Counting the Cost of War

In times of warfare, acts of brutality are commonly committed on both sides and the 1857 uprising proved no exception.   The British practice of executing rebel soldiers and officers by tying them to the mouths of cannons, so that the crowds of onlookers would be spattered with blood and the corpses dispersed over a wide area, was intended to shock. It was furthermore a deliberate offence, because blasting the body to pieces in this manner prevented either cremation or a proper burial.   The British also carried out hundreds of arbitrary hangings in Northern India as the fighting progressed almost hand to hand through the villages, until they were finally retaken.

By his own account, Frederick Cooper, the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar, shot to death no less than 237 captured sepoys at the end of July 1857, a further forty-five suffocating in cells - in a grisly re-enactment of Zephaniah Holwell's ‘Black Hole' - before he had a chance to execute them. On the Indian side, there was likewise a systematic use of violence, quite apart from incidents such as the massacre in Kanpur at Satichaura Ghat. During his march through central India, Tatya Tope, for his part, ordered that village officials who had collaborated and collected taxes for the British should have their ears and noses cut off as an example to others. In short, this was a time of bloody savagery on both sides because both were desperate to win, and believed violence to be the only language their enemy understood.

The Uprising was finally quashed when the Governor General and later the first Viceroy, George Canning, amidst howls of protest from the civilians of Calcutta (who petitioned for the removal of 'clemency Canning' as he was called) offered an amnesty to all who gave themselves up after the recapture of Lucknow.   This proposal was then published in a General Proclamation made in the name of Queen Victoria in Allahabad on November 1 st 1858, which promised to ‘respect the rights of Indian Princes as our own'.   By promising the non-confiscation of their lands, Canning was able to persuade fourteen taluqdars in Awadh alone to immediately surrender. Despite summary executions continuing thereafter, the amnesty greatly helped in the pacification of the population, all effective opposition coming to an end with the arrest and execution of Tatya Tope early in 1859. The Emperor Bahadur Shah was tried for treason at the age of 83, by his concessionaries for trade and the holders of the Diwani of Bengal (the East India Company), and was sentenced to transportation. Carried through north India in a bullock cart on his way to Calcutta, he was then exiled to Rangoon where he died and was buried in an unmarked grave four years later in November 1862.

Despite all that has been written on the topic, 1857 will probably remain forever clouded by confusion precisely because it has been used as a political tool both by the British, to justify their actions and their continuing rule in India, despite their unpopularity, and also by the rulers of independent India, who sought to construct a nationalist historiography which down-played (amongst other things) the centrality of the Delhi court in the events of the insurrection. India as the nation, we know now, was created in the twentieth century, and it would be folly to attempt to trace its origins to the events of one hundred years before.   Likewise it would be a mistake uncritically to accept colonial British explanations for the uprising.

The most serious consequence of the Uprising was the vacating of the throne in Delhi, which paved the way for the creation of a new British Imperium in India. At the same time, however, the Uprising helped create a mythology of resistance which became a powerful ideological weapon in the hands of later Nationalists during the freedom struggle of the 1930's and 1940's. This was perhaps to prove to be one of its more important legacies.

(Sources referred to in the text are highlighted in blue)

Alavi, Seema

The Company and the Sepoy (New Delhi; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995)

Anon. (probably William Robson)

Origin of the Pindaris, preceded by historical notices on the rise of the different Mahratta States, (London: 1818)

Arnold, David

Police Power and Colonial Rule; Madras, 1859-1947 (New Delhi; New York: Oxford University Press, 1986)

Ballhatchet, K.A.

Social policy and social change in western India, 1817-1830 (London: Oxford University Press, 1957)

Ballhatchet, K.A.

Race, Sex & Class under the Raj : imperial attitudes and policies and their critics, 1793-1905 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980)

Bayly, C.A.

Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), ch. 8

Bayly, C.A.

Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), ch. 6

Bayly, C.A.

Empire and information: intelligence gathering and social communication in India, 1780-1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Bayly, C.A.

Origins of Nationality in South Asia: Patriotism and Ethical Government in the Making of Modern India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998)

Bhadra, G.

‘Four rebels of 1857' in R. Guha (ed.), Subaltern Studies IV (New Delhi: Oxford University Press , 1985)

Brodkin, E.I .

‘The struggle for succession: rebels and loyalists in the Indian mutiny of 1857' in Modern Asian Studies , 6, 3 (1972), pp. 277-290

Broehl, W.G.

Crisis of the Raj: the revolt of 1857 (Hanover, USA; London: University of New England, 1986)

Chatterji, B.

‘The Darogah and the Countryside; The Imposition of Police Control in Bengal and its Impact, 1793-1837', Indian Economic & Social History Review , 18, 1 (1981), pp. 19-42

Chaudhuri, S.B.

Civil disturbances during the British rule in India, 1765-1857 (Calcutta: World Press, 1955)

Cohn, B.

‘Representing Authority in Victorian India' in T. Ranger and E. Hobsbawm (eds.), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983) also in B. Cohn, An Anthropologist Among the Historians (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990)

Embree, A.T. (ed.)

India in 1857: the revolt against foreign rule (New Delhi: Chanakya, 1987).

Farooqui, Amar

Smuggling as Subversion, Colonialism, Indian Merchants and the Politics of Opium, 1790-1843 (New Delhi, New Age International Publishers, 1998; USA: Lexington, 2005)

Fisher, Michael H. (ed.)

The Politics of the British Annexation of India, 1757-1857 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993)

Ghosh, B.B.

British policy towards the Pathans and the Pindaris in Central India, 1805-1818 (Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1966)

Gordon, S.N.

‘Scarf and sword: thugs, marauders, and state-formation in 18 th century Malwa', Indian Economic & Social History Review, 6, 4 (1969), pp. 403-429

Gordon, S.N.

The Marathas (New Cambridge History of India) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)

Guha, Ranajit

Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency (New Delhi; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983)

Guha, Ranajit

‘The prose of counter-insurgency', in R.Guha (ed.), Subaltern Studies II (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983)

Hardiman, David

Feeding the Baniya; Peasants and Usurers in Western India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996)

Majumdar, R.C.

The Sepoy Mutiny and the revolt of 1857 (Calcutta: K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1963)

Marx, K. & Engels, F.

The First Indian War of Independence (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1959)

Metcalf, Thomas R.

The Aftermath of Revolt (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964), chs. 4,5,8

Metcalf, Thomas R.

Land, Landlords and the British Raj (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), ch. on Awadh

Metcalfe, C.T.   (ed.)

Two Native Narratives of the Mutiny of Delhi (Westminster: A Constable and Co., 1898)

Mohan, Surendra

Awadh under the Nawabs, Politics, Culture and Communal Relations 1722-1856 (New Delhi: Manohar, 1997)

Mukherjee, R.

Awadh In Revolt (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1984)

Mukherjee, R.

‘“Satan Let Loose upon Earth”: the Kanpur Massacres in the revolt of 1857', Past and Present, 128 (1990), pp. 92-116

Pandey, Gyanendra

‘A view of the observable: a positivist understanding of agrarian society and political protest in colonial India' Review of Eric Stokes, Journal of Peasant Studies , 7, 3 (1980), pp. 375-383

    Roy, Tapti

  The Politics of a Popular Uprising: Bundelkhand in 1857 (New Delhi: Oxford    University Press, 1994

Russell, W.H.

My Indian Mutiny Diary: a diary of the Sepoy rebellion (London: Routledge, 1859. repr. London: Cassell, 1957)

Sleeman, W.

Ramaseeana, or a Vocabulary of the Peculiar Language used by the Thugs, with an Introduction and Appendix descriptive of the system pursued by that fraternity, and of the measures adopted for its suppression, (Calcutta: G. H. Hattman, Military Orphanage Press, 1836)

Stokes, Eric

English Utilitarians and India (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959).

Stokes, Eric

The Peasant and the Raj: studies in agrarian society and peasant rebellion in colonial India   (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), chs 1 and 5-8

Stokes, Eric

The Peasant Armed: the Indian revolt of 1857   (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986)

Taylor, Meadows Philip

Confessions of a Thug, (1 st ed., in 3 vols., London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1906; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

Taylor, P.J.O.

What Really Happened During The Mutiny: a day-by-day account of the major events of 1857-1859 in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997)

Van Woerkens, Martine

The Strangled Traveller: colonial imaginings and the Thugs of India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002)

Yang, A.  

The Limited Raj: agrarian relations in colonial India, Saran District, 1793-1920   (Berkeley: University of California 1988)

CONTD. 1/ 2/ 3/ 4/ 5/ 6