Monday, 30 December 2013
Private Lappe's Providential Escape following the outbreak of the Pyche Raja Rebellion
It is only very rarely that we can get a glimpse into the lives of an ordinary soldier in India, let alone come across their individual names.
Here is the story of one such man, Private Lappe, who was extraordinarily lucky to survive a ferocious ambush at the outbreak of the war between the Pazhassi Rajah and the East India Company at Tellicherry.
The date that the actual battle took place is unclear, possibly before the 4th of November 1796, but certainly by the 18th of January 1797. The following account however only appeared in the Sussex Advertiser many years later on Monday the 1st of September 1800.
Had Private Lappe by that time been invalided home?
Perhaps he told his story to the local Sussex reporter.
We will probably never know.
A soldier, of the name of Lappe, who belonged to an European battalion, and who made his escape from the Jungle, after the action between a detachment of Europeans and Sepoys belonging to the Bombay Army, and the insurgents in the Cotiote country, has related the following" miraculous “ account of his gaining the British Military post, after the defeat of the detachment, given at Bombay, the 4th of November:—"I was shot, says Lappe) about noon, with a musket ball, in my right breast; and, to resist or escape being utterly impossible, as the only means left me to save my life, I threw myself down among the mortally wounded and the dead, without moving hand or foot. Here, in the evening, the Chief Surveying his conquest, ordered a Jamedar to begin instantly to dispatch those who were likely to survive. This fellow, having already killed Captain Bowman, and several other Europeans, left the remainder to die of themselves, or to fall a prey to the voraciousness of the wild creatures with which the Jungle abounds; for in places it is almost impenetrable. They then filed off to the right, towards the hills, carrying along with them five or six prisoners alive; I believe they were all Sepoys but one, with their hands tied behind their backs, of whom I never since have heard. When I apprehended these sanguinary rebels had entirely left the scene of action, it being very quiet, and rather dark, I found means, on my hands and feet, to creep out from among the carnage, for many men were killed that day by the Rajah's troops, owing to our force having been weakened by sending it in small detachments into the Jungle, where they had never before been, and the enemy firing at them in ambush, where it was impossible to trace them: I got at length at some distance from the place where I lay, and met another of our party, who was less wounded than myself, with whom, after some days wandering in torment and despair, not knowing which way to proceed for fear of being intercepted, we at last fortunately arrived at the military post, worn out with fatigue and the loss of blood, where, we understood, the account of the defeat had been received four days before.
The news slowly spread out from London to the regional towns of England and Scotland. Many families with relations in India must have anxiously wondered what had been happening in the passing months, it took news to travel around the globe.
On Saturday 5th July 1797, readers in Norfolk came across the following report in their newspaper.
We learn from the Coast of Coromandel, that on the 18th of January  the Rajah of the Cotiote had commenced hostilities against us, and that Captain Bowman and Lieutenant Bond, who had been sent to take possession of One of his strong holds, had, the perfidy of their guide, been led into defile, where they were both killed with most the Sepoys of their party. Captain Lawrence, who went to relief, was like wise led into a defile, from whence he fought his way to a pagoda, where passed the night and following day, till permitted to proceed with his party to Tillicherry. Captain Troy, on his return from a muster of the native troops, had been killed, and Captain Shean desperately wounded. Twenty-four Sepoys were killed, and 50 wounded and missing. General Stuart immediately appointed Major Anderson to march against the Rajah with 250 of the Bombay regiment, a detachment of light artillery, 1,000 Sepoys, and Mopals.
Over the following weeks, more details came out from Leadenhall Street. Readers of the Oxford Journal on Saturday the 29th of July 1797, were given more details about the outbreak started by the Pychy Rajah.
From the Madras Gazette, January 28. By letters from the Malabar coast of the 15th instant, we have been advertised of the revolt of the Cotiote Rajah on that coast, who is said to have commenced his refractory conduct on the 28th instant, by firing on a detachment of Sepoys under the command of Capt. Lawrence, in the neighbourhood of Cootiungarry. On the same day, Capt. Bowman and Lieut. Bond were sent with a detachment to take possession of a strong hold, near the last mentioned place, and were decoyed by an Hircarrah, employed on the occasion, into a narrow defile, where, a strong party of Nairs, in ambuscade, availing them selves of the disadvantageous situation of the detachment, and their mode of attack, beset the party with a ferocity peculiarly their own, when Captain Bowman and Lieutenant Bond were almost immediately overpowered and killed. Several Sepoys, it is also added, were killed and wounded on the spot. Captain Lawrence, on hearing the report of the musquetry, proceeded with all possible expedition, at the head of a body of grenadiers, towards the succour and support of Captain Bowman's detachment; but having experienced a similar breach of faith in his guide, was also attacked in the same defile, but after a warm and fortunate resistance effected his retreat, and took post in a Pagoda the whole night, and part of the next day, hemmed in by upwards of a thousand of the Rajah's troops. On the 9th, however, he was permitted to retire with his men to Tellicherry. In addition to the above melancholy relation, Captain Troy, who had been employed in mustering the native troops, and Captain Shean on his return from a visit, fell in with a party of these sanguinary savages, who having surrounded them, coolly and unprovokedly put the first to death, and wounded the latter in a shocking and barbarous manner. General Stuart, to whom the intelligence was sent to Cannanore, recommended to Major Anderson immediately to take the field to punish so daring an outrage. The force to be assembled for this purpose, will consist of 250 men of the Bombay regiment under the command of Captain Grammant. A detachment of artillery, with light guns, about one thousand Sepoys, together with a Corps of Mopals, consisting of about 200, raised expressly for the purpose of hunting and counteracting the Nairs in the woods and fortresses. The unhappy fate of so many officers, in being cut off from their friends' and relations, in this cruel and insidious manner, cannot be too much lamented; and provides a melancholy example of the inherent ferocity which has ever been the characteristic of the cast of Nairs.
 The Old Soldier's Story - Edward Bird (1772–1819), ca 1808.
 These reports and many more from British regional newspapers going back to 1700 are now available at http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/