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Charles James William Grant was born in Bourtie, Aberdeenshire in 1861, the son of Lieutenant-General P. C. S. St. J. Grant, and was educated privately and at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was commissioned Lieutenant in the Suffolk Regiment on 10 May 1882, and joined the Madras Staff Corps in 1884. He initially served as a Wing Officer with the 5th Madras Native Infantry and was attached to the 12th Madras Native Infantry for the expedition against King Thebaw in Upper Burma, 1885-87, before transferring to the 12th Madras Native Infantry on 1 June 1890.


Coup and Treachery at Manipur


In the autumn of 1890 the semi-independent state of Manipur, lying in the hill country between India and Burma, was governed by a Maharajah subject to the control of a British Resident. Dissatisfied with these arrangements, the Senapati, or Commander-in-Chief, led a palace coup, deposing the Maharajah and installing one of his own brothers on the throne. Although considerable freedom was granted to the native states in the management of their own affairs, this rebellious act called for the involvement of the Governor-General of India who at once instructed the Chief Commissioner of Assam, James Wallace Quinton, to go to Manipur with a body of troops and settle the matter on the merits of the case.


Mr Quinton arrived at the Residency in Manipur accompanied by 400 Gurkhas under the command of Colonel Skene on 22 March 1891 and, having decided on the arrest and banishment of the Senapati, invited him to a meeting at the Residency for the purposes of executing his capture. Suspecting the trap, however, the native chief declined to attend on account of ill-health and Quinton then, unwisely given the circumstances, resolved to seize him in his palace. Upon attacking and entering the palace on 24 March, it was discovered that the Senapati had fled and fighting ensued, continuing all day. The British forces finally withdrew, retiring on the Residency which they held under a heavy fire for several hours. With ammunition running critically low, Quinton decided to pursue a truce with the Senapati and so together with Frank Grimwood – the Resident, Colonel Skene and several officers he agreed to go to the palace unarmed for the purposes of negotiating a settlement. What exactly occurred at the palace is not known but the talks failed and the British party were later murdered, with Grimwood reportedly being speared to death. The remaining British officers and the Resident’s wife Mrs Ethel Grimwood effecting an escape from the Residency in the dead of night, eventually reached the safety of a British outpost several miles away.


Grant’s Relief Column – Assault on Thobal


As news of the disaster in Manipur reached the British, Lieutenant C. J. W. Grant, 2nd Burma Infantry, commanding the detachment at Tammu, some 60 miles to the south-east of Manipur, immediately volunteered to rescue the supposed prisoners, and having received permission to advance, left early on 28 March with thirty men of the 43rd Gurkha Rifles and fifty men of the 12th Madras Infantry.


The little column, with no artillery, three elephants and a few ponies had only advanced 7 miles before they were under fire. This was to prove sporadic but continual throughout the rest of the day culminating in the discovery of a road block made out of felled trees and twisted wire ropes, ‘Taking twenty men, he [Grant] passed beyond the obstacles, which the Gurkhas with kookris began to clear away. The Manipuris were on the hill above... The twenty men on their way up the hillside fired 40 or 50 shots, and then rushed the position from the flank. It proved to be a shelter trench 90 yards long and was held by 150 men. These, in their flight, left some guns and accoutrements behind them.’ (Manipur, a narrative, refers).


At length, after a toilsome march of two days, Grant’s men reached Palel which the enemy had garrisoned with large numbers and a stubborn resistance was expected. Instead, the Manipuris were routed and forced to flee, with Grant pursuing them for three miles and taking three prisoners. One of the latter informed him that Quinton’s party had been executed, ‘I did not like the news much, but I did not believe it. I considered the matter, and arguing that if the military authorities wished me to return they could easily recall me by a messenger from Tammu, I decided to push on. I thought I might find a fort of some kind in which I could entrench myself, leave my baggage and transport under a small guard, and go out with the rest of my men, taking plenty of ammunition. In that way I believed I might afford help to the prisoners.’ (Ibid)


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