Appasaheb Bhosle (1817-1818)

After Parasoji’s death, Appasaheb being the only heir to the Nagpur gadi his succession ceremonies were gone through quietly on 21st April 1817. The moment Appasaheb assumed charge of Nagpur he began to feel the weight of British supremacy which he had accepted by the subsidiary alliance. His efforts hereafter were directed to overthrow the British yoke. The Resident suspected that Appasaheb was in contact with Bajirav Pesva and the Sindes. The agents of one of the Pendhari leaders Cituu were openly honoured in the darbar by presenting dress. As a precautionary measure Col. Adams was asked to move his force to the south of the Narmada to meet any emergency. Similarly, Scott left Ramtek for Nagpur. It was in this atmosphere that Appasaheb decided to receive the robes of SenaSaheb-Subha, formally, from Bajirav Pesva; 24th November 1817 was decided as the day for receiving the robes in the darbar. Appasaheb invited the Resident for this ceremony. But the latter declined it as war had broken out with the Pesvs in Poona, and informed Appasaheb that he should not receive the honours from the enemy of the British. In spite of this opposition Appasaheb received the robes and the title in the darbar. This was considered as a breach of the subsidiary treaty by the Resident and a war with Appasaheb seemed imminent(NPI., p. 408).

Like. Bajirav, Appasaheb too wanted to free himself from the shackles of the subsidiary treaty. He was helped in this task by Manbhat, Ramcandra Vagh, Subhedar Nimbalkar and Narayan Nagare. Appasaheb’s Arab soldiers occupied a position between the city and Sitabuldi. He had a total force of 18 thousand men and 26 guns while the English force numbered only 1,800.

Having come to know the movements of the Maratha army, the Resident ordered Lt. Col. Scott to occupy the Sitabuldi hills. Scott had two battalions of Madras Native infantry, two companies of Native infantry and three troops of Bengal Cavalry. He was equipped with four six-pounder guns. Strategically the Marathas committed the first blunder in allowing Scott to occupy the hills.

The Raja’s palace was in the present Mahal area which was protected by the Sukravar daravaja. This was the fort.

The English had taken shelter in the Tulsibag, about the 24th December 1817.

The English residency was situated to the west of the Sitabuldi Fort, i.e., on the site of the present Nagpur Mahavidyalaya. The English had their treasury to the west of the smaller hill of the two Sitabuldi hills. The southern hill spreads, from east to west and is the bigger one. The smaller one is to the north. The two hills roughly rise above the ground to a height of hundred feet and are separated by the same distance.(NPI., pp. 411-13)

Peace talks were in progress when both the sides were preparing for war simply to gain time. On the evening of 26th November 1817, the Arabs of Appasaheb opened fire on the smaller hill. He sent a message to the Resident saying that this had been done against his orders. Appasaheb throughout this war was wavering making the position of his loyal supporters like Manbhat most awkward. It is possible that the mercenary Arabs might have acted on their own without waiting for the orders of their master but this speaks for Appasaheb’s lack of leadership. Appasaheb, after his defeat, pleaded that his Arabs opened fire at the order of Manbhat.(Ibid., p. 417)

The fire of the Arabs was well replied by the English guns on the hills. Captain Lloyd was in charge of the bigger hill. Captain Sadler was killed by a shot while he was defending the small hill. On the morning of 27th the Bhosle’s forces approached the hill. The smaller hill was attacked and occupied. The English were in a confused state. The Arabs were preparing to launch an attack on the bigger hill. The English would have lost the battle but for the brave and spirited attack of Captain Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s determined onslaught pushed the Maratha’s back and they broke in all directions. This infused new spirit in the English soldiers who were drooping from fatigue. A combined attack of the cavalry and infantry finally won the day for the English.(NPI., p. 422)

It was Manbhat and his Arabs who really fought well bringing victory within easy reach for the Maratha’s(Ibid, p. 423). But lack of concerted action and Appasaheb’s vacillation were mainly responsible for the defeat of the Maratha’s. Appasaheb in order to save himself pleaded to the Resident that all was done by Manbhat without his orders. Bakabai too towed his line. Thus, in war, Appasaheb proved to be a coward and in defeat acted most disgracefully. Manbhat, Ramcandra Vagh, Ganpatrav Subhedar and their supporters were against any talk of peace. When Doveton was preparing to-attack the city, Appasaheb walked into the protection of the Resident on 16-12-1817, at about 90’clock in the morning(Ibid, pp. 42.8-29). The masterless Marathas fought one more battle known as the battle of Sakkardara, only to lose(Ibid, p. 430). Manbhat with his Arabs and North Indian soldiers totalling 5,000, defended the city from behind the fort.

But he was helpless when the Arabs in a, divided state of mind were seduced by the English. They left. Nagpur on the 30th when the arrears of their pay were cleared. The Union Jack was hoisted on the old palace of the Bhosles on the same day. Poor Manbhat was arrested and later died in prison(NPI., p. 434).

Appasaheb signed a treaty on 6-1-1818 with the English in which he was bound by terms stricter than those of the subsidiary alliance. The terms of the treaty were: –

1. Appasaheb was to surrender the forts of Gavilgad, Narnala and the territory attached to them, along with the states of Sirguja and Jaspur.
2. The civil and military administration of Nagpur was to be conducted through the Resident.
3. Appasaheb was to stay in Nagpur under the supervision of the Resident.
4. Appasaheb was to pay the arrears of pay of the subsidiary army.
5. He was to surrender any fort which might be asked for by the English.
6. He should hand over all those who acted against his order in the war.
7. The Sitabuldi hills were to be surrendered to the English along with the neighbouring area they might ask for(Ibid, pp. 435-36).

This sealed the fate of Appasaheb as also of Nagpur once for all.

These terms of the treaty were ratified by the Governor General.

With the surrender of Appasaheb Bhosle the outlying posts of Jubbulpore, the forts of Sivani, Dhirud (south-east of Nagpur), Gavilgad, Cauragad. Narnala and Mandla fell to the English without much resistance. The fort of Mandla which was protected by the river Narmada offered resistance for sometime. But when its keeper Raya Hajari ran away the beleaguered force numbering 1,100 surrendered.(NPI., pp. 438-44)

After his surrender, Appasaheb was reinstated on his ancestral gadi and allowed to stay in the palace. For three months things appeared to move smoothly. On 19th February 1818 Bapu Gokhale the last great general of Bajirav fell fighting in the battle of Asta. Bajirav lost all hope of regaining his position and took to heels begging for help till his surrender to Malcolm. During his flight he was at Vasim for a while and then camped at Panharkavada. He was accompanied by Ganpatrav Subhedar one of the generals of Appasaheb. It was rumoured that Balrav would be joined by Appasaheb and both would march to Canda which was yet in the hands of its keeper Gangasingh. Jenkin’s suspicion that Appasaheb was in correspondence with Bajirav was strengthened when a letter from Appasaheb to Bajirav was intercepted by Elphinstone and sent to him(Ibid, p. 445). He at once arrested Appasaheb on 15-3-1818. Appasaheb along with Ramcandra Vagh and Nagopant was sent to Prayag, as his presence in Nagpur was considered dangerous.

The fort of Canda fell on 30th May 1818. Its keeper Ganga-singh fought desperately till he fell dead along with his trusted followers. (NPI., p. 473)

On his way to Prayag Appasaheb escaped from the English camp at Raicur on 13-5-1818. Hereafter began the long flight of Appasaheb.

Appasaheb took shelter in the Mahadev hills of Madhya Prades and was helped by Mohansilig Thakur of Panchmadhi and Cain Sah of Harai. A few petty Gond Kings too supported Appasaheb in his last days. The English forces under Adams, MacMorin and Scott combed out the Hills and arrested the Gond leaders. Mohansing and Cain Sah were taken into custody. Appasaheb made good for the fort of Asirgad, the gateway of the Deccan, on 1st February 1819. He was escorted by the Pendhari leader Cittu and his followers. Appasaheb was received into the fort by Yasvantrav Lad, its keeper. The fort was yet in the possession of the Sindes. It was admirably suited for defence. The English moved their men and material from Malva, Poona, Nagpur and Hyderabad. Prior to the surrender of the fort on 9th April of l819, Appasaheb had escaped towards Khairi Ghat to the north-west of Asirgad and taken shelter with a Brahmin at Burhanpur. From there Appasaheb travelled through the territory of the sindes, Holkars, Jaipur and Jodhpur begging for asylum and took shelter for sometime with Ranjit Sing. The Raja of Mandi gave Appasaheb protection for a short time. Finally Appasaheb was found with the Raja of Jodhpur. The Raja refused to hand over A Appasaheb to the English in keeping with the chivalrous traditions of the Rajputs. In 1829 Appasaheb’s wandering career came to an end and he spent the remaining part of his life as a guest-cum-royal prisoner at the court of Jodhpur. He died in l840(NPI., p.465).

During. his luckless days Appasaheb desperately moved from court to court begging for help. But he was too late. Had he shown sufficient courage and determination in the battle of Sitabuldi the chances of success were brighter. He let down his honest supporters like Manbhat and Ramcandra Vagh. In expecting aid from Bajrav, Appasaheb was leaning on a reed. After his confinement at Jodhpur nobody seems to have been really sorry for the unfortunate Appasaheb. In his flight his wife Umabai supplied him money secretly. His other wife Savitribai who was enjoying a pension at Nagpur did not go to him even after she came to know of his stay at Jodhpur.(Ibid, p. 466)

This article is part of MARATHA PERIOD (Complete History of Nagpur)