The Sepoy War of 1857
Mutiny or First Indian War of Independence?
The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois
civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home,
where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes
naked. Did they not, in India, to borrow an expression of that great
robber, Lord Clive himself, resort to atrocious extortion, when simple
corruption could not keep pace with their rapacity? While they prated
in Europe about the inviolable sanctity of the national debt, did they
not confiscate in India the dividends of the rajahs, who had invested
their private savings in the Company's own funds? While they combated
the French revolution under the pretext of defending "our holy
religion," did they not forbid, at the same time, Christianity to be
propagated in India, and did they not, in order to make money out of
the pilgrims streaming to the temples of Orissa and Bengal, take up
the trade in the murder and prostitution perpetrated in the temple of
the Juggernaut? These are the men of "Property, Order, Family, and
-Karl Marx, The New-York Daily Tribune. 22 July, 1853.
The story of the Sepoy (sepáhí) War of 1857, (an attempt at a
compromise between two more controversial titles, 'the Sepoy Mutiny of
1857' and 'the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857,' though "insurgency" might
also fit) began long before March of 1857. The history of the war
delves deep into the colonization and conquest of India and the
cultural and religious oppression imposed on Indians by British rule.
Furthermore, the telling of the history of the war is, to this day, an
ongoing battle between two competing narratives, the history belonging
to the British that won the war, and the history claimed by the
Indians who were defeated. In a time when the history of India is
being retold everyday, this web page is an attempt to present a
history of the Sepoy War that is derived from various points of view,
accounting for the context of the histories related, and the points of
view of the historians relating them.
The East India Company was a massive export company that was the force
behind much of the colonization of India. The power of the East India
Company took nearly 150 years to build. As early as 1693, the annual
expenditure in political "gifts" to men in power reached nearly 90,000
pounds (Marx 23). In bribing the Government, the East India Company
was allowed to operate in overseas markets despite the fact that the
cheap imports of South Asian silk, cotton, and other products hurt
domestic business. By 1767, the Company was forced into an agreement
that is should pay 400,000 pounds into the National Exchequer
By 1848, however, the East India Company's financial difficulties had
reached a point where expanding revenue required expanding British
territories in South Asia massively. The Government began to set aside
adoption rights of native princes and began the process of annexation
of more than a dozen independent Rajes between 1848 and 1854 (Marx 51;
Kaye 30). In an article published in The New York Daily Tribune on
July 28, 1857, Karl Marx notes that "... in 1854 the Raj of Berar,
which comprise 80,000 square miles of land, a population from four to
five million, and enormous treasures, was forcibly seized" (Marx 51).
In order to consolidate and control these new holdings, a well-
established army of 200,000 South Asians officered by 40,000 British
soldiers dominated India by 1857. The last vestiges of independent
Indian states had disappeared and the East India Company exported tons
of gold, silk, cotton, and a host of other precious materials back to
England every year.
Historians like J.A.B. Palmer and John Kaye trace the origins of the
soldiers' rebellion at Meerut, in which South Asian soldiers rose up
against their colonial officers, to the Lee-Enfield Rifle. It was
developed at the Enfield arsenal by James P. Lee and fired a .303
caliber ammunition that had to manually loaded before firing. Loading
involved biting the end of the cartridge, which was greased in pig fat
and beef tallow. This presented a problem for native soldiers, as pig
fat is a haraam, or forbidden, substance to Muslims, and beef fat is,
likewise, deemed inauspicious for certain Hindus. Thus, the revolt
occurred as a reaction to this particular intrusion into Hindu and
Muslim culture, and then caught on as a national rebellion. Palmer
dramatically relates this discovery, according to Captain Wright,
commanding the Rifle Instruction Depot:
Somewhere about the end of the third week in January 1857, a khalasi,
that is to say a labourer, accosted a high Brahmin sepoy and asked for
a drink of water from his lotah (water-pot). The Brahmin refused on
the score of caste. The khalasi then said, "You will soon lose your
caste, as ere long you will have to bite catridges covered with the
fat of pigs and cows," or, it is added, "words to that
effect." (Palmer 15)
Furthermore, historians taking similar positions argue that British
legislation that interfered with traditional Hindu or Muslim religious
practices were a source of antagonism. Palmer and Kaye also argue
throughout their respective work that the prohibition practices such
as saathi (often transliterated "sati"), or the ritual suicide of
widows on their husbands' funeral pyres, became a source of outrage.
In other words, the growing intrusion of western culture became the
impetus for rebellious soldiers, fearful that their culture was being
The long-belabored significance of the Lee-Enfield cartridge is
challenged by the work of historians like Marx, Collier, Majumdar,
Chaudhuri, and Malleson (see citations below). These historians argue
that the actions of soldiers at Meerut was the "last straw" for South
Asians who had been victims of British cultural and class based
oppression and antagonism, and discard the notion that religion played
an overwhelmingly vital role in fomenting revolt. For them, the root
causes of the insurgency cannot be traced to a single, well-defined
set of events and causes, but rather stemmed from an on-going set of
Divide and Conquer
Col. G.B. Malleson argues that forcing Western ideas on an Eastern
people fundamentally backfired, and the "divide and conquer" tactics
employed by the British in India ultimately sowed the seeds of the
rebellion. He notes, "action of a different character ... so dear to
the untravelled Englishman, or forcing the ideas in which he has been
nurtured upon the foreign people with whom he has brought into
contact, assisted ... to loosen the bonds of discipline, which, up to
that period, had bound the [Sepoy] to his officer" (Malleson 8). In
other words, the Sepoy soldiers found themselves constantly pit
against their countrymen in an army governed by what common soldiers
came to feel were outside influences. In a colonial setting, this is
the prime breeding ground for a coup, (or in this case, a revolt)
because any soldier's allegiance is governed by competition with other
soldiers in currying favor and accumulating power, not by discipline
or obedience to the orders of superior officers, and he begins to
affiliate himself with his own people rather than the military ethics
forced on him.
Greater still was the influence of British expansionism on the Sepoy
Rebellion. Richard Collier explains how rapidly increasing territorial
conquest also intesified Indian unrest:
... these annexations were a source of discontent and anxiety to many
people besides the sepoys. In eight years, Canning's predecessor, the
despotic Lord Dalhousie, at 35 the youngest Governor-General India had
ever known, had annexed over 250,000 square miles-- an area three
times the size of England and Ireland. The Punjab, Sattara, Nagpur--
Dalhousie's hands had stretched out to embrace them all. 'An Indian
Governor General,' stormed The Hindu Patriot, 'is chartered to destroy
dynasties with a scratch of his quill.' Indignities were heaped upon
crowned heads: the jewels of the Royal Family of Nagpur were publicly
auctioned in Calcutta. (Collier 19)
Partcipating in the military conquest of local authorities, then, and
having first-hand knowledge of the effects of British expansionism
would have fomented resistance in the Sepoys.
Torture and Oppression
On August 28, 1857, Marx published an article in The New York Daily
Tribune in order to "[show] that the British rulers of India are by no
means such mild and spotless benefactors of the Indian people as they
would have the world believe" (Marx 72). Marx cites the official Blue
Books -- entitled "East India (Torture) 1855-57"-- that were laid
before the House of Commons during the sessions of 1856 and 1857. The
reports revealed that British officers were allowed an extended series
of appeals if convicted or accused of brutality or crimes against
Indians. Concerning matters of extortion in collecting public revenue,
the report indicates that officers had free reign of any methods at
their disposal (Marx 73).
Torture became a financial institution in colonial India, and was
challenged by a petition from the Madras Native Association presented
in January of 1856. The petition was dismissed on the basis of a lack
of evidence, despite the fact that, according to the Marx, "there was
scarcely any investigation at all, the Commission sitting only in the
city of Madras, and for but three months, while it was impossible,
except in very few cases, for the natives who had comnplaints to make
to leave their homes" (Marx 74). Marx also refers to Lord Dalhousie's
statements in the Blue Books that there was "irrefragable proof" that
various officers had committed "gross injustice, to arbitrary
imprisonment and cruel torture" (76).
In addition to torture, the Company levied extremely large taxes on
the Indian people. Collier describes taxes as "a cynical outrage. A
man could not travel twenty miles without paying toll at a river
ferry, farmed out by the Company to private speculators. Land Tax,
often demanded before the crop was raised, was made in quarterly
installments ... the annual rent for an acre of land was
3s[hillings]., yet the produce of that acre rarely averaged
8s[hillings]. in value." (Collier 20)
Marx's position, as illustrated by the introductory quote to this
page, is that the Indians were victims of both physical and economic
forms of class oppression by the British. In Marx's analysis, the
clash between the soldiers and their officers is the inevitable
conflict that is the result of capitalism and imperialism.
The military history of the rebellion is straightforward. Prior to the
"mutiny" at Meerut on May 9th, 1857, fires broke out on January 22nd
near Caclutta. An incident occurred on February 25th of that year when
the 19th regiment mutinied at Berhampore, and the 34th Regiment
rebelled at Barrackpore on the 31st of March. At Berhampore, the
regiment allowed one of it's men to advance with a loaded musket upon
the parade-ground in front of a line and open fire on his superior
officer; a battle ensued. April saw fires at Allahabad, Agra, an
Ambala, but the spark that lit the powder keg went off on May 9th in
Members of the 3rd regiment of light cavalry were awaiting sentencing
and imprisonment for refusal to obey orders and put the Lee-Enfield .
303 caliber cartridge into their mouths. Once imprisoned, the 11th and
20th cavalry assembled and broke rank and turned on their commanding
officers. After liberating the 3rd regiment, chaos ensued in Meerut,
and the rebels engaged the remaining British Troops. Meerut was the
single-most evenly balanced station in India in terms of the numbers
of British and Indian soldiers. Troops and rebels were on near-even
terms with 2,028 European Troops versus 2,357 sepoys, which certainly
made the British side's capacity to defend its interest and defeat the
Sepoys that much more likely. Furthermore, the British had 12 field
guns and the sepoys had no artillery. Both Collier and Marx indicate
that the rebellion would have ended there had Major-General William
Hewitt cut off the rebel army at the bridge between Meerut and Delhi,
some 40 miles away, with added weapons. (Collier 40)
As the 38th, 54th, and 74th regiments of infantry and native artillery
under Bahkt Khan (c.1797- c.1859) joined the rebel army at Delhi in
May. June 1857 marked the battle of Kanpur (Cawnpore). The last
Maratha prince, Baji Rao II, decreed his title and 80,000 pound annual
pension to his son Nana Sahib (c.1820- c.1859) and was refused twice.
Despite Sahib's attempts to push his claim, Lord Dalhousie refused the
Hindu nobleman. Thus, in June 1857, Nana Sahib led the sepoy
battalions at Crawnpore against the British. Nana Sahib sent word to
Sir Hugh Wheeler, commander of the Britsh forces at Cawnpore warning
of the attack, guaranteeing him safe passage. On June 27, Nana Sahib
broke the pact and trapped Wheeler in his palace. The events leading
up to Wheeler's surrender and death have been recorded as the Cawnpore
(An engraving depicting Nana Sahib)
The Cawnpore Massacres
In the words of Sir Colin Campbell, leader of the British forces
during the war:
never was devised a blacker scheme than that which Nena Sahib had
planned. Our miserable countrymen were conducted faithfully enough to
the boats- officers, men, women, and children. The men and officers
were allowed to take their arms and ammunition with them, and were
escorted by nearly the whole of the rebel army. It was about eight
o'clock a.m. when all reached the riverside- a distance of a mile and
a half. Those who embarked first pushed off from the shore; but others
found it difficult to get their boats off the banks, as the rebels had
placed them as high as possible. At this moment the report of three
guns was heard from the NenaÕs camp. The mutineers suddenly levelled
their muskets, guns opened from the banks, and the massacre commenced.
Some of the boats were set on fire, volley upon volley was fired upon
the poor fugitives, numbers of whom were killed on the spot ... A few
boats crossed over to the opposite bank, but there a regiment of
native infantry (the 17th), just arrived from Azimghur, was waiting
for them; and in their eagerness to slay the "Kaffirs," rode their
horses belly deep into the river to meet the boats, and hack our
unhappy country men and women to pieces. (Campbell 112)
Andrew Ward's historical narrative, Our Bones Are Scattered, also
relates an account of the terrible and bloody massacre that followed
the rebellion at Cawnpore, as well as Delhi and Meerut. By July, when
Nana Sahib had captured Gwalior, he was reinstated as prince.
The Siege of Delhi
The siege of Lucknow lasted roughly from July 1st to August 31st. The
commanding British officer, Sir Henry Lawrence, died early on during
the siege. By July 25th two-thirds of the Britsh forces had retreated
across the river and Delhi had been taken by early September. Bahadur
Shah, the last surviving Mogul ruler was installed as ruler and the
devastating battle between rebel and British forces for control Delhi
ensued. Soldiers faced down the horrific sight of the impregnable
walls of Delhi and "more than fifty guns and mortars belching fire at
Delhi's northern walls from the water bastion on the east to the Mori
bastion on the west." (Collier 246)
As the siege wore on the Punjabi forces fighting for the British began
to weary and there was talk of a retreat. Under General John Nicholas,
Delhi had toppled by September 20th, at the cost of 3,835 soldiers,
British and Indian, and 378 horses (Collier 264). Rebel forces
retreated to Lucknow where the siege was approaching three months in
length. There the war lasted until late November, until the rebels
were driven to defeat in the Ganges Valley in December and January by
Hugh Rose and Colin Campbell. By July 8, 1858, a peace treaty was
signed and the war ended. By 1859, Rebel leaders Bahkt Khan and Nana
Sahib had been slain in battle.
(A photograph of Bhadur Shah)
Though the Sepoy War has been dismissed as a chaotic, disorganized
peasant uprising, several facts go undisputed that offer a counter-
argument. The "unorganized peasants" of India fought one of the most
powerful empires in the world to near defeat with limited resources
and even more limited training. Nevertheless, the lesson of the Sepoy
War is not one of victory or justice, but failure. Though the exact
cause of the Sepoy War has yet to be agreed upon, and it is likely
that there were many complex causes rather than one, it is clear that
British interference governments and the oppression of the Indian
people, religious and economic, created a bloody revolution. If there
is a lesson to be learned from any of this, it is that a people, once
pushed into a corner, will fight for nothing more than the freedom to
fight, and live, if not for religion then for their basic right to
live in freedom. Furthermore, in the desperate vengeance of a people
reduced to pure indignity, lives a coldness that rivals that of their
Fictional & Narrative Literature on the Sepoy War
Alavi, Seema. The Sepoys and the Company: Tradition and Transition
1770-1830. New York: Oxford U P, 1995.
Farrell, J.G.. The Siege of Krishnapur. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1985
(orig. 1973; Booker Prize winner).
Fenn, Clive Robert. For the Old Flag: A Tale of the Mutiny. London:
Sampson Low, 1899.
Grant, James. First Love and Last Love: A Tale of the Mutiny. New
York: G. Routledge & Sons, 1869.
Kaye, Mary Margaret. Shadow of the Moon. New York: St. Martin's
Masters, John. Nightrunners of Bengal. New York: Viking Press, 1951.
Raikes, William Stephen. 12 Years of a Soldier's Life In India.
Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1860.
"Indian Mutiny." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Online.
http://www.eb.com:180/cgi-bin/g?DocF=micro/342/91.html. 23 Mar. 1998.
"Lee-Enfield Rifle." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Online.
http://www.eb.com:180/cgi-bin/g?DocF=index/in/dia/73.html. 23 Mar.
Campbell, Sir Colin. Narrative of the Indian Revolt. London: George
Collier, Richard. The Great Indian Mutiny. New York: Dutton, 1964.
Kaye, John William. A History of the Sepoy War In India (3 vols).
London: W.H. Allen & Co., 1878.
Keene, H. George. British Administration During the Revolt of 1857.
New Delhi: Inter- India Publications, 1985.
Malleson, Colonel G.B. The Indian Mutiny of 1857. New York: Scribner &
Marx, Karl & Freidrich Engels. The First Indian War of Independence
1857-1859. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1959.
Palmer, J.A.B. The Mutiny Outbreak at Meerut In 1857. Cambridge:
University Press, 1966.
Stokes, Eric. The Peasant Armed: The Indian Revolt of 1857. Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1986.
Ward, Andrew. Our Bones Are Scattered. New York: Holt & Co., 1996.
Author: Nilesh Patel, Spring '98.
The Sepoy Mutiny
The growing Indian discontent with British rule erupted on May 10,
1857. The sepoys, who were Indians trained by the British as soldiers,
heard rumors that the cartridges for their new Enfield rifles were
greased with lard and beef fat. Since the cow is sacred to Hindus, and
the pig is abhorrent to Muslims, all the sepoys were outraged, and
they mutinied. Although initially the mutiny was spontaneous, it
quickly became more organized and the sepoys even took over the cities
of Delhi and Kanpur.
This mutiny was harshly crushed by the British. On September 20, 1857,
the British recaptured Delhi, and in the following months, the British
recaptured Kanpur and withstood a Sepoy siege of Lucknow. The British
victories were accompanied by widespread recrimination, and in many
cases, unarmed sepoys were bayonetted, sown up in the carcasses of
pigs or cows, or fired from cannons.
The first Europeans to establish roots in India since the fall of the
Roman Empire were the Protuguese. Led by Vasco da Gama's landing at
Calicut in 1498, they established themselves along the Malabar Coast,
trading with the rest of the subcontinent from there. (The Portuguese
maintained some holdings in India as late as 1961.)
In 1600, the British East India Company was given the right to a
monopoly to trade with India. While the company's primary objective
was to get spices from Indonesia (East Indies), they needed goods to
trade for spices. The good they wanted was cotton, and they got it
from India. In 1612, the English won a battle against the Portuguese.
Because of this victory, they were able to gain the right to trade and
establish factories in India from the Mughal Emporer. Because the
Dutch controlled the East Indies, the English focused all their
attention on India. The company traded for silk, sugar, and opium
among other goods.
In 1664, French finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert launched the
French equivalent of the English East India Trading Company. The
French obtained a few cities such as Pondicherry and Chandernagore,
and gradually expanded their trade. By 1740, however, this company's
sales were only half those of the English East India Company.
The Danish, the Austrians, the Swedes, and the Prussians all tried
unsuccessfully to get a piece of the action in India.
The British and French Battle for Control of India
When Frederick II of Prussia siezed Silesia in 1740, France sided with
him, the British with Austria. As a result of this, The War of
Austrian Succession, the British decided that France's power in India
was too great to be left alone. After the French quickly cornered the
English in a naval battle, a treaty was signed trading Madras for Cape
Breton Island in North America.
Relations between the British and French worsened as each became mired
in local Indian politics. After the nizam, a major Mughal noble and
power-broker, died, the French took advantage of this time to pick
sides in a dispute over who would be Karnatic nawab (governor).
(Karnataka was a dependancy of the nizam. The nizam chose a nawab in
1743, but rivals for the nawab-ate weren't satisfied. Is this clear?
Good.) The French chose Chanda Sahib for nawab and Salabat Jang for
nizam. The British, not to be outdone, responded by saying that
Muhammad Ali (the Indian, not the boxer) should be nawab.
The nawab-ship wasn't really all that important, but it made a good
excuse for a war. The British/Muhammad Ali, led by Robert Clive,
gained control of Arcot (the capital of Karnataka) in 1751, and the
French/Chandra Sahib were forced to surrended in 1752.
Peace and tranquility reigned for . . . four years. Then, the Seven
Years' War began in Europe in 1756, and the British and French in
India were at it again. The British, with their naval superiority, won
victories in the Bengal, at Madras, at Ponicherry, and at Wandiwash.
The French surrendered for the second time in 1761.
The Rise of the English East India Company
In 1786, Lord Cornwallis became British governor of Inida. He
strengthened the sepoy armies that the East India Company had raised.
Also, under Cornwallis and his successor Lord Wellesley, the British
slowly expanded their holdings. In 1813, the monopoly of the English
East India Company was broken and all British citizens were allowed to
trade with India. Over the next 30 years, the British continued to
acquire new lands and strengthen their grip on those already under
From 1838 until 1857, however, the British were weakened by the
failure of their attempts to keep Russia out of Afghanistan. The
defeat of the British in the First Afghan War caused the Indians to
become aware that the British were not invincible. However, the
British continued to annex more Indian territory throughout the
The British also aggravated the Hindu population of India during this
time period. They made English, instead of Persian, the official
language. They prohibited suttee (in which Hindu widows threw
themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres) and infanticide. They
also allowed Hindu widows to remarry and sanctioned missionary
The British Take Control
On August 2, 1858, the British Parliament passed the Government of
India Act. This act transferred autority for India from the East India
Company to Queen Victoria. In 1876, Queen Victoria declared herself
"Empress of India." In 1869, the Suez Canal was completed, reducing
the time for sea passage to India from 3 months to 3 weeks. Because of
this, British women began to come to India, and the British developed
their own society in India separate from the native society. Another
effect of the opening of the Suez Canal was that more and more British
goods were imported to India, effectively destroying many Indian
crafts. By the end of the nineteenth century, approximately 90% of the
Indian population were farmers. This number was even larger at the
beginning of the century. Despite this, however, an increasing number
of factories, railroads, hospitals, schools, and roads were built.
Indian Rebellion of 1857
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Indian Rebellion of 1857/8
A 1912 map of 'Northern India The Mutiny 1857-9' showing the centres
of rebellion including the principal ones: Meerut, Delhi, Cawnpore
(Kanpur), Lucknow, Jhansi, and Gwalior.
Date 10 May 1857
Location India (cf. 1857)
Result Rebellion Suppressed,
End of Company rule in India
Control taken by the British Crown
changes Indian Empire created out of former-East India Company
territory, some land returned to native rulers, other land confiscated
by the Crown.
East India Company Sepoys
7 Indian princely states
Deposed King of Oudh
Deposed ruler of the independent state of Jhansi
Some Indian civilians and converts to Islam.
East India Company's Sepoys
and EIC British regulars British civilian volunteers raised in Bengal
21 Princely states
Kingdom of Nepal
Other smaller states in region
Bahadur Shah II
Rani Lakshmi Bai
Begum Hazrat Mahal Commander-in-Chief, India:
George Anson (to May 1857)
Sir Patrick Grant
Sir Colin Campbell (from August 1857)
Indian Rebellion of 1857
Badli-ki-Serai – Delhi – Najafgarh – Agra – 1st Cawnpore – Chinhat –
1st Lucknow – 2nd Cawnpore – 2nd Lucknow – Central India
The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a mutiny of sepoys of the
British East India Company's army on 10 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
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, the Uprising
of 1857 and the Sepoy Mutiny.
Other regions of Company controlled India—Bengal province, the Bombay
Presidency, and the Madras Presidency—remained largely calm.
In Punjab, 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 states of Rajputana did not join the rebellion.
In some regions, such as Oudh, the rebellion took on the attributes of
a patriotic revolt against European presence.
Rebel leaders, such as the Rani of Jhansi, became folk heroes in the
nationalist movement in India half a century later, however, they
themselves "generated no coherent ideology" for a new order.
The rebellion 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
directly governed by the Crown in the new British Raj.
East India Company expansion in India
India in 1765 and 1805 showing East India Company Territories
India in 1837 and 1857 showing East India Company and other
territoriesMain article: Company rule in India
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)
led to 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
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. Punjab, North-West 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
Causes of the rebellion
Main article: Causes of the Indian Rebellion of 1857
The sepoys were a combination of Muslim and Hindu soldiers. Just
before the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, there were over 200,000 Indians in
the army compared to about 40,000 British. The forces were divided
into three presidency armies: the Bombay; the Madras; and the Bengal.
The Bengal army recruited higher castes, such as "Rajputs and
Brahmins", mostly from the "Avadh(or oudh) and Bihar" region and even
restricted the enlistment of lower castes in 1855; in contrast, the
Madras and Bombay armies were "more localized, caste-neutral armies"
that "did not prefer high-caste men."
The domination of the Bengal high-caste in the army has been blamed in
part for the Sepoy mutiny of 1857.
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
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 sepoys' 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
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 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 reaction of Company officers to
the controversy over the ammunition for 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
anathema 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
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 been 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: the 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 her late
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'
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
Charles Canning, the Governor-General of India during the rebellion.
Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India from 1848 to 1856, who
devised the Doctrine of Lapse.
Lakshmibai, The Rani of Jhansi, one of the principal leaders of the
rebellion who earlier had lost her kingdom as a result of the Doctrine
Bahadur Shah Zafar the last Mughal Emperor, crowned Emperor of India,
by the Indian troops, he was deposed by the British, and died in exile
Much of the resistance to the Company came from the old aristocracy,
who were seeing their power steadily eroded. The company had annexed
several states under the Doctrine of Lapse, according to which land
belonging to a feudal ruler became the property of the East India
Company if on his death, the ruler did not leave a male heir through
natural process. It had long been the custom for a childless landowner
to adopt an heir, but the East India Company ignored this tradition.
Nobility, feudal landholders, and royal armies found themselves
unemployed and humiliated due to Company expansionism. Even the jewels
of the royal family of Nagpur were publicly auctioned in Calcutta, a
move that was seen as a sign of abject disrespect by the remnants of
the Indian aristocracy. Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India,
had asked the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and his successors to
leave the Red Fort, the palace in Delhi. Later, Lord Canning, the next
Governor-General of India, announced in 1856 that Bahadur Shah's
successors would not even be allowed to use the title of 'king'. Such
discourtesies were resented by the deposed Indian rulers.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan founder of the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College,
later the Aligarh Muslim University, wrote one of the early critiques,
The Causes of the Indian Mutiny, in 1859.
Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, one of the principal leaders of the Great
Uprising of 1857, who earlier had lost her kingdom as a result of Lord
Dalhousie's Doctrine of Lapse."Utilitarian and evangelical-inspired
social reform", including the abolition of sati
and the legalisation of widow remarriage were considered by many—
especially the British themselves—to have caused suspicion that
Indian religious traditions were being "interfered with", with the
ultimate aim of conversion.
Recent historians, including Chris Bayly, have preferred to frame this
as a "clash of knowledges", with proclamations from religious
authorities before the revolt and testimony after it including on such
issues as the "insults to women", the rise of "low persons under
British tutelage", the "pollution" caused by Western medicine and the
persecuting and ignoring of traditional astrological authorities.
European-run schools were also a problem: according to recorded
testimonies, anger had spread because of stories that mathematics was
replacing religious instruction, stories were chosen that would "bring
contempt" upon Indian religions, and because girl children were
exposed to "moral danger" by education.
The justice system was considered to be inherently unfair to the
Indians. The official Blue Books, East India (Torture) 1855–1857, laid
before the House of Commons during the sessions of 1856 and 1857
revealed that Company officers were allowed an extended series of
appeals if convicted or accused of brutality or crimes against
The economic policies of the East India Company were also resented by
the Indians. Some of the gold, jewels, silver and
silk had been shipped off to Britain as tax and sometimes sold in open
auctions, ridding India of its once abundant wealth in precious stones.
 The land was reorganized under the comparatively
harsh Zamindari system to facilitate the collection of taxes. In
certain areas farmers were forced to switch from
subsistence farming to commercial crops such as indigo, jute, coffee
and tea. This resulted in hardship to the farmers and increases in
food prices.
The Bengal Army
Each of the three "Presidencies" into which the East India Company
divided India for administrative purposes maintained their own armies.
Of these, the Army of the Bengal Presidency was the largest. Unlike
the other two, it recruited heavily from among high-caste Hindus (and
comparatively wealthy Muslims). The Muslims formed a larger percentage
of the Irregular units within the Bengal army, whilst Hindus were
mainly to be found in the regular units. The sepoys (the native Indian
soldiers) were therefore affected to a large degree by the concerns of
the landholding and traditional members of Indian society. In the
early years of the Company rule, they tolerated and even encouraged
the caste privileges and customs within the Bengal Army, which
recruited its regular soldiers almost exclusively amongst the
landowning Bhumihar Brahmins and Rajputs of the Ganges Valley. By the
time these customs and privileges came to be threatened by modernizing
regimes in Calcutta from the 1840s onwards, the sepoys had become
accustomed to very high ritual status, and were extremely sensitive to
suggestions that their caste might be polluted.
The sepoys also gradually became dissatisfied with various other
aspects of army life. Their pay was relatively low and after Awadh and
the Punjab were annexed, the soldiers no longer received extra pay
(batta or bhatta) for service there, because they were no longer
considered "foreign missions". The junior European officers were
increasingly estranged from their soldiers, in many cases treating
them as their racial inferiors. Officers of an evangelical persuasion
in the Company's Army (such as Herbert Edwardes and Colonel S.G.
Wheler of the 34th Bengal Infantry) had taken to preaching to their
Sepoys in the hope of converting them to Christianity.
In 1856, a new Enlistment Act was introduced by the Company, which in
theory made every unit in the Bengal Army liable to service overseas.
(Although it was intended to apply to new recruits only, the Sepoys
feared that the Act might be applied retrospectively to them as well.
It was argued that a high-caste Hindu who traveled in the cramped,
squalid conditions of a troop ship would find it impossible to avoid
losing caste through ritual pollution.)
Onset of the Rebellion
Several months of increasing tension and inflammatory incidents
preceded the actual rebellion. Fires, possibly the result of arson,
broke out near Calcutta on 24 January 1857. On February 26, 1857 the
19th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) regiment came to know about new
cartridges which allegedly had a casing made of cow and pig fat, which
had to be bitten off by mouth. The cow being sacred to Hindus, and pig
haram to Muslims, soldiers refused to use them. Their Colonel
confronted them angrily with artillery and cavalry on the parade
ground, but then accepted their demand to withdraw the artillery, and
cancel the next morning's parade.
Main article: Mangal Pandey
Mangal PandeyOn 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.
During April, there was unrest and fires at Agra, Allahabad and
Ambala. At Ambala in particular, which was a large military cantonment
where several units had been collected for their annual musketry
practice, it was clear to General Anson, Commander-in-Chief of the
Bengal Army, that some sort of riot over the cartridges was imminent.
Despite the objections of the civilian Governor-General's staff, he
agreed to postpone the musketry practice, and allow a new drill by
which the soldiers tore the cartridges with their fingers rather than
their teeth. However, he issued no general orders making this standard
practice throughout the Bengal Army and, rather than remain at Ambala
to defuse or overawe potential trouble, he then proceeded to Simla,
the cool "hill station" where many high officials spent the summer.
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.
Meerut and Delhi
An 1858 photograph by Felice Beato of a mosque in Meerut where some of
the rebel soldiers may have prayed.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 except 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 were
killed. 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.[citation
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 killed, some
by sepoys and others by crowds of rioters.
The Flagstaff Tower, Delhi, where the European survivors of the
rebellion gathered on May 11, 1857; photographed by Felice BeatoThere
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
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
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. On 16
May, up to 50 Europeans who had been held prisoner in the palace or
had been discovered hiding in the city were said to have been killed
by some of the King's servants under a peepul tree in a courtyard
outside the palace.
 Support and opposition
States during the rebellionThe 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, 160 miles (260 km) 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.
In Thana Bhawan, the Sunnis declared Haji Imdadullah their Ameer. In
May 1857 the Battle of Shamli took place between the forces of Haji
Imdadullah and the British.
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
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.
Bahadur Shah Zafar proclaimed himself the Emperor of the whole of
India. Most contemporary and modern accounts suggest that he was
coerced by the sepoys and his courtiers to sign the proclamation
against his will. The civilians, nobility and other dignitaries
took the oath of allegiance to the Emperor. The Emperor issued coins
in his name, one of the oldest ways of asserting Imperial status, and
his name was added to the acceptance by Muslims that he is their King.
This proclamation, however, turned the Sikhs of Punjab away from the
rebellion, as they did not want to return to Islamic rule, having
fought many wars against the Mughal rulers.
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 Rewari (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.
Main article: Siege of Delhi
The British were slow to strike back at first. It took time for troops
stationed in Britain to make their way to India by sea, although some
regiments moved overland through Persia from the Crimean War, and some
regiments already en route for China were diverted to India.
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 30 the rebels offered terms, which were refused.
The Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi in 1858, damaged in the
Mortar damage to Kashmiri Gate, Delhi, 1858
Hindu Rao's house in Delhi, now a hospital, was extensively damaged
in the fighting
Bank of Delhi was attacked by mortar and gunfire
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 Zafar had already fled to Humayun's tomb. The British had retaken
Capture of Bahadur Shah Zafar and his sons by William Hodson at
Humayun's tomb on 20 September 1857The 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.
Main article: Siege of Cawnpore
Tantia Topee's Soldiery
A memorial erected (circa 1860) by the British after the Mutiny at the
Bibi Ghar Well. After India's Independence the statue was moved to the
Memorial Church, Cawnpore. Albumen silver print by Samuel Bourne,
1860.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
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 15
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 50-foot (15 m) deep
well was filled with remains to within 6 feet (1.8 m) 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
Perhaps it was due to fear, the fear of being recognized by some of
the prisoners for having taken part in the earlier firings.
Photograph entitled, "The Hospital in General Wheeler's entrenchment,
Cawnpore." (1858) The hospital was the site of the first major loss of
European lives in Cawnpore (Kanpur)
1858 picture of Sati Chaura Ghat on the banks of the Ganges River,
where on 27 June 1857 many British men lost their lives and the
surviving women and children were taken prisoner by the rebels.
Bibigurh house where European women and children were killed and the
well where their bodies were found, 1858.
The Bibigurh Well site where a memorial had been built. Samuel
The killing of the women and children proved to be a mistake. The
British public was aghast and the anti Imperial and pro-Indian
proponents lost all their support. Cawnpore became a war cry for the
British and their allies for the rest of the conflict. The Nana Sahib
disappeared near the end of the Rebellion and it is not known what
happened to him.
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
Main article: Siege of Lucknow
Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence British Commissioner of Oudh who died
during the siege of Lucknow.
Secundra Bagh after the slaughter of 2,000 Rebels by the 93rd
Highlanders and 4th Punjab Regiment. Albumen silver print by Felice
Beato, 1858.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' 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
who decided to side with the Company in December 1857[citation
needed]. 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.
Main article: Central India Campaign (1858)
Jhansi was a Maratha-ruled princely state in Bundelkhand. When the
Raja of Jhansi died without a biological male heir in 1853, it was
annexed to the British Raj by the Governor-General of India under the
doctrine of lapse. His widow, Rani Lakshmi Bai, protested against the
denial of rights of their adopted son.
The Jhansi Fort, which was taken over by rebel forces, and
subsequently defended against British recapture by the Rani of
Jhansi.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
over whom the Rani had no control; the Europeans suspected the Rani of
complicity, despite her repeated denials.
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
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.
Colonel Henry Durand, the then Company resident at Indore had brushed
away any possibility of uprising in Indore.
However, on July 1, 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
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.
Marble Lectern in memory of 35 British soldiers in JhelumSome
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.
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 their 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
Kunwar Singh, the 75 year old Rajput Raja of Jagdishpur, whose estate
was in the process of being sequestrated by the Revenue Board,
instigated and assumed the leadership of revolt in Bihar.
On 25 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 29 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 30 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 2, some 16 miles (26 km) short of Arrah, the Major
was ambushed by the rebels. After an intense fight, the 5th Fusiliers
charged and stormed the rebel positions successfully. On 3 August,
Major Eyre and his men reached the siege house and successfully ended
"The Relief of Lucknow" by Thomas Jones Barker
British soldiers looting Qaisar Bagh, Lucknow, after its recapture
(steel engraving, late 1850s)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
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:
It was literally murder... I have seen many bloody and awful sights
lately but such a one as I witnessed yesterday I pray I never see
again. The women were all spared but their screams on seeing their
husbands and sons butchered, were most painful... Heaven knows I feel
no pity, but when some old grey bearded man is brought and shot before
your very eyes, hard must be that man's heart I think who can look on
Depiction of the mass execution of rebels in British India by
cannon.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
forced disarmament of cavalry of BerhamporeThe aftermath of the
rebellion has been the focus of new work using Indian sources and
population studies. In The Last Mughal, William Dalrymple examines the
effects on the Muslim population of Delhi after the city was retaken
by the British and finds that intellectual and economic control of the
city shifted from Muslim to Hindu hands because the British, at that
time, saw an Islamic hand behind the mutiny.
Amaresh Mishra, a journalist and history student, after examining
labor force records for the period, concludes that almost ten million
Indians lost their lives during the reprisals though his methodology
is disputed because it neither accounts for unrelated causes of deaths
nor for the movement and displacement of the population that likely
followed that period of unrest. It has to be noted that Mishra's
version of events is dramatically different from the traditional view
held by most historians. Accounting for these factors, another
historian, Saul David, estimates the number of deaths to be in the
hundreds of thousands.
Reaction in Britain
Justice, a print by Sir John Tenniel in an September issue of
Punch.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 Christopher 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 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"
"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."
Two of the leading novelists of the period, Charles Dickens and Wilkie
Collins wrote an essay in Dickens' Household Words calling for the
extermination of the 'race upon whom the stain of the late cruelties
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 British Lion's Vengeance on the Bengal Tiger, a print by Sir John
Tenniel in an August issue of Punch.According to Victorianist Patrick
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".. Others note that this was just one of a
number of colonial rebellions which had a cumulative effect on British
public opinion 
While incidents of rape committed by Indian rebels against European
women and girls were rare during the rebellion, falsified reports were
accepted as fact and often used to justify the British reaction to the
Rebellion. British newspapers printed various "eyewitness" accounts of
the rape of English women and girls that were later found to be, in
general, false. One such account published by The Times, regarding an
incident where 48 English girls as young as 10 had been raped by
Indian rebels in Delhi, was criticized as a false propaganda story by
Karl Marx, who pointed out that the story was written by a clergyman
in Bangalore, far from the events of the rebellion.
These stories were in part an attempt to replace what did happen (for
example, General Wheeler's daughter Margaret being forced to live as
her captor's concubine) with what the Victorian public wanted to have
happened (Margaret killing her rapist then herself).
Bahadur Shah Zafar (last mughal emperor) exiled in Rangoon. Photograph
by Robert Tytler and Charles Shepherd, May 1858.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.
The Bengal army dominated the Indian army before the mutiny in 1857
and a direct result after the mutiny was the scaling back of the size
of the Bengali contingent in the army.
Of the 67,000 Hindus in the Bengal Army in 1842, 28,000 were
identified as Rajputs and 25,000 as Brahmins, a category that included
Bhumihar Brahmins. The Brahmin presence in the Bengal Army was reduced
in the late nineteenth century because of their perceived primary role
as mutineers in the Rebellion. The British looked for increased
recruitment in the Punjab for the Bengal army as a result of the
apparent discontent that resulted in the Sepoy conflict.
The rebellion transformed both the "native" and European armies of
British India. There was a large-scale disbandment of the presidency
armies; the Bengal Army almost completely vanishing from the order of
battle. These troops were replaced by new units recruited from castes
hitherto under-utilised by the British and from the so-called "Martial
Races", which were not part of mainstream Indian culture like the
Sikhs and the Gurkhas. Regiments which had remained loyal were often
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.)
The British increased the ratio of British to Indian soldiers within
India. 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.
There is no universally agreed name for the events of this period.
In India and Pakistan it has often been termed as the "War of
Independence of 1857" or "First War of Independence"
but it is not uncommon to use terms such as the "Revolt of 1857". The
concept of the Rebellion being "First War of Independence" is not
without its critics in India.
The use of the term "Indian Mutiny" is considered by some Indian
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.
In the UK and parts of the Commonwealth it is commonly called the
"Indian Mutiny", but terms such as "Great Indian Mutiny", the "Sepoy
Mutiny", the "Sepoy Rebellion", the "Sepoy War", the "Great Mutiny",
the "Rebellion of 1857", "the Uprising", the "Mahomedan Rebellion",and
the "Revolt of 1857" have also been used.
"The Indian Revolution of 1857" is a name that has been used by some
"The Indian Insurrection" was a name used in the press of the UK and
British colonies at the time, such as The Empire (Sydney) 
and the Taranaki Herald (New Zealand).
See also: First War of Indian Independence (term).
Debate about character
Almost from the moment the first sepoys mutinied in Meerut, the nature
and the scope of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 has been contested and
argued over. Speaking in the House of Commons in July 1857, Benjamin
Disraeli labeled it a 'national revolt' while Lord Palmerston, the
Prime Minister, tried to downplay the scope and the significance of
the event as a 'mere military mutiny'.
Reflecting this debate, the early historian of the rebellion, Charles
Ball, sided with the mutiny in his title (using mutiny and sepoy
insurrection) but labeled it a 'struggle for liberty and independence
as a people' in the text.
Historians remain divided on whether the rebellion can properly be
considered a war of Indian independence or not,
although it is popularly considered to be one in India. Arguments
A united India did not exist at that time in political, cultural, or
The rebellion was put down with the help of other Indian soldiers
drawn from the Madras Army, the Bombay Army and the Sikh regiments,
80% of the East India Company forces were Indian;
Many of the local rulers fought amongst themselves rather than uniting
against the British.
Many rebel Sepoy regiments disbanded and went home rather than fight.
Not all of the rebels accepted the return of the Moghuls.
The King of Delhi had no real control over the mutineers.
The revolt was largely limited to north and central India. Whilst
risings occurred elsewhere they had little impact due to their limited
A number of revolts occurred in areas not under British rule, and
against native rulers, often as a result of local internal politics.
The revolt was fractured along religious, ethnic and regional lines.
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:
Even though the rebellion had various causes (e.g. Sepoy grievances,
British high-handedness, the Doctrine of Lapse etc.), most of the
rebel sepoys set out to revive the old Mughal empire, that signified a
national symbol for them, instead of heading home or joining services
of their regional principalities, which would not have been
unreasonable if their revolt were only inspired by grievances;
The hanging of two participants in the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
Albumen silver print by Felice Beato, 1858There was a widespread
popular revolt in many areas such as Awadh, Bundelkhand and
Rohilkhand. The rebellion was therefore more than just a military
rebellion, and it spanned more than one region;
The sepoys did not seek to revive small kingdoms in their regions,
instead they repeatedly proclaimed a "country-wide rule" of the
Moghuls and vowed to drive out the British from "India", as they knew
it then. (The sepoys ignored local princes and proclaimed in cities
they took over: Khalq Khuda Ki, Mulk Badshah Ka, Hukm Subahdar Sipahi
Bahadur Ka - i.e. the world belongs to God, the country to the Emperor
and executive powers to the Sepoy Commandant in the city). The
objective of driving out "foreigners" from not only one's own area but
from their conception of the entirety of "India", signifies a
The troops of the Bengal Army although from across the Indian
subcontinent displayed a common purpose.
The 150th anniversary
The Government of India celebrated the year 2007 as the 150th
anniversary of "India's First War of Independence". Several books
written by Indian authors were released in the anniversary year
including Amresh Mishra's "War of Civilizations" a controversial
history of the Rebellion of 1857, and "Recalcitrance" by Anurag Kumar,
one of the few novels written in English by an Indian based on the
events of 1857.
In 2007, a group of retired British soldiers and civilians, some of
them descendants of British soldiers who died in the conflict,
attempted to visit the site of the Siege of Lucknow. However, fears of
violence by Indian demonstrators, supported by the Hindu nationalist
Bharatiya Janata Party, prevented the British visitors from visiting
the site. Despite the protests, Sir Mark Havelock was able to
sneak past police in order to visit the grave of his ancestor, General
^ File:Indian revolt of 1857 states map.svg
^ The Gurkhas by W. Brook Northey, John Morris. ISBN 8120615778. Page
^ a b c d e Bandyopadhyay 2004, pp. 169-172 Bose & Jalal 2003, pp.
88-103 Quote: "The 1857 rebellion was by and large confined to
northern Indian Gangetic Plain and central India.", Brown 1994, pp.
85-87, and Metcalf & Metcalf 2006, pp. 100-106
^ Bayly 1990, p. 170 Quote: "What distinguished the events of 1857 was
their scale and the fact that for a short time they posed a military
threat to British dominance in the Ganges Plain."
^ a b Spear 1990, pp. 147-148
^ Bandyopadhyay 2004, p. 177, Bayly 2000, p. 357
^ Brown 1994, p. 94
^ Bayly 1990, pp. 194-197
^ Ludden 2002, p. 133
^ Rajit K. Mazumder, The Indian Army and the Making of the Punjab.
(Delhi, Permanent Black, 2003), 7-8.
^ Metcalf & Metcalf 2006, p. 61
^ a b Brown 1994, p. 88
^ Metcalf 1990, p. 48
^ Bandyopadhyay 2004, p. 171, Bose & Jalal 2003, p. 90
^ a b Essential histories, The Indian Mutiny 1857-1858, Gregory
Fremont-Barnes, Osprey 2007, page25
^ Victorian Web 1857 Indian Rebellion
^ Hibbert 1980, p. 63
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^ Bandyopadhyay 2004, p. 172, Bose & Jalal 2003, p. 91, Brown 1994, p.
^ Bandyopadhyay 2004, p. 172
^ Metcalf & Metcalf 2006, p. 102
^ Bose & Jalal 2003, p. 91, Metcalf 1991, Bandyopadhyay 2004, p. 173
^ Brown 1994, p. 92
^ Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, Lloyd I Rudolph. "Living with Difference in
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^ Rudolph, L.I.; Rudolph, S.H. (1997). "Occidentalism and Orientalism:
Perspectives on Legal Pluralism". Cultures of Scholarship.
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Richard (eds.) (1992). Religion and irreligion in Victorian society:
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^ a b Bayly, C. A. (1996). Empire and information: intelligence
gathering and social communication in India, 1780-1870. Cambridge, UK:
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^ Seema Alavi The Sepoys and the Company (Delhi: Oxford University
Press) 1998 p5
^ Hibbert 1980, pp. 51-54
^ Memorandum from Lieutenant-Colonel W. St. L. Mitchell (CO of the
19th BNI) to Major A. H. Ross about his troop's refusal to accept the
Enfield cartridges, 27 February 1857, Archives of Project South Asia,
South Dakota State University and Missouri Southern State University
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Rupa & Co. Publishers, New Delhi
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Rupa & Co.) reprint 2005 p49
^ Hibbert 1980, pp. 98-101
^ Hibbert 1980, pp. 93-95
^ Dalrymple, The Last Moghul, pp.223-224
^ Hibbert 1980, pp. 152-163
^ Michael Edwardes, Battles of the Indian Mutiny, pp 52-53
^ Indian mutiny was 'war of religion' - BBC
^ The Story of the Storm — 1857
^ Zachary Nunn. The British Raj
^ Harris 2001, p. 57
^ Harris 2001
^ A.H. Amin, Pakistan Army Defence Journal
^ A.H. Amin, Orbat.com
^ Lessons from 1857
^ The Indian Army: 1765 - 1914
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^ Qizilbash, Basharat Hussain (30 June 2006) The tragicomic hero The
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Barnes, Osprey 2007, page 53
^ S&T magazine No. 121 (September 1998), page 58
^ John Harris, The Indian mutiny, Wordsworth military library 2001,
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^ First Indian War of Independence January 8, 1998
^ A number of dispossessed dynasts, both Hindu and Muslim, exploited
the well-founded caste-suspicions of the sepoys and made these simple
folk their cat's paw in gamble for recovering their thrones. The last
scions of the Delhi Mughals or the Oudh Nawabs and the Peshwa, can by
no ingenuity be called fighters for Indian freedom Hindusthan
Standard, Puja Annual, 195 p. 22 referenced in the Truth about the
Indian mutiny article by Dr Ganda Singh
^ In the light of the available evidence, we are forced to the
conclusion that the uprising of 1857 was not the result of careful
planning, nor were there any master-minds behind it. As I read about
the events of 1857, I am forced to the conclusion that the Indian
national character had sunk very low. The leaders of the revolt could
never agree. They were mutually jealous and continually intrigued
against one another. ... In fact these personal jealousies and
intrigues were largely responsible for the Indian defeat.Maulana Abul
Kalam Azad, Surendranath Sen: Eighteen Fifty-seven (Appx. X & Appx.
^ >Hasan 1998, p. 149
^ Nanda 1965, p. 701
^ Address at the Function marking the 150th Anniversary of the Revolt
^ India's First War of Independence 1857
^ Le Monde article on the revolt
^ German National Geographic article
^ The Empire, Sydney, Australia, 11 July 1857
^ Taranaki Herald, New Zealand, 29 August 1857