The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a mutiny of sepoys of British East India Company's army on the 10th of May 1857, in the town of Meerut, and soon erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and the Delhi region. The rebellion posed a considerable threat to Company power in that region, and it was contained only with the fall of Gwalior on 20 June 1858. The rebellion is also known as India's First War of Independence, the Great Rebellion, the Indian Mutiny, the Revolt of 1857, and the Sepoy Mutiny.
The rebels quickly captured large swathes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, including Delhi, where they installed the Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah Zafar, as Emperor of Hindustan. The Company response came rapidly as well: by September 1857, with help from fresh reinforcements, Delhi had been retaken. Nevertheless, it then took the better part of 1858 for the rebellion to be completely suppressed in Oudh.
Other regions of Company controlled India—Bengal province, the Bombay Presidency, and the Madras Presidency—remained largely calm. In Punjab, only recently annexed by the East India Company, the Sikh princes backed the Company by providing both soldiers and support. The large princely states, Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, and Kashmir, as well as the smaller ones of Rajputana, by not joining the rebellion, served, in the Governor-General Lord Canning's words, as "breakwaters in a storm" for the Company.
In some regions, especially in Oudh, the rebellion took on the attributes of a patriotic revolt against European presence; however, although the rebel leaders, especially the Rani of Jhansi, became folk heroes in the burgeoning nationalist movement in India half a century later, they themselves "generated no coherent ideology or programme on which to build a new order. Still, the rebellion proved to be an important watershed in Indian history; it led to the dissolution of the East India Company in 1858, and forced the British to reorganize the army, the financial system, and the administration in India. India was thereafter governed directly from London—by the British government India Office and a cabinet level Secretary of State for India—in the new British Raj, a system of governance that lasted until 1947.
Although the British East India Company had earlier administered the factory areas established for trading purposes, its victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757 marked the beginning of its rule in India. The victory was consolidated in 1764 at the Battle of Buxar (in Bihar), when the defeated Mughal emperor, Shah Alam II, granted control of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa to the Company. The Company soon expanded its territories around its bases in Bombay and Madras: the Anglo-Mysore Wars (1766–1799) and the Anglo-Maratha Wars (1772–1818) gave it the control of most of India south of the Narmada River.
After the turn of the 19th century, Governor-General Wellesley began what became two decades of accelerated expansion of Company territories. This was achieved either by subsidiary alliances between the Company and local rulers or by direct military annexation. The subsidiary alliances created the Princely States (or Native States) of the Hindu maharajas and the Muslim nawabs, prominent among which were Cochin (1791), Jaipur (1794), Travancore (1795), Hyderabad (1798), Mysore (1799), Cis-Sutlej Hill States (1815), Central India Agency (1819), Kutch and Gujarat Gaikwad territories (1819), Rajputana (1818), and Bahawalpur (1833). The annexed regions included the Northwest Provinces (comprising Rohilkhand, Gorakhpur, and the Doab, 1801), Delhi (1803), and Sindh (1843). Punjab, Northwest Frontier Province, and Kashmir were annexed after the Anglo-Sikh Wars in 1849; however, Kashmir was immediately sold under the Treaty of Amritsar (1850) to the Dogra Dynasty of Jammu and thereby became a princely state. In 1854 Berar was annexed, and the state of Oudh was added two years later.
The rebellion began with military revolts by sepoys of the Bengal Presidency army; in 1857 the presidency consisted of present-day Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. However, most rebel soldiers were from the Uttar Pradesh region, and, in particular, from Northwest Provinces (especially, Ganga-Jumna Doab) and Oudh, and many came from landowning families. Within weeks of the initial mutinies—as the rebel soldiers wrested control of many urban garrisons from the British — the rebellion was joined by various discontented groups in the hinterlands, in both farmed areas and the backwoods. The latter group, forming the civilian rebellion, consisted of feudal nobility, landlords, peasants, rural merchants, and some tribal groups. The sepoys were a combination of Muslim and Hindu soldiers.
In 1772, when Warren Hastings was appointed the first Governor-General of the Company’s Indian territories, one of his first undertakings was the rapid expansion of the Company’s army. Since the available soldiers, or Sepoys, from Bengal — many of whom had fought against the Company in the Battle of Plassey — were now suspect in British eyes, Hastings recruited farther west from the high-caste rural Rajputs and Brahmins of Oudh and Bihar, a practice that continued for the next 75 years. However, in order to forestall any social friction, the Company also took pains to adapt its military practices to the requirements of their religious rituals. Consequently, these soldiers dined in separate facilities; in addition, overseas service, considered polluting to their caste, was not required of them, and the army soon came officially to recognize Hindu festivals. “This encouragement of high caste ritual status, however, left the government vulnerable to protest, even mutiny, whenever the sepoys detected infringement of their prerogatives.” ()
It has been suggested that after the annexation of Oudh by the East India Company in 1856, many sepoys were disquieted both from losing their perquisites, as landed gentry, in the Oudh courts and from the anticipation of any increased land-revenue payments that the annexation might augur. Others have stressed that by 1857, some Indian soldiers, misreading the presence of missionaries as a sign of official intent, were persuaded that the East India Company was masterminding mass conversions of Hindus and Muslims to Christianity. Although earlier in the 1830s, evangelists such as William Carey and William Wilberforce had successfully clamored for the passage of social reform such as the abolition of Sati and allowing the remarriage of Hindu widows, there is little evidence that the sepoy's allegiance was affected by this. However, changes in the terms of their professional service may have created resentment. With East India Company victories in wars or with annexation, as the extent of Company jurisdiction expanded, the soldiers were now not only expected to serve in less familiar regions (such as in Burma in the Anglo-Burmese Wars in 1856), but also make do without the "foreign service," remuneration that had previously been their due. Another financial grievance stemmed from the general service act, which denied retired Sepoys a pension; whilst this only applied to new recruits it was suspected that it would also apply to those already in service. In addition the Bengal army was paid less than both the Madras and Bombay armies, which compounded the fears over pensions.
There were also grievances over the issue of promotions, based on seniority (length of service). This, as well as the increasing number of European officers in the battalions, made promotion difficult.
The final spark was provided by the controversy over the new Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle. To load the new rifle, the sepoys had to bite the cartridge open. It was believed that the paper cartridges that were standard issue with the rifle were greased with lard (pork fat) which was regarded as unclean by Muslims, or tallow (beef fat), regarded as sacred to Hindus.. East India Company officers first became aware of the impending trouble over the cartridges in January, when they received reports of an altercation between a high-caste sepoy and a low-caste labourer at Dum Dum. The labourer had taunted the sepoy that by biting the cartridge, he had himself lost caste, although at this time the Dum-Dum arsenal had not actually started to produce the new round, nor had a single practice shot fired. On January 27 Colonel Richard Birch (the Military Secretary) ordered that all cartridges issued from depots were to be free from grease, and that Sepoys could grease them themselves using whatever mixture ‘they may prefer’. This however, merely caused many Sepoys to be convinced that the rumours were true and that their fears were justified.
The civilian rebellion was more multifarious in origin. The rebels consisted of three groups: feudal nobility, rural landlords called taluqdars, and the peasants. The nobility, many of whom had lost titles and domains under the Doctrine of Lapse, which refused to recognise the adopted children of princes as legal heirs, felt that the Company had interfered with a traditional system of inheritance. Rebel leaders such as Nana Sahib and the Rani of Jhansi belonged to this group; the latter, for example, was prepared to accept East India Company supremacy if her adopted son was recognized as the heir. In other areas of central India, such as Indore and Saugar, where such loss of privilege had not occurred, the princes remained loyal to the Company even in areas where the sepoys had rebelled. The second group, the taluqdars had lost half their landed estates to peasant farmers as a result of the land reforms that came in the wake of annexation of Oudh. As the rebellion gained ground, the taluqdars quickly reoccupied the lands they had lost, and paradoxically, in part due to ties of kinship and feudal loyalty, did not experience significant opposition from the peasant farmers, many of whom joined the rebellion to the great dismay of the British. It has also been suggested that heavy land-revenue assessment in some areas by the British resulted in many landowning families either losing their land or going into great debt with money lenders, and providing ultimately a reason to rebel; money lenders, in addition to the East India Company, were particular objects of the rebels' animosity. The civilian rebellion was also highly uneven in its geographic distribution, even in areas of north-central India that were no longer under British control. For example, the relatively prosperous Muzaffarnagar district, a beneficiary of a Company irrigation scheme, and next door to Meerut where the upheaval began, stayed mostly calm throughout.
“I believe that there was but one primary cause of the rebellion, the others being merely incidental and arising out of it … [T]he Natives of India, without perhaps a single exception, blame the Government for having deprived them of their position and dignity and for keeping them down … Was not the Government aware that the Natives of the very highest rank trembled before its officers, and were in daily fear of suffering the greatest insults and indignities at their hands?”
Sir Sayyid's critique was later translated into English and stimulated both interest and debate among the British. Some of his points have been echoed by modern historians. “(The rebellion) was the result of two generations of social disruption and official insensitivity ...” (). Although at that time some civilian leaders such as Khan Bhadur Khan of Bareilly stressed the threat posed to the populace's religions by the new education programs begun by the British, historical statistics have shown that this was not generally the case. For example, in Etawah district, where during the period 1855-57, nearly 200 schools had been opened by the British and tax levied on the population, relative calm prevailed and the schools remained opened during the rebellion.
On March 29, 1857 at the Barrackpore (now Barrackpur) parade ground, near Calcutta (now Kolkata), 29-year-old Mangal Pandey of the 34th BNI, angered by the recent actions by the East India Company, declared that he would rebel against his commanders. When his adjutant Lt. Baugh came out to investigate the unrest, Pandey opened fire but hit his horse instead.
General John Hearsey came out to see him on the parade ground, and claimed later that Mangal Pandey was in some kind of "religious frenzy". He ordered a Jemadar Ishwari Prasad to arrest Mangal Pandey, but the Jemadar refused. The whole regiment, with the single exception of a soldier called Shaikh Paltu, drew back from restraining or arresting Mangal Pandey. Shaikh Paltu restrained Pandey from continuing his attack.
After failing to incite his comrades into an open and active rebellion, Mangal Pandey tried to take his own life by placing his musket to his chest, and pulling the trigger with his toe. He only managed to wound himself, and was court-martialled on April 6. He was hanged on April 8.
The Jemadar Ishwari Prasad was sentenced to death and hanged on April 22. The regiment was disbanded and stripped of their uniforms because it was felt that they harboured ill-feelings towards their superiors, particularly after this incident. Shaikh Paltu was promoted to the rank of Jemadar in the Bengal Army.
Sepoys in other regiments thought this a very harsh punishment. The show of disgrace while disbanding contributed to the extent of the rebellion in view of some historians, as disgruntled ex-sepoys returned home to Awadh with a desire to inflict revenge, as and when the opportunity arose.
Although there was no open revolt at Ambala, there was widespread incendiarism during late April. Barrack buildings (especially those belonging to soldiers who had used the Enfield cartridges) and European officers' bungalows were set on fire.
At Meerut was another large military cantonment. Stationed there were 2,357 Indian sepoys and 2,038 British troops with 12 British-manned guns. Although the state of unrest within the Bengal Army was well known, on April 24, Lt.-Colonel George Carmichael-Smyth, the unsympathetic commanding officer of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry, ordered 90 of his men to parade and perform firing drills. All but five of the men on parade refused to accept their cartridges. On May 9, the remaining 85 men were court martialled, and most were sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment with hard labour. Eleven comparatively young soldiers were given five years' imprisonment. The entire garrison was paraded and watched as the condemned men were stripped of their uniforms and placed in shackles. As they were marched off to jail, the condemned soldiers berated their comrades for failing to support them.
The next day was Sunday, the Christian day of rest and worship. Some Indian soldiers warned off-duty junior European officers (including Hugh Gough, then a lieutenant of horse) that plans were afoot to release the imprisoned soldiers by force, but the senior officers to whom this was reported took no action. There was also unrest in the city of Meerut itself, with angry protests in the bazaar and some buildings being set on fire. In the evening, most European officers were preparing to attend Church, while many of the European soldiers were off duty and had gone into canteens or into the bazaar in Meerut. The Indian troops, led by the 3rd Cavalry, broke into revolt. European junior officers who attempted to quell the first outbreaks were killed by their own men. European officers' and civilians' quarters were attacked, and four civilian men, eight women and eight children died. Crowds in the bazaar attacked the off-duty soldiers there. The sepoys freed their 85 imprisoned comrades from the jail, along with 800 other prisoners (debtors and criminals).
Some sepoys (especially from the 11th Bengal Native Infantry) escorted trusted British officers and women and children to safety before joining the revolt. Some officers and their families escaped to Rampur, where they found refuge with the Nawab. About 50 Indian civilians (some of whom were officers' servants who tried to defend or conceal their employers) were also killed by the sepoys. Exaggerated tales of the number and manner of death of Europeans who died during the uprising at Meerut were later to provide a pretext for Company forces to commit reprisals against Indian civilians and rebellious sepoys during the later suppression of the Revolt.
The senior Company officers, in particular Major General Hewitt, the commander of the division (who was nearly 70 years old and in poor health), were slow to react. The British troops (mainly the 1st Battalion of the 60th Rifles and two European-manned batteries of the Bengal Artillery) rallied, but received no orders to engage the rebellious sepoys and could only guard their own headquarters and armouries. When, on the morning of May 11 they prepared to attack, they found Meerut was quiet and the rebels had marched off to Delhi.
That same morning, the first parties of the 3rd Cavalry reached Delhi. From beneath the windows of the King's apartments in the palace, they called on him to acknowledge and lead them. Bahadur Shah did nothing at this point (apparently treating the sepoys as ordinary petitioners), but others in the palace were quick to join the revolt. During the day, the revolt spread. European officials and dependents, Indian christians and shop keepers within the city were attacked, some by sepoys and others by crowds of rioters. Up to 50 were said to have been killed by some of the King's servants under a peepul tree in a courtyard outside the palace.
There were three battalions of Bengal Native Infantry stationed in or near the city. Some detachments quickly joined the rebellion, while others held back but also refused to obey orders to take action against the rebels. In the afternoon, a violent explosion in the city was heard for several miles. Fearing that the arsenal, which contained large stocks of arms and ammunition, would fall intact into rebel hands, the nine British Ordnance officers there had opened fire on the sepoys, including the men of their own guard. When resistance appeared hopeless, they blew up the arsenal. Although six of the nine officers survived, the blast killed many in the streets and nearby houses and other buildings. The news of these events finally tipped the sepoys stationed around Delhi into open rebellion. The sepoys were later able to salvage at least some arms from the arsenal, and a magazine two miles (3 km) outside Delhi, containing up to 3,000 barrels of gunpowder, was captured without resistance.
Many fugitive European officers and civilians had congregated at the Flagstaff Tower on the ridge north of Delhi, where telegraph operators were sending news of the events to other British stations. When it became clear that no help could arrive, they made their way in carriages to Karnal. Those who became separated from the main body or who could not reach the Flagstaff Tower also set out for Karnal on foot. Some were helped by villagers on the way, others were robbed or murdered.
The next day, Bahadur Shah held his first formal court for many years. It was attended by many excited or unruly sepoys. The King was alarmed by the turn events had taken, but eventually accepted the sepoys' allegiance and agreed to give his countenance to the rebellion.
The news of the events at Delhi spread rapidly, provoking uprisings among sepoys and disturbances in many districts. In many cases, it was the behaviour of British military and civilian authorities themselves which precipitated disorder. Learning of the fall of Delhi by telegraph, many Company administrators hastened to remove themselves, their families and servants to places of safety. At Agra, from Delhi, no less than 6,000 assorted non-combatants converged on the Fort. The haste with which many civilians left their posts encouraged rebellions in the areas they left, although others remained at their posts until it was clearly impossible to maintain any sort of order. Several were murdered by rebels or lawless gangs.
The military authorities also reacted in disjointed manner. Some officers trusted their sepoys, but others tried to disarm them to forestall potential uprisings. At Benares and Allahabad, the disarmings were bungled, also leading to local revolts.
Although rebellion became widespread, there was little unity among the rebels. While Bahadur Shah Zafar was restored to the imperial throne there was a faction that wanted the Maratha rulers to be enthroned also, and the Awadhis wanted to retain the powers that their Nawab used to have.
There were calls for jihad by Muslim leaders like Maulana Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi including the millenarian Ahmedullah Shah, taken up by the Muslims, particularly Muslim artisans, which caused the British to think that the Muslims were the main force behind this event. In Awadh, Sunni Muslims did not want to see a return to Shiite rule, so they often refused to join what they perceived to be a Shia rebellion. However, some Muslims like the Aga Khan supported the British. The British rewarded him by formally recognizing his title. The Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah, resisted these calls because, it has been suggested, he feared outbreaks of communal violence.
The Sikhs and Pathans of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province supported the British and helped in the recapture of Delhi. Some historians have suggested that the Sikhs wanted to avenge the annexation of Punjab eight years earlier by the Company with the help of Purbias (Bengalis and Marathis - Easterner) who helped the British. It has also been suggested that the Sikhs felt insulted by the attitude of Sepoys that (in their view) had only beaten the Khalsa with British help, they resented and despised them far more than the British .
In 1857, the Bengal Army had 86,000 men of which 12,000 were European, 16,000 Punjabi and 1,500 Gurkha soldiers, out of a total of (for the three Indian armies) 311,000 native troops, and 40,160 European troops as well as 5,362 officers. . Fifty-four of the Bengal Army's 75 regular Native Infantry Regiments rebelled, although some were immediately destroyed or broke up with their sepoys drifting away to their homes. Almost all the remainder were disarmed or disbanded to prevent or forestall rebellions. All ten of the Bengal Light Cavalry regiments rebelled.
The Bengal Army also included 29 Irregular Cavalry and 42 Irregular Infantry regiments. These included a substantial contingent from the recently annexed state of Awadh, which rebelled en masse. Another large contingent from Gwalior also rebelled, even though that state's ruler remained allied to the British. The remainder of the Irregular units were raised from a wide variety of sources and were less affected by the concerns of mainstream Indian society. Three bodies in particular actively supported the Company; three Gurkha and five of six Sikh infantry units, and the six infantry and six cavalry units of the recently-raised Punjab Irregular Force.
On April 1, 1858, the number of Indian soldiers in the Bengal army loyal to the Company was 80,053. This total included a large number of soldiers hastily raised in the Punjab and North-West Frontier after the outbreak of the Rebellion.
The Bombay army had three mutinies in its 29 regiments whilst the Madras army had no mutinies, though elements of one of its 52 regiments refused to volunteer for service in Bengal.
Most of southern India remained passive with only sporadic and haphazard outbreaks of violence. Most of the states did not take part in the war as many parts of the region were ruled by the Nizams or the Mysore royalty and were thus not directly under British rule.
The province of Bengal was largely quiet throughout the entire period. Initially, the Indian soldiers were able to significantly push back Company forces, and captured several important towns in Haryana, Bihar, Central Provinces and the United Provinces. When the European troops were reinforced and began to counterattack, the sepoys who mutinied were especially handicapped by their lack of a centralised command and control system. Although they produced some natural leaders such as Bakht Khan (whom the Emperor later nominated as commander-in-chief after his son Mirza Mughal proved ineffectual), for the most part they were forced to look for leadership to rajahs and princes. Some of these were to prove dedicated leaders, but others were self-interested or inept.
Rao Tularam of Haryana and Pran Sukh Yadav fought with the British Army at Nasibpur and then went to collect arms from Russia which had just been in a war with the British in the Crimea. When a tribal leader from Peshawar sent a letter offering help, the king replied that he should not come to Delhi because the treasury was empty and the army had become uncontrollable.
It took time to organize the European troops already in India into field forces, but eventually two columns left Meerut and Simla. They proceeded slowly towards Delhi and fought, killed, and hung numerous Indians along the way. Two months after the first outbreak of rebellion at Meerut, the two forces met near Karnal. The combined force (which included two Gurkha units serving in the Bengal Army under contract from the Kingdom of Nepal), fought the main army of the rebels at Badli-ke-Serai and drove them back to Delhi.
The Company established a base on the Delhi ridge to the north of the city and the Siege of Delhi began. The siege lasted roughly from July 1 to September 21. However, the encirclement was hardly complete, and for much of the siege the Company forces were outnumbered and it often seemed that it was the Company forces and not Delhi that was under siege, and the rebels could easily receive resources and reinforcements. For several weeks, it seemed that disease, exhaustion and continuous sorties by rebels from Delhi would force the Company forces to withdraw, but the outbreaks of rebellion in the Punjab were forestalled or suppressed, allowing the Punjab Movable Column of British, Sikh and Pakhtun soldiers under John Nicholson to reinforce the besiegers on the Ridge on August 14. On August 30th the rebels offered terms, which were refused..
An eagerly-awaited heavy siege train joined the besieging force, and from September 7, the siege guns battered breaches in the walls and silenced the rebels' artillery. An attempt to storm the city through the breaches and the Kashmiri gate was launched on September 14. The attackers gained a foothold within the city but suffered heavy casualties, including John Nicholson. The British commander wished to withdraw, but was persuaded to hold on by his junior officers. After a week of street fighting, the British reached the Red Fort. Bahadur Shah had already fled to Humayun's tomb. The British had retaken the city.
The troops of the besieging force proceeded to loot and pillage the city. A large number of the citizens were killed in retaliation for the Europeans and Indian civilians that had been killed by the rebel sepoys. During the street fighting, artillery had been set up in the main mosque in the city and the neighbourhoods within range were bombarded. These included the homes of the Muslim nobility from all over India, and contained innumerable cultural, artistic, literary and monetary riches.
The British soon arrested Bahadur Shah, and the next day British officer William Hodson shot his sons Mirza Mughal, Mirza Khizr Sultan, and grandson Mirza Abu Bakr under his own authority at the Khooni Darwaza (the bloody gate) near Delhi Gate. On hearing the news Zafar reacted with shocked silence while his wife Zinat Mahal was happy as she believed her son was now Zafar's heir..
Shortly after the fall of Delhi, the victorious attackers organised a column which relieved another besieged Company force in Agra, and then pressed on to Cawnpore, which had also recently been recaptured. This gave the Company forces a continuous, although still tenuous, line of communication from the east to west of India.
In June, sepoys under General Wheeler in Cawnpore (present day Kanpur) rebelled and besieged the European entrenchment. Wheeler was not only a veteran and respected soldier, but also married to a high-caste Indian lady. He had relied on his own prestige, and his cordial relations with the Nana Sahib to thwart rebellion, and took comparatively few measures to prepare fortifications and lay in supplies and ammunition.
The besieged endured three weeks of the Siege of Cawnpore with little water or food, suffering continuous casualties to men, women and children. On June 25 Nana Sahib made an offer of safe passage to Allahabad. With barely three days' food rations remaining, the British agreed provided they could keep their small arms and that the evacuation should take place in daylight on the morning of the 27th (the Nana Sahib wanted the evacuation to take place on the night of the 26th). Early in the morning of June 27, the European party left their entrenchment and made their way to the river where boats provided by the Nana Sahib were waiting to take them to Allahabad. Several sepoys who had stayed loyal to the Company were removed by the mutineers and killed, either because of their loyalty or because 'they had become Christian'. A few injured British officers trailing the column were also apparently hacked to death by angry sepoys. After the European party had largely arrived at the dock, which was surrounded by sepoys positioned, on both banks of the Ganges, with clear lines of fire, firing broke out and the boats were abandoned by their crew, and caught or were set on fire using pieces of red hot charcoal. The British party tried to push the boats off but all except three remained stuck. One boat with over a dozen wounded men initially escaped, but later grounded, was caught by mutineers and pushed back down the river towards the carnage at Cawnpore. Towards the end rebel cavalry rode into the water to finish off any survivors. After the firing ceased the survivors were rounded up and the men shot. By the time the massacre was over, all the male members of the party were dead while the women and children were removed and held hostage (and later killed in The Bibigarh massacre). Only four men eventually escaped alive from Cawnpore on one of the boats: two private soldiers (both of whom died later during the Rebellion), a lieutenant, and Captain Mowbray Thomson, who wrote a first-hand account of his experiences entitled The Story of Cawnpore (London, 1859).
Whether the firing was planned or accidental remains unresolved. Most early histories assume it was planned either by the Nana Sahib (Kaye and Malleson) or that Tantia Tope and Brigadier Jwala Pershad planned it without the Nana Sahib's knowledge (G W Forrest). The stated reasons for the planned nature are: the speed with which the Nana Sahib agreed to the British conditions (Mowbray Thomson); and the firepower arranged around the ghat which was far in excess of what was necessary to guard the European troops (most histories agree on this). During his trial, Tatya Tope denied the existence of any such plan and described the incident in the following terms: the Europeans had already boarded the boats and he (Tatya Tope) raised his right hand to signal their departure. That very moment someone from the crowd blew a loud bugle which created disorder and in the ongoing bewilderment, the boatmen jumped off the boats. The rebels started shooting indiscriminately. Nana Sahib, who was staying in Savada Kothi (Bungalow) nearby, was informed about what was happening and immediately came to stop it. Some British histories allow that it might well have been the result of accident or error; someone accidentally or maliciously fired a shot, the panic-stricken British opened fire, and it became impossible to stop the massacre.
The surviving women and children were taken to the Nana Sahib and then confined first to the Savada Kothi and then to the home of the local magistrate's clerk (The Bibigarh) where they were joined by refugees from Fatehgarh. Overall five men and two hundred and six women and children were confined in The Bibigarh for about two weeks. In one week 25 were brought out dead, due to dysentery and cholera . Meanwhile a Company relief force that had advanced from Allahabad defeated the Indians and by July 15th it was clear that the Nana Sahib would not be able to hold Cawnpore and a decision was made by the Nana Sahib and other leading rebels that the hostages must be killed. After the sepoys refused to carry out this order, two Muslim butchers, two Hindu peasants and one of Nana's bodyguards went into The Bibigarh. Armed with knives and hatchets they murdered the women and children. , after the massacre the walls were covered in bloody hand prints, and the floor littered with fragments of human limbs, . The dead and the dying were thrown down a nearby well, when the well was full, the deep well was filled with remains to within of the top, the remainder were thrown into the Ganges.
Historians have given many reasons for this act of cruelty. With Company forces approaching Cawnpore and some believing that they would not advance if there were no hostages to save, their murders were ordered. Or perhaps it was to ensure that no information was leaked after the fall of Cawnpore. Other historians have suggested that the killings were an attempt to undermine Nana Sahib's relationship with the British ;. Perhaps it was due to fear, the fear of being recognized by some of the prisoners for having taken part in the earlier firings.
Other British accounts state that indiscriminate punitive measures were taken in early June, two weeks before the murders at the Bibi-Ghar (but after those at both Meerut and Delhi), specifically by Lieutenant Colonel James George Smith Neill of the Madras Fusiliers (a European unit), commanding at Allahabad while moving towards Cawnpore. At the nearby town of Fatehpur, a mob had attacked and murdered the local European population. On this pretext, Neill ordered all villages beside the Grand Trunk Road to be burned and their inhabitants to be hanged. Neill's methods were "ruthless and horrible" and far from intimidating the population, may well have induced previously undecided sepoys and communities to revolt.
Neill was killed in action at Lucknow on September 26 and was never called to account for his punitive measures, though contemporary British sources lionised him and his "gallant blue caps". By contrast with the actions of soldiers under Neill, the behaviour of most rebel soldiers was creditable. "Our creed does not permit us to kill a bound prisoner", one of the matchlockmen explained, "though we can slay our enemy in battle."
When the British retook Cawnpore, the soldiers took their sepoy prisoners to The Bibigarh and forced them to lick the bloodstains from the walls and floor. They then hanged or "blew from the cannon" (the traditional Mughal punishment for mutiny) the majority of the sepoy prisoners. Although some claimed the sepoys took no actual part in the killings themselves, they did not act to stop it and this was acknowledged by Captain Thompson after the British departed Cawnpore for a second time.
Very soon after the events in Meerut, rebellion erupted in the state of Awadh (also known as Oudh, in modern-day Uttar Pradesh), which had been annexed barely a year before. The British Commissioner resident at Lucknow, Sir Henry Lawrence, had enough time to fortify his position inside the Residency compound. The Company forces numbered some 1700 men, including loyal sepoys. The rebels' initial assaults were unsuccessful, and so they began a barrage of artillery and musket fire into the compound. Lawrence was one of the first casualties. The rebels tried to breach the walls with explosives and bypass them via underground tunnels that led to underground close combat. After 90 days of siege, numbers of Company forces were reduced to 300 loyal sepoys, 350 British soldiers and 550 non-combatants.
On September 25 a relief column under the command of Sir Henry Havelock and accompanied by Sir James Outram (who in theory was his superior) fought its way from Cawnpore to Lucknow in a brief campaign in which the numerically small column defeated rebel forces in a series of increasingly large battles. This became known as 'The First Relief of Lucknow', as this force was not strong enough to break the siege or extricate themselves, and so was forced to join the garrison. In October another, larger, army under the new Commander-in-Chief, Sir Colin Campbell, was finally able to relieve the garrison and on the November 18, they evacuated the defended enclave within the city, the women and children leaving first. They then conducted an orderly withdrawal to Cawnpore, where they defeated an attempt by Tantya Tope to recapture the city in the Second Battle of Cawnpore.
Early in 1858, Campbell once again advanced on Lucknow with a large army, this time seeking to suppress the rebellion in Awadh. He was aided by a large Nepalese contingent advancing from the north under Jang Bahadur, who decided to side with the Company in December 1857. Campbell's advance was slow and methodical, and drove the large but disorganised rebel army from Lucknow with few casualties to his own troops. This nevertheless allowed large numbers of the rebels to disperse into Awadh, and Campbell was forced to spend the summer and autumn dealing with scattered pockets of resistance while losing men to heat, disease and guerilla actions.
When war broke out, Jhansi quickly became a centre of the rebellion. A small group of Company officials and their families took refuge in Jhansi's fort, and the Rani negotiated their evacuation. However, when they left the fort, they were massacred by the rebels. Although the treachery might have occurred without the Rani's consent, the Europeans suspected her of complicity, despite her protestations of innocence.
By the end of June 1857, the Company had lost control of much of Bundelkhand and eastern Rajasthan. The Bengal Army units in the area, having rebelled, marched to take part in the battles for Delhi and Cawnpore. The many princely states which made up this area began warring amongst themselves. In September and October 1857, the Rani led the successful defence of Jhansi against the invading armies of the neighbouring rajas of Datia and Orchha.
On 3 February Rose broke the 3-month siege of Saugor. Thousands of local villagers welcomed him as a liberator, freeing them from rebel occupation
In March 1858, the Central India Field Force, led by Sir Hugh Rose, advanced on and laid siege to Jhansi. The Company forces captured the city, but the Rani fled in disguise.
After being driven from Jhansi and Kalpi, on June 1 1858 Rani Lakshmi Bai and a group of Maratha rebels captured the fortress city of Gwalior from the Scindia rulers, who were British allies. This might have reinvigorated the rebellion but the Central India Field Force very quickly advanced against the city. The Rani died on June 17, the second day of the Battle of Gwalior probably killed by a carbine shot from the 8th Hussars, according to the account of three independent Indian representatives. The Company forces recaptured Gwalior within the next three days. In descriptions of the scene of her last battle, she was compared to Joan Of Arc by some commentators. Indore
Colonel Henry Durand, the then Company resident at Indore had brushed away any possibility of uprising in Indore. However, on July 1st, sepoys in Holkar's army revolted and opened fire on the pickets of Bhopal Cavalry. When Colonel Travers rode forward to charge, Bhopal Cavalry refused to follow. The Bhopal Infantry also refused orders and instead leveled their guns at European sergeants and officers. Since all possibility of mounting an effective deterrent was lost, Durand decided to gather up all the European residents and escape, although 39 European residents of Indore were killed.
What was then referred to by the British as the Punjab was a very large administrative division, centred on Lahore. It included not only the present-day Indian and Pakistani Punjabi regions but also the North West Frontier districts bordering Afghanistan.
Much of the region had been the Sikh kingdom, ruled by Ranjit Singh until his death in 1839. The kingdom had then fallen into disorder, with court factions and the Khalsa (the Sikh army) contending for power at the Lahore Durbar (court). After two Anglo-Sikh Wars, the entire region was annexed by the East India Company in 1849. In 1857, the region still contained the highest numbers of both European and Indian troops.
The inhabitants of the Punjab were not as sympathetic to the sepoys as they were elsewhere in India, which limited many of the outbreaks in the Punjab to disjointed uprisings by regiments of sepoys isolated from each other. In some garrisons, notably Ferozepore, indecision on the part of the senior European officers allowed the sepoys to rebel, but the sepoys then left the area, mostly heading for Delhi. At the most important garrison, that of Peshawar close to the Afghan frontier, many comparatively junior officers ignored their nominal commander (the elderly General Reed) and took decisive action. They intercepted the sepoys' mail, thus preventing their coordinating an uprising, and formed a force known as the "Punjab Movable Column" to move rapidly to suppress any revolts as they occurred. When it became clear from the intercepted correspondence that some of the sepoys at Peshawar were on the point of open revolt, the four most disaffected Bengal Native regiments were disarmed by the two British infantry regiments in the cantonment, backed by artillery, on May 22. This decisive act induced many local chieftains to side with the British.
Some regiments in frontier garrisons subsequently rebelled, but became isolated among hostile Pakhtun villages and tribes. There were several mass executions, amounting to several hundred, of sepoys from units which rebelled or who deserted in the Punjab and North West Frontier provinces during June and July. The British had been recruiting irregular units from Sikh and Pakhtun communities even before the first unrest among the Bengal units, and the numbers of these were greatly increased during the Rebellion.
At one stage, faced with the need to send troops to reinforce the besiegers of Delhi, the Commissioner of the Punjab suggested handing the coveted prize of Peshawar to Dost Mohammed Khan of Afghanistan in return for a pledge of friendship. The British Agents in Peshawar and the adjacent districts were horrified. Referring to the massacre of a retreating British army in 1840, Herbert Edwardes wrote, "Dost Mahomed would not be a mortal Afghan ... if he did not assume our day to be gone in India and follow after us as an enemy. Europeans cannot retreat - Kabul would come again." In the event Lord Canning insisted on Peshawar being held, and Dost Mohammed, whose relations with Britain had been equivocal for over 20 years, remained neutral.
The final large-scale military uprising in the Punjab took place on July 9, when most of a brigade of sepoys at Sialkot rebelled and began to move to Delhi. They were intercepted by John Nicholson with an equal British force as they tried to cross the Ravi River. After fighting steadily but unsuccessfully for several hours, the sepoys tried to fall back across the river but became trapped on an island. Three days later, Nicholson annihilated the 1100 trapped sepoys in the Battle of Trimmu Ghat.
Jhelum in Punjab was also a centre of resistance against the British. Here 35 British soldiers of HM XXIV regiment (South Wales Borderers), died on 7 July 1857. To commemorate this victory St. John's Church Jhelum was built and the names of those 35 British soldiers are carved on a marble lectern present in that church.Jaunpur
Landlords of the Raghuvamsha clan of Rajputs; Taluqa-Dobhi, District - Jaunpur; played a prominent part in the Rebellion. On hearing of the uprisings against British rule in the surrounding districts of Ghazipur, Azamgarh and Banaras, the Rajputs of Dobhi organised themselves into an armed force and attacked the Company all over the region. They also cut the Company communications along the Banaras-Azamgarh road and advanced towards the former Banaras State.
In the first encounter with the British regular troops, the Rajputs suffered heavy losses, but withdrew in order. Regrouping themselves, they made a bid to capture Banaras. In the meantime, Azamgarh had been besieged by another large force of rebels. The Company was unable to send reinforcement to Azamgarh due to the challenge posed by the Dobhi Rajputs. A clash became inevitable and the Company attacked the Rajputs with the help of the Sikhs and the Hindustani cavalry at the end of June 1857. The Rajputs were handicapped as the torrential monsoon rains soaked their supplies of gun-powder. The Rajputs, however, bitterly opposed the Company advance with swords and spears and the few serviceable guns and muskets that they had. The battle took place about 5 miles North of Banaras at a place called Pisnaharia-ka-Inar. The Rajputs were driven back with heavy losses across the Gomti river. The British army crossed the river and sacked every Rajput village in the area.
A few months later, Kunwar Singh of Jagdishpur (District Arrah, Bihar), advanced and occupied Azamgarh. The Banaras Army sent against him was defeated outside Azamgarh. The Company rushed reinforcements and there was a furious battle in which the Rajputs of Dobhi helped Kunwar Singh, their distant relative. Kunwar Singh had to withdraw and the Rajputs became the subject of cruel reprisals by the Company. The leaders of the Dobhi Rajputs were invited to a conference and treacherously arrested by the Company troops which had surrounded the place in Senapur village in May 1858. All were summarily executed by hanging from a mango tree, along with nine of there other followers. The dead bodies were further shot with muskets and left hanging from the trees. After few days, the bodies were taken down by the villagers and cremated.Arrah
On 25th of July, rebellion erupted in the garrisons of Dinapur. The rebels quickly moved towards the cities of Arrah and were joined by Kunwar Singh and his men. Mr. Boyle, a British engineer in Arrah, had already prepared his house for defense against such attacks. As the rebels approached Arrah, all European residents took refuge at Mr. Boyle's house. A siege soon ensued and 50 loyal sepoys defended the house against artillery and musketry fire from the rebels.
On 29th of July, 400 men were sent out from Dinapore to relieve Arrah, but this force was ambushed by the rebels around a mile away from the siege house, severely defeated, and driven back. On 30th of July, Major Vincent Eyre who was going up the river with his troops and guns reached Buxar and heard about the siege. He immediately disembarked his guns and troops (the 5th Fusiliers) and started marching towards Arrah. On August 2nd, Some short of Arrah, the Major was ambushed by the rebels. After an intense fight, the 5th Fusilliers charged and stormed the rebel positions successfully. On 3rd of August, major Eyre and his men reached the siege house and successfully ended the siege.
From the end of 1857, the British had begun to gain ground again. Lucknow was retaken in March 1858. On 8 July 1858, a peace treaty was signed and the war ended. The last rebels were defeated in Gwalior on 20 June 1858. By 1859, rebel leaders Bakht Khan and Nana Sahib had either been slain or had fled. As well as hanging mutineers, the British had some "blown from cannon"-- an old Mughal punishment adopted many years before in India. A method of execution midway between firing squad and hanging but more demonstrative, sentenced rebels were set before the mouth of cannons and blown to pieces. In terms of sheer numbers, the casualties were significantly higher on the Indian side. A letter published after the fall of Delhi in the "Bombay Telegraph" and reproduced in the British press testified to the scale and nature of the retaliation:
.... All the city people found within the walls (of the city of Delhi) when our troops entered were bayoneted on the spot, and the number was considerable, as you may suppose, when I tell you that in some houses forty and fifty people were hiding. These were not mutineers but residents of the city, who trusted to our well-known mild rule for pardon. I am glad to say they were disappointed.
Another brief letter from General Montgomery to Captain Hodson, the conqueror of Delhi exposes how the British military high command approved of the cold blooded massacre of Delhites: "All honour to you for catching the king and slaying his sons. I hope you will bag many more!"
Another comment on the conduct of the British soldiers after the fall of Delhi is of Captain Hodson himself in his book, Twelve years in India: "With all my love for the army, I must confess, the conduct of professed Christians, on this occasion, was one of the most humiliating facts connected with the siege." (Hodson was killed during the recapture of Lucknow in early 1858).
Edward Vibart, a 19-year-old officer, also recorded his experience:
Some British troops adopted a policy of "no prisoners". One officer, Thomas Lowe, remembered how on one occasion his unit had taken 76 prisoners - they were just too tired to carry on killing and needed a rest, he recalled. Later, after a quick trial, the prisoners were lined up with a British soldier standing a couple of yards in front of them. On the order "fire", they were all simultaneously shot, "swept... from their earthly existence". This was not the only mass execution Lowe participated in: on another occasion his unit took 149 prisoners, and they were lined up and simultaneously shot.
As a result, the end of the war was followed by the execution of a vast majority of combatants from the Indian side as well as large numbers of civilians perceived to be sympathetic to the rebel cause. The British press and government did not advocate clemency of any kind, though Governor General Canning tried to be sympathetic to native sensibilities, earning the scornful sobriquet "Clemency Canning". Soldiers took very few prisoners and often executed them later. Whole villages were wiped out for apparent pro-rebel sympathies. The Indians called this retaliation "the Devil's Wind."
Saul David estimates the death toll ran into the hundreds of thousands.
The scale and savagery of the punishments handed out by the British "Army of Retribution" were considered largely appropriate and justified in a Britain shocked by the barrage of press reports about atrocities carried out on Europeans and Christians. Accounts of the time frequently reach the "hyperbolic register", according to Chris Herbert, especially in the often-repeated claim that the "Red Year" of 1857 marked "a terrible break" in British experience. Such was the atmosphere - a national "mood of retribution and despair" that led to "almost universal approval" of the measures taken to pacify the revolt.
The popular poet Martin Tupper - "in a ferment of indignation" - played a major part in shaping the public's response. His poems, filled with calls for the razing of Delhi and the erection of "groves of gibbets" are telling:
"And England, now avenge their wrongs by vengeance deep and dire,/ Cut out their canker with the sword, and burn it out with fire;/ Destroy those traitor regions, hang every pariah hound,/ And hunt them down to death, in all hills and cities ‘round.
Punch, normally cynical and dispassionate where other periodicals were jingoistic, in August published a two-page cartoon depicting the British Lion attacking a Bengal Tiger that had attacked an English woman and child; the cartoon received considerable attention at the time, with the New York Times writing a piece about it in September as emblematic of a near-universal British desire for revenge. It was re-issued as a print, and made the career of John Tenniel, later famous as the illustrator of Alice.
The December 1857 issue of Charles Dickens' Household Words contained an essay by Dickens and Wilkie Collins in which Dickens says, in words that are representative of that otherwise progressive novelist's "reversal" of views when it came to Imperial affairs, and are considered by some scholars to be emblematic of the middle Victorian literary encounter with imperialism:
"I wish I were a commander in chief in India. The first thing I would do to strike that Oriental Race with amazement....should be to proclaim to them that my holding that appointment by the leave of God, to mean that I should do my utmost to exterminate the race upon whom the stain of the late cruelties rested; and that I was there for that purpose and no other, . . .now proceeding, with all convenient dispatch and merciful swiftness of execution, to blot it out of mankind and raze it off the face of the Earth."
According to distinguished Victorianist Peter Brantlinger, no event raised national hysteria in Britain to a higher pitch, and no event in the 19th century took a greater hold on the British imagination, so much so that "Victorian writing about the Mutiny expresses in concentrated form the racist ideology that Edward Said calls Orientalism".
Bahadur Shah was tried for treason by a military commission assembled at Delhi, and exiled to Rangoon where he died in 1862, bringing the Mughal dynasty to an end. In 1877 Queen Victoria took the title of Empress of India on the advice of Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli.
The rebellion saw the end of the British East India Company's rule in India. In August, by the Government of India Act 1858, the company was formally dissolved and its ruling powers over India were transferred to the British Crown. A new British government department, the India Office, was created to handle the governance of India, and its head, the Secretary of State for India, was entrusted with formulating Indian policy. The Governor-General of India gained a new title (Viceroy of India), and implemented the policies devised by the India Office. The British colonial administration embarked on a program of reform, trying to integrate Indian higher castes and rulers into the government and abolishing attempts at Westernization. The Viceroy stopped land grabs, decreed religious tolerance and admitted Indians into civil service, albeit mainly as subordinates.
Essentially the old East India Company bureaucracy remained, though there was a major shift in attitudes. In looking for the causes of the Mutiny the authorities alighted on two things: religion and the economy. On religion it was felt that there had been too much interference with indigenous traditions, both Hindu and Muslim. On the economy it was now believed that the previous attempts by the Company to introduce free market competition had undermined traditional power structures and bonds of loyalty, placing the peasantry at the mercy of merchants and money-lenders. In consequence the new British Raj was constructed in part around a conservative agenda, based on a preservation of tradition and hierarchy.
On a political level it was also felt that the previous lack of consultation between rulers and ruled had been yet another significant factor in contributing to the uprising. In consequence, Indians were drawn into government at a local level. Though this was on a limited scale a crucial precedent had been set, with the creation of a new 'white collar' Indian elite, further stimulated by the opening of universities at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, a result of the Indian Universities Act. So, alongside the values of traditional and ancient India, a new professional middle class was starting to arise, in no way bound by the values of the past. Their ambition can only have been stimulated by Victoria's Proclamation of November 1858, in which it is expressly stated that "We hold ourselves bound to the natives of our Indian territories by the same obligations of duty which bind us to our other subjects...it is our further will that... our subjects of whatever race or creed, be freely and impartially admitted to offices in our service, the duties of which they may be qualified by their education, ability and integrity, duly to discharge."
Acting on these sentiments, Lord Ripon, viceroy from 1880 to 1885, extended the powers of local self-government and sought to remove racial practices in the law courts by the Ilbert Bill. But a policy at once liberal and progressive at one turn was reactionary and backward at the next, creating new elites and confirming old attitudes. The Ilbert Bill only had the effect of causing a White mutiny, and the end of the prospect of perfect equality before the law. In 1886 measures were adopted to restrict Indian entry into the civil service.
Militarily, the rebellion transformed both the "native" and European armies of British India. The British increased the ratio of British to Indian soldiers. Regiments which had remained loyal were retained, and the number of Gurkha units, which had been crucial in the Delhi campaign, was increased. The inefficiencies of the old organisation, which had estranged sepoys from their British officers, were addressed, and the post-1857 units were mainly organised on the "irregular" system. (Before the rebellion, Bengal Infantry units had 26 British officers, who held every position of authority down to the second-in-command of each company. In irregular units, there were only six or seven or even fewer European officers, who associated themselves far more closely with their soldiers, while more trust and responsibility was given to the Indian officers.) Most new units were raised from among the so-called "Martial Races", which were not part of mainstream Indian culture. Sepoy artillery was abolished also, leaving all artillery (except some small detachments of mountain guns) in British hands. The post-rebellion changes formed the basis of the military organisation of British India until the early 20th century.
The use of the term "Indian Mutiny" is considered by some Indian politicians as unacceptable and offensive, as it is perceived to belittle what they see as a "First War of Independence" and therefore reflecting a biased, imperialistic attitude of the erstwhile colonists. Others dispute this interpretation.
A second school of thought while acknowledging the validity of the above-mentioned arguments opines that this rebellion may indeed be called a war of India's independence. The reasons advanced are:
To live in India, now, was like standing on the verge of a volcanic crater, the sides of which were fast crumbling away from our feet, while the boiling lava was ready to erupt and consume us...The infanticide Rajput, the bigoted Brahmin, the fanatic Mussalman, had joined together in the cause; cow-killer and the cow-worshipper, the pig-hater and the pig-eater… had revolted together. - Thomas Lowe, British chronicler, 1860