Death of Alexander Burnes 11

Bombay Times, April 23 1842 Deposition of Bowh Singh, lately a Chuprasse in Sir Alexander’s service

“Sir Alexander Burnes was duly informed by his Afghan servants, the day previous to his murder, that there was a stir in the city, and that, if he remained in it, his life would be in danger; they told him that he had better go to the cantonments; this he declined doing, giving as his reason that the Afghans never suffered any injury from him, but on the contrary he had dome much for them, and he was quite sure they would never injure him.

On the day of the murder, as early as three o’clock in the morning, a cossid came to me, on duty outside; he said “Go and inform your master immediately that there is a tumult in the city, and that the merchants are removing their goods and valuables from the shops.” I knew what my master had said on this subject the day before, so I did not waken him, but put on my chupras and went to the char choukh. Here I met the wuzeer, Nazamat Dowlah, going towards my master’s house; I immediately turned with him, and on our arrival awoke him, when my master dressed quickly, and went to the wuzeer, and talked with him some time. The wuzeer endeavoured to induce him to go immediately into cantonments, assuring him that it was not safe to remain in the city; he, however, persisted in remaining, saying: “If I go, the Afghans will say I was afraid, and ran away.”

He however sent a note to Sir W. Macnaghten, by Wallee Mahomed.

A chobar came from the king to call the wuzeer, who asked and obtained permission to stay at the door; the wuzeer said to Sir Alexander Burnes, “Why, you see already that some of Ameen oola Khan’s people have collected to attack you; if you will allow me I shall disperse them.”

He (Sir A Burnes) said, “No, the King sent for [you] to go to him without delay.”

The wuzeer accordingly mounted his horse, and went away. The gates were then closed, and then in a little time surrounded by Ameen oola Khan and his rabble. Hydur Khan, the late kotwal of the city, whom Sir Alexander Burnes had turned out of office, brought fuel from the human on the opposite side of the street, and set fire to the gates.

The wuzeer shortly returned from the Bala Hissar, with one of the king’s pultuns, on seeing the gates on fire, and an immense crowd about, he took it apparently for granted that Sir A Burnes had either escaped or been destroyed, and withdrew the regiment.

At this time, the whole mob of the city was collected, and the house in flames.

The jemadar of chuprassees told Sir A Burnes that there was a report of a regiment having come to assist him; he was going to the top of the house to look, and had got half way, when he met an Afghan, who said that he had been looking about, and there was not the least sign of a regiment.

My master then turned back, and remarked, there was no chance of assistance coming from the cantonments or the king. A muslim, a Cashmeeree, came forward, and said “If your brother and the chuprassees cease firing on the people, I swear by the Koran that I will take you safe through the kirkee of the garden to the fort of the Kuzzilbashes”.

The firing ceased, and Sir A Burnes agreed to accompany him, and for the sake of disguise, put on a chogha and a longee.

The moment he came out of the door, a few yards, with the Cashmeeree, the wretch called out “Here is Sikunder Burnes.”

He was rushed on by hundreds, and cut to pieces with their knives. His brother Captain Burnes went out with him, and was killed dead before Sir Alexander.

Captain Broadfoot was shot sometime before, in the house, and expired in half an hour. There was a guard of fourteen sepoys, they were all killed in the affair. All the Hindoostanees except myself were killed. His sirdar-bearer, who is with me, escaped, as he was at home. I got away, having an Afghan dress. All the Afghan servants deserted. I got into cantonments, after being several days in a shop. Sir Alexander forbade the chuprassees and others firing on people until they set fire to the gates.”

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11 thoughts on “Death of Alexander Burnes

  • mark_golding

    Arthur Conolly the British intelligence officer who worked for the East India Company and I presume exchanged mission intelligence with Alexander Burnes. It is thought Conolly discussed the invasion of Afghanistan with Alexander after he returned to Bombay from meeting Dost Mohammad, the Afghan ruler, and the Vizier of Bukhara. Conolly was in Bukhara in 1841. He was executed by Emir Nasrullah of Bukhara in June 1941. The British were ‘double-crossed’ by Mohammad Akbar Khan and Conolly was aware of that – why did he not warn Burnes of the danger?

    Sorry – is down? anyone.

    • craig Post author

      Connolly was a bright and experienced officer, but he was also Macnaghten’s nephew, and Macnaghten would take no dissidence from his plan to invade Afghanistan from anyone. Burnes was firnly against the invasion but overruled.

  • Paul Johnston

    Any chance of a gazetteer or what the proper term is for words like wuzeer, pultuns, chupras, kotwal and chuprassees ?
    Assune June 1941 is a typo 🙂

  • Paul Johnston

    “Sorry – is down? anyone.”

    Not as far as I can tell.

    • craig Post author

      Yes – his account is very accurate, as always. I have got a brillian new wheeze about who the Kashmiri was, though.

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