Camping on the Indus 52

Burnes was to live a great deal of his life camped in tents, and it is important to have an idea of what these camps looked like. British officers generally had large, individual tents. These would normally be taken on by bearers and pitched a day’s march ahead, ready for the officers’ arrival in the evening. Their escort and servants would have numerous tents around them. The camp would be very diffuse, as men of differing castes could not share a tent together or cook their food together. The campfires were therefore numerous and small. Horses and baggage animals would be pegged or coralled just on the margin of the camp.

The kind of tent which Burnes slept in would have been large and complex. It would have had both an inner and an outer tent; valets and bodyguards were sometimes allowed to sleep in the space between. At the entrance and ventilation points would be hung additional cloth screens called tatties, which were kept soaked in hot weather to provide cooling through evaporation. In very hot weather the British normally sunk a pit under the tent. The floor was covered with rich carpet.

Burnes has not left a description of any of his tents, but a contemporary traveller in India, Charles Hugel, had a tent with poles 25 feet high – the size of a British telegraph pole. The outer roof alone of Hugel’s tent weighed 600 lbs, and the fabric needed 6 horses to carry it.1

Hugel was not an army officer, but military tents appear also to have been very large. William Hough wrote that when a Regiment’s tents were brought down by a storm, sleeping officers were in danger of being killed by falling tent poles – which indicates that, like Hugel’s, these were very substantial. There are numerous references throughout this period to the marches of armies being delayed by heavy rain, because when wet the tents were simply too heavy to be lifted by the draught animals.

I give this detail because my own mental picture of Burnes in his tent and camp had been quite wrong.

One reason my book on BUrnes still is not finished is that I am absolutely fascinated by the detail. The above is riveting compared to some of the sections I have written on how Burnes had to account for his expenses. But I love to learn the process. I fear that the number of people who are as interested as me by this, or by how precisely a letter got from Montrose to Dera Ghazi Khan in 1837 and how the revenue was split, is very small. Actually I struggle to explain why this degree of authenticity is so important to me. It is not that I have not written screeds on the broad sweep of imperial expansion and its drivers. I have. I just have a constant urge to recreate a realistic sense of how it was to live in the world I am describing.

Maybe I need to do novels?

52 thoughts on “Camping on the Indus

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  • Richard Powell


    there are more novels out there than any of us can ever read. I hope you’ll stick to non-fiction which we all know you’re good at. Very few people seem to be able to do both fiction and non-fiction to a high standard.

    I’m looking forward to the Burns book, not least the bits where he’s accounting for his expenses. The minutiae of life can be fascinating.


  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    If you are serious about writing fiction, Craig, why not a novel about an American President, with great Hollywood connections, seeking re-election for a most ambitious, unpopular program, going on a junket to lower California to drum up votes by dining and shooting baskets with the stars while the spooks set up yet another government leaker as his assassin – what is intended to kick off another showdown with the Russians but just results in another messy murder of an alleged presidential assassin.

    If you of it – and it is much safer than in non-faction – I’m sure the film writers and directors will jump at it.

    You could retire in a style that you are not yet accustomed to.


    “or both’. That’s correct. But that would mean it’s been done.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !


    “Peer profits from sale of looted goods (a statue that belongs to the Eqyptian people by rights). What a hypocrite.

    Lord Northampton to get £6m…etc…etc…etc ”

    Seriously now, Mary, what on earth is the point of that post?

    All we learn is that an already rich, titled, six-times married man has sold something for several millions.

    We can imagine that you disapprove of everything about that chap, but do you hope to achieve by bringing this and him to our attention?

    Your post would be more in place in the society column of one of the more vulgar newspapers or society gossip magazines. It certainly has no place cluttering up a blog of which and of whose owner you write:

    “It is very important that his blog with its wide readership, seen and unseen, continues. If he takes up writing fiction, his energies could be dissipated. Where else is there a voice like his?”

    For Heaven’s sake button up just a little!


  • Mary

    “For Heaven’s sake button up just a little!” Take your own advice why don’t you.

    Your comments on the Palestine threads are jarring and callous especially at this moment in time.

  • nevermind, viva beautiful football

    Again, schoolmaster socket is under the misapprehension that he has something to say here on Craigs blog and can berate others.

    Just to point out to those who just read and do not want to get involved with his kind of happy school bullying, he is just mouth, our very own castrated cyber dog, quiet harmless bar the barking.


    So looking forward to buying a signed copy of your book on Burnes, Craig, whenever, hopefully coinciding with an Independent Scotland.


    “The flour mill attack was not the most serious incident of the war: although nearly 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in just three weeks, no one died at the mill. However, because it was a civilian building producing food – the only operational mill in Gaza – the incident received particular criticism from Goldstone, who concluded that the building was hit by an air strike, the attacks were “intentional and precise”, and they were “carried out for the purpose of denying sustenance to the civilian population”. He added that the attacks violated the fourth Geneva convention and customary international law and may constitute a war crime.”

    And the UN follow-thru?

  • Calling all hasbarats

    Patience. These are crimes with no statute of limitations. They haven’t even gotten to the ICJ or ICC yet, much less the national jurisdictions that could pick traveling criminals up.

    It took 41 years to get Demjanjuk, 68 years to get Hans Lipschis. The long wait is the point. War criminals are never safe as long as they live. It will be the same for Israel’s Eichmanns.

  • طيزك حمرا.

    Just shoot yourself then, if you can’t wait. Or go get a suicide belt. Grownups learn to bide their time.


    There were youngsters in Gaza who can never reach adulthood, so your perspective is a little fucked up.

  • طيزك حمرا.

    You don’t do shit except whine, but that’s OK because you’re oh so helpless. Your black despair is not their problem. Go something useful or wait, that is your choice. They are not listening to your noble impetuous sentiments.


    Bureaucracies are helpless because they are inherently tangled in their own ‘efficiencies’.

  • طيزك حمرا.

    Then stop your feckless bitching and get a life. Other people have governmental nuts to squeeze, and they can’t spend all their time begging your pardon for global sucking.

  • Mary

    Who is this ‘Tizak Hamra’ (in Arabic طيزك حمرا ) sending aggressive messages from multiple IP addresses?

  • Clydebuilt

    Craig if you’re enjoying delving into the detail of Burnes’s life, then keep on enjoying it. On the other hand if you need the money. Then take a break from it, and come back to the book with the right frame of mind to get finished and packed of to the printer.

  • Abe Rene

    Why not do both? Continue to work on your book about Burnnes and also start planning a novel about the era.

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