Monday, 5 September 2011

Living Conditions During the Siege

The Slaughterhouse Post

The foresight of Sir Henry Lawrence in stocking the Residency with grain and other necessities prevented the garrison from undergoing the added hardship of starvation. As all contact with the outside world had effectively been cut off, the garrison had to rely on their own supplies and provisions from the beginning of July onwards. Nor did the situation improve when Outram and Havelock arrived: although they succeeded in reinforcing the garrison with some 2700 men, they only brought three days’ worth of supplies with them and precious little baggage. Believing they would be able to evacuate the garrison they had left almost everything behind at the Alum Bagh.  It was not long before some in the garrison ungraciously looked upon their saviors as more mouths to feed.        

For some, food remained plentiful throughout the siege, especially in those posts where the owners had laid in their own stocks. For others, it was a lean time and not everyone was fortunate.

“…rations were served to us: attar, or flour, which we made into chupatties; rice; dall, or peas; salt and meat…These, consisting of meat, peas, attar, rice and sea biscuits, were put together in a saucepan with some water and made into a stew..” 1

The food itself when turned out was often green in colour, on account of it being cooked in copper pots which could not be relined during the siege. So what little appeal the stew had to begin with, was certainly not aided by its luminous appearance. Mrs. Bartrum also notes that the dal “by grinding it between two stones and making it into flour…this is a good substitute for soap, but we have so little of it, that it is a question whether we shall use it to wash with or to eat.”  2    

In the early stages of the siege, full rations were issued daily to everyone in the garrison, of beef, rice, flour, tea or coffee, sugar and biscuits. However, as time went on, the meals consisted mainly of some beef and chapattis. Sugar was non-existent, and though some people, like Mrs. Inglis, kept some goats for milk, most of the garrison went without. Tobacco soon ran out and the men took to smoking neem and guava leaves with many of them becoming ill as a consequence. By smoking it through an old pipe, there was at least an illusion that the leaves tasted like tobacco! The merchants Deprat and Sinclair, had been allowed to bring the stocks of their stores into the residency but in the case of Deprat it wasn’t necessarily standard siege fare, consisting of a large supply of pickled salmon and truffled sausages. 

 By the 25th of August, things took a turn for the worse and the garrison was put on half-meat rations. Men were given 12 oz of meat, as opposed to 1 pound. Women and children over the age of 12 received 6 oz, children under 12 were not reduced and continued to receive 4 oz but children under 6 now were given only 2oz, half of their previous rations. The food itself was neither nutritious nor well cooked. Rees complains his “chef-de-cuisine...a filthy fellow…whom I am obliged to pay 20 rupees a month, results in an abomination which a Spartan dog would turn up his nose at.” 3 The meat came in varying conditions and quality, invariably consisting of a large quantity of gristle and bone – women and children, more often than not. got more of the latter. Too tough to roast, it was served up as stew. Mrs. Bartrum tried  to tenderize the meat by beating it with stick for half an hour and ineffectually cut it into pieces with a pair of nail scissors before stewing it.

The grain was coarsely ground and made into chappattis, while lentils and rice made up the rest of the standard fair.  There were no bakers in the Residency and it was considered that baking bread for the whole garrison would be a task too difficult for the ladies. Only those who had private means could avoid drawing too heavily from the commissariat for rations, and many, like the Martiniere boys, ended up eating broth made of animal heads. The lack of fresh fruit and vegetables led to cases of scurvy, unhygienic food preparation gave rise to bowel disorders and poor nutrition complicated the recovery of those already weakened by illness and injury.   In late August a large supply of grain was found stored in a plunge-bath near the banqueting-hall. As a consequence, there were more provisions available to the garrison – this grain had been the contribution of local merchants, was not on the military commissariat role and had subsequently been “forgotten”.  It was this late discovery that saved them from starvation when the reinforcements arrived in September but by no means did it waylay the fear.  

   “A poor woman, Mrs. Beale by name, whose husband, an overseer of roads, had been killed during the siege came to-day to ask me to give her a little milk for her only child, who was dying for the want of proper nourishment. It went to my heart to refuse her; but at this time I had only just enough for my own children, and baby could not have lived without it. I think she understood that I would have given her some if I could.” 4

Nor was alcohol readily available. There are indeed very few recorded cases of drunkenness and these only in the first part of the siege.  That a quantity of alcohol was kept in the hospital stores is not without credibility – indeed  patients too weak for chloroform, were put "under" with champagne or brandy as a way to help them face the horrors of amputation. Deprat's stores were broken into and Rees leaves us his following account, with more than a hint of irritation:

"We are at night several times, called "to arms," but these alarms prove to be false ones. This was fortunate, for if the enemy had made an attack he would have found most of our men at the Cawnpore battery in the last stage of intoxication. The men had found their way for some days, notwithstanding all precautions, into our cellar, and had of course diminished the large quantities of champagne and brandy stored up there. The claret and Haut Sauterne had not found many admirers, and remained untouched; but Deprat's chests, with valuables and gold and silver watches in them, had likewise been broken open and rifled. In the position in which we were, no search could be instituted, nor could the culprits be punished. The only thing which  could be done, and which the Brigadier did, was to get what remained removed to the school-houses and have it sold by Mr. Schilling, the principal, to whatever gentleman desired any. Officers, of course, had the preference,  and in the course of a couple of days, nothing remained." 5

Unless otherwise bequeathed, the belongings of the dead (civilian and military alike) were auctioned off. There were numerous such auctions, giving some idea as to what items still had value in a time when money and possessions were otherwise worthless. At the auction of Henry Lawrence’s goods, wine and brandy fetched unbelievable prices (in today’s money, for example, £6 would translate to £66)  from £14 to £16 for a dozen bottles, beer from £6 to£7, while tinned provisions were going for £7 a can. A bottle of honey fetched £4 and cakes of chocolate between £3 and £4. The only regret was the lack sugar. The auctions were well attended and provided a little bit of amusement. Not everyone approved:

“…we had to endure the melancholy sight of seeing the clothes, &c., of dead men sold at public auction…and it was sad indeed, to observe so much appearance of actual mirth and jollity displayed by many who were present. How very little we all seemed to reflect on the truth of the words, “In the midst of life we are in death.” Here you saw the coat of your friend “put up” and tried on by one and then another; now and then, too, you heard the passing joke of the crowd as to its being a “good fit,” &c. How little did many think that probably the next auction would be over their own clothes and that too within the space of only a few days.” 6

1  A Widows Reminiscences of the Siege of Lucknow – Kate Bartrum (1858), p.28
2  A Widows Reminiscences of the Siege of Lucknow – Kate Bartrum (1858), 50

3,5  Personal Narrative of the Siege of Lucknow – L.E. Ruutz Rees (1858), p. 175, p.130
4 The Siege of Lucknow, A Diary – The Honorable Lady Inglis (1892), p. 117
A Personal Journal of the Siege of Lucknow – Captain R.P. Anderson (1858), p. 88-89

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