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CONFINEMENT IN THE BLACK HOLE. 19
The lives of 146 men were nothing in comparison to disturbing for a moment the slumbers of a tyrant. Mr. Holwell has described in detail the horrors of that fatal night, which are scarcely paralleled in the annals of human misery. Every moment added to their distress. All attempts to obtain relief by a change of posture, from the painful pressure to which it gave rise, only aggravated their sufferings. The air soon became pestilential, producing at every respiration a feeling of suffocation; the perspiration flowed in streams, and they were tormented with the most burning thirst. Unfortunately, the stations at or near the windows being decidedly the best, the most dreadful struggles were made to reach them. Many of the prisoners being common and foreign soldiers, exempt by this dreadful calamity from all subordination, madn an intolerable pressure, and the sufferers, as they grew weaker, began to be squeezed or trampled to death. Loud cries being raised of "water I" the humane jemautdar pushed through the bars several skins filled with that liquid; but this produced only an increase of calamity, through the violent efforts made in order to obtain it. The soldiers without found a savage sport in witnessing these contests, and even brought lights to the windows in order to view them to greater advantage. About eleven, the prisoners began to die fast; six of Mr. Holwell's intimate friends expired at his feet, and were trampled upon by the survivors. Of those still alive, a great proportion were raving or delirious; some uttered incoherent prayers, others the most frightful blasphemies. They endeavoured by furious invectives to induce the guards to fire into the prison and end their miseries, but without effect. When day dawned the few who had not expired were most of them either raving or insensible. In this last state was Mr. Holwell himself, when about six o'clock the nabob awoke and inquired for him. On learning the events of the night, he merely sent to ascertain if the English chief yet lived, and being informed that there were appearances as if he might recover, gave orders to open the fatal door. At that time, of the 146 who had been enclosed, there breathed only twenty-three. Mr. Holwell, being revived by the fresh air, was immediately supported into the presence of the nabob, who, on his beginning the dismal tale, ordered for him a seat and a draught of water, but showed no other mark of sympathy. He immediately commenced a strict interrogatory about the supposed treasure, discrediting extremely the assertion of its non-existence. Being able, however, to learn nothing on this subject, he sent Mr. Holwell, with three other gentlemen, prisoners to Muxadavad. In this voyage they suffered severely, their bodies being covered with boils, that had broken out in consequence of their confinement; to which, however, these eruptions were supposed to afford relief. The other survivors were liberated; while the dead bodies were, without any ceremony, thrown into a ditch.
Mr. Holwell seems to be of opinion that the nabob had no actual intention of causing the dreadful catastrophe, but that some inferior officers had seized this opportunity of gratifying their revenge. The utter insensibility displayed by him, however, seems to fix thoroughly upon that prince the guilt of this frightful transaction. We cannot concur with Mr. Mill in throwing the blame upon the English themselves for using this apartment as a prison. The room, eighteen feet square, was not absolutely small, affording ample space for two or three, the greatest number probably whom they were accustomed to confine in it. The circumstance which rendered it fatal was simply the enormous number thrust into an apartment wholly unfit to contain them. All was lost in Bengal before the presidency at Madras were apprized that any thing was in danger. The fatal tidings arrived at an unseasonable moment, when the most brilliant prospects had just opened in the Deccan. Salabat Jung, after showing long the most extreme impatience under the thraldom in which he was held by the French, resolved at length upon an effort to extricate himself. Bussy was ordered to depart; and the subahdar, to secure his person against the resentment of the French, as well as the other evils from which their presence had protected him, requested from the English a subsidiary force, by sending which they would have supplanted their rivals as the arbiters of Southern India. The opportunity was tempting; but the crisis in Bengal was so urgent as made it indispensable to forego the advantage, though by their refusal they should compel the subahdar to solicit the CALCUTTA RETAKEN.
return of Bussy, and throw himself again into the arms of the French.
All the force, naval and military, which could possibly be spared, was now despatched to Calcutta, under the command, the former of Admiral Watson, and the latter of Colonel Clive, the main support of the British empire in India. This armament, with the exception of two ships, arrived in the middle of December at Fulta, a town at some distance below Calcutta; where the remnant of the English had taken refuge. Letters for the nabob were forthwith sent to Monickchund, Governor of Calcutta; but they were conceived in so fierce and threatening a tone, that he declared he durst not transmit them. The English then determined without delay to commence hostilities. Admiral Watson moved the vessels up the river to the fort of Mayapore, which he proposed to attack on the following day. little resistance being apprehended, Colonel Clive resolved to land and form an ambuscade, with a view to cut off the retreat of the garrison lo Calcutta. He went on shore accordingly, and stationed his troops in a hollow space, where, being extremely fatigued, they grounded their arms and resigned themselves to sleep, without even the precaution of placing a sentinel. The consequence was, that they, instead of the enemy, were surprised. Monickchund, whose spies had informed him of their position, sent a large detachment, which made an unexpected attack in the night. Our countrymen suffered considerably before they could form their ranks; their two field-pieces fell into the hands of the enemy, who fortunately knew not how to use them, and they were afterward recovered. Clive resolved not to retreat, lest his troops should be struck with panic; and when they were at length rallied and formed in order of battle, they quickly dispersed the undisciplined band of assailants.
Monickchund was so much discouraged by this encounter that he quitted Calcutta, leaving it garrisoned by 500 men, who surrendered almost as soon as Admiral Watson had opened his batteries. The merchandise belonging to the company was found entire, having been reserved for the use of the nabob. An expedition was also sent up to Hoogley; and that city, after a slight resistance, was taken and plundered.
Accounts were now received of war being declared between Britain and France, and hence there was reason to fear that the troops at Chandernagore would join the nabob; but, actuated by the most pacific spirit, they sent overtures for a treaty by which neutrality should be observed between the two nations in Bengal. The nabob, however, was advancing upon Calcutta, and Clive seems to have felt apprehensions respecting the designs of this potentate, scarcely justified by the amount of his own force, and his experience of an Indian army. He made proposals to the prince, who received them well, but did not discontinue his march; evidently considering the negotiation only as the means of lulling his opponent into false security. In the beginning of February the nabob arrived with a large force, and began intrenching himself in front of Calcutta. Some skirmishes ensued, without any decisive result. Two gentlemen were sent as envoys to treat with him. He did not return an answer; but his conduct, on the whole, was decidedly hostile. The commissioners, being warned by a friendly Indian to take care of themselves, departed abruptly, and safely reached the head-quarters.
Clive, having now formed bis resolution, attacked next morning the Indian camp, with a force of 2150 men, 600 of whom were seamen. The enterprise does not seem to have been conducted with his usual spirit and ability. It ssued in a confused rambling fight, in which the parties groped for each other through so thick a mist that the action consisted of little more than a series of casual encounters. The English, having been exposed to the fire of a strong battery, returned a good deal exhausted and dispirited. As they had repulsed, however, all the charges made by the enemy's cavalry, the nabob was also much disappointed; and there arose a disposition on both sides to listen to terms of accommodation. A treaty was adjusted, in which each gave up the main object for which he contended. The prince allowed the English to fortify Calcutta, to carry on trade, and enjoy their privileges as before the war; while, on their part, they dropped their high, though most just, claims for redress and vengeance. There even followed an alliance offensive and defensive; aAer which the nabob led his army into the interior.
Colonel Clive was now anxious to attack the French REDUCTION OF CHANDKRNAGORE. 23
settlement at Chandernagore,—a bad return for the moderate conduct observed by that nation. The nabob, when this design was mentioned to him, expressed strong aversion to it, but did not impose an absolute prohibition. The former made preparations for carrying his design into effect, but was now induced to delay by a positive interdict from his ally. Having afterward, however, received a reinforcement, and learning that the Indian prince was under the alarm of an invasion from the Afghans, he determined to undertake the expedition at all hazards. He reached Chandernagore, and began the siege on the 14th March, 1757, and on the first day drove in the outposts; but the place made a brave resistance, and message after message was sent by the nabob, ordering the English to cease hostilities. Nevertheless they still persevered; Admiral Watson came up with the ships, and began a heavy cannonade, which, though briskly returned with considerable loss to the assailants, produced finally the surrender of the fort, and of all the garrison except a detachment that contrived to make their escape. Complete success had crowned this undertaking; yet Clive soon felt the critical situation in which his very triumph had placed him. The nabob and the French were united against his interests; and though the latter were at present much humbled, they would doubtless soon receive reinforcements, which, combined with the native powers, would probably enable them to expel their rivals, and gain a complete ascendency. This ought to have been seriously considered before he rejected their offer of neutrality, made seemingly with perfect good faith; but such a course was no longer possible. The daring genius of the commander saw no resource but to dethrone the nabob, and place on the throne of Bengal a new sovereign, who should owe his greatness to the English, and be entirely devoted to their cause. Yet to attack the whole force of Bengal, aided by the French troops, was an undertaking which even Clive scarcely dared to contemplate. He judged it necessary to pave the way by other and somewhat less honourable means. An oriental court, and especially one in the disorganized state in which those of India at that time were, usually presents the elements of treason. No regular law of succession was recognised; and there were understood