This remarkable volume gives a graphic description of the Revolt of 1857 in India and narrates in full its
progress and suppression. The author’s breathtaking illustrated account of the sepoys’ uprising strictly
based on official letters and dispatches, eye-witnesses, and memoirs reported in chronological order
cannot be ignored. Of course, this rich material makes the volume indispensable. The book published
first in 1858, is now a collector’s item.
The author examines the premeditation for the outbreak of the revolt and devotes a full
chapter to consider the causes of the revolt. (These are largely admitted by the distinguished historians).
He probes deeply into the crucial events and projects the view that there was no definite and
co-ordinated plan of the Indian rulers and they merely shared their deeply-felt grievances. The volume
further reveals the motives that animated them to rise against the British Raj. It implicates Bahadur Shah
Zafar, Nana Saheb, and Rani Lakshmi Bai for the massacre of the Europeans at Delhi, Kanpur, and
Jhansi. The British atrocities, i.e., blowing away of sepoys, indiscriminate hanging, and burning of
villages are uniformly highlighted. It also puts on record the Indian rulers who betrayed the country.
Conspicuously, the author finds a deep solidarity among the sepoys who made the revolt
The book is peerless for its illustration which represent almost each theatre of the rebellion.
These are truly historical and free from an artist’s whimsical and fanciful ideas. These are not merely
entertaining but are of unique documentary value.
An introduction to the volume, written by Professor S.P. Verma critically examines
historicity of the text and illustrations.
The present volume, scarcely noticed, has been occasionally ascribed to Sri Colin Campbell
(1792-1863), better known as the Commander-in-Chief in India (1846-1853). It so occurred because of
the ambiguous wording of the title page. A thorough examination of the volume reveals that it was issued
in ‘penny numbers’, entitled Narrative of the Indian Revolt (nos. 1-36) published weekly by G. Vickers,
Angel Court, Strand, London, and latter bound sometime in 1858 in a volume bearing the title Narrative
of the Indian Revolt from its Outbreak to the Capture of Lucknow by Sir Colin Campbell (the details of
the publisher, etc. given on the spine of each ‘penny number’ is found intact in the bound volume). The
compiler or the author of the ‘penny numbers’ is not known. Could it be G. Vickers, the publisher
himself? The descriptions related to Campbell (his life-sketch on pages 191-74) and to his actions
being made by a third person rule out that Campbell himself was the author of this particular
The book Narrative of the Indian Revolt, profusely illustrated with engravings based on
drawings and paintings by British artists and a map of India is a unique volume. It has no introduction.
The volume comprising I-XXXVIII chapters and precipitately opens with the mysterious act of
circulation of chapattis, and the issue of greased cartridges. It ends with the description of the capture of
Lucknow and the account of the British policy related to the measures taken to suppress the revolt of
The text, though offers description of the events based on eye-witnesses and letters, not
available in other works, lacks historicity. In several instances, there is no indication of the source from
which the evidence is collected. So also, quite often identity of an eye-witness remains anonymous. The
individuals divulging the inside story are identified as “as ayah, or native nurse,” “one of our spies”, “a
lady of the rescued party”; “an officer”; “one of the unhappy victim of Indian cruelty”; etc., etc.
Additionally, factual errors occur, e.g., the statement that the European troops pursued the rebellious
sepoys of Meerut on march to Delhi – is unhistoric:
Meanwhile unaccountable delay occurred in turning out the European troops, and night had
set in before the Carabineers arrived on the parade-ground of the 11th Native Infantry. They found there
the 60th Rifles and Artillery waiting for them. Their arrival was the signal for a move against the rebels.
But by this time the work of destruction within the station had been completed, and the rebels had
betaken themselves to the Delhi Road. Thither the Carabineers, the Rifles and the Artillery followed
them. The night, however, was too dark, and the movements of the insurgents too uncertain, to permit
our troops to act with vigour.
The rear of the insurgents was already disappearing in the gloom when it was encountered by
the 60th Rifles and the Horse Artillery, who fired a few volleys, and then returned into the cantonment,
where they bivouacked for the night. Heavy patrols provided for the general safety during the night (p.
J.A.B. Palmer concludes that no pursuit was launched and it was considered better to hold the
force together for the protection of the station:
Their failure to pursue the mutineers is the second main charge which is constantly laid
against Hewitt and Wilson. The preceding paragraphs have shown that this charge is basically
unsustainable, because it was not known whither the mutinous regiments had gone. Apart from that, a
pursuit was hardly feasible and if undertaken would not, in all probability, have produced the effects
expected. At the time Sir Patrick Grant, who succeeded Anson as Commander-in-Chief, took the view
that if a wing of the 60th with a squadron of the Carabiniers and some guns had been sent in pursuit the
insurrection would have been nipped in the bud, but this was the opinion of an officer who was nowhere
near the scene of events and had not the material before him to form a sound judgement. Lord Roberts,
writing years later with all the weight of his own military experience, concluded that nothing would have
been gained by pursuit and the mutineers would not have been overtaken before they reached Delhi. That
is the right judgement. It cannot be supposed that the European troops, as they stood on the native parade
ground, were ready equipped for a forty mile night march. Cavalry sent in pursuit would have been liable
to be ambushed by the native infantry or the latter would have escaped by dispersing. Even the native
infantry did not, in bulk, reach Delhi till the early hours of the afternoon next day: the European infantry
would not have got there before the magazine blew up. It is fanciful to suppose that the sight of a few of
the Carabiniers on the east bank of the Jumna next morning would have made any difference. If they had
managed to get into the city, they would probably have been destroyed, and if they had got to the
cantonment their arrival would have more probably precipitated the outbreak there, just as the rumour of
the approach of European troops had done at Berhampore and at Meerut itself. There is no real ground
for claiming that the appearance of European troops was calculated to restrain an incipient mutiny: the
evidence suggests the contrary. There are no sound arguments to support the view that the commanders
at Meerut were culpable in failing to launch a wild pursuit into the night; they did better to hold their
force together for the protection of the station.
Further, it is appalling since in numerous instances, especially regarding the problems of
Bahadur Shah Zafar, the Emperor of Delhi; Lakshmi Bai, Rani of Jhansi, and the uprising of peasants and
artisans, etc. in Oudh simply an author’s view is projected. Additionally, the text is horded with the
descriptions of the atrocities and excesses committed by the sepoys (quite often found repeated in the
text, e.g. see pages 113-118) which enraged the feelings of the people of England who gladly accepted
the distorted and exaggerated versions of the events. Obviously, it fostered anti-India feeling among the
Britishers. For example, the frontispiece of the volume, “The Massacre at Delhi” (p.1) is pretentious
and ill-designed. The illustration shows he sepoys torching British officers’ bungalows, killing their
wives and children. Here in the depiction of violence against women and children and the display of an
infant being tossed and held on the point of a bayonet - British artist’s imagination is at work. The
narration of the event is equally flaunting:
Tortures the most refined, outrages the most vile, were perpetrated upon men, women and
children. Men were hacked to pieces in the presence of their wives and children. Wives were stripped
before their husband’s eyes, flogged naked through the city, violated there in the public street, and then
murdered. To cut off the breasts of the woman was a favourite mode of dismissing them to death; and,
most horrible, they were sometimes scalped – skin before separated round the neck, and then drawn
over the head of the poor creatures, who was then, blinded by blood driven out into the blazing streets…
A man who witnessed the last massacre, where he had gone as spy, gives a horrid account of it, stating
that the little children were thrown up in the air and caught on the points of bayonets, or cut as they were
falling with tulwars.
…An officer and his wife were tied to trees, their children tortured to death before them, and
portions of their flesh crammed down the parents’ throats, the wife was then violated before here
husband - he mutilated in a manner too horrible to relate – then both were burnt to death (pp.20-1).
Here no historic source of ‘unspeakable atrocities’ is noticed. A double-page illustration,
“English Home in India” (pp.114-15), too establishes British artist’s vengeance against the sepoys. Such
visuals infuriated Britishers, and disgraced the Indians.
In another instance, an account of the massacre at Kanpur of the British officers (June 27, and
July 15, 1857), their wives and children is over blown (see pages 113, 117, 125 and 128, illustration on
pages 202, 204, 349 and 351). Here, an author’s view severely implicates Dhundu Pant, better known as
Nana Saheb on the basis of fictitious descriptions:
It follows an over blown description of the massacre at Bibigarh:
The first order was carried out immediately – i.e., on the evening of the 15th of July, “The
native spies were first put to the sword”, says Mr. Sphepherd, “and after them the gentlemen, who were
brought out from the out-buildings in which they were confined, and shot with bullets thereafter. The
poor female were ordered to come out, but neither threats or persuations could induce them to do so;
they laid hold of each by dozens, and clung so close that it was impossible to separate, them or drag
them out of the building. The troopers, therefore brought muskets, and after firing a great many shorts
from the doors, windows, etc. reached in with swords and bayonets. Some of the helpless creatures, in
their agony, fell down at the feet of their murdereds, clasped their legs, and begged of them, in the most
pitiful manner, to spare their lives, but to no purpose. The fearful deed was done, most deliberately and
completely, in the midst of the most dreadful shrieks and cries of the victims. There were between 140
and 150 souls, including children; and from a little before sunset till candle-light was occupied in
completing the dreadful deed…The dead bodies of those murdered on the preceding evening were then
ordered to be thrown into the same well, and Jullads were employed to drag them away like dogs”
Additional details appears on page 125:
Traces of the most wanton devastation met the eye at every step – every door and gate was
pulled off its hinges. Some officers of the force visited the place wherein the fearful tragedy of the day
had been enacted. It was a native house of the better most kind, having rooms on either side, round an
enclosed inner court-yard, where these unfortunate ladies and soldiers’ wives and their children, had
been confined; and it was told as an actual and literal fact that the floor of the inner room was two inches
deep in blood all over – it came over men’s shoes as they stepped. Tresses of women’s hair, and
children’s shoes and articles of female wear, broad hats and bonnets, books, and such like things, lay
scattered all about the rooms. There were the marks of bullets and sword-cuts on the walls – not high up,
as if men had fought, but low down, and about the corners where the poor-creatures had been cut to
pieces. There, too, just behind the house, was the well into which the bodies of the victims had been
thrown, and where they were to be seen a mangled heap, with an arm or leg protruding here and
J. W. Sherer who was one of the first few to visit Bibigarh find the account of the event
‘massacre at Bibigrah’ being exaggerated: “Of mutilation, in that house at least, there was no sign, nor at
that time was there any writings on the walls.” Sherer has further to say that “Of his [Nana Saheb]
individual influence there seems no trace throughout. We know something of what Azimollah did; and
the hand is not difficult to discover, at times, of Jawala Pershad, Baba Bhut, Tantia Tope, and the rest; but
the stolid, discontended figure of the Nana himself, remains in the background.
The lack of evidence is admitted and some obscurity surrounded this incident. Surendra Nath
Sen writes that it is impossible to settle whether the Bibigarh massacre was committed before Nana
Saheb had left for Bithur or after. R. C. Majudmar also finds that while there is no doubt about the
massacre and its gruesome details, the role attributed to Nana Saheb bears insufficient evidence.
“Nanha’s cruelties have attained world wide notoriety. But black though his deed were there are no
means to determine his motive which impelled him and his personal share in them.”
In brief, the description in the volume are sensational, and produced with a view to
capitalizing on the intense interest in England in 1857-58 on all things to do with the ‘Revolt of 1857’.
The volume an assemblage of the ‘penny numbers’, bound in 1858 intended diffusion of the British
follies and atrocities by launching anti-India feeling through misrepresentation of facts. The text is
filled with pretentious account of the excesses done by the sepoys. In general, in the narration of the
events there pervades a feel of misrepresentation. There is always a lack of discreet analysis of the
events, and the author’s view is of little historical merit.
Nonetheless, this volume is still worthwhile to be consulted. In numerous instances the
events are reported with the quotes from the letters which are not published elsewhere. An
incorporation of the official dispatches and letters, mainly the dispatches of Major Eyre (p 140),
Brigadier Nicholson (p.152), General Wilson (pp.179-182), and General Havelock (pp.185-186) are
The Narrative of the Indian Revolt is peerless for its illustrations which represent almost each
theatre of the rebellion. They represent the incidents of the revolt, likenesses of the individuals: British
officers and the principal leaders of the uprising, and the on-the-spot drawings of the historical
buildings, townscapes, etc. these are helpful to refresh one’s recollections of the events of the
The number of the illustrations prepared from the engravings on steel (prints in
black-and-white) is fairly large, and most of them do not bear the name of the artist, or engraver. Rarely
the names of the artists: S Prout, W. Purser and George Beechey and the engravers: C. Mottram and W.
Brandard occur in the illustrations drawn and engraved by them. George Beechey is also known as a
portrait painter of the King of Oudh, and in our volume his notable work is the portrait of Nana Saheb
painted at Bithur (p.109).
A few words may be said about the technique used at that time. The engravings used to
multiply the prints was common in England since sixteenth century, and the type of engravings under
study, is intaglio with soft-ground etching. In it, the effect is like that of a pencil or chalk drawing and in
it the ground is mixed with colour. As a result of which the tonal variations as seen in an artist’s
drawings, are successfully achieved by the engraver.
The camera had been invented and some of the drawings of buildings are avowedly based on
photographs (see) illustration of page 22). While the artist drew the artist drew the landscape himself he
used an instrument called camera obscura, a box with lens which reflected an image of the landscape on
the drawing sheet, for securing accuracy.
The illustrations (scenes of battle and expeditions) based on memory either of the artist, if
himself a eye-witness, or of other eye-witnesses are by-and-large in conformity of the text. In all cases
the artists and witnesses were Europeans and there is probably a distinct element of bias against the
rebels in these depictions. But the depictions, even when they draw on imagination, are realistic. The
way they show the rebel prisoners being executed by the English testifies to their sense of realism, even
if tainted by a sense of vengeance (see illustrations on pages 42-3 and 168). These drawings bear
evidence of ferocious measures resorted by the British authorities to suppress the rebellion. The
realism achieved in their work is complete to the extant that these visuals are an everlasting source of
vigour and strength with which Indian resisted British power. The illustrations offer visual
documentation of the major events and a living record of the times.
In general, the figures are characteristic and appear as individual character, and thus the
central theme of the picture becomes more expressive. The human and animal figures are highly
modeled and the whole picture is finished in a continuous range of smoky tones. Further the device of
conveying distance and sfumato in the rendering of the objects make the scene lively. The chiaroscuro
effect, scientific perspective, characteristic rendering of the human and animal figures, and lastly the
naturalistic light and shade effect – all combine the humanistic elements in the art of the illustrations.
Over and above, the whole of the event surcharged with action and filled with emotions and feelings
leaves us spell-bound. In brief, a close look on these pictures drive us willingly into the past. These are
not merely entertaining but are of unique documentary value.
The depiction of buildings, by their accuracy, suggest on-the-spot observation (illustrations
on pp.94, 97, 142, 144-145, 166, 178, 190, 192, 198-199, 214 and 360). In them, the treatment of the
monuments is both spacious and lively. These bear affinity with the Neoclassic tradition of landscape
painting. The drawings are truly historical and free from artist’s whimscal or fanciful ideas. Additionally,
the illustrations ‘Procession of Muharram’ (pp. 151-51), ‘Courtyard of the King’s palace at Delhi.’ (pp.
174-75), ‘Principal street of Lucknow’ (p. 190), ‘The thugs of India’ (pp. 210-11), ‘Travelling in Punjab’
(p.255), ‘Inhabitants of Simla’ (p.279), ‘House of a Hindu’ (p.286), ‘Travelling’ (p.288), ‘Procession of
Hindu Goddess Kali’ (p.298), ‘Herdsmen’ (p.339), ‘Faqirs of Rajasthan’ (p.346), ‘Domestic servants’
(p.361), ‘Malabar women’ (p.442), etc. etc. bear rare evidence on everyday life in India during
To sum up, these contemporary illustrations of the revolt of 1857 attempt to record the
events, and are no less important in increasing our understanding of the occurrences of this historic
year. These visuals leave an everlasting impression on our mind and this neglected historical source –
material need to be studies. Further their interpretation in the light of the writings till date is important.
Of course, this rich material makes the volume Narrative of the Indian Revolt indispensable work of
historical importance. The book, published in 1858, is now a collector’s item.
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