Forgotten Voices of Empire: Black Mountain Expedition 1891

The Hazara Expedition of 1888, also known as the Black Mountain Expedition or the First Hazara Expedition, was a military campaign by the British against the tribes of Kala Dhaka (then known as the Black Mountains of Hazara) in the Hazara region of what is now Pakistan.

On June 18, 1888 two British officers and four Gurkha soldiers were killed in an altercation between British reconnaissance patrols and antagonistic tribes. As a response, the Hazara Field Force was assembled and began its march on October 4, 1888, after an ultimatum had not been satisfied by the tribes by October 2, 1888. The first phase of the campaign ended with the Hassanzai and Akazai tribes requesting an armistice on October 19, 1888. The second phase of the campaign targeted the tribes that lived north of Black Mountain such as the Allaiwals. The campaign ended when the Allaiwal village of Pokal was occupied and destroyed by the British on November 2 and 3, 1888.

British and Indian Army forces who took part in the expedition received the India General Service Medal with the clasp Hazara 1888.

Concerns that the tribes were not honouring the agreements that ended the 1888 campaign led to a further two-month expedition by a Hazara Field Force in 1891.

In 1891 an officer serving with the Hazara Field Force under the command of General Ellis wrote a letter home detailing the fighting:

We are still moving on towards Thakot, which is the main village among the hills at which the different columns are expected to meet.

We have lately been coming into the country of some fellows called the Bunners; they seem to be a numerous and warlike tribe, and have been making things lively for us. Our guns were left behind at Ogi at first, but now have rejoined the force, just in time to see a little of the fun.

We encamped the other night at Bela Piazada on the way to Palosi, and had a rough time of it. There was a good deal of what our fellows call ‘Sniping’ going on which is the name for the practice these hill tribes have of stealing round us at night and firing into the camp.

At Bela Piazada they came half way down the hills after dark and fired across the river into our camp pretty freely, and also at such of our men as they could see by the light of their bivouac fires on the other side of the water. Through their shooting is vile, it is a most annoying business, as we had two men wounded and it keeps everyone awake, for we all have to sleep with our clothes on in case they try a rush on the camp.

Next day we were all moved on to Palosi as Bela Paizada was not considered safe. On the way of battery was ordered to shell the village of Bakrai; so we dropped two shells in front of the the chief house in the place, which caused the entire population to bolt like rabbits out on to the hill.

They hung about the crest for sometime in a threatening manner, but another shell broke up the meeting and they skedaddled in all directions. Our mounted guns were then sent off to take possession of a deserted fort on a tremendously steep hill, commanding the village of Bakrai and the the Thal Nullah, the pass leading to Darbundrai. 

It was an awful business getting the guns up. I believe it is officially known as Pichet Hill, but we christened it Fort Juggins as we didn’t like the situation because it put us out of the fighting as usual. However, we got a fine view of the surrounding hills with the passes and villages, and couldn’t have had a better position for seeing the fight next day.

It was a pretty sight in its way, though with the exception of a few long shots, we felt as if we were in reserved seats with nothing to do. It began early next day by the 4th Sikhs being ordered to take the village of Deliari; and we could watch them creeping up the opposite hill. 

It took them nearly all day to get there, and when they did they apparently found the place deserted. However, as they were coming down again to take up their quarters for the night at Palosi, we suddenly saw the enemy come swarming back into the village like ants.

As usual they seemed to spring out of the ground and the top of the hill was soon covered with clusters of natives and waving banners. Each banner represents 50 men, so they gave us an idea of the force against us, and this time must have been in considerable strength. They came down after the retreating Sikhs, and we soon heard the rattle of our volleys, while the hill was covered with puffs of smoke from the scattered shots of the enemy.

Cease Firing', No. 1 British Mountain Battery, Black Mountain Expedition, 1891.

Cease Firing’, No. 1 British Mountain Battery, Black Mountain Expedition, 1891.                           NAM. 1993-08-106-100

About 200 of the enemy came down a spur to get a flanking fire on the Sikhs; so at 6.30 we opened on them from Fort Juggins at 2300 yards, and rather took that lot by surprise as they didn’t understand our range, and couldn’t make out where the ‘fire devils’ were coming from.

It was getting late by them, and it was almost a battle in the dark, as we could see little except the long flashes of our men’s volleys, and a glimpse of the clumps of the enemy as our shrapnel burst among them. However, we broke them up pretty considerably, through we heard next day some of our shots were dangerously near our own men; and about midnight, long after we had ceased firing, the Sikhs flashed down to us by heliograph that they had retaken the village at the point of the bayonet, with the loss of one officer and three men wounded. Next day we were ordered up with our guns to join the Sikhs and now have our mess with them on top of some of the best houses in the village.

We are now on the left flank of General Hammond’s column and from this elevated position watched them advancing up the Thal Nullah to Darbundrai. Here we saw our men being fired at by the enemy, but as the main column moved up, the village was taken by assault.

Bhiao, another village further on, is strongly held, and the hills all round are getting thick with banners, so if we hang about much longer they will get confidence for a great attack. This expedition has been out for some time now, and we seem to do nothing but potter about and take a few villages. With the force we have and our superiority in arms, we ought to have swept these tribesmen away long ago, if we were allowed to do more than march a few miles and then halt for days. 

The general no doubt, has instructions from headquarters for this delay, but it is trying for the troops, as the hot weather is coming on now, and the sun will soon be doing more damage then the enemy. 

The Globe. Thursday 7th May 1891.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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