Indian Responses - Experiences of and Reactions to Mutiny

1. An Indian Explanation of the Cause of Mutiny

On 26 May 1858 Canning forwarded a translation of a petition to the Court of Directors “from a native of respectability in the city of Allahabad , as a curious evidence of the belief which has obtained currency among certain portions of the population of the North Western Provinces, that the British Government intended forcibly to convert them to Christianity”. The petitioner described himself as '
Ishri Pershad well wisher originally belonging to Patna , for the last 20 years residing in Allahabad'.

In October 1856 I sent an urzie to the late Lieutenant Governor of the North Western Province, advising him to adopt the plan of causing a sweeper to spit into the mouths of every native, pronounced guilty of forgery, perjury etc and that a sweeper be specially attached to each fowdaree court for that purpose and that these prisoners be then handed over to the Padries, that they may set them right in dress and religious faith etc. I foretold that disturbances were impending and requested that a Sennud, which all British authorities were to be ordered to recognize, might be granted me, giving me carte blanche to carry scheme above mentioned into execution. The Lieut Governor, however, paid no attention to my advice, if he had acted upon it, these mutinies of some 40 or 50 regiments, would never have occurred.

When the disturbances were at their highest at Allahabad, the joint Magistrate at my suggestion, placed 2 guns at the customs bungalow, and two at the Kotwalee, my brother Munnoo Lall Singh, the Thanadar, in obedience to Mr Money's order caused all the shops to be reopened and for his good conduct, was promoted to a Jemmadarship and finally turned out even of that. When the moulavi was dominant in the city, and the British were all shut up in the fort, by brother with most praiseworthy bravery, made his way to the gate of the fort with only 6 burkendazes, and, after being half killed by the Sikhjs and Europeans, got to the Magistrate and told him all about the moulwi's proceedings, he was however informed that the order for his dismissal could not be cancelled.

I now advise that what I formerly suggested to the Lieutenant Governor should be now carried into execution, and further that budmashes should be allowed to bring forward no witnesses to their own innocence, as they can hire ‘punckey' as many as they like.

If a regiment of natives, degraded as I propose, be organized, they will save the European soldiers a great deal of trouble, in keeping order in the city.

If I am appointed to some authoritative office, and if my brother Munnoo Lall is made a Deputy Magistrate to cooperate with me, I will very soon see that these suggestions of mine are well acted upon and carried out.

I do not wish it to be generally known that I have given such advice as this, as I fear the budmashes will kill me if they should find it out.

SOURCE: IOLR F/4/2723 197731 Petition by a native of Allahabad re belief that British Govt intended forcibly to convert the people of India to Christianity May 1858.

2. 'Atha Jang Nama Dilli' by Kazan Singh

The extract below is the opening stanza of the poem 'Atha Jang Nama Dilli' by Kazan Singh, originally written in Gurimukhi script, and followed by an English translation. It is well known that the Maharaja of Patiala had helped the English in the recovery of Delhi. Khazan Singh was the court poet of Maharaja Narendra Singh of Patiala in 1915 and worte an account of the war of Delhi adding his comments on how the revolt had begun and how the resistance was organized. The poem in its complete version runs to 25 pages. [Chhanda Chatterjee]

Kabi Singh Khazan Haval Sara
Dilli Jang da akh sunawasan main
Nandan ( London ) Company sahib salahi kiti
Eka bhai da panth chalayiye ji
Pahila Apni Fauj Kastan (Christian) karke
Man bhanv de amal kamaiyye ji
Musalman, Hindu, Gore ik piyale
Khana tina nu baith khulaiye ji
Kabi Singha ache Hindustan Andar
dohan dhiran da param pratiaye ji
Nanda Company Sahib da hukm lauke
Lat rich kalkatte de aiyu yi
Sarab loka nu saddake hukm denda
Jorha company ne pharmayiu yi

I am the poet Khazan Singh
I am going to tell you the tale of the war of Delhi
The Sahibs of London Company had decided
That they would only have one religion
First they turned their own army into Christians
Then they had a fine idea
They thought they would make Muslims, Hindus, and Europeans
All drink from one cup sitting close together
The poet Singh will tell you why the people of Hindustan
Became so angry and the revolt occurred

Taking the mandate from the London Company
The Governor General had come to Calcutta
He had the powers to order everything to everyone
Just as the Company had desired


3. The Azamgarh Proclamation - an Indian Rebel Manifesto

This proclamation or manifesto was published in the Delhi Gazette on 29 September 1857. The author was most probably Firoz Shah, a grandson of the Mughal Emperor, who fought against the British in Lucknow and Awadh (Oudh). This document is discussed in detail in Mukherjee, R., ‘The Azamgarh Proclamation and some questions on the revolt of 1857 in the North Western Provinces', in Essays in Honour of S.C. Sarkar (New Delhi: India People's Publishing House, 1976).

‘It is well known to all, that in this age the people of Hindustan, both Hindoos and Mahommedans, are being ruined under the tyranny and oppression of the treacherous and infidel and treacherous English. It is therefore the bounden duty of all the wealthy people of India, especially of those who have any sort of connexion with any of the Mohammedan royal families, and are considered the pastors and masters of their people, to stake their lives and property for the well-being of the public. With the view of effecting this general good, several princes belonging to the royal family of Delhi, have dispersed themselves in the different parts of India, Iran, Turan, and Afghanistan, and have been long since taking measures to compass their favourite end; and it is to accomplish this charitable object that one of the aforesaid princes has, at the head of an army of Afghanistan, &c., made his appearance in India-and I, who am the grandson of Abul Muzuffer Sarajuddin Bahadur Shah Ghazee, king of India, having in the course of circuit come here to ex­tirpate the infidels residing in the eastern part of the country, and to liberate and protect the poor helpless people now groaning under their iron rule, have, by the aid of the Majahdeens, or religious fanatics, erected- the standard of Mohammed, and persuaded the orthodox Hindoos who had been subject to my ancestors, and have been and are still accessories in the destruction of the English, to raise the standard of Mahavir.

  ‘ Several of the Hindoo and Mussulman chiefs who … have been trying their best to root out the English in India, have presented themselves to me, and taken part in the reigning Indian crusade, and it is more than probable that I shall very shortly receive succours from the west. Therefore, for the information of the public, the present Ishtahar, consisting of several sections, is put in circulation, and it is the imperative duty of all to take it into their careful consideration and abide by it. Parties anxious to participate in this common cause, but having no means to provide for themselves, shall receive their daily subsistence from me; and be it known to all, that the ancient works both of the Hindoos and the Mohammedans, the writings of the miracle-workers, and the calculations of the astrologers, pundits and rammals, all agree asserting that the English will no longer have any footing in India or elsewhere. Therefore it is incumbent on all to give up the hope of the continuation of the British sway, side with me, and deserve the consideration of the Badshahi, or imperial government by their individual exertion in promoting the common good and thus attain their respective ends…

  ‘No person, at the misrepresentation of the well-wishers of the British government, ought to conclude from the present slight inconveniences usually attendant on revolutions, that similar inconveniences and troubles should continue when the Badshahi government is established on a firm basis; and parties badly dealt with by any sepoy or plunderer, should come up and represent their grievances to me and receive redress at my hands; and for what-ever property they may lose in the reigning disorder, they will be recompensed from the public treasury when the Badshahi government is well fixed.

  ‘Section I - Regarding Zemindars.-It is evident the British government, in making zemindary settlements, have imposed exorbitant jummas, and have disgraced and ruined several zemindars, by putting up their estates to public auction for arrears of rent, insomuch, that on the institution of a suit by a common ryot yet, a maidservant, or a slave, the respectable zemindars are summoned into court arrested, put in goal, and disgraced. In litigations regarding zamindaries, the immense value of stamps, and other unnecessary expenses of the civil courts, which are pregnant with all sorts of crooked dealings, and the practice of allowing a case to hang on for years, are all calculated to impoverish the litigants. Besides this, the coffers of the zemindars are annually taxed with subscriptions for schools, hospitals, roads, &c., Such extortions will have no manner of existence in the Badshahi government; but, on the contrary; the jummas will be light, the dignity and honour of the zemindars safe, and every zamindar will have absolute rule in his own zemindary. The zemindary disputes will be summarily decided according to the Shurrah and the Shasters, without any expense; and zemindars who will assist in the present war with their men and money, shall be excused for ever from paying half the revenue. Zemindars aiding only with money, shall be exempted in perpetuity from paying one-fourth of the revenue; and should any zemindar who has been unjustly deprived of his lands luring the English government, personally join the war, he will be restored to his zemindary, and excused from paying one-fourth of the revenue.

  ‘Section II. -Regarding Merchants.- It is plain that the infidel and treacherous British government have monopolised the trade of all the fine and valuable merchandise, such as indigo, cloth, and other articles of shipping, leaving only the trade of trifles to the people, and even in this they are not without their share of the profits, which they secure by means of customs and stamp fees, &c., in money suits, so that the people have merely a trade in name. Besides this, the profits of the traders are taxed with postages, tolls, and subscriptions for schools, &c. Notwithstanding all these concessions, the merchants are liable to imprisonment and disgrace at the instance or complaint of a worthless man. When the Badshahi government is established, all these aforesaid fraudulent practices shall be dispensed with, and the trade of every article, without exception both by land end water, shall be open to the native merchants of India, who will have the benefit of the government steam-vessels and steam carriages for the conveyance of their merchandise gratis; and merchants having no capital of their own shall be assisted from the public treasury. It is therefore the duty of every merchant to take part in the war, and aid the Badshahi government with his men and money, either secretly or openly, as may be consistent with his position or interest, and forswear his allegiance to the British government.

  ‘Section III. - Regarding Public Servants.-It is not a secret thing, that under the British government, natives employed in the civil and military services, have little respect, low pay, and no manner of influence and all the posts of dignity and emolument in both the departments, are exclusively bestowed upon Englishmen; for natives in the military service, after having devoted the greater part of their lives, attain to the post of subahdar (the very height of their hopes) with a salary of 6Or. or 70r. per mensem, and those in the civil service obtain the post of sudder ala with a salary of 5OOr. a-month, but no influence, jagheer, or present. But under the Badshahi government like the posts of colonel, general, and commander-in-chief, which the English enjoy at present, the corresponding posts of pansadi, punjhazari haft-hazari, and sippah-salari, will be given the natives in the military service; and like the post of collector, magistrate, judge, sudder judge, secretary, and governor, which the European civil servants now hold, the corresponding posts of wuzeer, quazi, safir, suba, nizam, and dewan, &c. with salaries of lacs of rupees, will be given to the natives of the civil service, together with jagheers khilluts, inams, and influence. Natives, whether Hindoos or Mohammedans, who fall fighting against the English, are sure to go to heaven; and those killed fighting for the English, will, doubtless, go to hell, therefore, all the natives in the British service ought to be alive to their religion and interest, and, abjuring their loyalty to the English, side with the Badshahi government and obtain salaries of 200 or 300 rupees per month for the present, and be entitled to high posts in future If they, for any reason, cannot at present declare openly against the English, they can hearti1y wish ill to their cause, and remain passive spectators of passing events, without taking any active share therein. But at the same time they should indirectly assist the Badshahi government and try their best to drive the English out of the country.

  ‘All the sepoys and sowars who have for the sake of their religion, joined in the destruction of the English, and are at present, on any consideration in a state of concealment, either at home or elsewhere, should present themselves to me without the least delay or hesitation.

  ‘Foot soldiers will be paid at the rate of three annas, and sowars at eight or twelve annas per diem for the present, and afterwards they will be paid double of what they get in the British service. Soldiers not in the English service, and taking par in the war against the English, will receive the daily subsistence-money. according to the rate specified below for the present; and in future the foot soldiers will be paid at the rate of eight or ten rupees, and sowars at the rate of twenty or thirty rupees, per month and on the permanent establishment of the Badshahi government, will stand entitled to the highest posts in the state, to jagheers and presents -

  Matchlockmen     2     annas a-day.
  Riflemen       2 1/2        do.
 Swordsmen       l 1/2       do.
Horsemen, with large horses   8       do.
Do.   with small do.   6       do.

  ‘Section IV. - Regarding Artisans. - It is evident that the Europeans, by the introduction of English articles into India, have thrown the weavers, the cotton-dressers, the carpenters, the blacksmiths, and the shoemakers, &c., out of employ, and have engrossed their occupations, so that every description of native artisan has been reduced to beggary. But under the Badshahi government the native artisan will exclusively be employed in the services of the kings, the rajahas, and the rich; and this will no doubt insure their prosperity. Therefore the artisans ought to renounce the English services, and assist the Majahdeens… [religious freedom fighters] engage in the war, and thus be entitled both to secular and eternal happiness.

  ‘Section V.-Regarding Pundits, Fakirs, and other learned persons.- The pundits and fakirs being the guardians of the Hindoo and Mohammedan religions respectively, and the European being the enemies of both the religions, and as at present a war is raging against the English on account of religion, the pundits and fakirs are bound to present themselves to me, and take their share in the holy war, otherwise they will stand condemned according to the tenor of the Shurrah and the Shasters ; but if they come, they will, when the Badshahi government is well established, receive rent-free lands.

  ‘Lastly, be it known to all, that whoever, out of the above-named classes, shall, after the circulation of this Ishtahar, still cling to the British government, all his estates shall be confiscated, and his property plundered, and he himself, with his whole family, shall he imprisoned, and ultimately put to death.'

SOURCE: Delhi Gazette on September 29 th 1857.

In this appeal to the people , to whom, as distinguished from the army, it was specially addressed, there was doubtless much of truth mingled with error; and, coming from the highest authority at the time, impressed with the royal seal and titles of the king himself, it confirmed and strengthened the sense of injustice which the natives were already too prone to believe they suffered under. In Oude, the germinating cause of mischief was of another and a loftier character. The people had beheld the sudden prostration of their country, which, by the arbitrary will of strangers, had been reduced from the rank of an independent state to the position of a mere province of Bengal: they knew their king to be a prisoner; their royal family dispersed, and their nobles and chiefs despoiled of wealth and power. In Europe, much less than this would have been held to warrant patriotic resistance to the death; and, in Oude, a natural feeling of indignation, and a resolve to avenge the wrongs of their native princes and of their country, became an inevitable consequence of the proceedings of the Company's govern­ment. In addition to these causes of discontent, a kindly-intentioned, but ill-explained or understood, reform in the tenure by which land was held, which followed immediately upon the annexation, had the effect of unsettling the minds of the ryot, while it incensed the talookdars, or feudal chiefs; and sufficient time had not yet elapsed for the enlightenment of the people as to their true interests. In the resistance of a whole people to an act by which their nationality was destroyed, and the throne of heir king had been shattered into fragments, reflecting men could see much that distinguished the rebellion in Oude from that which had left its dark and bloody stains upon the soil of Bengal. On their part the Oudians were unquestionably in the position of men struggling for the independence of their country and the defence of their homes. On our side, it was undeniable that we were fiercely striving to tighten the grasp of recent aggression…
SOURCE: Charles Ball, History of the Indian Mutiny, Vol. 2 (London: Printing and Publishing Company, 1859), pp 630-32.

4. Proclamations of Nana Sahib

The following proclamations were sourced from the National Archives, Delhi, Foreign Department, Secret Consultations 31 July 1857 Nos. 86-89 'Copies of three proclamations in Urdu issued by Nana Sahib of Bithur to incite the civil population to rebellion and troops to Mutiny.' The three proclamations were sent to G.F.Edmonstone, Secretary to Government of India, from the Allahabad Magistrate on 26 July 1857. He had received them from Mr Wilcock at Cawnpore. The proclamations were translated in January 2006 by Dr S.A. Zafar, Reader in the Persian Department, Lucknow University. [Rosie Llewellyn Jones]

Proclamation One

For any man from the arsenal, or the cavalry, or the battalion who will be, or who has been, slain in battle, his daughter, or his wife, or his mother, or his sister, will be entitled to a pension during their life time for one generation. And if the soldier who has served, grows old, he will be entitled to a pension during his life time for one generation, according to the rules. And those who have the ability to work, let them be active in their work place. And the man who grows old in this service will be entitled to a pension according to the rules and he will get a pension according to the rate of salary which is applicable in Delhi from the day the army joins the government.
13 Zulqada 1273 hijri

Proclamation Two

It was learnt from a traveller who has recently come to Kanpur from Calcutta, that before the distribution of the cartridges, through which Indians are to be deprived of their faith and religion, a Council [of the East India Company] was held. It was agreed upon by the members of the Council that since this matter is concerned with religion, that some seven or eight thousand white English soldiers and 50,000 Indian soldiers might be slain before all Indians embrace the Christian religion. Accordingly, a petition about this was sent to Queen Victoria's ministry. From there approval came. Then again the Council was held and English merchants were also invited to participate in it.

A Resolution was passed that sufficient sepoys should be provided from the Indian Army by way of help, so that in the case of disorder spreading, the White Army would not be defeated. When this petition was studied in England, 35,000 White soldiers were immediately embarked for India and news of their departure reached Calcutta. The Sahibs at Calcutta issued an order to the effect that the main aim behind the distribution of the cartridges was to Christianize the Indian Army, for once the soldiers convert to Christianity, it will not take long to convert the common people and the fat of pigs and cows were rubbed on the cartridges. This became known through one of the Bengalis who was employed in the cartridge-making establishment. Out of those who divulged this, one man was killed and the remainder imprisoned. Here [in Calcutta] they were hatching their plans like this, and there in London the Ambassador to the Sultan of Turkey sent a message to him saying that 35,000 White soldiers are heading from here to India, to convert the Indians to Christianity.

The Turkish Sultan [Sultan Abd al-Madjid I] issued an order to the Emperor of Egypt, saying firstly that 'You have conspired with Queen Victoria. This is no time to compromise. We came to learn from our Ambassador's report that 35,000 White soldiers have left for India to convert the common people and the Indian soldiers. Faced with this [event], their chastisement is now possible. If we neglect it, how can we face God? And this day will come to us also. For if the English Christianize India, they will proceed to our countries too.'

When the order from the Sultan of Turkey reached the Emperor of Egypt, the latter deployed his army in the city of Iskandria [Alexandria] to wait for the White Army, for it was via this port that the Army would proceed to India. As soon as the White Army arrived, the Egyptian Army began to target it with cannon from every side and after breaking their ships into small pieces, drowned them so that not even a single soldier was left alive.

The Sahibs at Calcutta, after issuing the Order concerning the cutting of the cartridges, and after loftily spreading discord and disorder were waiting for help from the London Army. But the Most High God had already wiped them out with His power. When the news of the massacre of the London Army was learnt, the Governor General was filled with anguish and sorrow and greatly mourned.

In the night they were massacred. In the morning neither heads remained on the bodies, nor crowns on the heads. By the revolving of the heaves came the lotus-blue sky, neithr Nader nor Nadri remained.

By order of the Pshwa Bahadur, impressed with [his] seal 13 Zulqada 1273 hijri equivalent to Sunday 5 June 1857.


5. Statement of Mohammed Ali Khan

Mahomed Ali Khan, a trained engineer, had gone to Britain twice as part of diplomatic delegations. Having just quit service to the East India Company in disgust at its racist discrimination against him, he first joined the entourage going to Britain in 1850 with General Jung Bahadur Rana, the de facto ruler of Nepal . Treated well in Britain , Jung Bahadur led his armies in support of the British in 1857.
     Soon after Mahomed Ali Khan's return to India , he was recruited as an envoy by Dhundu Pant 'Nana Sahib', the adopted son of the deposed and exiled Peshwa of the Marathas. This second delegation, jointly led by Azimullah Khan, struggled fruitlessly from 1853-55 in London to gain Nana Sahib's inheritance. Finally, frustrated by British intransigence, Mohammed Ali Khan and Azimullah Khan returned home, visiting the disastrous British campaign in the Crimea on the way. Back in India , they both worked to rouse Indian resistance to colonialism and themselves fought against the British in 1857.
     The following excerpt comes from the memoir of a Scottish soldier who fought in India to suppress Indians in 1857. In late February 1858 at Oonao, his regiment, the 93 rd Highlanders, captured Mohammed Ali Khan who, disguised as a plum-cake vendor under the name Jamie Green, was scouting out their positions on behalf of the Indian army based in Lucknow , the capital of Awadh. Forbes-Mitchell recorded Mohammed Ali Khan's life-story just before the British executed him without trial. [Michael Fisher]

'I am the chief engineer of the army of Lucknow , and came out on a reconnoitring expedition, but Allah has not blessed my enterprise. I intended to have left on my return to Lucknow this evening, and if fate had been propitious, I would have reached it before sunrise to-morrow, for I had got all the information which was wanted; but I was tempted to visit Oonao once more, being on the direct road to Lucknow...and it was my misfortune to encounter that son of a defiled wretch who, to save his own neck from the gallows (for he first sold the English), now wishes to divert attention from his former rascality by selling the lives of his own countrymen and co-religionists.'"

  "You ask me...what my name is, and state that you intend to write an account of my misfortune to your friends in Scotland . Well, I have no objection. The people of England ,--and by England I mean Scotland as well—are just, and some of them may pity the fate of this servant of Allah. I have friends in both London and Edinburgh , for I have twice visited both places. My name is Mahomed Ali Khan. I belong to one of the best families of Rohilcund, and was educated in the Bareilly College , and took the senior place in all English subjects. From Bareilly College I passed to the Government Engineering College at Roorkee, and studied engineering for the Company's service, and passed out the senior student of my year, having gained may marks in excess of all the European pupils, both civil and military. But what was the result? I was nominated to the rank of jemadar of the Company's engineers, and sent to serve with a company on detached duty on the hill roads as a native commissioned officer, but actually subordinate to a European sergeant, a man who was my inferior in every way, except, perhaps, in mere brute strength, a man of little or no education, who would never have risen above the grade of a working-joiner in England. Like most ignorant men in authority, he exhibited all the faults of the Europeans which most irritate and disgust us, arrogance, insolence, and selfishness. Unless you learn the language of my countrymen, and mix with the better-educated people of this country, you will never understand nor estimate at its full extent the mischief which one such man does to your national reputation. One such example is enough to confirm all that your worst enemies can say about your national selfishness and arrogance, and makes the people treat your pretensions to liberality and sympathy as mere hypocrisy. I had not jointed the Company's service from any desire for wealth, but from the hope of gaining honourable service; yet on the very threshold of that service I met with nothing but disgrace and dishonour, having to serve under a man whom I hated, yea, worst than hated, whom I despised. I wrote to my father, and requested his permission to resign, and he agreed with me that I, the descendant of princes, could not serve the Company under conditions such as I have describes. I resigned the service and returned home, intending to offer my services to his late Majesty Nussir-ood-Deen, King of Oude; but just when I reached Lucknow I was informed that his Highness Jung Bahadoor of Nepal, who is now at Goruckpore with an army of Goorkhas coming to assist in the loot of Lucknow, was about to visit England, and required a secretary well acquainted with the English language. I at once applied for the post, and being well backed by recommendations both from native princes and English officials, I secured the appointment, and in the suite of the Maharaja I landed in England for the first time, and, among other places, we visited Edinburgh, where your regiment, the Ninety-Third Highlanders, formed the guard of honour for the reception of his Highness. Little did I think when I saw a kilted regiment for the first time, that I should ever be a prisoner in their tents in the plains of Hindustan; but who can predict or avoid his fate?

  "Well, I returned to India , and filled several posts at different native courts till 1854, when I was again asked to visit England in the suite of Azeemoolla Khan, whose name you must have often heard in connection with this mutiny and rebellion. On the death of the Peishwa, the Nana had appointed Azeemoolla Khan to be his agent. He, like myself, had received a good education in English, under Gunga Deen, head-master of the Government school at Cawnpore . Azeemoolla was confident that, if he could visit England, he would be able to have the decrees of Lord Dalhousie against his master reversed, and when I joined him he was about to start for England, well supplied with money to engage the best lawyers, and also to bribe high officials, if necessary. But I need not give you any account of our mission. You already know that, so far as London drawing-rooms went, it proved a social success, but as far as gaining our end a political failure; and we left England after spending over £50,000, to return to India via Constantiople in 1855. From Constantinople we visited the Crimea, where we witnessed the assault and defeat of the English on the 18 th of June, and were much struck by the wretched state of both armies in front of Sebastopol . Thence we returned to Constantinople, and there met certain real or pretended Russian agents, who made large promises of material support if Azeemoolla could stir up a rebellion in India . It was then that I and Azeemoolla formed the resolution of attempting to overthrow the Company's Government, and, Shook'r Khooda! we have succeeded in doing that; for from the newspapers that you lent me, I see that the Company's raj has gone, and that their charter for robbery and confiscation will not be renewed. Although we have failed to wrest the county from the English, I hope we have done some good, and that our lives will not be sacrificed in vain; for I believe direct government under the English parliament will be more just than that of the Company, and that there is yet a future before my oppressed and downtrodden countrymen, although I shall not live to see it.

  "I do not speak, sahib , to flatter you or to gain your favour. I have already gained that, and I know that you cannot help me any further than you are doing, and that if you could, your sense of duty would not let you. I know I must die; but the unexpected kindness which you have shown to me has caused me to speak my mind. I came to this tent with hatred in my heart, and curses on my lips; but your kindness to me, unfortunate, has made me, for the second time since I left Lucknow , ashamed of the atrocities committed during this rebellion. The first time was a Cawnpore a few days ago, when Colonel Napier of the Engineers was directing the blowing up of the Hindoo temples on the Cawnpore ghat , and a deputation of Hindoo priests came to him to beg that the temples might not be destroyed. 'Now, listen to me,' said Colonel Napier in reply to them; 'you were all here when our women and children were murdered, and you also well know that we are not destroying these temples for vengeance, but for military considerations connected with the safety of the bridge of boats. But if any man among you can prove to me that he did a single act of kindness to any Christian man, woman, or child, nay, if he can even prove that he uttered one word of intercession for the life of any one of them, I pledge myself to spare the temple where he worships.' I was standing in the crowd close to Colonel Napier at the time, and I thought it was bravely spoken. There was no reply, and the cowardly Brahmins slunk away...I was so impressed with the justness of Napier's remarks that I too turned away, ashamed."

  On this I asked him, "Were you in Cawnpore when the Mutiny broke out?" To which he replied: "No, thank God! I was in my home in Rohilcund; and my hands are unstained by the blood of any one, excepting those who have fallen in the field of battle. I knew that the storm was about to burst, and had gone to place my wife and children in safety, and I was in my village when I heard the news of the mutinies t Meerut and Bareilly . I immediately hastened to join the Bareilly brigade, and marched with them for Delhi . There I was appointed engineer-in-chief, and set about strengthening the defences by the aid of a party of the Company's engineers which had mutinied on the march from Roorkee to Meerut . I remained in Delhi till it was taken by the English in September. I then made my way to Lucknow with as many men as I could collect of the scattered forces. We first marched to Muttra, where we were obliged to halt till I threw a bridge of boats across the Jumna for the retreat of the army. We had still a force of over thirty thousand men under the command of Prince Feroz Shah and General Bukht Khan. As soon as I reached Lucknow I was honoured with the post of chief-engineer. I was in Lucknow in November when your regiment assisted to relieve the Residency. I saw the horrible slaughter in the Secundrabagh. I had directed the defences of that place the night before, and was looking on from the Shah Nujeff when you assaulted it. I had posted over three thousand of the best troops in Lucknow in the Secundrabagh, as it was the key of the position, and not a man escaped. I nearly fainted; my liver turned to water when I saw the green flag pulled down, and a Highland bonnet set up on the flag-staff which I had erected the night before. I knew then that all was over, and directed the guns of the Shah Nujeff to open fire on the Secundrabagh. Since then I have planned and superintended the construction of all the defensive works in and around Lucknow . You will see them when you return, and if the sepoys and artillerymen stand firmly behind them, many of the English army will lose the number of their mess, as you call it, before you again become masters of Lucknow ."

SOURCE: Forbes-Mitchell, William, Reminiscences of the Great Mutiny 1857-59 (London: Macmillan, 1894)


6. Expression of loyalty by sepoys

On 17 June 1857, J McDonald, Lieutenant Colonel of the 39th Bengal Native Infantry, reported that he organised a parade and questioned his men, all agreed with the statements as forwarded in the following petition to the local government:

Translation of the Petition of the Native Commissioned and Non Commissioned Officers and Sepoys of the 39 th Regiment of Native Infantry to the Right Hon Governor Gen of India

Whilst we deeply regret that the Govt has lost all confidence in the Poorbea Sepoys, owing to so many Regiments having proved unfaithful to their salt, we heartily rejoice to hear that those scoundrels who have repaid the favors and bounties of the Govt with the basest ingratitude and treachery, will soon reap the first reward of their villainous and traitorous conduct, and we sincerely and earnestly pray to be sent against the e exciters of mutiny and sedition to Delhi or elsewhere, wherever they may be, that we may prove to the Govt and to the world, our zealous and devoted loyalty

Signed Sunkur Sing, Subadar Major
Bhowany Buccus Singh, Subadar
Chutturdharee Singh, Subadar
Soochil Tewary, Subadar
Thakoor Singh, Jemadar
Rampersad Sookul, Jemadar
Omaid Opudhia Jamadar
Gopalo Tewary Jumadar and others

SOURCE IOLR F/4/2699 191782 Petitions of native officers and men of 39 th Reg Bengal NI expressing loyalty


7 . Address from native community of Bengal criticising leniency of government towards rebels

My Lord,
We the undersigned Rajahs, Zemindars, Talookdars, Merchants, Tradesmen, Agriculturists, and other Natives of the Provinces of Bengal, Behar and Orissa, … beg leave to approach your Lordship in Council with this address expressive of our deep sense of gratitutde for the several measures of security adopted by your Lordship in Council since disturbances have broken out in the Upper and Central Provinces of British India …. Now that My Lord, they have ventured to carry their misstatements to the foot of the Throne, it is time, and justice to ourselves and to our countrymen demands – that a national protest against these most unjustifiable proceedings should be thus placed upon record.

 Descriptive list of some of the gentlemen who signed the foregoing address:
The Maharaja of Burdwan, largest semindar of Bengal
Baboo Rasbeharry, brother in law of above and himself a xemindar
Baboo Shamchund, also brother in law
Raja Radhacanth Deb leader of Hindu Society in Calcutta
Raja Kalikrishna, ditto
And his two brothers Raja Komulkrishna and Raja NArender Krishna
Hurrocomar Tagore, zeminda, and his brother Prosunno Comar Tagore, one of the most influential men in Bengal .
Ramapersad Roy, son of Rammohun Roy,
Shamachurn Mullick, head of that wealthy Family
Ramanauth Tagore, brother of late Dwarkanath Tagore.
Rajender Dutt, large zemindar and merchant
Ranee Surnomoye, widow of late Raja Krishnath Roy of Moorshedabad, emindar
Romanath Gossain of Serampoor man of wealth and influence
Aga Mirza Sherazy, wealthy Persian merchant of Calcutta

SOURCE: IOLR F/4/2714 195702 Letter to Court of Directors, 21 Dec 1857 forwarding address from native community of Bengal criticising leniency of govt towards rebels


8.A Petition for Clemency from a Transported Mutineer

In late 1857 the Indian Government received a petition from Bheem Pauray, late Subadar of 7 th Regiment Bengal Native Infantry, under sentence of life transportation. The reply, given on 2 Jan 1858 to his legal counsel, G S Fagan, that the Gov Gen in council “will not interfere”.

Petition of Beem Pauray
“That he was absent from Dinapore, on leave, when his own and the other two Native Regiments cantoned at that station broke out into open mutiny. That he was unable to return to Dinapore at the expiration of his leave, viz 30 July last, in consequence of his having found it impracticable to travel at that time with any degree of safety. That it was not till the 4 th October following, that the roads became clear, when he left his village and reached Dinapore on 7 th of that monthy, and that in the interim he took no part in assisting his mutinous comrades or any other body of rebels. Praying that the Govt of Inbdia will order either his immediate release or else a careful and fair examination into the merit of his case previously to his present very severe sentence of transportation for life being carried into execution.

SOURCE: IOLR IPP 188/49 Petition from Bheem Pauray, late Subadar of 7 th Regiment Bengal Native Infantry, now in Allipore jail under sentence of life transportation.


White Responses

1.The Late Indian War: An Irish Broadside Ballad

This Belfast broadside is very typical of the mid 19 th century ‘slip'. It's a single sheet of paper with two ballads printed side-by-side on the same side and with two wood-cuts on top. The ballad next to it is entitled The Lass That Loved a Sailor and has the picture of a sailing ship on the top. Our ballad entitled The Late Indian War has on the other hand a soldier astride a resplendent horse with his plume in one hand. This latter wood-cut though strikingly executed (especially since the quality of many of the wood-cuts were not very good), seems to be quite old. The age of the block is suggested by its overuse and consequent faded quality of the print (especially in comparison to the neighbouring ship) as well as the soldier's archaic dress. [1]
      The ballad has several points of interest. Prima facie it does not seem to be a ballad associated with the events of 1857 since it refers to the death of Sir William McNaghten. McNaghten had been killed by rebel Afghan leader Akbar Khan on the suspicion of treachery immediately after having negotiated a peace agreement with the later on the 23 rd December 1841during the First Anglo-Afghan War 1839-42. An irate mob long infuriated by what they saw to be McNaghten's attempts at British annexation of the country, subsequently seized the corpse and paraded the city in triumph along with it. [2] The whole episode had been a major embarrassment for the British both in terms of the fiasco which many thought was the result of McNaghten's lack of competence for the job as well as the subsequent events including the public humiliation of the corpse.
     Yet the ballad claims to have been written by a soldier of Her Majesty's 54 th Regiment. The HM's 54 th however, did not fight in the first Anglo-Afghan War and the only Infantry regiment with the number to have fought was an East India Company regiment. The HM's 54 th on the other hand was hurriedly sent out in November 1857 after the ‘Mutiny' broke out. Some of the officer's families also accompanied the regiment on the ship SS Sarah Sands, which left Portsmouth on the 15 th of August 1857. [3] On the way the ship caught fire and became sea unworthy while still 600 miles away from the nearest landfall. A gallant effort by the regiment and the crew somehow managed to keep the ship afloat and succeeded in reaching Mauritius on the 23 rd of November 1857 without either supplies or navigational instruments. After a short respite, the regiment travelled on board a cramped and ill-equipped Coolie ship, the Clarendon, once again only to be caught in a storm in the Bay of Bengal . The regiment finally landed in Calcutta on the 21 st January 1858. Though the regiment saw comparatively little action in the War, its harrowing experience at sea became the stuff of legends and a number of authors wrote on the incident including William Makepeace Thackeray and Rudyard Kipling. [4] Samuel Smiles argued the incident proved how, “out of the most unpromising materials--such as roughs picked up in the streets, or raw unkempt country lads taken from the plough--steady discipline and drill will bring out the unsuspected qualities of courage, endurance, and self-sacrifice”. [5] The narrative compression of all these separate stories ---the Afghan War, the Mutiny and War of 1857, the saga of Sarah Sands--- into one broadside ballad is typical of the way street ballads were created by combining and re-combining older ballads and narrating new stories in the form of old myths. The ballad is also interesting as it develops a very different dimension of the Sarah Sands episode than met with in the polite renditions of the story, i.e., the element of Irish character and pride.
     The ballad also confirms Graeme Morton's argument that being British did not mean renouncing other identities such as Scottish or Irish, but rather both could go together in what Morton calls ‘Unionist nationalism'. [6] [Projit B Mukharji]


 Come gather round you Irishmen, till I relate this tale;
‘Twill your hearts fill with grief and make your cheeks grow pale.
Till I mourn the death of those boys, that brave and gallant band,
Whose bones lie bleached upon India 's distant land
For many a sigh and bitter tear will now break forth in vain,
And many a bright and tender girl mourn for her love that's slain---
And many a mothers grieved to think the sons that they have borne
That they are left for food for beasts on India 's salty shore,
Ten thousand of those Irish lads their hearts from terror free,
To serve the country and their Queen they ploughed the raging sea;
Their hearts were strong, their cause was good, their hopes of victory high.
But now their bones unburied rot beneath an Indian sky,
Proud England now might hide her head with grief and bitter shame.
She lost the warriors whom she thought would swell her land with fame:
But as you swell flies from the wall so crushed was every man;
Disgraced, defeated and destroyed, all by this Indian clan.
There's the 22 nd and the 44 th , those brave heroes of renown,
Who last recruited their brave ranks with boys from Belfast town
The North of Ireland now must grieve since many a lad was slain,
Their butchered bodies scattered lie beneath an Indian clime.
The young and tender women too, their fond hearts felt no fear,
They faced the thickest winds and rain, clung to their husbands dear,
How can I paint that awful fate, of females fond and mild,
The high and low, the rich and poor, abused by Indians wild.
The ladies of our officers as well as soldier's wives,
They made them work like common slaves, or else they'd take their lives;
Sir William McNaughton's tender wife an Ulster lady born,
Like a beast they tied her to their mill to grind their Indian corn.
Sir William being an Antrim man that never yet felt fear,
Those Indians black chopped off his head and placed it on a spear
But while the officers all ran we never yet did yield,
But stood our ground like Britons bold, and died upon the field
Should British valour thus be stained? Does British valour sleep?
The ghosts of those ill-fated men calls vengeance from the deep.
But the bodies of brave Irishmen unburied shan't remain;
Ten thousand tombs we'll erect for them made of the Indian slain
Come all you loyal Irishmen, take warning by this fate,
Attend unto your parent's voice before it is to late;
Be constant to your sweethearts and never from them roam,
But live with them in joy and peace in your sweet native home.
May heaven preserve poor Irishmen from every foreign foe,
May heaven protect poor England too, from every cause of woe.
God bless her noble virtuous Queen may honour crown her cause,
May she amend the poor man's lot with a good & virtuous cause.
Moore, Printer, 40, Ann Street y

[1] Wood-cuts were quite expensive and blocks were often passed around and re-used through sale and inheritance.

[2] A.G. Constable, “ Afghanistan : The Present Seat of War, and the Relations of that Country to England and Russia ”, Journal of the American Geographical Society, 1879, 41-58.

[3] For a good account of the incident see, JH McGivering, “The Sarah Sands: A Prolegomenon”, The Kipling Journal, 1976, 8-13.

[4] WM Thackeray, Roundabout Papers Vol. XXII, Smith, Elder & Co., 1879. p. 22.; Though the story has been largely overlooked by Kipling scholars, though he had published it multiple times and in many forms First published in Youth's Companion for 10 November 1898 and In Black and White Magazine Christmas Number the same year, there entitled “On a Burning Troopship.” Collected in Land and Sea Tales in 1923 with a short Introduction. Also in the Sussex Edition , Volume 16, Burwash Edition Volume 14, and Scribners Volume 35.

[5] Samuel Smiles, Character, London : John Murray, 1871 (1925). Chapter VI.

[6] Graeme Morton, Unionist Nationalism: Governing Urban Scotland , 1830-1860 , East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1999.

§ Harding B26(348), Bodelian Library, Oxford .

y J. Moore of 40, Ann Street , Belfast was one of the most prolific broadside sellers. There are over a 100 broadsides attributed to him in the Bodelian Library, Oxford . He referred to his shop as ‘ Moore 's Cheap Job Printing, Book-Binding, Stationery, and Fancy Goods Establishment'. Apart from all this, he also claimed to sell an ‘assortment of the largest, cheapest and best AIR BALLS [balloons?] in Northern Ireland '. See advertisement in Harding B 26(425).

2. The Poor Discharged Soldier: A Scottish Broadside Ballad

Though the verses of this ballad make no overt reference to Scotland or a Scottish identity, on top is a wood-cut of a soldier in Highland dress. [1] It is however easy to over-emphasise the importance of national identities in this case. Ballads often circulated and were re-printed and even re-created (by adding or subtracting stanzas) by different printers in different parts of Britain . In fact the autobiography of William Cameron, a Glaswegian ballad-seller and street-poet, mentioned his travels in both England and Scotland , not to mention his wide acquaintance with the Irish poor in Scotland and their minstrelsy. [2] Later in the century William McGonagall of Dundee also travelled to London and even to America . South Asians like John Hasenelly, ‘Blacks' like Charles Dibdin and even a few Chinese were also active as street-poets on Victorian roads. This led to a fair degree of exchange and circulation of verses across national boundaries. Leaving a ballad open-ended therefore facilitated a larger circulation, while allowing for manipulations by local printers and singers. Wood-cuts were an easy way of making an otherwise open-ended ballad market-specific and therefore enhance its appeal. Further the nineteenth century also witnessed a re-invention and appropriation of the romance of the Highland by the British crown through what has been dubbed the Queen Victoria's ‘Balmoralism'. [3] Similarly, it can hardly be denied that the Scottish identity has long tended to provide a radical edge to the British consciousness. [4] Hence the figure of the Highland soldier in his kilt could and did encompass a range of meanings.
     It was not nationality alone that was left open to local manipulation. The soldier depicted here for instance, might also be a woman. The existence of several cross-dressing ballads such as William and Mary or the Late India War and The Paisley Officer which speak of women dressing up as men and enlisting encourages such a reading. It has also been suggested that these cross-dressing ballads themselves may have been open-ended texts accommodating homosexual readings. [5]
     This particular ballad as such is also interesting in being one of the most open repudiations of the thesis that the ‘spoils of empire' tamed working-class radicalism and made working-class imperialists of the British poor. The fact that till 1871 British soldiers were not eligible for pensions unless permanently disabled meant that many who fought in 1857 actually came back to the dire circumstances starkly depicted here. Most broadsides tended to mute their criticism of war and empire by paying at least lip-service to the imperial agenda, but this ballad is outstanding in its frankness.
     Like most ballads it also refers to previous wars that provided the social as well as narrative context within which the balladeer sought to understand his present situation.
     An interesting and somewhat curious reading of the ballad may be suggested by the reference by William Cameron to several travelling beggars in Britain who posed to be soldier's wives and told harrowing tales of poverty to dupe their sympathetic patrons. Whether such ‘routers', as Cameron called them, used ballads like the present one to further their claims is not known, but it is clear that sympathy for ex-soldiers was widely felt, so much so that even a ‘router' could make a living by cashing in on it. [6] [Projit B. Mukharji]

 THE POOR Discharged Soldier . [7]

Gather round me, one an'all. great and small, short and tall,
Till you hear the sad down fall of the poor soldier boy.
That has fought by land and sea, night and day far away,
For thirteenpence a day, says the poor soldier boy.             ]

But after all I've done and the battles I have won.
In place of march I got the run, which does me sore annoy.
With my old red coat all tore. and my bones both bruised & sore,
I'm left starving on the shore, says the poor soldier boy,

The next thing I've to tell, mark it well. what befell,
My old shirt I had to sell, says the poor soldier boy,
For hunger I can't bear, I declare, and I swear,
For bread I'd sell my hair, says the poor soldier boy.

But before in rags I 'd fly some roguery I must try,
I 'll break an arm or blind an eye, some blunt for to decoy,
Then I'll go through the town, with my medal hanging down,
Saying, for glory and renown, help the poor soldier boy.

When I was at Waterloo , I tell to you it is true,
My old red coat was new, says the poor soldier boy,
And likewise at Kabul    I smashed many in the skull,
But his belly it was full says the poor soldier boy.

At Vitoria and the Nile , I cut them rank and file,
I never thought awhile that they'd make me such a toy,
As to turn me away. without one penny in the day.
After smashing China , clear the way, says the poor soldier boy.

It's when this bill was passed, we were cast, very fast,
We're all begging now at last, says the poor soldier boy.
We are going about like Jews, without hats, shirts or shoes,
For to live upon strange news, says the poor soldier boy.

Now we can stand at ease, at any corner that we please,
Into every tavern gaze, for to comfort us with joy,
Where we'll see bread and meat on each plate, that we could eat,
But our blunt was out of date, says the poor soldier boy.

Now very long ago, you must know, it was so,
Off to India I did go, says the poor soldier boy,
And fought the black men there, I declare, and I swear,
Without either dread or fear, says the poor soldier boy.

But after the campaign I was sent back again,
Some were kilt, and more were lame but it mattered not a toy,
They'd no penison give to I, live or die, I might fly,
To the devil or Buckleroy. says the poor soldier boy.

So now to end my theme, I'm to blame for the same,
I wish I had been slain, says the poor soldier boy.
When I took a delight to go and fight. out of spite,
Away off to the Sikhs, says the poor soldier boy.

But all for my vallantry, in that glorious victory.
See what they've done to we. and how they did destroy,
They sent me for to wait at the mendieiy gate.
To get skilly on a plate, says the poor soldier boy.


[1] There are others such as the Bonnets o' Blue which spoke assertively and openly in the name of a Scottish identity while singing of the ‘Mutiny'.

[2] William Cameron, Hawkie: The Autobiography of a Gangrel, Glasgow: David Robertson & Co., 1888.

[3] Graeme Morton, Unionist Nationalism: Governing Urban Scotland , 1830-1860, East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1999. pp. 19-21.

[4] Cf. James D Young, The Very Bastards of Creation: Scottish International Radicalism, Glasgow : Clydeside Press, 1996.

[5] Pauline Greenhill, “Neither a Man Nor a Woman”: Sexualities and Gendered Meanings in Cross-Dressing Ballads”, The Journal of American Folklore , 1995, 156-77.

[6] Cameron, Hawkie, Chapter II.

[7] L.C.Fol.178.A.2(217), National Library of Scotland . Another two broadsides of the ballad are also to be seen at Bodelian Library, Oxford .

3. The Plunder of Delhi

On 15 th January 1858, H P Burn, President of the Committee of Adjustment of Prize Property in Delhi 15 Jan 1858 reported to the Chief Commander of the Punjab with regard to the booty taken in Delhi when it was recaptured by British forces from the rebels:

 “We found that almost everything of any value with the exception of the Ex-King's Jewels and those of Begum Zemut Malub had been disposed of by public auction and that it was utterly impossible to recover what had been sold, for restoration to the original owners as ordered by Government … the Prize Agents have received but a very small portion of the plunder of Delhi. With the exception of one street, the Neel-Ka-Kuttra, the whole city has been pillaged of every thing above ground of the smallest value and the hidden or buried wealth of the citizens has not escaped the rigid search which was made for it day and night by our soldiers and camp followers.

I will not venture to say whether more stringent measures might not have prevented a great deal of the plundering that went on after we occupied Delhi . I did my utmost with the small force placed at my disposal to put it down. I flogged, or fined every one of the hundreds of culprits brought before me without distinction, but I felt that I was treading on dangerous ground. Our troops generally, but those from the Punjab in particular had been buoyed up with the hope of obtaining as their reward, the plunder of Delhi, and I have no hesitation in saying that this was one of the main causes of their struggling on as they did against overwhelming odds, and in spite of exposure to heat and rain, at the inevitable cost of ruined health.

There is not the smallest doubt that the promise of Prize Money deterred many of our Europeans and Goorkhas from joining the ranks of the plunderers. But for this the plundering would have been universal, there would have been an end to discipline and our success after entering the city would have been risked.

I have already stated that the bulk of the property collected by the Prize Agents belonged to the rebels, every man of any consequence residing in Delhi having joined in the rebellion.

 SOURCE: IOLR F/4/2699 191892 Regarding the Booty captured by the British troops from the mutineers and other persons in rebellion against the Government.

4 . Petition from the British Inhabitants of Calcutta, to the two Houses of Parliament

The humble Petition of the undersigned British Inhabitants of Calcutta
Most humbly sheweth

That your Petitioners view with daily increasing anxiety and alarm the condition and prospects of British India …

Throughout India the Native belief in the prestige of British Power has been destroyed and where the Asiatic has no dread of physical force he has no respect for moral influence…..

Over thousands of square miles where three months since Englishmen travelled in security unarmed, at this moment European women for themselves and their children court speedy death as a blessing. On every highway lie the dishonoured and mutilated remains of our countrywomen and their children, and the bodies of British soldiers and unarmed men foully murdered.

The Government of the E I Co, to whyose care the interests of GB in the East have been confided, possessfrom their constitution absolute power. They have a perpetual majority in theLEgislative Council, which is composed entiredly of official persons….

The rebellion broke out and found the Governmnent totally unprepared. No efficient Commissariat, no organized means of procuring intelligence, and, with a few brilliant exceptions, no men of sufficient capacity for the emergency…

On 13 th June they passed a Law which destroyed the liberty of the Press, and placed every hournal in India at the absolute feet of the executive authority.

Your petitioners refrain from here commenting on this act of the Government, uncalled for by the occasion, repugnant to British feeling, and subversive of the principles of the British constitution. This was done at a time when the Government were receiving universal support from the English portion of the Press.

Your Petitioners felt themselves bittlerly aggrieved by the attempted imposition of what is known as the Black Act, but their feelings in that respect never hindered them for a moment in coming forward to assist the Government with heart and hand. Their offers were coldly declined, though ultimately accepted when danger was too apparent. At the present moment not only does Calcutta owe its chief security to European Volunteers, but Government have invited the enrolment of paid Corps for service in the Inbterior.

The whole Trade of the Presidency has suffered more or less; many branches of it ar ruined entirely. The sale of Imports is almost nominal; the cotton Godos of England are not to be disposed of even at great sacrifices. The export of silk, indigo, and sugar, and other articles of Export, will suffer considerable diminution for some seasons to come, in consequence of the destruction of many factories, and the loss of muchy capital. In the train of thye revolt it is more than probable that famine with all its Indian horrors will follow. To remedy all these evils, and to fix on a firmer basis the British Power in the East, your Petitioners can alone appeal to the British Nation.

Your Petitioners can look for no redress to the powers to whom the Government of this great country are delegated; they having shewn themselves unequal to the task. The Government of the East India Company has neither men, money, nor credit: what credit they had was destroyed by their conduct in the late Financial operations.

The army has dissolved itself, the treasuries have either been plundered y the rebels or exhaustede by the public service, and a loan even at 6 per cent would scarcely find subscribers.

… Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Hon'ble House will adopt such measures as may be necessary to remove the Govt of this country from the E I Co, and substitute in its place the direct Govt of Her Maj, the Queen, with an open Leg Co suitable to the requirement of the Country

Calcutta 3 Aug 1857

SOURCE: IOLR F/4/2714 195701 Letter to Hon Court of Directors, Fort William , 9 Sept 1857 enclosing Petition from the British Inhabitants of Calcutta, to the two Houses of Parliament


Global Responses          

1. The Cape Argus on the Mutineer Sepoys

The following newspaper articles are taken from The Cape Argus , a south African newspaper first published in 1857. Read together, the articles illustrate not only that the Indian Rebellion of 1857 had an impact on other colonies within the British Empire , but the rebellion also provided a lasting topic of discussion. Additionally, the articles reflect the settlers' growing distrust of indigenous peoples and the increasing debate regarding the appropriate conduct of colonial officials in the wake of the uprising. [Jill Bender]

SEPOYS FOR THE CAPE  - Mowbray, 30 August, 1857.
Sirs,–I forward you herewith a copy of a letter I have addressed the Government on the subject of bringing the mutinous Sepoys, who may be condemned to transportation, to this colony, and here employing them on the public works, such as the harbour of refuge, &c.; and should our African farmers wish to have them, then they are to be assigned out to them as agricultural labourers, shepherds, herdsmen, &c. From my knowledge of the Bengal Sepoy (having been reared and born among them), and also of this colony, I do not hesitate to say that they will be found infinitely superior to the thievish, lazy, and drunken scoundrels that are now employed by them; and if kindly treated, they will study the interests of their masters much more. The very circumstance of a man being a Sepoy shows him to be of good character, inasmuch as, should he be found to be a bad man after enlistment, and commits himself, he is brought to a court-martial, and then flogged, and which circumstances alone turns him out of service. So you will see by this that until this mad mutiny occurred, they were well conducted men, and quite different to convicts brought here from any other country. By the answer of the Government, it seems that the same subject has already “been under consideration” before; but to what conclusion they have come, you are as wise as I am. But as I consider that no member of the present government is at all conversant of the Sepoy character equal to what I am, I request you will kindly publish this correspondence, and in that manner bring it forcibly to the notice of our agricultural community, and then they can take whatever steps they deem best for their own interests, by meetings, memorials, &c.
The Sepoy is a soldier (soldat), and before enlistment is generally (that is, nine cases out of ten) an agriculturalist, and, as such, I consider him most admirably suited for that employment in this colony. Any how, there are now about 30,000 turned adrift for mutiny, and from what I know of India, there will be “no morbid sentimentality” shown towards them after shedding blood, and every man will be hunted up (even years hence), and according to their deserts, so they will either be hanged, blown away from the guns, or transported; no pious lies, as the wrongs of the Kafirs, will hinder justice from being meted out to them for shedding innocent blood, and it rests with us to back the Indian Government to receive the least guilty. I may mention that Major Longmore, some years ago had charge, at the Mauritius, of a gang of some 600 transported Sepoys, who there made all the roads, &c., on the island, and he tells me he always found them a quiet, well-behaved, inoffensive, and very obedient people, and these, remember, were not mutinous, but bad Sepoys, transported there for some heinous civil crime. Anyhow, the Sepoy is not a midnight robber or an assassin, like the prowling Kafir, and if kindly treated will die to defend their masters and families. I know they have gone mad at the idea that the Government was going to turn them christians by force, which we all know was perfect folly, and most of the murders of women and children at Meerut and Delhi were perpetrated by the Budmashes in the bazaars, and troopers of the 3rd Cavalry.
  My plan is that from 3000 to 5000 be sent here, and, in the first place, let them be employed at the harbour of refuge in Table Bay, and then given to those who will employ them.
  The screw-steamers taking troops to India could, on return, bring the Sepoys here easily. Having said, I think, enough on this subject,
   I have, &c.,
    Late Captain Bengal Army,
 P.S. – To save time, I have no objection to receive applications from our farmers as to the number they will require, and forward the same to Government as some data on which they could act. I hope you will remark, in a leader, that our farmers would move ten times the quantity of grain if they had only hands to do it; alias, to keep the ploughs agoing at the proper season.
  No fear of the Sepoys running away to mission stations, or being harboured there, or even […] with those people.

Cape Town , [20th?] Aug., 1857.
To the Hon'ble R AWSON W. R AWSON , Colonial Secretary.
  SIR ,–After the dreadful mutiny in India among the Sepoy troops, I trust I need not mention to His Excellency the Governor that, as a matter of course, a most just retribution will be awarded to the mutineers on their being hunted up and caught; that is, the most guilty will be hanged or blown away from a gun, and the minor delinquents will be either sentenced to work on the roads in India, or transported for their natural lives, as an example in future. Such being the case, and as I consider it is the bounden duty of every dependency of the British realm to assist in that design of the Indian government, to punish these people well, I hope to plead my excuse in thus intruding myself on His Excellency's notice, to know whether a part of these misguided men might not with advantage be sent to this colony; not only to carry out the erection of the breakwater contemplated in Table Bay, but also the railroads; and should the colonists wish to receive them, they might be given out and assigned to them like the last batch of Kafir convicts. From my knowledge of the Sepoy character, I have no hesitation in saying that they will be found most useful here, not only on the public works, but also in private service, considering that their cost is merely for food and clothing; and, of course, to be sent here at the expense of the Indian government. And I venture to assert, that after a few years the poor Sepoys will be the most attached and faithful servants of any in the colony. He is like the dog attached to the person, and when that affection is once formed, he will give up his life for his master and family. It was that affection which has induced him to follow his old officers to conquer and hold India for Britain , but which the late system has completely annihilated, and I much fear the alarm about his caste has been induced a great deal by missionary interference or the intemperate zeal of some of their officers. The greased cartridge is the mere excuse for the alarm and mutiny when ripe for revolt. It is to be clearly understood that that this scheme does not embody any plan to force even this description of convicts on the colonists, should they not wish to receive them; and the Parliament should take particular care, that only Sepoys should ever be transported to this colony, for although the scum of India is not half as bad as that of England, still, it is just as well not to receive either. Should His Excellency agree with me as to such a measure being advocated, I am perfectly willing to publish this letter, with an address from me to my fellow colonists, and thus put it fairly before them. In the meantime, as the Madras steamer is to return next week, I shall feel obliged by His Excellency mooting the subject both to the Indian and Home Governments. The Sepoy is a smart, handy, intelligent, and robust fellow – very active; of sober temperament, and capable of being taught any trade or occupation, so long as it does not interfere with his caste, and in a short time, he will be found to be a most skillful and trustworthy wagon driver, as numbers do drive bullock carts in their villages,–as also capable of using their own light ploughs ; and as they are all strong, athletic men, they will soon get into the habit of handling and using our ploughs also. In India , the grain is cut with a sickle, and then trod out with cattle, almost in the same manner as here, so that in this business for our farmers, they have nothing to learn, as most of them are cultivators or husbandmen. As the Hindoo Sepoy is no beef-eater, there will be no fear of his stealing and eating the farmers' cattle as the Kafirs do. In fact, the Sepoy here can never be so mischievous as that race of people; inasmuch as they will, in most instances, be transported for life, they can always be kept under surveillance. Hoping the importance of the subject will plead my excuse,
      I have, &c.,
    J. H. VAN R ENEN ,
    Late Captain Bengal Army. 
  P.S. In private service, and conducting themselves well, they ought to be allowed trifling wages, by way of encouragement, which they will invariably save to send to their families in India, and which also ought to be encouraged, and facilities given them.

Colonial Office, [30th?] August 1857,
Capt. VAN R ENEN , Cape Town .
  S IR ,–I am directed by His Excellency to thank you for your letter of the [20th instant?], offering suggestions as to the disposal of Sepoys convicted of mutiny in India, and to acquaint you that the subject has already been under the consideration of the Government.
      I have, &c.,
     R AWSON W. R AWSON , Colonial Secretary

SOURCE: The Cape Argus , September 9, 1857

Summary of Events.
THE mutiny of the Bengal army began in May of last year. In August, His Excellency the Governor of this colony caused a despatch to be written to the Honorable the Secretary to the Government of India, signed “Rawson W. Rawson,” containing a proposal which his anxiety to aid in the policy and to anticipate the wishes of the Indian Government, at an important crisis, induced him to make, trusting that these considerations would serve as his justification with Her Majesty's Government for acting in this matter without previous communication with them.

  The proposal was nothing more nor less than an offer to receive ten disaffected or suspected Bengal native regiments at the Cape, in the hope that change of air and wholesome employment upon breakwaters and railways, and the interest and excitement of such employment, to say nothing of the novelty of the scene and the change in their mode of life, would distract their attention from greased cartridges and discontent, and restore them to a proper Mahomedan and Hindoo frame of mind. Two of these regiments of Thugs were to practice their interesting avocations in Cape Town , and was to “do” for Stellenbosch and the Paarl, five were to mutilate the frontier, and the remaining two were to take their sanguinary pleasure in Natal . His Excellency, duly solicitous for their creature comforts, took care to stipulate that they should have their wives and children sent with them. But fearing that he might possibly be refused possession of this glorious boon, he offered, as a quid pro quo to the Indian Secretary, the faint hope that a Queen's regiment or possibly two, might be spared in return from the Cape, to assist in re-establishing British supremacy in India . And by way of parenthesis, His Excellency added, that he had no doubt the inhabitants of this colony would gladly receive, and be ready to afford employment to an army of ten thousand Sepoy cut-throats!

  In September of the same year, another despatch, signed Rawson W. Rawson, was sent to the Indian Secretary, informing him that the accounts which had been received here of the revolting atrocities committed by the mutineers in India had created such a feeling in this colony, that His Excellency was compelled to request that no action might be taken upon the previous communication, until His Excellency should have had an opportunity of consulting the colonial Parliament upon it.

  The pitcher goes many times to the well, but it is sure to be broken at last. So it has fallen out with Sir George Grey's reputation as a wise man. The bubble, so round, so perfect, so beautiful, has burst, and Sir George has proved that he can sometimes – only sometimes – be as foolish as the editor of the Zuid- Afrikaan . Some people affect to be astonished at this precocious, but happily abortive, arrangement to bring about the cutting of the colonial throat, some dark night, without any previous notice; but, for our part, we thank him most unaffectedly for it, from the bottom of our hearts. It is worth a Jew's eye to us, for we, who delight in picking a hole in a neighbor's coat, may now venture to question the Governor's infallibility as freely as Mr. Spurgeon does that of the Pope. It has become so much the fashion of late to laud to the skies the wisdom of his rule, his mysterious policy, his inscrutable dodges, his triumphant success, that the small weak voices that here and there ventured to hint suspicion that all might not be right were drowned in the chorus of praise that rose like incense round the gubernatorial throne. It had become quite intolerable, at last, to think that the colony was governed by one so far removed above the errors and weaknesses of pitiful humanity, that detraction could not reach him. But the lion's skin has fallen off, and it is well that it has done so. Too blind a confidence in a ruler is not good for a people. May not the introduction of thirty thousand savages into the colony be fraught with danger? What if the driving of Kreli's Kafirs over the Bashee should have driven them, thirsting for revenge, to Moshesh? War is war, with all its horrors, whether it break out on our Eastern or North-Eastern border. Would it not be better, by a simple act of friendly mediation, which justice and humanity alike demand, and which both parties heartily desire, to avert a desolating war, that is absolutely imminent, than to be winking at the knowledge that colonial farmers are preparing to cross the Orange River to aid in making war and be slaughtering half-starved Kafirs and harrying cattle, with a colonial force, between the Kei and the Bashee? Would it not be better to secure and strengthen what we have already than be making fresh conquests that we cannot retain, except at the cost of much bloodshed? Is the Fingo future a cause for no anxiety, and are the Fingoes such faithful and approved loyal subjects that their transferrence to Butterworth is a safe measure? What do the late murders, attempted and committed, in British Kaffraria mean, than acts of retaliation, for those committed by recent patrols? Was war formally declared against Krelli before a hostile force entered his country? The Kafirs left in British Kaffraria, consider the country in a state of war. There are these and many more such questions, the gloomy solution of which, will be left to us when the Governor, afraid, perhaps, to look the result of his own measures in the face, has taken his departure from our shores. Should we not find ourselves in a great difficulty at this very moment, were the Governor gone, and a Darling or a Jackson reigned in his stead, with a Rawson W. Rawson as Colonial Secretary, to put his cheerful signature to their despatches without a word of protest against their contents? We are drifting rapidly into a complication of toils, from which the Governor, who has got us into them, is the only man competent to rescue us, if even he can do it. Facilis descensus Arerni, sed revocare gradum – hic labor, hoc opus est.

  But after all, we are not infallible ourselves, and may be wrong in questioning the wisdom of the Governor's proposal. He is fond of troops, and perhaps calculated that ten regiments of armed assassins scattered over the country, would take ten regiments of British troops to look after them, and that thus he would be able to secure the permanent possession of a large force, without the risk of losing them upon any sudden emergency arising. Viewing it in this light, there may be some sense in it, at least, as much as trying to raise Fingo or Kafir regiments for service in India . But whether a mistake or not, we do not attach any blame to the Governor, whose motive arose partially out of zeal to advance the colony, and to promote its public works. It is the Colonial Parliament which we pity for not having capacity and strength of mind sufficient to prevent itself from becoming a mere pliant tool in his hands. The Governor introduces all the bills, directs what requests and arrangements of the Parliament shall be carried out, and what shall be neglected, does what he pleases without consulting it, and, in fact, uses it just as suits his purpose best, without even a word of remonstrance being raised. To a certain extent this has answered well, but His Excellency reckoned without his host, by ignoring the existence of the Colonial Parliament, and anticipating its wishes in this matter. His sole anxiety was, to stand well with the Imperial Government, and it was only when he perceived the danger of the step taken, that he thought it would be better to consult the Colonial Parliament first. Fortunately for himself, the Parliament, and the country, the Indian Government had the good sense to reject the tempting offer.

SOURCE: The Cape Argus , March 24, 1858

2. Marx & Engels comment on the revolt in the New York Daily Tribune

The Revolt in the Indian Army
The Roman Divide et impera was the great rule by which Great Britain , for about one hundred and fifty years, contrived to retain the tenure of her Indian empire. The antagonism of the various races, tribes, castes, creeds and sovereignties, the aggregate of which forms the geographical unity of what is called India , continued to be the vital principle of British supremacy. In later times, however, the conditions of that supremacy have undergone a change. With the conquest of Sind and the Punjab , the Anglo-Indian empire had not only reached its natural limits, but it had trampled out the last vestiges of independent Indian States. All warlike native tribes were subdued, all serious internal conflicts were at an end, and the late incorporation of Oude proved satisfactorily that the remnants of the so-called independent Indian principalities exist on sufferance only. Hence a great change in the position of the East Indian Company. It no longer attacked one part of India by the help of another part, but found itself placed at the head, and the whole of India at its feet. No longer conquering, it had become the conqueror. The armies at its disposition no longer had to extend its dominion, but only to. maintain it. From soldiers they were converted into policemen, 200,000,000 natives being curbed by a native army of 200,000 men, officered by Englishmen, and that native army, in its turn, being kept in check by an English army numbering 40,000 only. On first view, it is evident that the allegiance of the Indian people rests on the fidelity of the native army, in creating which the British rule simultaneously organized the first general center of resistance which the Indian people was ever possessed of. How far that native army may be relied upon is clearly shown by its recent mutinies, breaking out as soon as the war with Persia had almost denuded the Presidency of Bengal of its European soldiers. Before this there had been mutinies in the Indian army, but the present revolt is distinguished by characteristic and fatal features. It is the first time that sepoy regiments have murdered their European officers; that Mussulmans and Hindoos, renouncing their mutual antipathies, have combined against their common masters; that “disturbances beginning with the. Hindoos, have actually, ended in placing on the throne of Delhi a Mohammedan Emperor;”

that the mutiny, has not been confined to a few localities; and lastly, that the revolt in the Anglo-Indian army has coincided with a general disaffection exhibited against English supremacy on the part of the great. Asiatic nations, the revolt of the Bengal army being, beyond doubt, intimately connected with the Persian and Chinese wars.

The alleged cause of the dissatisfaction which began to spread four months ago in the Bengal army was the apprehension on the part of the natives lest the Government should interfere with their religion. The serving cut of cartridges, the paper of which was said to have been greased with the fat of bullocks and pigs, and the compulsory biting of which was, therefore, considered by the natives as an infringement of their religious prescriptions, gave the signal for local disturbances. On the 22nd of January, an incendiary fire broke out in cantonments a short distance from Calcutta . On the 25th of February the 19th native regiment mutinied at Berhampore the men objecting to the cartridges served out to them On the 31st of March that regiment was disbanded; at the end of March the 34th sepoy regiment, stationed at Barrackpore, allowed one of its men to advance with a loaded musket upon the parade-ground in front of the line, and, after having called his comrades to mutiny, he was permitted to attack and wound the Adjutant and Sergeant-Major of his regiment. During the hand-to-hand conflict, that ensued, hundreds of sepoys looked passively on, while others participated in the struggle, and attacked the officers with the butt ends of their muskets.

Subsequently that regiment was also disbanded. The month of April was signalized by incendiary fires in several cantonments of the Bengal army at Allahabad , Agra , Umballah, by a mutiny of the 3d regiment of light cavalry at Meerut , and by similar appearances of disaffection in the Madras and Bombay armies. At the beginning of May an emeute was preparing at Lucknow , the capital of Oude, which was, however, prevented by the promptitude of Sit. H. Lawrence. On the 9th of May the mutineers of the 3d light cavalry of Meerut were marched off to jail, to undergo the various terms of imprisonment to which they were sentenced. On the evening of the following day the troopers of the 3d cavalry, together with the two native regiments, the 11th and 20th, assembled upon the parade-ground, killed the officers endeavoring to pacify them, set fire to the cantonments, and slew all the Englishmen they were able to lay hands on. Although the British part of the brigade mustered a regiment of infantry, another of cavalry, and an overwhelming force of horse and foot artillery, they were not able to move until nightfall. Having inflicted but little harm on the mutineers, they, allowed them to betake themselves to the open field and to throw themselves into Delhi , some forty miles distant from Meerut . There they were joined by the native garrison, consisting of the 38th, 54th and 74th regiments of infantry, and a company of native artillery. The British officers were attacked, all Englishmen within reach of the rebels were murdered. and the heir of the late Mogul of Delhi proclaimed King of India. Of the troops sent to the rescue of Meerut, where order had been re-established, six companies of 15th of May, native sappers and miners, who arrived on the murdered their commanding officer, Major Frazer, and made at once for the open country, pursued by troops of horse artillery and several of the 6th dragoon guards. Fifty or sixty of the mutineers were shot, but the rest contrived to escape to Delhi . At Ferozepore, in the Punjaub, the 57th and 45th native infantry regiments mutinied, but were put down by force. Private letters from Lahore state the whole of the native troops to be in an undisguised state of mutiny. On the 19th of May, unsuccessful efforts were made by the sepoys stationed at Calcutta to get possession of Fort St. William. Three regiments arrived from Bushire at Bombay were at once dispatched to Calcutta .

In reviewing these events, one is startled by, the conduct of the British commander at Meerut his late appearance on the field of battle being still less incomprehensible than the weak manner in which he pursued the mutineers. As Delhi is situated on the right and Meerut on the left bank of the Jumna-the two banks being joined at Delhi by one bridge only — nothing could have been easier than to cut off the retreat of the fugitives.

Meanwhile, martial law has been proclaimed in all the disaffected districts; forces, consisting of natives mainly, are concentrating against Delhi from the north, the east and the south; the neighboring princes are said to have pronounced for the English; letters have been sent to Ceylon to stop Lord Elgin and Gen. Ashburnham's forces, on their way to China; and finally, 14,000 British troops were to be dispatched from England to India in about a fortnight. Whatever obstacles the climate of India at the present season, and the total want of means of transportation, may oppose to the movements of the British forces, the rebels at Delhi are very likely to succumb without any prolonged resistance. Yet, even then, it is only the prologue of a most terrible tragedy that will have to be enacted.

 SOURCE: New York Daily Tribune, July 15, 1857

3. Colonial Responses to the Demand for British Troop Reinforcements

Around the British Empire, and particularly from other British colonies in the Indian Ocean, news of the uprising was greeted with shock, and colonial administrations scrambled to respond to requests from India for troop reinforcements and ammunition. In the following extract, the Governor of Mauritius, Sir Higginson, writes on 4 September 1857 to
Lord Elphinstone:

“I only regret that owing to our small garrison, the aid that we have been in a position to give has been so limited. The 4 th Regt unfortunately came out weak, the wing we send consists of only about 300 rank and file. Would that the whole Regt could have been spared, for I know full well that at no former period in the annals of India , were British bayonets more imperatively needed than at this moment. I am in hopes that on Sir George Grey being made acquainted with the further progress of the revolt, which I communicated to him immediately after the Assay arrived that he will, at all hazards, add at least one more regiment to his proposed reinforcements. I feel satisfied that he fully appreciates the emergency and is disposed to cooperate heartily in your preparations to meet it. The 23 rd Fusiliers, the 93 rd Highlanders and 200 of the Royal Artillery have p-assed in within the last week to Calcutta and the 89 th Reg to Bombay

General Hay has kept the Head Quarters of the 4 th here, in order that the wing may come back when their services were no longer required, but this must of course depend on contingencies that it is now impossible to foresee. I should add that the General consented cordially and promptly to this further reduction of the force under his command, thereby removing any difficulty that might have occurred in responding to the appeal made to us. Sir Higginson concluded his letter by delining to accept the Regiment of sepoys which Lord Elphinstone had offered him by expressing confience in the means at his command for preserving tranquillity at the Mauriitus.

 SOURCE: IOR/H/726 Home Miscell Series Kaye's Mutiny Papers, pp 975-87