Colonel George Wymer (1788 – 1868), husband of my 4th great aunt Emily Crespigny Wymer née Hindes (see F is for Ferozepore and A Passage to India), was a colonel of the 27th Regiment of the Bengal Army. In 1840 he was attacked and robbed on the road between Ferozepore to Loodianah, a section of the Grand Trunk Road.

Rudyard Kipling has a marvellous description of this great highway in ‘Kim’ (1901). Kim is travelling with a lama. The speaker is an old soldier:

“And now we come to the Big Road,” said he, after receiving the compliments of Kim; for the lama was markedly silent. “It is long since I have ridden this way, but thy boy’s talk stirred me. See, Holy One—the Great Road which is the backbone of all Hind. For the most part it is shaded, as here, with four lines of trees; the middle road—all hard—takes the quick traffic. In the days before rail-carriages the Sahibs travelled up and down here in hundreds. Now there are only country-carts and such like. Left and right is the rougher road for the heavy carts—grain and cotton and timber, fodder, lime and hides. A man goes in safety here for at every few kos is a police-station. The police are thieves and extortioners (I myself would patrol it with cavalry—young recruits under a strong captain), but at least they do not suffer any rivals. All castes and kinds of men move here.

“Look! Brahmins and chumars, bankers and tinkers, barbers and bunnias, pilgrims and potters—all the world going and coming. It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood.”

And truly the Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle. It runs straight, bearing without crowding India’s traffic for fifteen hundred miles—such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world. They looked at the green-arched, shade-flecked length of it, the white breadth speckled with slow-pacing folk; and the two-roomed police-station opposite.

The robbery was reported the Asiatic Journal And Monthly Register of 1840:

Col. Wymer, of the 27th regt. was travelling from Ferozepore to Loodianah; when near Dummkot, a dozen or more fellows, in appearance Affghan apple-merchants, stopped his palanquin. The Colonel immediately dashed out with a walking stick, but was knocked down and pricked with their spears. The ruffians then helped themselves to a few articles, and threw away others with contempt; made him strip off his upper garments, to see if any valuables were concealed in them, and on being told that the Banghy petarrahs contained eatables, let them pass without examination. Col. Wymer lost a good deal of blood.

Hobson-Jobson the glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases explains some of the terms:

PALANQUIN, A box-litter for travelling in, with a pole projecting before and behind, which is borne on the shoulders of 4 or 6 men — 4 always in Bengal, 6 sometimes in the Telugu country.
a. A shoulder-yoke for carrying loads, the yoke or bangy resting on the shoulder, while the load is apportioned at either end in two equal weights, and generally hung by cords. The milkmaid’s yoke is the nearest approach to a survival of the bangy- staff in England. Also such a yoke with its pair of baskets or boxes. — (See PITARRAH).
b. Hence a parcel post, carried originally in this way, was called bangy or dawk-bangy, even when the primitive mode of transport had long become obsolete. “A bangy parcel” is a parcel received or sent by such post.
PITARRAH, A coffer or box used in travelling by palankin, to carry the traveller’s clothes, two such being slung to a banghy. The thing was properly a basket made of cane ; but in later practice of tin sheet, with a light wooden frame.

DAWK was transport by relays of men. To travel by palanquin one ‘lay a dawk‘ which was to order relays of bearers, or horses, to be posted on a road. As regards palankin bearers this used to be done either through the post-office, or through local chowdries (headman of a craft in a town, and more particularly to the person who is selected by Government as the agent through whom supplies, workmen, &c., are supplied for public purposes) of bearers.

George Dodd’s History of the Indian Revolt and of the Expeditions to Persia, China and Japan 1856 explained how the system worked:

There are so few good roads in India, that wheel-carriages can scarcely be trusted for any long distances. The prevailing modes of travel are on horseback or in a palanquin. … as it is almost impossible to travel on horseback during the heat of the day, the more expensive but more regular dâk is in greater request.
The dâk is a sort of government post, available for private individuals as for officials. A traveller having planned his journey, he applies to the postmaster of the district, who requires from one to three days’ notice, according to the extent of accommodation needed. The usual complement for one traveller consists of eight palkee-burdars or palanquin-bearers, two mussanjees or torch-bearers, and two bangey-burdars or luggage-porters: if less than this number be needed, the fact must be notified. The time and place of starting, and the duration and localities of the halts, must also be stated; for everything is to be paid beforehand, on the basis of a regular tariff. The charge is about one shilling per mile for the entire set of twelve men—shewing at how humble a rate personal services are purchasable in India. There is also an extra charge for demurrage or delays on the road, attributable to the traveller himself. For these charges, the postmaster undertakes that there shall be relays of dâk servants throughout the whole distance, even if it be the nine hundred miles from Calcutta to Delhi; and to insure this, he writes to the different villages and post stations, ordering relays to be ready at the appointed hours. The stages average about ten miles each, accomplished in three hours; at the end of which time the twelve men retrace their steps, and are succeeded by another twelve; for each set of men belong to a particular station, in the same way as each team of horses for an English stage-coach belongs to a particular town. ...
The palanquin, palankeen, or palkee, is a kind of wooden box opening at the sides by sliding shutters; it is about six feet in length by four in height, and is suspended by two poles, borne on the shoulders of four men. The eight bearers relieve one another in two gangs of four each. ...
On account of the weight, nothing is carried that can be easily dispensed with; but the traveller manages to fit up his palanquin with a few books, his shaving and washing apparatus, his writing materials, and a few articles in frequent use. The regular fittings of the palanquin are a cushion or bed, a bolster, and a few light coverings. The traveller’s luggage is mostly carried in petarrahs, tin boxes or wicker-baskets about half a yard square: a porter can carry two of these; and one or two porters will suffice for the demands of any ordinary traveller, running before or by the side of the palanquin. The petarrahs are hung, each from one end of a bangey or bamboo pole, the middle of which rests on the bearer’s shoulder. The torch-bearers run by the side of the palanquin to give light during night-travelling; the torch is simply a short stick bound round at one end with a piece of rag or a tuft of hemp, on which oil is occasionally dropped from a flask or a hollow bamboo; the odour of the oil-smoke is disagreeable, and most travellers are glad to dispense with the services of a second torch-bearer.
Palanquin from “The History of the Indian Revolt and of the Expeditions to Persia, China, and Japan 1856-7-8.” by George Dodd
Firozpur (formerly Ferozepore) is close to the present day border with Pakistan and 75 km to Lahore. Map shows the road from from Ferozepore to Loodianah and Dummkot (now known as Dharamkot) where Colonel Wymer was attacked.

Firozpur to Ludhiana (Loodianah) is more than 100 kilometers, a 25 hour walk. Dharamkot (Dummkot) is about half way. When I read about Wymer’s palanquin I thought it would have been silly to travel such a long way in a large carried box. Why not ride? After reading Dodd’s explanation of the system of relays of bearers and avoiding the heat by travelling overnight it makes more sense to me. I can understand why Colonel Wymer was not on horseback and why he had no escort.

Related posts and further reading

Wikitree: George Petre Wymer K.C.B. (1788 – 1868)