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Sikhism Book Review: A Norfolk soldier in the first Sikh war

Discussion in 'Book Reviews & Editorials' started by dalsingh, Jul 29, 2007.

  1. dalsingh

    dalsingh
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    Buy this book at SPN Book Store

    Background

    J.W.Baldwin was a soldier in a infantry regiment that was part of the attacking British force who fought against the Khalsa army in Panjab. This invading army consisted of British soldiers as well as various sepoy regiments from other parts of India.


    Baldwin's account of his experiences in what we now know as the First Anglo-Sikh war is published by Leonaur Ltd (2005).


    Review

    Baldwin's typically colonial attitude towards Sikhs is present throughout the brief text. In the preface he writes about his "proud consciousness of having done my duty and assisted in the overthrow of the once powerful Seikhs, most certainly the bravest and best equipped soldiers in India, and which settled forever, I trust, the supremacy of British valour in that country."

    As could probably be expected, the account characterises the Sikh soldiers as cowards a number of times and highlights the bravery of the British.

    At Ferozpur, Baldwin's regiment was commanded by Brigadier Wallace as the usual General had been killed at an earlier battle in Mudkee. This Wallace too was "killed shortly after giving us the word 'charge'; and as we were doubling towards the volcanic battery which made such fearsome devastation amongst the 62nd regiment"


    In this same engagement
    "...our colonel's (Taylor) horse was shot from under him, but he nothing daunted, led us on foot sword in hand. He (Taylor) was well known to be a brave officer, and I regret to say, fell a victim in this memorable charge."

    Description of Sikh artillery soldiers.

    Baldwin was part of the regiment that was tasked to attack the Sikh canons. he describes the Sikhs he encountered thus:

    "The Seikh artillery, with whom we contended, were picked men, both for their valour and size; they were indeed gigantic, their usual stature being six feet to six feet three inches, muscular and active in proportion. we were only like Lilliputians in comparison to those huge monsters and I marvelled that they did not kill us and swallow us slick out the way."


    The account also supports the other famous witness to the battle (Cunningham), who witnessed Sikhs who had been bayoneted by the British soldiers, take the life of their attackers with their last act:

    "Here iIabsolutely saw the dead, as it were, killing the living. This may seem incredible to you but, to be more explicit: when a man of ours succeeded in burying his bayonet in the Seikhs body he considered him hors-de-combat, but the enemy (in his dying agonies, and determined to sell his life as dearly as possible), grasping the bayonet with the left hand and mustering a last effort, generally succeeded in dealing such a blow with his talwar from the right hand as to lay his assailant prostate, and thus they both fell mortally wounded in the fearful struggle."


    The book will be of interest to those who appreciate history. This contemporary account highlights many small details of the conflict (i.e the execution by the British of sepoys who saluted a captured Sikh canon as a mark of respect to Sikh valour). In summary Baldwin seems to think that the Sikhs only had their limited success in this war due to their European style training (initiated by Maharajah Ranjit Singh), otherwise they would have been finished much quicker.

    Well worth reading - in my opinion.

    Buy this book at SPN Book Store
     
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  3. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    In the mid 19th century europeans were about 5 and a half feet tall.and punjabi's were
    quite tall compared to them but now europeans are about 6 feet tall and it looked like height punjabi's have reduced
     
  4. dalsingh

    dalsingh
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    Well it could be that the guy writing the account is exaggerating somewhat to make himself look better. Also it isn't inconceivable that the Lahore darbar chose the biggest guys to man the cannons as it involves a lot of heavy work, moving them and carrying the ammunition around etc.

    I think poor diet and lack of physical activity is effecting Sikh stature and physique like your saying. Hard work was the norm in the old days, now we work in offices.
     
  5. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Yes, this is the voice of a person who is loyal to colonial interests. There were so many things he could not believe- bravery, stature, tenacity.

    About height. A study was done some years ago in Hawaii. the average height of three generations of Japanese immigrants was tested, and compared to the average height of three similar generations of white colonialists (we call them settlers, ha ha). Each generation of Japanese was significantly taller compared to the previous generation, until the third generation -born in Hawaii to Hawaiian born parents --equaled the average height of whites in the third generation. (I think I have the main idea down correctly here.) Conclusion. We are genetically programmed to reach a potential height, but diet and living conditions influence how tall we will actually be. Even with good diet we can't grow taller than our genes will permit.

    Great discussion.
     
  6. dalsingh

    dalsingh
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    Some more extracts for the interested:

    The soldiers search for water during the battle and attitude towards native allies.

    "Eventually we came across a well of water, around which we saw some sepoys perform ablution with what we dearly wanted to drink. Several of our corps, including myself, got leave to quit the ranks to get some to quench our thirst with. Having arrived at the well, we had nothing wherewith to draw the water; the Sepoys had but would not assist us......we consulted with each other and knowing the character of these people, a man of ours struck one of these fellows, knocking him into the well, while on the brink drawing on his jumbo (native pot) of water, and threatened the other sepoys in their language that we would certainly serve them the same if they did not that instant give us wherewith to slake our thirst...The water was tinged with blood and of a very offensive smell, i put some powder in mine to purify it, before drinking...."

    "You will perhaps think us very cruel to kill that sepoy, but i beg leave to say, that under such circumstances we thought no more of killing him then we should a Seikh, as were persuaded he was, like most Sepoys, an enemy in disguise."


    "As four of our men were walking together they saw a Sepoy salaaming (saluting) the cannon we had just taken from the enemy, this is a expression of their sympathy for the Seikhs; the soldiers debated for a minute or two whether to kill him or not, agreeing at last that he should live if all of them should miss him standing at about 200 yards off; which being settled, the result was his death from two bullets out of the four."
     
  7. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    I don't think that the guy was exagerrating.I think he was simply saying the truth.Recently
    i read a table in news paper in which average height of european men of 19 th century
    were given.It is quite clear from it that avereage height of european men was around 5 feet 5 inches at that time.But now europeans are quite tall with an increase of 5 to 7 inches in their height.As far as height of punjabi's are concerned i don't know whether it is reduced or it is same as it was in 19 th century but it has not grown as the height of european men.
     
  8. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Let me tell you about one of my interesting observations.In north indian punjabi families
    the present generation girls are much taller than their grand mothers.My own cousin sister is nearly a foot taller than her grand mother as my grand mother was very short.This is not the case of my family its quite common to see that the present generation girls are anywhere 4 to 12 inches taller than their grand mothers.but in the case of boys i cannot say the same they are either as tall ast heir grand fathers or just 1 or 2 inches taller than them.i think the restricted lifestyle of old ladies was main reason for their short stature.
     
  9. dalsingh

    dalsingh
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    Let me tell you what I've noted here in the UK. From everyday observation most of the children of Sikh parents from India are taller than their parents. This trend will probably increase over the next few gens and like aad0002 suggested, they will probably be similar to the indigenous population in years to come.
     
  10. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Somewhere i read that there are excess hormones in food like dairy products,meat in west
    That's why people that are born and raised their grow taller.is it true?
     
  11. dalsingh

    dalsingh
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    Not sure but definitely people's bodies mature here much earlier and generally have more meat on them than in India. I'm not sure why that is.

    I have a pet theory that relates physical development with psychological development and sometimes I think maybe because of the nature of life here, people are exposed to information they would not be privy to in say India (due to conservatism), and thus mature quicker as a result. Somehow this makes their physical side mature at a faster rate than in India. I have no evidence in support of this idea and am probably way off the mark though. But I do notice these differences when say two cousins who are almost the same age (one from UK and one from India) meet here. The Uk guys are generally much more physically developed (not to say that you don't get gubroos from Punjab though). The 16 year olds from India seem infinitely more innocent than their Uk equivalents.

    I guess a diet full of ghee, dairy products (i.e. high cholesterol) and small amounts of protein can't be too good for you? Only God knows what chemicals we are exposed to here with all of the food processing that goes on....lol

    Another thing I note is that by and large lots of the indigenous elderly here are in much better physical shape than their Indian counterparts. Again diet and exercise probably play a big part in this. The culture to regularly train and stuff has yet to penetrate Punjabi society at all levels from what I can tell, but it does seem to be changing slowly.
     
  12. dalsingh

    dalsingh
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    Just to say. In relation to the perceived differences mentioned in my last post. It could simply be down to the family in India generally being vegetarian whilst the ones in the UK are not?

    Actually I take some of what I said previously back, because thinking about it, I've met quite a few stocky brothers from India too. It probably helps that they mainly do hard physical work (construction) over here.
     
  13. Deep Singh

    Deep Singh
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    Singho,

    Anglo-Sikhs wars are perhaps some of the best documented parts of our early history. Shouldn't there be a documentary type of film about the Singhs warring and the kinda 'dead man killing' stuff. It would be awesome.

    Bole So Nihal Sat Shri Akaaal!!
     
  14. dalsingh

    dalsingh
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    There's other stuff too...that wouldn't make us look too good...lol
     
  15. dalsingh

    dalsingh
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    Banda's rebellion is also fairly well documented (in Persian). His capture and execution are mentioned by various witnesses. Moghul generals who fought against him give accounts of some of those battles. They are fascinating. There is a bit about people arguing over being beheaded first (they beheaded 100 a day) and the way they were singing kirtan fearlessly when being taken to their deaths and showing no fear to the massive crowds that had lined the streets and were cursing them. Would make a seriously interesting documentary or even film. All provable by contemporary sources.
     
    #14 dalsingh, Aug 3, 2007
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2007

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