Interactive Archive Project

Analysis and Comparison of Texts

A.   Sepoy Mutiny and First War of Independence : Perspectives on 1857

1) H.E. Marshall India's Story: Told to Boys and Girls (London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1912).

2) Ketan Mehta, Director, The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey (Kaleidoscope and Maya Movies, 1995). Relevant chapters: 3-4, 6, 10-11, 18. 21-25, 27, 29-36.

The two accounts of 1857 offer very different versions of the historical events, their causes and implications: Marshall's history is part and parcel of the imperialist venture and is an unabashed celebration of British rule in India, while The Rising is a contemporary Indian take on the same events but from the exact opposite point of view, depicting the legitimate struggle of Indians against the British oppressors. Comparing these two accounts allows for a wider discussion of the nature of British rule in India, the reasons behind the uprising of 1857, as well as the changing perception of history as depicted in books and on film.

Suggested questions:

-What is the tone and content of Marshall's text and what is it about? [popular history, supposed to present ‘facts'; the plot is basically how the Empire is in danger but in the end survives and becomes even stronger]

-What is the tone and content of Mangal Pandey and what is it about? [a popular Bollywood film with dancing and a love story, heroes and villains; the plot is basically about the manner in which one man's actions inspired the nationalist movement and led to independence of India]

-What has changed historically between 1912 and 1995 and how does that influence the different representations of 1857? [most notably Indian Independence of 1947, critique of imperialism, and the emergence of an Indian perspective and nationalism]

-How are the sepoys portrayed in the two accounts? [ Marshall : childish (they grow “sullen”), superstitious (their fear is “hard for us to understand”) and manipulated by “People unfriendly to British rule”; The Rising : brave, comradeship, loyal]

-How are the issues of caste and religion depicted differently? [Marshall: a patronizing stance, sepoys are superstitious and gullible; The Rising : the religious issues are very real and taken seriously, the sepoy's concerns make sense in the context of India of today. The widow-burning, however, is not seen to be a positive aspect of Indian tradition]

-How is the issue of the greased cartridges differently? [Marshall: the rumours are not true; The Rising : the rumours are true and Mangal Pandey and his comrades see with their own eyes how the grease is made in a disgusting factory that resembles a hellish vision]

-How is the outbreak of rebellion depicted differently? [ Marshall : fear and panic, irrational eruption; The Rising : expression of resentment, sepoys are forced to react to the abuse and violation of their religion, their women and their freedom]

-How are the rebels depicted differently? [ Marshall : “madly thirsting for blood”, thieves and murderers join the savage and cruel sepoys; The Rising : noble freedom fighters]

-What acts violence of is depicted in Marshall 's text and The Rising? [ Marshall : massacres of white women and children by the sepoys; The Rising : massacres on innocent villagers instigated by the British, beatings of Indians, violation and exploitation of Indian women by the British]

-Who are the heroes and villains in the two representations of 1857? [Marshall: The brave British officers and officials vs the dastardly sepoys and Nana Sahib; The Rising : vice versa, except for Capt. William Gordon, who is a “good” Englishman (he is actually Scottish, has some resentment against the English and understands Indians and their culture)]

-How are the results of 1857 depicted differently? [ Marshall : it leads to the just and glorious reign of Queen Victoria; The Rising : it sows the seed of the nationalist movement, which ends with Independence in 1947]

Further reading:

Rudrangshu Mukherjee: Mangal Pandey: Brave Martyr or Accidental Hero? ( New Delhi : Penguin, 2005).

Rochona Majumdar & Dipesh Chakrabarty: ‘ Mangal Pandey : Film and History', Economic and Political Weekly , May 12, 2007, pp. 1771-1778.





(London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1912)



[466] AFTER Lord Dalhousie, Lord Canning became Governor General of India . At first, everything seemed quiet. But suddenly there burst over India a most terrible storm.

It was just a hundred years since the Black Hole, just fifty years since the mutiny of Vellore , when a far worse mutiny broke out.

For some time, the sepoys had been restless, and discontented. They had been angry when Oudh was annexed for one thing. Next, Lord Canning wanted some soldiers to send to Burma . Of course, the sepoys would not go. He was so annoyed at what he thought was foolish nonsense that he issued an order, saying that only sepoys, who would agree to go anywhere, would in future be taken into the army. This made them more angry and more afraid, so they again thought that the British were trying to destroy their caste and religion, and thenceforth high caste men would not join the army. All the sepoys even began to be afraid that the new order included them, and that henceforth they would be forced to go across the "black water," and they grew sullen.

They had many other grievances, real or imaginary. Railways and telegraphs frightened them. They thought they were magic and witchcraft, and said that the white [467] people were binding the whole of India in chains. People, who were unfriendly to British rule, tried to make their grievances and fears worse, and tried to stir the sepoys to greater and greater discontent.

About this time a new rifle was sent out to India . The cartridges of his rifle were greased, and the end of the cartridge had to be bitten off before it was used.

One day, in the barracks, a low class workman asked a high caste sepoy for a drink out of his water-bottle. The sepoys refused haughtily, saying that the touch of a low caste lips would make his bottle "unclean." The workman angrily replied that it was no matter, was soon there would be no caste left, as the new cartridges were greased with the fat of cows and pigs, and the sepoys would have to bite them.

This, to a Brahmin, was something horrible, for to him the cow was sacred, while the pig was "unclean." The mere thought that he would have to touch this terrible mixture with his lips was more than he could bear. He ran off with the tale to his fellows, in horror. The story passed from mouth to mouth, till it spread all over India .

The officers told the men that the grease was mutton, fat, and wax, and therefore could not hurt any caste. It was in vain. The tale had taken hold too strongly. And now that one wild story was believed, others followed. It was said that is very flour of which the sepoys' bread was made, was mixed with cows' bones, ground to dust. To eat this, even unknowingly, would be deadly sin. Forever afterwards, they, who did so, would be outcasts. And so bent with the Sahibs on the destruction of all caste that they stooped to such foul and secret means. The story, of course, was not true, but the sepoys believed it.

[468] They grew sullen with anger. They were wild with fear too, such a fear as it is hard for us to understand. The area was full of mutterings and unrest. In regiment after regiment the hated cartridges were refused. In some places the officers called the mean and offer them in the old cartridges which they had used for years. But fear had become unreasoning panic, and even they were refused. At length, at Meerut , near Delhi , the storm burst.

One on Sunday evening in May, when all the white people were on their way to church, there was an unusual stir. Trumpet calls were heard, mixed with the clatter of firearms and the rush of feet. Then flames burst forth in all directions. Soon the truth became known. The sepoys had revolted. They had fired upon their officers, and as the sun went down they rushed forth madly thirsting for the blood of their white masters.

A night of horror followed. The prisoners were burst open; from the dark and secret places of the town thieves, and murderers, and all evildoers crept out and mingled with the maddened sepoys. They attacked the British in their houses, slaying without mercy. They robbed and plundered at will. All night the sky was red with flames from burning houses, and amid the roar and crackle might be heard shrieks and groans, mingled with savage yells, and the wild clash of cymbals and beat of drum. But when the day dawned the streets were silent. Among the blackened, smouldering ruins the dead lay still. But the murderers had fled.

Along the road to Delhi , through the coolness of early dawn, beneath the glimmer of the rising sun spread the frantic sepoys. Mile after mile, from the ribbon of white road, rose a cloud of dust, marking the path by which the dark-faced, turbanned crowd passed.

[469] By eight o'clock the foremost of the rioters burst into the quiet streets of Delhi . There the ancient King, the last descendant of the Great Mogul, still lived in empty splendour. Long ago his empire had passed into the hands of the British, but yet he kept great court and state, and played at grandeur.

Around his pal at the he wild horde raged, crying that they had killed the British at Meerut , that they had come to fight for the faith. "Help, O King," they cried. "We pray thee for help in our fight for the faith."

Into the palace they forced their way, slaying every white-faced man or woman. Soon the streets of Delhi were is terrible as those of Meerut . Every house belonging to the British was attacked, plundered, and set on fire. Every European was slain without mercy.

There were no British soldiers in Delhi , so to resist was hopeless. The British officers of the sepoy troops succeeded in blowing up the powder magazine, so that the ammunition should not fall into the hands of the mutineers. But that was all that they could do. Then they made their escape, as best they could, with their wives and children into the jungle. There, new dangers and sufferings awaited them, and but few found shelter in distant villages. Soon not a Christian was left within the walls of Delhi , and it was entirely in the hand of the mutineers.

All over India the terrible news was flashed, and in town after town the revolt broke out. Everywhere it was the same story—a story of murder and bloodshed, of robbery and plunder and destruction. Then, after finishing their terrible work, many of the rioters flock to Delhi , to arrange themselves under the banner of the "King."

[470] There were very few British soldiers in India , for the Company had begun to trust almost entirely to the sepoys. Now Lord Canning telegraphed in all directions for troops. Some he gathered from Persia where there had been fighting. Some he stopped on their way to China . The Sikhs and Gurkhas, too, had stood firm, and now they loyally fought for their white masters. Soon the siege of Delhi began. The mutineers held out for three months, but at last they yielded to British guns. The old Mogul was taken prisoner and sent to Rangoon where he died. But meanwhile, all over Northern India there was war and bloodshed.


[471] AT Cawnpore Sir Hugh Wheeler was commander. When he saw the danger coming he sent to Sir Henry Lawrence at Lucknow for help. But Sir Henry himself had few enough soldiers, and could spare only fifty men. Then Sir Hugh asked an Indian prince, called the Nana Sahib, to help him.
The Nana was the adopted son of the last Peshwá of the Maráthás, to whom, you remember, the Company paid a yearly sum of money, after he had given up his kingdom to them. When the Peshwá died, the company thought there was no need to go on paying the money, for the Nana was not really his son, and had not true right to it. This made Nana angry, for he thought that he should have had the money. Still, he pretended to be friends with the British. Now he promised to help Sir Hugh, and he came to Cawnpore with some soldiers. But as soon as the mutiny had fairly broken out, his men joined with the mutineers against the British.
At Cawnpore the sepoys broke open the jail, sacked the treasury and magazine, and burned and plundered everywhere. But they did not attack the white people. Having finished their work of destruction, they started to join the other rebels at Delhi . But this did not please the Nana. He called them back, and the siege of Cawnpore began.
[472] The place where the white people were gathered for refuge was poorly protected. It was an old hospital. Round it was a crumbling mind wall not four feet high. Within it were gathered nearly a thousand people, but scarcely three hundred were soldiers, and nearly four hundred were women and children. Without the wall there swarmed thousand upon thousands of sepoys, well drilled and well armed, for they had all the heavy guns and ammunition of the magazine. It needed only courage for them to overleap the poor weak wall, and put every white man and woman to death.
But courage failed them. They knew of what stern stuff their white masters were made, and they dared not overleap that wall. So they raged and yelled without, and night and day the flash and roar of guns, and the scream and crash of shells, continued with no pause.
Again Sir Hugh sent to Sir Henry Lawrence begging for help. But this time Sir Henry, with a breaking heart, was forced to refuse. He could not spare a man. So without rest, or pause, or shadow of relief, the siege went on. The sepoys aimed with deadly sureness. The low mud wall gave little shelter, and day-by-day the ranks of the defenders grew thinner and thinner. Yet in hunger, thirst, and weariness, they fought on. Food began to fail. A handful of flour and a handful of split peas a day was all each man received. Water was more precious still. It could only be had from a well within the fire of the enemy's guns. And many man laid down his life to bring a bucket of water to still the wailing of a child or the groans of a dying comrade.
Three weeks passed, weeks of sleepless horror amid unceasing noise, and constant hail of bullets. The June [473] sun blazed from brazen sky. The air was heavy with smoke, and bitter with the taste and smell of gunpowder, the heat wellnigh unbearable. Women and children drooped and faded. Men set their teeth, and, gaunt and grim, fought on.
At length the Nana Sahib proposed terms. He promised, the do the British would give him, he would send them all in safety down the river to Alláhábád.
There was not a man within the walls who would not rather have fought to the last. But they thought of the sad-eyed women, and the little listless children, and they gave in.
So early one morning, a dreary procession of weary women and children, of hopeless, wounded men, made their way to the river.
There, some native boats awaited them, covered with thatch to keep off the heat of the sun. The wounded were lifted in. Men, women, and children followed. Then suddenly from the banks the sound of a bugle was heard.
Throwing down their oars the native rowers leaped from their places and made for the shore. Almost at the same moment the thatched roofs burst into flames, and from the banks are roar of guns was heard, and a hail of bullets burst upon the boats.
The boats, stuck in the mud, were an easy mark. Leaping into the river the white men tried to push them off, but in vain. One boat alone got free, and of its crew only four lived to tell the tale. The others were murdered where they stood. Not a man escaped, and those of the women and children, who were still alive, were led back to the terrible town from which they had just been set free. There they were shut up in a place called the Savada house. Later they were taken to another called the Bibigarh. Here they were treated as slaves, and made [474] to grind the corn for the Nana. And so in slavery and imprisonment the terrible weeks dragged on.
Meanwhile, through the burning heat of an Indian summer, a British army was toiling on towards Cawnpore . It was led by General Havelock, as brave a soldier and as good a man as ever lived. Like Cromwell, he taught his men both to fight and to pray, and " Havelock 's Saints" were as well known as Cromwell's Ironsides had been.
When the Nana Sahib heard that they were coming, he made up his mind to complete his work. So he ordered the sepoys to fire upon the women and children through the windows of the Bibigarh. But even the sepoys turned from such cruel work, and they fired upon the roof and did little or no hurt to the women within the house. But the Nana could always find people cruel enough to do his bidding. In the evening five men went into the house armed with long knives. For a little time terrible screams were heard. Then all was still. The men came out, and the bodies of the poor women and children were thrown into a well.
Outside Cawnpore the British met the Indian troops. After a desperate fight the Nana was defeated. His army was scattered, and he, struck at last with terror, galloped wildly away through the darkness, and was seen no more.
It is supposed that he died miserably in the jungle.
The day after the battle the British marched entrance into Cawnpore but when they saw the ghastly Bibigarh and the still more ghastly grave of those they had come to save, these war-worn men burst into sobs and wept like children.
These things happily are now long past. An angel guards that once awful spot, and a garden blooms where those poor women died.


[475] THE Union Jack floated once more upon the walls of Cawnpore , but there was still much to do ere Mutiny should be over. "Soldiers," said Havelock , "your general is satisfied, and more than satisfied, with you. But your comrades of Lucknow are in danger." And with the memory of Cawnpore in their hearts, Havelock and his men marched on to Lucknow .
But Havelock had to fight his way there. He lost so many men and used so much ammunition that at last he was not strong enough to take Lucknow . He was obliged to turn back to Cawnpore and wait until Sir James Outram joined him with more troops. Outram was a gallant soldier, "without fear and without reproach," and together these two brave men marched to help their comrades.
At Lucknow the British had taken refuge in the Residency. This was a number of houses and gardens surrounded by a wall. It was not very strong, but it was far better than the old hospital at Cawnpore . Sir Henry Lawrence, the governor, was a wise and careful man. Seeing the storm coming, he did everything he could to meet it. He gathered stores of food and ammunition, and strengthened the defences of the Residency. But alas, at the very beginning of the siege, Sir Henry was killed.
[476] One day a shell burst into the room where he was talking with some of his officers. There was a blinding flash, a fearful roar, and the room was filled with dust and smoke. In the deep silence which followed, someone asked, "Are you hurt, Sir Henry?"
For a moment there was no answer. Then quietly he replied, "I am killed."
So brave Sir Henry died. "If you put anything on my tombstone," he said, "let it be only, 'Here lies Henry Lawrence who tried to do his duty. May the Lord have mercy on his soul.'" Then with his last breath he urged his men never to give in, but to fight to the end.
The terrible summer days dragged on—days spent amid all the noise and din, dust and smoke of war, nights of anxious watchings, broken with sudden alarms. The houses were shattered and riddled with shot, so as to be scarcely any protection from the burning sun or from the enemies' guns. Food was scarce, clothes were in rags. But still the men fought and watched, and the women prayed and waited, and endured. And like an emblem of their dauntless courage, all through the siege the Union Jack floated from the highest tower of the Residency. It was faded and patched, tattered and riddled with holes, the staff was splintered with bullets, it was broken again and again. But a new staff was always found, and up went the gallant flag once more, a defiance to the foe.
At last one morning, distant firing was heard. As the hours passed the sound came near and nearer. Then the garrison new that at length help was at hand. The excitement and suspense were awful. But there was nothing to be done but to wait. It was not until it was growing dark that amid the clamour of fighting the sound of the British cheer was heard, and louder still, [477] shrill and piercing, the scream of the bagpipes, and the yell of charging Highlanders. A few minutes more, and British soldiers were seen, fighting their way through the streets to the Residency gates.
Then from the battlements rose a deafening cheer. Such a cry of joy it is not often been man's lot to hear. It was the first cry of returning hope from the hearts that had grown hopeless. It was a sob, and a prayer, and an outburst of thanksgiving, all in one. And as the gates were opened, and the men, weary, dusty, bloodstained, rushed through, women sobbing with joy ran to throw themselves upon them, happy to touch their bronzed hands or war-worn coats. With tears running down their cheeks the rough soldiers lifted the children in their arms. From hand to hand they passed the little ones, kissing them and thanking God that they had come in time to save them. It was a scene of wild, sweet joy and almost unutterable relief.
But after all the siege of Lucknow was not over. Havelock and Outram had not men enough with them to cut their way back through the swarms of sepoys, and bring all the ladies and children to safety. So the siege began again. It was not until two months later that Sir Colin Campbell landed in India , and cutting his way through the rebels, really relieved Lucknow .
Scarcely a week later Sir Henry Havelock died. Greatly sorrowing, his men buried him in a garden near the city, his only monument being a tree marked with the letter H.
Before the relief of Lucknow , Delhi had been taken, and now the mutiny was nearly over. There was still some fighting, but gradually it ceased. Lord Canning made a proclamation, offering pardon to all who had not actually murdered the British. Most of the rebels laid [478] down their arms, and once more the country sank to rest.
It was now decided that India should no longer be ruled by the Company but by the Queen. So the great Company, which had begun in the reign of Queen Elizabeth came to an end in the reign of Queen Victoria . This was proclaimed to all the people of India on the first of the 1st November 1858. Now, instead of Governor-General, the ruler of India was called Viceroy. And Lord Canning, who had been Governor-General throughout the mutiny, became the first Viceroy.


[479] IN 1862 Lord Canning sailed home leaving India at peace. All through the mutiny he had been cool and calm. When it was over he would take no wild revenge, and earned for himself the name of Clemency Canning, a name by which we may be glad to remember him, for clemency means mildness or quickness to forgive.
Since the mutiny many things have happened in India , most of which you will understand better, and find more interesting, later on. There have been wars and famines, there have been mistakes and mischances, troubles and trials, but on the whole, the great Empire has been peace. The native princes have become educated gentlemen, and, in many ways, West and East have been drawn together.
One thing which helped the princes of India and the British crown to become better friends was the visit of the Prince of Wales, now King Edward.
When the native rulers of India heard that our Prince was coming, they prepared to receive him with great honour. When he landed in Calcutta , the whole town blazed with illuminations. Everyone held high holiday. There were balls and parties given both by white and by native people. And all through India , wherever he went, the princes and their subjects flocked to him honour. Native rulers forgot their quarrels [480] with each other, and joined in welcoming the son of their British Padishah. They brought him splendid presents, and he won their hearts by his kindness and his courtesy. He stayed in their palaces, shot and hunted with them, and when he left, many a prince founded schools or hospitals, or built harbours, in memory of his future Emperor's visit.
All this time, although Queen Victoria had been ruler of India for more than eighteen years, she had never been proclaimed, or taken the title. Now, the year after the visit of the Prince of Wales, that is in 1877, she was proclaimed at Delhi , Empress of India.
To Delhi came the Viceroy, and all the native princes and nobles of India . Princes who before had never seen each other, princes whose forefathers had fought in deadly hatred, now all met together as friends, eager to show their loyalty to their Empress.
Outside the walls of Delhi, on the very ground upon which the British troops had encamped when they besieged the rebels of the mutiny, there now arose a peaceful tented city, brilliant in red and blue and white, flashing and glittering with golden ornament. Upon the ground that had been red with hate and war, where shells had burst, and cannon roared, and a hail of grape-shot scattered death, gold and silver cannon, drawn by white oxen gaily decorated with silken, embroidered cloths, were paraded in the sunshine, and those who had been foes met and greeted each other as friends and brothers. Gay flags fluttered, bands played, elephants and camels with gorgeous trappings paced the long streets of gaudy tents. Princes and people from every part of the great peninsula met and mingled. It was the gay mass of moving colour, of red, and green, and blue, and every- [481] where in the sunshine, gold and silver and precious stones gleaned and sparkled. It was such a pageant as could be seen only in an eastern land, under an eastern sky.
On the day of the proclamation the sky was cloudless blue. Upon a grassy plain the tented throne was raised. Its silken draperies were embroidered with the Rose, the Thistle, and the Shamrock, entwined with the Lotus flower of India , and over all fluttered the cross of St. George, and the Union Jack.
Here, surrounded by the glittering throng, the Viceroy took his seat, while the band played "God save the Queen." He too, was splendidly dressed, in the robes, ermine trimmed and gold embroidered, of Grand Master of the Order of the Star of India.
When the Viceroy was seated, twelve gaily dressed heralds sounded their trumpets. Then the chief herald in a loud voice read the proclamation, which told to all the winds of heaven that, " Victoria , by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland , Queen, Defender of the Faith," should henceforth be known also as Empress of India.
The reading done, the Royal standard was raised, cannon thundered a salute, the band struck up "God save the Queen," and a deafening cheer broke upon the quiet air, as the people of India acclaimed Victoria, Kaisar-i-Hind.
Two hundred and seventy-seven years before, a few sober London merchants had gathered to discuss the price of pepper, and had resolved to adventure in a voyage to the East. Little did they foresee that from that resolve would grow a great Empire, which should be gradually pieced together, like the parts of the huge puzzle, until nearly the whole of the vast peninsula, which [482] was to them an unknown land, should be brought under the sway of a Queen, to whose power and greatness that of their own good Queen Bess would be as the pale light of the moon to the golden shining of the sun.


 B.   The Siege of Krishnapur and the Defence of Lucknow : Different Perspectives on 1857

1) J.G. Farrell The Siege of Krishnapur (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1973, reprint with introduction by Pankaj Mishra, New York: New York Review Books, 2004) .

2) Alfred Tennyson ‘The Defence of Lucknow', Littell's Living Age, vol. 141, issue 1822, 1879. [see a transcript of the poem, below]

The two accounts of a British garrison besieged by rebels in 1857 offer very different versions of the quintessential historical events, their causes and implications. Farrell's novel is a satirical depiction of the Anglo-Indian society in the small fictive city of Krishnapur , which undergoes a remarkable transition in the course of a prolonged siege. As the crinolines fall into tatters and the garrison is reduced to smelly scarecrows, their former beliefs in progress and the superiority of science and Christianity are challenged. With only one Indian character, the novel is not an account of the uprising, as much a stinging critique of British imperialist mentality and the supposed advantages of Western civilization over a backwards India . In contrast, Tennyson's poem was written at the time of the Second Afghan War (1878-1880) and the Zulu War (1879), and reflects the common perception of the benefits of the Empire at the time. The besieged garrison assumes the status of martyrs and becomes the heroic defenders of British and Christian values, in an unabashed celebration of jingoistic patriotism. The two accounts describe many of the same elements of the siege, but in completely different ways.


  Alfred Tennyson: The Defence of Lucknow (1879)


Banner of England , not for a season, O banner of Britain , hast thou
Floated in conquering battle or flapt to the battle-cry!
Never with mightier glory than when we had rear'd thee on high
Flying at top of the roofs in the ghastly siege of Lucknow—
Shot thro' the staff or the halyard, but ever we raised thee anew,
And ever upon the topmost roof our banner of England blew.


Frail were the works that defended the hold that we held with our lives—
Women and children among us, God help them, our children and wives!
Hold it we might—and for fifteen days or for twenty at most.
‘Never surrender, I charge you, but every man die at his post!'
Voice of the dead whom we loved, our Lawrence the best of the brave:
Cold were his brows when we kiss'd him—we laid him that night in his grave.
‘Every man die at his post!' and there hail'd on our houses and halls
Death from their rifle-bullets, and death from their cannon-balls,
Death in our innermost chamber, and death at our slight barricade,
Death while we stood with the musket, and death while we stoopt to the spade,
Death to the dying, and wounds to the wounded, for often there fell,
Striking the hospital wall, crashing thro' it, their shot and their shell,
Death—for their spies were among us, their marksmen were told of our best,
So that the brute bullet broke thro' the brain that could think for the rest;
Bullets would sing by our foreheads, and bullets would rain at our feet—
Fire from ten thousand at once of the rebels that girdled us round—
Death at the glimpse of a finger from over the breadth of a street,
Death from the heights of the mosque and the palace, and death in the ground!
Mine? yes, a mine! Countermine! down, down! and creep thro' the hole!
Keep the revolver in hand! you can hear him—the murderous mole!
Quiet, ah! quiet—wait till the point of the pickaxe be thro'!
Click with the pick, coming nearer and nearer again than before—
Now let it speak, and you fire, and the dark pioneer is no more;
And ever upon the topmost roof our banner of England blew!


Ay, but the foe sprung his mine many times, and it chanced on a day
Soon as the blast of that underground thunderclap echo ‘d away,
Dark thro' the smoke and the sulphur like so many fiends in their hell—
Cannon-shot, musket-shot, volley on volley, and yell upon yell—
Fiercely on all the defences our myriad enemy fell.
What have they done? where is it? Out yonder. Guard the Redan!
Storm at the Water-gate! storm at the Bailey-gate! storm, and it ran
Surging and swaying all round us, as ocean on every side
Plunges and heaves at a bank that is daily devour'd by the tide—
So many thousands that if they be bold enough, who shall escape?
Kill or be kill'd, live or die, they shall know we are soldiers and men
Ready! take aim at their leaders—their masses are gapp'd with our grape—
Backward they reel like the wave, like the wave flinging forward again,
Flying and foil'd at the last by the handful they could not subdue;
And ever upon the topmost roof our banner of England blew.


Handful of men as we were, we were English in heart and in limb,
Strong with the strength of the race to command, to obey, to endure,
Each of us fought as if hope for the garrison hung but on him;
Still—could we watch at all points? we were every day fewer and fewer.
There was a whisper among us, but only a whisper that past
‘Children and wives—if the tigers leap into the fold unawares—
Every man die at his post—and the foe may outlive us at last—
Better to fall by the hands that they love, than to fall into theirs!'
Roar upon roar in a moment two mines by the enemy sprung
Clove into perilous chasms our walls and our poor palisades.
Rifleman, true is your heart, but be sure that your hand be as true!
Sharp is the fire of assault, better aimed are your flank fusillades—
Twice do we hurl them to earth from the ladders to which they had clung,
Twice from the ditch where they shelter we drive them with hand-grenades;
And ever upon the topmost roof our banner of England blew.


Then on another wild morning another wild earthquake out-tore
Clean from our lines of defence ten or twelve good paces or more.
Rifleman, high on the roof, hidden there from the light of the sun—
One has leapt up on the breach, crying out: ‘Follow me, follow me!'—
Mark him—he falls! then another, and him too, and down goes he.
Had they been bold enough then, who can tell but the traitors had won?
Boardings and rafters and doors—an embrasure I make way for the gun!
Now double-charge it with grape! It is charged and we fire, and they run.
Praise to our Indian brothers, and let the dark face have his due!
Thanks to the kindly dark faces who fought with us, faithful and few,
Fought with the bravest among us, and drove them, and smote them, and slew,
That ever upon the topmost roof our banner in India blew.


Men will forget what we suffer and not what we do. We can fight!
But to be soldier all day and be sentinel all thro' the night—
Ever the mine and assault, our sallies, their lying alarms,
Bugles and drums in the darkness, and shoutings and soundings to arms,
Ever the labour of fifty that had to be done by five,
Ever the marvel among us that one should be left alive,
Ever the day with its traitorous death from the loopholes around,
Ever the night with its coffinless corpse to be laid in the ground,
Heat like the mouth of a hell, or a deluge of cataract skies,
Stench of old offal decaying, and infinite torment of flies.
Thoughts of the breezes of May blowing over an English field,
Cholera, scurvy, and fever, the wound that would not be heal'd,
Lopping away of the limb by the pitiful-pitiless knife,—
Torture and trouble in vain,—for it never could save us a life.
Valour of delicate women who tended the hospital bed,
Horror of women in travail among the dying and dead,
Grief for our perishing children, and never a moment for grief,
Toil and ineffable weariness, faltering hopes of relief,
Havelock baffled, or beaten, or butcher'd for all that we knew—
Then day and night, day and night, coming down on the still-shatter'd walls
Millions of musket-bullets, and thousands of cannon-balls—
But ever upon the topmost roof our banner of England blew.


Hark cannonade, fusillade! is it true what was told by the scout,
Outram and Havelock breaking their way through the fell mutineers?
Surely the pibroch of Europe is ringing again in our ears!
All on a sudden the garrison utter a jubilant shout,
Havelock's glorious Highlanders answer with conquering cheers,
Sick from the hospital echo them, women and children come out,
Blessing the wholesome white faces of Havelock's good fusileers,
Kissing the war-harden'd hand of the Highlander wet with their tears!
Dance to the pibroch!—saved! we are saved!—is it you? is it you?
Saved by the valour of Havelock , saved by the blessing of Heaven!
‘Hold it for fifteen days!' we have held it for eighty-seven!
And ever aloft on the palace roof the old banner of England blew.