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Helena Angelo's diary of her escape from Cawnpore. 1857

Lt. Frederick Cortlandt Angelo of the 16th BNI was appointed Superintendent 4th (Terminal) Division of the Ganges Canal on May 14th 1857. He arrived in Cawnpore with his wife Helena, who was pregnant, and his two young daughters, Helena aged five and Catherine aged three, and was living on a boat in the river. On May 22nd, on the orders of General Sir Hugh Wheeler the officer in command at Cawnpore, most of the European women and children moved into the "Entrenched Camp". Helena's diary continues the story :-

25th May. Last night the General sent word to say he expected an outbreak either that night or during the following day.

26th May. Frederick has given up the boat on which we have been living. This evening we are to go to the entrenched camp.
Later. This entrenched camp is a singular scene - parties of officers and ladies singing and laughing in one place - gentlemen assembled in the open air - all noise and bustle and one would imagine it some gay assembly.

May 27th. Fred is attached to the Battery but seems thoughtful and serious.

May 28th. Fred absolutely determined that I and the children should go to Calcutta with Mrs Volk, so we are to start this evening much against my wish but he seems to wish it. I can only pray God that this step is blessed by Him and turns out out beneficial to us both yet in my opinion husband and wife should separate as little as possible. Started at 6pm. Oh ! may God keep and protect my beloved husband.

Mrs Angelo, with her children, and Mrs Volk were among the last, if not the last, Europeans to leave Cawnpore. The pages of the diary covering their journey to Allahabad are missing. According to family tradition, as recounted by her daughters, the party travelled by river and evaded the attention of the sepoys through the loyalty of their Indian servants who hid them in the bottom of the boat when they passed danger points.
Allahabad was at this time under the command of the inefficient Col. Simpson. His troops, who consisted almost entirely of sepoys, were housed with their British officers in the cantonments on the outskirts of the town but still acted in rota as garrison of the Fort. The non combatants had mostly moved into the Fort on 23rd May,

30th May. Arrived last night at 10 pm. Found the Station quite empty, everyone in the Fort. Went to Noor Mahmud's hotel where I got a wretched hole of a room. The heat was intense, continues so today. Took a palkee garree and drove with Mrs Volk to the steam wharf. The steamer is to sail today. I cannot be ready as my woman will not go with me. I am sorry as I think dear Fred will be disappointed. Drove to the Fort today to try and get apartments there but could not find the Fort Adjt. and got back very tired. Mrs Pott asked me into her house and dissuaded me from going to Boll's hotel - very kindly offered me half her room at the Fort - I slept there - found it very hot.

31st Sunday. Still at hotel in the middle of day. Mr Walcot came and recommended [us] to go to the Fort so after an early dinner we all went. Major Moorhouse gave me a room next to Mrs Pott. The heat is frightful.

1st June Monday. Spent the day in the Fort. Mrs Howard of the Artillery came to see me. There is very bad news from Lucknow, when will all this end ?(1)

2nd. Still at the Fort. Nell very unwell all day. Mrs Williams of the 6th came to see me in the evening, rather a nice person. Slept in Mrs Newman's sitting room, quite delightful after the heat and noise of the quarter.

3rd. Dr Stuz came to see the children - a telegraph despatch from Agra with good news of a success over the insurgents near Meerut.(2) Engaged an extra coolie.

4th. Spent the day with Mrs Norris in cantonments, a delightfully quiet day.

5th. A day of alarms, not allowed to go to cantonments. In the morning took our cabin in the steamer. In the afternoon heard it was gone to Benares for European soldiers. Benn's regt. mentioned. Sikhs and Europeans fought well and put them to flight. Received five letters from my dearest husband. Thank God all is quiet at Cawnpore. 2 guns sent down to the bridge of boats.

6th. Was just in bed this evening when Mrs Pott told me to get up and dress as there was something the matter - a great deal of musketry firing in the direction of the cantonments. The 6th have mutinied and are massacring their officers and all the unit. We spent the whole of this sad night in the verandah listening to the firing and cries of the insurgents.(3)

7th Sunday. At 12 am prayers in the lower verandah - 15 officers killed alas ! What a sad time - no news from Cawnpore. Fires and throwing shells into the City during the day and night.(4)

8th Monday. Wuzee Khan went into the city and got us some sagee flour and bad bread. Mrs Pott's bearer went to the station but never came back. It is said that the Mahomedans have raised their standard in the City and called all the people to join them, daring wretches ! - no news from Cawnpore.(5)

9th. Turned out of my room and obliged to double up with Mrs Pott. Continued firing on the marauders - It is said two gentlemen came to the Fort today who passed Cawnpore a few days ago where they heard firing - God grant the entrenched camp has held out and that my beloved husband is safe !

10th. Great difficulty in getting food or servants - I hired a bheesti today and we luxuriated in a [?] In the evening he ran away - Today it is very hot - the 15 railway people have come in but poor Mrs Bevis died from exhaustion and exposure to the sun. Foraging parties out today - 200 sheep brought in and the Sikhs allowed to plunder - the whole district seems to have risen round the so called standard of Mahomud. Oh ! for the hour of retribution. No news from Cawnpore nor from any direction, the telegraph wires cut in every direction and no daks. Steamer not come in. Mrs Pott intends going to Mirzapore with Mrs Walcot. Continued firing from the Fort all last night and today. We have got quite accustomed to these awful sounds - It is said that this is solely a Muhamedan rise and the Hindoos only join from fear. Mrs [?] tells [me] there is a report that firing was heard at Cawnpore for 24 hours. Oh, what would I give to know how they have fared there - Oh my beloved husband ! where are you now !

11th Thursday. Yesterday the Sikhs were allowed to loot. Brought in 200 sheep. Capt. Elgin has sun stroke. This morning a spy caught dressed as a fakir. No news from Cawnpore. A regular struggle here to get food. Col. Neil and 40 Europeans arrived. The Col. took over command to the great joy of all who have groaned under an old woman's rule.(6) A Frenchman arrived this morning from Cawnpore who says the entrenched Camp was all right - the Cavalry looting the Treasury and Sir Hugh Wheeler firing away - Cantonments on fire. Bam Chuccar so very insolent that I was obliged to discharge him. Thank God the children continue in good health notwithstanding the heat and scanty food.

12th. Col. Neil commenced work this morning. 500 Sikhs and Europeans went out at gunfire to destroy the villages close to the bridge. Guns from the battery firing all morning. In the evening all the ladies went to the top of the barracks to see the City on fire. Very hot night.

13thFX. A steamer arrived last night with Madras fusileers on board. More fighting this morning, only 100 Sikhs went out and were driven back inside shelter of fort guns. No news from Cawnpore. I wish I could know what they are doing there - My darling husband. Mrs L[?] came from the Colonel to say that all the ladies that could must leave by the steamer and would be sent to Calcutta at Govt. expense.

14th. Preparing all day to go on board ! - what a Sunday ! all noise and confusion. Went on board at 1/4 to 4 o'clock - In a wretched state of discomfort and great heat. I did the best I could by dividing the partition allotted to us.

15th. Started very early this morning, the other steamer started before us to go and shell a village ten miles up the river - The guns commenced immediately on our departure and we plainly saw the smoke of the burning city. The heat is intense. I know not how we shall manage with the children. A curious collection of half caste people here, everyone ruined and going down to Calcutta without 1 rupee, poor creatures; And how many on board in the same state of anxiety as myself about their husbands. We arrived at Mirzapore at 4 o'clock. Mrs Volk and Vincent accompanied Mrs Pott on shore and got her a palkee carriage to go up to the station. She sent for her baggage in the evening without even a note for me. Her promises are worth as much as other people's.

16th Tuesday. I fear we shall be kept here very late as there was a good deal of cargo. The heat is something dreadful.

17th. About 10 am we started, passing Chunar at 1 pm - And many delightful recollections the sight of its old walls recalled - Reached Benares at sunset - Mrs Gordon to see Mrs Woodhouse and me. We saw today on the bank near Ramnaggar some European women and children, the Capt. would not stop to take them - His conduct has been reported to the Conl. by the volunteers. The French Col. from Cawnpore is on board and talked to me a good deal this evening, filling me with grievous apprehensions as to the fate of my beloved husband.

18th. Mrs Gordon sent some bread and biscuits - Left Benares at 9 am. Mrs Volk tells me there is news this morning from Cawnpore that all are safe in the entrenched camp. God grant this may be true, but I fear I cannot hear anything until I reach Calcutta.

24th. At Rajmahal today taking in coals. The last few days I have not written anything, the weather has been so bad, windy, cold and wet, quite a different kind of climate to what I expected. Both Helena and I have suffered slight bowel complaint - Nearly a month since I left my dear husband. God grant I have a husband yet ! Ah what joy, What relief I will be in if I get news on arrival at Calcutta.

26th Friday. This morning we left the Ganges and struck into the river Goorae.(7) The channel , which is narrower and much deeper than the Ganges - the banks are beautiful. At 12 am reached Camulla(8) for coal - a sweet pretty place - the shores shut in like a lake - got very good fruit, milk.

27th. All day in the same course, reached Coolice in the evening - the last station for coaling, and at the mouth of the Sundarbans. Fine pine apples, cocoa beans and good butter. Some of the gentlemen went on shore and brought news that all was right in the entrenched camp up to the 15th. Thank god for this much news.

28th Sunday. Entered the Sundarbans this morning. The shores are covered with dense jungle. The rain has been pouring in torrents all day - Everything cold, wet and uncomfortable. Mrs King led service after dinner, and gave us a good discourse on faith.

through wide and beautiful Sundarb

29th & 30th Monday and Tuesday. We have been threading ans, chilly weather with constant head winds.

1st July. We today passed through Diamond harbour. Very wet. Expect to reach Calcutta about five. I feel sick with apprehension about news. God in his mercy grant he may be safe and well. Arrived opposite the ghat at 5 o'clock. Mrs O'Donahan told me that news had been received from Cawnpore where the camp was holding out bravely. No one came to meet me so went on shore with Mrs Volk and Capt. Stace who drove me in his buggy to Cooks(9) where I got a palkee garri and drove to Cassipore which we reached at 1/2 eight and were very kindly received by Major Angelo and Elliot.(10)

2nd. Elliot's house very small, loads of mosquitoes. No fresh news from Cawnpore. My dear Fred. I wonder whether my prayers have been answered and you spared in all these dangers !

3rd. Wrote to Frederick and to Robert. Minnie very troublesome. Engaged two coolies from yesterday for the punkers.

6th. The last two days I have been far from well, suffering from bowel complaints. No news yet from my own darling.

Frederick Angelo was, of course, already dead, killed with most of the rest of the garrison on 27th May. Though rumours of the fall of Cawnpore reached the Governor General, Lord Canning, at Calcutta by 3rd July, it was not until Havelock's telegram arrived on the 17th that the disaster was confirmed. Frederick Angelo's posthumous son was born on 21st September. Helena had been befriended by Lady Canning who agreed to be Godmother to the new born baby. The family sailed for England in RMS Nile on 20th November.


(1) On the night of the 30th May the sepoys of the 71st BNI mutinied at Lucknow and were joined by the men of the other native regiments. They murdered some of their officers, the remainder escaping to join the civilians already sheltered in the Residency enclosure.

(2) The Meerut Brigade, marching towards Delhi, routed a body of sepoys at Ghazi-ud-din-Nagar on the 30th and again on the 31st May.

(3) A few officers of the 6th did manage to escape to the Fort though eight boys (ensigns) just arrived from England were amongst those murdered in the regimental mess.

(4) Through the presence of mind of Lieut. Brasyer, commanding a wing of the loyal Sikh regiment, the sepoys within the Fort, belonging to the mutinous 6th BNI, had been disarmed and expelled, but the town and cantonments had fallen into the hands of the rebels.

(5) In fact the Entrenched Camp was already besieged. Mrs Angelo had left Cawnpore on the 28th May. On the 31st and on the 1st and 2nd of June reinforcements had arrived from Allahabad. On the 4th the expected mutiny broke out, the sepoys of the 2nd Cavalry and the 1st BNI being soon joined by their comrades of the 53rd and 56th regiments. The actual siege began on the 7th June.

(6) Col. Niel ( with Mr Gubbins, the District Judge) had already restored order in Benares and now arrived to save Allahbad before marching to the relief of Cawnpore.

(7) Sometimes spelt Goorai or Garai.

(8) Perhaps Kumarkhali.

(9) Not the Travel Agency, which only opened an office in Calcutta in 1880.

(10) Helena Angelo's father-in-law and brother-in-law.

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