xxxxxThe Indian Mutiny or Sepoy Rebellion broke out Meerut in May 1857, and within a matter of weeks had spread across northern and central India. Led by sepoys (Indian soldiers serving with the East India Company), the cities of Delhi, Agra and Cawnpore were seized, and the garrison at Lucknow was besieged. The uprising was initially caused by the issue of rifle cartridges which had been greased with fat from the cow and the pig -
THE INDIAN MUTINY OR SEPOY REBELLION
Mutiny: engraving by the Scottish painter George McCulloch (active 1859-
xxxxxThe Indian Mutiny -
xxxxxThe revolt broke out at the military station of Meerut after 83 sepoys of the 3rd (Bengal) Light Cavalry refused to use what they regarded as offensive cartridges. Their ill-
xxxxxBy July, however, the tide had begun to turn in favour of the British, helped by the fact that none of the leading Indian princes had joined the mutineers, the Sikhs and the Gurkhas had remained loyal to the British, reinforcements had begun to arrive, and southern India had taken no part in the uprising. Furthermore, despite their fervour, the rebels lacked a national leader, hindered above all by the clash of interest between Hindu and Muslim. Troops were despatched to retake Delhi and Cawnpore (Kanpur on map) -
xxxxxThe mutiny itself was marked by widespread atrocities on both sides, many involving the murder of women and children and the shooting of prisoners in cold blood. In Meerut, for example, the sepoys killed every European they found, and there were particularly violent massacres at Delhi, Jhansi and Peshawar. At Cawnpore the entire garrison was granted a safe passage down the Ganges to Allahabad, but all were massacred once they had left the city. And the vengeance wreaked upon the captured rebels and those who were deemed to have supported them was likewise barbaric. Thousands were killed by “hanging parties”, many without trial, and hundreds of sepoys were bayoneted or lashed to the muzzle of a cannon and shot to pieces. The only leader to emerge on the rebel side was Nana Sahib, the adopted son of the deposed Maratha chief. He assumed command of the sepoys in July 1857, but was defeated in battle and driven into Nepal. He was never seen again. Bahadur Shah II, aged 82, was exiled to Burma (Myanmar) with his family and died there.
xxxxxThe immediate result of the mutiny was the India Act of August 1858. This transferred control of the sub-
The India Act 1858
xxxxxIn order to avoid a repetition of so violent an uprising, changes were also made or moderated in the government’s attitude towards the Indian peoples. A more conciliatory policy was introduced, based on a greater degree of consultation, and this was to be seen at work in the new council of 1861. This led to a more sensitive, tolerant attitude towards the people’s customs and traditions, though western institutions and standards continued to be introduced as the opportunity arose. But for many Indians the mutiny was seen as their first war of independence. In 1885 the Indian National Congress was formed, a movement which was later to be led by the great leader for Indian independence, Mahatma Gandhi. In the meantime, the British continued to govern, and in 1876 (Vb) Queen Victoria was proclaimed empress of India, then seen as the brightest jewel in the imperial crown.
xxxxxIncidentally, the British general Robert Cornelius Napier (1810-
xxxxx…… Thex“Relief of Lucknow”, shown above, was the work of the English painter of military scenes Thomas Jones Barker (1815-
xxxxx…… In his Cawnpore of 1865, the English historian George Otto Trevelyan gives an account of the massacre of the garrison after it left the city with a promise of safe passage. ……
xxxxx…… It was during the Indian Mutiny that a number of British regiments dyed their red tunics a muddy tan as a means of camouflage. This khaki colour -
xxxxx…… The mutiny of 1857 was not the first open revolt by Indian troops against the British. In July 1806 the bulk of three native battalions at Vellore Fort near Madras (illustrated), objecting on religious grounds to the introduction of a new uniform (particularly the replacing of the turban by a round hat), mutinied and killed or injured 200 British troops. A contingent of cavalry was quickly summoned from Arcot and the Vellore Mutiny was swiftly and brutally put down.