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Stress And Strain

Victoria The Great

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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