The Origins of Gurkha Service to Britain

The Origins of Gurkha Service to Britain

After the formation of a unified Nepal in the mid-1700’s, the young Nepalese kingdom began to expand its territory through conquest. By the early 19th century it had managed to conquer the territories of Sikkim in the east and Gharwal and Kumaon in the west. Raids had also been made to the south into territory under the control of the Honourable East India Company, the British trading company which at the time controlled a large amount of northern and eastern India.

In response to these raids the Honourable East India Company organised an invasion of Nepal in 1814, aiming to reassert its control. Four columns of British and Indian troops marched north into Nepal in late 1814, with the main column being led by the British General Sir Robert Rollo Gillespie. Gillespie’s column reached the fortress named Kalunga in the foothills of Nepal, where they encountered around 800 Nepalese Gorkha soldiers.

Gillespie’s expectations were that his troops would quickly overwhelm the fortress’ defenders, but he became enraged when two frontal assaults were repelled by the skill and determination of the Gorkha defenders. Gillespie then led a third charge, which also failed, and during which he himself was killed.

Command of the invasion then passed to General David Ochterlony and Kalunga was put to siege. During the course of the months-long siege, both the British and Indian troops of the Honourable East India Company and the Gorkha defenders acknowledged the skill, bravery and respect of their opponents. Eventually the defenders ran short of supplies and managed to escape the fort in a breakout.

The Anglo-Nepal War continued until 1816, when a peace agreement was signed, known as the Treaty of Segauli. Even in the year prior to this, several British officers, noting the skill of the Gorkha soldiers, had begun to raise and recruit Gorkha units, thus dating the beginning of Gurkha recruitment into British service to 1815.

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