Tuesday, 20 December 2016

James Scurry, captive British soldier's great escape from Tipu Sultan's army


James Scurry, captive in mysore kingdom en.Wikipedia.org
James Scurry (1766–1822), a British soldier  was known for his captivating  memoir 'The captivity, sufferings, and escape of James Scurry', when he was held  captive by dreaded Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan for 10 years (1780–1790) at Srirangapatam (now in the state of Karnataka). It is an interesting record of his daring exploits under the most testing time of his life with a huge razor sharp dagger hanging high over his head.  Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan were the sworn enemies of the British and they fought valiantly against the British who wanted to capture the southern part of India. Their army was so formidable and the soldiers well trained, the British military strategies did not work well against them. Particularly, Tipu was a menace to them. James Scurry initially had been kept as a prisoner, at Bangalore and  later  he was taken to  the Srirangapatna (modern day name is Srirangapatnam near Mysore city) fort where he had to spend the next ten long arduous years in pain and in isolation in the  maximum-security  prison.  He did not breathe the fresh air of freedom until his tactical escape from  Tipu's army camp, in Chitradurg ( also called Chitterdroog)  and successfully reached an English camp. It was a hair-raising  escape for a man who witnessed the horrors of punishments in a prison camp. Based on his personal experience  in the prison of Tipu, he  wrote a  memoir on his capture  in 1794 and his grueling experience during the captivity  by the Mysore ruler.  However, his narrative was not  published until 1824, after his death.

This narrative  covers the reign of  both Hyder Ali ( (c. 1720 -
Underground Prison at Srirangapatna fort . www.kamat.com
7 December 1782) and  also his son Tipu ( 20 November 1750-4 May 1799) and brings to light  the stoic sufferings, mental agony  and  harsh treatment of the captured English soldiers and others. Besides, it also includes the poor treatment meted out to the Mangalorean and Syrian  Catholics of Kerala, and other prisoners of war by Hyder Ali and Tipu - 1824. 
Map of south India marxist

Born in Devonshire, England, James Scurry's father served in the British Army and participated  actively at the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill early in the American Revolutionary War.
Unfortunately, he died in the  Greenwich mental asylum where he had been an inmate for sometime, leaving behind his wife, son James  and his sister. James  started out his early life at sea and his  worst ordeal unexpectedly began in  1780  when Scurry, then 14 years old,  set on a voyage from Plymouth Sound on the Hannibal. He and the 15 member crew were  captured by the French Army at St. Helena.  The French had a military  alliance with the ruler of Mysore Kingdom Hyder Ali and Tipu  against the British operations in India. The prisoners   were handed over to Hyder Ali  by French admiral Suffren. Deported to his Srirangapatna fort in South India,  Hyder Ali had  James Scurry and other British soldiers enlisted in  his army after  forceful circumcision and  conversion to Islam; as  part of  religious conversion, each was given a Muslim name and James became Shamsher Khan.
 

As a prisoner,  he had to wear  heavy leg-irons and kept in a strong prison.any escape would be futile ans sicidal.  Later he and his men were taken to a place called   Burrampour, a three-day march from Bangalore. They had to survive on a poor diet of cooked rice and later Ragi flour during the march under the hot tropical sun. In the treaty of 1784 between the British and Tipu Saib, covering the  release of POW, his name was overlooked along with 100 other English prisoners for unknown reason and were taken to Chitradurg town. Here James really feared for his life  and death was at his door step because he was shifted to a  suspicious place where some of his colleagues Captain Rumney, and Lieutenants Fraser and Sampson had their throats cut by the Tipu's army.
Hyder Ali, Mysore kingdom. Pinterest
After some initial hesitation on his part,  as it was common, for fear of being captured, at last he and others escaped from the prison. To avoid capture and detection, they took the unknown trail  in the wooded area near Chitradurga and  carefully camped in different places. En route, the Marathas came to their rescue and allowed them to stay in their forts, from where they left for the English camps in a fort in North Karnataka, wearing the ragged uniform of Tipu's army. They were greeted by  an old Scottish colleague, Mr. Little. Scurry  in his work mentioned how he and his men were  redeployed in the final attack on Tipu under Lord Cornwallis. Tipu's death in the final Angelo-Mysore war on May 4 1799 at Srirangapatna came as a big relief for the British. The
Wellesley defeated Tipu 1799. en.wikipedia.org/


Tipu Sultan, son of Hyder Ali. Spiritual World
British army was led by Richard  Wellesley( June 1760 - September 1842).

In his gripping, but poignant  narrative he mentioned that his ten year ordeal left a deep psychological swathe in his mind and he could see drastic change in his personality. He lost his British persona, his English having become broken and stilted and forgotten how to  use the knife and fork. In addition,  his skin was over tanned because of  tropical, sweltering  heat in a tight prison and poor diet. In a sense, he completely lost his Brutishness and self-confidence.   

 After his war duties James Scurry left for England  by  an English ship called Dutton. Back in England, he was converted back to Christianity.  In 1800, he married once more and had 8 children, but only  one son and one daughter survived. As for his livelihood,  he had a chequered carrier  and at last became a  superintendent in a coal company  and it was his last job. He developed severe cold and lung infection because of extreme cold weather and breathed his last in 1822 at the age of 57. He was buried in Exeter on December 14, 1822.
James narrative is replete with details of unbearable conditions prevailing during his captivity. How he and his colleagues were in the grip of fear psychosis  and how they went through worst trials and tribulations  during their  incarceration. His gory details border on barbarity and  incivility. Given below are  a few examples (vide Wikipedia...) mentioned by him:

Initiation of prisoners of war including James into Mohameddan religion:
“ He addressed us in the most endearing, though hypocritical, language, and gave us to understand, that we were to be circumcised, and made Mohammedans of, by the express order of Hyder”.

Method of killing people who refused to convert or try to escape from prison:
“But his most common mode of punishment was, that of drawing to death by the elephant's feet; the manner of which was as follows: the poor wretches (for several were drawn at one time) first had their arms tied behind them, above the elbows, and then a rope put about the small of their legs, which was fastened to the elephant's foot. This being done, the criminals stood with their backs towards the elephant's posteriors, waiting sometimes an hour for an order for their execution. The distance they stood from the beast was about six yards, and the first step the elephant took would throw the poor unfortunates on their faces; thus they would be dragged over rough and smooth ground till dead, and with no faces left ”.

 Common use of cutting hands, ears and noses as punishment:
“ About this period, in the year 1785, he seemed more bent on barbarities, than at any other time that I was in his country. It was not infrequently that two or three hundred noses and ears would be exhibited in the public market, but to whom theybelonged we could not learn. We must, however, leave these tragic scenes awhile, and turn to something less horrible".


Tit-Bits:
  As for the British army and their prisons in India,  for example Kala Pani in  the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, they were much worse than the Indian rulers when giving harsh punishments to the prisoners. Scores Indian  freedom fighters were subjected to rigorous imprisonment and many were hanged to death on filmy grounds. There were many massacres commuted by the British army.  They never showed  any mercy  whatsoever towards Indian women.  Many Indian leaders were reduced to poverty and they faced death with no money left for the families  to conduct obsequies. Late PM Winston Churchill of Conservative Party, a famous India baiter artificially created famine in Bengal in 1943 that resulted in the death and emancipation of a million  plus people. Churchill, on purpose, diverted the ships carrying food grains to Bengal to other places of war where the British were fighting. The British were more tyrannical towards Indian prisoners than their Indian counter parts.

Ref:

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Scurry

 https://archive.org/details/ScurryOPT_201311