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Chapter XXXIX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3


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The town and station of Meerut lies about forty-five miles north of Delhi, in the upper part of the Doab of the Jumna and Ganges. As no European troops could be stationed in Delhi, without violating the arrangements made when we dispossessed the Great Mogul of his territories, Meerut was fixed on as a station for European troops, and here were the 6th Dragoon Guards, or Carabineers, the 1st Battalion of the 60th Rifles, and two troops of Horse Artillery. There were also the 11th and 20th Native Infantry and the 3rd Native Cavalry. The commander of the station was General Hewitt, a worn-out old officer, of whom it had once been reported officially that he was totally unfit for any command. Nevertheless, he was employed. Signs of disaffection had been plentiful at Meerut. The Sepoys ceased to salute their officers, and night after night the alarm of " fire! " rang through the cantonment. But, surely, so men thought, the Sepoys would not venture on mutiny in the presence of so strong a European force. Vain delusion! The natives of India, inferior as they are to the Western race which rules over them in moral qualities, are quite their equals in shrewdness and intellect.

The Sepoys had taken the measure of General Hewitt's character, and probably knew they had little to fear in consequence of his weakness and incapacity. Moreover, they were eager to try conclusions with their masters, for years of obedience to their caprices had rooted up the respect and awe which the Sepoy felt formerly for his officers.

As the disaffection of the Sepoys was manifest, Colonel Carmichael Smith, of the 3rd Cavalry, determined to bear it no longer. He paraded a part of the regiment, ninety men, and ordered them to take the cartridges, showing < them, at the same time, that the end was to be torn not bitten off. Only five obeyed. The rest were deaf to exhortations and warnings. They stood still, in passive mutiny. This fact was reported to Brigadier Archdale Wilson, and by his order the whole of the mutineers were arrested. They were tried, as usual, by a native court- martial, and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. On the 9th of May, by order of General Hewitt, the whole of the force in the cantonment, European and native, was paraded. As soon as they were drawn up, the Europeans were directed to load. Then the mutineers were marched in, and so placed that any resistance would be followed by their destruction. Their uniforms were stripped off, and they were placed in irons. "The only sign of emotion was one deep sigh which burst at once from all the black battalions." The disgraced troopers actually reproached their comrades for permitting the execution of the sentence; and we may well believe that nothing but the loaded guns in front, and the grim men of the Rifles and Carabineers, prevented the armed Sepoys from attempting a rescue. The shackled troopers were marched off to the gaol and placed under a guard of native policemen; and the Sepoys returned to their lines to plot treason, and communicate their intentions to the regiments at Delhi. The sun went down on that Saturday, May the 9th, and darkness covered up the meetings of swarthy soldiers planning a general revolt for the next day.

It was Sunday. The place was quiet; there was no stir in the native lines; the hours flew by as usual; the period for evening service was approaching. Officers were dressing; the European soldiers were turning out; ladies were putting on their head-gear; the clergyman was stepping into his buggy, with his evening sermon in his pocket. The Rev. Mr. Rolton records that a native servant went to his wife, and said to her, with very anxious and troubled looks, " Oh, madam, don't go to church this afternoon." "The carriage," he continues, "was then at the door and ready to take us to church, and the service was appointed to take place in half an hour from the time this speech was made. Hearing this singular request addressed to my wife, I naturally inquired, ' Why should not madam go to church this evening?' The servant replied, 'Because there will be a fight.' I asked, 'Who will fight? ' The woman answered, 'The Sepoys.'" Mr. Rolton did not believe, but soon saw his error. The plan of the Sepoys was to have risen when the Europeans were in church, and to have slain those who were there. But the church-bells and their own impatience ruined the scheme.

About five o'clock the quiet of the evening was broken. A rocket flew upwards in the Sepoy lines. The men rushed forth, seized their arms, and slew at once four of their officers. " The 3rd Cavalry mount their horses; some officers ride in amongst them, trying to pacify them, but none listen; there is such a clamour that no word can be heard. Some are struck at and wounded. A part of them gallop away to the gaol, whirling their sabres over their heads. One of their officers is carried along with them. There is only a native guard at the gaol; the doors are thrown open with shouts; they set their imprisoned comrades free. A smith is at hand, who knocks off their chains. The officer, who was much beloved in his regiment, entreated the men not to accept their freedom in such a way, and said he would get their pardon if they stayed. They embraced him with tears, but said, after what had happened, they never could trust the Company any more. Fourteen hundred convicts are at the same time let loose, who rush eagerly away to reap the harvest of plunder and violence. A party of the Sowars, with the 20th, went to the lines of the 11th, to turn the tide of disaffection in its ranks, for it was not yet entirely gained over. Colonel Finnis was there, endeavouring to address the men and keep them to their duty. They instantly fired at the unfortunate gentleman, whose death decided the wavering regiment. The Sepoys of the 11th now joined with the rest, but protected the officers and ladies. It was the plan of the mutineers to set upon and massacre the Europeans assembled in church. Fortunately, the signal was given too early. The Sepoys fall upon and kill everybody they meet; joined with the rabble of the bazaars, they run to plunder the long line of beautiful cottages in which the European families resided. They push their muskets into the thatch, and fire; in a few minutes they are all in a blaze. They break in at the glass doors, plunder and destroy everything, and search everywhere with bloodthirsty eagerness for the 'Feringhee suars.' Ladies and children are seized, with exultation, and tormented to death. The Europeans who get clear fly away to the English barracks. Some hide all night in the gardens and compounds, hoping every moment to hear the voices of their countrymen coming to their rescue. All the bungalows in the native lines are burned and sacked. For two hours the work of hell goes on - tumult, murder, pillage, conflagration. They fight for the spoil and kill one another. And what are our soldiers doing? They are all armed and ready, panting with fury, eager to rescue their dying countrywomen, eager for blood and vengeance - the noble soldiers of our race, able to slaughter twenty times their number of Sepoys. General Hewitt's order comes. What is it? ' Defend your lines! ' "

Such was the fatal order. Instead of attacking the mutineers with horse, foot, and artillery, he ran away from them and stood on the defensive. At length he was prevailed on to move, but when he did the mischief had been completed, and the mutineers were speeding southward to Delhi. Moving in the gloom, the angry Europeans came up within sight of some of their foes, and the guns poured a shower of grape into the darkness as the Sepoys vanished. There was no pursuit. Captain Rosser offered to ride after them with horsemen and guns, and follow them to Delhi; but General Hewitt would not hear of it and returned to his lines!

The 3rd Cavalry had taken the lead in bloodshed, and had found ready imitators in the ranks of the 20th; but the 11th shed no blood, they protected several of the ladies and children, and escorted them out of danger. When the mutineers had gone, the scoundrels from the bazaars, Budmashes and Goojurs, completed the work of murder and destruction. All night the flames crackled, and the smoke ascended, and the yells of the ruffians were heard as they plundered, slew, and tortured. Many escaped, but thirty-three were slain. When day dawned the fugitives crept out from the shelter of bushes and outhouses, and hastened to the European lines. The native cantonment, and the long rows of cottages, each in its pretty garden, belonging to the Europeans, were blackened and smoking ruins. The European troops were furious at the escape of the Sepoys, and when the morning light revealed the mutilated and dishonoured corpses of their brothers and sisters, their wrath blazed up into a passion for vengeance, a passion which the events of almost every day were destined to feed and to sustain.

While Meerut was desolated, and General Hewitt holding in his British soldiers, the mutineers were speeding onward to Delhi. The moon shone brightly, the air was cool; the great marching powers of the Sepoys made it easy for them to traverse at a bound the brief distance of forty-five miles. The infuriated cavalry took the lead, eager to reach Delhi before news of the bloody work of the 10th - not only to secure the bridge of boats over the Jumna, but to surprise the Europeans. Therefore the troopers went rapidly over the ground, and the column of infantry trailed behind, yet marching with hurried steps and grim resolves.

In Delhi all was peace. There were no signs of mutiny in the city or cantonments. There had been a sign of Mahometan disaffection, for a placard had been posted on the walls of the Jumma Musjid, declaring that the Shah of Persia was coming to drive the Europeans from India. The old King of Delhi, and his sons, and grandsons could not be expected to love us or be loyal to us. They lived a life of conspiracy in these stormy times; they were all sensual, cruel, and idle; but they dared not act openly against the Company. There were three native regiments in the city and cantonments, the 38th, 54th, and 74th, and a native battery. Brigadier Graves commanded the brigade, and he and all the officers had the most complete confidence in the loyalty of their men. Delhi is a beautiful city, on the right bank of the Jumna; it is surrounded by a wall twelve feet thick, having bastions in excellent order, each mounting ten, twelve, or fourteen pieces of ordnance, so as to furnish a flanking fire; in front of the wall was a ditch of considerable width, and twenty-four feet deep; and beyond the ditch a slope or glacis, covering the wall for half its height. It had the river on one face, and the circuit of the walls was seven miles. On the river front stood the palace, a fortified building of great extent, and opposite its north-eastern angle was the bridge of boats, over which ran the road from Meerut, under the guns of the fort of Selimgurh. To the north, there was a ridge of hills; and parallel with this ridge, and on the plateau behind it, were the native lines or cantonments. The road to these from the city lay through the Cashmere Gate. The main gate of the palace was on the western front, and from the main gate ran the Chandnee Chouk, or High Street, a broad avenue, leading to the Lahore Gate. Beyond the walls, on the west and south, were houses and gardens, and the ruins of ancient Delhi. The troopers of the 3rd were eager to seize the bridge of boats, because that was the only road over the Jumna.

The European officials were at work as usual. Mr. Hutchinson, the magistrate, was in his court. Mr. Le Bas was at the Custom House. Mr. Simon Eraser, the commissioner, was at Ludlow Castle, a house on the road to the lines. Sir Thomas Metcalfe was at his house about to start for the hills. It was nine o'clock; from the magazine, which also looked on to the river, a sharp eye saw a body of troopers coming down the Meerut road. The news spread to the Europeans; one after the other they heard of these galloping horsemen. The brigadier, warned by Mr. Hutchinson, at once ordered the 54th, under Colonel Ripley, and two guns, to march. Sir Thomas Metcalfe warned Lieutenant Willoughby, at the magazine, and wished that two guns might be planted to sweep the bridge. Eraser and Captain Douglas went into the palace to rouse and induce the king to exert his influence. In the meantime the troopers had ridden up to the bridge, had cut down the sergeant in charge, had crossed over, and were in the palace and the city.

They were prompt men, these troopers. So long as there was one white face left, they felt that they were not masters. So when Mr. Eraser expostulated with them, they shot at him, wounded Mr. Hutchinson, and killed a European clerk. Mr. Eraser seized a gun and shot a trooper; but there were none to aid him, and he had to fly. Sir Thomas Metcalfe tried the police; they stood unmoved. Sir Thomas drove away. As yet there were only troopers in the city; but they had been looked for by the native troops, and though few, they were sufficient, since there were none to oppose them. Fraser, Hutchinson, and Douglas had gone into the palace. There were the troopers, a mob from the city, and convicts delivered from gaol. The British gentlemen still faced the mutineers, reasoning, reproaching, exhorting. Suddenly one of the king's servants cut down Fraser, and then a body rushed up the stairs and there slew Hutchinson, Douglas, the Rev. Mr. Jennings, Miss Jennings, and Miss Clifford. The ladies were killed outright on the spot, and suffered no dishonour. Then the troopers rushed forth to complete the massacre of the white men and the native Christians. They scoured through the European quarters, with reeking blades - the centre of a horde of ruffians steeped in cruelty, and crying, "Deen! Deen!" spared none. Some gallantly resisted; some were smitten at their desks and employments. Mr. Beresford, at the bank, fought stoutly, but was slain, and all who belonged to his household. The dwellers in the College shared the same fate; the whole force of the Delhi Mission fell. Indeed, " few who lived within the city walls were able to escape. Whole families were butchered; young girls who had that morning awoke gently in their peaceful homes, were dragged over the threshold, across the dead bodies of their parents, by hideous miscreants. Modesty and decency were outraged in the open streets. One lady, in defence of her child - [for Asiatic cruelty loves to torture children] - shot two of the wretches with her husband's pistols, when a Sepoy ran his bayonet through her back. The Sowars [troopers] distinguished themselves by their bloodthirstiness. The populace were abreast of the Sepoys. the houses were gutted; everything was broken, scattered about, or snatched away. They kept prowling into every corner until the burning roofs drove them out." In the midst of their fury they were not likely to forget the telegraph. The chief clerk was slain, but the rebels were not quick enough in getting to the office to prevent his assistant from sending this message to Lahore, ere the troopers cut him down: - "The Sepoys have come in from Meerut, and are burning everything. Mr. Todd is dead, and, we hear, several Europeans. We must shut up." They died; like good men and true, they fell at their posts, but they had saved the Punjab.

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