The Indian Mutiny

Exactly one hundred years after Clive had laid the foundation of our

empire in India by the victory of Plassey, events occurred in that country

which completely cast into the shade the tragic incident of the 'Black

Hole' of Calcutta. During the century which had elapsed since the days of

Clive, the British power had been extended, till nearly the whole of the

great peninsula from the Himalaya Mountains to Cape Comorin was subject to

our sway. A native army had been formed, which far outnumbered the British

force maintained there. The loyalty of these sepoy troops had not hitherto

been suspected; and in fact they had frequently given proofs of their

fidelity in the frontier wars.

Unsuspected by the officers, a spirit of discontent had been gradually

spreading among the sepoy regiments. An impression had become prevalent

among them that the British government intended forcing them to give up

their ancient faith and become Christians. Just about this time, the new

Enfield rifle was distributed among them in place of the old 'brown Bess.'

The cartridges intended for this weapon were greased; and as the ends of

them had to be bitten off before use, the sepoys fancied that the fat of

the cow--an animal they had been taught to consider sacred--had been

purposely used in order to degrade them, and make them lose caste.

The fierce temper of the sepoys was now thoroughly roused, and a general

mutiny took place. It commenced at Meerut, where the native troops rose

against their officers, and put them to death, and then took possession of

the ancient city of Delhi, which remained in their hands for some months.

The rebellion quickly spread to other towns, and for a short time a great

portion of the north and centre of India was in the power of the rebels.

Wherever they got the upper hand, they were guilty of shocking deeds of

cruelty upon the Europeans. The British troops which were stationed in

different places offered the most heroic resistance to the rebels, and the

mutiny was at length suppressed.

Of all the incidents of that terrible year, two stand out in bold relief,

on account of the thrilling interest attaching to them. These are the

massacre of Cawnpore and the relief of Lucknow. Cawnpore, which was in the

heart of the disaffected area, contained about a thousand Europeans, of

whom two-thirds were women and children. The defensive post into which

they had thrown themselves at the beginning of the outbreak was speedily

surrounded by an overwhelming number of the mutineers, led on by the

infamous Nana Sahib. The few defenders held out bravely for a time, but at

last surrendered on a promise of being allowed to depart in safety. The

sepoys accompanied them to the river-side, but as soon as the men were on

board the boats, a murderous fire was opened upon them, and only one man

escaped. The women and children, being reserved for a still more cruel

fate, were carried back to Cawnpore. Hearing that General Havelock was

approaching with a body of troops for the relief of the place, Nana Sahib

marched out to intercept him, but was driven back. Smarting under this

defeat, he returned to Cawnpore, and gave directions for the instant

massacre of his helpless prisoners. His orders were promptly carried out

by his troops, under circumstances of the most shocking cruelty. Shortly

afterwards, Havelock and his little army arrived, but only to find, to

their unutterable grief, that they were too late to rescue their

unfortunate countrywomen and their children.

Havelock now marched to the relief of Lucknow, where the British garrison,

under Sir Henry Lawrence, was surrounded by thousands of the rebels.

Havelock encountered the enemy over and over again on his march, and

inflicted defeat upon them. Step by step, our men fought their way into

the fort at Lucknow, where, if they could not relieve their friends, they

could remain and die with them. But this was not to be. Another deliverer

with a stronger force was coming swiftly up; and very soon the ears of the

anxious defenders were gladdened by the martial sound of the bagpipes,

playing 'The Campbells are coming;' and shortly afterwards, Sir Colin

Campbell and his gallant Highlanders--the victors of Balaklava--were

grasping the hands of their brother veterans, who were thus at length

relieved. The brave Lawrence had died from his wounds before Sir Colin

arrived, and Havelock only survived a few weeks. He lived long enough,

however, to see that by his heroic efforts he had upheld Britain's power

in her darkest moment; and that her forces were now coming on with

irresistible might, to complete the work which he had so gallantly begun.

The power of the rebels in that quarter was now broken. In Central India

Sir Hugh Rose had been equally successful; and the heroic deeds of the

British troops in suppressing the revolt cannot be better described than

in the words of this general, in addressing his soldiers after the triumph

was achieved: 'Soldiers, you have marched more than a thousand miles and

taken more than a hundred guns; you have forced your way through

mountain-passes and intricate jungles, and over rivers; you have captured

the strongest forts, and beat the enemy, no matter what the odds, wherever

you met them; you have restored extensive districts to the government; and

peace and order now reign where before for twelve months were tyranny and


This rising led to an alteration in the government of India. The old East

India Company was abolished, and its power transferred to the crown, which

is represented in parliament by a secretary of state, and in India by a

viceroy. More recently the Queen received the title of Empress of India.

When the mutiny was quelled, nobody deprecated more than the Queen did the

vindictiveness with which a certain section of the English people desired

to treat all the countrymen of the military mutineers whose reported

atrocities had roused their indignation. The Queen wrote to Lord Canning

that she shared 'his feelings of sorrow and indignation at the unchristian

spirit shown towards Indians in general and towards sepoys without

discrimination.... To the nation at large--to the peaceable

inhabitants--to the many kind and friendly natives who have assisted us,

sheltered the fugitives, and been faithful and true--there should be shown

the greatest kindness.... The greatest wish on their Queen's part is to

see them happy, contented, and flourishing.'

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