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.
In September, 1846, the Regiment marched to Ambala and recruits,
both Sikhs and Mussalmans, from this district, were enlisted into
the Regiment to complete the establishment. The Regiment commenced
training in Ambala, but it did not receive its arms, smooth-bore
percussion muskets, until January, 1847.
In December, 1846, the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Gough, reviewed
the Regiment in Ambala and presented the first Colours. In October,
1848, the Regiment moved by road to Agra, where it remained for
two years, moving thence to Meerut.
Captain Tebbs died in January, 1852, and was succeeded as Commandant
by Captain T. E. Colebrooke. Later in the year the Regiment was
selected for active service in Burma and set off down the River
Ganges for Calcutta. During the voyage a cholera epidemic broke
out and sixty-six men died. The Regiment eventually reached Barrackpore
in November, but they were not able to proceed to Rangoon and take
part in the Burma expedition, much to the men's disappointment.
The Regiment remained quartered in Barrackpore until the beginning
of 1855, when it moved to Mirzapore. Major Colebrooke left the Battalion
on the line of march to go on pension, and Lieutenant Brasyer took
Whilst at Mirzapore the Ferozepore Regiment was ordered to garrison
Dinapore while the brigade there was away on service in Bihar. After
a short time at Dinapore the Regiment was sent to Patna on internal
security duties, as it was expected that there would be communal
troubles there during the Mohammedan festival of Moharrum. The arrival
of the Sikhs in Patna had a quietening effect and there was no incident,
so the Regiment soon returned to Mirzapore.