George Udny Yule was educated at Haileybury, where he won
the Bengali prize, and sailed for India in 1832. In 1857 he was
Commissioner of Bhagalpur, a large division in eastern Bihar
consisting of the districts of Bhagalpur, Manghyr, Purnia,
Santhalia and Rajmahal. From his headquarters at the station of
Bhagalpur, some two hundred miles from Calcutta, he ruled over
a native population of six million excluding the primitive
‘Mr George Yule was a good specimen of a manly, true-hearted
gentleman. He was essentially a man of action. His even-handed
justice had gained for him - what was rare in those days - the
confidence alike of the native ryot and the European planter.
Both classes alike trusted him, and were prepared to obey his
orders without hesitation or murmur.’
At the outbreak of the Mutiny in May 1857, Yule considered it
unnecessary to ask for a detachment of European troops,
believing he would be able to maintain order in Bhagalpur with
the help of his assistants and the planters. In this he was
successful until the third week of July, when the 12th Irregular
Cavalry and native regiments at Dinapore broke into open revolt
and threatened the loss of western Bihar. The defection of the
regiments encouraged the Rajput noble Kunwur Singh to throw
in his lot with the mutineers.
Yule, ‘a practical man, accustomed to command’, immediately waylaid 140 men of H.M’s 5th Fusiliers travelling up the Ganges.
He kept ninety at Bhagalpur and despatched the other fifty to garrison Manghyr. Both stations were salient points on the
Ganges and by their occupation he ensured the free navigation of this most vital means of communication which at that time
constituted the only safe highway between Calcutta and Allahabad. The presence of the European troops also cowed the 5th
Irregular Cavalry, contemplating mutiny at Bhagalpur, the 32nd Native Infantry at Baosi and the 63rd at Berhampore, who
were all eagerly awaiting the outcome of the siege of Arrah on which the fate of eastern Bihar depended.
On 14 August, the Sowars of the 5th Irregular Cavalry learned that Major Vincent Eyre, Bengal Artillery, had relieved
Arrah, but refused to believe the news, thinking the story to be a weak invention of the enemy and that the rebel cause had
Accordingly the Sowars of the 5th broke into revolt and made for Baosi where their brethren of the 32nd N.I. had received
absolute proof of the defeat of the mutineers at Arrah. Yule, abreast of all the developments, sent word to Colonel Burney,
of the 32nd N.I., warning him as to the approach of the 5th Irregular Cavalry. Burney effectively harrangued his Sepoys in
his fluent Hindustani, telling them that whether they marched east or west they would be marching to their destruction.
Thus when the 5th Irregular Cavalry presented themselves at Baosi they were received by the Sepoys of the 32nd with
bullets and bayonets and driven off. Eyre, meanwhile, defeated the Arrah rebels at Jagdishpur, proclaimed martial law,
hanged thirty wounded prisoners and attacked and captured Kunwur Singh’s fortress. Kunwur Singh himself, however,
escaped to fight another day.
Towards the end of the year famine, caused by a long prevailing drought, visited the vicinity of Manghyr and the temper
of the natives manifested itself in an increase in highway robbery and other crimes. Under these circumstances a serious
threat was posed if the native troops at Jalpaigori mutinied. A Bengal Marine detachment was on its way to Purnia, halfway
between Bhagalpur and Jalpaigori, and was due to arrive at the end of November. But Yule considered that this precaution
alone was insufficient, and with the agreement of the Government he marched with the 5th Fusilier detachment at Manghyr
He arrived on 1 December and finding that all was quiet, marched next day towards Kishanganj, thirty-one miles distant. He
moved not a moment too soon for on the nights of the 4th and 5th of December detachments of the 11th Irregular Cavalry
at Madariganj and Jalpaigori mutinied and started for Dinapore where the Civil Officers prepared to defend their posts to
the last. The mutineers, however, feeling threatened by the movements of the sailors changed tack for Purnia. Yule hurried
back, and marching all day, ‘accomplished the distance with the aid of his elephants by sunset.’
‘He arrived in good time. The mutineers, ignorant of Yule’s rapid march, were entering the town early the following morning
with a view to plunder it, when they found themselves face to face with the Europeans. After an exchange of shots, they fell
back a few miles, halted and encamped. It was difficult for Yule, who had only infantry, to bring mounted men to action, but
he resolved to try. That night he marched out his men, and came up with the enemy, just as they were preparing to set out.
The rebels, putting on a bold face, charged but were beaten back with loss and fled to the north. Thus Yule saved Purnia,
and did more. Pushing on rapidly the morning of the 12th, with his party, he succeeded, notwithstanding the obstructions
offered by the numerous and extensive quicksands of the Kusi, in crossing that river, and reaching Nathpur before the
rebels. Finding their onward progress checked; and cut off from a retrograde movement; the mutineers took refuge for the
moment in Nepal, only, however, to meet their fate at a later period.’
At Nathpur, Yule received intelligence that rebels from Dacca who had been forced to take refuge in Bhutan were
threatening Jalpaigori from the north east, together with an urgent request to march to that place. ‘Yule set out at once,
and marching sixty-four miles in thirty-six hours, reached Kishanganj, thirty-one miles north east of Purnia. Another long
march of thirty miles brought him, on the 22nd, to Titalia. Here he received a despatch from Jalpaigori recommending
him to take up a position between Siligori and Pankabari, on the road to Darjeeling, there to await further intelligence.
Yule complied, waited patiently till the 26th, but as the promised intelligence was still witheld, he determined to act on
his own responsibility. The ideas he had formed on the subject were singularly clear and correct. Granted that the rebels
intended to move on Darjeerling or on Jalpaigori, they must of necessity cross the river Tista. The Tista is a river gradually
increasing on the plains to a width of from seven to eight hundred yards, deep, rapid, and difficult. To the rebels scarcely
any other option was offered than to cross at the Chawa Ghat, where facilities existed. Now Chawa Ghat had not been
occupied, and Yule, tired of waiting, resolved to act upon his instincts, and occupy it. But delay caused by waiting for
intelligence which did not come had been fatal. As he approached the ghat through the jungle, his advanced parties
discovered the enemy on the left bank of the river, occupying a position so strong and so favourable for defence, that
it would have been madness for him, with his small force to attack it. But there was still one way open to him to bar their
progress. That was to occupy the only practicable road by which they could advance, and give them battle when they should
attempt to move forward.’
‘Yule accordingly occupied that road. But the rebels, more wily than he believed them to be, broke up their camp that night,
and by marching an unfrequented by-path, turned his position, crossed the Mahananda river, and made for the Darjeeling
road. Yule discovered, early on the morning of the 28th, that he had been thus outmanoeuvred. Promptly did he repair his
error. Leaving his camp standing, he took up a position on the Darjeerling road, and awaited the approach of the enemy.
He waited in vain all day. As evening approached, there being no signs of the rebels, he determined to move back to the
camp to allow his men to break their fast. But they had scarcely left the road when the enemy were seen emerging from
the jungle by a path some little distance from the position he had held during the day. Yule at once sent his advanced party
in pursuit. But so rapidly did the rebels rush across the road and open country between the place of their issue and the
next thick jungle that the British had only time to fire one volley, and although Captain Burbank and his sailors continued
the pursuit for two or three hours, they failed to come up with the enemy.’
‘But the failure he had encountered made Yule only the more resolved to follow the Dacca mutineers to the bitter end.
Occupying as he did the inner line of communication, whereas the rebels by their flight, had gained the outer line, it was
still possible for him, by marching along the edge of the forests which skirted the Nepal frontier, to guard the British
territories from incursion. This course he adopted. Marching westward, in parallel lines with the rebels, he having the inner
line, he forced them to cross the Nepal frontier. Continuing within the British territory this parallel march, he again, on
the 3rd January, crossed the Kusi at Nathpur. On that day the rebels were distant from him between forty and fifty miles,
at a place called Chattra, at the foot of the hills at the point where the Kusi issues from them, thirty-six miles within the
Nepal frontier - the whole intervening space being jungle.’
On 11 January 1858, Yule was reinforced by Major Richardson’s Bengal Yeomanry, and at about the same time Jang Bahadur,
the de facto ruler of the Nepal, responded to Yule’s earlier request regarding what might be done with the mutineers of
the 11th Irregulars, also at Chattra. The ‘reply took the shape of an order to his lieutenant on the spot, Rattan Man Singh,
to attack the mutineers, in co-operation with the English’. Unfortunately Rattan Man Singh’s troops were mostly raw recruits
and he was unwilling to assent to any manoeuvre that necessitated dividing his force. In light of this condition, Yule and
Richardson decided that the Nepal troops should guard the road running eastward from Chattra, while they advanced to
attack on the 21st. Unfortunately, however, the rebels fled into Oudh by the only road left open to them, that running
westwards, and despite Yule’s and Richardson’s best attempts to pursue them they were unable to bring them to action.
Yule returned to his division which subsequently was undisturbed. On the reappearance in western Bihar of Kunwur Singh
in May 1858, Yule offered ‘to the Government the services of himself and twenty well-mounted gentlemen to act against
the rebels in that province’. His offer was declined. ‘His vigorous energy’, however, had been warmly noticed by the higher
authorities who appreciated ‘whenever there was work and danger in the Division, and even beyond its limits, there was
Yule’. He became Chief Commissioner of Oudh in 1862, and afterwards Resident at Hyderabad and a member of the
Governor-General’s Council from 1867 to 1 January 1868. Yule was made a Civil C.B. on 18 May 1860, and K.C.S.I.
on 25 May 1866. Sir George Yule died in London on 13 January 1886.
Ex Richie Collection.