A Celebration of Women Writers

Amelia Farrer, Lady Fancourt
"An Account Of the Mutiny at Vellore, by the Lady of Sir John Fancourt, the Commandant, who was killed there July 9th, 1806."
in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 14 June 1842, p. 2.


An Account
Of the Mutiny at Vellore, by the Lady of Sir John Fancourt, the Commandant, who was killed there July 9th, 1806.
(From the original Manuscript.)

Colonel Fancourt and myself retired to rest at 10 oclock. About the hour of two on Thursday morning, we were both awakened at the same instant, by a loud firing; we got out of bed, and Colonel Fancourt went to the window of his dressing room; he opened it, and called aloud and requested to know the cause of the disturbance; to which he received no reply but by a rapid continuance of the firing, by numberless sepoys assembled at the main guard. Colonel Fancourt went down stairs, and in about five minutes after returned to his dressing room, and requested me instantly to bring him a light. I did so, and placed it on the table; he then sat down to write, and I shut the window from which he had spoken to the sepoys, fearing some shot might hit him as he sat, for they were still firing in all directions about the main guard. I looked at the Colonel and saw him as pale as death; I said, "Good God, what is the matter, my dear Sir John?" – to which he replied, "go into your room, Amelia." I did so, for I saw his mind so agitated I did not think it proper to repeat my question at that moment; I heard him two minutes afterwards leave the writing room and the house; between three and four o'clock I believe the firing at the main guard ceased, and the drum beat, which I afterwards found was owing to my husband's exertions to quiet the sepoys. I heard no more firing for some time; it then began again at the European Barracks. I bolted all the doors in my room, and I brought my children into it. I fell on my knees, and fervently prayed that Colonel Fancourt's endeavours to restore peace to the garrison might be crowned with success, and his life spared. I dressed, twice cautiously opened the hall door, and felt my way to the lower end of it, to look where they were firing most; I perceived it was chiefly directed towards the European Barracks, and the last time I ventured from the room between the hours of four and five, as I stood at the lower end of the hall, which was quite open to the verandah, a figure approached me; it was so dark that I could only see the red coat, by the light of the firing from the barracks. I was dreadfully frightened, expecting to be murdered, and having left my children in my bed room. I dreaded their last hour was come; I had, however, courage to ask who was there; the answer was, "Madam, I am an officer." I then asked, who are you? to which the gentleman replied, "I am an officer of the main guard." I enquired what was the matter. He said it was a mutiny, and that every European had already been murdered on guard but himself, and that we should all be murdered. I made no reply but walked away to my room where my babes and female servants were. The officer went out at the opposite door of the hall, where we had spoken together, and never got down stairs alive, being butchered most cruelly in Colonel Fancourt's dressing room. I have since heard that his name was O'Reilly, of the first battalion, 1st Regt., N. I. As soon as daylight appeared, I went into Colonel Fancourt's writing room, and looked through the Venetians on the parade. I saw some soldiers of the 69th lying dead; four sepoys were at that moment on the watch at Colonel Marriot's door, and several others issuing from the gates of the palace. The latter were not firing; indeed I think 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, all seemed quiet. They were then employed in ransacking all the houses, intent upon murder and plunder. At this moment, I gave up all for lost. I opened my dressing-room table drawer, and took out my husband's miniature, which I tied, and hid under my habit, and determined not to lose it but in death. I had secured his watch some time before, to ascertain the hour. I had hardly secured this much valued remembrance of my husband, before I heard a noise in the hall, adjoining my bed room. I moved softly to the door, and looking through the key-hole, discovered two sepoys knocking a chest of drawers to pieces. I was struck with horror, knowing their next visit would be to my apartments. My 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, at the commencement of the mutiny, seemed the safest place, – as shots were fired at the windows, we were obliged to obliged to remove as far as possible from them. I whispered to my Ayhal, 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 of me to go there with them. I had no time to reply, before the door we had just left, was burst open. I got under the bed, and was no sooner there, than several shots were fired into the room; but, although the door was then open, no body entered. I took up a bullet which fell close upon me, under the bed. The children were screaming with terror, at the firing, and I expected our last hour was come, but willing to make one effort to save my babes, I got from my hiding place, fled into a small adjoining room, off the back stair-case. I then opened the window, from which I only could see two horse keepers. I returned instantly to my bed-room, and desiring the Amah to take my little babe in her arms, I took Charles and John, in my own, and opening the door of the back stairs, ran down as quickly as possible. When we got to the bottom, we found several sepoys, on guard, at the back of the house. I shewed them my babes, and told my Ayhal to inform them, they might take all I had, if they would spare our lives. One of them desired us to sit down in the stables, with the horses, and another looked surly, but did not prevent our going there. Whilst we staid in the stable, I told my Ayhal that I had my husband's watch, and begged she would hide it for me; she dug up some earth with her fingers and threw it over the watch, and put two or three broken patties upon it. We had not been seated five minutes before we were ordered away by a third sepoy; he told us to go into a jowl house which had a bamboo front to it, and in consequence we were quite exposed to view till the same man brought us an old mat, which we made use of by placing it before the door to hide ourselves, and afterwards the same sepoy brought my little boy half a loaf of bread to satisfy his hunger. 1 suppose I sat about three hours in the greatest agony of mind, endeavouring to quiet my dear Charles, whom I found it very difficult to pacify, he was so alarmed by the constant firing, and cried sadly to go out sometimes. I saw the sepoys from my concealment taking out immense loads of our goods upon their backs, tied up in table cloths and sheets. They all went by way of the ramparts, which made me fear they had still possession of the works. I know not how I was supported: through the mercy of providence I fainted not. I kept my senses through all the horrors of the night and morning. What I most dreaded to hear was my husband's murder. 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. I looked for the arrival of the 19th Dragoons from Arcot; the few lines Colonel Fancourt wrote in the morning I thought most likely were intended to be sent express to Colonel Gillespie*, who was that morning coming to spend a few days with us; but whether Colonel Fancourt had the means of sending the express or not I was quite ignorant; still, however, I thought the news must reach Colonel Gillespie on the road by some means or other, and hearing a tremendous firing at the gates, strengthened my hopes that the regiment was arrived. Our house at this time appeared quite deserted by the sepoys, but suddenly several of them rushed into the compound, and called out (as my Ayal said) to find and murder me. She requested me to go into the farther corner of the jowl house, which I did, taking Charles with me, and covering him with my gown. I had much difficulty to keep him quiet he screamed so; every instant I expected we should all be murdered. The firing at the gate now became so strong that they were obliged to fly to it, and once more vacated the house, by which means we escaped death. I was so thirsty as several times to drink water out of a dirty chatty, and gave the same to my dear Charles also. At length I heard distinctly the horse of the 19th on the draw-bridge, and the huzza repeated aloud. Then I hoped every thing, and immediately after heard them enter the fort. An officer rode in and called me by name, but I could not answer or move: again I heard my name repeated, and saw an officer in a red jacket whom I thought looked like my husband – I sprung forward to meet him – it was a Mr. McLean. I called for my husband; he told me he was alive. Colonel Gillespie and Mrs. McLean then joined us, and both gave me the same assurances. They took me up stairs and placed me in a chair, giving me some wine and water to drink. When my agitation of mind was a little over, they told me Colonel Fancourt was wounded, though not dangerously, and that he must be kept quiet. About an hour after I was told by the surgeon of the 19th that my husband was in danger, but that worse wounds had been cured. They were flesh wounds, and the balls had not lodged. Hope still made me think that he would recover. I could not even ask to see him, thinking the sight of me would agitate him too much. Alas ! too late I found there was no hope of him from the first, for he breathed his last about four o'clock the same evening. Thank God, he died easily; his death was happy I am fully satisfied, for he lived religiously, and met his death in the faithful discharge of his duty.

* Afterwards General Sir Roger Rollo Gillespie, killed at Kalunga, in Nepaul.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom