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In the month of June 1826, a young Officer of our Regiment while absent on a sporting excursion, was murdered under circumstances of peculiar atrocity at the village of Nawur only eight miles distant from the Camp. An event so unusual, for a circumstance of the kind had not occurred within the last six or seven years, and the whole country was at peace, excited the highest degree of horror and astonishment, and never shall I forget the dreadful appearance the body of the unfortunate young man presented when it was brought in! The neck, and back of the head were laid open by a fearful gash,—the blade bone was bare and the bone of the elbow of the right arm was almost cut in two, there were several other cuts also upon the back, and arms, he was still living when he arrived, borne in a litter by some country people, but expired shortly after, without being able to give one word explanatory of the dreadful event.
A party of mat makers consisting of five men and two women, whose small tents were pitched only twelve or fourteen yards from where the murder took place were arrested on suspicion and brought in for trial.
A Court Martial assembled, and proceeded to investigate the affair; the members sat for some days, but were unable to obtain any clue to unravel the mystery, a number of suspicious circumstances tended greatly to criminate the accused persons, but others again intervened to render it more than doubtful of their being the authors; their peaceful habits the general timidity of all people of this description, the absence of a weapon of any description save a small crooked knife used for the purpose of cutting bamboos, were all urged in their favor. But, on the other hand blood was found on their clothes in more places than one, even also on one of their knives, and not a single human being except themselves had been seen near the place throughout the whole day, but what told against them more than any thing else, was the deposition of the surgeon who examined the body, who stated that although in his opinion the blow on the head, with the greatest part of the others was inflicted by a sharp sabre, still he was convinced that the gash in the arm was caused by one of the knives, or by one similar to those found in the possession of the accused! He had in presence of another officer applied one to the wound, and found it to correspond in every respect,-a part of the arm was jagged, and bruized, and partaking more of the nature of a violent dent, than a cut, and
this fitted the lower part of the knife exactly, it being merely a piece of iron and never sharpened !
The only evidence of any importance in addition to this, was that of the Officer's servant wbich went to involve the aflair in still further mystery. He deposed that his master had the evening previous sent off his baggage, and attendants to the next stage retaining only a small sleeping tent, and his Camp cot, with one servant (himself) intending to follow in the morning. About three o'clock he was aroused by a volley of stones being thrown apparently at the tent, he listened,—all was silent, and his master was still fast asleep. He had again composed himself to rest, when he was aroused by a loud cry, he started up, and beheld the tent filled with men, and his master covered with blood lying on his bed; he shouted for help, the wounded man made an attempt to reach the door of the tent, but fell quite exhausted; he himself was knocked down and wounded and when he recovered his senses found his master surrounded by the village people, who had rushed out on hearing the noise, with the mat makers in their custody, closely guarded.
When asked if he could identify any of them, he closely examined the countenances of all, and at length declared he could not. This rendered it more difficult than ever to sist the affair, since whatever actuated the murderers to the deed, it was very evident plunder was not their object !
When asked what they had to say in their defence, the prisoners protested their entire innocence of what they were charged with ; that they saw the tent surrounded by armed men, but were too much frightened even to move from where they were that the blood on their clothes as well as on the knife proceeded from a sheep they had killed, and appealed to the Court to ask what motive could have induced them to commit such a crime. After a long deliberation a verdict of “ not guilty” was returned, which excited a great degree of dissatisfaction at the time and the Commander in Chief, having severely reprimanded the Members as not having discharged their duty, dissolved the Court!
Proclamations were issued and rewards offered for the discovery of the murderers but in vain, months rolled on, by degrees the circumstance which excited such a sensation at first, like all events in a Military life, became less talked of and at length almost forgotten.
Before resuming my narrative it will not perhaps appear misplaced to offer a few observations on circumstantial evidence. A learned judge who has been esteemed one of our ablest law. yers, once declared he preferred it to any that could be adduced. I have myself heard two or three Military men filling the Office of Judge Advocate, persons of no ordinary talent, declare the same! Surely this is erroneous, or at least ought not to be observed as a general rule; I may be wrong, not being at all conversant with law theories, but when I reflect upon the many innocent persons consigned to an unjust sentence, convicted solely upon circumstantial evidence, I cannot refrain from a wish that should these pages ever be perused by one, who at some future period may be called upon to serve on a jury, or sit as member of a court-martial, he may deliberate well in his own mind before he gives a verdict that may consign to an irrevocable doom an innocent person, and to remember the saying of that inestimable man who declared " if there is a doubt let the prisoner benefit by it, for better is it that a hundred guilty beings should escape than one innocent person should suffer!”
The mountains, and thick impervious jungles of the province of Khandeish, are chiefly inhabited by Bheels, a wild, savage, and ferocious race of robbers; formerly they used to issue from their fastnesses in considerable numbers spreading terror, and devastation wherever they came, but of late years by the attempts of the Bombay Government to civilize thein, aided by several strong examples made of the ring leaders, their depredations are seldom heard of ; many have enlisted in the Bheel Corps, which has been raised, several have turned husbandmen, and numbers have left their old haunts, and habits, and dispersing themselves in the cities and towns of the various provinces adjacent, have become peaceful inhabitants of the places where they have settled.
A few small gangs however still issue from their hiding places (to which none can follow as the pestilential air of the jungles renders it almost certain death to any but a Bheel to pass a night in them) laying the adjoining country both the Nizam's, and British under contribution. These are however becoming more rare, from the vigilance of the Irregular Horse whose sabres generally make short work among the depredators whenever they happen to fall in with them.
To partake of the annual feast held by his tribe, a Bheel left the city of Aurung abad where he had resided for several
years, and proceeded to a small village about fifteen miles distant, the place appointed for the rendezvous. During the day, he remarked an ivory handled knife of European workmanship in possession of one of them; somewhat surprized at the circumstance he questioned him as to where he had obtained it, 'Oh! replied the other carelessly supposing he was addressing a friend. • I was one of those who assisted at the murder of the British Ollicer at Nawur two years ago, and found this in the tent !
* Is that all ? said the other with indifference, and the subject dropped. That very night he posted back with all speed to the city, and demanding an interview with the British Oficer commanding the Nizam's force stationed there, laid before him what he had heard, no time was to be lost, a party of the (orse taking the Bheel with them for a guide rode off, and reached the village as morning dawned; the man was pointed out, seized, tied on a horse with saddle girths, and brought in!
For some time he was sullen and obstinate asserting that the charge against him was a falsehood on the part of the accuser to ruin him, but threatened with death on the one hand if he persisted in his denial and a handsome reward and free pardon for the share he had taken in the transaction if he divulged all he knew on the other, he at length made the following confession.
Formerly he belonged to a gang that was headed by a Bheel who for many years had undergone a severe confinement by order of the Nuwaub of Aurungabad, this he inputed to Mr. Canning the then resident Commissioner, and as his punishment had been unjust, he vowed to be revenged! Two years ago, a great part of the gang led by this man, had proceeded to the village of Nawur for the purpose of plundering some merchants, who were proceeding with a large quantity of grain to the city of Hydrabad; on their arrival late at night, they discovered that the grain had been lodged inside the village, consequently their intention to plunder it was rendered abortive; they were retiring from the place, when they saw a light at a small distance, on moving towards it, they found it proceeded from a small open tent, in which a British Officer was lying asleep, the leader was in advance of the rest, and moved towards the place, several of the gang called out to him to keep back, as there was nothing to be plundered, he still however kept on advancing, they following till they came to the door of the tent; again they called to him to keep back, he turned round, and merely saying, 'All Europeans are alike, I have suffered from one, and now I will be revenged on all,' advanced towards the bed of the sleeping soldier; on the next instant his sabre flew from the scabbard, and he aimed a violent blow at the unfortunate youth intending to sever his head from his body; it encountered the back of the skull, the Officer started up, a second was more fatal, and he fell down again, the whole of them now fell upon him, but he struggled still, and at length succeeded in reaching the door of the tent when one of them aimed a blow and felled him to the earth with a knife he had picked up belonging to a party of mat-makers who were close by, they now thought him dead and fled hastily from the tent.
Scarcely was the deed perpetrated, ere the murderer became terror-struck at what he had done, not remorse, but the dread of it's being discovered seized him, while his feelings were aggravated by the reproaches of his followers, who now accused him of being the cause of destruction to the whole body! He fled, and for some time his fate was unknown to them, but it was at last discovered that terrified at the large rewards held out for the discovery of the murder, he had fled to a remote part of the country, and building himself a hut on a high and steep hill, which commanded a full view of the surrounding country, in this spot which he never quitted unless to procure a few roots, and a small quantity of grain for his subsistence, he had ever since continued to drag on a miserable existence.
Here finished the narrative ; after some consideration a party of the Horse taking both Bheels with them, were dispatched to the place with strict injunctions to take him if possible alive ; from what has been said it was easy to perceive that the task of apprehending himn would be very difficult, if not altogether impossible should he take the alarm, it was resolved therefore to proceed to the foot of the hill by night, the horsemen staying in a small clump of trees situated at the bottom of the link on the western side, there to wait till the morning, when the two guides should proceed up to his dwelling, and engaging him in conversation, should watch the favorable moment, and call out to them to ride up, and seize him.
Daylight dawned, the miserable inmate came outside his dwelling, and gazed every where around, his form was wasted, and however athletic, and active it may formerly have been, was now worn to an absolute skeleton : as he threw his furtive glances round, he saw the figures of two persons approaching from the clump of trees at the foot of the hill, hastily casting himself on the ground he watched their motions with a lynxean eye, they approached and he could perceive they were unarmed, consequently did not apparently come as foes, still a feeling of terror shook him, and he was turning to fly, when they called out to him; somewhat reassured, he awaited their arrival.
• Is it you?' he said as they approached, ' why do I feel trou, bled at your presence, I never did so before, are you come to betray me? They answered him soothingly, and produced some provisions upon which the unhappy object seized with the greatest avidity!
My days then are not yet closed ?' he continued, though too well am I assured it will one day be discovered, but in no way can I account for what makes me look upon you with such dread, at--they have come at last -