Affairs at Kurnool & Zorapoor

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Affairs at Kurnool & Zorapoor
Part of Kurnool Campaign 1839
Date: 12-18 October 1839
Location: Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh
Presidency: Madras
Co-ordinates: 15.823205°N 78.040228°E
Result: British victory
British & Indian Muslim jihadis
Col A B Dyce
Col James
Nawab of Kurnool

Cause of the Campaign

A fanatical spirit was abroad among the Muslim chiefs and the people of India which appears to have originated in Scinde, whence emissaries were sent to induce the chiefs to engage in a holy war against the British raj. Among the chiefs implicated was the Nawab of Kurnool - a potentate of some power and not a little wealth. By treaty he was precluded from storing and collecting war materiel, but nevertheless he had amassed a huge quantity of guns, muskets, shot, shell, bullets, swords, matchlocks, English double-barrelled guns and pistols, salt petre, sulphur, copper, lead, reams of cartridge paper, and about 600,000 lbs. of gunpowder. These warlike stores were cunningly concealed, some within the zenana (women's quarters) at Kurnool, and hundreds of cannon were ranged in the courtyards hidden by grass which had been allowed to grow over them. The Nawab was called upon for an explanation and refused to offer one. The Government therefore moved up a force towards Kurnool.

The Confrontation

This history was part of Cathy Day's Family History in India site. Cathy has kindly transferred this page to our wiki.

On August 13th, the 34th Madras Light Infantry left Bangalore, to join the 13th Light Dragoons and other troops. The total force amounted to about 6000 men. On September 24th the force reached Kopatoal, thirty or forty miles from Kurnool. Here the Sappers were left to prepare materials for a siege, as it was anticipated that strong resistance would be offered by the Nawab. A company of the 29th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry, and one of the 16th, also remained, while the main force encamped about six miles to the front. So matters rested for a fortnight, when the Sappers were ordered to the front and encamped two miles in advance of the main force. The main camp was on the right bank of the river, while the artillery, engineers, and ordnance stores were on the left. On October 10, the Sappers, a Squadron of 13th Light Dragoons and other troops moved off. Meanwhile another group of native and a small body of Sappers had taken possession of the fort of Kurnool without resistance a few days before.

The force with the 13th Light Dragoons reached Kurnool on October 12, encamping about two miles off. For six days the troops were employed in searching for the Nawab's concealed guns and stores - only seven or eight being found mounted on the walls. Among the guns was found forty or fifty light field-pieces with carriages complete and ready for the field - mostly two-pounders or six-pounders. A "Malabar" gun, ten feet long, mounted on a carriage with 10 ft wheels, and a 24-foot trail, was discovered behind a wall, but commanding the main street from the gate. It had a 12-inch bore and carried a shot weighing two hundred and forty pounds. Three or four hundred guns were found in the grass in the courtyard, and in another place guns, mortars, and howitzers in large numbers. A huge amount of treasure was also seized. Most of the shells were made of pewter, and some were of most fanciful design. The fact was that the British force had arrived six months too soon, and the Nawab's force did not amount to more than 1000 men. While his stores were being disclosed the Nawab remained in an enclosure near the tomb of his father to which he had retired. The fort technically was still his own, and he was permitted to send things in and out - and some treasure was no doubt removed.

On October 17th the British Commander, Colonel Dyce, received instructions how to act. Two days previously a party of six or seven officers had penetrated into the enclosure unarmed, and had had an interview with the Nawab. It was a risky thing to do, as his followers crowded the place, and all were fine tall men and armed to the teeth. It is recorded that this party of officers, save one who belonged to the 13th Light Dragoons, were all small men. The interview, however, though by no means friendly, passed off without violence, and the party withdrew, having, however, refused the proffered presents of fruit - presents, though, which their syces took possession of and carried away on their heads. On October 18th arrangements were made to surround the Nawab and his following, and to arrest him. The troops took up a position between the Nawab's enclosure and the village of Zorapore. Captain Pears and Lieutenant Ouchterlony of the Sappers galloped over to Zorapore, where they found Colonel Dyce holding a parley with some of the leaders of the Nawab's following. The terms offered them were to hand over the Nawab, receiving all arrears of pay and a safe-conduct with their arms to their own country. Some time was occupied in pretended discussion, pretended at least on the native side, in which a Persian Munshi took considerable part. But Wullee Khan, the Vizier, would not come to terms, nay, more, was insolent. He came out clad in armour and bristling with weapons, a huge broadsword being specially noticeable. Wullee Khan was a huge fellow, beside whom Colonel Dyce, a man of six foot six in height, did not look tall. Meanwhile the Pathans, of which there were not a few among the troops of the Nawab, disliking the appearance of the guns, cleared out of the enclosure and threw themselves out in front of the British left. For four hours the force remained quiet, and Colonel Dyce then ordered the buglers to sound " fire." The Nawab with thirty or forty men took refuge in the Durgah, but the rest moved out of the enclosure in the front of the British, some meaning fight, others flight across the river. For ten minutes Rohillas and Pathans kept up a hot fire, and worked round on the British flank. Captain Pears was sent to bring up some of the 13th Light Dragoons, but on arrival at the river he found that they were fully occupied in endeavouring to prevent the enemy, here numbering some hundreds, from getting round them by means of the river. The enemy would enter the stream, and being out of reach would endeavour to pass up or down, above or below, where the dragoons were posted, and thus escape. The 13th had therefore to keep on the move to prevent it. A body of the 34th Native Infantry were then despatched there, and they shot down numbers both in the river and on sundry sandbanks. The artillery now ceased to fire, and the 39th British - with the 34th Native Infantry advanced. Against them rushed out Wullee Khan, his brother, and three other Rohillas, sword in hand. These five brave fellows were at once bayonetted. The Durgah was now entered, and there the verandah was found full of the enemy. As the intention was to take the Nawab alive, to effect it Captain Pears rushed in, but Major Armstrong of the 34th Native Infantry was already before him and was dragging his captive out, to whom three natives clung, and a soldier of the 39th British. It seems that the soldier believed the Nawab had killed a Lieutenant White of the 39th a few minutes before, and was vowing vengeance. As a matter of fact it was an Arab, Shaik Said, who killed Lieutenant White. An officer of the 34th, Lieutenant Yates, was killed in the scuffle, and Colonel Wright was stabbed by a desperate man who rushed out at him. Lieutenant Ouchterlony was thrice wounded when helping a sepoy against a Rohilla, one cut being a very severe one in the left elbowjoint. He did not, however, quit the field, and even accompanied the 13th halfway across the river when they forded it in pursuit of the fugitives.

About 25,000 rupees, some jewellery, 85 horses, and 22 elephants, were found in the Durgah. The British force consisted of 350 to 400 native infantry, 80 of the 39th Regiment, 150 of the 13th Light Dragoons, 150 native cavalry, and the guns. Two British officers were killed, two wounded; five or six men of the 39th fell, and a few were wounded; one of the native infantry killed, and twelve or fourteen wounded. The enemy numbered 900 men, but had no artillery. Two hundred prisoners were taken, and fully one hundred and fifty killed. One private of the 13th was drowned while crossing the river, but there were no other casualties in the action. The two squadrons of the 13th returned to Bangalore on November 28, but not without serious loss, for cholera on the march claimed no less than thirty-two men. Of the horses, six were lost. The thanks of the Government for the services of the regiment on this service appeared in general orders.

Field Force

6,000 troops under the command of Colonel James

External Links

Biography of Archibald Brown Dyce HEIC & British India Medals
Kurnool Commission of Enquiry Google Books
Auckram Ancestry
Map of Kurnool District
Kurnool Gazetteer 1857