Masonic Cipher Message
At Cawnpore, India, in July, 1857, occurred the massacre of hundreds of men, women and children. Of this butchery there is a pathetic record in the message of a Masonic character that was written on the wall of the Chamber of Blood. This inscription appearing in a recent issue of the Controlling Officers' Journal, was reprinted in the Transactions, Leicester Lodge of Research, 1912-3 (page 107) and as the Masonic cipher was not understood an invitation was extended the Craft to submit a clue to its meaning (see Cipher Writing).
Brother W. John Songhurst offered in reply the comment that the reproduction corresponded fairly with a photograph in his possession. But there were one or two small differences proving that they were not taken direct from the same original. For instance, the photograph shows that a blot had been erased at the word hands, and that an alteration had been made at the word Post which looks as though it had been first written Past. It is headed "The writing on the Wall in Sir H. Wheeler's Room." Brother Songhurst had been able to trace other copies, all having many features in common, but none corresponding exactly, and with some the differences are important. He proceeded in Transactions, 19134 (pages 71F83) to discuss the circumstances thus: At the outbreak of the Mutiny in May, 1857, Major General Sir Hugh Wheeler was in command of the Cawnpore division of the Indian Army. He at once ordered entrenchments to be constructed, and by the 21st of May these were occupied by the women and nonconubatants. It is stated that there were about one thousand Europeans in the town, of whom n ore than half were women and children. In a letter written by General Wheeler on 1st June, he says, "I have left my house, and am residing day and night in my tent."
On the 6th of June the siege commenced, and the defenders gallantly held out for three weeks. The attack was led by the adopted son of the former chief of the Mahrattas, known in history as Nana Sahib, whose claims to succession the British Government had refused to recognize. General Wheeler had with him his wife, who was of mixed blood, his son and two daughters. The son, Lieutenant Wheeler, was his Aide-de-Camp, and being severely wounded during the siege, he was carried to a room in the barracks. Here, in the presence of the whole family--father, mother and sisters--he was killed by a cannon-ball, winch, entering the building, took off his head.
On the 26th of June, Captain Moore, Captain Whiting and Mr. Roche, the postmaster, went from the trenches to arrange for capitulation, and eventually received the promise of safe conduct for all to Allahabad. Preparations were quickly made. Sepoys accompanied the fugitives to the banks of the river, but even before all were embarked in the boats, a murderous musket-fire was opened upon them, and according to one account, only four men escaped. It seems certain that General Wheeler, his wife and elder daughter were among the killed. About one hundred and twenty-five women and children were carried back to Cawnpore, including the general's youngest daughter, who was taken by one of Nana's troopers some say by Nana himself, and died a natural death in Nepal some years afterwards. The others were put into two rooms, about twenty feet by ten feet each, in a small building formerly occupied by a native clerk, close to Nana's house. Meanwhile General Havelock was hurrying to the relief.
He arrived on the 16th of July, only to find that all the prisoners had been massacred by Nana's orders, and hurled, dead and dying, into a well. sir George Trevelyan in his Cawnpore, published in 1865, says that this took place "within call of the theater, the assembly-rooms and the Masonic Lodge." Other accounts from which I have taken these particulars are The Story of Cawnpore, London, 1859, by Captain Mowbray Thomson, and A Personal Narrative of the Outbreak and Massacre at Cawnpore, Lucknow, 1879, by W. J. Shepherd. Both of these men escaped from the garrison. Thomson swam from the boats and managed to land lower down the river; Shepherd went out disguised during the siege, and was not able to return until after Havelock's occupation of the town. The cipher inscription is not mentioned in either of these narratives but Shepherd says that during the siege both he and Captain Seppings wrote messages upon the walls of the barracks in pencil. There were two barracks within the entrenchments. One is described as the Thatched Barrack, and it was burned down by the rebels. The other was called the Masonry Barrack, or the Flat-roofed Barrack, and it seems that it was in this building General Wheeler had his quarters, and in which his son was killed. Seppings was also in the Masonry Barrack, and wrote as follows:
"The following were in this barrack on 11th June, 1857, Captain Seppings, Mrs. Ditto, 3 children, Mrs. Wainwright, Ditto infant, Mr. Cripps, Mrs. Halliday."
Shepherd's inscription in the Thatched barrack was: " Should this meet the eves of any who were acquainted with us, in case we are all destroyed, be it known to them that we occupied this room for eight davs under circumstances so distressing as have no precedent. The destruction of Jerusalem could not have been attended with distress as severe as we have experienced in so short a time. W. J. Shepherd (wounded in the back), his wife and two children, Rebecca and her infant, Elnelina, Martha, old Mrs. Frost, Mrs. Osborne, Daniel, The Khoorranee, Conductor Bethell, his wife and daughter, together with other friends. 11th June, 1857." The writing in cipher was first brought to Masonic notice in May, 1862, by a copy in the Indian Freemason's Friend, the correspondent asking if any reader could furnish an explanation. This brought a letter signed " Tatnai," dated from Lucknow, 27th July, in which it is said, that the inscription is "in many parts a string of characters devoid of significance." This fact " Tatnai" attributes to errors made by the original writer, to errors made by the copyist, and to chips of whitewash having fallen from the wall, before the copy was made. He then gives the cipher portion of the writing as it had appeared in the Journal, and adds a suggested restoration. The letter mentions "the few lines signed by J. W. Roche, just above R. A. B. Johnstone " written in plain English, and says that these include the words "nasty wound," which in a copy of his possession were written " mortally wounded." These particulars about Roche (called also Roach and Roache) do not appear in the photograph, but we find them in a copy made by R. MacCrea, of the 0. and R. Railway dated 20th July, 1887. Shepherd mentions that Roche had been wounded four times in the entrenchments, but they were only flesh wounds. He was killed on 27th of June. The same journal also printed a translation of the cipher, made by Colonel E. K. Money, which is as follows:
"Dear Jesus send His help soon and deliver us not into the enemy's hands. The General's daughter is in this corner. May God reward them according to the bloody deeds done to this innocent girl. This is the corner General Wheeler occupied in his distress. The General's wife is in this corner. The P.M. in this.This is the place where two soldiers (unintelligible) Remember the innocent."
As both of the General's daughters survived the siege there must be some mistake in this translation, on which a critic, possibly " Tatnai " himself, writes: " Colonel Money has misinterpreted the gender of the symbol, it was the general's son who was wounded, when a cannonball. in passing through the room, carried away the head of lieutenant Wheeler in the presence of his parents and sisters. Colonel Mowbray Thomson states this . . . and Colonel Williams, the special Commissioner, states that Lady Wheeler and her two daughters were brought down to the Ghaut on an elephant. One of the daughters was carried away by a Sowar. The remark 'unintelligible' . . . must refer to the spot where the two soldiers laid Lieutenant Wheeler down. Mr. Shepherd says that the two daughters occupied the adjoining room when he saw the General on the 24th June, 1S57."
I have mentioned that MacCrea's printed leaflet is dated July 1887- It purports to have been "copied by W. J. Shepherd in July, 185d," and it contains the following which I have not found elsewhere, though in part it is referred to by "Tatnai":
"T. B. Roach wounded in right foot, shin bone fractured by shell, knee cap fractured, musket shot behind, nasty wound, musket shot in right breast. 9 th June, 1857. Adjutant Halliday, With N. I-, killed by a round shot, 9th June, 1857."
Only three lines of cipher are given, and these with all else which could not be printed in type, are inserted with pen and ink. Some notes are added, but they are not reliable as they contain, for instance, the statement that the translation by (Colonel Money appeared in the Masonic Herald for 1808, while as a matter of fact that periodical was not in existence until about l870, and as I have said, the translation was printed in the Indian Freemasons Friend in 1862. While I cannot say that I am satisfied with Colonel Money's translation, I am not able to supply another. The absence of the original writing, or an authoritative copy, renders any serious attempt at deciphering practically impossible. We do not even know for certain where it was written. If, as seems most likely, it was on a wall in the Thatched Barrack, it could scarcely have referred to General Wheeler and his family, and we know that this building was burned during the siege; while the Masonry Barrack in which General Wheeler had his quarters, was destroyed soon after Havelock's entry. "Tatnai," writing within five years of the massacre, says that the building was not then in existence, and his suggestion is that the writer had concealed something in a certain place, and hoped that after his death some Brother might be able to recover it.
There were two English Lodges at Cawnpore at the time--Sincerity, constituted in 1819 and erased in 1858 and Harmony, constituted in 1836, which still exists as No. 438. It seems likely that Johnston may have been the Master of Sincerity, but unfortunately no names were registered at Grand Lodge after 1845. Shepherd mentions a Mr. A. R. Johnston, of the E. I. Railway, who with his wife and children was killed during the siege. James Williamson Roche, postmaster, was initiated in Harmony in December, 1806, and his is the only name I am able to trace in the lists at Freemasons' Hall. It is quite possible that the Brother who wrote the cipher was a Scotch Mason. The devie eat the head undoubtedly indicates the Red Cross of Babylon, which the second line ends with letters referring to the same Degree (Red Cross Knight), and one would not expect this to have been put forward prominently, in an English Lodge, at so late a date.
On the other hand a Scotch Master would probably have been described as R.W.M. The interlaced triangles which appear sometimes at the foot, and sometimes in the center of the copies, may be taken as referring to the Royal Arch, but it is not impossible that they may also indicate the key to the cipher. Colonel Money's translation seems to imply that the prayer was also written in cipher, while MacCrea's version points to a sense of inscriptions in the form of a diary, or record of events, during the siege, and Shepherd's statements rather bear out this view. It may be merely a coincidence that on the 17th of June, the date given on the photograph, a daughter of Shepherd was killed by a chance musket shot. If Colonel Money was right in his translation of "daughter" there is just a possibility that this u the incident referred to. In any case it seems that the mystery will not be cleared up, unless and until we have before us a correct copy of the writing as it originally appeared Only one thing can be stated with certainty: that it had no reference whatever to either of the two massacres but to occurrences which took place before the attempted escape by the boats.
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