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Charles Masson and the Siege of Kelat

 

Bijan Omrani, December 2011

 

(A sample chapter from a work inprogress)

 

Kelat and the Chamber of Blood

 

“The wicked man has fallen into his own snare,

And he who devoured men with dogs will in turn be devoured by dogs.”

 

   Persian proverb

 

By the spring of 1840, Masson had been out of Afghanistan for a year and a half. Pausing for a while in Karachi, he realised that he was now at a great crossroads in his life. He had to decide whether to rest content with the work and travels he had already achieved, or to plunge back into the maelstrom of Afghan life and further increase the depth of his knowledge.

            A sensible man, at such a moment, might have chosen to rest. Masson had been travelling in some of the most dangerous parts of the world as a hunted man for over 12 years. He had rediscovered lost kingdoms and been able to unravel conundrums which had troubled historians for generations. He had already accumulated a huge body of archaeological research which would take many years to edit, and in Karachi he was painfully conscious of the scale of this task alone. He had also amassed a level of experience and knowledge of Afghanistan for which other adventurers,such as his longstanding rival Sir Alexander Burnes, had received honours,promotions and grand celebrity status. Masson’s habit of speaking blunt criticism to the Indian Army and Government about their Afghan policy ensured that no such benefits fell to him. Besides this, he was getting older. He had just turned 40, and age had accustomed him to home comforts. No longer was he content to travel, as he did in his youth, with merely a tattered coat, a stick and copper pennies hidden in his shoe, happy to receive a crust of bread and a safe place to sleep at the end of the day. Now he travelled with a grand accumulation of personal comforts: boxes of silver plate and gold-embroidered clothing; a horse; scientific instruments; and a large personal library with volumes from the Greek and Latin historians to English novels and collections of verse– Smollett, Dryden and Pope – to aid his relaxation before bedtime.

            Not only had travel become more trying for Masson personally. Over the previous two years, it had also become more dangerous. No-one understood better than Masson that now a British army of occupation had been stationed in Afghanistan, enforcing the rule of an incompetent and unpopular puppet king, that much of the good will in general extended by the ordinary people to western travellers just a few years previously had almost completely evaporated. Friendships that he had made on his earlier stays in Kabul might well have evaporated, and his liberty to move out into the countryside to pursue reports of Greek or Buddhist sites was likely to have been strongly curtailed.

Nevertheless, by the end of April, he had come to a decision. The draw of Afghanistan and new discovery was too much for him. He felt, for the first time in years, a stirring sense of freedom. He was financially self-sufficient. He was no longer in the employment of the British Government. For Masson, who loved more than anything not to be tied down or beholden to others, the chance of liberty was too good to squander. Rather than settle down in Karachi or even return to England to start editing his papers, he decided to put in at least another two years in Kabul, along with an extra year factored in for the journey and other contingencies. On the way, he would edit his papers for publication, and when he reached Kabul he would fine tune his understanding of the history which he had already unearthed.

 

In hindsight, Masson might have chosen a more careful route back to Kabul. From where he was in Karachi, the simplest way back into Afghanistan was to head for Kandahar by way of Kelat, the capital of Baluchistan. In ordinary times, this would have been easy for Masson, and he had made the journey twice before. Yet, these were not ordinary times. The British Army which had just invaded Afghanistan had also passed through Kelat and left it devastated. Its scanty supply of grain had been commandeered and its fields ravaged. Believing that its ruler, Mehrab Khan, had been holding back supplies, a British force stormed the city itself and killed him in revenge for his supposed duplicity. As with Afghanistan itself, they put a puppet ruler on his throne, and left behind a political agent to control him.

The terrible state of the country was weighing heavily on Masson’s mind, and had almost turned him against travel. Yet, whilst still torn over what to do, Masson chanced to meet an old friend in Karachi, a merchant named Kalikdad, in whose company he had made the journey to Kelat nearly 10 years previously. Kalikdad was again travelling to Afghanistan via Kelat, and if Masson chose to come with him, he would see that he came to no harm. Masson, more capable than many of his British contemporaries of trusting in his native friends, took this as all the reassurance he needed, and at the end of April 1840 set out northwards with Kalikdad’s caravan.

All was well until they reached the port city of Somniani. There, Kalikdad found that a shipment of goods he had been expecting there had not arrived, and that he needed to waitfor around a month. Masson, now more confident and somewhat impatient, decided to go ahead in the company of a Muslim holy man he happened to meet. He left his considerable baggage in the hands of Kalikdad, and agreed to wait for him in Kelat.

The journey through the hilly landscape north of Somniani contained for Masson all the normal amusements of travel which he had missed for the last year. The holy man busied himself selling curative charms to lame men and barren women in return for gifts of livestock. From time to time, old friends on the route would recognise him and receive him warmly. In some places, the recent invasion seemed to have had little effect on the behaviour of the people. In the town of Wad around 100 miles south of Kelat, Masson found the local chief Mir Rahmat amusing himself like the Emperor Nero. When not stretching out on a couch being shampooed by a female slave, to whom he addressed language “neither refined nor very delicate”, he would exchange outfits with his minstrel and advertise his supposed vocal talents to his court. Masson, although a prey to levity when not in a rage against some authority figure, found his conversation so frivolous that he could scarcely endure it.

Yet, the closer he came to Kelat, the more conscious he became of the impact of the British manoeuvres,and the more he felt unnerved. On the plain outside Wad, he saw three new tombs covered with white cement underneath a lone mulberry tree – the remains of three chiefs who had fallen at Kelat. In some huts nearby, a debate was held amongst some local tribesmen, mercifully for Masson in a purely academic spirit, whether it was lawful to kill him in retaliation for the martyred noblemen. They ultimately decided against it, since he had not been present at the battle, and because Masson was now unarmed. “Those who maintained the contrary seemed to do so for the mere sake of argument,” he reassured himself.

The clearest sign ofthe sheer instability of the new settlement of Kelat came in the nearby district of Baghwan. The local chief, Mir Atta Khan, had just pledged allegiance to the new ruler Shah Nawaz Khan, and received a robe of honour to mark the ceremony. Yet, returning to his domain, hosting Masson at a sumptuous banquet, he stayed up late into the night listening to a grand new composition of his minstrel, a jangnameh or war song in honour of the fallen of Kelat and the deposed ruler Mehrab Khan. His army was the “lashkar Khodahi,”or the army of God, numbering in the innumerable thousands. The tribesmen around him had all died worthily, concluded the song, but Mehrab Khan had “in death surpassed all others: wa tilla shud, and had become gold”.

 

The city of Kelat lies about 150 milessouth of Kandahar near the head of a river valley. It is built in terraces onthe side of an eastward facing hill which rises to 100 meters in height. Massonreckoned that there were around 800 dwellings in the city itself, and thepopulation was at that time perhaps something over 10,000. At the peak of thehill on the city’s western side an ancient palace, or “mir”, dating backover 1,000 years to pre-Islamic times, dominated the surrounding landscape.Although imposing, it was poorly built of mud brick, and by the 19thcentury many of its walls were crumbling. The higher parts of the city were themost salubrious. Whenever rain fell, sewage would be washed down the streets tothe lower districts, and collect in pools of effluent knee deep. Many of thethoroughfares were in fact covered over from one side to the other with woodenbeams plastered with mud, which, taken with the flow of detritus, must havegiven parts of it the aspect of a sewer. At certain times of year it could besubject to severe hot winds and thunderstorms, but Masson was lucky to avoidsuch weather when he arrived.

He was similarly luckyin the warmth of his reception. Amongst others, Shah Newaz was also an oldacquaintance of Masson from his earlier journeys. Hearing of Masson’s coming,he sent out attendants to smooth his entry into the city. These attendantsshocked Masson by privately confessing even they thought their master’s newposition was nothing more than a farce. The real master in the town was theBritish political agent, Lieutenant Loveday. Shah Newaz in his straitenedcircumstances could barely afford 30 retainers, fewer than a local robber chiefwho for the sake of convenience had just pledged allegiance to him. At least hewas able to maintain a decent culinary establishment, and Masson was besiegedwith offers of lamb, dishes of Bombay rice, and baskets of apricots “which werenot yet ripe in the city itself.”

The sight of Kelatitself was not as welcome as Masson expected. He was distressed at the obviouschange which the passage of the British columns and occupation had wrought. Itwas a “melancholy contrast to the tranquil and flourishing state” in which hehad formerly seen it. The economy and trade of the city had fallen to pieces, andthe little bazaar which was once thriving and well-stocked was now nearlydeserted. The people themselves seemed clouded with gloom and despondency. Manyof Masson’s old friends had lost their property, and were reduced to beggaryand destitution. In spite of his instinct to be cheerful, the whole atmosphereleft him sorrowful and despondent.

For all that, hisfriends were still pleased to see him, and did not hold his British identityagainst him. Masson’s welcome in the city itself was a testament to the easymanner in which he could make deep and lasting friendships in the placesthrough which he travelled. One of the local noblemen allowed him to pitch histent in a garden, and as soon as he had settled himself a steady stream ofvisitors, friends and old acquaintances whom he had not seen for years began toflood in to greet him and catch up. Tea was brought, and they detained him forthe whole afternoon and late into the evening. One of the main topics ofconversation was the British political adviser, Lieutenant Loveday, universallyknown as Labadin Sahib. Masson had been hearing confused rumours of hisconduct ever since he had left Karachi. Stories of brutality and derangementhad been told everywhere, but they were so different from “what are usuallylooked for from British officers” that he dutifully declined to believe them,marking them down to exaggeration and the general anger with which Kelat hadbeen treated.

By strange coincidence,a message was relayed from Loveday that he expected Masson to call on him.However, having just arrived and surrounded by his friends, Masson did not feelinclined to see him that evening and decided to postpone a visit for themorrow. As the impromptu gathering continued, a further message was relayedthat Loveday thought Masson must be a “low fellow”, for if he “had been agentleman” he would have gone at once to him. This at least provided Massonsome substance for mirth.

Masson called on LabadinSahib the very next morning promptly at sunrise. He was busy superintendingthe construction of a grand new house for himself in the suburbs of the city.He received Masson in a tent on the edge of the site. Within, there was onlyone chair; this, Loveday took for himself whilst he gestured for Masson to siton the floor. After all, he remarked, Masson would be used to it. He threw downsome newspapers for Masson to amuse himself whilst he himself changed hisclothes, at which point breakfast was brought. Then, they fell to conversation.Masson, not accustomed to pulling his punches where criticism of the IndianGovernment was concerned, complained of the new arrangements which the area wasnow suffering. Nonsense, retorted Loveday; might was right. In fact, he wenton, the British dismemberment of the area was a brilliant political manoeuvre.In response, Masson became more vehement. How was it a brilliant politicalmanoeuvre to set up a ruler in Kelat who had no decent income or means ofsustaining his power?

Loveday admitted thatthe Shah Newaz would benefit from more resources, and that he himself desiredto set up a disciplined corps of 300 men for him, but there was no money.Nonetheless, he himself had made up for the deficiency. He had attempted tocapture Mehrab Khan’s 14-year old fugitive son by ambush. He had beenunsuccessful, but at least many people had been killed in the process. Had henot failed, he would have sent the boy to Quetta to learn English, and hisguardian, Darogah Gul Mahomed, would have been blown from a gun. Loveday alsotook credit for opening a nearby pass closed by tribesmen; he had done so byblowing their chief from a gun. Indeed, he had his eye on two other troublesomechiefs in the area whom he thought might benefit from a similar treatment.

Masson soon afterbrought the conversation to a close, pointing out that a gathering crowd ofpeople outside the tent clearly had more important business to transact.Loveday only allowed him to leave after begging two things: reassurance thatKalikdad’s caravan was travelling safely, for it was laden also with a verylarge quantity of his own goods; he also pressed Masson to join him for dinnerin his other house in the centre of town. Reluctantly, Masson agreed. However,his reception in the evening was hardly more civil. Masson was perhaps a littlelater than agreed, but he found that Loveday had grown impatient and had longsince eaten. The house had previously belonged to one of Mehrab Khan’sministers, Naib Mulla Hassan, but had been confiscated. It had also been theplace from where the crown jewels of Kelat had been taken as spoil. Loveday nowwas lounging on one of the earlier occupant’s couches, admiring a display ofsuits of armour, pikes, battle-axes, halberds and other weapons, which he hadtaken from Mehrab Khan’s armoury to decorate his sitting room. Loveday eschewedany further talk of politics for a long discussion on home improvement.Unrolling a scroll, he showed Masson detailed plans of the house he wasbuilding in the suburbs, urging him to admire in particular the gothic windows andtracery he had designed for it in the best and most fashionable style.

The next morning he roseand briefly played with the idea of a duty call on Loveday. However,“reflecting on the nature of the reception he had favoured me with, hisobjectionable remarks, and even on the strangeness of his manner andconversation, I reasoned, what have I to do with him? and what occasion have Ito trouble him with my company, or to be annoyed with his?” Thus, he resolvednot to visit him again.

 

It was Masson’s bad luck that Loveday’sconduct should cause Kelat to go up in flames just after he arrived there. Twoevents brought the matter to a head. First, Loveday had sent out his secretaryalong with 25 of his 60 Sepoy troops to collect the newly-imposed rents fromthe chiefs of the Sarawan district. The Sarawan chiefs preserved a healthy,untrammelled attitude towards tax collectors; the entire body of them waskilled on first sight, and the chiefs called their men to open revolt. Thesecond related to one of the rumours that Masson had heard from his Kelatifriends. Loveday, they said, was a dog-fancier. His taste was for the moreaggressive breeds, bulldogs and mastiffs, each of which he kept at least apair. For Loveday, they were indispensible in the discharge of his duty.Whenever a native crossed his path it would be for the dogs to effect apunishment. Masson refused to believe this rumour, or hoped, at least if itwere true, that Loveday would restrain himself whilst he were in the city.This, Loveday failed to do. Hardly had Masson arrived at the city when a mancalled Yaiya, a forced labourer pressed into service building Loveday’s newhouse, offended him in some way. Loveday was unable to restrain his passion. Hegave a signal to his dogs, who rushed out and savaged him. The man was carriedaway grievously wounded, and died within a couple of days. The story of hisdeath travelled fast throughout the country, and added fuel to the fire. Thetribes in the wider country readied themselves for attack, and the populationin Kelat, expected to defend the city, were hardly inclined to do so withvigour.

When the first tidingsof the revolt reached Lieutenant Loveday, his immediate thoughts were for hisluggage which Kalikdad’s caravan was transporting to Kelat. He was on the vergeof sending out some of his remaining troops to secure it, when the greater partof it arrived in the city. Shah Newaz then ordered him to leave his half-builtgothic house in the suburbs for his more secure town house within the city walls,which he did reluctantly, but from which he was barely to stir in the comingweeks.

With Loveday reluctantto leave home, the burden of looking after the city devolved on its nominalruler. Shah Newaz, with the assistance of his mother, busied himself summoninglevies from surrounding villages, and did his best to keep them on side,bribing them with gifts of money and brocaded robes of honour. He called forskins of water to be stored in the citadel against a siege, and at night kept aconstant patrol on the walls with his men; the danger of a rising was as muchfrom within the city as without.

In the midst of thisactivity, Masson kept himself to himself. He remained in his suburban garden.Indeed, such was his light-heartedness that he could hardly take the affairseriously. A few evenings after the original news of the revolt was brought toKelat, gunfire was heard for the first time around the walls. Masson’s noblefriend Faiz Ahmed rushed to Masson’s tent and with little explanation began tobundle him to another more secluded and safer place. When Masson could get hisfriend to say a few words about the panic, Faiz Ahmed explained that the rebelshad joined with Mehrab Khan’s son, and were just six miles from the town. Thetown gates were shut; Shah Newaz had ordered precautionary firing to take placefrom the battlements; and that if the rebels got in, Masson would almostcertainly be murdered. But to Masson, at this early stage of the matter, hisfriend’s terror seemed absurdly overblown; Masson must have thought thatdespite the poor handling of the affair to date, a British detachment wouldsurely march to the aid of Kelat and solve the problem. He could only considerthat if he fled, he would be mocked by his acquaintances when he reached Karachifor running away from a local squall. Masson’s response to Faiz Ahmed’strepidation, as he led him by a dark and roundabout way to a safe house, was tobanter as he stumbled over stones into the watery potholes in the back streets.Faiz Ahmed snapped back at Masson, accusing him of being ‘insufferably “jel,”or rash’.

But then, there came astream of bad news which brought home to Masson the true gravity of thesituation. Instead of attacking Kelat, the rebels turned to besiege theBritish-occupied town of Quetta. It soon emerged that this place also wasunder-strength. The British commander there, Captain Bean, had been relying ona local tribe to support his position, but having taken his money, they turnedand attacked him. It was only by paying a second tribe more handsomely thatBean was able to save Quetta. Yet, he merely chased the rebels out of range,rather than attempting to crush them, and they were free to turn theirattention to Kelat. In Kelat itself, where it seemed an attack was now certain,few tribesmen were rallying to Shah Newaz’s standard. A number had come intothe town to fight for him, but their loyalty was far from certain. His call tolay up water against a siege had been ignored. Besides, Loveday’s continuedmeddling with the local taxes and the ownership of estates further threw thelocal chiefs into uproar. Many realised that by throwing in their lot with therebels and bringing about a new ruler, they might be able to gain advancement.Plots and counter-plots swirled round the ruler’s court.

As the tension grew,Masson was passed an urgent message from Loveday. He had sent a messenger threetimes to seek out Masson in his original residence, but he had not been able tofind him. Now, said the message in the “most polite and handsome terms”, wouldhe come and call on Loveday in his town house? To this request, Masson’s nativefriends loudly dissented. How could Masson, who had been so badly treated, nowrush to Loveday in a crisis? Nonetheless, Masson called for his horse and preparedto leave. It would never do, observed Masson to them, for Loveday to be civil,and Masson to be otherwise. 

When Masson reachedLoveday’s town house, he found a very different reception to that which he hadearlier experienced. There were now chairs for him to sit on. Loveday receivedhim with a warm handshake, exclaiming “Mr Masson! Mr Masson!” In a few words,he explained the situation: that the rebels were marching on the town forcertain; that a siege was imminent, and that no help could be expected from anyother British station in the area. He now begged Masson to stay with him.Immediately, Masson consented, and sent for his luggage. He knew, and hisfriends vociferously reminded him, that Loveday’s deeds and reputation wouldmake him the target for vengeance if the city should fall. Yet by consenting tostay, Masson wished to overtrump him with an appearance of generosity. Besides,Masson had heard from one of Loveday’s servants that he had refused to send forhim any earlier because he did not want to seem helpless; the change of tunemust have given Masson some satisfaction. Although he had a horror both ofLoveday personally and British policy, and although he had walked away fromGovernment service, a powerful sense of duty compelled him to remain. On top ofthis, remarked Masson laconically, he “thought he might be useful.”

In fact, there couldhave been no-one else in Kelat at that time more useful than Masson. Althoughit had been more than a dozen years since he deserted the Bombay Artillery, histraining was still fresh in his mind. He had seen bloody siege warfarefirst-hand at Bharatpur, and he had ample knowledge of the feelings andcapacities of the tribes around him. Moreover, since Shah Newaz was flounderingand Loveday had entered into some sort of torpor in which the defence of hishouse and possessions were his only concern – indeed, Loveday’s single actionin the crisis had been to fortify his own house, although incompetently –Masson alone was capable of directing the defence. Guilt from his earlierdesertion of the Bombay Artillery might also have driven him to redeem himselfby rallying to the British corner. He put aside what remaining thoughts he hadof writing up his archaeological papers, and turned his full attention to savingthe city.

Kelat was, to say theleast, imperfectly prepared for an attack. Masson rode round the walls andfound a series of gaping holes, some so large and long standing that peoplewould use them to enter the city. These, Masson had repaired. He surveyed thesituation of the city, and suggested to Shah Newaz that a number of the suburbsand one of the mosques outside the walls be pulled down to allow a clear lineof fire. The latter, at least, he was reluctant to destroy. He was alsounwilling to follow Masson’s advice to brick up two of the city’s three gates,to prevent them being opened to the attackers by traitors within.

Masson also inspectedthe state of the city’s armoury. There were many barrels of European gunpowderand many pigs of lead, but no-one had thought to turn them into bullets. Massonsaw to this, and then inspected the artillery. To his despair, they would havebeen fitter for a museum than for combat. The largest had been cast at Modenain Italy, and was at least 300 years old. There were also three others of smallcalibre, but they were fixed to makeshift carriages by rolls of cord, almostimpossible to target with any degree of precision, and so decayed that Massonfeared that they would blow apart when he attempted to fire them.

With such resources athis command, and Shah Newaz’s questionable levies patrolling the walls, Massonreadied himself for the first assault.

 

This arrived at nine o’clock thefollowing morning. Masson had just breakfasted, when the enemy scouts appearedon the crests of the low hills to the north. Soon after, a wave of 1,200horsemen appeared, hurrying around to the east and south of the city. Beingwithin range, the defenders in the citadel began to discharge fire. Alightingfrom their animals, the attackers led a charge against two of the gates,fiercely from the south, but rather more weakly from the east. The fightingcontinued until the early afternoon, at which point the enemy drew back.

The first skirmish madetwo things clear to Masson. The way the enemy had approached the city suggestedthey thought that the fighting would be over in an instant, or that the gateswould be opened to them. This increased Masson’s doubts about the fidelity ofthe men fighting for Kelat. However, two or three men had been killed on eitherside, which made him hope that the two sides might now be polarised and fightin earnest. To increase the loyalty of the men in the city, Masson urged thatShah Newaz and Loveday distribute money and gifts of sheep, but both refused.Shah Newaz commented that he wished to keep the sheep to eat himself. Massontherefore had his work cut out. He rushed from post to post around the cityencouraging the men to stay firm to the cause, promising that the East IndiaCompany would not forget their bravery. He took charge of the treatment of thewounded, doing his best to care for those with shot wounds using the small storeof medicines at his disposal. Sleepless both day and night, he continued to seeto the fighting itself.

Although they did notmake a further attempt to storm the gates, they continued to keep up a fire onthe walls. Masson observed that they were cannibalising the timbers fromLoveday’s half-built gothic house to make ladders, and realised that they wouldshortly attempt to scale the walls. He therefore decided on a new stratagem ofdecapitating the enemy leadership. Limbering up the antique cannon from Modena,he attempted a few shots towards a garden and the mosque outside the city whichhe had failed to have pulled down; here, the son of Mehrab Khan and the rebelchiefs had taken up their residence. Masson hoped by lining up the gun to blowin the door of the mosque, which would clear the enemy from the site. However,he feared that the weapon was so erratic that it might instead knock out anintervening parapet on the city walls, where some none-too reliable defenderswere cowering from his efforts. He therefore turned to the smaller guns, andscattered a random fire in the garden.  His most successful shot came close tothe tent of the son of Mehrab, killing the charger of one of his allied chiefswho fled from the spot in terror.

That night, the thirdafter the siege had begun, the attack on the walls was expected. Burningtorches were placed at regular intervals on the battlements. Shah Newaz himselfled patrols round the city, and cries of “kabadar!” and “shah baz!”– “take care” and “bravo” resounded throughout the streets. As Masson settleddown for the watch, he took a moment to admire the rare spectacle of theramparts of the ruler’s palace illumined against the darkness of the night, andeven to revel in the “factitious and lurid atmosphere” enveloping the streets.

For several hours,there was quiet. Then, at around three in the morning, when the cries of thewatchmen had fallen away and the city seemed to be at rest, a hail of gunfireannounced the start of the attack. Men darted through each district, lookingfor the point of attack. Soon, it was reported that the ladders had been fixedto the walls to the west of the city. Loveday, who remained in his house allthe while, permitted a detachment of his Sepoys to be dispatched to the spot,and they hurried there in the company of Masson. They arrived not a moment toosoon. The levies on the battlements, meant to be defending the city, wereactually helping the attackers to scale the walls. Rather than using realbullets, they were firing blanks. The ladders of the rebels were too short by athird, but the defenders obligingly unwound their turbans to make ropes, whichthey lowered down, allowing the attackers to complete the climb. The Sepoysimmediately opened fire. Fifteen of the attackers and their helpers on thewalls fell dead, and the ladders were knocked down. The ground below waslittered with corpses. However, a small party of attackers had managed toinfiltrate the city and evade capture. Heading straight for Shah Newaz and hisretinue, they made a desperate bid to kill the ruler himself. Shah Newazfloored one of his assailants, and it was only after a hand-to-hand combat thatthe last of the enemy was finally killed or captured. The next morning, Shah Newaz’sband paraded by the citadel to commemorate the victory, and the man himself,although now asleep after his exertions, had ordered a “supply of sweetmeats”to be distributed to the fighters who had rallied to his cause.

            Yet, at the very moment of victory,a strange and debilitating panic spread throughout the city. Although they hadrepelled the best attempt of the attackers to take Kelat, a sudden mood tookhold of the defenders that it was no longer possible to hold out. The workmenwho maintained the fortifications downed their tools, and all preparations tomaintain the siege came to a stop. Shah Newaz’s supporters went to him andLoveday, complaining that things were hopeless and that negotiators should besent to the rebels. Masson was baffled by the turn of events. His best guesswas to fix on a rumour that the rebels had fixed on a new tactic of threateningto ravage the countryside estates of Shah Newaz’s  supporters, capture theirfamilies and use them as human shields in a renewed assault. Otherwise, hespeculated, the fear of traitors in the city had made it difficult for theloyal defenders to trust anyone.

            At any rate, Loveday andShah Newaz quickly consented for talks to be opened with the rebels.Ambassadors were exchanged, and soon a treaty was agreed. Power was to betransferred to the son of Mehrab Khan. Shah Newaz was to be conducted out ofthe city, and given a petty district to rule as a consolation prize. Lovedaywas to be escorted to Quetta, along with his soldiers, servants and property.When the agreement had been made, Shah Newaz swiftly repented of it and soughtto retain his throne, but Loveday refused to change course. Masson, however,rebuked him harshly. It was hardly likely that the British Government wouldaccept such a treaty when they heard of it. He was gravely mistaken if hethought that the rebels, given his reputation, would protect him. Besides, itwas a gross dereliction of duty not to support Shah Newaz, especially when theywere still in a much stronger position than the rebels.

            All of Masson’s effort toshake Loveday into action came to nothing. Loveday’s behaviour, indeed, becamemore peculiar and erratic. After one tirade of Masson’s, he leapt uptheatrically and exclaimed “I will die,” before slumping back again into hiscustomary torpor. He was hardly helped by his native servants who had beenbribed by the rebels, and were encouraging Loveday to think that the rebelswere much stronger than they were in reality, but that he was safe in theirhands. One of the negotiators commented on Loveday’s folly with a Persianproverb: “The wicked man has fallen into his own snare,/And he who devoured menwith dogs will in turn be devoured by dogs.” Shah Newaz redoubled his effortsto win over the chiefs and discard the treaty, but Loveday refused to help.Rather, he indulged in the hypocrisy of embracing Shah Newaz as a brotherwhenever they met, whilst giving in to the machinations of the rebels. ShahNewaz complained bitterly to Masson, asking if all westerners were similarlyunmanly.

            The day soon came when thetreaty called for Kelat to be surrendered. The gates were thrown open, and acontemptible rabble, as Masson put it, of fewer than 500 men proceeded in. Therest, he conjectured, must have fled when the assault on the walls had failed.Loveday himself sent his congratulations to the son of Mehrab Khan on hisassuming power, along with a gift of 50 rupees. At this point, Masson was ableto leave safely with Shah Newaz. He considered that he had discharged everyduty he owed to Loveday as a British officer, and that he was free to look tohimself. However, Loveday’s Sepoy troops pleaded with him not to go. Hearingthat Masson was about to leave, they said that they would follow him whereverhe went. They complained that their commander Loveday was “kam akkal” orof “little understanding” and would ruin them. Unwilling to be responsible fordenuding him of his troops, Masson hesitated and missed his moment. As the citybegan to fill with rebels, any liberty he had of escape was quickly curtailed. 

            From time to time since thebeginning of the uprising, the town house occupied by Loveday and Masson hadbeen the target of occasional stoning. Now, crowds assembled in front of theresidence both day and night, pelting it with a constant shower of missiles.Two of his servants declined to live under the same roof any longer. A third,who trusting in the peace had gone to the bazaar, returned stripped naked bythe mob. It became clear that before long, the house would be ransacked withthe full approval of the new ruler. Loveday’s attempts to stave off dangerbecame increasingly cack-handed. From the arms still concealed in his house hepicked out a magnificent sword, whose hilt was studded with emeralds andpearls, which he sent as a gift to the new ruler Nazir Khan. On receiving it, Nazirrecognised it as the present given to him by his late father Mehrab on the dayof his circumcision. Later, Loveday ordered one of his corrupt servants tosmuggle out a letter to the British commander in Quetta begging for help. This,the servant took straight to Nazir, whipping the new ruler and his companionsto greater fury.

            After this event, theshowers of stones were redoubled and augmented by the occasional musket shot. Amessenger came to the house from the citadel, ordering Loveday and Masson towalk through the streets to the citadel to “make his salaam” to the new ruler –an impossible request, given that if either of them stirred they would be tornto pieces by the mob outside the house, and no safe conduct had been sent.Loveday attempted to defend the house by ordering his Sepoys to fire againstgunmen who were targeting them from nearby houses. A brief respite was bought,but then at midnight a party of rebels with torches and pickaxes began to hackan opening into the courtyard of Loveday’s residence. His remaining servantsbegan to flee, and a number of his Sepoy soldiers began to climb over the wallsand desert. Soon, the house was swarming with the enemy, and the looting of thehouse began in earnest. So engaged were the intruders with the plunder thatthey forbore to use violence against Loveday and Masson. Masson’sarchaeological papers and personal property – his copies of Smollett, Drydenand Pope – at this point was stolen, but he was relieved to recognise thelooter as an ally from whom it might later be retrieved. Masson almost revelledin the absurdity of the chaos. Boxes of ammunition had been broken open andtheir contents scattered over the floor, whilst grown men chased a flock ofchickens round the house which had escaped from confinement in the yard.

            However, word came that thestreets had been cleared, and the town gates locked, and that the British pairalong with the remaining Sepoys should be led to the palace to “make theirsalaams”. Briskly hustled through the empty alleys and passageways, they werereviled and spat at by women leaning out of the windows above. Arriving at thepalace, the Sepoys were stripped of their arms and marched away. Masson and Loveday,now without any help, were hurried through a confusing maze of passages into agrand durbar room where around 30 chiefs were clustered, brandishing theirswords. In the midst of them was the new ruler’s guardian, Darogah Gul Mahomed,whom Loveday had earlier desired to blow from the mouth of a gun. Glowering, hebegan to berate Loveday for the death of the innocent Mehrab Khan, but hispassion was so great that he could hardly speak. He at least stated that nowthey had been received in the palace they would be safe; but after beingfrisked for weapons and having their valuables confiscated, and a perfunctorygreeting in an adjacent room from the new ruler Nazir Khan, they were led to asuite of rooms at the very top of the palace. It was the death row of Kelat,where prisoners of state usually met their end. It was known to all as the“Chamber of Blood”.

 

See also http://www.bijanomrani.com/?p=masson