General Gerard Lake

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Gen. Gerard Lake

General Gerard Lake (27 July 1744 – 20 February 1808) was a British general. Indian historians have used the term Lord Lake for him. He commanded British forces during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and later, served as Commander-in-Chief of the military in British India.


Lord Lake entered the foot guards in 1758. He served with his regiment in Germany between 1760 and 1762, and with a composite battalion in the Battle of Yorktown (1781). In 1790, Lord Lake became a major-general, and in 1793 was appointed to command the Guards Brigade in the Duke of York and Albany's army in Flanders during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was in command at the successful Battle of Lincelles on 18 August 1793, and served on the continent until April 1794. In 1797 he was promoted as lieutenant-general.

Indian campaigns

In 1799, Lake travelled to British India where he was appointed Commander-in-Chief. He took up his duties at Calcutta in July 1801, and applied himself to the improvement of the East India Company army, especially in the direction of making all arms, infantry, cavalry and artillery, more mobile and more manageable. In 1802 he was made a full general.

On the outbreak the Second Anglo-Maratha War in 1803, General Lake took the field against Daulat Scindia, and within two months defeated the Marathas at Aligarh, after storming the Aligarh Fort (1 September 1803). He also fought a battle with Scindia who was completely broken with the loss of 31 disciplined battalions, trained and officered by Frenchmen, and 426 pieces of ordnance. This defeat compelled Scindia to come to terms, and a treaty was signed in December 1803.

Operations continued against Yashwantrao Holkar, who, on 17 November 1804, was defeated by Lake at the Battle of Farrukhabad. However, Lake was frustrated by Jats and Yashwantrao Holker at the Battle of Bharatpur which held out against five assaults early in 1805.[1] Cornwallis succeeded Lord Wellesley as Governor-General of India in July of that year – superseding Lake at the same time as commander-in-chief – and determined to put an end to the war. Cornwallis, however, died in October of the same year and Lake pursued Holkar into the Punjab. However, after seeing the stronger position of Holkar and his effort to gather all Indian princes under one flag against the British, the British East India Company signed a peace treaty with Holkar which returned to him all his territory and promised no further interference from the Company.

Lord Wellesley in a despatch attributed much of the success of the war to Lake's matchless energy, ability and valour. For his services, Lake received the thanks of British Parliament, and, in September 1804, was rewarded by being created Baron Lake of Delhi and Laswary and of Aston Clinton in the County of Buckingham.

From 1801 to 1805, Lake was Commander-in-Chief, India, and again from 1805 to 1807, as his successor John Graves Simcoe had died before heading off to India.

The Siege Of Bharatpur

The British bombardment started on 7 January 1805, and a breach was effected on 9 January. The first British assault took place that night, led by Col. Ryan, Maj. Hawkes, and Lt. Col. Maitland. The assault failed with 400 British casualties, including Maitland being mortally wounded. A second attack on 16 Jan was also thrown back, after the Marathas added water to their moat. British casualties were 500, including the assault leader, Lt. Col. MacRoy. However, Lake continued to receive supplies and reinforcements, including Maj. Gen. Jones' force of 1600. This helped Lake deal with Amir Khan, Holkar's general, who was raiding Bundelkhand. A third assault on 20 February also failed, as did a fourth assault the next day. British casualties for all four assaults were 3292. "The worst part of it was that many of the wounded were left behind where they had fallen. The defenders (Jats) sallied out from the fort and killed them.

Ranjit Singh decided to accept the British offer, and paid the British an indemnity, which allowed him to retain all his possessions, including Deeg. Caught between three British armies, led by Lake, Gen. Jones and Col. Ball, Holkar sent emissaries to Lake. A treaty was signed on 24 December 1805, in which he (Holkar) gave up any claim to Tonk, Rampura, and Bundi.[2]

Description by Ram Sarup Joon

Ram Sarup Joon[3] writes that ... Lord Lake in an effort to cause disunity, reminded Raja Ranjit Singh of the forgotten enmity with Marathas and his treaty with the British. But Ranjit Singh was a man of his words. He straight-away refused to surrender Holkar and took up the gauntlet thrown by the British Army with the opening of heavy Artillery fire.

On 7th Jan. 1805 Lord Lake explored every possible avenue to penetrate the fort. A large number of British officers and soldiers were killed in this action, the supply of rations and ammunition ran short and they failed in capturing the fort. They employed 5 inch and 7 inch guns but these did not make much impression on the thick mud walls. After two days, they succeeded in creating a break in the Southern Wall and the fort was charged by four Indian units and 1,500 British troops. The Jats repulsed this attack after inflicting heavy casualties. Colonel Maitland and 400 troops were killed. The British advanced for the third time and attacked the fort under the covering fire of heavy Artillery. The troops bravely crossed the mote and tried to scale the walls of the fort. As they came up, the Jats kept killing them till the mote was filled with dead bodies, General Smith and Col Meeker,

History of the Jats, End of Page-172

commanders of the British troops requested Lord Lake to sign a peace treaty with Jats but he did not consider it appropriate in the hope of getting fresh reinforcements from Bombay. The confederacy of Yashwant Rao Holkar, Amir Khan, Nawab of Rohilla and Ranjit Singh decided to teach a lesson to the foreigners.

They came out of the fort and started an open battle inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. The British launched a fierce attack on 11 Jan 1805 but again they were beaten back leaving behind 250 dead and 700 wounded. Lord Lake still insisted that bharatpur must be captured, otherwise it would be a disgrace to them. Fresh reinforcements arrived in the meantime from Madras and Bombay and fierce attacks were renewed. When British troops started scaling the walls of the fort, huge boulders were hurled on their heads and when they were in the mote. Inspite of all this some British soldiers succeeded in scaling the walls and a hand to hand fight ensued. Thus after suffering a loss of 1,000 soldiers, the British were forced to withdraw. About 3,000 had been killed and several thousand were injured by this time. The Jats opened artillery fire on the withdrawing enemy.

Lord Lake offered to have a peace treaty. Ranjit Singh was not keen to continue this war and agreed to the terms. The Jat ruler promised not to engage a European officer in his Army. One son of the ruler was to be on the staff of the Viceroy. The siege was lifted.

Reports mention that Jat Gunners in the fort of Deeg did not give up firing till their bodies were pierced like sieves with bayonets.

The third invasion was launched under Colonel Owen. The 73 British Regiment refused to attack. As Indian Regiment attacked most of them were killed by the Jats. The British soldiers were ordered to fall

History of the Jats, End of Page-173

in on parade and were badly humiliated.

All these details are given in "War and Sports of Indian and an Officers Diary" by June Western page 384.

On the occasion of the fourth invasion Raja Ranjit Singh was making a round of the fort with a wooden staff in his hand and encouraging his soldiers to fight on. "Brethern, it is your fort".

Each Jat soldier, would grab two soldiers and jump down from the fort ramparts.

The soldiers requested him to stay in the Command post but he refused remarking that bullets could strike only these for whom they were destined. Sergeant Ship writes that he fired at a Jat soldier six times from a distance of 60 yards but he never bowed his head or took shelter. An enemy soldier succeeded in planting the British flag on the fort wall. The Jats did not kill him but gave him shoe-beating and then threw him down in the mote along with his banner. The British guns became out of order due to excessive firing.

According to Colonel Nicholson in his book 'Native States of India' the policy adopted by Rajas of Bharatpur resulted in great financial loss to the Jats, but it earned name and fame for them. Ranjit Singh was followed by Randhir Singh, Baldev Singh, Balwant Singh, Yashwant Singh, Ram Singh, Srikrishan Singh and Brijendra Singh.

The fort of Bharatpur is the only fort in India which was never physically captured by the British.

External Links


  1. The fourth assault was on 20 February 1805 with a fifth assault the following day. The Gentleman's magazine (1805) Volume 75, Part 2, page 854
  3. History of the Jats/Chapter X,p. 172-174