• Omer Haq

Terror's Witness

Updated: Jan 13

Account of an eye witness of the Vellore Mutiny of 1806, a mutiny of British Indian sepoys that lesser known than its successor the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Join us as we explore the private accounts of Lady Fancourt written after the mutiny in Vellore and the horrors she faced.

Colonel and lady Fancourt and retired to rest at quarter to nine and around two at night, both of them were awakened at the same instant, by a loud firing; they got out of bed, and Colonel Fancourt went to the window of his dressing room; he opened it,

and called aloud and requesting to know the reason of the disturbance. There came no reply but a rapid continuance of the firing, by numberless sepoys assembled at the main guard. Colonel Fancourt went downstairs, and in about five minutes after returning to his dressing room, asked his wife to instantly bring him a light. she did so, and placed it on the table; he then sat down to write, and his wife went on to shut the window from which he had called out to the sepoys, fearing some shot might hit him as he sat, as they were still firing in all directions about the main guard.

The Col looked pale as death; Lady John asked the matter with him – to which he replied, "go into your room, Amelia." Amelia did so, she saw his mind so agitated she did not want to pursue the question further.; She heard him leaving the waiting room and the house two minutes later; between three and four o'clock the firing at the main guard ceased, and the drumbeat, It was Sir John was trying to quiet the sepoys. Amelia writes that she heard no more firing for some time; it then began again at the European Barracks. She bolted all the doors in her room and brought her children into the room. She fell on my knees, and fervently prayed that Colonel Fancourt's endeavors to restore peace to the garrison might be crowned with success, and his life spared.

She then got dressed and twice cautiously opened the hall door, and made her way to the other end of the hall to look where the sepoys were firing most; She heard noises directed towards the European Barracks, and for the last time she ventured from the room between the hours of four and five, she stood at the end of the hall, which was quite open to the verandah.

A figure approached her; it was so dark that she could only see the red coat illuminated by the light of the firing from the barracks. dreadfully frightened, expecting to be murdered, and having left her children in her bedroom, she feared their last hour had come;

She somehow masters the courage to ask who was at the door; a frightened and puffed voice answered "Madam, I am an officer." She then asked, who are you? to which he replied, "I am an officer of the main guard." He said it was a mutiny, and that every European had already been murdered on guard but himself, and that they feared they should all be murdered. Frightened and making no reply, Amelia walked away to her room where her children and female servants were. The officer went out at the opposite door of the hall and never got downstairs alive, being butchered most cruelly in Colonel Fancourt's dressing room.

Amelia walked into Colonel Fancourt's writing room and looked through the Venetians on the parade. There she saw soldiers of the 69th Regiment lying dead; four sepoys were at that moment on the watch at Colonel Marriot's door, and several others distributing from the gates of the palace. The natives were not firing; they were unarmed and making a great noise. They were at this time firing on the ramparts, – and, apparently, in all parts of the fort, though at the main guard, and the barracks, everything seemed quiet. They were then employed in ransacking all the houses, intent upon murder and plunder. At this moment, Amelia gave up all for lost. She opened her dressing-room table drawer, and took out her husband's miniature, which she tied, and hid under her habit, and she determined not to lose it but in death.

She had secured his watch sometime before, to ascertain the hour. she had hardly secured this much-valued remembrance of her husband, before she heard a noise in the hall, adjoining her bedroom. moving softly to the door, and looking through the key-hole, she discovered two sepoys knocking a chest of drawers to pieces. struck with horror, knowing their next visit would be her apartments her children, and the female servants were at the time lying on a mat, just before a door which opened into the back verandah, and which, when the mutiny began, seemed the safest place, – as shots were fired at the windows, they were forced to move as far as possible from them.

She whispered to her ayah, that the sepoys were in the hall, and told her to move from the door. She took the children under the bed and also begged Amelia to go with them. She had no time to reply, before the door they had moved away from, was burst open.

Terrified Amelia and others got under the bed, several shots were fired into the room; although the door was then open, nobody entered.

A bullet grazed Lady John while she was under the bed. The children were screaming with terror, at the firing, they all thought they were not gonna live the next moment, but willing to make one effort to save her children, she got from her hiding place, fled into a small adjoining room, off the back stair-case. She opened the window, from which I only could see two horse keepers. She returned instantly to her bed-room, she asked her ayah to pick her little baby while she, took Charles and John in her own arms, and opening the door of the back stairs, ran down as quickly as possible.

When they got to the bottom, They found several sepoys, on guard, at the back of the house. Amelia showed her babies to them begging them to leave her and her kids alone, offering them everything they had, the Ayah hesitantly translating to the sephoys. One of them was kind enough to have them seated in the stables, with the horses, while the other was not very happy about it, they did not prevent them from going there.

Satellite View of Vellore Fort

In the stable Amelia told her Ayha to hide her husband’s watch for her explaining how it was too precious for her; The Ayah dug up some earth with her fingers and threw it over the watch, and put two or three broken patties upon it. It wasn’t five mins since they had been seated there and they were ordered away by a third sepoy; he asked them to go into a jowl house which had a bamboo front to it, it made them quite exposed to the view of the other mutineers till the same man brought out an old mat, which was used by placing it before the door to hide, and afterward the same sepoy brought Amelia’s little boy half a loaf of bread to satisfy his hunger.

They sat there for about three hours in the greatest agony of mind, endeavoring to quiet Charles, Amelia found it impossible to pacify him as he was so alarmed by the constant firing and cried sadly to go out sometimes. Amelia saw the sepoys from between the bamboo front taking out immense loads of their goods on their backs, tied up in table cloths and sheets. Keeping her senses through all the horrors of the night and morning she constantly feared for her husband’s life.

She writes “I really believe I should have braved death to search for him on the parade had not the situation of my babes withheld me from the rash attempt. The dread of having them murdered in my absence, or leaving wretched orphans, made me remain in this place of concealment.”

She anxiously waited for the arrival of the 19th Dragoons from Arcot; the few lines Colonel Fancourt (her husband) wrote in the morning were most likely intended to be sent to Colonel Gillespie*, who was that morning coming to spend a few days with them; but whether Colonel Fancourt was able to have the message sent was something Amelia was ignorant about; still, however, she hoped the news must reach

19th Dragoons from Arcot's Coat of Arms

Colonel Gillespie on the road by some means or other. Right then hearing a tremendous firing at the gates, strengthened Amelia’s hopes that the regiment had arrived. their house at that moment appeared quite deserted by the sepoys, but suddenly several of them rushed into the compound and called out for Amelia and her children to be murdered. Her Ayah requested her to go into the farther corner of the jowl house, which she did, taking Charles with her, and covering him with her gown. But Charles could not be pacified, he cried aloud and wouldn’t quite.; every instant Amelia writes, She expected that they should all be murdered.

The firing at the gate now became so strong that the sepoys were obliged to fly to it, and once more vacated the house, Amelia and her kids had narrowly escaped death. She was so thirsty that several times she had to drink water out of a dirty chatty, and give the same to her kids too.

There was the noise of the horse of the 19th on the draw-bridge, and the huzza repeated out aloud. immediately after they were heard entering the fort. An officer rode in and called out Amelia by name, but there was no answer, silence.

Again the officer repeatedly called out her name looking for her. This time too there was no response. But moments later Amelia sprung out of hiding after finding the officer in Red jacket, she thought it was her husband but it was Mc Lean, She called for her husband in hopes that they may have survived. Her hopes grew larger when McLean told her that he was still alive.

Col. Gillespie and Mrs. Mc Lean then joined her, and both gave her the same assurances. They took her upstairs and got her seated in a chair giving her some wine and water to drink. When her agitation had reduced she was told that her husband Col Fancourt had survived but was wounded, tough no dangerously but was in pain. They all tried to keep him quiet. An Hour later the Surgeon of the 19th walked in with his eyes stuck to the floor, he told Amelia that her husband’s wounds were cured but he was still in danger.

Amelia grabbed the arms of her chair and sat down, she was hopeful that her husband might still recover, but she could not go see him, thinking that the sight of her and the kids might agitate him too much. The surgeon told Amelia that the wounds were flesh wounds and that the bullets had not been lodged.

A few moments later nurse came running to the room still trying to catch her breath. Her face was pale and she informed Lady Fancourt and the Surgeon that Amelia’s husband was no more and that he had breathed his last. It was four o clock on the evening of July 8th, 1806. The horror had lasted fourteen hours, Amelia had lost her husband, the kids their father. Vellore Mutiny had now been hammered into suppression.

Col. John Fancourt's Tombstone

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