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Chapter XXXIX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2


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The calm was delusive. The 5,000 bayonets and sabres should have been there. The troops in Persia would have been doubly welcome; for with the opening of the new year came the first signs of the impending tempest.

An army like that which we have described is at the mercy of the worst and most daring men. Without any firm principles or habits of military obedience, it is open to the influences of intriguers. Suspicion finds a home in its heart. It is credulous as well as self-confident. Pampered and unchecked for years, it begins to feel that it is master. Under these conditions a trifle is enough to set it a-blaze. The trifle was forthcoming.

The Government had determined to arm the Sepoys with the Enfield rifle. It followed, as a matter of course, that Schools for the Instruction in Musketry were established. With the old musket instruction was of little avail, for Brown Bess could not be relied on to shoot straight for a distance of a hundred and fifty yards. Therefore, at various points men from several regiments of the native army met to be taught how to load and fire the new rifle. This weapon is loaded with a greased cartridge. It was usual in those days to bite the cartridge, in order to pour out the powder. At Dum-dum, near Calcutta, there was an arsenal, and here these cartridges were made up, chiefly by native servants.

Early in January one of these men asked a Sepoy of the 2nd Grenadiers for a draught of water from his lotah, or brass drinking-pot. The high caste native was astonished at the insolence of the man, for he was low caste; and if the lips of the latter touched the pot, it would be defiled. He refused with disdain. The low. caste man was one of those who made up the cartridges, and lie retorted with a sneer that the Sepoy need not be so particular about his caste; for the new cartridges were greased with bullock's fat, and every Sepoy would lose caste when he bit off the end. The Sepoy spread the tale abroad among his comrades. The Hindoos were told that the grease was the grease of the sacred cow, and the Moslem soldiers were informed that it was the fat of the unclean swine; and finally, to meet the case of both, the story ran that the grease was a compound of the fat of pigs and cows. This story has been received as authentic. Whether it be true or not in detail, it illustrates the feeling that the new cartridges, with their unctuous ends and ill odour, had aroused in the native mind. Here, then, was a plot to deprive the whole army of its caste, striking high and low alike, and with its caste of its religion! The fatal story flew on the wings of the wind from cantonment to cantonment, from station to station. In a few weeks the native army was ready to rise and slay.

At first, indeed, the men at Dum-dum appeared to be perfectly reasonable. Called on at parade to state complaints, they objected to the cartridge, and suggested the use of wax and oil. The Government ordered an investigation, and in the meantime changed the drill, so that in future the end of a cartridge was to be torn not bitten off. General Hearsey, an experienced soldier, well known to all the Sepoys, harangued his division at Barrackpore, showing them how impossible it was that they could be made Christians by the mere biting of cartridges. But all was of no avail. A native lieutenant informed the authorities that the Barrackpore brigade was preparing to mutiny. General Hearsey wrote to Calcutta, saying, "We have at Barrackpore been dwelling upon a mine ready for explosion." He admitted that the native officers were of no use, being afraid of their men, and he suggested that a European regiment should be sent up to the station.

At this time, the middle of February, another singular sign was observed. A native policeman entered a village of Oude, carrying two chupatties, or cakes. He ordered his fellow official there to make ten more, and give two to each of the five nearest village policemen, with the same instructions. In a few hours the whole country was astir with watchmen flying about with these cakes. This proceeding was and remains a mystery. One officer who saw a watchman run in with his cakes, asked what it meant. He was told that when the malik, or chief, required a service from his people, he sent round these cakes to prepare them for the execution of his orders. " And what is the order now?" inquired the officer. And the answer, with a smile, was, " We don't know yet." Whatever may have been the reason for this flight of cakes, there it stands in the forefront of calamity, and is regarded as one of its signs. "How little was it thought, " writes Mr. Cave Browne, "that therein was really hidden an Eastern symbol of portentous meaning. Five centuries before (1368), the Chinese had, by a somewhat similar plan, organised and carried out a conspiracy by means of which their dynasty of Mongol invaders was overthrown." This is a far-fetched illustration. No doubt, the chupattie mystery had a meaning, but the heart of it has not even yet been plucked out.

From Barrackpore, a detachment of the 34th Native Infantry went to Berhampore, once a great and important station, 120 miles north of Calcutta. Here were quartered the 19th Native Infantry, the 11th Irregulars, and two guns. The 19th feasted their comrades, and these in return told the story of the cartridges with great additions. John Company had sent Lord Canning to convert India to Christianity, and he had been ordered to begin by destroying the caste of the whole army! The men of the 19th heard, and forthwith believed. They made no inquiries of the English officers. What were the " stranger gentlemen " to them? How could their words in such a matter affect what their brethren had told them? On the 25th, the day after the detachment had come in, Colonel Mitchell commanding at the station, ordered a parade for the following morning. The men were to meet for exercise with blank cartridge, and it was served out. These cartridges were not new. They had long been made up. Moreover, no grease is ever used in blank cartridges. Yet the men refused to take them. Not ripe at the moment for mutiny, they yielded when threatened with a court-martial. But the same night their passions got the better of them, and they rose and seized their arms. Aroused by the noise and confusion, Colonel Mitchell ordered out the cavalry and the guns. But the night was dark. Torches were necessary. The ground was broken. Neither guns nor horsemen, it is said, could be used. Colonel Mitchell doubted whether he could depend on his native troopers and native gunners. He therefore harangued the mutineers, explained the groundlessness of their fears, and begged them to give up their arms. The Sepoys, still unready for revolt, made a counter-proposition. They would give up their arms, if the Colonel would withdraw his cavalry and guns. He complied, and with this transaction the tumult ended. Here, then, was decided mutiny. It broke out with a running accompaniment of fires in different places, the work of wilful men, bent on spreading the contagion of alarm and treason.

On learning what had happened at Berhampore, the Government in Calcutta called up the 84th Queen's Regiment from Burmah, and ordered the 19th Native Infantry to march to Barrackpore to be disbanded. As they were marching down, an emissary from the 34th met them with a proposal that, when within a march of the station, the 19th should murder their officers, while the 34th did the same; but the 19th refused, and marched quietly into the cantonment. Here they found the 84th, a wing of the 53rd Foot, two troops of horse artillery, and the Governor-General's body-guard of picked Sepoy troopers. Two days before they were disbanded, a Sepoy of the 34th, Mangul Pandy by name, endeavoured to rouse his regiment. In the presence of the guard, who stood by, he wounded Adjutant Baugh. While those were in deadly strife, the British sergeant-major dashed in; but he was cut down, and the native lieutenant and guard took part in the fray, striking the Europeans. A Mahometan, however, was faithful, and, with the assistance of General Hearsey and other officers, Baugh was rescued and Mangul Pandy seized. Riding up to the mutinous guard, with a loaded pistol in one hand, and ordering them back, Hearsey threatened to shoot the first man who disobeyed him, and on this they returned to their posts. Mangul Pandy and the native lieutenant were hanged in due course, and the Mahometan and sergeant-major were rewarded; but for these acts, such was the style of management that prevailed in Bengal, General Hearsey was reprimanded! On the 31st of March, the 19th were deprived of their arms, paid up all their arrears, solemnly lectured in the presence of the whole force at the station, European and native, disbanded, marched out of the station, and sent to their homes. The 19th were really not so much in fault as appeared, for they offered, if pardoned, to serve in China or anywhere; but the Government held it necessary to make an example. For now the fires in cantonments were more rife than ever all up the valley of the Ganges, the midnight meetings of the Sepoys more numerous, and the excitement of the whole army was fast rising to a climax.

These symptoms of mutiny were manifest in Oude and in the north-west. General Anson, the Commander-in- Chief, was on his way to comfortable quarters in the hills. He had been appointed to this responsible post, not because he was the fittest man to command an army like that of India, but because he was a highly connected English gentleman. He had no special qualifications for the task. In ordinary times, with nothing to do, his ignorance of the natives and his mediocrity would have been prejudicial to the interest of the empire; but he would have passed through his period of service without trouble, and would have come home a moderately wealthy man. He was altogether unfitted for the deadly conflict impending. He did not understand its gravity, and if he had caught a glimpse of the facts, he would have been unable to deal with them. In the middle of March, with the 36th Native Infantry for escort, he went to Umballa. Two non-commissioned officers of this regiment were at the rifle school. They went out to meet their comrades, and were by them repulsed as outcasts - men who had touched greased cartridges and were defiled. In fact, these natives had not touched greased cartridges, for there were none in the school. But that made no difference to the infatuated 36th. The outcasts told their story to Captain Martineau, and he reported it to the higher authorities. They had evidence that the latent fire of mutiny was all around them, and ready to burst forth. The Sepoys pretended that the rifle with its cartridge was " a Government missionary to convert the whole army to Christianity." By this time the whole army had become aware of its strength, and was in communication from Calcutta to Peshawur. General Anson inspected the depot, and suspended the musketry practice of the Sepoys until further orders. He ordered an inquiry, and when all the symptoms were disclosed to him, he actually censured the Sepoys who had made known the fact that they had been repulsed and treated as outcasts by their corps! He next forced the Sepoys, not yet ripe for revolt, to use the cartridge. They did so, but at night they burnt a number of Government buildings. A Sikh now reported the existence of a conspiracy which was to break out in the beginning of May, either at Delhi, Umballa, or Meerut. But General Anson would not believe the information. He was already nestled snugly in the hills, playing whist. And so the month passed away, lighted at its close by blazing cantonments, and marked by the most flagrant signs of universal military disaffection. In addition to this the agents of the King of Delhi and the Shah of Persia and the Moslem priests were at work, preaching a religious war by stealth, while the Hindoo pundits openly prophesied that the reign of the English had lasted its appointed time, and that it was now coming to an end. It is abundantly plain that the Sepoy army, regular and irregular, had determined to revolt, and that nothing was now wanting but a bold initiative on the part of some regiment or regiments. The evils arising from the gross mismanagement of the army by successive Governors-General and Commanders-in-Chief had become too great to be stayed. No remedial measures, nothing short of a general disarmament of the entire force, could have arrested the mutiny; but for this measure the authorities were not prepared, and if they had been prepared, they did not possess the means of executing so great a coup d'état.

The month of May came. It was the height of the hot season. There is little doubt that the Sepoys, who had seen that their European masters feared the sun, had calculated on its enervating effects. The storm was gathering to a head. The strife was going on sullenly at Meerut as well as at Umballa. At Lucknow, also, it was in progress. On the first days of May the 7th Oude Irregular Infantry refused to touch cartridges, which, they admitted, were in every respect such as they had been accustomed to. The men were in absolute, but passive mutiny. On the 3rd of May, threatening to kill the European officers, they seized their arms and the magazine; but a force of cavalry and artillery arriving, the mutineers were panic-stricken, and gave up their arms. It was then discovered that the 7th Oude and the 48th Native Infantry were actually conspiring. Thus face to face with danger, Sir Henry Lawrence, Commissioner in Oude, began to make those preparations which, in the proper place, we shall describe. He had already struck down promptly the first mutinous regiment. He was destined to save the power of England in Oude, and to sacrifice his life in so doing.

This scene at Lucknow aroused the Government at Calcutta. But mild measures were the order of the day. A native lieutenant at Barrackpore had been caught in the lines of the 70th, urging his men to revolt. He was tried by a native court-martial, and sentenced to dismissal. The effect on the Sepoys is indescribable. "This," they said, "the only punishment for mutiny! They are afraid of us: we can do as we like." But, alarmed by the mutiny at Lucknow, Lord Canning determined to disband another regiment. The corrupted 34th was to be so punished this time. Directing the 84th Queen's, a wing of the 53rd, and two batteries of artillery upon, Barrackpore, lie ordered the officer commanding at the station to disband the mutinous regiment. It was done, but the punishment was felt to be no punishment, and the men went off exulting with their pay. In the order of the Governor-General, disaffected soldiers were told that mutiny would draw down upon them sharp and certain punishment like that inflicted on the 34th. But the Bengal Sepoys had been long hardened to radical insubordination, and the sharp and certain punishment of disbandment for mutiny had no effect on them. This scene occurred at Barrackpore on the 6th of May. It was the second instance of paltering with mutineers. The Government seem to have thought that they had destroyed the mutiny, root and branch. In five days from that time Meerut was sacked, and the streets of Delhi were running with European blood.

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