me by deciding that amputation of the injured finger was not required. Next morning we started on our return to Nongtalong, having an elephant to convey us as far as the foot of the hills. As we approached the ascent we were startled to perceive a party of men apparently waiting for us about half way up. This made us very uneasy, as, although bands of rebels were known to be near our post, we had imprudently neglected to bring arms with us, and the two Sepoys who accompanied us were also unarmed. However, there was no help for it, so we armed ourselves with heavy sticks which we cut in the jungle, and then proceeded on our way. On reaching the spot where the men had been observed, we found, to our great relief, that they were some of our own coolies, engaged in carrying stores up to our post. Had they been a party of rebels we should most likely have lost our lives in consequence of our carelessness. 

In a few days more I received orders to proceed to Jowai in the interior of the Jyntia Hills, and to take medical charge of the 44th Regiment Native Infantry, which was vacant, as the medical officer of the corps had received the appointment of Political Agent of Manipur. I accordingly quitted Nongtalong on March 17th, with my baggage and a small escort who were to accompany me to Umwai Poonjee, where I should receive a guard of the 44th to take me on to Jowai. I saw nothing of the enemy on this journey, but while passing through some dense jungle I perceived the tail of a python or rock snake hanging down the side of a large rock which overtopped the bush. As we came up it glided over the rock and was lost to view on the other side. I found Major Rowlatt, the Deputy-Commissioner, at Umwai Poonjee, and went on with him to Jowai, where we arrived rather late in the evening, and I joined my new regiment, which consisted chiefly of Goorkhas, and had been an irregular corps styled the ‘Sylhet Light Infantry Battalion.’ It had remained faithful during the mutinies of 1857, and had defeated and broken up a body of mutineers who entered the Sylhet district. When the native army was reorganised, this corps was included as the 44th Regiment pf Bengal Native Infantry. 


Our military operations in the country around Jowai — Arrival of General Showers, C.B., with full civil and military powers— I am sent to Cherra Poonjee with our sick and wounded — My wife joins me there in June— A false alarm— Prodigious rainfall at Cherra Poonjee— Return of the general and temporary cessation of military operations— Close of the rainy season— Grand scenery at Cherra— The Moosmai Falls— Coal Mine Mill and its caves— I am ordered to Jowai in October— A body of the rebels destroy Terria and threaten to attack Cherra— Alarm of the residents — Military operations recommenced in January 1863— We attack and destroy the rebel stockades at Oomkoi and Nongbarai. 

On the following morning a force consisting of part of the 28th and 44th Regiments under the command of Colonel Dunsford, marched out to examine some of the neighbouring villages and to destroy the stockades which the enemy were reported to have built there. Leaving the plateau on which Jowai is situated, we descended into the valley of the Montadoo River which winds round it, and continued our march, following the river for some distance, after which we ascended the other side of the valley and entered a large village which was nearly deserted. Two or three miles further on we found the village of Latoobir, where the enemy had erected stockades but had not stayed to defend them. We destroyed these abandoned stockades, and returned to Jowai by the Montadoo valley. The hills we had traversed were very bare of trees and covered with short grass, the villages were few and of small size, and the country seemed to be very thinly peopled. 

Next day we again marched from Jowai, taking the same direction, but keeping along the valley until the Montadoo River turned southward. Then we continued our march towards the east over undulating hills with isolated groups of pine trees scattered over them, and towards evening we arrived at the village of Shamfong, where one of the enemy’s stockades had been recently taken by a party of the 44th under Colonel Richardson. At this place, which was quite deserted, we passed the night, though not without disturbance, as there was a party of the enemy in a jungle close by who sent arrows and matchlock balls at us as we sat round a fire after dinner, and also shot at our sentries during the night, but fortunately did no mischief. In the morning we marched on to a village called Ralliong, and as we advanced the scenery became finer and the hills more thickly wooded. We crossed a deep ravine, and on reaching the crest of the hill we saw Ralliong in front of us at a short distance. It was stockaded and occupied by the enemy, who opened fire upon us as soon as we came within range. An immediate assault was ordered, and the stockades were carried in a short time with trifling loss on our side. The enemy mostly escaped into the jungle which surrounded the place, but they remained in close proximity to us, and gave some annoyance during the night by shooting at our sentries. 

Next day we halted and destroyed the stockades at Ralliong, while a reconnaissance was pushed forward towards a village called Munsoo, which was reported to be strongly fortified and held by the enemy in force. As our party on their return confirmed this report, the whole force marched to Munsoo on the following morning, expecting to meet with considerable resistance, but to our surprise the rebels, after firing a few shots, abandoned their stockades and escaped into the jungle. Our only casualty was the commanding officer’s dog : the poor animal received a bullet through his face and had to be destroyed. We occupied the village and its defences, and next day marched back to Jowai, leaving a small garrison in Munsoo to prevent its re-occupation by the enemy, which had already occurred more than once. To my great satisfaction I now learned that I had been permanently appointed to the medical charge of the 44th Regiment Native Infantry in general orders by the commander-in-chief, so that I could remain with the regiment as long as it suited me to do so. 

Soon after our return to Jowai, General Showers, C.B., arrived to take command of all the troops in the field and direct the operations. He had also received from the Government of Bengal the civil powers of a commissioner (or chief civil officer of a division), so that his authority was supreme both in civil and military matters. As my wound was still very painful and my left hand quite disabled from it, the general allowed me to go to Cherra Poonjee, the permanent station of my regiment, with the sick and wounded of our force, and I accordingly left Jowai on March 29th in company with Captain Buist, the adjutant of the 44th Native Infantry, who had been appointed by the general to act as commissariat officer to the field force. 

We left Jowai early in the morning, taking with us the sick and wounded and a suitable guard, and crossing the Montadoo River we continued our march along the undulating hills until we reached the deep valley of the Mungut, into which we descended, and crossing the river pursued our way to the west along a ravine flanked on both sides by lofty and precipitous hills. Emerging from the ravine we reached our halting place at Dingling, and put up in a shed which had been built on the bleak hill side for the accommodation of travellers. Next day we made a long march of about eighteen miles over an undulating country, very bare of trees and apparently thinly inhabited. About half way we passed the Rablong Hill, one of the highest points in the country. We halted for the night at the village of Lailingkot, remarkable for its iron works, and on the following day we made another long march of nineteen miles to Cherra Poonjee, passing through some grand and beautiful scenery on the way. The country was intersected by huge ravines with steep precipitous sides, which in some instances fell perpendicularly for several hundred feet. 

As we approached the station the road passed along the side of a forest-clad hill on which stood the Khasia village, or ‘Poonjee,’ of Cherra, and after winding round some lower hills, on which we saw the Mission Station and the European cemetery, emerged upon a plateau about three miles in length and two miles in breadth, upon which the station was spread out before us. The lines of the native troops, the regimental hospital, and the huts of the grain dealers, oil sellers, and other petty tradespeople, who supplied the wants of the soldiers, lay to our right ; the white houses of the European residents, some of them prettily situated among trees and shrubberies, were scattered over the plateau in different directions ; and in the centre stood the church with its lofty spire overlooking the settlement. 

On our arrival Captain Buist and his wife very kindly invited me to stay with them until I could take a house for myself; they had a charming residence embosomed in trees and reminding one of English homes far more than houses in India generally do. I was now appointed to the medical charge of the jail, police, and other civil establishments at the station, in addition to my military medical duties. In many Indian stations the medical officials of the Indian service hold civil appointments as extra charges, in addition to their regimental duties, and of course this is necessarily the case at places where only a single medical officer is stationed, these combined civil and military appointments are much appreciated, not only on account of their extra allowances and emoluments, hut also on account of the greater opportunities of medical and surgical practice which they afford. 

After a time I moved into a small house near the regimental hospital, and proceeded to get it ready for my wife’s arrival. She had remained with friends in Calcutta, and came up by steamer as soon as I was ready to receive her. In June I went down to Chattuck, where the river steamers stopped, met my wife there, and brought her up to my little house at Cherra, where we settled down very comfortably. 

In July we were alarmed by a report that a body of the rebels had reached the village of Moflong, about eighteen miles distant, and intended to attack the station during the night. The danger appeared serious, as most of our troops were absent, and there were only a few Sepoys of the 44th and some native police available for the protection of the station, which was far too extensive to be properly guarded by so small a number. In this unlooked-for emergency we armed our native servants and kept on the watch during the greater part of the night. All remained quiet, however, and in the morning we ascertained that it had been a false alarm. 

The rains set in early in this part of India, and the rainfall is really prodigious, as the southern face of the Khasia and Jyntia Hills receives the contents of the heavy clouds which come up from the Bay of Bengal. They break upon this rocky wall, 4000 feet high, in torrents of rain, which, from the commencement of the rains in April to their termination in September, amount to some hundreds of inches, and are probably unequalled in any other part of the world. Sir Joseph Hooker, during his visit to Cherra, recorded a rainfall of 30 inches in one day and night, and upwards of 500 inches during the seven months of his residence there (Hooker’s Himalayan Journals, p. 491). This enormous rainfall has swept away most of the soil on the Cherra plateau, so that large areas of bare rock are to be seen in many places. The numerous streams are raised many feet in a few hours, and become raging torrents precipitating themselves over the sides of the plateau at different points, and carrying off the deluge of rain so completely that an hour or two after the rain ceases the roads are dry enough for comfortable walking. The setting in of the rains is generally accompanied by violent storms in which the thunder and lightning are incessant, and the wind so strong that even buildings of solid masonry may be felt to tremble under it ! 

During the rainy season the military operations against the rebels were necessarily discontinued, and the general with his staff returned to Cherra, leaving the troops to occupy certain selected positions in the Jyntia Hills until the cessation of the rains should permit the resumption of active operations. I may here explain that the sick of my regiment were sent to Cherra as opportunities occurred, and were treated by me in the regimental hospital : this was the only practicable arrangement, as the corps was split up into many separate detachments to garrison different points in the Jyntia Hills. As my duties compelled me to go out every day, and frequently several times a day, I was much exposed to the weather. During June, July, and August it rained in torrents almost incessantly, and in spite of (so called) waterproof clothing I generally got wet through at least once a day. The exposure at last affected my health and I was laid up for several weeks. 

About the end of September the rains ceased, and the weather became very fine, so that we could fully enjoy the views of the splendid scenery around us; Towards the east the rocky plateau of red sandstone on which the station was situated sank abruptly into a magnificent ravine 3000 feet deep ; its sides were almost everywhere clothed with forest, but in some parts they were sheer walls of rock for hundreds of feet. During the rains many cascades fell down the sides of this ravine, uniting at the bottom to form a river which pursued its rapid course to the plains. This river was spanned in one spot by what was called ‘the living bridge,’ which was formed by the interlaced and united roots of two fine banyan or Indian fig-trees, one of which grew on each bank of the stream. This was just below the station, but a descent of 3000 feet had to be made to reach it. Nevertheless it was occasionally visited, and a more charming spot for a picnic was not to be found in the neighbourhood of Cherra. Numerous pathways intersected the sides of the ravine and were used by the natives of the country, who carried heavy loads on their backs up and down with perfect ease and security, though in some places the only pathway was a bamboo ladder tied to the face of a perpendicular cliff. To the south the Cherra plateau was bounded by another similar ravine in which were some very remarkable waterfalls called the Moosmai Falls. During the rains these falls were a magnificent spectacle, but they could very seldom be seen owing to clouds and mist. On rare occasions they became visible, and then many great bodies of water would be seen falling into the ravine at different points, bounding from ledge to ledge, dashing over immense masses of rock, and finally falling down a tremendous precipice more than 1000 feet into the valley below. So great was the fall that the water was dispersed in mist and spray before it reached the bottom. The Khasia village of Moosmai was situated at the head of this ravine, and the road from Cherra to the plains passed through the village. 

To the west of the station was a long wooded eminence commonly called the Coal Mine Hill. It consisted chiefly of limestone, and contained some curious caves, which I took pleasure in exploring. Qne of these caves was a circular hole in the limestone rock, about 30 feet in diameter and 100 feet deep, and had apparently been formed by the action of a small stream of water which trickled down one side of it. The floor of this cave could he reached from below by an opening in the rock, and it was a favourite spot for picnics, although the surrounding jungle was infested by tigers. During the rains these animals were driven by inundations from their usual haunts in the plains, and came up into the hill country. They found shelter in the numerous forest clad valleys, and frequently made their way into the station, where they prowled about the roads, killed and devoured any stray cattle they found, and sometimes even preyed upon the natives themselves. They were occasionally caught in traps built of stout logs, with a sliding door at one end, which, was so contrived as to fall behind the tiger after he had entered the trap and seized the animal (usually a goat) which had been tied up inside to serve as a bait. 

The Coal Mine Hill derived its name from a large seam of coal existing there close to the surface of the ground. It was worked in a rude fashion by the Khasias, partly for their own use and partly on account of the European residents, to whom the coal was sold at a very cheap rate (Rs. 8 per 100 maunds of coal, or about four shillings a ton. The coal was reached by horizontal borings into the hill side, wherever the mineral showed itself. It was present in considerable quantities and its quality was excellent. This seam of coal apparently extended along the southern border of the Khasia and Jyntia Hills for a great distance, I met with it subsequently at Satoonga more than sixty miles to the east of Cherra. We thus had close at hand an abundant supply of cheap and excellent fuel, and were able to keep up coal fires in our houses all through the year. They were especially necessary in the rainy season on account of the excessive humidity of the air at that time. 

A pleasant walk over the grassy hills to the west of the Sepoy lines led to the Khasia village of Mamloo, situated on the edge of a magnificent valley with perpendicular cliffs of red sandstone seamed by numerous cascades. Mamloo was closely surrounded by trees and defended by a stone wall, beneath which a sort of tunnel through the rock gate entrance to the village. The great valley which lay below extended down to the plains of Sylhet, and contained many plantations of orange trees. At its entrance was the large village of Chela perched on the steep hill side just above the Boga Panee River, which . there enters the plains. Chela is an important trading mart of these parts, and it contains a considerable population. A great trade is carried on there in lime, oranges, potatoes, betel nut, and other produce of the Khasia hills and valleys. 

The neighbourhood of Cherra is remarkable for the richness of its flora, and it is a paradise for the collectors of ferns and orchids. Sir Joseph Hooker found more than 2000 flowering plants within ten miles of the station, besides 150 varieties of ferns and a profusion of orchids, mosses, lichens, and fungi. There are no rhododendrons at Cherra, but several species occur in the interior of the hills further north. English garden plants for the most part do not thrive there, owing to the excessive humidity of the air in the rainy season and the rarity of sunshine. We did our best to make a garden, but owing to these causes we met with very indifferent success. The scarlet salvia, however, grew luxuriantly, and petunia, chrysanthemum, and fuchsia also did well. Most garden plants left out were destroyed by {he deluge which came down upon them during the rainy season, and even when placed in pots and boxes under cover they would often rot from the amount of moisture in the air. 

Towards the end of October orders were received directing several officers, myself among the number, to proceed to Jowai in the Jyntia Hills, and join the troops in the field, as the rebels still held out and fresh operations were about to be undertaken for their suppression. We accordingly left Cherra on the 4th of November, and on reaching Jowai, after a pleasant three days’ march, we found nothing going on, as Colonel Dunsford, who had been appointed to command all the troops in the hills, had not yet arrived. About a fortnight after I was sent with an escort to inspect a detachment of the 33rd Regiment’ Native Infantry, stationed at Munsoo, which had been garrisoned since its last capture to prevent the rebels from reoccupying and stockading it, as they had done more than once before. I found the detachment in a very bad state, nearly all the men having been attacked with malarious 

fever and so debilitated that they were quite unfit for military duty. They had lost several men by the fire of the enemy who still lurked in the jungles about the place, and they were so weakened and demoralised that they could not have resisted a serious attack upon their post had any been made. On my return I reported the sickly state of the detachment, and it was at once relieved and withdrawn. 

About this time the residents at Cherra Poonjee, most of whom were ladies and children, were seriously alarmed by the movements of a body of rebels, who, having contrived to elude the troops in the Jyntia Hills, made their way as far as Terria Ghat, at the foot of the Khasia Hills, and only ten miles from the station. They surprised and burned the place, killing some of the inhabitants, several police, and two or three unfortunate Bengali traders (called ‘box wallahs’) who were on their way up to Cherra to sell their wares. It was feared that the rebels would come up the hill and attack the station during the night, and had they done so they might easily have plundered and burned the houses and killed many of the residents, for the scanty garrison of Sepoys and police was quite insufficient for the protection of the whole station, the houses being widely scattered over the plateau. Fortunately the rebels did not make the attempt, but one night a false alarm was raised, and one of the residents, an old lady of eighty-eight, was hurriedly taken out of bed by her friends, wrapped in a blanket, and carried away for protection to the regimental quarter-guard. She had previously been kept in ignorance of the rebellion, and the shock and exposure of that night were too much for her, so that she died very soon after. As already stated, I had joined the troops in the field before this incident occurred, and my wife, being quite alone in the house, was naturally frightened. Our Khasia ayah, Kapoo, tried to reassure her by promising to dress her in native clothes and take her into the jungle if the rebels attacked the station, but this alternative was almost equally alarming, as the jungles in the neighbourhood of the station were infested by tigers. 

By the end of December a considerable force was assembled at Jowai, the 21st Regiment Native Infantry, under Major Thelwall, and the Eurasian Battery of Artillery, under Captain Cordner, having recently arrived. In the beginning of January 1863 the whole force, under the command of Colonel Dunsford, C.B., marched to Umwai, and thence to a village called Padoo, in the neighbourhood of which the rebels had built several stockades. One of these was distinctly visible from our camp. It was situated on a wooded hill opposite to us, but separated by a deep and almost impassable valley, with wooded and precipitous sides. We could even see some of their men observing us, and we tried a few shots with a long range rifle, which caused them to vanish in the jungle. 

Next morning we marched to attack the enemy’s stockades at Oomkoi and Nongbarai. The path was in some parts exceedingly difficult, and I was astonished at the elephants carrying the guns being able to get on at all in some places. At last we approached the stockaded villages, which were situated among thick jungle, in very broken and difficult ground. They were shelled by the artillery for some time without much effect, and then the infantry attacked and carried them with trifling loss, the defenders as usual escaping into the jungle. After destroying the stockades we returned to camp. On our way back the enemy fired upon us from the jungle, but without effect. 


We reconnoitre the stockade at Oomkrong and nearly fall into a trap— Capture of the stockade — Colonel Richardson severely wounded — We return to Jowai — I accompany a detachment to Barato and return with a small escort by way of Nurtuing — Curious bridge and stone monuments there— Similar monuments at Cherra and elsewhere in these hills — I accompany Colonel Richardson to Cherra and rejoin the field force at Surtiong — Coal at Satoonga — Two officers wounded — Operations against the rebels in the north-east country — Close of the rebellion — Our heavy losses — We return to Cherra — One of our detachments struck by lightning — I build a house on the verge of the great ravine — Splendid views from our windows— Some adventures with tigers— Difficulties of tiger-shooting at Cherra — Characteristics of the Khasias and Jyntias. 

On the following clay we marched to reconnoitre the stockade at Oomkrong, opposite to our camp. To reach it we were forced to make a long detour, as the intervening valley was almost impassable from its depth and steepness. We therefore passed round the head of it, and marched along the spur on which the stockade was situated until we reached it, when we found it deserted. The ground in front of it was thickly covered with ‘panjees,’ and there were several ingeniously concealed pitfalls, which might have proved very troublesome and dangerous in the hurry of an assault. We clambered over the stockade, and, seeing nothing of the enemy, concluded that they had dispersed, so we set to work getting the stockade destroyed, and proposed to have lunch afterwards. Meanwhile I and two other officers, being fond of exploring unknown regions, took a stroll along a pathway which ran down the spur. The hill was covered with high grass reaching above our heads, so that we could not see where we were going, and a turn in the path suddenly brought us in front erf n formidable stockade. For a moment we thought it was empty, but shots were immediately fired at us, and loud yells arose within. We were fortunately untouched, and made a hasty retreat to our party, who were quietly eating their lunch without any idea that the enemy were so near them. Our commander, on hearing what had occurred, advanced with the whole party, but after viewing the stockade, he decided that an immediate assault was unadvisable, and that it would be best to retire and bring a stronger force, with artillery to attack the place next morning. We accordingly retreated, followed by the yells of the enemy, who seemed to think they had beaten us off. 

In the morning the whole force, including the artillery, marched to attack the enemy’s position. Colonel Richardson of the 44th commanded on this occasion, as Colonel Dunsford was indisposed and could not leave camp. We followed the same path as on the previous day, and on approaching the stockade we found it still occupied by the enemy. The troops were then halted, and the guns were got into position to shell the stockade. A heavy bombardment was kept up for about an hour, but no impression was made, and several of our men were wounded by the enemy’s fire. Colonel Richardson then ordered the infantry to attack and carry the stockade, and he led them on to the assault himself, but fell severely wounded and was carried to the rear. Major Thelwall then took the command, and after some further resistance the stockade was taken. The defenders mostly got away before our men had effected an entrance, and aided by the jungle and the precipitous sides of the hill, they easily made their escape. The space within the stockade was full of immense masses of granite with hollow’s under them, in which the enemy had evidently taken shelter while the bombardment was going on. On both sides of tile spur were precipitous slopes covered with jungle and high grass, which afforded ample cover. After destroying the stockade we returned to camp with our wounded, whose safe transport was a matter of some difficulty owing to the extremely rugged and broken country we had to traverse. 

In a day or two we marched back to Umwai, as there were no more stockades near Padoo, and resistance seemed to have ceased in that part of the country. After a few days’ stay at Umwai to rest the wounded, we returned to Jowai. Colonel Richardson’s wound was very severe : a musket ball had struck him close to the knee, while his leg was bent in the act of running, and had passed completely through the whole length of the calf of the leg, coming out near the ankle, I had considerable trouble and difficulty with his case, but he got on slowly and eventually made a good recovery, though at first his condition looked rather unpromising, considering his age and long service in India. 

Soon after my return to Jowai I was ordered to accompany a detachment of troops, under the command of an officer of the 21st Regiment Native Infantry, to an outpost at Barato, about thirty five miles from Jowai, in a north-easterly direction. Our first march was to Munsoo, where we halted and passed the night in an open spot, taking every precaution against an attack, as parties of the enemy were known to be in the neighbourhood. The night ended quietly, and in the morning we resumed our march, passing through Munsoo, which apparently was quite deserted. We then descended into a deep valley and crossed a mountain torrent, after which a few miles’ march through an undulating thickly-wooded country brought us to a village called Shilliang-montong, then occupied by a party of the 44th under an officer of that corps. We passed the night there, and continued our march next morning, traversing extensive forests of oak, and reaching Barato in a few hours. There I quitted the detachment and returned with a small escort to Shilliang-montong, where I spent the night. On the following morning I set out on my return to Jowai by a different route, as the Munsoo road was not considered safe for a small party. I proceeded very cautiously for some miles through a broken and thickly-wooded country, from which we at length emerged into open ground, consisting of grassy undulating hills almost completely bare of trees. A few miles’ march then brought us to the large village of Nurtiung, where I met Colonel Haughton, Commissioner of Assam, Colonel Dunsford, and other officers of our force. 

There was not much to be seen at Nurtiung, which was as dirty and as full of pigs as most Khasia villages, but at a short distance stood a curious old bridge which deserves mention. It consisted of three enormous blocks of stone, the middle one upwards of 20 feet in length, the other two rather less ; the stones were placed upon smaller ones set upright in the bed of the stream to serve as piers. There was a somewhat similar bridge on the road between Jowai and Umwai, but the stones in that instance were not quite so large as those of the bridge near Nurtiung. There were also around the village a great number of the curious stone monuments so common everywhere in these hills, consisting of enormous flat slabs of stone placed upon several upright stones like a table on its legs, with gigantic head stones (some nearly 30 feet high) standing behind them. It seems probable that these stones were set up as memorials of great events, or of distinguished men, whose ashes were sometimes deposited near them. 

Groups of similar stones of various dimensions were to be seen all over the Khasia and Jyntia Hills. They generally consisted of a row of five or seven upright stones, the middle one being the largest, and usually there were also flat ones below, as at Nurtiung. On a hill above Cherra there were a great many of these stone monuments, and one great slab I particularly remember, as its dimensions were so enormous that we used to have picnics upon it, twenty people or more being able to sit on it comfortably. It must have been upwards of 20 feet in diameter each way, and more than 2 feet thick, and it was supported by several short stones sunk in the ground, above which this huge slab was elevated only 2 or 3 feet. Nearer the station there was another remarkable stone, which had been used as a bridge over a narrow chasm. It was about 20 feet long, 4 feet broad, and 2 feet thick, and it rested securely for about a foot upon the edge of the chasm on each side. It is extraordinary that a people like these hill men, possessing no knowledge of the mechanical arts, should nevertheless have been able to erect such remarkable monuments, and to place in accurate position stones of such prodigious size and weight. 

Next morning, after a rather tedious and uninteresting march of ten or twelve miles through an undulating country very bare of trees, I arrived at Jowai and found Colonel Richardson considerably better, so that after a few more days he was able to bear the journey to Cherra. I accompanied him to the station and remained there with him for a few days, when I was obliged to return to the field force. On reaching Jowai I found that Colonel Dunsford and the greater part of the force had marched to attack some stockades which the rebels had built at the village of Surtiong, about thirty miles distant in an easterly direction, and I followed them, availing myself of a guard that was escorting supplies for the troops. Our road for several miles lay along the valley of the Montadoo River ; then we left the valley and continued our march in an easterly direction over many miles of an undulating country, very bare of trees, until we reached the village of Satoonga, where we halted for the night. The seam of coal previously mentioned made its appearance near this place, and being quite superficial, was used as fuel by the villagers around. 

Next morning we continued our march, and after passing a beautiful little lake formed by the Kopili River, we ascended a ridge, and then gained a view of an extensive valley, in which the camp of our force was plainly visible. Nearly in the midst of the valley was a curious eminence entirely covered with trees, among which thatched roofs and jutting points of rock were visible here and there. This was the stockaded village of Surtiong, and on reaching the camp I found to my disappointment that it had been attacked and taken on the previous day. I went to see the place and found that the hill was a mass of limestone rock, covered with forest and pierced with numerous caves and hollow ways. The village was on the summit and could only be approached by very narrow and intricate passages through the limestone. These roads had been strongly barricaded, and trunks of trees had been suspended above them to be let fall, at the proper moment, upon the crowd of embarrassed assailants. But the fire of our artillery rendered all these preparations useless and caused such a panic among the defenders that they soon abandoned all resistance and took refuge in the caves, where they remained until night gave them the opportunity of escape. Our troops occupied the place with trifling loss, but had it not been for the guns there would doubtless have been serious resistance arid many casualties. An officer of the 21st Native Infantry fell into a concealed pit full of sharp spikes, one of which penetrated his leg, inflicting a severe wound. This device was employed by the hill tribes of the Eastern Frontier in hunting and in war, and we lost several men in this manner during the campaign. 

After a few days we returned to Jowai, where we found that Lieutenant Collett, of the 21st Native Infantry, the officer with whom I had gone to Barato a short time before, had been brought in very severely wounded by a shot from the jungle. The bullet had struck hint a little above the ankle and had completely shattered the larger bone of the leg. Our efforts to save his leg were successful, but he was laid up for a long time, and eventually obliged to take sick leave to England. 

By this time (March 1863) the rebellion was almost at an end, but a few parties of rebels were still in arms in the wild jungly country around Barato and Nongfloot in the north-eastern part of the Jyntia Hills, and an expedition was sent against them consisting chiefly of men of the 21st and 44th Regiments Native Infantry under the command of Major Thelwall. We left Jowai early in March, taking the road to Nurtiung and from thence to Shilliang-montong and Barato, where the force was divided into several detachments with the view of thoroughly scouring the country and dispersing any bodies of armed rebels that might still remain. A large detachment with several officers, including myself, was sent forward to Phlong, a village lying some distance away to the north-east. The country we passed through was covered with thick forest, and there appeared to be very few inhabitants. We met with no opposition and soon arrived at Phlong, where we established ourselves comfortably. 

We remained there about a week, and during this period we were occupied every day in making marches through the country in different directions, the detachment having been broken up into several distinct parties for this purpose. The country around was a vast jungle of forest trees and bamboos, intermixed with all sorts of creepers and small shrubs. Here and there we found small clearings for cultivation, and sometimes a deserted hut or two. Occasionally we surprised and dispersed parties of rebels, who fled into the jungle at our approach. On one occasion we marched for many miles in an easterly direction, and found ourselves in a labyrinth of hills covered with bamboo jungle, in which no tracks hut those of wild elephants and other animals could be found. The result of our combined operrations was that the enemy were completely demoralised and disheartened, and abandoned all idea of further resistance. We then marched back to Jowai the way we had come, arriving there about the end of March 1863, and thus the tedious operations against the insurgent hill tribes were at last brought to a close, after having continued, off and on, for fifteen months. 

The losses of the troops and police employed in the suppression of the rebellion were very heavy. My regiment (the 44th Native Infantry) which took part in the operations from first to last, had four officers wounded and almost two hundred men killed and wounded in its various engagements, besides a large number of men whose health broke down from exposure and privations. Nevertheless no medal, or reward of any kind, was granted to the troop in recognition of their services in this trying campaign. 

The field force was now broken up, the 21st Regiment Native Infantry remaining at Jowai, while the 44th returned to its old quarters at Cherra, and the other troops departed to their respective stations. I left Jowai with a part of my regiment in April and reached Cherra in two days, very pleased to find myself at home again. Another detachment of our men, who left Jowai a day or two after us, were overtaken at the first halting place by one of the terrible storms which usher in the rainy season in the Khasia and Jyntia Hills, The hut they occupied was struck by lightning, and two soldiers, several camp followers, and a number of baggage animals were killed on the spot, and many others injured. The officer in command of the party was himself struck down, and though not fatally injured he suffered for a long time from the effects of the severe shock his system had sustained. 

After the termination of this long protracted campaign we had a considerable period of peace and quietness, and we lived a happy life in our pleasant little hill station. In the beginning of 1864 I built a house on the edge of the great ravine to the eastward of the station, where I had taken up a piece of land for the purpose. The view from our windows was magnificent, including the great valley, 3000 feet deep, the undulating country for many miles around, and to the south the plains of Sylhet, which in the rainy season resembled a sea dotted with innumerable green islands. Further south still were seen the hills of Tipperah and the country of the Lushais. Our house was built upon a rocky eminence ; in front of it was a small space which was laid out as a garden, and beyond this was a steep declivity with grassy slopes, the commencement of the great valley. At a very short distance from the house was found the jungle, which in most places covered the sides of the valley and gave ample shelter to tigers and other wild animals which frequently prowled round the house during the night, leaving their footmarks in the mould of the garden. 

One morning we found, close behind our house, the carcass of a cow which had been killed by a tiger during the night. Knowing that the animal would most probably return during the following night to finish its meal, I remained with some friends in the back verandah of the house, intending to shoot it. The tiger came, as we expected, but unfortunately the night was so dark that although we could hear the beast tearing the carcass of the cow, we could not see it and could take no aim. At length some shots were fired almost at random, and the tiger went off untouched. Tigers were so common in the neighbourhood of Cherra that I once saw one lying asleep on a rock in the jungle, just below the regimental mess house, and on another occasion, as I was riding along the Assam road a few miles from the station, I saw a tiger walking leisurely over the hills about a hundred yards  to my left ; he was pursued at a very respectful distance by a mob of shouting natives, and presently disappeared over the brow of the hill. 

One day a report was brought in that a boy, the son of one of our Sepoys, had been seized by a tigress and carried into the jungle, so I started in pursuit in company with another officer and several of our men. We followed the trail into a jungle so dense and thorny that walking was impossible, and we could only get through it by crawling on the ground under the bush. At last we came upon the mangled and lifeless body of the unfortunate lad, which our approach had forced the tigress to drop. As we were too late to save him, and as it was useless to search further for the tigress in that horrible jungle, which was so dense that we could hardly see a yard in any direction, we returned to the station bringing with us the body of the boy. Although tigers were so common we rarely got a chance of killing one, except in a trap, as it was im- possible to use elephants owing to the nature of the ground, and to go after tiger on foot in dense and almost impenetrable jungle too dangerous to be attempted except on such an occasion as the above when we had a slight hope of saving human life. 

Tigers were occasionally caught in the traps previously mentioned, several of which had been placed at likely spots around the station. One of these traps was movable, being on wheels, and I remember once a tiger being caught in it and then dragged round the station by a throng of excited natives, who could not refrain from thus triumphing over their dreaded enemy and loading him and his race with unsparing abuse. The Khasias had a curious idea about tigers somewhat similar to the werewolf superstition which prevailed in Europe during the middle ages. They believed that certain persons possessed the power of transforming themselves into tigers, in which guise they would prowl about during the night seeking prey, while in the day time they would appear and behave as human beings. 

The inhabitants of the Khasia and Jyntia Hills belong to the Indo-Chinese race : they are really the same people, though there are differences of dialect and custom. They are, like most of the hill men on the eastern frontier of India, short in stature, but very sturdy and muscular, with highly-developed calves, narrow eyes, and flat noses. They have no caste prejudices, like the Hindus, but consume all kinds of food, except milk, to which they have an extraordinary and unaccountable aversion. They are very superstitious, believing in the existence of countless demons who are supposed to haunt particular localities, but they have no religion, in the strict sense of the word, and hence the missionaries, who have been settled at Cherra for many years, have been very successful and have a large following. The Khasia language is monosyllabic and is quite unlike the other languages of India. It has been studied and reduced to writing by the missionaries, who have published a grammar and dictionary of it, as well as a translation of the New Testament, and other works. 

The Khasias cultivate rice, millet, potatoes, etc. very successfully. They carry quantities of produce down to Chela, Terria Ghat, and other places along the foot of the hills, where a brisk trade is carried on with the Bengalis of the plains. In their villages they keep goats and cattle, as well as plenty of pigs and fowls, but they use the eggs only for purposes of divination. They are very fond of chewing a mixture of betel nut, lime, and pepper leaves called Pan, which reddens their saliva and leaves unmistakable traces on the paths they follow. They carry very heavy loads up and down the hills in wicker baskets which rest on their hacks and are supported by a broad plaited strap passing round the basket and across the forehead of the carrier. Most of our wounded men were carried along in this way during the campaign in these hills, as the nature of the country rendered the employment of the ordinary means of transport impracticable. When men were so badly wounded as to be unable to sit upright it became necessary to make rough litters for them with bamboos and branches of trees, and they were thus carried along with much difficulty by a number of men. The Khasias are fond of archery, and I used sometimes to attend their meetings and watch their shooting. They appeared to be indifferent marksmen, and their shooting range was only fifty or sixty yards. In hunting they have recourse to traps, pitfalls, and snares of various kinds, some of which devices they employed against us during the campaign…




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James Howard Thornton (1834-1919) was a British Indian Army doctor.

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