Capture of Assighur by the 67th, 1819

The capture of the formidable fortress of Assighur, the ‘Gibraltar of the East’, came at the end of the campaigns against the Pindaris and Mahrattas in India between 1817 and 1819. While the brigand Pindaris posed a limited threat, the principal Mahratta chiefs, beaten but not crushed by the Marquess Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington and at the time the Governor General of India) in the early years of the century, were a more substantial foe.

Operations began against the Pindaris, but these were no sooner underway than the Peishwa, the head of the Mahratta confederacy, and the Bhonsla of Nagpore, took up arms against the British. These two were promptly dealt with before the British engaged, and roundly defeated, Holkar, the third Maharatta leader, at Mehidpur in December 1817. With the back of the opposition broken, all that remained was to hunt down the smaller bands of Pindaris and to capture the strongholds into which they had taken refuge. Reducing these numerous fortresses gave the 67th a chance to show their fighting mettle.

The battalion, commanded by Samuel Huskisson, brother of the Tory Prime Minister, took part in the capture of Ryghur, Amulneir and Bedauderpore before joining the substantial force tasked with besieging Assighur, in which the fugitive Bhonsla had found refuge. Assighur, standing on a precipitous 750ft high hill, had been extensively strengthened and its capture presented a daunting challenge.

The 67th, under Lieutenant Colonel Charles Maxwell, met up with the main besieging force at Assighur in mid March 1819. The attack began with an assault on the pettah, the fortified suburb at the foot of the hill, the 67th’s flanking companies under Major Owen being among the stormers. Some men, including several of the 67th, attempted to push forward into the lower fort behind but were held up amid fierce close quarter fighting. With the pettah secured, work began on constructing batteries from which the lower fort could be bombarded. Their construction was begun by the rest of the 67th who had relieved the stormers. On the night of March 29, the Mahrattas evacuated the lower fort. Three days later reinforcements with additional heavy guns arrived, enabling the attack on the upper force to begin. The garrison’s reply, although heavy, was ineffective and two breaches were soon made in the walls. On April 9, the dispirited defenders surrendered unconditionally, the 67th taking possession of the fortress.

The capture of Assighur effectively ended Mahratta resistance. It came at a comparatively low cost, the British suffering fewer than 300 casualties, with just 18 from the 67th. Several men died of disease, including Lieutenant Colonel Maxwell and Major Owen. Both officers had been with the regiment for some 24 years.