Thug Or A Million Murders by Colonel James L. Sleeman Preface


IT IS impossible to read about Thuggee without speculating as to the total number of murders committed by the Thugs before their suppression. To establish this with any degree of accuracy would be difficult, for even an ordinary murderer is reticent concerning his occupation, and the Thug was the most secretive of any. Fortunately, however, we need have no recourse to any other sources of information than the Thugs themselves, to establish .the fact that they must have assassinated a total of considerably over a million people, probably nearer three millions than one. As has been shown in these pages, the Thugs, captured between 1829 and 1856, themselves confessed to the murders they had committed, or had taken part in, or were given away by approvers. This total alone ran into many hundreds of thousands of victims, killed within the lifetime of the Thugs interrogated by Sir William Sleeman. But his investigations were carried further, for the Thugs were as proud of the prpwess of their ancestors in Thuggee as we are to-day concerning famous deeds of those from whom we are descended. As a consequence, family tradition made it possible to calculate accurately the murders which had been committed by the fathers, grandfathers, and even greatgrandfathers of the Thugs captured during Sir William's operations. Knowing the pride of the Thug concerning his family's reputation for murder, once it stood revealed to the world, "Thuggee" Sleeman took particular pains to check each confession not only in order to test the accuracy of his witnesses, but also to prevent the presentation of an exaggerated case, and by this means arrived at an approximate estimate of the total number of murders committed by the Thugs during the three hundred years of their known existence.

This is fortunate, for many a man entrusted with such a difficult task would have been content to have caught those engaged in murder, caring nothing for past history, while it need scarcely be added that, for obvious reasons, no family archives existed of the members of this horrible religion of murder, from which it would be possible now-- a hundred years later--to glean this information. We are, however, assisted in this enquiry by yet another fact, the curiously level standard maintained by Indian statistics in regard to such matters--one abnormally constant and thus a sufficient check in itself to extravagant exaggeration. Taking, for example, the number of people estimated as having been killed by wild animals and snakes in India over a long course of years, this number will be found to be between 31,000 and 33,000 annually, a variation of but a few hundreds occurring in these figures of awful tragedy, which not even modern civilisation has succeeded in reducing to any considerable extent. And let it be clearly recognised that no savage animal or poisonous reptile ever created was capable of killing on a more wholesale scale than the Thug at his best.

It is difficult enough to obtain exact information concerning three centuries of existence of even reputable organisations : with a religion of murder depending for its existence upon strict secrecy it is impossible; and we are, therefore, forced to base our judgment of the loss Thuggee inflicted upon the law of averages. In this we are assisted by such excellent authority as- the "History of the Administration 234 THUG

of the East India Company, 1853," by John William Kaye, in which the following passage occurs:--

"There are truths not to be arrived at except by long and patient induction. There are secrets buried deep beneath the surface which is a work of time and toil to extricate from the deceptive clay which clings around them. Institutions, purposely veiled in darkness, of a strange, mysterious, almost incredible character, were likely to have escaped the notice of the European eye. It was long before, we suspected the systematic war against life and property which had been carried on for years in almost every part of the country from Oude to the Carnatic. It was long before we could bring ourselves to understand that organised bands of professional and hereditary murderers and depredators, recognised and indeed to a certain extent tolerated by their fellow men, were preying upon the uninitiated and unwary sections of society, and committing the most monstrous crimes with as much forethought and ingenuity as though murder were one of the fine arts, and robbery a becoming effort of human skill; nay, indeed, glorying in such achievements, as welcome to the deity, and bringing them to perfection with a due observance of all the ceremonial formalities of a cherished religious faith.

"But in time we began to understand these things. We obtained a clue and we followed it up, until the hideous mystery was brought out into the clear light of day. There is not an intelligent reader at the present time who does not know what a Thug is. The word, indeed, had been adopted into our own language, and has been applied to other depredators than those who -worship the Goddess Davi. It is well known that a Thug is a professional murderer. We found the Thugs carrying on their fearful trade, and as soon as we came to understand them we made war upon, and struck them down. The servants of the East India Company have extirpated Thuggee. It is an exploit worthy to be celebrated by every writer who undertakes to chronicle the achievements of the English in the East, one which it is impossible to dwell upon without pleasure and pride."

A correspondent in the Thuggee Department wrote me a few years ago: "In India hundreds of thousands disappear in a year or two without the most distant clue, but Than-nadar's reports, to ascertain whether they have not been foully murdered. Villagers have assured me that, to their own certain knowledge, scores of men murdered by robbers or in affrays have been reported dead of cholera, snakebites, etc. It is not easy to arrive at a correct estimate of the number of people murdered annually by the Thugs." A native newspaper (The Sumachar Durpan), of great respectability, in 1833 declared that "One hundred Thugs slaughter on an average eight hundred persons in a month." "It is not, therefore," added the writer, "going beyond the truth to affirm that, between the Nerbudda and the Sutlej, the number murdered every year is not less than ten thousand." The writer calculates that within these limits a hundred Thugs were always out on their murderous expeditions--probably many more were so employed. And this calculation only relates to a certain tract of country."

The opinion of such an able and impartial historian carries considerable weight in making an approximate calculation of the toll of human life taken by Thuggee. For this dependable Indian journal estimated that the two rivers, Nerbudda and Sutlej, witnessed 10,000 murders annually. This was a century ago, when Thuggee was being slowly throttled and when every opportunity existed for ascertaining the true facts: hence it is quite clear that this was considered a conservative estimate. Now the area defined by this journal represents less than one-fourth of India, so, as Thuggee extended throughout that continent, it may safely be assumed that on this basis alone forty thousand people fell to the Thug ruhmal every year, possibly in its heyday fifty thousand would be .nearer the mark. Staggering as these awful figures may seem, such is the wealth of human life in India that this toll would seem a mere flea bite, for wild animals and snakes still annually account for almost as many.

For the purpose of arriving at a correct estimate, however, we will not assume fifty thousand a year, nor yet forty or thirty, but content ourselves with the number estimated by the Sumachar Durpan as occurring in this one small area a hundred years ago, namely 10,000. Neither shall we assume this to be the annual toll of three hundred years of killing, but the most modest estimate of 10,000 Thug victims a year for a hundred years. In other words, in order to err on the side of caution and to avoid the least trace of exaggeration, the estimate of a million murders is based upon one-fourth of the area of the country over which the Thugs operated, and for one-third of the period only during which this hideous faith is known to have existed.

After prolonged research in all the Thuggee records available to him, the author is convinced that a mere million murders is very considerably below the true figures, and is unkind to the memory of Thugs who gloried in their crimes and boasted of their murders. The shade of that arch-scoundrel Buhram, with almost a thousand murders to his credit alone, appears to rise up and accuse him of belittling what Thuggee could do, backed by a succession of his ancestors, no doubt equally as skilful, capable, and dexterous human devils.

But the object of this book has not been to revel in the horrors of Thuggee, but to show what it was: to reveal the awful burden it had inflicted upon India, and how this was lifted from the shoulders of a suffering people by British rule and courageous Englishmen. We will try the Thug on the major charge, and let the few millions of murders we suspect but cannot prove, go by. To many Thuggee is unknown and their million murders will seem incredible, but a moment's reflection will show not a probability, but a certainty that Thuggee inflicted this loss at least before it was suppressed. The Sumachar Durpan estimated that a hundred Thugs slaughtered on an average eight times that number in a month--that is, eight murders to each Thug in thirty days, which, judging from the established records and the evidence given by Thugs when arrested, would seem a reasonable assumption. We will leave the achievements of the Thug ancestors, that long chain of sanguinary links stretching back into antiquity, and will concentrate upon those Thugs discovered by Sir William Sleeman and his assistants, from first to last of the operations never more than a dozen in total numbers, in order to remove any trace of doubt as to their ability as wholesale killers of men. Between the time when the suppression of Thuggee began in 1830, and the handing over of the charge of the Department of Thugee by Sir William to his nephew, some 4,500 Thugs had been arrested. At eight victims to a fully-qualified Thug per working month, assuming that a Thug's active life was thirty years, and that the average length of his annual Thuggee expedition was two months, a little calculation gives a total per Thug of over 400 victims.

However incredible such a huge total may seem at first sight, the fact remains that many Thugs confessed to far more than that number of murders--some to considerably over twice that amount, for the Thug, as has been shown, gloried in his bag and was indiscriminate in the slaughter of his fellow-men. And, for the purpose of this estimate, it matters little whether they were all active members of Thuggee gangs, or Thugs in embryo, for, sooner or later, all would have engaged in this impious but hereditary duty. And doubtless fond Thug wives and mothers parted with their murderous spouses and sons with anguish made the more bitter by the knowledge that no womb 238 THUG

would ever again bear a Thug, no woman bring into the world a child destined from birth to murder his fellows for sport and robbery. Thuggee was like a building alight in five thousand places: to extinguish all save one would have seen the conflagration burst into flames again with redoubled fury. All honour to those who recognised this danger and suppressed it firmly.

To quote from Mr. James Mutton's book, "A popular Account of the Thug and Dacoit," published in 1857:--

"It was not until 1829-30 that the task of suppression was fairly commenced. The honour of the initiative was reserved for Lord William Bentinck, who passed certain Acts rendering Thuggee the object of a special judicature, and giving a wider discretion to the officers employed in its suppression. His lordship was fortunate in his selection of special officers. It is needless to do more than mention the names of the late Major-General Sir William Sleeman, K.C.B., Colonel Borthwick, Colonel Stewart, Captain Paton, Captain Malcolm, Captain G. Rollings and Mr. F. C. Smith. The best proof of the ability and energy displayed by these gentlemen is the fact that by the year 1840 the committals amounted to 3,689. Of this number, 466 were hanged, 1,504 transported, 933 imprisoned for life, 81 confined for different periods, 86 called upon to give ample security for their future good conduct, 97 acquitted, and 56 admitted as approvers. Twelve effected their escape, and 208 died a natural death before sentence was passed.

"In the course of the next seven years, 531 more Thugs were apprehended and committed for trial. Of these, 33 were hanged, 174 transported, 267 imprisoned for life and 27 for shorter periods, 5 called upon to put in bail, 125 acquitted, and 46 admitted as approvers; besides n who died and 2 who made their escape. It was no easy matter to prevent the last contingency, so great was their patience and ingenuity. Towards the close of 1834, twenty-seven escaped from the Jubbulpore gaol by cutting through their irons and the bars of their windows with thread smeared with oil and then encrusted with finely powdered stone. In 1848 also there were 120 committed, of whom 5 were hanged, 24 transported, n imprisoned for life and 31 for a limited period, 7 required to find substantial bail, 12 acquitted, and 9 admitted as approvers; 2 died and 10 remained under trial.

"Since that year Thuggee appears to have quite died out. In 1853, indeed, some cases occurred in the Punjab, but vigorous measures being at once adopted, under the superintendence of Captain Sleeman (afterwards Colonel James Sleeman, C.B.), whose happy lot it was to complete the good work inaugurated by his distinguished uncle, its final suppression was almost coincident with its revival. The question that next presented itself for the anxious consideration of the Government was the means of providing for the families of the approvers. If left to their own devices, or the suggestions of want, there was too much reason to apprehend that the elder members, who had already witnessed the taking of human life, might be tempted to revert to the practices of their forefathers. Accordingly, in the year 1838 (on the recommendation of Sir William Sleeman and Captain Charles Brown), a school of industry was founded at Jubbulpore, for the purpose of teaching the sons of the approvers a trade or craft by which they might earn an honest livelihood. At first their parents were opposed to the idea, but soon joyfully acquiesced when they came to understand the benevolent motives of the Government. For a time the old Thugs continued to speak with animation of their past achievements, but, gradually weaned from their former habits and associations, they learned to look back with shame upon their antecedents and studiously avoided any further allusion to them. By the end of 1847 the school possessed 850 inmates, of whom 307 were employed as guards, brickmakers, builders, cleaners, etc., while the remaining 543 applied their superior ingenuity to the manufacture of lac dye, sealing wax, blankets, druggets, fine cloth, tape, cotton wicks, stockings, gloves, towels, tents and carpeting. In that year the products of their labour mounted to 131 tents, 3,324 yards of Kidderminster carpeting, 46 woollen carpets, and a vast quantity of towels, table cloths, plaids, checks, etc., which realised upwards of £3,500. Of this sum £500 was given to the Thugs as an encouragement, and to form a capital for such as were allowed after a time to establish themselves in Jubbulpore on their own account. And nearly £300 was paid to their wives for spinning thread for the factory.

"Let British supremacy in India cease when it will, the suppression of Thuggee will ever remain a glorious monument to the zeal, energy and judgment of the civil and military servants of the East India Company. It is easy to direct epigram and innuendo against the idea of a body of merchants ruling a vast empire with enlightened and disinterested beneficence. But the impartial student of Anglo-Indian history can readily adduce many such examples as the preceding--for instance, the suppression of suttee, human sacrifices, and infanticide; the repression of torture, gang robberies, and voluntary mutilation--in order to prove that these merchants were truly princes, these traffickers the honourable of the earth."

Thug Or A Million Murders by Colonel James L. Sleeman Preface