J. Brasyer, C.B.
At the close of the First Sikh War in
1846 it was decided to conciliate the men of the defeated "Khalsa
Army" and to enlist Sikhs in the Honourable East India Company's
service. In April orders were issued to raise a Sikh irregular battalion,
the Regiment of Ferozepore, for service with the Bengal Army of
the East India Company.
A British officer, Ensign J. Brasyer, was lent to Sir Henry Laurence,
Civil Commissioner of the Punjab, to assist in fostering friendship
with the Sikhs and in obtaining Sikh recruits. Ensign Brasyer was
thirty-six years old. He had enlisted as a private in the artillery
of the East India Company and later was promoted to quartermaster-sergeant
of the 26th Bengal Native Infantry. He fought with this regiment
throughout the First Afghan War and First Sikh War and had been
promoted to commissioned rank for gallantry and distinguished service
in the field. He understood Indians, knew their customs and spoke
Punjabi. It was for this reason that his services were placed at
the disposal of the civil authorities in the Punjab.
On arriving in Lahore, Ensign Brasyer was immediately sent to tour
the villages south of the Sutlej river in the districts known as
the Malwa country. He visited many villages, where he harangued
the Sikhs in their own language and, collected all able men who
were willing to serve as soldiers in the Company's service. In less
than two months Ensign Brasyer had collected four hundred men, many
of whom had recently been fighting against the British. He brought
them all to Ferozepore, where he handed them over to Captain Watt,
who had been appointed to raise the Regiment of Ferozepore.
Ensign Brasyer claims to be the first to have collected Sikhs for
the British forces and in his memoirs he writes
"Thus I had the honour of
being myself the first to form the nucleus of that invaluable Seikh
element of the Bengal Army, that has since served the British Government
with so, much credit in every campaign since 1857."
Captain Watt and his other British officers could not speak a word
of Punjabi; so he applied for Ensign Brasyer to be posted to his
regiment. However, Captain Watt died in May and Captain Tebbs took
charge and became the first Commandant. By August the Regiment numbered
eight hundred and was formed into ten companies. A large proportion
of Indian officers and non-commissioned officers were transferred
from other native infantry regiments to assist in raising the new
regiment. These were mostly Rajputs from Oudh and were men who had
been promoted for gallantry in action. In September the Rajput officers
and non-commissioned officers returned to their original units,
and men of the Regiment, chiefly those who had served in the old
"Army of the Khalsa," were promoted in their place.
Although the Regiment of Ferozepore was an irregular battalion,
its uniform and head-dress were similar to those of regular units
of the Bengal Army. The men wore a red tunic with yellow facings
and the Governor-General insisted that the men should wear the caps
worn by the rest of the native army. This is contrary to the Sikhs'
creed and the men were very opposed to wearing these regulation
hats. However, Lieutenant Brasyer, who had undoubtedly gained the
confidence of the Sikhs right from the beginning, persuaded them
to adopt the hats, which they continued to wear until the Indian
Mutiny in 1857.
Rumours were abroad in April, 1857, that discontent was rife in
certain native regiments of the Bengal Army, but everything was
peaceful in Mirzapore, where the 14th Sikhs were still stationed.
However, on the 7th of May, three days before the outbreak of the
Mutiny at Meerut, Lieutenant Brasyer received the following message
from the Officer Commanding the Allahabad Division
"To the Officer commanding the Regiment of Ferozepore, Mirzapore.--You
are desired to march at once with all speed-'forced marches'-with
the headquarters, and four hundred men, Regiment of Ferozepore,
to Allahabad, where you are urgently required."
He immediately set out with four hundred men, leaving two hundred
and fifty behind at Mirzapore under Lieutenant Montague, and reached
the fort at Allahabad on the 11th of May.
Although everything was quiet at Allahabad at this time, the situation
was very confused and the news of the mutiny in the north caused
considerable anxiety and doubt. However, no precautionary measures
were considered necessary until the 5th of June, when all civilians
and women and children were ordered into the fort. This was just
in time, for, at 10 p.m. on the 6th of June, the 6th Native Infantry,
which was stationed in the cantonments two miles from the fort,
unexpectedly mutinied. The men attacked their officers in the mess
and then plundered the treasury. Incendiary, rapine and murder followed.
The mutineers were joined by all the town rabble, and their savagery
was terrible and continued for days.
Although the Commissioner and other senior officers were unprepared,
Lieutenant Brasyer was ready and, as soon as the firing started
in the cantonment, he quietly assembled his men and gave them instructions
and encouragement. There were three guards of the 6th Native Infantry,
numbering about two hundred men, in the fort in charge of the different
gates. Lieutenant Brasyer, entirely on his own initiative, decided
to disarm these men. He immediately went to the main gate with a
party of Sikhs and instructed the officer in command of the guard
to order his men to give up their arms. The guard, who, it was afterwards
learnt, had been given ammunition to hold the gate for the rebels,
defiantly refused. Lieutenant Brasyer saw that determined action
was necessary, so he caused his Sikhs to support him and advanced
towards the guard. It was thought that the Sikhs might join the
mutineers, but Brasyer had an irresistible influence over his men
and the Sikhs did not waver.
Lieutenant Brasyer immediately ordered the guard to "pile arms"
and "stand clear." The guard hesitated and one man lunged
forward at Brasyer with his bayonet, but the officer's orderly knocked
aside the musket and saved his life. The Sikhs now adopted a determined
attitude and the mutinous guard, seeing that the Sikhs were firm;
gave way. Brasyer then personally disarmed all the men of the 6th
Native Infantry in the fort and his Sikhs supported him throughout.
The guards were made prisoners and turned out of the fort the next
As soon as the guards had been disarmed, Lieutenant Brasyer organized
the defence of the fort, which he held against the rebels with his
four hundred Sikhs, a party of invalid British artillerymen and
a small number of volunteer civilians until reinforcements arrived.
The following is an extract from
the London Times of that time
"Lieutenant Brasyer commanded the Seikhs at Allahabad. It was
to him that the Europeans were indebted for preventing the rebels
from taking the fort."
This was the first important British success in the Mutiny and it
was a stroke which has never been properly appreciated. Allahabad
was the key to the north-west and, once secured, it formed an advanced
base of operations. But for Brasyer's initiative and intrepidity,
the war against the mutineers would have taken a very different
The importance of Lieutenant Brasyer's success is borne out by this
extract from a report by Lord Canning, the Governor-General, to
"I shall not be surprised
if that strong fortress Allahabad, with all its valuable stores
and war munitions, has fallen into the hands of the insurgents.
That would indeed be a climax to our misfortunes, more serious than
the seizure of Delhi."
After the 6th of June the fort was subjected to a desultory siege,
for the place was surrounded by a large force of rebels, who remained
in possession of the bazaar and city. The rebels were well armed
and had two guns. Brasyer wrote as follows about his Sikhs at this
"All this time my faithful
Seikhs, on whom so much depended, were craving to be led against
the enemy outside, or anywhere, rather than be kept idle within
the Fortress, so I found it necessary to temporise with them a little.
" `Now, as we are all on special duty, doing hard work, and
in hot weather,' said I, `let us discard the cap and heavy clothing.
Adopt your national dress, and show how Seikhs can fight, and save
this Fort and all within it."
The Ferozepore Sikhs therefore from this time on discarded their
caps and heavy coats and wore red turbans and Sikh blouses throughout
the Mutiny. This pleased the men immensely, especially as Brasyer
himself adopted the dress.
A few days later Colonel James Neill arrived with a British battalion,
the 1st Madras Fusiliers, and took over command at Allahabad. By
this time the whole countryside had broken out into revolt, so from
the 12th of June Colonel Neill carried out a series of vigorous
sorties against the rebels. The Ferozepore Regiment, now known as
"Brasyer's Sikhs; played a prominent part in these operations
and won further distinctions. These sorties met with considerable
success and the district was soon in a state of submission. On the
17th of June the rebels were defeated and driven out of the city
and the British administration was reestablished.
Before the end of the month Lieutenant Montague arrived from Mirzapore
with the remainder of the Regiment and joined Brasyer, who had been
promoted to captain for his gallantry at the beginning of the month.
The situation at Cawnpore was now serious and it was essential to
send a force to relieve the British garrison as soon as possible.
Transport was immediately collected and an advance column, consisting
of Madras Fusiliers and Ferozepore Sikhs, set out for Cawnpore;
on the 30th of June.
On the 16th of August Havelock led his much-depleted force
against the mutineers in Bithur. After a long march of eight hours
the weary force gained contact with the enemy, who were holding
one of the strongest positions that Havelock had ever seen, around
the village. Havelock decided not to wait, and his men assaulted
the position with great gallantry. After some hard hand-tohand fighting
the position was carried and the enemy utterly routed. Brasyer's
Sikhs were on the left flank and threw back a large force of the
enemy, entrenched in the bank of a nullah, at the point of the bayonet
and captured his guns.
After the battle Havelock returned to Cawnpore and issued his famous
order of the day in which he said
"Soldiers, your labours, your privations,
your sufferings and your valour will not be forgotten by a grateful
This quotation is inscribed on his statue in Trafalgar Square, and
on the reverse "The Regiment of
Brasyer's Sikhs" is included amongst the units listed as the
"Defenders of Lucknow." The 14th Sikhs are the
only unit of the Indian Army mentioned on a monument in England.
Owing to casualties and the serious sickness from cholera and other
diseases amongst his British troops, Havelock had to remain in Cawnpore
for nearly a month awaiting reinforcements. There was very little
fighting and the Ferozepore Regiment was detailed to escort a convoy
of sick and wounded to Allahabad. The Sikhs escorted the wounded
safely back, in spite of encountering a number of rebels during
the journey, and then returned to Cawnpore.
RELIEF AND DEFENCE OF LUCKNOW
On the 25th of September the advance from Alambagh began. General
Neill's Brigade was in the lead and the 78th Highlanders and Ferozepore
Regiment were detailed as rearguard and ordered to hold the bridge
at Charbagh until everything had passed. The Madras Fusiliers, with
the 84th Foot, forced the bridge and Havelock then led his force
round east of the city. This move evidently surprised the rebels,
for he met no serious opposition until he arrived a short distance
from the Residency. Meanwhile, the Highlanders and Sikhs were heavily
engaged at Charbagh, where they were attacked by a large force of
rebels. After three hours' fighting they defeated the enemy and
were able to push on. However, they had lost touch with the main
British column and took the wrong road. This mistake proved most
fortunate, for they suddenly encountered the rear of some guns which
were holding up Havelock's advance and rushed them without ceremony.
The 78th Highlanders and Ferozepore Regiment were now in front.
The Residency was only some five hundred yards away, but since it
was now dusk and the column was strung out over a considerable distance
General Outram suggested halting. General Havelock, however, was
determined to reach the Residency without delay and ordered the
78th High-landers and Brasyer's Sikhs to advance. This column, led
by Sir James Outram and General Havelock, dashed forward through
the narrow streets of flat-roofed, loopholed houses held by the
mutineers. The Highlanders and Sikhs fought their way forward with
desperate gallantry under continuous fire from the enemy and eventually
reached the Bailey Guard Gate of the Residency to the deafening
cheers of the gallant garrison. In describing the assault Brasyer
"Onward went the devoted band into
a fire that seemed, as General Havelock said, as if nothing could
live under it. The Highlanders, being Europeans, were placed in
front, but the Seikhs followed them closely, pressed eagerly forward,
and loudly cheered. Eventually it became a pell mell race for who
should be first. Here Neill fell. Continuing this rushing, the troops
were all intermixed, jumping over cuttings, and other obstacles
in the street, until they finally reached the gateway of the Residency.
But this was not only shut, but barricaded. A scramble ensued, the
enemy firing from the roofs and windows of houses at us in every
direction. At this moment I caught sight of a gap at the side of
the gate, forced my way through this, and in reality was the first
European of the relieving force who entered the beleaguered Lucknow
During the day's desperate fighting many acts of gallantry were
performed and the Regiment suffered a very large proportion of casualties.
One noteworthy feat of gallantry was that of Sepoy Nihal Singh,
of the Ferozepore Sikhs, who carried General Neill, when he was
mortally wounded in the final charge, to the rear under heavy fire.
On account of the Sikhs' good service, General Havelock promoted
each man to a grade higher in rank, and all subadars were granted
the 1st Class Indian Order of Merit.
For the next two months Brasyer's Sikhs were put in charge of the
Bailey guard, one of the most important positions in the Residency,
and they also held the defences on the right of General Havelock's
sector bordering the Pyne Bagh. Outram's force was given no rest
by the enemy and it had always to be on the alert. Duties were constant
and arduous, while rations were scanty throughout the siege. On
one occasion, when the enemy blew a breach in the defences, a detachment
of the Ferozepore Sikhs checked a large force of the enemy who stormed
the breach, and gave the garrison time to form and repulse the enemy.
Jemadar Gowahir Shah was in command of the guard and was awarded
the Indian Order of Merit for his gallant conduct.
On another occasion a most determined attack was made by the enemy
on the defences held by the Ferozepore Regiment. Before dashing
off to counter-attack the enemy Captain Brasyer sent the following
message, scribbled on an envelope, to General Outram : "General,
the enemy is in force on our right picket; I am off."
This action was completely successful and five thousand of the enemy
were driven off. Later General Outram told Brasyer that his scribbled
report satisfied him more than all the documents tied with red tape
he had ever received. Forrest, in his book, wrote
"Full justice was not done by Sir
Colin Campbell or the Chief-of-Staff to Outram's defence of Alambagh,
which must be viewed as a fine example of courage and good conduct,
and will always stand out as a glorious episode in the annals of
the Indian Mutiny."
CAPTURE OF LUCKNOW
For a few days the Ferozepore Regiment, now only three hundred and
twenty strong, protected the Commander-in-Chief's camp, but it was
soon in action against the enemy and took part in the operations
to force back the rebels from their first line of defences along
the canal. By the 13th of March the British had reached the Little
Emambarra, which was held in strength and had to be captured. On
the 14th of March one hundred men of the Ferozepore Regiment, under
Captain da Costa, with two companies of the 10th Foot, assaulted
breaches in the walls of the Little Emambarra, while Captain Brasyer
and a hundred more Sikhs assaulted some houses to a flank. Since
he had no other British combatant officer available, Captain Brasyer
placed the Colours with an escort in charge of the medical officer,
Surgeon J. Browne, and ordered him to keep close to him. These orders
were faithfully carried out.
Brasyer's party captured and set fire to the houses on the flank
and then, climbing 'up on to some flat roofs, set out towards the
Little Emambarra itself. It arrived just as the assault was launched.
This diversion enabled the storming troops to advance with unexpected
ease. They soon captured the Emambarra, and the Colours of the Ferozepore
Regiment were planted over the gateway. The day's objective had
been captured, but the Sikhs were eager to follow up their success
and Captain Brasyer described the next phase of the battle as follows
"The men were excited and eager
to go on. Without orders, my Seikhs like monkeys climbed a wall
and opened a large gate which gave outlet from the smaller Emambarra,
while I, with other officers, joined them. A rush such as nothing
could stop followed. The General (Franks) smiled as he cheered my
men, but issued no order. This acquiescence was enough, I knew what
he wanted. My Seikhs like greyhounds let loose, passed into the
street, deafening cheers encouraged us, while the General and his
staff followed in support. We rushed onwards, cleared 40 guns in
battery en route, driving all before us. Pickaxe and shovel were
next at work, and soon a breach was opened in an outer wall."
The Sikhs and the 90th Light Infantry, led by Captains Brasyer and
Havelock(Son of General Havelock.), rushed forward and fought their
way into an enclosure adjoining the Kaiserbagh under terrible fire.
Havelock ran back for reinforcements, and a party of the 10th Foot
advanced and captured a small bazaar in rear of the Tara Kothi and
mess-house, which were held by some six thousand rebels. This bold
move completely surprised the enemy, who made as though they would
rush Brasyer's party and force their way out into the city. However,
Havelock, seeing the danger, dashed forward with a party of Sikhs
and captured two bastions in the last line of defences, turned the
guns on to the rebels and drove them towards the Chatar Manzil.
Reinforcements followed up quickly and before long the whole of
Kaiserbagh was in British hands. Meanwhile, Brasyer had dashed into
the centre of the palace, climbed on the top and pushed the Queen's
Colour through a gunshot hole in the highest dome, as a signal that
the citadel had been captured. The Ferozepore Regiment suffered
heavy casualties in this battle and Captain da Costa was among those
General Franks, in his report of that day, wrote
"No words of mine could give due
credit to Major Brasyer's courageous conduct. Ever to the front,
he was to be seen courageously leading his men wherever the enemy
were to be found."
On the 16th of March Brasyer's Sikhs formed part of General Outram's
force which captured the Residency and the iron bridge. Major Brasyer
was seriously wounded in these operations, but refused to relinquish
command of his Sikhs and had to be carried on a litter at the head
of the Battalion for several days.
The rebels had been completely defeated in these battles and Lucknow
was once again safely in British hands.
After the capture of Lucknow the Ferozepore Regiment joined the
Oudh Field Force and took part in a number of minor encounters in
rounding up parties of rebels and pacifying the countryside. During
this period Lieutenant Montague, with the Allahabad detachment,
arrived back in the Battalion.
Operations came to an end in June, 1859, and the Regiment marched
to Ferozepore, its home station. Brasyer wrote
"The remnant of the gallant four
hundred marched into Ferozepore on the 7th September, with drums
and fifes playing, and colours all tattered and torn, after an arduous
campaign of two years and four months, and thirteen years of faithful
service under the British Government."
For its service in the Indian Mutiny the Regiment was allowed to
bear on its Colours the inscription "Lucknow, Defence and Capture,"
while as a special mark of distinction for its outstanding conduct
the Governor-General issued orders that the men of the Regiment
of Ferozepore were permitted to wear red safas (turbans), like those
in which they had fought, instead of native infantry caps-a privilege
of which the Regiment still avails itself on ceremonial parades.
The staff of one of the Colours was broken by a bullet at the relief
of Lucknow and was mended with a plain brass ring. This staff still
carries the Regimental Colour today, although the actual Colour
has been renewed on two occasions since that time.
Only five British officers served with the Ferozepore Regiment during
the Mutiny: of these one was killed and three wounded. Brasyer commanded
the Regiment throughout the Mutiny, starting as a lieutenant and
ending up as a lieutenant-colonel.
In 1959 Lieutenant-Colonel Brasyer retired
and was succeeded by Captain Montague.