The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

published - Chapter IV 'Detailed Report on the Naga Hills Expedition of 1878-80', Capt. P.J. Maitland

caption: Colonel Sherriff reaches Kohima; difficulties with coolies
medium: reports
person: Sherriff/ Col.Nation/ Brig. Gen.Chambers/ Maj.Kennedy/ Sir Michael
date: 19.1.1880
person: Maitland/ Capt. P.J.
date: 1880
person: India Office Library, London
refnum: IOR L/MIL/17/18/24
text: On the 19th January Colonel Sherriff with the head quarters of the 42nd Assam Light Infantry reached Kohima. The General had now been reinforced by detachments amounting to a battalion, but still found himself unable to assume the offensive against the Nagas in the Chaka Forts, with any degree of vigour, owing to his being entirely dependent for transport on coolies locally obtained from "friendly" Nagas. The supply of this sort of labour was not only uncertain, but those employed gave information of every intended movement to the enemy, and invariably deserted on the march, unless most carefully watched and guarded. As usual in all our wars and expeditions the military question had become almost entirely one of transport, and this was perfectly recognised by the Government of India and by the Commander-in-Chief. Both were equally anxious to see organised a coolie corps for service in the Naga Hills, as had been intended by his Excellency at the commencement of operations.
text: The Quarter Master General in India had telegraphed to Brigadier General Nation on the 31st December to ask what his arrangements were for obtaining supplies, and whether any organised service, on the stage system, existed from the base upward. The General's reply, dated Kohima, 5th January, was as follows:-
text: " All arrangements have been made for forwarding supplies to Piphima by stage system. Thence political officer guaranteed Naga Labour, the supply of which is scarce and precarious, and which, in my opinion, will not be sufficient to throw six months' supplies for 1,000 souls into country before the rains, as new station and accomodation for troops have to be built and roads opened, and all resources of country will be required for these purposes. I therefore strongly recommend that a coolie corps of at least five hundred men be enlisted and sent up immediately, under experienced officers, to work the transport of supplies as long as necessary." The General also described in a letter of the same date the transport arrangements from Golaghat to Piphima (See Appendix A.) which had been under the management of the Commissariat officer since 1st December, and were working well. He added that the supply (50) of Naga labour guaranteed by Colonel Johnstone had quite failed; that he had been obliged to bring up some Mikir and Khasia coolies from the stage between Nichi and the Zumha river to Piphima, to supply pressing necessities; and that he feared some disaster, unless a coolie corps, to render the force independent of Naga labour, was organised forthwith. ( No.7, Field Operations-Transport, Camp Kohima, 5th January 1880.)
text: His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief accordingly caused a scheme ( See Appendix A.) for the organisation of a coolie corps to be laid before the Government of India, whose sanction was in due course accorded. The proposals made by the Commander-in-Chief were based on the experiences of the Duffla and Lushai expeditions. The corps was to consist of six hundred men, one hundred more than General Nation had proposed, in order to allow a good margin for casualties. The coolies were to be supplied with warm clothing on the Duffla scale, and free rations on the Kabul scale. Major Chambers was appointed Commandant of the Corps and Transport Staff Officer to the General. It was also proposed that the Bengal Government should be asked to enlist the coolies, as the pressure on the North Western Provinces and the Punjab to supply men, both soldiers and followers, for the Afghan war, was already great. General Nation particularly wished certain classes only of coolies, such as those who work in the Assam tea gardens, to be enlisted, as he did not consider the ordinary inhabitants of the plains fit for the purposes of the expedition.
text: There being, however, considerable difficulty in getting men of the right sort, the Controller General of Transport proposed to substitute two hundred ponies for the six hundred coolies, and, owing to a misunderstood communication, Sir Michael Kennedy actually purchased the ponies. In the meantime the question of ponies versus coolies was in course of being referred to General Nation, who expressed himself content with the substitution, provided the road between Piphima and Kohima could be made practicable for baggage animals. At that moment it was not practicable, and the General considered that ten to fifteen days's labour would be necessary to put in order. But the great difficulty was to procure labour for this or any other purpose. The General also pointed out that at least two hundred coolies were required as equipment for the troops, apart from any establishments on the line of communication; for no pack animals could be used off the road, and a certain number of coolies was absolutely necessary to enable his troops to move about the country, and undertake expeditions.
text: It was finally settled that the transport train should consist of three hundred ponies and two hundred coolies; but owing to the time taken in correspondence, and other delays, no portion of it reached the front before the conclusion of operations. ( See Appendix A.)