Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Gubbins Post and Ommanney's Post

Although nothing remains of Gubbin's Post today and indeed the man himself, Martin Gubbins, both were an important part of the siege and deserve to be mentioned in more detail.

Drawing of Gubbin's House

It had initially been anticipated that holding Gubbins’ house was futile. The engineers, fearing the worst, constructed a wooden bridge by which Mr. Gubbins and the occupants of his house might escape to Mr. Ommanney’s compound should the insurgents break through. Never doubting for a moment that an attack would eventually be made, he not only fortified his house, but erected a battery at his own expense all the while incredulous at what little faith the engineers (and indeed the rest of the garrison) were showing to his efforts. Half-moon in shape, the battery would later be mounted with a 9 pound gun. It had an enclosing wall, 10 feet thick walls of masonry and was strengthened with large wooden beams, which had been driven into the ground on both sides of the wall, 5 feet apart and further bound together with cross beams nailed to them.  Inside this structure, dirt had been piled up in order to construct a platform for the gun. It wasn't completed until after the siege had begun - correctly, Mr. Gubbins surmised he could not make any reasonable defence without the battery in front – it was finished under fire.

The house was initially intended by the Awadh king to be a concert room and a cock pit - it had been a solid, two storied house that stood in a little garden. Unfortunately, three sides of the house were exposed to the city, so Mr. Gubbins fortified his house as best he could and built brick parapets on the flat roof with loopholes. With only a small staircase leading up to it, it was further decided that in case of an attack, the roof would be the safest place to be and the easiest position to defend, rather than remaining in the house. The verandas and the doorways on the floors below were bricked in, and the main entrance doors were replaced with stronger ones which were additionally cased in iron on the outside.

In the garden a tree also added to the defences. Describe by Gubbins as, “a magnificent forest tree” that stood higher than the house itself, and with massive branches that were, at least for a short while, able to intercept most of the round shot from an enemy gun that had been placed just outside the Gubbins’ compound.  When only the trunk and few branches were left, Sikh Risaldar Sher Singh remarked, “It has well repaid the Company’s Salt.” The tree had done its duty.

It was the north side of the compound that gave Mr. Gubbins his most worries. The houses of the city approached so closely here that only a narrow lane separated his house from them and he tried in vain to have the houses removed.  He took the issue up with Henry Lawrence, hoping for a result but, to his dismay, Sir Henry refused.  Finally in June when Captain Fulton had received the necessary permission to begin the demolition of buildings that surrounded the Residency, Gubbins had some respite and “at the eleventh hour, a clearance was made of buildings, whose occupation by the enemy would have rendered the maintenance of my post impossible.” He was however far from satisfied: “Still in that quarter, others remained which commanded the upper and lower windows of my house within 100 yards. From them during the siege we suffered great annoyance. To the south of my post, although the ground was covered with houses, of which the principal one was that of the younger Johannes, I was not suffered to carry on the work of demolition; but was permitted only to knock off the top parapet of the roofs.”               (Gubbins, p.161)  It wouldn't be until August that this house too would be destroyed.

On the west and south side of the compound there were further structures, ranging from servants quarters to stabling. As all of these building were flat roofed and built of brick, it was possible to erect parapets on top of them with more loopholes. For good purpose – the compound wall on the south side was considerably lower than the ground on the other side and did not inspire Gubbins with much confidence when it was practically possible to climb over it. The wall connected directly to the aforementioned Grant’s Bastion.

Having started the fortifications in early May, Gubbins’ Post was one of the few that approached adequate to withstand a siege and in spite of his preparations “provoking the mirth of some of my neighbors",  he at least was not caught off guard when it began. Standing as it did within a few feet of the enemy lines, the post proved to be extremely vulnerable to attack. Gubbins recollects that at different times during the siege, he and the other men in his post collected as many as 500 cannon shots and does not recall a moment when they were not being fired upon.

There were a large number of deaths at his post, civilian and military alike. The post was to have three commanders in as many months - Captain Forbes (1st Light cavalry), Captain Hawes (5th Oudh Irregular Infantry) and Major Apthorp (41st N.I.) – the first two were killed at the Post. A party of the 32nd Regiment, some pensioners, the 48th N.I. and local levies were garrisoned made up the posts’ defensive force.

Interestingly enough, the levies were all men of Awadh who had offered their services to the British before the siege began. A Naib Risaldar name Abdul Aziz Khan of the 5th Irregular Cavalry on home leave at the time joined along with his son, some of his relatives and 18 other men (they were all stationed at Gubbins’ Post); artillerymen who had before been in the pay of the local Government, also volunteered. Their chief Meer Furzund Ali was to lose everything as a result - his house was burned to the ground and all his property plundered. Then there was also personal loyalty. Gubbins writes of “an overseer who had served under me at Agra named Ramadeen, a Brahmin, and a native of Oudh, being now driven from his district employ, also joined me. He brought six of his brethren as foot soldiers and no men ever behaved better. I must not omit mention of Pirana, a native architect, who had also followed me from Agra and joined me at the beginning of these disturbances. His services were most valuable. He was an excellent workman and but for his aid and that of Ramadeen, we could never have completed the works which we put up.(Gubbins, p.167)

Although the architect survived the siege, Rama Deen was killed.

Precarious as it was, life at Gubbin’s Post was not without its luxuries. The house was well-stocked, having been prepared with, “500 maunds of wheat, 100 maunds of gram, thirty maunds of dahl, a large supply of ghee and rice, five maunds of soft sugar and last, though, as proved, not least, one maund of tobacco. Besides these I laid in a store of charcoal and wood.”  (Gubbins, p. 249) A cook, a butler, a table attendant and an English maid named Chivers, were all present and on duty through-out. They had the further services of a sweeper. Gubbins provided housing within his compound and food from his own private stores (plus rations) for his Indian servants and their families – one of the few places where they were provided such security. The residents at the post had access to a “swimming bath”, which Gubbins had replenished often clean water. With soap running short the bath doubtlessly provided a relief from the smell of unwashed people.

Although Gubbins talks at length of “husbanding” provisions, he certainly ate better than poor Mrs. Bartrum did. Even life at the Gubbins’ house looks almost normal. For one they had tea – served three times a day, with milk and sugar, and this long after the rest of the garrison had run out. It was served first at 6 am, another cup at 10 with breakfast and the last at night. A cold luncheon, served daily, was followed by an early dinner at 4. Twice a day, rice pudding was made with the eggs from Gubbins’ chickens; the milk came from goats and two cows. To supplement their meals, “One glass of sherry and two champagne or of claret was served to the gentlemen, and less to the ladies, at dinner. One glass of light wine, Sauterne was provided at luncheon.”  (Gubbins, p. 204) The house had a large supply of bottled beer but it was only given to nursing ladies and the sick. Although he gave many of his provisions away to the commissariat and donated generously to the hospital, he still had so much the end of the siege that much had to be left behind at the final evacuation.  Unfortunately, Mr. Gubbins was not  liked by the everyone in the garrison, having spent much time locked in petty power struggles and squabbling,- first with Henry Lawrence – and then with each of his successors.  An exasperated Brigade Inglis even threatened to arrest him for disobeying orders. However, his generosity and kindness to the sick and wounded was beyond reproach.

The siege left its’ mark on Mr. Gubbins, perhaps more deeply than his contemporaries believed. After the relief, Gubbins accompanied Sir Colin Campbell’s army but was forced to leave India in early 1858 due to ill-health. At the end of 1858, he returned to India and became judge of the supreme-court at Agra but by January 1863, illness plagued him again and he was forced to resign. The same year he returned to England for the last time – on the 6th of May 1863, Mr. Gubbins committed suicide at his home in Leamington.

Following on, we come to Ommanney's House.

Ommanney's House

The house of Mr. Ommanney had been double storied, and only lightly defended, by a deep ditch and hedge of cactus. Additionally, it had two guns thoughtfully placed here to sweep the road between Gubbin’s Post and the Sikh Square, in case Gubbin’s was overrun. It was considered safe enough – Brigadier Inglis made his headquarters here after the death of Sir Henry Lawrence, and later Henry Havelock and his staff made it their residence. 
Mr. Ommanney was a less fortunate. He was killed by cannonball to the head at the Redan Battery early on in the siege on the 5th of July. The inscription on his tombstone is from Isaiah, 57:1.

The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.

Epitaph to Mr. Ommanney, Lucknow Residency  

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