Friday, August 29, 2008



The India Office Records and Library, London, provides a detailed account of the rebellion of 1st April 1859 by the first batch of convicts brought to the Andaman Islands. This information is extracted from the petition of Lalla Mathura Das who saved the life of Dr. JP Walker on the occasion of the rebellion and wanted some ‘Jageer’ (property) in return; and the recommendation of Walker in consideration of his loyalty and invaluable service. Lalla Mathura Das petitioned:

During the outbreak of convicts on the 1st of April 1859, I exerted myself so much to suppress it that I was severely wounded, my life having been despaired of for some time, and I was so far successful that I saved the life of the late Superintendent, and to preserve in proper order the arrangements made for the well being of the Settlement. For these services the Superintendent was pleased to recommend me for promotion. Several convicts who had aided us in suppression of the outbreak were ordered to be set at large as a reward for their good conduct; I beg therefore most humbly to express a hope that my humble services will likewise be rewarded by the grant of Jageers & c.”

Dr. JP Walker, formerly Superintendent of the Agra Central Prison and lately Superintendent of the Penal Settlement at Port Blair, wrote in his letter of recommendation:

Lalla Mathura Das, aged 32, of the Khutree caste, was employed in the Agra Central Prison as Accountant and Cashier from 1847 to 1851, when I promoted him to be Darogha or Deputy Jailor, an appointment he held until transferred as an Overseer on the formation of the Penal Settlement at Port Blair… But it was during the mutiny and rebellion, when all other qualities unalloyed with active loyalty were worthless, that the sterling qualities of Lalla Mathura Das were conspicuous.”

In March 1858, Lalla Mathura Das accompanied me as an Overseer to Andamans, and during eighteen months performed in a most zealous manner the multifarious duties, which from the want of establishment necessarily devolved upon him, and thereby contributed greatly to the successful organization of the Penal Settlement formed under extraordinary difficulties.”

On the 1st of April 1859, when a section of the convicts attempted to assassinate me in office as a prelude to the massacre of the Naval Guard, and the seizure of the Store and Guard Vessels in the port, the Lalla acted with great presence of mind, bravery and devotion during which he was wounded in the shoulder by a blow from a felling axe aimed at his head, and had his hand transfixed by a fixed bayonet in parrying a thrust at his belly. This momentary repulse of the assassins saved my life from the most imminent danger when unconsciously I was being aimed at from behind with a loaded rifle of the disarmed European Sentry, and enabled me to defend myself and receive assistance from well-disposed convicts in the neighborhood. As it was the crowd around the Naval Guard Barrack on the neighboring hill, waiting for the concerted signal of my death, was only kept off by a threatened discharge of grape; and had my death happened, which was considered the sine qua non to the combination of the whole of the convicts; the result would have been serious. The contingency, however, humanly speaking, was averted by Lalla Mathura Das.”

Lalla Mathura Das is the only Hindoo, of any pretensions of caste that I am aware of, who has volunteered for service in the Andamans, and as might have been expected he was subjected to the obloquy of his friends and relatives for so doing, for on his return to Agra it was only after a successful defence before a Caste-Punchayut that he was able to enter his family residence. This useful precedence was obtained, however, at the cost of much anxiety and money.”

In conclusion, as regards qualifications, I may state that from being well versed in accounts, and from having been employed more or less in judicial proceedings during the last nine years, he appears to possess the qualification for becoming a good Deputy Collector.”

It was the killing of Lord Mayo, the Viceroy of India, by a Wahabi convict Sher Ali, in 1872, murderous attacks upon Portman in 1879 and RC Temple in 1896 that prompted the British Government of India to begin constructing a Cellular Jail in 1896, which was completed sometime between 1906 and 1910.

Such organized resistance of the colonial state continued throughout the nineteenth century.

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