alexander burnes

Death of Alexander Burnes

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.”

View with comments

Jealous Superiors

Alexander Burnes is going to dominate my thoughts and my time for a few months. I am going to continue to post my transcripts as I make them so they are more readily available to other researchers.

There is a syndrome at play in this letter that I very much recognise from my own days as an up and coming diplomat. Burnes gets carpeted for suggesting Karachi should become the major regional trading centre by an old hand who knew better from his thirty years experience in the field! Burnes was of course proved right about Karachi, but did not live to see it.
NLS MS 5899 f 151 Inv

From Colonel Pottinger Bhooj Residency
Apr 15 1837

To the Honourable Sir Charles Metcalfe

My Dear Sir Charles,

I have been so very busy of late that I have not had time before to thank you for your letter of 21 February last with the two accompanying Indus reports which has been at last got up in a very complete and businesslike form – I was glad to find from Corless when he was here with me last month, that his examination and survey of this year go decidedly to support the opinion that I have entertained from the first, that the Indus affords the greatest facilities for navigation.

The last time I was at Hyderabad, the native agent who came from Calcutta was was with me and he had travelled a great deal on the Bengal rivers – his opinion was strongly in favour of the Indus, but if people expect that they are to ascend a superb river like it against the current without difficulty (I mean of course when they have not steam or a fair wind) they will be disappointed. I went up at the worst period of the year (in December) without any particular exertion at the rate of 14 miles a day with a fleet of seven boats abd when the southerly wind blows fresh a boat will often clear 50 miles between sunrise and sunset.

I have nothing to do with Capt. Burnes’ reports except to pass them on to the supreme government, but I have seen enough of them to satisfy me that his information is incorrect. He asserts in one of them that Karachee has been – I think his expression is – “for ages” the sea port of Scinde and dwells on the “beaten path” thence to Tattoh as the desirable one for a passage – so far from this being the case, Karachee was only taken from the Khan of Khelat (Beloochistan) by the present family of the Emirs in 1795 and previous to that the whole trade of Scinde went into and came out of the Indus and goods that are now landed at Karachee are chiefly conveyed thence over the range of mountains into the small district of [Lus?] of which [Sommeam?] is the seaport and out of it by the “Kohunwat” or “mountain road” by which Captain Christie and myself travelled to Kelat in 1810.

The boats of Cutch ply to and from the Indus from the 15th September to the 15th April and I see no good reason why our merchant’s boats should not do the same. The agreement however which I have made with the Ameers for warehousing goods will overcome every difficulty in the way of trade, so far as Scinde is concerned. It is quite clear at the same time, that we cannot hope for any great extension of it until the countries to the northward are tranquillized.

Believe me etc.,

View with comments