Glimpses of History: Letters of Gouree Sah, Commander of Morni, 1815

October 9, 20111 Comment

During the Gurkha invasion of the Hill States, Morni fort was taken by Gouree Sah,  a  Chhetri-Rajput, a hill tribe from Pyuthan in South West Nepal.Pyuthan was one of the 24 small kingdoms in the Chaubisi Rajya confederation in the vicinity of the Gandaki river. Gorkha was also one of the Chaubisi Kingdoms, 60 KM west of Kathmandu and in 1742 the young and ambitious Rajput, Prithvi Narayan Shah, became its King. He took control of the Chaubisi States and then expanded eastwards towards Kathmandu valley. He had unified most of modern Nepal by the time of his death in 1775. Gouree Sah, a descendant of the erstwhile royal  family of Pyuthan, was one of the loyal commanders of Bada ‘Qaji’ (General) Amar Sing Thapa and his son Qaji Runjore Sing Thapa and a firm believer of the Gurkha Empire.  Amar Sing Thapa was a relative of the all powerful Prime Minister of Nepal, Bhim Sen Thapa and was nearly 70 years at the time of the conflict with the British in 1815.

Amar Sing Thapa

Lal Sahee, nephew of Gouree Sah had defected to Major-General Ochterlony. He was made ‘Subah’ (a native commissioned rank higher than the non-commissioned Subhedar) in the Ist Nasiri Battalion of Gurkhas, Garhwali and Kumaoni hillmen raised by Ochterlony and was made incharge of a company of 128 men. Kishna Oopurettee soubhadar was another Gurkha defector to Ochterlony’s camp. There were large scale defections of Gorkha ‘sirdars’ and troops following the protracted sieges at Jytock and Malaun by the British.

Gouree Sah was holed up inside the Mornee fort in 1815 when the British struggled to oust the Gurkhas from Jaitak Fort after seizing Nahan.

Gurkha warriors

The Mornee fort was under siege by a party led by Mohun Singh, a zamindar of Kotaha in early 1815. This is apparent from a letter dated 7th March, 1815 addressed to William Fraser, Esquire, (the Political Agent at Delhi) by J Adam, Secretary to Government, the relevant portion of which reads as follows:-

“The Governor General observes that the district of Mornee is enumerated by you among those heretofore composing the Rajah of Sirmore and his Lordship conceives that it has been included through some inadvertence. You are aware that this district was formerly subject to a Mussulman family, at present represented by Jaffar who has raised an useful body of irregulars serving with Major General Ochterlony. In the original arrangements contemplated by the Governor General, the restoration of Meer Jaffer to his paternal possessions was included provided he should act to the extent of his means in support of our cause. It appears that he has, fulfilled this condition, and it is the intention of His Lordshp, that Meer Jaffer should be put in possession of the lands of his forefathers, when the General settlement of the country shall be effected. The Governor General hopes, that no obstacle to this arrangement will arise from any hope which you may have held out to Mohun Singh the principal Zimindar of Kootaha who is engaged in the siege of Mornee, the Governor General will be happy to learn what hopes may have been held out to Mohun Singh by you, and to authorise an arrangement in his favour which may satisfy his just expectations without interfering with the prior claims of Meer Jaffar.”

The siege party would probably have comprised only irregular troops (some 5000 irregular troops were raised by the British as part of their war efforts against Gurkhas) as the British were unwilling to commit regular troops to Mornee and were trying to influence Gouree Sah to surrender the fort by asking Lal Sah and Kishna Ooperettee to write to him and persuade him to surrender. Gouree Sah’s steadfast loyalty and will to fight to the last is reflected in his replies to Lal Sah and Kishna and his letters to Runjore Sing that were intercepted by the British. Gouree Sah pleads with Runjore Sing not to lose heart and even suggests ‘tantra’ to decimate the British. He predicts the victory of the Gurkhas and advises Runjore Sing to pray to Bhim, the mighty Pandav.The letters of Gauree Sah have been reproduced in James Baillie Fraser’s account of the Gurkha War in the ‘Journal of a Tour through part of Snowy Range of the Himala Mountains’ (1820). The letters are reproduced here.

Intercepted Letters of Ghoorka Officers

            The fort of Mornee, situated some miles from Blackhill, being occupied by a Ghoorka force, it was desirable to get possession of it; but it was not deemed worth the expense of men that an assault would have cost, and therefore a  negotiation was set on foot to gain it. It was commanded by Gowree Sah, a brave, faithful old soldier, to whom Kishen Oopulee Soubahdar, who had deserted to us from the enemy, as well as   Lall Sahee and some others, were desired to write, sounding him as to the likelihood of being brought to give up the place.  The following correspondence took place with Gowree Sah: it will be found exhibiting a fine picture of steady calm fidelity. The whole is translated almost verbatim.

 

Letter of Gowree Sah to Kishna Oopurettee, dated Chyt, 5th day, Burwar

           ” Your note has been received and understood: to what you write about the fort I reply; I have eaten their salt, and if the debt of salt be not discharged, a man is lost hereafter.  I was born of a Rajapoot woman, and carried in her arms.  There is not any great good in long life.  You write I have received only 2500 rupees, and now am in the fort for so small a debt. Money is nothing.  I have eaten the salt, and drink the water of the Ghoorkas.  If I return this I shall be happy when I die.  What need is there of writing more?  You are yourself wise, and understand what it is I wish to express.”

A second letter was sent, which produced   this answer.

Letter from the same to the same, 8th Chyte

            “You ask a   reply to the letter you have sent.  I   have replied once, which is as good as a hundred times.  I have said and still say, until Rajgurh   and Jytock fall, I will answer you with powder and ball.  I have plenty of it.”

Letter from Gowree Sah to Lal Sahee his nephew, and Kishna Oopurettee’s father, both  in Colonel Ochterlony’s camp ; dated 6th Chyte.

            “What you write, that I am a rajah’s son whose family has been destroyed by the Ghoorkhas, and that it did not become   me to hold out in the fort, is answered ; that I am the son of a rajpoot.  I have eaten their salt, and will not disgrace my family’s name nor my own name.”

“If you suppose you will find me alive you are mistaken ; you may find my corpse.  I am born of a rajpoot : I am as such prepared to die, and thereby attain a happy regeneration.”

 

                             Letter from Gowree Sah to Dhunnee Ram, of the same date.

“Lal Sahee sent you here, and has caused you much trouble.  What I first wrote to Lal Sah, I wished  merely to know whether he had or had not gone over ; now I know he has, and has also disgraced his house and ancestry.

“This I will not do.  If I survive, I shall be fortunate ; if I am slain, my state will be happy. Until Jytock and Rajghur fall, do not talk to me of surrender ; I have eaten of Ghoorkha’s salt, and have ammunition and all manner of supplies.”

Translation of a letter from Runjore Sing Thappa, Commander in Jytock, to Gouree Sah ;   written the 10th Chyte, or 4th April. (Intercepted.)

            “Your letter   is received and understood; you write that “others are ungrateful, dastardly,   and treacherous.  I will support the Peeoothana* name, and prove true.”  In such times  when you write so, I am highly gratified. By the favour of God, when this danger is past, you shall receive all honours, dress, drums, and colours, and be promoted, and the other officers   under you equally rewarded.  Kishna  Ooperettee Soubahdar is gone to deceive and turn you aside ; call him to you   by any means or method, and shoot him.    By so doing you will greatly please me.  Uzumba Punt Qazee did not choose a happy hour, nor consulted properly.  He   fought and lost an action, even he is taken prisoner, but we are from that   more confident and not dispirited.  We   will cut to pieces and drive away our foes.  Be on all points at rest and confident.  I send you four rupees, the present for the ensuing festival.”

*   The meaning of this name is unknown. 

Letter from Sheamul Soobahdar, his cousin, to Gouree Sah, Commander of Mornee, 4th   April, 10th Chyte.

            “What you   write, that Lal Sah is a traitor, and has disgraced all the rajpoots, is true: you desire me to speak to Runjore to prevent the wives and families of  Dumbear Sahee, Ureemur, Dan Sahee, and Purtab Sahee, being seized, when the wife and family of Lal Sahee is put in confinement.  The Qazee recollects this, and will pay   attention, but he says the criminals alone shall suffer.  Lal Sahee is a traitor and ungrateful, and   has sent his ancestors from heaven to hell. He has lost his name and cast. The Ghoorkha empire is not to be overthrown.  Be strong in your position and faithful to your trust; recollect your name and ancestry.”

These letters being intercepted, and a fabricated one from Runjore put into the   cover, the following answer was received from Gouree Sah, dated 21st Chyte.

            “Your letter   has been received, stating that the enemy had approached the fort on the side   of Rynka; that Punt Qazee did not consult, and went hastily to fight ; that   the battle was lost and himself taken prisoner ; Captain Bulbhudder severely   wounded, and many jummadars and soldiers killed ; that the enemy had   surrounded the fort on all sides, and that the garrison were starving for   want of food.  To this I reply, the two   kingly powers are at war.  You have   conquered in ten or twelve battles, and are renowned.  The enemy have gained one action; what of   that?  Do not be alarmed at having lost   so many men, and being so completely surrounded.  If you live and stand at present, you will   gain a thousand battles more.  If you   feel want of confidence and despair in Jytock, the Ghoorkhas will be slain,   scattered about as they are.  If you   stand out in Jytock, reinforcements will come from the east, and all united   drive away the English if they were a thousand nations. I have consulted the   shasters: until the 15th day of Bysak you will be greatly distressed;   afterwards your fortune will turn.  Do   this; form an iron sheet and make upon it the picture of Bheem-Sing, and the   hoonooman of the moon and the sun; put it, upon a Sunday, into the eastern   tower of the fort : by this fortune will turn.  (Bheem-Sing is one of the pandooan of the Hindoos, a very sacred character).

“Find out the name of the commander of the British army, write it upon a piece of paper, take it, and some rice, and turmerick, say the great incantation three   times ; having said it, send for some plum-tree wood and therewith burn it.  For fighting and defence dig a ditch and fight in it.  As for this fort, so long as we have water, and its four towers stand, we stand in it ; when they are thrown down, we must leave it. I have grain for a period to the 15th or 20th of Bysack.  I sent two * soldiers with a letter to you;  send them back. What is become of the army which was coming from the east?  Call it quickly.”

 

                                                     *   They were taken.

The Gurkhas and the British were caught in a vicious stalemate in April 1815 when Gowree Sah vowed to hold on to Mornee till Jytock was held by the Gurkhas. Qaji Amar Singh Thapa, the Nepali General was holed up in Malaun fort besieged by the troops of General Ochterlony.  Malaun was referred to as Rajgurh in Hindur (Nalagarh). Amar Singh’s gallant commander Bhakti Thapa had died on the battlefield on 16th April 1815 at Deonthal trying to break Ochterlony’s stranglehold.  His two wives committed Sati on his funeral pyre.

Bhakti Thapa

Amar Singh’s son Qaji Runjore Singh Thapa held the Jaitak fort north of Nahan. Runjore had routed the British troops under Major-General Martindell and foiled their attempts to dislodge him. His brave commander, Qaji Ujumber Punt was however taken prisoner in a major set back in end March 1815, when Major Richards overran a Gorkha post on the eastern ridge near Jaitak fort. Punt Qaji had earlier defeated an army of 3000 irregulars under Lieutenant Young with his 200 valiant Gorkhas. Almora fort that was held by the Gurkha commander Bam Shah, the brother of Prithvi Narain Shah, fell on 27th April 1815. The Gurkha hopes of relief from the East were now gone. Amar Singh Thapa struck an agreement with Major-General Ochterlony on 15th May 1815 and the Gurkhas surrendered Malaun, Jaitak, Mornee and other forts held by them in return for a safe passage for the Gurkha Generals and their personal troops and families. Amar Sing Thapa crossed over to Nepal with his son Runjore and 450 of their personal troops unmolested by the British. Bam Shah was likewise allowed to cross over honourably to Nepal after the fall of Almora. Gouree Sah, probably handed over the Mornee fort as a consequence of this agreement. 4500 of Amar Sing Thapa’s Gorkha, Garhwali and Kumaoni troops joined the British army in the Nasiri and Sirmoor Battalions. Amar Sing Thapa on his return to Nepal after the surrender became a recluse and confined himself to a temple built earlier by him. He died in August, 1816. He is recognized as one of the greatest generals of military history.

Early 19th Century Gurkha Warrior

References:

  1. Narrative of a five years residence at Nepaul Volume I; Captain Thomas Smith (1852)
  2. A Special Corps; A.P. Coleman (1999)
  3. Military Sketches of the Goorka War in India; For R. Hunter (1822)

Filed in: History of Morni

About the Author ()

An environmental enthusiast who loves tramping through the hills in search of the picturesque.

Comments (1)

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  1. JATsTheNameIsEnough says:

    I have a request to make, please try to draw the list and location of all these in your future writings

    1. dams and check dams with their details of size, year of build, maps, etc
    2. rivers and tributories with names and maps
    3. forts and their chronological history, maps

    This is least known,, rarely researched, your work will be a great beginning, please try to form a local wildlife and INTECH group for preservation.

    Many thanks

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