The History of the Indian Revolt and of the Expeditions to Persia, China and Japan 1856-7-8
The organisation of a Bengal native regiment, before the mutiny, was nearly as follows: An infantry regiment consisted of about 1000 privates, 120 non-commissioned officers, and 20 native commissioned officers. It was divided into ten companies, each containing one-tenth of the above numbers. When stationary, the regiment seldom had barracks, but was quartered in ten lines of thatched huts, one row for each company. In front of each row was a small circular building for containing the arms and accoutrements of that particular company, under the charge of a havildar or native sergeant. All these natives rose by a strict rule of seniority: the sepoy or private soldier becoming a naik or corporal, the naik being promoted to be havildar or sergeant, the havildar in time assuming the rank of jemadar or lieutenant, and the jemadar becoming a subadar or captain. All these promotions were necessarily slow; for the English colonel of the regiment had very little power to promote a worthy native officer or non-commissioned officer to a higher rank. The jemadar often became a gray-headed man of sixty before he rose to the rank of subadar, the highest attainable by a native. As a rule, there were four or five Hindoos to one Mohammedan in a Bengal infantry regiment; and of these eight hundred Hindoos, it was not unfrequent to find four hundred Brahmins or hereditary priests, and two hundred Rajpoots, a military caste only a little lower in rank than the former; while the remaining two hundred were low-caste Hindoos. The European officers, as will be explained more fully further on, lived in bungalows or detached houses near the lines of their regiment; but as the weather is too hot to admit of much open-air duty in the daytime, these officers saw less of their men than is customary in European armies, or than is necessary for the due preservation of discipline. The head of a regiment was the commander, generally a lieutenant-colonel; below him was an adjutant, who attended to the drill and the daily reports; below him was a quartermaster and interpreter, whose double duties were to look after the clothes and huts of the men, and to interpret or translate orders. Besides these three, there were ten subordinate officers for the ten companies, each expected to make a morning scrutiny into the condition and conduct of his men. The Europeans in a native regiment were thus fourteen or fifteen. It is true that the theory of a regiment involved a complement of about five-and-twenty European officers; but the causes of absenteeism, lately adverted to, generally brought down the effective number to about twelve or fifteen. The arrangements of the infantry in the other presidencies, and of the native cavalry all over India, each had their peculiarities.
Leaving for future chapters a further elucidation of the relations between the European officers and the native troops – so important in connection with the Revolt – and a description of the sepoys in their dresses, usages, and personal characteristics – we shall now proceed to view the native army under two different aspects – first, when barracked and cantoned in time of peace; and, secondly, when on the march towards a scene of war.
And first, for the army when stationary. At Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras, there are solidly built barracks for the whole of the soldiery, men as well as officers; but in almost all other parts of India the arrangements are of a slighter and less permanent character. At the cantonments, it is true, the officers have houses; but the sepoys are lodged in huts of their own construction. Around the cantonments at the stations, and generally skirting the parade-grounds, are the houses or bungalows of the officers. Within the lines of the cantonment, too, the officers’ mess-rooms are situated; and at the larger stations may be seen ball-rooms, theatres, and racket-courts; while outside is a race-stand for witnessing the sports which Englishmen love in India as well as at home.
1. Subadar – major. 2. Jemadar – Lieutenant. 3. Subadar – Captain. 4. Naik – Corporal. 5. Havildar – Sergeant. 6. Sepoy – Private.
The Indian bungalows, the houses inhabited by European officers at the different towns and stations in India, have a certain general resemblance, although differing of course much in details. A bungalow of good size has usually a central room called the hall, a smaller room opening on the front verandah, a similar one opening on the back verandah, three narrower rooms on each side of these three, and bathing-rooms at the four corners. A verandah runs entirely round the exterior. The central hall has only the borrowed light derived from eight or a dozen doors leading out of the surrounding apartments: these doors are always open; but the doorways are covered, when privacy is desired, with the chick, a sort of gauze-work of green-painted strips of fine bamboo, admitting air and light, but keeping out flies and mosquitoes. The floors are usually of chunam, finely tempered clay, covered with matting, and then with a sort of blue-striped carpet or with printed calico. The exterior is usually barn-like and ugly, with its huge roof, tiled or thatched, sloping down to the pillars of the verandah. Air and shade are the two desiderata in every bungalow, and adornment is wisely sacrificed to these. The finest part of the whole is the surrounding space or garden, called the compound, from a Portuguese word. The larger the space allowed for this compound, the more pleasant is the residence in its centre, and the more agreeable to the eye is a cantonment of such bungalows. The trees and fruits in these enclosures are delicious to the sight, and most welcome to the heat-wearied occupants of the dwellings. Officers in the Company’s service, whether military or civil, live much under canvas during the hot seasons, at some of the stations; and the tents they use are much larger and more like regular habitations than those known in Europe. The tents are double, having a space of half a yard or so between the two canvas walls, to temper the heat of the sun. The double-poled tents are large enough to contain several apartments, and are furnished with glass-doors to fit into the openings. A wall of canvas separates the outer offices and bathing-rooms. Gay chintz for wall-linings, and printed cotton carpets, give a degree of smartness to the interior. Movable stoves, or else fire-dishes for wood-fuel called chillumchees, are provided as a resource against the chill that often pervades the air in the evening of a hot day. The tents for the common soldiers hold ten men each with great ease, and have a double canvas wall like the others.
An important part of every cantonment is the bazaar, situated in convenient proximity to the huts or tents of the troops. It comprises an enormous number of sutlers, who sell to the soldiers those commodities which cannot well be dispensed with, but which cannot conveniently be provided and carried about by them. Curry stuffs, tobacco, rice, arrack (in addition to the Company’s allowance), cotton cloth, and a multiplicity of other articles, are sold at these bazaars; and the market-people who supply these things, with their families, the coolies or porters, and their hackeries or carts – add enormously to the mass that constitutes an Indian cantonment. The sepoy has little to spend with his sixpence a day; but then his wants are few; and his copper pice, somewhat larger than the English farthing, will buy an amount of necessaries little dreamed of in England. The Hindoos have such peculiar notions connected with food and cooking, that the government leave them as much to themselves as possible in those matters; and the bazaar and sutlers’ arrangements assume a particular importance from this circumstance.
An Anglo-Indian army we have seen at rest, in cantonments. Now let us trace it when on a march to a scene of war; but while describing this in the present tense, we must make allowance for the changes which the Revolt has inevitably produced.
The non-fighting men who accompany the troops greatly exceed in number the troops themselves. Captain Munro says: ‘It would be absurd for a captain to think of taking the field without being attended by the following enormous retinue – namely, a dubash (agent or commissionaire), a cook, and a maty boy (servant-of-all-work); if he cannot get bullocks, he must assemble fifteen or twenty coolies to carry his baggage, together with a horse-keeper and grass-cutter, and sometimes a dulcinea and her train, having occasionally the assistance of a barber, a washer, and an ironer, in common with the other officers of his regiment. His tent is furnished with a good large bed, mattress, pillows, &c., a few camp stools or chairs, a folding table, a pair of glass shades for his candles, six or seven trunks, with table equipage, his stock of linens (at least twenty-four suits), some dozens of wine, porter, brandy, and gin; with tea, sugar, and biscuit, a hamper of live poultry, and his milch-goat. A private’s tent for holding his servants and the overplus of his baggage is also requisite; but this is not at the Company’s expense.’ Of course it must be inferred that all this luxury belongs to the best of times only, and is not available in the exigency of sudden military movements. The sepoys or common soldiers, too, have their satellites. Each man is accompanied by his whole family, who live upon his pay and allowances of rice from the Company. Every trooper or horse-soldier, too, has his grass-cutter; for it is a day’s work for one person to dig, cut, and prepare a day’s grass for one horse.
When on the march, the tents are generally struck soon after midnight. At the first tap of the drum, the servants knock up the tent-pins, and down fall the tents; horses begin to neigh and the camels to cry, the elephants and camels receive their loads of camp-equipage, the bullocks are laden with the officers’ tents and boxes, the coolies take up their burdens, and all prepare for the road. During the noise and bustle of these preliminaries, the officers and men make their few personal arrangements, aided by their servants or families; while the officers’ cooks and agents are sent on in advance, to prepare breakfast at the next halting-place. Between one and two o’clock the regiments start off, in columns of sections: the camp-followers, baggage, bullocks, elephants, and camels, bringing up the rear. The European soldiers do not carry their own knapsacks on the march; they have the luxury of cook-boys or attendants, who render this service for them. The natives, it is found, are able to carry heavier loads than the Europeans; or – what is perhaps more nearly the case – they bear the burdens more patiently, as the Europeans love soldiering better than portering. The tedium of the journey is sometimes relieved by a hunt after antelopes, hares, partridges, wild ducks, or wild boars, which the officers may happen to espy, according to the nature of the country through which they are passing. Arrived at the halting-place, everything is quickly prepared for a rest and a breakfast; the quarter-masters push forward to occupy the ground; the elephants and camels are disburdened of the tents; the natives and the cattle plunge into some neighbouring pool or tank to refresh themselves; the cooks have been already some time at work; and the officers sit down to a breakfast of tea, coffee, curry, rice, pillau, ham, and other obtainable dishes. The fakeers often recognise their friends or admirers among the natives of the cavalcade, and give loud blessings, and tom-tom drummings, in exchange for donations of the smallest Indian coins. The quarter-masters’ arrangements are so quickly and so neatly made, that in a short time the general’s durbar appears in the centre of a street of tents for staff-officers, dining-tents on the one side and sleeping-tents on the other; while the bazaar-dealers open their temporary shops in the rear. The horses are picketed in long lines; while the elephants and camels browse or rest at leisure. Under ordinary circumstances, the day’s marching is over by nine o’clock in the morning, at which hour the sun’s heat becomes too fierce to be willingly borne. Repose, amusements, and light camp-duties fill up the remainder of the day, to be followed by a like routine on the morrow.
While one of these extraordinary marches is in progress, ‘when the moving masses are touched here and there by the reddening light of the dawn, it seems to be a true migration, with flocks and herds, cattle loaded with baggage, men, women, and children, all in a chaos of disorder but the troops whose wants and wishes have attracted this assemblage. At length the country appears to awake from its sleep, and with the yell of the jackal, or the distant baying of the village dogs, are heard to mingle the voices of human beings. Ruddier grows the dawn, warmer the breeze, and the light-hearted sepoy, no longer shivering with cold, gives vent to the joyous feelings of morning in songs and laughter. The scenes become more striking, and the long array of tall camels, led by natives in picturesque costume, with here and there a taller elephant mingling with droves of loaded bullocks, give it a new and extraordinary character to a European imagination. The line of swarthy sepoys of Upper India, with their moustached lips and tall handsome figures, contrasts favourably with the shorter and plainer soldiers of Britain; the grave mechanical movements of the regular cavalry in their light-blue uniforms are relieved by the erratic evolutions and gay and glittering dresses of the irregulars, who with loud cries and quivering spears, and their long black locks streaming behind them, spur backwards and forwards like the wind from mere exuberance of spirits… The camp-followers in the meantime present every possible variety of costume; and among them, and not the least interesting figures in the various groups, may frequently be seen the pet lambs of which the sepoys are so fond, dressed in necklaces of ribbons and white shells, and the tip of their tails, ears, and feet dyed orange colour. The womenkind of the troops of the Peninsula (Southern India) usually follow the drum; but the Bengalees have left their families at home; and the Europeans bidden adieu to their temporary wives with the air the band strikes up on quitting the station, “The girl I left behind me.’”[4 - Leitch Ritchie. British World in the East.]
Such, before the great Revolt, were the usual characteristics of an Anglo-Indian army when on the march; and, considering the impedimenta, it is not surprising that the daily progress seldom exceeded ten or twelve miles. The system was very costly, even at the cheap rate of Indian service; for the camp-followers, one with another, were ten times as numerous as the troops; and all, in one way or other, lived upon or by the Company.
A parliamentary paper, issued in 1857 on the motion of Colonel Sykes, affords valuable information on some of the matters treated in this chapter. It is ‘A Return of the Area and Population of each Division of each Presidency of India, from the Latest Inquiries; comprising, also, the Area and Estimated Population of Native States.’ It separates the British states from the native; and it further separates the former into five groups, according to the government under which each is placed. These five, as indicated in the present chapter, are under the administration of ‘the governor-general of India in council’ – the ‘lieutenant-governor of Bengal’ – the ‘lieutenant-governor of the Northwest Provinces’ – the ‘government of Madras’ – and the ‘government of Bombay.’ In each case the ‘regulation districts’ are treated distinct from the non-regulation provinces,’ the former having been longer under British power, and brought into a more regular system than the latter. Without going again over the long list of names of places, it will suffice to quote those belonging to the group placed immediately under the governor-general’s control. This group comprises the Punjaub, in the six divisions of Lahore, Jelum, Moultan, Leia, Peshawur, and Jullundur; the Cis-Sutlej states, four in number; the lately annexed kingdom of Oude; the central district of Nagpoor or Berar; the recently acquired region of Pegu; the strip of country on the east of the Bay of Bengal, known as the Tenasserim Provinces; and the ‘Eastern Straits Settlements’ of Singapore, Penang, and Malacca. The whole of British India is divided into nearly a hundred and eighty districts, each, on an average, about the size of Inverness-shire, the largest county, except Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom. The population, however, is eight times us dense, per average square mile, as in this Scottish shire. Keeping clear of details concerning divisions and districts, the following are the areas and population in the five great governments:
In some of the five governments, the population is classified more minutely than in others. Thus, in the Punjaub member of the governor-general’s group, Hindoos are separated from non-Hindoos; then, each of these classes is divided into agricultural and non-agricultural; and, lastly, each of these is further separated into male and female. The most instructive feature here is the scarcity of females compared with males, contrary to the experience of Europe; in the Punjaub and Sirhind, among thirteen million souls, there are a million and a half more males than females – shewing, among other things, one of the effects of female infanticide in past years. The ratio appears to be about the same in the Northwest Provinces, around Delhi, Meerut, Rohilcund, Agra, Benares, and Allahabad. Not one place is named, throughout India, in which the females equal the males in number. In the Bombay presidency, besides the difference of sex, the population is tabulated into nine groups – Hindoos, Wild Tribes, Low Castes, Shrawniks or Jains, Lingayets, Mussulmans, Parsees, Jews, Christians. Of the last named there are less than fifty thousand, including military, in a population of twelve millions.
The area and population of the native states are given in connection with the presidencies to which those states are geographically and politically related, and present the following numbers:
The enumeration of these native states is minute and intricate; and it may suffice to shew the complexity arising out of the existence of so many baby-princedoms, that one of the native states of Bundelcund, Kampta by name, figures in the table as occupying an area of one square mile, and as having three hundred inhabitants!
Including the British states, the native states, the few settlements held by the French and Portuguese, and the recent acquisitions on the eastern side of the Bay of Bengal, the grand totals come out in the following numbers:
or 124 dwellers per square mile. Of these inhabitants, it is believed – though the returns are not complete in this particular – that there are fifteen Hindoos to one Mohammedan: if so, then India must contain more than a hundred and sixty million worshippers of Hindoo deities – even after allowance is made for Buddhists, Parsees, and a few savage tribes almost without religion.
SYMPTOMS: – CHUPATTIES AND CARTRIDGES
Little did the British authorities in India suspect, in the early weeks of 1857, that a mighty CENTENARY was about to be observed – a movement intended to mark the completion of one hundred years of British rule in the East; and to mark it, not by festivities and congratulations, but by rebellion and slaughter.
The officers in India remembered and noted the date well; but they did not know how well the Mohammedans and Hindoos, the former especially, had stored it up in their traditions. The name of Robert Clive, the ‘Daring in War,’ was so intimately associated with the date 1757, that the year 1857 naturally brought it into thought, as a time when Christian rule began to overawe Moslem rule in that vast country. True, the East India Company had been connected with India during a period exceeding two hundred years; but it was only at the commencement of the second half of the last century that this connection became politically important. It was remembered that – 1756 having been marked by the atrocities of the Black Hole at Calcutta, and by the utter extinction for a time of the East India Company’s power in Bengal – the year 1757 became a year of retribution. It was remembered, as a matter of history among the British, and of tradition among the natives, how wonderful a part the young officer Clive performed in that exciting drama. It was remembered that he arrived at Calcutta, at that time wholly denuded of Englishmen, on the 2d of January in the last-named year, bringing with him a small body of troops from Madras; that on the 4th of February, with two thousand men, he defeated an army ten times as large, belonging to Suraj-u-Dowlah, Nawab of Bengal – the same who had caused the atrocities at the Black Hole, when a hundred and thirty persons died from suffocation in a room only fitted to contain a fourth of the number. It was further remembered how that, on the 9th of February, Clive obtained great concessions from the nawab by treaty; that Suraj broke the treaty, and commenced a course of treachery, in which Clive was not slow to imitate him; that on the 13th of June, Clive, having matured a plan equally bold and crafty, declared renewed hostilities against the nawab; that on the 23d he gained the brilliant battle of Plassey, conquering sixty thousand men with a force of only three thousand; that within a week, Suraj-u-Dowlah, a miserable fugitive, ended his existence; and that from that day British power had ever been supreme in Bengal. This was a series of achievements not likely to be forgotten by Englishmen. Ere yet the news of mutiny and murder reached Europe, steps had been taken to render homage to Clive on the hundredth anniversary of the battle of Plassey; the East India Company had subscribed largely towards a statue of the hero; and a meeting in London had decided that the chief town in Clive’s native county of Shropshire should be selected as the spot wherein the statue should be set up.
Judging from the experience afforded by recent events, it is now clear that the Mohammedans in India had thought much of these things, and that the year 1857 had been marked out by them as a centenary to be observed in a special way – by no less an achievement, indeed, than the expulsion of the British, and the revival of Moslem power. In the spring of the year it was ascertained that a paper was in circulation among the natives, purporting to be a prophecy made by a Punjaub fakeer seven hundred years ago – to the effect that, after various dynasties of Mohammedans had ruled for some centuries, the Nazarenes or Christians should hold power in India for one hundred years; that the Christians would then be expelled; and that various events foretold in the Koran would then come to pass, connected with the triumph of Islamism. That this mysterious prediction was widely credited, is probable – notwithstanding that the paper itself, if really circulated, must manifestly have been an imposture of recent date; for the English nation was not known even by name to the natives of India seven hundred years ago. Setting aside, at present, all inquiries concerning the first authors of the plot, the degree to which the Company’s annexations had provoked it, the existence of any grievances justifiably to be resisted, the reasons which induced Hindoos to join the Mohammedans against the British, or the extent to which the general population shared the views of the native military – laying aside these inquiries for the present, there is evidence that a great movement was planned for the middle of the year 1857. Of this plan the British government knew nothing, and suspected little.
But although no vast plot was suspected, several trifling symptoms had given cause for uneasiness and the English public learned, when too late, that many Indian officers had long predicted the imminency of some outbreak. Insubordination and mutiny, it was found, are not faults of recent growth among the native troops of India. Now that the startling events of 1857 are vividly presented to the public mind, men begin to read again the old story of the outbreak at Vellore, and seek to draw instruction therefrom. A little more than half a century ago – namely, on the 10th of July 1806 – the European barracks at Vellore were thrown into a state of great excitement. This town is in the Carnatic, a few miles west of Madras, and in the presidency of the same name. At two o’clock in the morning, the barracks, containing four companies of the 69th regiment, were surrounded by two battalions of sepoys in the Company’s service, who poured in a heavy fire of musketry, at every door and window, upon the soldiers. At the same time the European sentries, the soldiers at the mainguard, and the sick in the hospital, were put to death. The officers’ houses were ransacked, and everybody found in them murdered. Upon the arrival of the 19th Light Dragoons, under Colonel Gillespie, the sepoys were immediately attacked; six hundred were cut down upon the spot, and two hundred taken from their hiding-places to be shot. There perished of the four European companies, a hundred and sixty-four, besides officers; and many British officers of the native troops were also murdered. Nothing ever came to light concerning the probable cause of the outrage, but this – that an attempt had been made by the military men at Madras to change the shape of the sepoy turban into something resembling the helmet of the light infantry of Europe, which would prevent the native troops from wearing on their foreheads the marks characteristic of their several castes. The sons of Tippoo Saib, the deposed ruler of Mysore, together with many distinguished Mohammedans deprived of office, were at that time in Vellore; and the supposition is, that these men contributed very materially to excite or inflame the suspicions of the Hindoos, concerning an endeavour to tamper with their religious usages. There was another mutiny some time afterwards at Nundeydroog, in the same presidency; and it was found indispensable to disarm four hundred and fifty Mohammedan sepoys, who had planned a massacre. At Bangalore and other places a similar spirit was exhibited. The governor of Madras deemed it necessary, in very earnest terms, to disclaim any intention of tampering with the native religion. In a proclamation issued on the 3d of December, he said: ‘The right honourable the governor in council having observed that, in some late instances, an extraordinary degree of agitation has prevailed among several corps of the native army of this coast, it has been his lordship’s particular endeavour to ascertain the motives which may have led to conduct so different from that which formerly distinguished the native army. From this inquiry, it has appeared that many persons of evil intention have endeavoured, for malicious purposes, to impress upon the native troops a belief that it is the wish of the British government to convert them by forcible means to Christianity; and his lordship in council has observed with concern that such malicious reports have been believed by many of the native troops. The right honourable the governor in council, therefore, deems it proper, in this public manner, to repeat to the native troops his assurance, that the same respect which has been invariably shewn by the British government for their religion and their customs, will be always continued; and that no interruption will be given to any native, whether Hindoo or Mussulman, in the practice of his religious ceremonies.’ Notwithstanding the distinctness of this assurance, and notwithstanding the extensive promulgation of the proclamation in the Tamul, Telinga, and Hindustani languages – the ferment continued a considerable time. Even in March 1807, when some months had elapsed, so universal was the dread of a general revolt among the native troops, that the British officers attached to the Madras army constantly slept with loaded pistols under their pillows.
In the interval between 1806 and 1857, nothing so murderous occurred; but, among the Bengal troops, many proofs of insubordination were afforded; for it repeatedly occurred that grievances, real or pretended, led to combinations among the men of different regiments. In 1835, Lord William Bentinck, acting on a principle which had often been advocated in England, abolished flogging in the Indian army; this appears to have raised the self-pride rather than conciliated the good-will of the troops: insubordination ensued, and several regiments had to be disbanded. Again, in 1844, when several Bengal regiments were ordered to march to Sinde, the 34th native infantry refused; whereupon Lord Ellenborough, at that time governor-general, ignominiously disbanded the regiment in presence of the rest of the army. Again, in 1849, Sir Colin Campbell, serving under Sir Charles Napier, reported that the 22d Bengal regiment had mutinied on a question of pay, in which they were clearly in the wrong; but as the Punjaub was at that time in a critical state, Sir Charles did that which was very opposite to his general character – he yielded to an unjust demand, as a measure of prudence. It may have been that the sepoys counted on this probability when they mutinied. No less than forty-two regiments were ascertained to be in secret correspondence on this matter, under Brahminical influence – one of whom went so far as to threaten the commanding officer that they could stop enlistment if they chose. In 1850, Napier was compelled to disband the 66th regiment, for mutiny at Peshawur. In 1852, the 38th regiment was ordered to proceed to Burmah; the men objected to the sea-voyage, and refused to depart; and the authorities in this case gave way.
Like as, in the ordinary affairs of life, men compare notes after a disaster, to ascertain whether any misgiving had silently occupied their minds concerning causes and symptoms; so did many military officers, observing that the troubles were all or mostly in Bengal, or where Bengal troops operated, come forward to state that they had long been cognizant of a marked difference between the Bengal army on the one hand, and the Bombay and Madras armies on the other. Lord Melville, who, as General Dundas, had held a command during the Punjaub campaign, expressed himself very strongly in the House of Lords shortly after news of the mutiny arrived. He stated that, in the Bengal army, the native officers were in nearly all cases selected by seniority, and not from merit; that they could not rise from the ranks till old age was creeping on them; and that a sort of hopelessness of advancement cankered in the minds of many sepoys in the middle time of life. In the Bombay and Madras armies, on the contrary, the havildars or sergeants were selected for their intelligence and activity, and were recommended for promotion by the commanding officers of the regiments. It might possibly be a theory unsusceptible of proof, that this difference made the one army mutinous and the other two loyal; but Lord Melville proceeded to assert that the Bengal troops were notoriously less fully organised and disciplined, more prone to insubordination, than the troops of the other two presidencies. He stated as an instance, that when he commanded the Bombay army in the Punjaub frontier in 1849, the Bengal regiments were mutinous; while the Bombay troops remained in soldierly subordination. Indeed these latter, which he commanded in person, were credited by his lordship with having exhibited the highest qualities of brave and faithful troops. He detailed an incident which had occurred at the siege of Moultan. A covering-party having been ordered into the trenches, some disturbance soon afterwards arose; and an English officer found that many soldiers of the Bengal army had been endeavouring to prevent the men belonging to one of the Bombay regiments from digging in the trenches in discharge of their duty, on the ground that the sepoys’ duty was to fight and not to work. Again: after the assault of Moultan, an officer in command of one of the pickets was requested to post a sergeant and twelve men at one of the gates of the town; this was done; but not long afterwards, three native officers of the Bengal engineers were detected in an endeavour to pass the gate with stores which they were about to plunder or appropriate. Although the views of Lord Melville were combated by a few other officers, there was a pretty general concurrence of opinion that the Bengal native army, through some circumstances known or unknown, had long been less obedient and orderly than those of the other two presidencies.
As it is the purpose of the present chapter to treat rather of the facts that preceded the horrors of Meerut and Cawnpore, than of the numerous theories for explaining them, we shall not dwell long in this place on the affairs of Oude, in connection with the Revolt; but so general is the opinion that the annexation of that kingdom was one of the predisposing causes of the late calamities, that it may be right to glance slightly at the subject.
Oude – once a nawabship under the great Mogul, then a kingdom, and the last remaining independent Mohammedan state in Northern India – was annexed in the early part of 1856; and although the governor-general sought to give a favourable account, both in its reasons and its results, of that momentous measure, there are not wanting grounds for believing that it made a deep impression on the minds of the natives, unfavourable to the English – among the military, if not among the people at large. The deposed king, with his family and his prime-minister, came to live at Calcutta in April 1856; and in the following month his mother, his brother, and one of his sons, proceeded in great state to England, to protest before Queen Victoria against the conduct of the governor-general and of the East India Company, in having deprived them of their regal position: prepared to prove, as they everywhere announced, that no justifiable grounds had existed for so harsh a step. Whether they sincerely believed this, or whether it was a blind to hide ulterior objects, could not at that time be determined. It is one among many opinions on the subject, that the courtiers around the deposed king gradually organised a plot against the British power; that the Queen of Oude’s visit to England was merely intended to mask the proceedings arising out of this plot; that the conspirators brought over to their views the Mogul of Delhi, the shadowy representative of a once mighty despot; that they then sought to win over the Hindoos to side with them; and that, in this proceeding, they adduced any and all facts that had come to their knowledge, in which the British had unwittingly insulted the religious prejudices of the worshippers of Brahma – craftily insinuating that the insult was premeditated. The wisdom or justice of the annexation policy we do not discuss in this place; there is a multiplicity of interpretations concerning it – from that of absolute necessity to that of glaring spoliation; but the point to be borne in mind is, that a new grievance was thereby added to others, real or pretended, already existing. It is especially worthy of note, that any distrust of England, arising out of annexation policy, was likely to be more intense in Oude than anywhere else; for three-fourths of the infantry in the Bengal army had been recruited from the inhabitants of that state; they were energetic men, strongly attached to their native country; and when the change of masters took place, they lost certain of the privileges they had before enjoyed. The Bengalees proper, the natives of the thickly populated region around the lower course of the Ganges, have little to do with the Bengal army; they are feeble, indolent, and cowardly, glad by any excuses to escape from fighting.
Let us now – having said a few words concerning the centenary of British rule, and the state of feeling in Oude – attend to the strange episode of the chupatties, as a premonitory symptom of something wrong in the state of public feeling in India.
The chupatties – small cakes of unleavened bread, about two inches in diameter, made of Indian corn-meal, and forming part of the sepoys’ regular diet – were regarded in England, as soon as the circumstances of the Revolt became known, as signs or symptoms which the various officers of the Company in India ought sedulously to have searched into. Ever since the middle of 1856 – ever since, indeed, the final arrangements for the annexation of Oude – these chupatties were known to have been passing from hand to hand. A messenger would come to a village, seek out the headman or village elder, give him six chupatties, and say: ‘These six cakes are sent to you; you will make six others, and send them on to the next village.’ The headman accepted the six cakes, and punctually sent forward other six as he had been directed. It was a mystery of which the early stages were beyond our ken; for no one could say, or no one would say, which was the first village whence the cakes were sent. During many months this process continued: village after village being brought into the chain as successive links, and relays of chupatties being forwarded from place to place. Mr Disraeli, attacking on one occasion in the House of Commons the policy of the Indian government, adverted sarcastically to this chupatty mystery: ‘Suppose the Emperor of Russia, whose territory, in extent and character, has more resemblance to our Eastern possessions than the territory of any other power – suppose the Emperor of Russia were told – “Sire, there is a very remarkable circumstance going on in your territory; from village to village, men are passing who leave the tail of an ermine or a pot of caviare, with a message to some one to perform the same ceremony. Strange to say, this has been going on in some ten thousand villages, and we cannot make head or tail of it.” I think the Emperor of Russia would say: “I do not know whether you can make head or tail of it, but I am quite certain there is something wrong, and that we must take some precautions; because, where the people are not usually indiscreet and troublesome, they do not make a secret communication unless it is opposed to the government. This is a secret communication, and therefore a communication dangerous to the government.”’ The opposition leader did not assert that the government could have penetrated the mystery, but that the mystery ought to have been regarded as significant of something dangerous, worthy of close scrutiny and grave consideration.
The chupatties first appeared in the Northwest Provinces, around Delhi; and subsequent events offered a temptation for rebuking the governor-general and the commander-in-chief, in having failed to strengthen the posts with English troops after the indications of some secret conspiracy had thus been made. In some places it was ascertained that the cakes were to be kept till called for by the messengers, other cakes being sent on instead of them; but what was the meaning of this arrangement, the English officials could not, or at least did not find out. In Scotland, in the clannish days, war-signals were sent from hut to hut and from clan to clan with extraordinary rapidity; and, however little an unleavened cake might appear like a war-signal, military men and politicians ought certainly to have been alive to such strange manifestations as this chupatty movement. From the Sutlej to Patna, throughout a vast range of thickly populated country, was the secret correspondence carried on. One thing at any rate may safely be asserted, that the military stations required close watching at such a time; something was fermenting in the minds of the natives which the English could not understand; but that very fact would have justified – nay, rendered almost imperative – the guarding of the chief posts from sudden surprise. Little or nothing of this precautionary action seems to have been attempted. Throughout nearly the whole of the great trunk-road from Calcutta to the Punjaub, the military stations were left as before, almost wholly in the hands of the sepoys. At Benares there was only a single company of European foot-artillery; the rest of the troops consisting of two regiments of native infantry, and one of the Cis-Sutlej Sikh regiments. At Allahabad, the great supply magazine of the province was left almost wholly to the guard of the sepoys. Lucknow had only one European regiment and one company of artillery; notwithstanding that, as the capital of Oude, it was in the midst of a warlike and excited population; while the native army of the province, capable of soon assembling at the city, comprised no less than fourteen regiments of infantry, six of cavalry, and six companies of artillery. Cawnpore, a very important station with a large medical depôt, contained three regiments of native infantry, one of native cavalry, and two companies of native artillery with twelve guns; while the English force was only a company of infantry, and about sixty artillerymen with six guns. The large magazine of Delhi, the great storehouse of ammunition for the military stations all around it, was left to be guarded entirely by sepoys. The late General Anson, at that time commander-in-chief, was among the hills at Simla, relaxing from his duties; and neither at Simla nor at Calcutta did it seem to be felt that, with existing symptoms, more European troops were necessary in the Bengal and Northwest Provinces.
The chupatty was not the only symbol of some mystery: the lotus was another. It was a common occurrence for a man to come to a cantonment with a lotus-flower, and give it to the chief native officer of a regiment; the flower was circulated from hand to hand in the regiment; each man took it, looked at it, and passed it on, saying nothing. When the lotus came to the last man in the regiment, he disappeared for a time, and took it to the next military station. This strange process occurred throughout nearly all the military stations where regiments of the Bengal native army were cantoned.
Chupatties and lotus-flowers, together with the incendiarism and the cartridge grievances presently to be noticed, unquestionably indicated some widely spread discontent among the natives – military if not general. ‘It is clear,’ in the words of an observant officer, writing from one of the Cis-Sutlej stations, ‘that a certain ferment had been allowed gradually to arise throughout the mass of the Bengal army. In some it was panic, in some excitement, in some a mere general apprehension or expectation, and in some it was no doubt disaffection, or even conspiracy. Governing an alien people and a vast army, we had divested ourselves of all the instruments of foreign domination so familiar to Austria and all other continental powers. We had no political police, no European strongholds, no system of intelligence or espionage, comparatively little real military discipline; and even our own post-office was the channel of free, constant, and unchecked intercourse between all the different regiments. Not a letter even was opened; that would have been too abhorrent to English principles. The sepoy mind had probably become prepared to distrust us, as we had begun to distrust them. There were strange new legislative acts, and new post-office rules, and new foreign service enlistments, and new employment of armed races in our army, and other things disagreeable and alarming to the true old sepoy caste. And then it came about that from a small and trifling beginning, one of those ferments to which the native mind is somewhat prone, took possession of the sepoy army.’
One of the strange facts connected with the chupatty movement was, that the cakes were transmitted to the heads of villages who have not been concerned in the mutiny, while many sepoys who broke out in revolt had received no cakes. They appear to have been distributed mostly to the villagers; whereas the lotus passed from hand to hand among the military.
The chupatties and the lotus-flowers, however indicative they may have been of the existence of intrigue and conspiracy, were quiet indications; but there were not wanting other proofs of a mutinous spirit, in acts of violence and insubordination – apart from the incendiarisms and the cartridge difficulties. On one evening, early in the year, information was given by a sepoy of the intention of the men to rise against their officers and seize on Fort William, at Calcutta. On another occasion, a fanatic moulvie, a high Mohammedan priest at Oude, was detected preaching war against the infidels; and on his person was found a proclamation exciting the people to rebellion. On a third day, two sepoys were detected in an attempt to sap the fidelity of the guard at the Calcutta mint. An English surgeon in an hospital at Lucknow, by the bedside of a sepoy, put his lips to a bottle of medicine before giving it to his patient; this being regarded as a pollution, a pundit was sent for to break the bottle and exorcise the evil: on that night the doctor’s bungalow was burned down by incendiaries who could not be discovered. A refusal to accept a furlough or leave of absence might not usually be regarded as a symptom of a mutinous spirit; yet in India it conveyed a meaning that could not safely be disregarded. On the 6th of March, the commander-in-chief, with the sanction of the governor-general, notified that the native army would receive, as usual, the annual indulgence of furlough from the 1st of April to a certain subsequent date. When this order was read or issued, about fourteen men of the 63d native infantry, stationed at Soorie, and under orders to proceed to Berhampore, evinced a disinclination to avail themselves of the indulgence, on the plea that none of the regiments at Barrackpore intended to take theirs. It certainly appears to have been a circumstance worthy of a searching inquiry by the military authorities, why the troops should have declined to take their furlough at that particular time.
We must now pass on to that series of events which, so far as outward manifestations are concerned, was more especially the immediate forerunner of the Revolt – namely, the disturbances connected with the greased cartridges. Let not the reader for a moment regard this as a trivial matter, merely because it would be trivial in England: the sepoys may have been duped, and indeed were unquestionably duped, by designing men; but the subject of suspicion was a serious one to them. The fat of cows and of pigs is regarded in a peculiar light in the East. The pig is as much held in abhorrence by the Mohammedans as the cow is venerated by the Hindoos; to touch the former with the lips, is a defilement to the one religion; to touch the latter, is a sacrilege to the other. The religious feelings are different, but the results in this case are the same. So sacred, indeed, are cattle regarded by the Hindoos, that the Company’s officers have been accustomed to observe much caution in relation to any supply of beef for their own tables; the slaughter of a cow in a Hindoo village would in itself have been a sufficient cause for revolt; in large towns where Europeans are stationed, a high-walled paddock or compound is set apart for the reception of bullocks intended for food; and scrupulous care is taken that the natives shall know as little as possible of the proceedings connected with the slaughtering. The use of cow’s fat in ammunition would therefore be repulsive to the Hindoo sepoy. Many experienced men trace the mutiny to a false report concerning the cartridges, acting on the minds of natives who had already become distrustful by the machinations of agitators and emissaries. ‘It is a marvel and a mystery that so many years should have passed away without an explosion. At last a firebrand was applied to what a single spark might have ignited; and in the course of a few weeks there was a general conflagration; but a conflagration which still bears more marks of accident than of deliberate conspiracy and incendiarism. In a most unhappy hour – in an hour laden with a concurrence of adverse circumstances – the incident of the greased cartridges occurred. It found the Bengal army in a season of profound peace, and in a state of relaxed discipline. It found the sepoys pondering over the predictions and the fables which had been so assiduously circulated in their lines and their bazaars; it found them with imaginations inflamed and fears excited by strange stories of the designs of their English masters; it found them, as they fancied, with their purity of caste threatened, and their religious distinctions invaded, by the proselytising and annexing Englishmen. Still, there was no palpable evidence of this. Everything was vague, intangible, obscure. Credulous and simple-minded as they were, many might have retained a lingering confidence in the good faith and the good intentions of the British government: had it not been suddenly announced to them, just as they were halting between two opinions, that, in prosecution of his long-cherished design to break down the religion both of Mohammedan and Hindoo, the Feringhee had determined to render their military service the means of their degradation, by compelling them to apply their lips to a cartridge saturated with animal grease – the fat of the swine being used for the pollution of the one, and the fat of the cow for the degradation of the other. If the most astute emissaries of evil who could be employed for the corruption of the Bengal sepoy had addressed themselves to the task of inventing a lie for the confirmation and support of all his fears and superstitions, they could have found nothing more cunningly devised for their purpose.’[5 - Edinburgh Review, No. 216.]
It was on the 7th of February 1857 that the governor-general communicated to the home government the first account of anything mysterious or unpleasant in relation to the greased cartridges. He had to announce that a dissatisfaction had exhibited itself among the native troops attached to the musketry-depôt at Dumdum. There are two Dumdums, two Dumdumas, one Dumdumma, and one Dumdumineah in India; but the place indicated is in Bengal, a few miles out of Calcutta, and about half-way between that city and Barrackpore. It was formerly the head-quarters of artillery for the presidency of Bengal; and near it is an excellent cannon-foundry, with casting-rooms, boring-rooms, and all the appliances for making brass guns. It is a sort of Woolwich on a humble scale, connected with ordnance and firearms.
The sepoys at Dumdum had heard rumours which induced them to believe that the grease used for preparing the cartridges for the recently introduced Enfield rifles was composed of the fat of pigs and cows – substances which their religion teaches them to regard in a light altogether strange to Europeans. It was not the first time by three or four years that the cartridge-question had excited attention in India, although in England the public knew absolutely nothing concerning it. From documents brought to light during the earlier months of the mutiny, it appears that in 1853 the commander-in-chief of the forces in India directed the adjutant-general of the Bengal army to call the attention of the governor-general to the subject of cartridges as connected with the prejudices of the natives. For what reason grease of any kind is employed on or with cartridges, may be soon explained. A cartridge, as most persons are aware, is a contrivance for quickly loading firearms. Instead of inserting the powder and bullet separately into the musket, rifle, or pistol, as was the earlier wont, the soldier is provided with a supply of small cartridge-paper tubes, each containing a bullet and the proper proportion of powder; and by the employment of these cartridges much time and attention are saved under circumstances where both are especially valuable. The missiles are called ball or blank cartridges, according as they do or do not each contain a bullet. Now the Enfield rifle, an English improvement on the celebrated Minié rifle invented and used by the French, was largely manufactured by machinery in a government establishment at Enfield, for use in the British and Indian armies; and in firing from this or other rifles it was necessary that the ball-end of the cartridge should have an external application of some greasy substance, to facilitate its movement through the barrel. In the year above named, the East India Company informed the Calcutta government, that a supply of new-greased cartridges had been sent, which the Board of Ordnance wished should be subjected to the test of climate. It was concerning these cartridges that the commander-in-chief recommended caution; on the ground that ‘unless it be known that the grease employed in these cartridges is not of a nature to offend or interfere with the prejudices of caste, it will be expedient not to issue them for test to native corps, but to Europeans only, to be carried in pouch.’ It was not until June 1854 that the cartridges were received in India; and during the next twelve months they were subjected to various tests, at Calcutta, at Cawnpore, and at Rangoon. The cartridges had been greased in four ways – with common grease, with laboratory grease, with Belgian grease, and with Hoffman’s grease, in each case with an admixture of creosote and tobacco; one set was tested by being placed in the ordnance magazines, a second by being kept in wagons, and a third by being tied up in pouch-bundles. The result of these tests was communicated to the directors in the autumn of 1855; and as a consequence, a modification was effected in the cartridges afterwards sent from England for service with the Enfield rifles in India.
To return now to the affair at Dumdum. When the complaints and suspicions of the sepoys were made known, inquiries were sent to England for exact particulars relating to the obnoxious missiles. It was ascertained that the new cartridges were made at the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich; and that Captain Boxer, the superintendent of that department, was accustomed to use for lubrication a composition formed of five parts tallow, five parts stearine, and one part wax – containing, therefore, ox or cow’s fat, but none from pigs. He had no prejudices in the matter to contend against in England, and used therefore just such a composition as appeared to him most suitable for the purpose. The cartridges were not sent out to India ready greased for use; as, in a hot country, the grease would soon be absorbed by the paper: there was, therefore, a part of the process left to be accomplished when the cartridges reached their destination.
It appears to have been in the latter part of January that the first open manifestation was made at Dumdum of a disinclination to use the cartridges; and immediately a correspondence among the authorities commenced concerning it. When the complaint had been made, the men were seemingly appeased on being assured that the matter would be duly represented; and as a means of conciliation, cartridges without grease were issued, the men being allowed to apply any lubricating substance they chose. It was further determined that no more ready-made cartridges should be obtained from England, but that bullets and paper should be sent separately, to be put together in India; that experiments should be made at Woolwich, to produce some lubricating substance free from any of the obnoxious ingredients; and that other experiments should meanwhile be made by the 60th Rifles – at that time stationed at Meerut – having the same object in view.
During the inquiry into the manifestation and alleged motives of this insubordination, one fact was elicited, which, if correct, seems to point to a date when the conspirators – whoever they may have been – began to act upon the dupes. On the 22d of January, a low-caste Hindoo asked a sepoy of the 2d Bengal Grenadiers to give him a little water from his lota or bottle; the other, being a Brahmin, refused, on the ground that the applicant would defile the vessel by his touch – a magnificence of class-superiority to which only the Hindoo theory could afford place. This refusal was met by a retort, that the Brahmin need not pride himself on his caste, for he would soon lose it, as he would ere long be required to bite off the ends of cartridges covered with the fat of pigs and cows. The Brahmin, alarmed, spread the report; and the native troops, as is alleged, were afraid that when they went home their friends would refuse to eat with them. When this became known to the English officers, the native troops were drawn up on parade, and encouraged to state the grounds of their dissatisfaction. All the native sergeants and corporals, and two-thirds of all the privates, at once stepped forward, expressed their abhorrence of having to touch anything containing the fat of cows or pigs, and suggested the employment of wax or oil for lubricating the cartridges. It was then that the conciliatory measures, noticed above, were adopted.
Still were there troubles and suspicious circumstances; but the scene is now transferred from Dumdum to Barrackpore. This town, sixteen miles from Calcutta, is worthy of note chiefly for its connection with the supreme government of India. The governor-general has a sort of suburban residence there, handsome, commodious, and situated in the midst of a very beautiful park. There are numerous bungalows or villas inhabited by European families, drawn to the spot by the salubrity of the air, by the beauty of the Hoogly branch of the Ganges, at this place three-quarters of a mile in width, and by the garden and promenade attached to the governor-general’s villa. In military matters, before the Revolt, there was a ‘presidency division of the army,’ of which some of the troops were in Calcutta, some at Barrackpore, and a small force of artillery at Dumdum, nearly midway between the two places; the whole commanded by a general officer at Barrackpore, under whom was a brigadier to command that station only. The station is convenient for military operations in the eastern part of Bengal, and for any sudden emergencies at Calcutta. Six regiments of native infantry were usually cantoned at Barrackpore, with a full complement of officers: the men hutted in commodious lines, and the officers accommodated in bungalows or lodges.
It was at this place that the discontent next shewed itself, much to the vexation of the government, who had hoped that the Dumdum affair had been satisfactorily settled, and who had explained to the native regiments at Barrackpore what had been done to remove the alleged cause of complaint. The sepoys at this place, however, made an objection to bite off the ends of the cartridges – a necessary preliminary to the loading of a rifle – on account of the animal fat contained, or supposed to be contained, in the grease with which the paper was lubricated: such fat not being permitted to touch the lips or tongues of the men, under peril of defilement. Some of the authorities strongly suspected that this renewed discontent was the work of secret agitators rather than a spontaneous expression of the men’s real feeling. There was at the time a religious Hindoo society or party at Calcutta, called the Dhurma Sobha, suspected of having spread rumours that the British government intended to compel the Hindoos to become Christians. Contemporaneously, too, with this movement, three incendiary fires took place at Barrackpore within four days; and a native sergeant’s bungalow was burnt down at Raneegunge, another military station in Lower Bengal. It was natural, therefore, that General Hearsey, the responsible officer at Barrackpore, should wish to ascertain what connection, if any, existed between these incendiarisms, intrigues, complainings, and greased cartridges. This was the more imperative, on account of the relative paucity of English troops in that part of India. There were four native regiments quartered at that time at Barrackpore – namely, the 2d Grenadiers, the 34th and 70th Native Infantry, and the 43d Native Light Infantry; whereas, in the four hundred miles between Calcutta and Dinapoor there was only one European regiment, the Queen’s 53d foot, of which one half was at Calcutta and the other half at Dumdum. The general held a special court of inquiry at Barrackpore on the 6th of February, and selected a portion of the 2d native Grenadier regiment to come forward and explain the cause of their continued objection to the paper of which the new rifle-cartridges were composed. One of the sepoys, Byjonath Pandy, stated that he felt a suspicion that the paper might affect his caste. On being asked his reason for this suspicion, he answered that the paper was a new kind which he had not seen before; and there was a ‘bazaar report’ that the paper contained animal fat. On being requested to examine the paper carefully in the light, and to explain to the court what he saw objectionable in it, he replied that his suspicion proceeded from the paper being stiff and cloth-like, and from its tearing differently from the paper formerly in use. Another sepoy, Chaud Khan, was then examined. He objected to the paper because it was tough, and burned as if it contained grease. He stated that much dismay had been occasioned in the regiment by the fact that ‘on the 4th of February a piece of the cartridge-paper was dipped in water, and then burned; when burning, it made a fizzing noise, and smelt as if there were grease in it.’ Thereupon a piece of the paper was burned in open court; Chaud Khan confessed that he could not smell or see grease in it; but he repeated his objection to the use of the paper, on the plea that ‘everybody is dissatisfied with it on account of its being glazed, shining like waxed cloth.’ Another witness, Khadu Buksh, filling the rank of subadar or native captain, on being examined, frankly stated that he had no objection to the cartridge itself, but that there was a general report in the cantonment that the paper was made up with fat. A jemadar or lieutenant, named Golal Khan, said very positively: ‘There is grease in it, I feel assured; as it differs from the paper which has heretofore been always used for cartridges.’ As shewing the well-known power of what in England would be called ‘public opinion,’ the answer of one of the sepoys is worthy of notice; he candidly confessed that he himself had no objection to use the cartridges, but he could not do so, as his companions would object to it. While these occurrences were under scrutiny, a jemadar of the 34th regiment came forward to narrate what he knew on the matter, as affording proof of conspiracy. On the 5th, when the fear of detection had begun to work among them, two or three of the sepoys came to him, and asked him to accompany them to the parade-ground. He did so, and there found a great crowd assembled, composed of men of the different regiments at the station; they had their heads tied up in handkerchiefs or cloths, so that only a small part of the face was exposed. They told him they were determined to die for their religion; and that if they could concert a plan that evening, they would on the next night plunder the station and kill all the Europeans, and then depart whither they pleased. The number he stated to be about three hundred. It was not at the time known to the authorities, but was rendered probable by circumstances afterwards brought to light, that letters and emissaries were being despatched, at the beginning of February, from the native troops at Barrackpore to those at other stations, inviting them to rise in revolt against the British.
Under any other circumstances, a discussion concerning such petty matters as bits of cartridge-paper and items of grease would be simply ridiculous; but at that time and place the ruling authorities, although ignorant of the real extent of the danger, saw clearly that they could not afford to regard such matters as otherwise than serious. There was either a sincere prejudice to be conciliated, or a wide-spread conspiracy to be met; and it was at once determined to test again the sincerity of the sepoys, by yielding to their (apparently) religious feelings on a matter which did not affect the efficiency of the service. A trial was made, therefore, of a mode of loading the rifle without biting the cartridge, by tearing off the end with the left hand. The commander-in-chief, finding on inquiry that this method was sufficiently efficacious, and willing to get rid of mere formalism in the matter, consented that the plan should be adopted both for percussion-muskets and for rifles. This done, the governor-general, by virtue of his supreme command, ordered the adoption of the same system throughout India.
The scene now again changes: we have to attend to certain proceedings at Berhampore, following on those at Barrackpore. Of Berhampore as a town, little need be said here; and that little is called for principally to determine which Berhampore is meant. Under the forms Berhampore, Berhampoor, or Burhampore, there are no less than four towns in India – one in the native state of Nepaul, sixty miles from Khatmandoo; another in the Nagpoor territory, sixty miles from the city of the same name; another in the Madras presidency, near Orissa; and a fourth in the district of Moorshedabad, Lower Bengal. It is this last-named Berhampore to which attention is here directed. The town is on the left bank of the river Bhagruttee, a great offset of the Ganges, and on the high road from Calcutta to Moorshedabad – distant about a hundred and twenty miles from the first-named city by land, and a hundred and sixty by water. It is in a moist, unhealthy spot, very fatal to Europeans, and in consequence disliked by them as a station in past times; but sanitary measures, draining, and planting have greatly improved it within the last few years. As a town, it is cheerful and attractive in appearance, adorned by stately houses in the neighbourhood, to accommodate permanent British residents. The military cantonments are large and striking; the grand square, the excellent parade-ground, the quarters of the European officers – all are handsome. Before the Revolt, Berhampore was included within the presidency division in military matters, and was usually occupied by a body of infantry and another of artillery. There is painful evidence of the former insalubrity of the station met with in a large open space filled with tombstones, contrasting mournfully with the majestic cantonments of the military. Berhampore has, or had a few years ago, a manufactory of the silk bandana handkerchiefs once so popular in England.
The troubles in this town were first made manifest in the following way. On or about the 24th of February, a portion of the 34th regiment of Bengal infantry changed its station from Barrackpore to Berhampore, where it was greeted and feasted by the men of the 19th native infantry, stationed there at that time. During their feasting, the new-comers narrated all the news from Dumdum and Barrackpore concerning the greased cartridges; and the effects of this gossip were very soon made visible. To understand what occurred, the mode of piling or storing arms in India must be attended to; in the Bombay army, and in the Queen’s regiments, the men were wont to keep their arms with them in their huts; but in the Bengal army, it was a custom to deposit them in circular brick buildings called bells, which were kept locked under native guard, each in front of a particular company’s lines. The men of the 19th regiment, then, excited by the rumours and stories, the fears and suspicions of their companions in arms elsewhere, but not knowing or not believing – or perhaps not caring for – the promises of change made by the military authorities, broke out into insubordination. On the 26th of February, being ordered to parade for exercise with blank cartridges, they refused to receive the percussion-caps, as a means of rendering their firing impossible – alleging that the cartridge-paper supplied for the charge was of two kinds; that they doubted the qualities of one or both; and that they believed in the presence of the fat of cows or pigs in the grease employed. That the men were either dupes or intriguers is evident; for it so happened that the cartridges offered to them were the very same in kind as they had used during many years, and had been made up before a single Enfield rifle had reached India. This resistance was a serious affair; it was something more than a complaint or petition, and needed to be encountered with a strong hand. It is a matter of opinion, judged differently even by military men accustomed to India and its natives, whether the proper course was on that occasion taken. The commanding officer, Lieutenant-colonel Mitchell, ordered a detachment of native cavalry and a battery of native artillery – the only troops at Barrackpore besides those already named – to be on parade on the following morning. Between ten and eleven o’clock at night, however, the men of the 19th regiment broke open the armouries or bells, took possession of their muskets and ammunition, and carried them to their lines. The next day, the guns were got ready, and the officers proceeded to the parade-ground, where they found the men in undress, but armed, formed in line, and shouting. The officers were threatened if they came on. Mitchell then expostulated with them; he pointed out the absurdity of their suspicions, and the unworthiness of their present conduct, and commanded them to give up their arms and return peaceably to their lines; whereupon the native officers said the men would refuse so to do unless the cavalry and artillery were withdrawn. The lieutenant-colonel withdrew them, and then the infantry yielded. It was a difficult position for an officer to be placed in; if he had struggled, it would have been with natives against natives; and, doubtful of the result of such a contest, he assented to the men’s conditional surrender.
The affair could not be allowed to end here. The Calcutta authorities, receiving news on the 4th of March of this serious disaffection, but deeming it unsafe to punish while so few European troops were at hand, sent quietly to Rangoon in Pegu, with orders that Her Majesty’s 84th foot should steam up to Calcutta as quickly as possible. On the 20th, this regiment arrived; and then the governor-general, acting in harmony with Major-general Hearsey, resolved on the disbandment of the native regiment which had disregarded the orders of its superiors. Accordingly, on the 31st of March, the 19th regiment was marched from Berhampore to Barrackpore, the head-quarters of the military division; the men were disarmed, paid off, marched out of the cantonments as far as Palta Ghaut, and conveyed across the river in steamers placed for the purpose. In short, the regiment, in a military sense, was destroyed, without personal punishment to any of the men composing it. But though not punished, in the ordinary sense, the infliction was a great one; for the men at once became penniless, unoccupied, objectless. The governor-general, in describing these proceedings for the information of the home government, added: ‘We trust that the severe measures which we have been forced to adopt will have the effect of convincing the native troops that they will only bring ruin on themselves by failing in their duty to the state and in obedience to their officers.’
On the occasion just adverted to, General Hearsey addressed the men very energetically, while an official paper from the governor-general, read to the troops, asserted in distinct terms that the rumour was wholly groundless which imputed to the government an intention to interfere with the religion of the people. It was a charge soon afterwards brought in England against the governor-general, that, having subscribed to certain missionary societies in India, he did not like to abjure all attempts at the conversion of the natives; and that, being thus balanced between his public duty and his private religious feeling, he had issued the general order to the whole army, but had not shewn any solicitude to convey that positive declaration to all the natives in all the cantonments or military stations. This, however, was said when Viscount Canning was not present to defend himself; reasonable men soon saw that the truth was not to be obtained by such charges, unless supported by good evidence. It is, however, certain, that much delay and routine formality occurred throughout all these proceedings. As early as the 11th of February, General Hearsey wrote from Barrackpore the expressive words: ‘We are on a mine ready to explode’ – in allusion to the uneasy state of feeling or opinion among the sepoys that their religious usages were about to be tampered with; and yet it was not until the 27th of March that the Supreme Council at Calcutta agreed to the issue of a general order declaring it to be the invariable rule of the government to treat the religious tendencies of all its servants with respect; nor until the 31st that this general order was read to the troops at Barrackpore. Considering the mournful effects of dilatoriness and rigid formalism during the Crimean war, the English public had indulged a hope that a healthy reform would be introduced into the epistolary mechanism of the government departments; and this was certainly to some extent realised in England; but unfortunately the reform had not yet reached India. During these early months of the mutiny, an absurd waste of time occurred in the writing and despatching of an enormous number of letters, where a personal interview, or a verbal message by a trusty servant, might have sufficed. Eight letters were written, and four days consumed, before the Calcutta authorities knew what was passing at Dumdum, eight miles distant. A certain order given by the colonel of a regiment at Calcutta being considered injudicious by the general, an inquiry was made as to the grounds for the order; eight days and nine letters were required for this inquiry and the response to it, and yet the two officers were within an hour’s distance of each other during the whole time. Although the affair at Barrackpore on the 6th of February was assuredly of serious import, it was not known to the government at Calcutta until the evening of the 10th, notwithstanding that a horseman might easily have ridden the sixteen miles in two hours. General Hearsey’s reply to a question as to the cause of the delay is truly instructive, as exemplifying the slowness of official progress in India: ‘I have no means of communicating anything to the government; I have no mounted orderly, no express camels; I must always write by the post; and that leaves Barrackpore at the most inconvenient hour of three o’clock in the afternoon.’ These facts, trivial in themselves, are worthy of being borne in mind, as indicative of defects in the mechanism of government likely to be disastrous in times of excitement and insubordination.
Barrackpore was destined to be a further source of vexation and embarrassment to the government. It will be remembered that a part of the 34th native infantry went from that town to Berhampore in the last week in February; but the bulk of the regiment remained at Barrackpore. Inquiries, afterwards instituted, brought to light the fact that the European commander of that regiment had been accustomed to distribute religious tracts among his men; and it was surmised that the scruples and prejudices of the natives, especially the Brahmins, had been unfavourably affected by this proceeding. But whether the cause had or had not been rightly guessed, it is certain that the 34th displayed more mutinous symptoms at that time than any other regiment. When the news of the disturbance at Berhampore reached them, they became greatly excited: they attended to their duties, but with sullen doggedness; and they held nightly meetings, at which speeches were made sympathetic with the Berhampore mutineers. The authorities, not wholly ignorant of these meetings, nevertheless remained quiet until a European regiment could arrive to aid them. When the Queen’s 84th arrived at Calcutta, the 34th were more excited than ever, believing that something hostile was intended against them; their whispers became murmurs, and they openly expressed their sympathy. When, in accordance with the plan noticed in the last paragraph, the 19th were marched off from Berhampore to be disbanded at Barrackpore, the 34th displayed still greater audacity. The 19th having rested for a time at Barraset, eight miles from Barrackpore, a deputation from the 34th met them, and made a proposal that they should that very night kill all their officers, march to Barrackpore, join the 2d and 34th, fire the bungalows, surprise and overwhelm the Europeans, seize the guns, and then march to threaten Calcutta. Had the 19th been as wild and daring, as irritated and vengeful, as the 34th, there is no knowing what calamities might have followed; but they exhibited rather a repentant and regretful tone, and submitted obediently to all the details of their disbandment at Barrackpore.
It will therefore be seen that the seeds of further disaffection had been already sown. As the 34th native infantry had been instrumental in inciting the 19th to mutiny, ending in disbandment, so did it now bring a similar punishment on itself. On the 29th of March, one Mungal Pandy, a sepoy in the 34th, roused to a state of excitement by the use of intoxicating drugs, armed himself with a sword and a loaded musket, traversed the lines, called upon his comrades to rise, and declared he would shoot the first European he met. Lieutenant Baugh, adjutant of the corps, hearing of this man’s conduct, and of the excited state of the regiment generally, rode hastily to the lines. Mungal Pandy fired, missed the officer, but struck his horse. The lieutenant, in self-defence, fired his pistol, but missed aim; whereupon the sepoy attacked him with his sword, wounded him in the hand, brought him to the ground, and tried to entice the other soldiers to join in the attack. The sergeant-major of the corps, who went to the lieutenant’s assistance, was also wounded by Mungal Pandy. The dark feature in this transaction was that many hundred men in the regiment looked on quietly without offering to protect the lieutenant from his assailant; one of them, a jemadar, refused to take Mungal into custody, and forbade his men to render any assistance to the lieutenant, who narrowly escaped with his life. Major-general Hearsey, on being informed of the occurrence, proceeded to the parade-ground, where, to his astonishment, he saw the man walking to and fro, with a blood-smeared sword in one hand, and a loaded musket in the other. He advanced with some officers and men to secure the sepoy, which was accomplished with much difficulty; and it was only by the most resolute bearing of the major-general that the rest of the men could be induced to return quietly to their lines. A court-martial was held on Mungal Pandy, and on the rebellious jemadar, both of whom were forthwith found guilty, and executed on the 8th of April. No assignable cause appeared for the conduct of this man: it may have been a mere drunken frenzy; yet there is more probability that a mutinous spirit, concealed within his breast during sober moments, made its appearance unchecked when under the influence of drugs. There was another sepoy, however, who acted faithfully on the occasion; this man, Shiek Paltoo, was accompanying Lieutenant Baugh as orderly officer at the time of the attack; and by his prompt assistance the lieutenant was saved from further injury than a slight wound. Shiek Paltoo was raised to the rank of supernumerary havildar for his brave and loyal conduct.