1857 was a defining moment in the history of the British Empire. As native troops in India rebelled against their colonial masters and were joined by a large number of local chief civilians and princes the Empire almost lost is most prized territory. A hundred and fifty years later scholars, academics and historians still argue about the exact nature of the uprising and the appropriate nomenclature for it: the First war of Independence the great appropriate nomenclature for it; the first war of Independences the great Indian mutiny the sepoy rebellion. Debates still rage over its causes. Did it really originate from a dispute over greased cartridge? Was it premeditated?
Not surprisingly the uprising attracted both local and global attention and produced a massive archive of documents. The penguin 1857 Reader depicts the historic event from various perspectives: English Indian European and American. Through a selection of documents of the time it provides glimpses into the actions across northern Indian maps the contours of dissent against the Raj and explores the immediate responses to the upheaval in Indian and outside. Included here are numerous newspaper and magazine account in leading English and American papers chronicles of British and Indian men and women who witnessed the turmoil intelligence reports and narratives of soldiers the British administration responses the opinions of Karl Marx Lord Macaulay and Mark Twain British views on the Rani of Jhansi and Nana Saheb and Mirza Ghalib moving narration in his diaries and the historic trial of Bhahadur Shah Zafar. With a scholarly and comprehensive introduction this reader captures the many dimensions of one of the most momentous episodes in the history of the Indian subcontinent.
Parmod K.Nayar of the Department of English, University of Hyderabad, is the author of Literary Theory Today (2002), Virtual Worlds: Culture and Politics in the Age of Cybertechnology (2004) and Reading Culture: Theory, Praxis, Politics (2006), besides numerous essays and reviews in literary and cultural studies. His forthcoming book include one on postcolonial literature, a study of aesthetics in English writings on India and a new edition of The Trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar. He is currently working on 1857: The Great Uprising to be published by Penguin Books.
Dum Dum near Calcutta. It is the January of 1857. A lower-caste Lascar approaches a Brahmin sepoy and requested a drink of water. The Brahmin refuses to share his supplies on the ground that the lover caste touch would pollute his receptacle. The lower-caste Lascar furious at the refusal and the insult retorts: There is no reason for you to be so uppity about your caste. The new cartridges prepared with cow and pig ft will ruin your caste soon anyway. The Brahmin sepoy appalled at both the Lascar cheek and the story rushes back to the barracks and the wheel begins to turn inexorably. It sets in motion the most momentous year in the history of one of the largest empires in the world ever the British Raj in its most prized territory Indian.
The present volume presents the events of 1857 from various perspectives; English, Indian, European and American. It provides glimpses into actions across northern Indian Awadh Delhi, Agra, Lucknow, Calcutta, Meerut and Punjab during this crucial year. It maps the contours of dissent and symptoms of rebellion against the Raj. It traces a path through the event from January 1857 till the capture and execution of the last rebel leader Tatya Tope. It also explores the multiple configurations of response to the event in India from sympathy for the British to a deeper understanding of the actions of the mutineers.
They year 1857 cannot however be seen in isolation. It is a year in which the indo-British encounter attains a new dimension. The sequence of events begins much earlier nearly 250 years before either Dum Dum or Mangal Pandey. It begins in fact with a bunch of merchants a powerful monarch and a nondescript charter on a tiny island off the European mainland in the freezing winter of the last day of the sixteenth century a century that also belonged in more ways than one to a certain William Shakespeare.
On the last day of 1599 queen Elizabeth I granted a charter in London to trade with the east India company located in London to trade with east Indies. In 1612 the English set up a trading post at surat. Sir Thomas Roe spending three years at the court of Mughal emperor Jahangiri obtained more trade concessions. Factories warehouses where resident agents called factors collected good until they were loaded on the ship were established. The east India company made Calcutta its chief trading centre and company head quarters In leaden hall street in 1726. With the act of union between England and Scotland sealed in 1707 the east India company became a British rather than an English company.
The India rather grew over the century with the intrepid Englishmen inching their way across India, battling its diseases (more Englishmen died of cholera than due to any other cause and Englishman life in India was believed to last just two monsoons climate and often its people. By 1793 India was making a direct contribution of 500,000 annually to location on the centre stage of English parliamentary and public debates. The company sold Indian products such as spices indigo saltpetre (used to make gunpowder) and Indian textiles (calico muslin, chintz) in Europe. Paper and other spices were obtained from Malabar. Sugar came from Madras indigo dye from Gujarat and silk from Bengal.
In the period 1750-1800 the company commonly known as John company established its authority. The battle of plisse in 1757 and the battle of Buxar in 1764 saw the transformation of the company from a trading outfit into a political power. Military superiority and control over land revenue and trade emerged as the company prime concerns. Fort William at Calcutta emerged as the epicentre of British power in India. By the end of the seventeenth century there were three presidencies in India; madras, Bengal and Bombay. A president or governor assisted by a council of ten senior merchants called the not mean of course that life for the company was smooth. Far from it in fact. The several wars (especially the protracted ones with Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan) charges of corruption infighting at the east India house (London) mounting debts the parliamentary investigations of the 1780s, and the trial of warren Hastings (beginning in 1788), followed by the appointment and disputed recall of governor-general Arthur Wellesley eroded the company standing. While war was not deemed a wise mode of social interaction with India or Indians the eighteenth century saw several battles with native kings and other European powers. Despite these difficulties it was never disputed that England needed to stay on in India. With hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan in the last decade of the eighteenth century the British saw the first sustained resistance to their presence (as V.D. Savarkar also points out). Lord Cornwallis played a decisive role in consolidating the administrative structures of the Company and kept Indian out of the administration. He sought to protect private property introduce the famous British rule of law and is known primarily for his permanent settlement of Bengali. Cornwallis divested the Zamindars of their police duties in 1793.
British presence was consolidated after 1830 and Britain was on its way to creating the largest empire the world had ever seen (though it would be another couple of decades before queen Victoria would be declared empress of India). By 1837 when Vitoria ascended the throne of England 50,000 Britons ruled over ninety million Indians a feat unparalleled then or since in human history. Soon rail lines crept across sections of the Indian landscape and steamships chugged on the Ganga. In 1835 the company took a momentous decision hereafter coins would not carry the Mughal emperor name. Clearly the Mughal empire and emperor had ceased to be of any real importance. Meanwhile the evangelical movement to reform and improve India and Indians was underway. British missionaries and educationists statement and administrators decided that Indian culture religion political system agriculture in short anything that the pre-Mughal or Mughal India had were primitive ineffectual and needed westernization. Movement and administrative measures towards the abolition of evils such as sati thuggee and infanticide were initiated. During the first decade of the nineteenth century there were a large number of legislative and administrative measures for the reform and improvement of India. Conversion to Christianity was a threat under which Indians began to live especially after the 1813 charter act allowed missionaries to enter India and proselytize. By 1851 there were nineteen such societies in operation in India excluding the unattached missionaries operating from 222 mission stations. The 4000 Indian Christians in the Punjab in the 1880s grew to 163,000 by1911. In the united provinces the Methodists grew to 104,000 between 1901 and 1911. India also boasted the largest number of foreign missionaries in any non-Christian counter: 5200.
Governor-General such as lord Dalhousie annexed territories from landowners and native princes. Wellesley extended the borders of British India northwards into the Ganga valley. He managed to neutralize the peshwa of poona in 1802 and conquered Delhi in 1803. Though the subsidiary alliance system more territory as acquired. In this system the Indian prince/ruler secured protection from enemies by paying for the company troops in his territory. Arcot Awadh and Hyderabad were controlled through this system. With the company demand for payment being incessant the native states were controlled through this system. With the company demand for payment being incessant the native states were driven into bankruptcy. Dalhousie alone annexed over 250,000 square miles of land. Charles napier occupied Sind in 1843 and after the death of Ranjit Singh the Punjab in 1849. By the 1850s Britain was in control of the land from the Khyber to Irrawaddy. The princes were naturally peeved at losing their ancestral right privileges and sources of income. The arrogant indifferent and quite often rude behaviour of English officials aggravated and alienated them further from the Indians. The Mahawari system introduced to increase revenue collection alienated landlords. Many lost their lands to moneylenders. The annexation of Awadhi (or Oudh) had been an immediate and crucial provocation ad local newspapers expressed a great deal of bitterness. When wajid Ali Sah was deposed songs were composed about the sadness of his people.
Weavers peasants blacksmiths and other professional had also been affected by British policies with many driven to penury. By 1815 Indian textile could not compete with British machine-made goods. British textiles could not compete with Indian markets and colonial economy exporting raw material from the colony importing manufactured good at high prices made its first major appearance. Weavers all over India but especially in Dacca and Murshidabad were ruined as a result. Officials and nobles in courts had lost their lucrative landholdings incomes and status.
There had been rural rebellions by peasant tribals and others before 1857: the moplahs in 1849, 1851 and 1852 (and later in 1870), the Bhils in 1819, 1829, 1844-46 and the Santhals in 1855-56. The wahabis used the issue of faith effectively to rouse dissent arguing that the British would destroy the people faith. Statement such as mountstuart Elphinstone and Charles Metcalf worried by the pace of reform and the evangelical overdrive exhibited by the missionaries and officials feared that Indian would perceive reform as interference and that this might mean unrest. They recommended that Indian reform should proceed very circumspectly. It was in such tense circumstances and debates about the precise method of governing and reforming India that numerous British statesmen and administrators began to hear of an unusual form of communication being used in part of northern India.
Chapattis circulated mysteriously throughout the northern regions perhaps as a secret message during the first few months of 1857. There may have been other symptoms but British officials chose to ignore them. Numerous accounts by British soldiers and civilians from the time express the view that the government itself had let them down by not heeding warnings and by being far too lenient towards sepoys. Whether the chapattis were message that sought to establish contact and enlist support among disaffected sepoys and civilians was never proved. Clearly disaffection persisted in many regions of northern India.
The army which was at the heart of the mutiny was now almost entirely made up of native men. Stringer Lawrence had begun the drive to create a permanent Indian Army in 1748. However it was Robert Clive who after the success at plassey realized the need for a strong army and began large-scale recruitment of India solders. These sepoys (derived from the Persian sipahi) were recruited from Rajput and Brahmin communities in the Awadh-Bihar region. Attempts were also made to recruit from the hill tribes especially after the company extended its territories into the mountainous areas of what is now Jharkhand in the 1770s and the ceded and conquered districts in the early 1800s. The company army soon began to include diverse social groups. Clive Hastings and other ensured that religious sentiments of the various communities were respected and the festival such as the Ram Lila were granted official recognition. By 1790 the Indian Army had 100,000 men. It was 154,000 in 1824 and 214,000 in 1856.
The white officers often took long periods of leave and the junior staff given more to a life of ease and luxury than rigour and discipline lacked the earlier generation commitment and quality. The company army had been divided since 1839 into three presidency forces in Madras Bombay and Bengal. It was paid for by the Company though it was in effect the British crown army. Statistically native soldiers outnumbered Europeans. John Bonham provides a break-up of the soldiers in Awadh:
Relations between the native soldiers and their white counterparts of officers also worsened as the empire grew in strength. Inefficiency was high with the Bengal army acquiring the dubious distinction of being described as the most expensive and inefficient in the world.
The British as noted before had been careful to ensure the sanctity of the Indian caste biases and feelings. In 1806 the native soldiers had mutinied because they had been ordered to wear a headdress which included a leather cockade rumoured to have been made of either cowhide pigskin. In 1824 a regiment had refused to go to Burma because crossing the sea would have meant losing their caste. The disastrous Afghan campaign in 1842 where of the 16,000 British and Indian troops one man survived stained the army escutcheon and removed the aura of invincibility around the British. In 1852 the 35th Native infantry refused to go to Burma for the same reason. In order to prevent such mutinous situations an act was passed in 1856. The General service enlistment act gave the company absolute authority regarding assigning solider to duties across the seas. Lower castes were not recruited into the army after the 1855 Regulations prohibited it. The sepoy cooks were allowed to cook separately so that they did not feel polluted in such matters as Mrs Coopland points out in her account (Coopland 1859). It is in this context that the East India Company introduced greased cartridges for use in the Enfield rifles.
Rumours circulated among the sepoys that this grease was made from the fat of cows and pigs. This meant that both Muslim and Hindu soldiers saw it as a threat to their religious beliefs. Major General J.B hearsey who conducted an enquiry into the sepoy unrest at Barrackpore in February 1857 noted a sense of disquiet over the cartridges and even recommended that the British stop using them altogether. Local chieftains kings and leaders began voicing their unhappiness with the Raj. Ahmed Ahmadullah Shah, Maulvi of Faizabad and adviser to the ex-king of Awadh Lakshmi Bai the Rani of Jhansi Dhondu pant (or Nana Saheb as he was to be known soon) spoke our against the Raj as rumours and disaffection spread.
On 26 February the 19th Native infantry at Berhampore refused to use the new cartridges and were court-martialled. Reports came in of mysterious fires in cantonment and barracks. Closely following these incidents were the actions of one Mangal pandey in Barrackpore on 29 March. Mangal Pandey a Brahmin seopy of the 34th who admitted during his subsequent trial that he had been high on bhang dressed unusually in his traditional dhoti rather than the uniform breeches turned his gun on General Hearsey. Caught tried and hanged Mangal Pandey moves away into the corners of history until years later V.D. savarkar glorifies him as a martyr. On 6 may the 34th was disbanded and its sepoys head into the Awadh region from where many of them hailed. Awadh by now was a seething cauldron of discontent. In this atmosphere of tension the top officers including General anson of the Bengal army moved to shimla and the cooler regions following their established routine. This meant that there was no clear central command left in May 1857.
On 23 April colonel George Carmichael Smyth of the 3rd light cavalry Meerut against all advice from his junior officers enquired of each of the eighty-five men in his regiment whether they would accept the new cartridges. Five of them agreed to do so. Eventually however Smyth ordered court martial for all eighty five. On 8 May the men of the 3rd light cavalry at Meerut were found guilty and put in irons in full view of everyone. Their buttons were torn form them and fetters fixed. During this humiliating event many soldiers wept the court martial ended any hope of pension but other exhorted their comrades to come out against the British officers. Hugh Gough a junior officer in the regiment moved by the fate of the men visited them in the hospital where they had been temporarily imprisoned. That night a sepoy warned Gough that the sepoys would mutiny the next day. Gough informed his commanding officer who ignored the warning. The next day a Sunday Rev. Johan Rotton was warned by his Indian maidservant not to go out. In the narrow streets soldiers from the 3rd cavalry met in corners and debated the fate of the eighty five men. When the 60th foot went for the church parade rumours began to circulated that they would be put in irons too. Signs of unrest were noticed in the 48th at Lucknow too. Critical mass hd been reached. The events now raced to a climax.
The cavalrymen grabbed their weapons and headed for the hospital to free their comrades. When the 20th Native infantry saw them approach they offered no resistance. In moments the eighty-five court-martialled and imprisoned men were freed along with other civilian prisoners. John Finnis of the 11the was one of the first British officers to fall shot by the 20th as he came out to reason with his men. The biggest Indo British military encounter since Plassey (exactly one hundred years earlier) and the Anglo Mysore wars had begun. The sepoy mutiny was on.
The telegraph wires cut and there was no way the Meerut officers could contact other regiments for help Looting and plunder proceeded briskly. Englishmen bungalows were burnt and many killed with their families. Some sepoys and native servants however helped their English officer and their families to escape at great risk to themselves. The mutineers themselves left town in a few hours and headed for Delhi.
On the Moring of 11 May, they arrived at Delhi and went straight to the Red fort where resided the last Mughal emperor though with no imperial powers since he survived on a pension from the Company Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar). The eighty two year old ailing and not very alert Bahadur Shah suddenly found himself at the centre of a great deal of attention (joined by his bodyguard the rebel sepoys fired gun salutes). The sepoys while not very polite they rode into his personal quarters barged into the Hall of special Audience wandered around the royal gardens and even touched his beard calling him arey budhey to his understandable annoyance pleaded with him to assume charge. He held the first durbar in fifteen years the day after the Meerut sepoys arrived in Delhi. He accepted tributes as the sepoys swore arrived in Delhi. He accepted tribute as the sepoys princes were appointed to positions of command in the army. Bahadur Shah letters to his son Mirza Moghal (Presented during his trial and reprinted in proceedings on the Trail of Muhammad Bahadur Shah 1858 are petulant complaints about the behaviour of the soldiers and of his helplessness (this latter fact that he was a pawn at the hands of the sepoys was ignored by the British during the trial).
Meanwhile Englishmen and women were being sought out and killed in Daryaganj and other places in Delhi. Eurasian families were not spared as the mob swept through the city completely routing British authority. Two telegraph signallers William Brendish and J.W. Pilkington now entered the scene and became the first heroes of 1857. Realizing the enormity of events they took the initiative to telegraph the commander in chief at Shimla:
We must leave office. Ali the bungalows are being burnt down by the sepoys from Meerut. We are off. Mr Todd (the Postmaster at Delhi) is dead I think... we learn that nine European killed.
The message went across station and the news finally broke on all the British officers. In Delhi the main magazine had been taken over by the mutineers. Lt Willoughby and others alert to the consequents of the Kashmir gate guns also falling into rebel hands blew up the magazine and died in the process. Several of the English managed to escape disguised and wounded to record their experiences in subsequent memoirs and diaries.
By 17 May, the British began to undertake retrieval measures. Jhon Lawrence chief commissioner of the Punjab wrote to London asking for reinforcements. The Delhi field Force had been raised and a column under Archdale Wilson set off from Meerut. Henry Barnard a senior officer defeated a force of sepoys near Badi ke seraj on 8 June and soon reached beleaguered Delhi. At Lahore Indian regiments were disarmed because John Lawrence was uncertain of their loyalty.
General Hugh Wheeler at Kanpur had also heard of disaffection. His wife was an Indian and a close friend of the Raja of Bithur (Nana Saheb) Something that gave wheeler misplaced faith in Nana Saheb. Nana Saheb had lost his pension because the British government had not accepted him as the heir after his father death. Nana Saheb was also as a result heavily in debt. General wheeler trusted him despite warnings from Henry Lawrence and Martin Gubbins (thefinancial commissioner). Hearing of tensions Wheeler chose tow barrack buildings as shelter for the British in Kanpur. Wheeler and exactly six guns eighty four men of the 32nd foot (sent by Henry Lawrence from Lucknow) 200 unattached officers soldiers and civilian and forty four native bandsmen. He also had among this lot seventy four invalids.
In Lucknow Henry Lawrence was already a sick man but behaviour with far greater caution then Wheeler. Lawrence stayed in constant touch with Lord canning (who was the head of the government in India), sending detailed reports of the situation. He also fortified the Residency hoarding away provisions and ammunition in anticipation of a siege. Both wheeler and Lawrence awaited reinforcements from Calcutta.
On 4 June the 1st Native infantry mutinied at Kanpur the British moved into the entrenchment. Unfortunately the entrenchment was ineffective and the people inside (numbering nearly 400) were subject to a constant barrage of bullets. After twelve days of siege in unbearably hot weather, wheeler pleaded with lucknow to send relief signing off with we want aid, aid, aid! The area stank of putrefaction disease and burning flesh. Food was running low. Corpses were dumped in a disused well. The only water source was a well and many men died trying to retrieve water for the children many of whom were dying of dehydration. And someone inscribed on the walls: my God my God, when wilt Thou deliver us? Nana Saheb realize that provisions and medicines in Wheeler camp would be running low. He went an emissary Promising safe passage for all the English. Wheeler was for once uncertain of Nana Saheb intentions.
Canning asked Henry Havelock to speed to Kanpur and help Wheeler. All over north India the mutiny had arrived with English and women on the run shivering at rumours of multination and butchery. Reinforcements for Kanpur led by James Neil had reached Benares on 3 June before the rising had taken place. Benares became a spot of bother. Neill sought to disarm native soldiers and delayed moving to Allahabad as he hanged mutineers at every conceivable opportunity. Mango trees it was said often had bodies hanging upon them. Neil arrived in Allahabad on 11 June and pushed Major Sydenham Renaud towards Kanpur. The delay proved fatal.
On 24 June general wheeler wrote to Henry Lawrence: we have been cruelly deserted and left to our fate... surely we are not to die like rats in a cage. On the morning of 27 June Nana Saheb provided forty boats at Satichaura Ghat on the Ganga. The English including many women and children consisted of dozens of wounded and dying. Among them were wheeler his wife and daughters. When they reached the ghat they discovered that Nana saheb had not provided any means of getting into the boats. Wading through the water the English entered the boats. The boatmen jumped off the boats and the British officers fired at them. This provoked firing from the shores and soon a massacre was on. Whether the whole thing was a deliberate move or was triggered by the tense situation and by British officers opening fire and Nana Saheb inability to control his men was never clear. Women and children were shot burnt or bludgeoned to death. Wheeler was cut down. One boat with twenty people got away four men survived. Back at the ghat about sixty men and 125 women were dragged ashore. The men were killed and the women taken away to Bibighar where other captives from Fatehgarh joined them. Wheeler daughter became the subject of apocryphal stories (later writers disputed she ever did any of these see Hibbert’s The great Mutiny India 1857) of her battle with sepoys (the subject of a steel engraving and reproduced under title Miss Wheeler defending herself Against the sepoys at Cawnpore in Charles Ball history of the Indian mutiny 1858-59)her killing of her kidnaper family and her suicide.
Elsewhere British authority was collapsing with a rapidity that was incredible. Jhansi Nasirabad (Rajputana) parts of Gwalior Indore and much of northern India was up in arms against the British government. In the course of the mutiny several native prince sepoys and landlords Hindu Muslim and Sikh as the extracts show pledged their continuing support to the Raj and their British ruler in many cases sending letters of native fidelity. British magazines proudly mentioned acts of loyalty such as that of the Raja of Jullundhur who supplied troops to the British ad by every means in his power strengthened the hands of government (Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 83 (1858) entire regiments were eventually identified and praised for their loyalty during the evens. As late as 1900 regiment 1857. For example the daily News (12 June 1900) praised a regiment Jacob horse for its loyalty: The popular demoralization caused by the Mutiny spread to the Sind border but Jacob horse in spite of the Mutineer tampering with them remained staunchly loyal.
British countermeasures and retributive moves began in earnest around July. Havelock declared before setting out from Allahabad that they were leaving to avenge the death of British men and women. Tales of cruelty to British women and children spurred them on. By 15 July Havelock was thirty odd miles from Kanpur often marching between lines of corpses (suspected Indian mutineers who had been executed) hanging from trees. Nana saheb had declared himself peshwa. News of Havelock imminent arrival at Kanpur Provoked yet another massacre of all the prisoners numbering about 250 in Bibighar. When Havelock force met Nana Saheb men just outside Kanpur the battle was bloody but short. Exhausted but determined British troops defeated Nana Saheb in a wave in blood. Nana Saheb himself left Kanpur for Bithur. On 17 July, Hevelock men led by Henry Ayton marched into Kanpur and Kanpur passed into legend when they saw Bibighar.
The walls were covered with bloody handprints many those of children. Personal items trinkets pieces of footwear and dismembered bodies lay all around. And then the relief force looked down the well. It was piled with mutilated bodies and heads and limbs. Inside Bibighar the floor was thick with bold. Later William Howard Russell the famous times reporter discovered that several of the messages on the Bibighar walls purported to have been written by the victims during the siege were actually inscribed long afterwards. Mutiny memorials came up during the years following 1857 (the all souls church mutiny memorial Kanpur has a sizeable collection including that of the wheelers. Other dot cemeteries in Vellore Calcutta Delhi and Jhansi). The Kanpur memorials state: in memory of more than a thousand Christian people who met their deaths hard by...
The iron self control that the British forces had displayed so far snapped at what they saw in Kanpur. Vengeance became the key word and Remember Bibighar the slogan that reverberated across British Indian through 1857-58 as troops cut through resistance with a brutality they had never exhibited even at plassey. The desire for revenge combined with the evangelical zeal most of the heroes of 1857 including Nicholson Havelock James Neill and Henry Lawrence were staunch believers produced a determined soldiery never before seen in British India.
British retribution was terrible and immediate. Sepoys were executed in hundreds mostly shot from cannons or hanged. Administrator and historian Montgomery Martin mentions that he encountered so many bodies of executed Indian on his mornings walks in Delhi that he stopped going out altogether. The retribution had in Robert Barr smith recent account all the features of Old Testament Vengeance Partly because the British troops and leaders saw the mutiny as a battle between God and Darkness, true religion and paganism. Lord canning however argued against large-scale massacre of Indians for the sake of revenge. Not one man in ten seems to think that the hanging and shooting of 40,000 or 50,000 men could be otherwise than practical and right wrote canning to queen Victoria.
John Lawrence asked W.S.R. Hodson a temperamental soldier who had been in trouble about money matters to raise a column of Sikhs. This regiment eventually known as Hodson Horse was to become one of the great name in the British response. Hodsom headed towards Delhi eager for battle. In Lucknow the siege of the Residency continued. Henry Lawrence died of wounds as cholera Shortage of provisions and continuous firing began to take their toll. Havelock pushed grimly on hampered by exhausted men (who anyway numbered just about 850) and the monsoon.
John Nicholson the hero of Afghanistan and the subject of a novel by J. Claverdon wood (pseudonym of Thomas Carter), how Nicholson kept the Border was entrusted with the task of retrieving Delhi commanding the Punjab Moveable Column Created for this purpose by John Lawrence. Immortalized for his contemptuous dismissal of court martial of sepoys the punishment for mutiny is death he scrawled on the reverse of a request from civil authorities asking for a list of punishments inflicted on mutineers before sending it back the imposing Nicholson or Nikal Seyn as he was called by Indian known for great personal courage and whose presence was heralded with the installation of gallows to execute mutineers arrived at the Delhi Ridge on 14 August. After some fierce fighting in which 1254 Englishmen where killed the British recaptured Delhi, Nicholson died at the very moment of victory at Delhi Kashmir gate. He was thirty five years old.
Bahadur shah Zafar was arrested he surrendered to Hodson on the promise of his life on 21 September. His sons Mirza Moghal and Mirza Khizr Sultan and one grandson Abu Bakr were captured and shot dead by Captain Hodson on a Delhi street. Bahadur Shah Zafar was eventually tried convicted and transported to Rangoon for imprisonment. Looting was rampant even as dead bodies pilled high in the street. Inhabitants of the city hid in cellars fearing both the rebels and the British troops. With fears of plague mounting cholera was already doing its round these inhabitants were sent out of the city where many died of starvation. Mrs Muter saw a well into which Indian girls had flung themselves to escape from the approaching British troops.
Letters to newspaper in England pleaded for stern action against the mutineers especially when stories of the sepoys brutal behaviour began to circulate. Mrs Coopland a survivor of the Gwalior siege recommended that Delhi be with canning leniency (which gave him the epithet clemency canning) and even pleaded for his removal from the post of Governor-General.
Lucknow Residency was still under siege during August even as Delhi became the focus of British countermeasure. Children began to die of malnutrition and disease (as Julia Inglis wife of the commanding officer records in her diary). The Indian soldiers with the garrison inside the Residency were also suspected of colluding with the rebels. Colin Campbell had taken over as commander in chief in Calcutta. Havelock finally closed in on Lucknow with the help of James Outram forces (though the command of the relief force was always in some doubt and produced a great deal of confusion among the ranks). Winding its way through the narrow streets under heavy fire Havelock force pressed on towards the Residency. By the time they reached the Residency 535 of the 2000 men in the advance were killed. Lucknow finally came under total British control by the end of November. Henry Havelock died soon after of dysentery that scourge of British forces throughout 1857.
News of these victories did much to energize British troops elsewhere in northern India. At Kanpur Charles windham was still fighting hard to retain some minor advantage. Tatya Tope arrived at Kalpi forty six miles from Kanpur. Windham was forced to retreat as a result of Tope tactics and eventually it was Campbell forces that defeated Tope Nana Saheb and the Gwalior forces.
British troops arrived from Burma Ceylon and Persia to add to the forces seeking to rout the rebels. Hugh Rose recaptured saugur and turned towards Jhansi, Jhansi, another place that moves into history because of Rani Lakshmi Bai immortalized in folk songs and by subhadra Kumari Chauhan oft-quoted poem and her defiance of the British eventually Jhansi fell due to rose tactics feinting against one wall while throwing his main attack on the opposite side though Lakshmi Bai escaped.
Parts of northern India remained out of British control for nearly a year as fighting continued till the end of 1858. Campbell sent out forces against the Maulvi of Faizabad (he was eventually killed by one of his own noblemen) Kunwar singh (at Azamgarh Kunwar Singh became famous for chopping off his arm which had been shattered by a cannon and throwing it into the Ganga as a last sacred offering) and Rao Sahib (at Kalpi). On 17 June Rose met Lakshmi Bai at Kotah ke serai and finally won. Lakshmi Bai died in the battle. Tope eluded the British forces for a long time by being constantly on the move across the Jaipur Mangrauli Nagpur and chota Udaipur regions. Finally on 7 April 1859 his position was betrayed to the British and he was captured when alone and asleep. He was hanged and Tope is said to have adjusted the noose around his neck before the executioner could do so. Firuz shah a Mughal prince who had been driven out of Rohilkhand by sir Colin Campbell and with whom Maulvi Ahmed Ahmadullah Shah had forged an alliance against the British died in Mecca in 1877. Nana Saheb by now notorious as butcher of Cawnpore was never caught though a massive manhunt did round up numerous doubles.
After 1857 the Company army was reorganized. In 1857 there were 34,000 European soldiers to 257,000 Indians. By 1863 there were 62,000 British soldiers to 125,000 Indians. This ratio of 1:2 was maintained throughout the Bengal Presidency and a ratio of 1:3 was followed in the others. An Auxiliary Force of India was raised. Every European me civilian was to be imparted part time military training. No Indians were allowed to man field guns (this restriction lasted until the first world war). Interestingly several companies in the army were officered by Indian as a British way of showing trust. Further the companies had a mixed demography. Indian from all cases and religious affiliations were grouped together in order to prevent a support. The British drew the main population of the army from communities it saw as martial: Rajputs Deccan muslims Gurkhas and Sikhs.
One of the direct political consequences of the events of 1857 was the end of the company rule. On 1 November 1858 queen Victoria proclaimed a new government for Indian directly under the British monarch. Soon Indian was the only colony in the world to be represented by a secretary of State in England. The governor-general was now called viceroy. With this British the unquestionable ruler of India.
The years 1857-58 marked a critical moment in Indo-British relationship. The events of the years starting with the shooting of English officers by the Indian sepoys of the East India company in May 1857 to trial and exile of the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1858 have been variously described mutiny being the British popular title. I use the term mutiny in quotes to indicate that what happened during the course of the year is open to interpretation. The way in which the events of 1857-58 get interpreted depended on the ideology political and immediate intention of the person or community doing the interpretation. For the British and much of Euro American community during the nineteenth century and later it was a mutiny. For the Indians it was especially after saverkar coined the phrase, the first war of Indian independence. The nature of the revolt was also variously described and interpreted; as a purely military revolt a popular uprising an anti-colonial movement and as a nationalist revolt organized in some areas of northern India and a spontaneous combustion in other military in nature in certain cases and joined by civilians in others the events of 1857-58 are fascinatingly varied in their nature causes and effects.
The period has always been the subject of debate controversy and multiple interpretations. The documentation responses to the events. Seeking causes to explain this bewildering turning of once loyal sepoys and native commentators explored the religious social and natives contexts of British India. Rudrangshu Mukherjee interpretation that it was essentially a popular uprising against foreign rule seems by far the most convincing here.
Responses to the events of 1857-58 came in even as they unfolded across India. British heroes of the mutiny were glorified with 50,700 recipients both military and civilian of the Indian mutiny Medal alone. British newspaper and periodical identified British heroes in their columns. Who saw the heroes of the Indian Mutiny in the company lazy officials?, asked a report in Blackwood Edinburgh Magazine. Nana Saheb and Mangal pandey were demonized. The Indian sepoy came to be called pandy after Pandey. The year 1857 became in the words of the historian Charles Crosthwaite the epic of the race.
During the trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar it was concluded that the whole mutiny was the result of a Mohammedan conspiracy. An American newspaper, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle called it the Indian Rebellion thereby giving it a larger geographical character even though southern Indian had been largely untouched. Benjamin Disraeli the prime Minister of Britain between 1874 and 1880 believed that the events were occasioned by adequate causes. The British historian John kaye who wrote a three volume account in 1864 (expanded to five volumes by G.B Malleson in the 1888 edition), argued that the Brahmins upset over their loss of privileges instigated the mutiny. Kaye also argued that 1857 was a military problem the result of the cartridge and that there was no evidence of a general dissatisfaction with the Raj. Charles Ball in his instigation of the Maulvis a comment echoed across the Atlantic in the New York Times which titled one of its India updates A Mahommedan Conspiracy for the Sovereignty of India updates A Mahommedan conspiracy for the sovereignty of India August 1857). A few British commentators believed that it was a movement against Christianity itself and was partly the result of proselytizing by British officer. Moving sharply to the other extreme others argued that the British had not been Christian enough. They argued that the revolt was essentially a clash between pagan faith and Christianity. A few saw the absence of a proper commitment towards the sepoys on the part of the European officers as a clear cause of the mutiny. Some attributed it to the annexation policy of Lord Dalhousie and letter in the Englishmen went on to call him the prince of pigs for his acquisitiveness! The events of 1857 were also treated as symptoms of a general Indian dissatisfaction with Europeanization. Survivors like Fred Roberts looking back at their life in India argued that the British government itself had failed. Other liberal conservatives along with Disraeli suggested that Indians were not yet ready for his kind of reform or for responsible government. An Englishmen who kept a diary during the siege of Lucknow believed that the mutiny was caused by the general rapaciousness and un Christian behaviour of the Englishmen and women. Ernest Jones the chartist leader asked the English working class to support the Indian while terming it a national insurrection. Poets and public figured such as John Ruskin Lord Tennyson Christina figures Rossetti and Martin Tupper (called the English poet of the rebellion) all responded to the events. Novelist Charles Dickens was much exercised over the condition of Englishmen and women (especially prisoners) in Indian during the event of 1857.
Angry Englishmen who also contributed to the Muiny Relief fund demanded revenge in their letters to newspaper Lord Macaulay noted this anger in his diary:
There is one terrible cry for revenge. The account of that dreadful military execution at Peshawur forty men blown at once form the mouths of cannon their heads legs arms flying in all directions was read with delight by people who three weeks ago were against all capital punishment... the almost universal felling is that not a single sepoy within the walls of Delhi should be spared; and I own that it is a feeling which I cannot help sympathizing.
The times (London) stated soon after the mutiny stated in Meerut: we have conquered India by British hands and by them it must be retained (19 May 1857). Opinions and response poured into the British press and slowly built up one of the world largest atrocity and response archives. The times alone between 15 August 1857 and 3 February 1860 carried one hundred and eight stories on the mutiny including casualty lists. Tracts such as M.A. sherring the Indian church during the great Rebellion (1859) carried lists of missionaries chaplains and their Families Killed in the Rebellion on or the Cause of whose death may be attributed to it. Such extensive documentation and commentary enabled the rise of a whole rhetoric historiography and mythography of the year for the British public.
Contemporary Euro-American response to the events of 1857 ranged from enthusiastic support for the Indians to Sympathy for British suffering. However even those sympathetic towards the British were rarely uncritical. Trenchant critiques in the New York Daily News Harper the united states democratic Review or the North American Review often laid the blame for the events of 1857 on the oppressive exploitative British government. American newspaper such as the Brooklyn daily Eagle carried regular news reports on the war in India. Financial contributions to the British cause were also reported even as the east India company stock plummeted (in a news item published on 12 October 1857 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported a 25 per cent fall). Commentaries in the Princeton Review (1880) and the North American Review (1886) analysed the social economic and political implications of British rule in India. One described the event of 1857 as a deep-seated ad wide spread rebellion and hoped that India would soon be restored to ameliorated British rule rather than relapse into a midnight of barbarism (Liberty Weekly Tribune 4 September 1857. A Dr Martin scudder lecturing in the united states in January 1856 referred to the events as a caste insurrection and a Hindoo Mutiny. The southern Literary messenger publisher a poem titled the Martyr Missionaries of Futtehgurrh showcasing the killing of Christians and missionaries by the sepoys. Other assured their readers that all the horrors they heard about the sepoys behaviour were true. One newspaper for instance mentions a surgeon who had been consulted by an Englishwoman whose nose had been cut off and whose three year old child had had its hands and feet cut off by the mutineers (Liberty weekly tribune 4 September 1857. Quite a few American commentators in periodicals such as the St Louis christen Advocate the Princeton review and the New Englander and Yale Review pleaded for increased evangelical efforts in India. Decades after the for increased evangelical efforts in India. Decades after the events American journalists and commentators remained enthralled and shocked by what had occurred in India news items often had arresting headlines such as: story of a survivor of the Indian Mutiny now an Insane Patent (Brooklyn Daily Eagle 20 September 1885). Appleton journal described the events of 1857-58 as the most terrible mutiny in the annals of war (Appleton Journal 1, 3. Others objected to the ferocity of British retribution.
Central to this Euro-American narrative of British valour and suffering was the Indian sepoy’s treatment of British women. The story of Miss wheeler was enacted and presented all over the world. However other accounts such as Lady canning the memorandum on treatment of European females submitted to Lord Canning in December 1857 and those in American periodicals such as catholic world disputed this myth of the ill-treatment of British women. Nineteenth century historian like G.O. Trevelyan and more recently Christopher Hibbert also suggest that no such violence against women ever happened.
With the kinds of events that 1857 showcased it was natural that the year entered the language itself. The years becomes a watershed and other horrors invariably get measured in terms of 1857 horrors. Thus an American newspaper describing the lawless state of Mexico stated. The fact that this region has for the last three year been given to miscreants whose daily atrocities exceed those perpetrated in the wildest moment of the sepoy mutiny...
And when the British government faced a crisis in Shangahai in 1900 the Daily News on 18 June drew on the 1857 analogy to state: The situation says out correspondent is critical and without a parallel since the Indian mutiny Let us hope that the parallel is not going to be pursued.
Indian responses to 1857 have been equally diverse. V.D. Savarkar glorified it by terming it the first war of Indian independence (Savarkar 1909). Savarkar and nationalist historiography was also instrumental in the canonization of Mangal Panday the subject of ketan Mehta film in 2005 though there is no evidence that Mangal Panday actions in Barrackpore had anything to do with the subsequent actions of sepoys in Meerut or elsewhere as Rudrangshu Mukherjee had tellingly argued (Mukherjee 2005). Songs on the events of 1857 glorified the Indian soldiers and mourned the desposing of local kings. The songs were recorded and published in English translation by William crooke in the Indian in English translation by Dutt (1897) saw it as a civil insurrection driven by political reasons. Syed Ahmad Khan (1873) did not consider it a popular movement or uprising though there was substantial civilian participation. Jawaharlal Nehru considered the events a war of independence in his 1957 essay The result of the Indian war of independence (Norman 1965: 123). What emerges clearly from even this brief catalogue of interpretations is that there can be no definitive way of defining and labelling the events of the tumultuous year.
The mutiny metaphor and images of savagery continue to figure in the public discourse even in the politically correct twentieth century. When the English cricket team arrived in Kanpur in 1989 for a cricket match the times (London) made it a point to refer to this setting of the mutiny more gory events (24 October 1989). When the express (London) reported the Indian cricket team threat to boycott the third test match in 2001 as a protest against referee mike Denness contentious decisions it titled the news report Indian Mutiny Threatens tour (24 November 2001). The independent (London) compared Britain exit from the European exchange rate mechanism and the Tory Party fortunes to the execution of mutineers strapped to the cannon mouth and fired and the damage wrecked by Mutineers (16 September 2004). The event of 1857 evidently continue to figure prominently in Indian and British public imagination. After all Henry Havelock the Man who rescued Lucknow from the mutineers and once described in an American periodical as a Christian warrior (Ladies Repository 22 still presides over London famous Trafalgar square in the form of a Statue.
The years 1857 has also entered the literary imagination in a big way. There have been numerous popular fictional accounts of 1857-58 from better known tales such as flora Annie steel on the face of the waters (1897) through J.G. Farrell the Siege of Krishnapur (which won the Booker prize in 1973) to Mahasweta Devi the Queen of Jhansi (English translation 2000) and Manohar Malgonkar Jhansi (English translation 2000) and Manohar Malonkar The Devil wind (1972). Gurcharan Das Play Larins Sahib (first staged in 1969) is about Henry Lawrence in the Punjab the same Lawrence who eventually died in the siege of Lucknow.
In more contemporary readings Gautam Bhadra (1985), in a particularly prescient analysis suggests that the historiography of 1857 has invariably focused on the elitist character of the leadership of the revolt and has thus glossed over the role of ordinary rebels. Ranajit Guha pays attention to the smaller insurrection that were triggered by the events of 1857 (Guha 1983). Badri Narayan in a brilliant essay (1998) also rejects the elitist views of 1857 to track down the popular expressions and configurations of the revolt in Bhojpuri Awadhi Bundel Braj and other folk cultures while K.S. Singh (1998) tracks the role of tribal such as the Gonds in the revolt. Commentators today seek to explore the varied configuration of the event in an attempt to provide a more balanced interpretation of what happened. Irfan Habib believes that the territorial affiliation of the sepoy may have been a contributing factor for the soldier alienation from the colonial masters (Habib, 1998). In such a climate reappraisal book on 1857 biases. Thus in a review of saul David book on 1857 (David 2002), Stephen Howe accuses David of providing only a British point of view and ignoring the savagery with which the mutiny was put down. Howe writes: David prose is more emotive and evocative when discussing Indian misdeeds cool and dispassionate when relating British ones (The independent 16 October 2002).
The object of this volume is to present a set of documents on 1857-58. The selections are mainly from works of non-fiction though in the case of Indian responses poems and songs have also been included. They are organized along specific lines. The sources (mainly from English language works unfortunately) range from personal accounts by Englishmen and women who lived through the events to histories and analytical commentaries. I have also used numerous newspaper and magazine accounts British European and American from the periods which are far less known or available. The audience for these published works and newspaper accounts were obviously Englishmen and women back in England and in India.
I have organized the book into two sections. The first section Narratives is divided into two chapters. The chapter symptoms and Dissent maps the circumstances of sepoy dissatisfaction in the months preceding May 1857 (when the mutiny actually breaks out). Several Englishmen claimed that they noted indication of unrest among the sepoys. Some had sought government intervention and advised that the sepoyys feelings be assuaged. Extracts in the first chapter records these omens and English unease during the months leading up t May 1857. The second chapter Experiences including and expecting to meet death at any moment. A Lady Diary of the siege of Lucknow the extracts from R.M. Coopland Mrs Muter Lady Inglis and others capture the British woman experience of horrific events and their attempts at domesticity in the midst of firing there care of children in forts and places of refuge. This chapter includes descriptions of the Cawnpore massacre escapes anxiety Indian leaders and heroism. The extracts here are almost entirely violent full of rage and suffering (both physical deprivation and pain) and anxiety Indian leaders and heroism. The suffering (both physical deprivation and pain) and anxiety (witness for instance J.R. Colvin increasingly worried pleas for help from Agra fort). The second part of this pleas for help form Agra fort). The second part of this chapter presents the events of 1857 as experienced and recorded by Charles Theophilus Metcalfe (who translated and collated the accounts in 1898) as an educated native gentlemen closely associated with the court life of the gentleman closely associated with the court life of the king of Delhi produced an extended narrative of the events in the palace much of his account details the durbars of Bahadur Shah and the events and the kings dealings with the mutineers a narrative that clearly points to Bahadur Shah lack of control over what was happening around him. Another narrative is that of Mainodin Hassan khan an inspector of police in Delhi during 1857. Then there are the experiences recounted by native Christians catechists and their survivors.
The second section which records Responses to 1857 is divided into British Euro-America and Indian responses. The chapter on British response has a short subsection countermeasures and Reprisal which extract document that capture the intensity of British actions against the rebels. This is followed by the general British press was inundated with commentaries letters analyses and advice on the events in Indian. There was such a massive response that punch complained: The supply of the demand for information on any point in connection with the melancholy subject of the ay is quite a legitimate undertaking but can amuse nobody (Punch 17 October 1857). Paintings depicting scenes from the mutiny were exhibited at the Great globe in Leicester square while other such as The prince of Wales receiving the Survivors of the defence of Luknow (1876) appeared in magazines such as the illustrated London news. Visual representations of Lucknow Delhi and other places in the aftermath of the mutiny by artists such as the Italian photographer Felice Beato immortalized the damage to contributing to the mythography of the period. This section also includes perhaps the most spectacular in terms of structure implications and consequences of the British response the trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar which marked the official formal end of the Mughal empire.
I have chosen to include opinions from the period 1857-1925 except for a brief one form Edward Thompson (1925) thus automatically excluding analyses and comments from twentieth century writers such as Savakar Nehru Bose and Gandhi. I have also incorporated as many accounts letters and reports from contemporary newspaper and periodical as possible.
The texts indicate the range of emotions of people trapped within events over which quite often they had no control. As a supreme example of this we have Mirza Ghalib diary chronicling an old poet anxieties about the event occurring in his locality and neighbourhood in Delhi. The texts in this volume have been selected for various reasons. Some capture the danger (real or perceived) of the period. Other reveal acts of great courage kindness or cruelty. Yet other showcase the anger sense of betrayal and anxiety of the British in this hour. The responses likewise range from the shocked to the explanatory from the celebratory to the outraged. In some cases and Edward Thompson text is an example the response is also tinged with an anxiety about how the historiography of 1857 affects contemporary life and thought about how interpretations of the past can affect or be made to affects the present. It is easy with the benefit of hindsight (an exact science) to accuse the native princes communities or regions of being anti-Indian in their offers of support to the east India Company during 1857-58 or to eulogize the sepoy as a true nationalist. Labels and meanings are evaluative and a judgemental and proceed form particular locations. Naming is an act of interpretation. That is the mutinous nature of the events is not a quality inherent in them through interpretive acts sanctioned by particular communities. The events have to be linked by acts of interpretation to form a coherent narrative. The cause effect sequence is established after the fact/event and the act of establishment is ideological and structured to suit the need of the moment.
Our presentism imposes contemporary concerns ideological biases and political needs upon the past. To adapt Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott Description our servitude to the muse of history has produced and will continue to produce a literature of recrimination a literature of revenge written by descendant of victims or a literature of remorse written by perpetrators or masters (Walcott, 1988). We need to be conscious of the fact that reading such a text is never to be conscious of the fact that reading such a text is never a one to one relationship between the twenty first century reader and nineteenth century author text. We ought to be conscious of the frameworks that make the reading process and intelligibility possible.
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